Top news: Syrian rebels seized 21 U.N. peacekeepers from the Philippines on Wednesday in a bid to convince President Bashar al-Assad pull back from a rebel-held village near the Golan Heights. In a video posted to the Internet, a man claiming to be the spokesman for the rebel Martyrs of Yarmouk Brigades said that his men will hold the peacekeepers until Assad's forces withdraw from Jamlah, which has seen heavy fighting in recent days. A later message on the Yarmouk Brigades' Facebook page hinted that Assad would bear responsibility for any harm to the prisoners, who had been on patrol in the disputed Golan region between Israel and Syria.
The incident marked a worsening of the conflict in the Golan region, where occasional mortar and artillery bombardments have stoked Israeli fears about a possible spillover of the conflict -- even inspiring plans to build a fence along its border with Syria. Fighting between government and rebel forces near where the peacekeepers were abducted continued on Thursday, with little sign of abating.
Meanwhile, the United Nations began negotiations with rebel fighters Thursday in a bid to secure the peacekeepers' release. "The negotiations are ongoing," a spokesman for Philippines Foreign Ministry told reporters Thursday at a press conference. "This is between the U.N. peacekeeping force and the group leader of this rebel force. We have been informed that they are unharmed and for the time being they are being treated as visitors and guests."
War on Terror: Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) led a spirited filibuster to block a confirmation vote on John Brennan, President Barack Obama's pick to lead the CIA. In what was a multiple-hour speech, aided by senators on both sides of the aisle, Paul voiced his concern with the administration's use of unmanned drones to fight terrorists. Since he most likely has 60 votes, however, Brenan will probably be confirmed.
- Egypt's top administrative court on Wednesday cancelled the country's upcoming parliamentary election, slated to begin in April.
- Jordan is considering building two one-gigawatt nuclear reactors near Amman.
- The trial of Hossam Taleb Yaacoub, a member of Hezbollah accused of plotting attacks against Israelis in Cyprus, concluded Thursday, though a verdict is not expected until March 21.
- Sudan and South Sudan are set to resume talks on Thursday over a possible demilitarized border zone between the two countries.
- The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Wednesday to temporarily loosen the arms embargo on Somalia.
- Kalonzo Musyoka, the running mate of Kenyan presidential hopeful Raila Odinga, called Thursday for the vote count to be halted, throwing the future of the largely peaceful election into doubt.
- Families of those who disappeared in Sri Lanka's 26-year war with Tamil separatists protested Wednesday in the capital, Colombo.
- Malaysian forces killed at least 13 Filipino militants seeking to reclaim part of the eastern Malaysian state of Sabah for the Sultanate of Sulu.
- The Taliban killed as many as 17 Afghan troops in the typically peaceful northern Badakhshan Province.
- Thousands turned out to pay tribute to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, following his death on Tuesday.
- The number of gun deaths in Brazil has remained stable over the last decade, according to a new report.
- Chavez's death has left many Cubans worried about their economic future, should the next Venezuelan president decide to scale back oil subsidies.
- Foreign Minister William Hague on Wednesday promised
to expand British aid to the Syrian rebels, but played down the possibility of
A Greek prosecutor charged three former ministers Wednesday with failing to properly declare their wealth while in office.
- A court in Italy sentenced former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to one year in prison for releasing a taped confidential phone call. He still faces two other trials for fraud and sex with an underage prostitute.