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> AFGHANISTAN

Karzai says forces will start taking control

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) -- An emboldened Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Tuesday that, beginning in July, his nation's security forces will take over from the U.S.-led coalition in seven parts of the country, a tenuous first step toward his goal of having Afghan police and soldiers in charge by the end of 2014 so foreign combat troops can go home.

But some Afghans fear that their forces aren't up to the task, and NATO predicts bloody fighting this spring.

In a speech peppered with criticism of the international military and civilian effort, Karzai asserted himself as a national leader and said the Afghan forces were on a path toward self-sufficiency.

"The Afghan nation doesn't want the defense of this country to be in the hands of others anymore," Karzai told hundreds of dignitaries and Afghan police and soldiers at the National Military Academy of Afghanistan in the capital.

He also reiterated his call for Afghan insurgents to lay down their weapons and reconcile with his government.

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> GAZA STRIP

Israeli shelling kills three children, uncle

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) -- Israeli military shelling aimed at Palestinian militants missed its target Tuesday, killing three children and their uncle, and wounding 13 other family members as they played soccer in their backyard in the Gaza Strip, Palestinian officials said.

The attack, which Israel said was a mortar strike, was launched in response to repeated rocket fire toward Israel.

It dramatically escalated a recent round of simmering violence with Palestinian militants and threatened to set off the first heavy fighting in more than two years.

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