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  • Zach Gibson/Pool/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- President Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner recently traveled to Saudi Arabia, a senior White House official confirmed. The trip was not announced ahead of time.On his third trip to Saudi Arabia this year, Kushner, whose White House portfolio includes the Middle East, left the U.S. on Wednesday and returned Saturday. Dina Powell, deputy national security adviser, and Jason Greenblatt, the administration's Middle East envoy, accompanied him in Saudi Arabia. Greenblatt also traveled to Cairo, Amman, Jerusalem and Ramallah."The senior adviser to the president, the deputy national security adviser for strategy, and the special representative for international negotiations recently returned from Saudi Arabia," a senior White House official said. "The senior adviser has also been in frequent contact with officials from Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Saudi Arabia."The White House official would not say whom Kushner met with while in Saudi Arabia, but reaffirmed the president's desire to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal."While these regional talks will play an important role, the president reaffirms that peace between Israelis and Palestinians can only be negotiated directly between the two parties and that the United States will continue working closely with the parties to make progress toward that goal," he said. "No deal will be imposed on Israelis and Palestinians; we are committed to facilitating a deal that improves conditions for both parties."Kushner has made several trips to the Middle East since joining the administration. Prior to this week, Kushner's most recent trip occurred in August, when he met separately with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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  • Joseph M. Acaba/Twitter(NEW YORK) -- For astronauts onboard the International Space Station, there are countless magnificent sights to see as they orbit the Earth.But NASA's Joe Acaba, who is of Puerto Rican heritage, was waiting for the moment that the International Space Station would pass over his family's hurricane-ravaged homeland -- and that moment was finally realized on Saturday.Acaba, 50, tweeted a pair of photos of the island, along with a message to the people still recovering from the destruction of Hurricane Maria.
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  • Rick Findler/Getty Images(RAQQA, Syria) -- About 100 ISIS fighters have surrendered in Raqqa, Syria, in the last 24 hours and have been removed from the city, the U.S.-led coalition fighting ISIS told ABC News.The mass surrender is viewed as a sign that the coalition's battle to retake Raqqa could be nearing its end, with 85 percent of the city now under the coalition's control."This is consistent with the trend we have seen in the past month, both in Syria and Iraq. A good number of ISIS fighters are giving up," said Col. Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the anti-ISIS coalition.In addition, over the last week, about 1,500 civilians in the area have safely made it to locations controlled by the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces, Dillon said.An estimated 300 to 400 fighters remain in Raqqa."We still expect difficult fighting in the days ahead and will not set a time for when we think ISIS will be completely defeated in Raqqa," Dillon added.Separately, the Raqqa Civil Council and local Arab tribal elders have brokered a deal in which they are allowing a convoy of vehicles to leave Raqqa Saturday.In a press release Saturday morning, the coalition, which was not involved in the discussions that led to this deal, said people who are being allowed to leave Raqqa are subject to search and screening by Syrian Democratic Forces.The coalition also states in the release that the arrangement is "designed to minimize civilian casualties and purportedly excludes" foreign fighters.However, the coalition's director of operations, Brig. Gen. Jonathan Braga, said the coalition is concerned about ISIS fighters fleeing the area."We do not condone any arrangement that allows Daesh terrorists to escape Raqqah without facing justice, only to resurface somewhere else," he said in the press release. Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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  • Win McNamee/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- A global fund that aims to empower women entrepreneurs in developing countries -- and which was spearheaded in part by first daughter Ivanka Trump -- is now open for business.The Women Entrepreneur Finance Initiative (WeFi), announced at the G-20 Summit in July and operable as of this week, will leverage more than a billion dollars in financing for women’s small- and medium-size enterprises in the developing world, where women are often cut out from accessing loans through traditional banks or struggle to gain access to adequate financial resources.Anta Babacar -- a pioneering woman entrepreneur in Senegal, who manages the largest agricultural business in West Africa -- called the fund “the biggest opportunity one could dream of.”Babacar said women often struggle to get loans from banks for business projects because the very fact that they are a woman makes them “more risky.”Coming up in her own family business -- starting from the bottom and working her way up -- Babacar said she was unable to find a woman role model.“The whole time I was wondering: Is there a woman in Senegal, in the agricultural sector, who has actually made it, who I can look up to? And I was sad to look around and see nobody,” she said.The World Bank estimates that the unique challenges facing women have led to $300 billion credit deficit for women-owned, small- and medium-sized enterprises in the developing world.Caren Grown, senior director for gender at the World Bank Group, said the new fund is the first of its kind and will take a “multi-pronged, eco-system approach” to tackle the collection of constraints facing women entrepreneurs, ranging from access to capital to training and support.“I’ve been working on this topic for many years, and having a facility dedicated specifically to women with this level of finance -- we’ve never had something to this scale, something that really brings together the commercial private sector with governments,” Grown said.Fourteen countries have collectively contributed $340 million to the fund -- $50 million of that is from the United States -- which will be used to enable at least an additional $800 million in international financial institutions and commercial financing.Grown said one of the keys to getting the new fund off the ground has been the advocacy on the part of the first daughter, along with Chancellor Angela Merkel and International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine LaGarde.“The high-level advocacy has been really important,” Grown said. “We needed that push, and also the environment is right.”The concept of the fund grew out of a conversation between the first daughter and World Bank President Jim Yong Kim early in the Trump administration, according to senior officials from the White House and World Bank, with the two identifying that there is not a comparable initiative. While the first daughter has no role in running the facility, she will continue to play an outside advocacy role going forward.“The progress that the Women Entrepreneurs Finance Initiative has made over the past few months is encouraging and exciting,” Ivanka Trump said in a statement. “I look forward to continuing my work with the World Bank Group via this facility to support women entrepreneurs around the globe and remove existing barriers to their growth and success.”The fund will seek to create more independent entrepreneurs such as Babacar, whose unique success story was made possible in large part thanks to the foresight of her father. When given the choice to invest in Babacar’s education or one of her two older brothers, he chose to invest in his daughter.“In Senegal, back then, most girls did not go to school. For my dad to make that choice was really not understandable at that time, but he
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  • iStock/Thinkstock(KIRKUK, Iraq) -- About 6,000 Kurdish Peshmerga reinforcements have been moved into defensive positions around the oil-rich city of Kirkuk, Iraq, amid fear of attack from Iraqi troops, officials from the semi-autonomous region of northern Iraq said.Kurdistan Vice President Kosrat Rasul told Rudaw News the reinforcements were sent to Kirkuk late Thursday night in response to “threats” of attack from a combined force of Iraqi government soldiers and Iranian-backed militia, called Hashd al-Shaabi, reportedly massing on the Iraqi side of the border with Kurdistan.Both the Iraqi army and the Kurdish Peshmerga are key allies of the U.S.-led coalition in its fight against ISIS in Iraq, and the threat of armed clashes poses a major challenge for Western governments. The threat of military conflict and open civil war between America’s two biggest allies in Iraq could lead to a potential political minefield for the United States.Iraqi forces and their allies began moving toward Kirkuk Thursday night, aiming for military bases to the northwest and southwest of the city, Kurdish commander Gen. Pirot Abdulla told ABC News.In response, Kurdish forces pulled back from outer defensive lines and entrenched behind a major irrigation channel, with Iraqi forces now only about 100 yards to the west, Abdulla said.Kurdish officials said the move was in response to reports that Iraqi army and federal police forces, along with Hashd al-Shaabi troops, had moved to within a few miles of Peshmerga positions and were preparing a “major attack in southwest Kirkuk” against oil fields, military bases and the airport. The General Command of Peshmerga Forces released a statement saying the situation “has dangerous indications for war.”Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Thursday he would not use the army against Kurdish citizens, despite reports of military convoys heading toward Kirkuk early Friday morning.Al-Abadi said he had no plans for military operations in Kirkuk and was focused on recapturing the last ISIS stronghold in Iraq, near the western border with Syria. Iraq’s military command rushed to issue a statement denying media reports that it had commenced operations for the city.Peshmerga forces annexed Kirkuk and the surrounding area after halting ISIS fighters in their sweep across northern Iraq in 2014 as Iraqi military forces crumbled. Ever since, Kirkuk has become a point of contention between Baghdad and Kurdish officials in Erbil.The dispute over ownership of Kirkuk escalated in the wake of Kurdistan’s independence referendum held last month. Even though results of the poll were not legally binding, voters living in Kurdish-controlled areas, including Kirkuk, voted overwhelmingly in favor of secession, prompting Kurdish officials to call for negotiated concessions from Baghdad.Iraq's central government responded by imposing a ban on direct international flights to Kurdistan’s airports, placing severe restrictions on Kurdish-owned banks and threatening to end the region’s independent crude oil sales.Baghdad remains bitterly opposed to Kurdish ambitions to incorporate Kirkuk province in its autonomous region in the north and has voiced determination to take it back. “Iraqi armed forces are advancing to retake their military positions that were taken over during the events of June 2014,” an Iraqi general told AFP news agency by telephone, asking not to be identified.Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.
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