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The United Arab Emirates is known as a popular business destination that tends to punish those who transgress its conservative Muslim laws.

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When the Syrian migrants spotted Belarusian officials arriving at their hostel in Minsk, they knew their hopes of a better life in the West were over. Seven managed to escape through the windows. The rest were rounded up, brought to the lobby and had their passports taken from them.

They were among thousands of migrants lured into the country with travel visas and the understanding that they would be able to reach the European Union. But now they were given an ultimatum: Book a flight out of Belarus — the officials didn't care where to — or be put on a plane to Syria.

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CHIBAISH, Iraq — A water buffalo, her stomach bloated and haunches sunken, lies dying on a dry expanse of cracked earth. Her calf nuzzles her but she doesn't respond. A few yards away, another water buffalo, all skin and bone, wallows in the mud at the edge of the drying marsh waters.

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BAGHDAD — In 2019, thousands of Iraqis started taking part in huge demonstrations to demand change. They called for an end to rampant corruption that is siphoning their country's oil wealth, for better public services like reliable water and electricity, and for a bigger voice in a government.

The protest movement forced out Adil Abdul-Mahdi, then the prime minister, in May 2020, and triggered new elections. On Sunday, Iraqi voters will go to the polls to elect a new parliament for the fifth time since longtime dictator Saddam Hussein was ousted after the U.S. invaded in 2003.

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RUTH SHERLOCK, BYLINE: The Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha is a time of prayer, gift-giving and feasting. But Lebanon is in the middle of a staggering economic crisis, and a lot of people there can't afford even simple food. Here's NPR's Ruth Sherlock in Beirut.

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BEIRUT, Lebanon — A fire that broke out in the coronavirus ward of a hospital in southern Iraq has killed at least 64 people and injured dozens more, according to health officials on Tuesday.

Flames swept through outbuildings of the al-Hussein Teaching Hospital in the southern city of Nasiryah on Monday that had been set up to isolate those sick with COVID-19. Patients became trapped inside, with rescue teams struggling to reach them in time.

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Abdalhamied Sharaf Aldein, a doctor in rebel-held northern Syria, has survived airstrikes and barrel bombs by the Syrian government, or its ally Russia, while caring for patients in at least eight different hospitals and medical clinics.

Now working at a hospital in Bab al Hawa, close to the Turkish border in a part of Syria controlled by the opposition, Aldein says the attacks have become so terrifyingly routine that it's hard to keep an exact count. Sometimes the hospital or clinic where he was working would be destroyed, other times just damaged.

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Updated May 27, 2021 at 5:49 PM ET

It was a decision as symbolic as the Syrian presidential election itself.

On Wednesday morning, Syrians woke to local television footage of President Bashar Assad and the first lady, Asma Assad, casting their ballots. The pair were not in a loyalist stronghold but in Douma, the satellite town of Damascus whose residents proved some of the staunchest opponents to Syria's authoritarian regime.

BEIRUT — In this month's escalation of violence, as Hamas fired rockets into Israel and the Israeli military pounded the Gaza Strip with airstrikes and artillery, parents on both sides have had to find ways to try and protect their children from the trauma of war and soothe them when they're terrified.

BEIRUT — When the U.S. government offered Hatem al-Showaiter and his wife, Reema, the chance to emigrate from Yemen to America in 2017, they decided to risk everything to make it happen.

To get passports, they made a harrowing trip with their daughter, then 3, across front lines in Yemen's long-running civil war. Then, to process their family's visas, they were instructed to go to the U.S. Embassy in Djibouti, some 270 miles across the Red Sea. The American Embassy in Yemen has been closed since 2015.

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For 11 days during the war between Israel and Hamas, parents tried to keep their children calm and safe. This next story is hard to hear but important to hear. NPR's Ruth Sherlock begins with a mother in Israel.

Updated May 20, 2021 at 5:52 PM ET

When Jamal al-Shareef, his wife or any of his six children need to go to the kitchen of their home in Jabalia, north of Gaza City, they plan when to do so as a family.

The kitchen is on a side of the house that faces east, toward the Gazan border — and shellfire from the Israeli military. It feels too exposed to let any one of them go alone and risk injury.

BEIRUT — As fighting has escalated between Israel and Hamas this month, the conflict is being watched closely in the region — especially by Arab countries that opened relations with Israel last year.

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Now we have a look at the city of Marib in Yemen. It is a place that illustrates just how difficult it is to pursue a peace deal in that country.

Here's NPR's Ruth Sherlock.

HAMAS AL MUSLIMI: (Speaking Arabic).

TYRE COAST NATURE RESERVE, Lebanon — An oil spill in the eastern Mediterranean Sea last month has polluted Lebanon's coastline, damaging beaches that are nesting grounds for endangered green turtles and vulnerable loggerhead sea turtles.

In southern Lebanon, some of the country's last beaches spared from factories and tourist development are now carpeted in globs of poisonous tar. As weeks pass, the soft black pieces fragment into smaller particles that sink deeper into the sand.

On March 15, 2011, protesters inspired by successful "Arab Spring" uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, rallied in Syria to call for an end to their own repressive regime.

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