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UN urges action on cross-border female genital mutilation

The fight against female genital mutilation (FGM) is being undermined by families taking girls to other countries to put them through the procedure, the United Nations warned Friday.

It called for concerted global action to tackle cross-border and transnational FGM, including so-called "vacation cutting" by families in the West.

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Million-plus Muslims begin hajj under shadow of Gaza war

In sweltering temperatures, Muslim pilgrims in Mecca converged on a vast tent camp in the desert on Friday, officially opening the annual Hajj pilgrimage. Ahead of their trip, they circled the cube-shaped Kaaba in the Grand Mosque, Islam's holiest site.

More than 1.5 million pilgrims from around the world have already amassed in and around Mecca for the Hajj, and the number was still growing as more pilgrims from inside Saudi Arabia joined. Saudi authorities expected the number to exceed 2 million this year.

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Playful pope jokes with world's comedians ahead of G7

Pope Francis on Friday clowned around with over 100 top global comedians including Whoopi Goldberg, Chris Rock and Jimmy Fallon before leaving to address a summit of G7 leaders in Italy.

"Instead of reading my speech, I'll just do this", the grinning 87-year-old said, as he stuck his thumb in his ear and wiggled his fingers at a room full of humorists.

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Nomadic Muslim devotees throng a forest shrine in disputed Kashmir

The road to the Baba Nagri forest shrine in India-controlled Kashmir was a colorful spectacle. Tens of thousands of men in vibrant attires, henna-dyed beards and bright headgears thronged the Muslim shrine nestled at the base of a mountain to pay their obeisance last week.

Worshippers raised their hands and cried their wishes. Some also tied multicolored threads around the trees at the shrine, which represented their prayers.

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More than 1.5 million foreign pilgrims arrive in Mecca for annual Hajj pilgrimage

Muslim pilgrims have been streaming into Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca ahead of the start of the Hajj later this week, as the annual pilgrimage returns to its monumental scale.

Saudi officials say more than 1.5 million foreign pilgrims have arrived in the country by Tuesday, the vast majority by air, from across the world. More are expected, and hundreds of thousands of Saudis and others living in Saudi Arabia will also join them when the pilgrimage officially begins on Friday.

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In shadow of war, Lebanese find respite on Tyre beach

After the roar of Israeli warplanes terrified her baby grandson, Umm Hassan's family sought solace on a south Lebanon beach, hoping to escape the escalating cross-border violence.

Life goes on but "the children are frightened," the 60-year-old told AFP from the beach in Tyre, about 20 kilometers from the Israel-Lebanon frontier.

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Taiwan nighttime dragon boat racing puts modern twist on ancient tradition

Across the Chinese diaspora, racing in dragon boats has been a tradition reaching back thousands of years.

But change is afoot, most recently in central Taiwan where the races were switched to the evening to take advantage of cooler temperatures, a refreshing breeze and the sight of the boats lit up with LED lights running the length of the low-lying watercraft.

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Oxford University to return bronze sculpture of Hindu saint to India

Oxford University has agreed to return a 500-year-old bronze sculpture of a Hindu poet and saint to India, the university's Ashmolean Museum said.

The Indian High Commission in the U.K. made a claim four years ago for the bronze figure of Tirumankai Alvar that was allegedly looted from a temple.

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Pope appeals for urgent humanitarian aid for Gaza, backs cease-fire proposals

Pope Francis has called for humanitarian aid to urgently reach Palestinians in Gaza and for Israel and Hamas to immediately accept proposals for a cease-fire and release of hostages.

During his Sunday noon blessing, Francis also thanked Jordan, which this week will host an international humanitarian aid conference for Palestinians.

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What's Hajj, the Islamic pilgrimage, and why is it significant for Muslims?

Once a year, Muslim pilgrims flowing into Saudi Arabia unite in a series of religious rituals and acts of worship as they perform the Hajj, one of the pillars of Islam. As they fulfill a religious obligation, they immerse themselves in what can be a spiritual experience of a lifetime for them and a chance to seek God's forgiveness and the erasure of past sins.

Here's a look at the pilgrimage and its significance to Muslims.

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