Syrian troops backed by pro-government gunmen swept into a Sunni village in the mountains near the Mediterranean coast on Thursday, killing dozens of people, including women and children, and torching homes, activists said.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that at least 50 people, and possibly as many as 100, were killed in the violence in Baida, a village outside the city of Baniyas. It cited witnesses who said that some were killed with knives or blunt objects and that dozens of villagers were still missing.
Syria’s civil war has largely split the country down religious lines, and the violence in Baida appeared to have sectarian overtones. The village is primarily inhabited by Sunni Muslims, who dominate the country’s rebel movement, while most of the surrounding villages are home to members of President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.
— Associated Press
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI returned home to the Vatican on Thursday for the first time since he resigned Feb. 28, beginning an unprecedented era for the Catholic Church of having a retired pontiff living alongside a reigning one.
Pope Francis welcomed Benedict, 86, outside his retirement home, a converted monastery by the Vatican gardens, and the two went into a chapel to pray together, the Vatican said.
The Vatican released a photo of the two men, arms clasped and smiling, in the doorway of Benedict’s new home.
That low-key approach contrasted with the remarkable yet somewhat alarming TV images transmitted on March 23 when Francis went to visit Benedict at the papal retreat in Castel Gandolfo, south of Rome. In that footage, Benedict appeared visibly more frail and thinner. Thursday’s photo showed no obvious signs of further decline.
— Associated Press
The United Nations mission to Iraq said Thursday that more people were killed in violent attacks across the country in April than in any other month since June 2008.
The world body said it recorded 712 people killed last month, including 117 members of the Iraqi security forces, with the capital district of Baghdad the worst-affected.
Casualty tolls in Iraq can vary considerably, with official reports at times differing from accounts from local police and hospital officials. The Associated Press recorded more than 400 killed last month.
Many of the April deaths came in clashes that grew out of Sunni political protests. Iraq experienced its deadliest bout of violence between 2006 and 2007, a time of open sectarian fighting that took the country to the brink of civil war.
— Associated Press
Study details child mortality in 2011 Somalia famine: In the first in-depth study of famine deaths in Somalia in 2011, the U.S.-sponsored famine warning agency FEWS NET and Somalia’s Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit estimated that 133,000 children under age 5 died, with child death rates approaching 20 percent in some south-central communities — a scale that a FEWS NET spokesman described as “really off the charts.” The agency attributed the famine to a decision by extremist Islamist militants to ban delivery of food aid and to a “normalization of crisis” that numbed international donors to the unfolding disaster.
60 reported killed in Sudan gold mine: More than 60 miners were killed this week in Sudan’s Darfur region when the gold mine they were working in collapsed, police said. A lawmaker from the area said that the mine collapsed Monday and that word had reached Khartoum only on Thursday. Half a million artisan miners have joined a gold rush across Sudan, according to the government, which estimates it made $2.5 billion from gold exports last year.
2 Iranians convicted of terror plot in Kenya: A Kenyan court found two Iranian nationals guilty of planning to attack Western targets in Kenya. Ahmad Abolfathi Mohammad and Sayed Mansour Mousavi were arrested in June 2012 and led officials to a 33-pound stash of the explosive RDX. Iranian agents are suspected in attacks or thwarted attacks around the globe in recent years, including in Azerbaijan, Thailand and India.
Kerry to discuss case of dissident’s nephew with China: Secretary of State John F. Kerry plans to raise the case of Chen Kegui, the imprisoned nephew of blind Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, with senior Chinese officials, probably in a phone call, the State Department said. The younger Chen has been found to have appendicitis, but family members say he has not been offered surgery for the condition.
Central American migrants targeted in Mexico: Central American migrants crossing Mexico’s Veracruz state were attacked by a violent drug-and-extortion gang, an activist organization said, in the latest harassment of people attempting to reach the United States. At least nine and possibly as many as 20 people were seriously injured in the attack late Wednesday near the city of Coatzacoalcos, according to various reports. It was unclear whether anyone was killed.
— From news services