SYRIA
ISIS militants battle to hold their last redoubt

Islamic State militants cornered in their last foothold in eastern Syria fought back with suicide car bombs, snipers and booby traps Monday, slowing Kurdish fighters advancing under the cover of U.S.-led coalition airstrikes, Kurdish news agencies and a Syrian war monitor said.

An Italian photographer was wounded in the clashes between the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and the militants holed up in the village of Baghouz, near the border with Iraq, an Italian news agency said.

It is not known exactly how many Islamic State fighters are still holding out in the sliver of territory under attack, although they are estimated to be in the hundreds, most of them foreign fighters. It is also unclear whether civilians are still inside, caught under heavy bombardment.

The SDF on Saturday launched its final push to clear the area of the Islamic State, after months of fighting that saw 20,000 civilians fleeing just in the past few weeks. The numbers have overwhelmed Kurdish-run camps in northeast Syria, where humanitarian conditions are already dire given the cold winter and meager resources.

The capture of the Islamic State-held village of Baghouz and nearby areas would mark the end of a four-year global war to end the extremists’ territorial hold on large parts of Syria and Iraq, where they established their self-proclaimed “caliphate” in 2014.

— Associated Press

MEXICO
152 abusive priests removed, church says

The head of the Mexican bishops’ conference says that 152 Catholic priests have been removed from the ministry over the past nine years for sex abuse offenses against “youths or vulnerable adults.”

Archbishop Rogelio Cabrera said some of the priests have been prosecuted and sent to prison but did not specify how many.

The church often uses the term “vulnerable adults” to refer to those with mental or physical disabilities.

Pope Francis has convened presidents of all the bishops’ conferences worldwide for a three-day summit this month to address the abuse of minors.

— Associated Press

U.N. condemns racial discrimination in Belgium: U.N. experts said that racial discrimination "is endemic" in Belgium's institutions and that the nation needs to apologize for crimes committed during its colonization of Congo. The U.N. Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent said in an interim report on Belgium that "the root causes of present day human rights violations lie in the lack of recognition of the true scope of violence and injustice of colonization." King Leopold's reign over Congo from 1885 to 1908 was notorious for its brutality. Congo gained its independence in 1960.

Russia brings home 27 children of ISIS members from Iraq: Russia's Emergencies Ministry said it has repatriated 27 children who are family members of Islamic State militants jailed in Iraq. The children, ages 4 to 13, were flown to Moscow aboard the ministry's plane. Russian children's rights ombudswoman Anna Kuznetsova said about 50 Russian children who still remain in Baghdad's prison will be flown to Russia soon. Her office has said previously that it had information that nearly 700 Russian children were taken by their parents to combat zones in the Middle East.

Mexican 'slaves' rescued in Canada: Canadian police said they have freed 43 "modern day slaves" from Mexico who were allegedly forced to work as cleaners at vacation properties in Ontario. The victims were lured to Canada believing they would be offered legitimate employment opportunities, police said. Since being rescued, the workers have been offered work and accommodation at an Ontario resort.

Brazilian TV anchor dies in helicopter crash: An award-winning Brazilian television news anchor died when a helicopter carrying him crashed on a Sao Paulo highway. Ricardo Boechat, 66, anchored TV Band's main nightly news, as well as hosting a radio program. He had won three of Brazil's highest journalism awards for his reports on corruption.

— From news services