SYRIA

Troops capture town in Idlib; strikes kill 16

Airstrikes on rebel-controlled northwestern Syria killed at least 16 people Tuesday, opposition activists said, as government forces captured a town seen as a symbol of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

Two students and two teachers were among those killed in the strikes in Idlib province.

The capture of Kafranbel was another blow to insurgents after government gains over the past three months. Kafranbel was a major opposition-held town that gained attention in the early years of the conflict because of weekly anti-government rallies that included humorous banners in English carried by protesters.

The government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media said Kafranbel was captured after fierce fighting with militants linked to al-Qaeda. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said the town was taken after punishing bombardment from the air and ground.

The violence came as Turkey’s president said a Russian delegation would arrive the following day to resume talks aimed at easing tensions in Idlib. The area is Syria’s last rebel stronghold, and the Syrian government’s military campaign there, backed by Russia, has created a humanitarian catastrophe, with nearly 1 million people displaced since Dec. 1.

— Associated Press

SOMALIA

U.S. strike kills militant behind Kenya attack

A U.S. airstrike over the weekend in Somalia killed an Islamist militant who helped plan last month’s attack on a military base in Kenya in which three Americans died, the U.S. military said Tuesday.

The U.S. Africa Command said the strike, carried out Saturday, killed a senior member of the Somalia-based al-Shabab “who was in charge of planning and directing terrorist operations on the Kenya border region, including the recent attack on Manda Bay,” and his wife. The attack also killed his wife, whom the statement called an “active” al-Shabab member.

In the Jan. 5 attack, three Americans were killed on the Manda Bay base, used by both U.S. and Kenyan forces. After the attack, the U.S. military deployed additional forces to Kenya, which borders Somalia.

— Reuters

Israel-Gaza cease-fire takes hold after flare-up: A cease-fire has taken hold on the Israel-Gaza border after two days of fighting between Israel and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group. A Palestinian official said Israel and Islamic Jihad reached a "reciprocal and simultaneous cease-fire" mediated by Egypt and the United Nations. Islamic Jihad had fired 80 rockets toward Israeli communities along the Gaza border since Sunday, an Israeli military spokeswoman said, while Israel attacked sites in Gaza and Syria.

East Africa's locust outbreak spreads to Congo: A small group of desert locusts has entered Congo, marking the first time the voracious insects have been seen in the country in the country in central Africa since 1944, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said as U.N. agencies warned of a "major hunger threat" in East Africa from the flying pests. Kenya, Somalia and Uganda have been battling the swarms in the worst locust outbreak in parts of East Africa in 70 years. Locust swarms can reach the size of major cities and can destroy crops.

Pakistani woman acquitted of blasphemy to seek asylum in France: A Christian woman acquitted of blasphemy after eight years on death row in Pakistan said she is going to request asylum in France. Asia Bibi has lived in Canada since she was released by Pakistan last year. She expressed her desire to live in France in an interview on the French radio station RTL. Bibi was convicted of blasphemy in 2009 after a quarrel with two fellow farmworkers. The women later said Bibi had insulted Islam, a crime punishable by death in Pakistan. Bibi was charged. The Supreme Court overturned her conviction last year.

— From news services