Government troops take key water facility

Syrian government troops gained control of the main water source for Damascus on Saturday, as the military worked to secure it and remove land mines in a major development that caps weeks of fighting with rebels in the area, according to Syrian state TV and opposition media.

The development ends the standoff over Ain el-Fijeh village that restricted the water flow to nearly 5 million residents of the Damascus area for over a month. The fighting had also trapped tens of thousands of civilians in the Barada Valley area, where the water source is located.

The opposition monitoring group Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government forces entered Ain el-Fijeh along with ambulances to transport the injured as part of a deal to end the fighting there.

A nationwide cease-fire, brokered by Russia and Turkey and in place since Dec. 30, was tested by the fighting in the valley. The fighting was sparked by government claims that rebels poisoned the water source at Ain el-Fijeh — a claim the rebels denied.

— Associated Press

Former PM Berlusconi gets April 5 trial date

A Milan judge on Saturday ordered Silvio Berlusconi to be tried on corruption charges, damping the 80-year-old former Italian prime minister’s hopes of running soon for office again after being sidelined by a tax-fraud conviction.

The Italian news agency ANSA, reporting from Milan, said Judge Carlo Ottone De Marchi, after a hearing on an indictment request by prosecutors, set the trial to begin April 5 in that city.

The Milan daily Corriere della Sera says the former three-time premier is accused of shelling out about 10 million euros plus expensive gifts to 20 young women who attended sexy parties at his Arcore villa near Milan. Prosecutors have alleged that Berlusconi aimed to “buy” the women’s silence in various trials involving him. His attorneys have denied any wrongdoing by their client.

— Associated Press

Egypt’s leader blasts “evil people”: Returning to some of his favorite topics, Egypt’s President Abdel Fatah al-Sissi on Saturday called on Egyptians to stand together against terrorism, angrily denounced the “evil people” plotting against his country and said there would be no comeback if Egypt fell to Islamic militants. “Terrorism will not end unless we all stand together,” Sissi told participants at a youth conference in Aswan. “Did Afghanistan ever come back? Did Somalia ever come back? Why do you think we can come back?”

Iraqi forces discover chemical warfare agent in Mosul: Iraqi forces discovered a mustard chemical warfare agent in eastern Mosul alongside a cache of Russian surface-to-surface missiles, an Iraqi officer said Saturday. When Iraqi forces retook Mosul University this month, they found chemistry labs they believed had been converted into makeshift chemical weapons labs. Iraqi special forces Brig. Gen. Haider Fadhil said French officials tested the Mosul chemical last week and confirmed that it was a mustard agent. Iraqi and U.S. officials have repeatedly warned of Islamic State efforts to develop chemical weapons.

Missing Pakistani activist reunited with his family: Pakistani poet and activist Salman Haider, who went missing from the capital, Islamabad, just days after four other human rights campaigners disappeared this month, has been found, his family said Saturday. The five missing liberal activists, some of whom have posted blogs criticizing the political influence of the military and speaking up for the rights of religious minorities, had each gone missing separately since Jan. 4. Police sources told Geo News channel that Haider, who vanished Jan. 6, was found late Friday but did not provide further details. There was no word on the whereabouts of the four other missing activists.

— From news services