Government forces try to retake Palmyra

Syrian government forces, backed by heavy Russian airstrikes, have reportedly seized three neighborhoods inside Palmyra, a town with famed Roman-era ruins that fell to Islamic State forces last May.

Russian jets had carried out 40 air sorties near Palmyra in the previous 24 hours, hitting 158 targets and killing more than 100 militants, Russia’s Defense Ministry said. Syrian troops and allied militiamen have taken up positions in the three neighborhoods that are part of the modern town, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group.

Islamic State fighters have reportedly demolished some of the best-known monuments in the UNESCO World Heritage site. The extremists believe ancient ruins promote idolatry.

— Associated Press

Pope sends out message of hope

Pope Francis said Saturday that darkness and fear must not prevail, as he concluded a bleak week in Europe with a message of hope during an Easter Vigil service in St. Peter’s Basilica.

In his homily, Francis said the hope that Easter brings is a lesson for the Christian faithful to cast aside the hopelessness that can “imprison” people inside of themselves. “We see and will continue to see problems both inside and out. They will always be there,” he said. But he insisted: “Let us not allow darkness and fear to distract us and control our hearts.”

He would later hold Easter Mass.

His message of hope followed his condemnations on Good Friday and earlier in the week of the attacks by Islamist extremists in Brussels and elsewhere.

— Associated Press

Turkish soldier killed in northern Iraq: A Turkish soldier was killed and another was wounded in northern Iraq on Saturday when rockets fired by Islamic State militants during clashes with Iraqi Kurdish fighters landed in a base where Turkish troops were deployed, Turkey’s army said. The NATO member nation, part of the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State, sent troops to northern Iraq in December, citing heightened security risks near Bashiqa, where its soldiers have been training an Iraqi militia to fight extremist militants. Baghdad objected to the Turkish deployment.

Muslim shopkeeper who wished “happy Easter” is slain: Scottish police say the killing of a Muslim shopkeeper who wished Christians a happy Easter on social media is being investigated as “religiously prejudiced.” Vigils were held Friday and Saturday in memory of 40-year-old Asad Shah, who was killed Thursday night in Glasgow. Police say a 32-year-old man has been arrested in connection with Shah’s death. The suspect, who police say is Muslim, has not been identified or charged.

North Korea threatens to attack South’s presidential palace: North Korea warned Saturday that its military is ready to attack Seoul’s presidential palace unless South Korean President Park Geun-hye apologizes for “treason” and publicly executes officials responsible for what Pyongyang says are plans to attack its leadership. The warning, issued by state media in the name of a unit of the Korean People’s Army, is the latest in its annual barrage of threats against Washington and Seoul over joint military drills now underway that the North sees as a dress rehearsal for invasion.

Venezuela’s president is losing public’s support: Just under two-thirds of Venezuelans think Nicolás Maduro’s presidency should end this year as the opposition pushes to oust him amid a grueling economic crisis, a survey by a leading pollster said. The opposition, which says Maduro’s unwillingness to reform his socialist policies is pushing Venezuela towards an economic disaster, is pursuing a multi-pronged strategy to oust him.

— From news services