Rebels mark revolt’s
2nd anniversary

The chief of Syria’s main, Western-backed rebel group marked the second anniversary of the start of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad on Friday by pledging to fight until the “criminal” regime is gone.

Gen. Salim Idriss, the head of the Supreme Military Council, called on Syrian soldiers to join the rebels in a “fight for freedom and democracy,” and said: “Dear friends, the Free Syrian Army [fighters] will not give up.”

In Damascus, the capital, authorities beefed up security measures as rebel groups called for stepped-up attacks on government troops and state institutions on the anniversary.

The revolt against Assad’s authoritarian rule began in March 2011 with protests in the southern city of Daraa, after troops arrested teenagers who scrawled anti-regime graffiti on a wall. It has since morphed into a civil war that has killed an estimated 70,000 people, according to the United Nations.

The rebels have long complained that their side is hampered by the failure of world powers to provide heavier arms to help them battle Assad’s better-equipped military and his air power. On Friday, leaders at a European Union summit failed to agree on whether they should send arms to the rebels.

— Associated Press

No ultra-Orthodoxparties in cabinet

Coalition agreements between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party and his two major partners were signed on Friday, forming a new Israeli government that will take office two days before a visit next week by President Obama.

For the first time in a decade, the government will not include ultra-Orthodox parties. Scheduled to be sworn in on Monday, it is expected to give priority to domestic reforms, which were the main campaign issues in Israel’s January elections.

Key cabinet posts will be held by Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid party, the second-largest in parliament, and Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing Jewish Home faction.

Both opposed the inclusion of ultra-Orthodox parties in the government, pressing for an end to draft exemptions for tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox men who pursue religious studies with government stipends. They also campaigned for lowering the cost of living for Israel’s struggling middle class.

In a statement issued after the signing, Netanyahu said the government would work on behalf of all Israelis “to strengthen Israel’s security and improve the quality of life of its citizens.”

— Joel Greenberg

Massive truck bomb seized
outside Kabul:
The Afghan
intelligence service said it seized a massive truck bomb packed with 17,200 pounds of explosives
this week on the eastern outskirts of Kabul. Intelligence spokesman Shafiqullha Tahiri said Friday that intelligence agents also killed five suspected suicide bombers and arrested two others during a raid early Wednesday when the truck was seized. He said all were suspected members of the militant Haqqani network, which is closely allied with the Taliban.

India prevents departure of
Italian ambassador:
India alerted airports nationwide to prevent the Italian ambassador from leaving the country amid an escalating diplomatic row triggered by Italy’s decision to block the return of two marines charged with killing fishermen. The Indian Supreme Court has ordered envoy Daniele Mancini not to leave the country without its permission, and requested he explain by March 18 the Italian government’s move.

Hungary uses tanks to rescue snowbound: Hungary deployed tanks to reach thousands of motorists trapped in heavy snow on Friday as a sudden cold snap and high winds struck parts of the Balkans, Slovakia and Poland, leaving at least two people dead. Snow had cut off dozens of towns and villages in Hungary.

Key support for Britain’s Cameron: Two senior members of British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party spoke out Friday to calm growing talk of a leadership challenge. Halfway through a five-year term, Cameron’s Conservatives are trailing the Labor Party by 10 percent in polls and the economy is stagnant. “Cameron is more popular than all of us,” said Grant Shapps, party chairman. London Mayor Boris Johnson agreed.

London ‘Black Death’ cemetery may have been found: Archaeologists said Friday they had found a graveyard during excavations for a rail project in London that might hold the remains of about 50,000 people killed by the “Black Death” plague more than 650 years ago. Thirteen skeletons laid out in two neat rows were found eight feet below the road in the Farringdon area by researchers working on the $24 billion Crossrail project.

— From news services