Syrian aerial strikes target area in east

Syrian warplanes on Wednesday bombed a barren range of Lebanese hills used by Syrian rebels and refugees to cross between the two countries, injuring at least 10 Syrians, Beirut’s state-run National News Agency said.

Cross-border strikes have been particularly intense this week around the town of Arsal, where thousands of Syrians have fled to escape their country’s civil war in recent months. The attack came days after Lebanese forces fired on Syrian helicopters near the border, an apparent attempt by Lebanon to signal that it would be forceful in defending its territory.

The state news agency did not explicitly say the bombing occurred on Lebanese territory, but the area it mentioned, Jroud Arsal, refers to the rugged hills east of the town that are within Lebanon.

Two Arsal residents said a wounded woman brought to the town after Wednesday’s air raid had died and that three others are in critical condition.

Arsal is on the other side of Syria’s rugged Qalamoun region, where the government has been on the offensive for weeks, capturing a number of towns and villages in the area.

The Lebanese army did not respond to the bombardment.

— Associated Press

Car bombs kill 6near hotel in capital

Two car bombs exploded Wednesday night outside a hotel in Somalia’s capital that is often used by foreigners and government officials, killing six people and wounding eight, police said.

Gen. Abdihakim Saed, Somalia’s police chief, told a local radio station that two men who appeared to be suicide bombers also died during the attack when they tried to force their way into the Jazeera Hotel as the cars exploded, and security forces shot and killed them.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the blasts. However, the al-Qaeda-linked Islamic rebels of al-Shabab frequently stage lethal attacks in Somalia near the seat of government and at sites popular with foreigners.

— Associated Press

Safe explodes, killing Palestinian envoy

The Palestinian ambassador to the Czech Republic died Wednesday in a blast that occurred when he opened an old safe that had been left untouched for more than 20 years, officials said.

Ambassador Jamal al-Jamal, 56, was at home with his family at the time of the explosion, the Palestinian Embassy said. Jamal was seriously injured and rushed to a hospital, where he died, according to a police spokeswoman, who also said the safe door appeared to have been booby-trapped, although it was not clear why or when.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riad Malki said no foul play was suspected, noting that the safe had been left untouched for 20 years.

The safe had previously been stored in a building that used to house the Palestine Liberation Organization’s offices in the 1980s, before the Soviet Union fell.

— Associated Press

Pope counsels amity in new year: Pope Francis, laying out his hopes for the just-begun year, urged people to work for a world where everyone accepts one another’s differences and enemies recognize that they are brothers. “We are all children of one heavenly father. We belong to the same human family, and we share a common destiny,” Francis said, speaking from his studio window overlooking St. Peter’s Square, jammed with tens of thousands of people.

Leader emerges in Madagascar vote tally: The candidate backed by Madagascar’s coup leader, President Andry Rajoelina, held an apparently unassailable lead in the island nation’s Dec. 20 runoff vote, which his rival’s camp has said was rigged. Former finance minister Hery Rajaonarimampianina has won more than 53 percent of the vote with ballots counted in more than 99 percent of polling stations, provisional results showed.

Iraq sees highest annual death toll in years: The United Nations said that violence claimed the lives of 7,818 civilians in Iraq in 2013, the highest annual death toll since the widespread bloodshed of 2004-2007, when tens of thousands were killed each year. The U.N. figures gave a total of 759 people killed in December alone, including 661 civilians and 98 members of the security forces. The monthly figures for both civilians and security forces over the year totaled 8,868.

Israel’s Sharon reportedly takes turn for worse: The medical condition of the comatose former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon sharply deteriorated, the hospital treating him said. Sharon, 85, has been in a coma since 2006 when a stroke incapacitated him at the height of his power. Israeli media reported that Sharon was suffering from kidney problems and that his family was at the hospital.

— From news services