Major Shiite shrine near capital attacked

Mortar shells struck near a major Shiite shrine outside Damascus on Friday, killing its caretaker in an attack that threatens to further escalate sectarian tensions in Syria’s civil war, the government and activists said.

The state-run news agency SANA said shells fired by rebels fighting to topple President Bashar Assad landed “in the vicinity” of the revered Sayida Zeinab shrine, killing Anas Roumani, the shrine’s administrative director. Protection of the ornate, golden-domed mosque has become a rallying cry for Shiite fighters backing Assad.

Lebanese fighters from the Shiite group Hezbollah as well as Iraqi Shiite fighters have joined Syrian forces battling rebels in the suburb that houses the shrine of Sayida Zeinab, the prophet Muhammad’s granddaughter. The area, 10 miles south of Damascus, is at the heart of a recent offensive by Assad’s forces.

In Lebanon, Hezbollah’s Hasan Nasrallah has said that if rebels destroy the shrine it would ignite a sectarian war with no end.

Also on Friday, pro-government Kurdish fighters battled al-Qaeda-linked rebels in northeastern Syria, the latest in clashes that have killed more than 40 on both sides this week, activists said.

— Associated Press

Unrest roils Kashmir after villagers’ deaths

Protesters clashed with government troops in several parts of Indian-controlled Kashmir on Friday, defying a government curfew imposed to quell large-scale demonstrations over the killing of four villagers in the disputed Himalayan region.

Locals, responding to a call to protest by separatist groups, threw rocks as police and paramilitary soldiers struck them with batons and fired tear gas and, at one location, live ammunition, police said. Six police officers and paramilitary troops and at least two protesters were injured in the clashes.

Government troops shot four people Thursday during violent protests against the alleged desecration of the Koran by border guards in a remote, mountainous village in the region. The Border Security Force has rejected the desecration charge.

Wider protests were feared, with separatist groups that reject India’s sovereignty over the region calling for three days of strikes and demonstrations.

— Associated Press

Blast kills at least 22 in Sunni mosque

A bomb hidden in an air conditioner ripped through a packed Sunni mosque in central Iraq during midday prayers Friday, killing at least 22 people in the latest outburst of deadly violence targeting worshipers during Ramadan.

Suicide attacks, car bombings and other violence have killed nearly 200 people since the Islamic holy month began last week.

Friday’s blast occurred in the town of Wijaihiya, about 50 miles northeast of Baghdad in the religiously mixed province of Diyala, long a hotbed of terrorist attacks.

Also Friday, attacks outside the northern city of Mosul claimed four more lives.

— Associated Press

Australia to send refugees to Papua New Guinea: Australia’s prime minister said that all refugees who arrive in the country by boat will be resettled on the island nation of Papua New Guinea, a policy shift that rights groups condemned. The move, described by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd as “very hard-line,” aims to deter an escalating number of asylum seekers who travel to Australia in rickety fishing boats from poor, war-torn homelands via other countries such as Indonesia and Malaysia. The growing influx is a major political problem for Rudd’s Labor Party, which is the clear underdog in elections expected within months.

Kurdish rebels warn Turkey on pace of talks: Kurdish rebels on Friday gave Turkey a “final warning” to take steps that would advance peace talks aimed at ending a deadly 30-year old conflict. The Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK — which did not say what it would do if its demand was not met — declared a cease-fire in March and began withdrawing fighters into northern Iraq in May, as part of peace efforts initiated last year. Turkey is expected to enact a series of reforms to improve Kurds’ rights as part of those efforts.

Ethnic clashes erupt in northern Mali town: Malian troops were deployed in the northern town of Kidal after attacks by light-skinned Tuareg separatists on black residents killed at least one person, a week before elections meant to unify the fractured nation. Residents said that Tuareg youths targeted black Africans on Thursday, firing shots and burning vehicles and that violence resumed Friday despite some arrests made by U.N. peacekeepers.

— From news services