Mortar shells hit market, killing 20

Government troops fired mortar rounds that slammed into a main market in a town in northern Syria on Sunday, killing at least 20 civilians, activist groups said.

The mortar shells struck Ariha, a town that is held mostly by opposition fighters, a few hours ahead of the iftar meal that breaks the dawn-to-dusk fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees, two opposition groups that track the violence in Syria, said that at least 20 people were killed, including two children and two women. It was not clear what triggered the shelling.

Also Sunday, state media said government forces killed nearly 50 rebels in an ambush near Damascus, the capital.

Separately, Kurdish rebels freed the local commander of an al-Qaeda-linked group in a town near Syria’s northern border with Turkey in return for 300 Kurdish civilians detained by the group, as part of an agreement to end the rebel infighting that erupted a day earlier in the region.

The commander in the town of Tal Abyad, who is known as Abu Musaab, was captured during intense fighting between the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and Kurdish militants late Saturday, the Observatory said. The Islamist fighters retaliated by rounding up civilians thought to be relatives of the Kurdish militants to hold as bargaining chips.

— Associated Press

20 cars torched amid veil tensions

Riot police patrolled Sunday in suburbs west of Paris after cars were torched and a police station was attacked amid tensions linked to authorities’ handling of France’s ban on Muslim face veils.

About 20 cars were set ablaze overnight and four people were detained in a second night of violence, officials said Sunday. Interior Minister Manuel Valls said the overnight incidents occurred in the town of Elancourt.

The second night of unrest seemed less intense and appeared to involve fewer people than the night before, when about 250 people clashed with police in the nearby town of Trappes.

The violence began Friday after a group of residents gathered at the police station in Trappes to protest the arrest of a man whose wife was ticketed Thursday for wearing a face veil. The regional prosecutor said the husband tried to strangle the officer who was writing the ticket.

— Associated Press

P akistan says it is willing to help in Afghan peace talks: Pakistan is willing to help jump-start long-stalled peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban if the parties request Islamabad’s assistance, a senior Pakistani official said Sunday. Sartaj Aziz, a special adviser on national security and foreign affairs, spoke during a one-day visit to Afghanistan aimed at mending relations between the two neighbors. Ties have been strained over Kabul’s perception that Pakistan has been supporting the Taliban and trying to obstruct talks to end the 12-year-long war.

U.S. Treasury secretary in Greece for talks: U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew urged Greece on Sunday to continue its efforts to stabilize its debt-ridden economy and capitalize on the sacrifices already made “to ensure prosperity and growth for generations to come.” Lew was on a one-day visit to Greece after attending a Group of 20 meeting in Russia.

Panel meets to amend Egypt’s constitution: The panel charged with amending Egypt’s constitution in the aftermath of the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi met Sunday for the first time, according to the country’s official news agency. Meanwhile, as the military-backed interim leadership pushes its fast-track time­table for a return to democratic rule in Egypt, thousands of women held a brief protest against Morsi’s overthrow at the heavily fortified Defense Ministry in Cairo. Soldiers formed a cordon outside the ministry.

— From news services