France reassures
Jewish state on Iran

French President François Hollande vowed to maintain his country’s tough stance in nuclear talks with Iran this week, earning praise from his hosts Sunday as he began a three-day visit to Israel.

The Jewish state has repeatedly voiced concern that the emerging deal that global powers are negotiating with Iran gives it too much without guaranteeing that the Islamic republic’s ability to develop a ­nuclear weapon is eliminated.

Hollande vowed that France would not make any concessions regarding nuclear proliferation.

“If there hadn’t been sanctions, if they hadn’t been enforced, it’s clear that we would never even have had the words from Iran — and I don’t yet speak of actions — that we had in the last few weeks,” he said in a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu has been outspoken in his opposition to a potential deal in which the international community would ease some sanctions on Iran in exchange for some curbs on Iran’s nuclear program. The United States and its allies fear that Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon, which Iran denies.

— Associated Press

Six contractors
are beheaded

Afghan villagers discovered the beheaded bodies of six government contractors Sunday in the country’s restive south, the apparent victims of insurgents who regularly target state projects, officials said.

Meanwhile, the death toll from a suicide car bombing at the site of a key national assembly meeting in the capital, Kabul, rose to 12, officials said. NATO said an international service member was killed by a roadside bomb.

Kandahar police spokesman Ahmed Durrani said villagers found the headless bodies. He said the men were involved in building police compounds and checkpoints in the province, the birthplace of the Taliban.

There was no assertion of responsibility for the beheadings. Taliban insurgents have previously targeted contractors, warning Afghans against working for the government.

The Taliban did, however, take credit for the blast Saturday outside the huge tent where the loya jirga consultative forum is to be held this week in Kabul. Thousands of prominent Afghans are scheduled to meet there to debate a proposed security agreement with the United States.

Interior Ministry spokesman Sediq Sediqqi said three of the 12 dead were members of Afghanistan’s security forces, and many of the rest were civilians. The Taliban gave the bomber’s name as Saeed Kabuli but provided few other details.

— Associated Press

Plane crash in Russia kills 50: A Boeing 737 airliner crashed Sunday in the Russian city of Kazan, killing all 50 people on board. The son of the president of the oil-rich province of Tatarstan and the regional head of the FSB intelligence service were listed among those killed when the plane exploded in a ball of fire on hitting the runway. The crew of the Tatarstan Airlines flight from Moscow had been trying to abort the landing when the plane crashed, killing the 44 passengers and six crew members, emergency officials said.

Bombings, gunmen kill at least 20 in Iraq: Numerous attacks across Iraq killed at least 20 people Sunday, officials said, as gunmen targeted a militia leader and bombs exploded near police officers and civilians. In the capital’s eastern New Baghdad neighborhood, a bomb in a parked car killed three civilians and wounded 10, a police officer said. Another police officer said a car bombing in Baghdad’s eastern Sadr City neighborhood killed one person and wounded 11. In Radwaniyah, a bomb went off in a commercial area, killing three civilians and wounding 10, authorities said. In Tarmiyah, about 30 miles north of Baghdad, a bomb exploded near soldiers on patrol, killing two and wounding five, officials said.

Pope promotes prayer as medicine for the heart: Joking that he’s like a pharmacist, Pope Francis is promoting prayer as medicine for the heart. Appearing Sunday at his studio window, Francis held up a rosary in a box designed to resemble a packet of pills, and then volunteers distributed thousands of the boxes. Francis said he was recommending reciting the rosary prayer as a “spiritual medicine” that is “good for the heart.”

Frenchman held hostage for a year escapes: A French engineer who had been held hostage by Islamist militants in northern Nigeria for almost a year has escaped his jailers, President Francois Hollande said on Sunday from Israel, where he is on a state visit. Hollande gave no details about the escape, but a Nigerian police official told Reuters Francis Collomp, who is over 60, had slipped out of his cell and managed to find a motorcycle taxi which took him to a police station. Collomp was seized when about 30 gunmen stormed his compound on Dec. 19 in the northern Nigerian town of Rimi.

— From news services