At least 20 Syrian soldiers and militia were killed Saturday in a fresh attack by Islamist rebels, who planted explosives in a tunnel under an army position in Aleppo, a monitor said. The historic Old City area has seen horrific violence ever since a major rebel offensive on Aleppo in July 2012. "Islamist rebels detonated a tunnel near the Zahrawi market in the Old City of Aleppo, killing at least 20 army soldiers and pro-regime militiamen," said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The attack was claimed by the Islamic Front, Syria's largest rebel alliance, which groups thousands of fighters across the strife-torn country.
Mustafa Sarisuluk didn't even recognise his brother as he watched his limp body being carried to an ambulance after being shot in the head during protests in Ankara last year. "Thousands were at the downtown Kizilay square in Ankara, under massive plumes of tear gas fired by the police billowing into the air. I saw police deliberately taking aim at protesters. The protests soon snowballed into a campaign against the authoritarianism of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamic-rooted government, drawing an estimated three million people onto the streets.
By David Rhode NEW YORK (Reuters) - In a foreign policy address this week, U.S. President Barack Obama gave his clearest outline yet of his counterterrorism strategy. Al Qaeda splinter groups remain the largest threat to the United States, he said, but Washington must respond to it in a new way: by training local security forces, not deploying American ground troops. “We have to develop a strategy that matches this diffuse threat - one that expands our reach without sending forces that stretch our military too thin, or stir up local resentments,” Obama said. “We need partners to fight terrorists alongside us.” But critics say America's past efforts to train local security forces have had mixed results. Washington has a poor track record of applying the long-term resources, funding and attention needed to carry out such efforts successfully.
Ghazni (Afghanistan) (AFP) - A roadside bomb killed 14 civilians in eastern Afghanistan on Saturday, officials said, the latest violence in the country as US-led troops prepare to leave after 13 years of war. The victims were travelling in the Giro district of Ghazni province after a wedding ceremony when the bomb ripped through their vehicle, district governor Abdullah Khairkhwah told AFP. "Fourteen civilians were killed, seven of them were women, and the rest were men, as their minivan vehicles hit a roadside bomb," Khairkhwah said. The district governor said the death toll could rise.
By Julia Edwards and Susan Cornwell WASHINGTON (Reuters) - When U.S. President Barack Obama accepted the resignation on Friday of Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, he said his priority now was fixing the troubled agency whose officials are accused of covering up delays in providing healthcare for U.S. veterans. As Obama himself said, the sprawling Veterans Affairs department "has had problems for a very long time," including management problems. Obama noted on Friday that the VA enrolled 2 million new veterans in healthcare under Shinseki's watch. Obama and many Democratic lawmakers say that the increase calls for more doctors and nurses to prevent veterans from having to endure long wait times for care. In February, Senate Republicans blocked a bill by Bernard Sanders, an Independent who caucuses with Democrats and chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, to expand veterans' benefits.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said Saturday he was "appalled" by the "barbaric" death sentence given to a Sudanese woman for apostasy. Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, 27, was condemned on May 15 under Islamic sharia law, which outlaws conversions on pain of death. "I am absolutely appalled by the decision to sentence Meriam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag to death," Cameron said in a statement. She should be allowed to nurse her baby for two years before any death sentence is carried out, legal experts have said.
A commander from Iran's Revolutionary Guards has been killed in Syria, media said Saturday, a disclosure that runs counter to Tehran's insistence it is not fighting alongside President Bashar al-Assad's forces. Reports that Abdollah Eskandari died while "defending" a Shiite shrine emerged earlier this week but neither the elite military unit nor Iran's foreign ministry have passed comment. Eskandari was formerly a commander of the Guards' ground forces and also headed a state-run charity in southern Iran that helps war veterans and families of fallen soldiers. Neither the circumstances of his killing nor details about his role in the Syrian civil war -- where Iran has staunchly backed the Assad regime -- have been officially confirmed.
Thousands of Turkish police mobilised Saturday in central Istanbul ahead of demonstrations to mark the first anniversary of last year's protests that mushroomed into a revolt against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's rule. Erdogan's government deployed thousands of riot police and police in civilian clothes to enforce a ban on protests at Taksim Square, the epicentre of last year's demonstrations, an AFP reporter said. Erdogan on Friday urged young Turks to ignore the call to stage a protest to mark the anniversary of a movement that began last year as a neighbourhood bid to save Gezi Park, adjacent to Taksim Square, from real estate developers.
North Korea sentenced a South Korean missionary to hard labour for life after accusing him of espionage and setting up an underground church, state media said Saturday, the latest Christian preacher to run into trouble in the secretive state. Prosecutors had sought a death sentence for Kim Jeong-Wook, identified by the North's official news agency KCNA as Kim Jong Uk, during Friday's trial. However, according to KCNA, Kim confessed his guilt -- including state subversion, espionage, anti-state propaganda and agitation, and illegal entry into the country -- and "sincerely repented". "The accused admitted to all his crimes," KCNA said in its report on the trial.
Thailand's coup leaders faced fresh international condemnation Saturday when US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel demanded immediate elections and the release of detainees held by a junta which says there will be no polls for 15 months. Speaking at an Asian security conference in Singapore, the Pentagon chief urged Thailand's military to free scores of people detained under martial law since generals seized power from the civilian government on May 22. Hagel called on the junta to end its curbs on "free expression" -- which include banning political gatherings of more than five people and sweeping media controls -- and for the army to "immediately restore power to the people of Thailand" through elections. Condemning the kingdom's "retreat from democracy" Hagel said the US had suspended its long-standing military ties with Thailand.
Forward Operating Base Shank (Afghanistan) (AFP) - Seven years ago, Jose Navarro's platoon was ambushed and nearly overrun by Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. But this week, after dozens of surgeries, Navarro returned to Afghanistan in an army uniform, flying in a military helicopter with another soldier wounded in the same attack. Washington is winding down its 32,000 troop deployment in Afghanistan after nearly 13 years of war, with President Barack Obama announcing this week that all US forces will leave by the end of 2016. While an end is now in sight for America's longest war, many of the more than 19,000 Americans wounded in Afghanistan will be coping with injuries for years to come.