- - Thursday, August 23, 2012


BEIRUT — Syrian troops backed by tanks and helicopters broke into a Damascus suburb Thursday. The action followed two days of shelling and intense clashes as part of a widening offensive by President Bashar Assad to seize control of parts of the capital and surrounding areas from rebel fighters, activists said.

At least 15 people were killed in the offensive on Daraya, only a few miles southwest of Damascus.

Across the country, at least 100 people died in shelling and clashes, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees.

Residents of Damascus said troops were bombing Daraya and nearby Moadamiyeh from the Qasioun mountain overlooking the city.

In the eastern part of the country, Syrian rebels waged fierce battles with regime troops in the town of al-Bukamal, which is across the border from the Iraqi town of Qaim.

The border crossing has been in rebel hands since last month, but wresting control of al-Bukamal itself from regime troops would expand the opposition foothold along the frontier.

The opposition already controls a wide swath of territory along the border with Turkey in the north, as well as pockets along the frontier with Jordan to the south and Lebanon to the west. Together, they have proven key in ferrying people and supplies into and out of the country.


Possible Iranian link investigated in bombing

ISTANBUL — Turkey has said it is investigating whether another country, possibly Iran, was involved in an explosion that killed nine people near Syria earlier this week.

The announcement reflects concern about spillover from the war in Syria as well as increasing tension with Iran, a regional power that supports Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Turkey blamed a Kurdish rebel group, the PKK, for the attack in the southern city of Gaziantep.

In a separate incident near the Iraqi border, Turkish media reported Thursday that five soldiers and 16 Kurdish militants died in a nighttime ambush of a military convoy and an ensuing operation by security forces.

Some Turkish officials allege there are links between the PKK, which denied it carried out the bombing, and Syrian intelligence.

Turkey backs the Syrian opposition in its war with forces loyal to Mr. Assad, and relations between Ankara and Damascus have deteriorated sharply since the conflict began in March 2011.


21 soldiers charged in killing of civilians in ‘06

BOGOTA — Prosecutors have ordered the arrest of 21 soldiers in the deaths of three civilians who were falsely reported to have been killed in combat, the government said Thursday.

The arrest orders involved five noncommissioned officers and 16 soldiers accused of “aggravated homicide and aggravated forced disappearance” of the civilians in northwestern Antioquia province in 2006.

Soldiers are accused of luring two men — Yamire Verbel and Jorge Eliecer Barbosa — to a rural area in the municipality of Dabeiba with promises of work, and then killing them on May 10, 2006.

Six months later, a civilian identified as Yoner Jose Lopez was killed near Dabeiba and reported killed in combat by the military.

The Colombian attorney general’s office is prosecuting large numbers of soldiers in cases involving civilians who were falsely reported killed in combat by soldiers seeking medals, time off or praise from their superiors.


Tanks seized from militia remaining loyal to Gadhafi

TRIPOLI — More than 100 tanks have been seized from a militia loyal to Libya’s former leader Moammar Gadhafi whose members had posed as “revolutionaries” in a region south of Tripoli, the interior ministry said Thursday.

A ministry official said an investigation into twin car bomb attacks Sunday helped to detect the militia housed in barracks in Souk al-Ahad near Tarhuna, 35 miles southeast of Tripoli.

“More than 100 tanks and 26 missile launchers were seized” from the militia, the spokesman for the interior ministry’s High Security Committee told reporters.

The car bombs killed two people and wounded four others in Tripoli in the dawn attacks.

South Africa

Hippo stuck in swimming pool at conservation lodge

JOHANNESBURG — A hefty hippo chased away from his herd at a South African game reserve has found a refreshing place to relax in the lodge’s swimming pool, but now he is stuck there.

The young hippopotamus plopped into the pool Tuesday at the Monate Conservation Lodge north of Johannesburg. The pool is big enough for the hippo to swim in, but it is eight feet deep with no steps.

“There’s no way he can come out,” lodge manager Ruby Ferreira said.

A team of wildlife experts will sedate the hippo and lift him out of the pool with a crane, said MuIsabel Wentzel of South Africa’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Because the 4-year-old hippo was forced from its herd by more-dominant males, it will be moved to another reserve once it is rescued Friday.

• From wire dispatches and staff reports

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