World Briefs

Syrian regime opens new urban front

BEIRUT – The Syrian military opened a second urban front Friday, attacking the rebel stronghold of Homs with the most intense artillery barrage in months and putting opposition fighters there and in Syria’s largest city, Aleppo, increasingly on the defensive.

Syria’s civil war has been locked in a bloody stalemate, and embattled President Bashar Assad could extend his hold on power if he retakes Aleppo and Homs. Amateur video from Homs, a symbol of resistance, showed black columns of smoke rising from the city, as loud explosions went off every few seconds.

While Assad stepped up attacks at home, tensions with neighboring Turkey flared again Friday, reviving fears that the 18-month-old conflict in Syria could ignite a regional conflagration.

The crisis began Wednesday, when a Syrian shell killed five civilians in a Turkish border town and triggered unprecedented artillery strikes by Turkey, coupled with warnings that Turkey would no longer tolerate such acts. On Friday, a Syrian mortar round again hit inside Turkey, causing no injuries, and Turkish troops returned fire, the state-run news agency Anadolu said.

U.S. suspects Haqqani tie to insider attacks

KABUL, Afghanistan – The Haqqani insurgent network, based in Pakistan and with ties to al-Qaida, is suspected of being a driving force behind a significant number of the “insider” attacks by Afghan forces that have killed or wounded more than 130 U.S. and allied troops this year, American officials said Friday.

Until now, officials had said the attacks seemed to stem either from personal grievances against the allies or from Taliban infiltration. The Taliban has publicly claimed to be orchestrating the campaign to subvert the U.S.-Afghan alliance.

New data provided to The Associated Press this week also reveal that in addition to 35 U.S. and allied troops killed in insider attacks last year, 61 were wounded. Those included 19 in a single attack in the eastern province of Laghman on April 16, 2011, in which six American servicemen were killed. Thus far in 2012, there have been 53 killed and at least 80 wounded, the figures showed.

Haqqani involvement in the plotting would add a new dimension to that group’s insurgent activity, which has been marked largely by spectacular attacks against targets inside Kabul.

Venezuela military wild card for election

CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuela’s military could end up being the decisive power broker in Sunday’s presidential vote, especially if President Hugo Chavez stumbles in his fight to stay in power against the most formidable foe he’s faced.

Chavez has spent nearly 14 years consolidating control over state institutions, but ultimately only the military has the clout to determine who prevails if the election results are close and disputed.

The opposition contends Chavez already has been employing the military in a political role, in violation of the constitution. His challenger, Henrique Capriles, tweeted a photo this week showing soldiers appearing to shed olive-green fatigue tops in favor of the red T-shirts worn by the “Chavistas” who crowd the president’s rallies.

“In my government nobody will be obliged to don the T-shirt of a political party, least of all our soldiers!” Capriles wrote, emphasizing the military’s potentially crucial postelection role.

Associated Press