Syria

Media: Israel launched missile attack on airport

DAMASCUS — Syria’s state media said Saturday that Israel launched a missile attack on Damascus International Airport, adding that air defenses shot down some of them.

The Saturday night attack shook the capital Damascus as blasts were heard in the city.

Rami Abdurrahman who heads the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the missile attack targeted an arms depot near the airport where new weapons recently arrived for the Iranians or Lebanon’s Hezollah group.

Italy

Pope, in Sicily, honors priest slain by Mafia

PALERMO, Sicily — Pope Francis appealed to Mafiosi to renounce their quests for power and money as he visited Sicily on Saturday to honor a priest slain by mob henchmen for trying to protect youths from the evil clutches of organized crime.

The daylong trip by Francis to the Mediterranean island where the Cosa Nostra is rooted marked the 25th anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Giuseppe “Pino” Puglisi’s assassination.

Puglisi was declared a martyr by the Vatican and beatified in 2013, the last formal step before possible sainthood.

Francis paid tribute to the priest, who worked to keep unemployed youths in a poor neighborhood of Palermo from turning to local Mafia bosses for jobs such as pushing drugs.

The papal pilgrimage came in counterpoint to the latest revelations about priests and bishops who sexually abused children or connived to protect the abusers in various nations, disclosures battering the highest levels of the church and testing the faith of rank-and-file Catholics.

South Sudan

UN condemns attack on its peacekeepers

JUBA — The United Nations condemned a “direct attack” on its peacekeeping mission in South Sudan after a government soldier shot and wounded a Nepalese peacekeeper Saturday.

The shooting came three days after South Sudan’s rival sides signed a peace deal to end the five-year civil war that has killed tens of thousands of people.

The South Sudanese soldier fired into the air near a U.N. convoy in the town of Yei before shooting at one of the vehicles, the U.N. statement said, adding that the peacekeepers could not return fire because of the risk of hitting civilians.

The U.N. mission chief, David Shearer, called the attack “unacceptable” and urged South Sudan’s government to bring its forces under control.

Iraq

Sunni Arab elected

as parliament speaker

BAGHDAD — Amid escalating political wrangling, Iraqi lawmakers elected an Iran-backed Sunni Arab as speaker of parliament Saturday, the first step in forming a new government four months after national elections.

The 37-year old speaker was supported by the pro-Iran bloc inside parliament, the Building coalition, which is mainly made up of Iran-backed Shiite militiamen — underscoring the growing Iranian influence in the process of forming the country’s new government.

During a secret ballot, 169 lawmakers voted for Mohammed al-Halbousi, the former governor of Anbar, and 89 others voted for the former defense minister, Khalid al-Obeidi.

“This is a victory for the Building coalition,” prominent Sunni politician Mahmoud al-Mashhadani told The Associated Press after the session. “No one can ignore the Iranian influence in Iraq, it’s stronger than the U.S.’s (influence),” al-Mashhadani added.

Wire reports