ROME -- Pope Francis used the first Christmas address of his papacy Wednesday to make a broad call for global peace and an end to violence in Syria and parts of Africa, urging atheists and followers of other religions to join together in this common cause.
Pope Francis spoke from the central balcony of St. Peter's Basilica as a throng estimated at 70,000 people listened below. The traditional address offered the pope an opportunity to give Christmas greetings to the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics and draw attention to issues that concern him -- in this case, the universal desire for peace.
"True peace is not a balance of opposing forces," Pope Francis said. "It is not a lovely facade which conceals conflicts and divisions. Peace calls for daily commitment."
Report: 400 killed in Syria
BEIRUT -- A Syrian human rights group says more than 400 people have been killed during a government bombardment of rebel-held areas of the northern city of Aleppo, and more than one-quarter of the victims are children.
Rami Abdurrahman of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Wednesday they counted 401 people killed in 11 continuous days of government bombing.
South Sudan crisis talks
NAIROBI -- Leaders of several East African nations will meet in the South Sudanese capital of Juba today for talks on resolving the nation's crisis, officials confirmed.
Kenyan foreign ministry official Karanja Kibicho also confirmed Wednesday there will be a summit of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development or IGAD, an East African bloc, in Nairobi on Friday.
"We will expect President [Salva] Kiir to be there, as this is about him," said Mr. Kibicho.
SHANGHAI -- Health authorities in China are investigating one of the nation's biggest vaccine makers after eight infants died in the past two months following injections that were meant to immunize them against hepatitis B.
The government said this week that it had suspended the use of millions of doses of a hepatitis B vaccine produced by the manufacturer, Shenzhen Kangtai Biological. Government inspectors have been sent to examine the company's facilities.
Six of the deaths have been linked to vaccines produced by Shenzhen Kangtai.
17 dead in capsized boat
ISTANBUL -- As Turks and Caicos police towed an intercepted freighter packed with Haitian migrants, the boat capsized early Wednesday, plunging dozens of people into the water -- and killing at least 17.
The Christmas tragedy is the fourth deadly boating accident involving Haitian migrants in the region since August. According to government spokesman Neil Smith, the vessel grounded and capsized two hours later -- as it was being towed to shore -- near the south dock of Providenciales. At least 55 migrants may have plunged into the waters.
Israeli settlement plans
JERUSALEM -- Israel likely will announce new plans for construction in Jewish settlements next week, an official said Wednesday, a move that is likely to trigger an international uproar and threaten peace talks with the Palestinians.
Israel's Channel 2 TV said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu planned to announce "massive construction" next week. Channel 10 TV spoke of 1,000 to 2,000 new homes. The report cites anonymous officials close to the prime minister.
-- Compiled from news services