BEIRUT -- Syrian warplanes bombed rebel areas near Damascus on Thursday as President Bashar Assad's troops battled opposition fighters for control of the road linking the capital to the country's largest airport.
Mr. Assad's forces are trying drive out rebels who have established enclaves in the suburbs. While the government has lost control of large swaths of territory in the country's north and east, including parts of the northern city of Aleppo, the capital remains tightly secured.
Conditions in the city have worsened however, with prices for basic goods rising and fuel in short supply. U.S. officials said Thursday they believe Mr. Assad's sister and mother have left the country, suggesting that hardship has reached even the leadership's families.
As the fighting continued, Laurent Fabius, France's foreign minister suggested that Mr. Assad's fall was not imminent -- a stark admission by a country that has been one of the most ardent supporters of the Syrian rebels.
Meanwhile, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported bomb attacks and clashes in a number of Damascus suburbs, saying at least 13 people were killed. The group, which relies on a network of contacts inside Syria, said fighter jets bombed the southwestern suburbs of Daraya and Moadamiyeh, where rebels have been fighting regime forces for weeks.
French woman goes free
MEXICO CITY -- A Supreme Court panel in Mexico voted Wednesday to free a French woman serving a 60-year sentence for kidnapping, ending a case that has become emblematic of problems in the country's opaque justice system and that has strained relations with France.
In voting 3-2 to free the woman, Florence Cassez, 38, the magistrates did not address whether she was guilty or innocent. What was clear, they said, was that her rights had been violated by a televised broadcast of what appeared to be her arrest and the liberation of three kidnapping victims at a ranch outside Mexico City in December 2005.
Authorities later acknowledged that the raid was staged and that Ms. Cassez and her boyfriend at the time, Israel Vallarta, had been arrested the day before on a highway. They were held while the police set up the supposed raid, which was broadcast on national television.
Three kidnapping victims testified against her. But their testimony was inconsistent, and two of them did not identify her at first.
She was released Wednesday night and left the country on a late-night flight for Paris, according to The Associated Press.
Dispute over islands
TOKYO -- Japanese Coast Guard vessels fired water cannons at a Taiwanese boat Thursday to keep a group of activists from landing on East China Sea islands at the center of a dispute that has strained ties between Japan and China.
The Taiwanese boat left the area along with four Taiwanese coast guard vessels that had accompanied it, the Japanese Coast Guard said in a faxed statement. Three Chinese Marine Surveillance vessels were also circling the islands just outside Japanese-administered waters, according to the statement.
China has demanded that Japan withdraw its September purchase of the islands, elevating tensions between Asia's biggest economies that has damaged a $340 billion trade relationship and prolonged Japan's recession. The United States has repeatedly said the chain, also claimed by Taiwan, falls under a mutual defense treaty with Japan while saying it takes no position on sovereignty.
700 held without charges
ISLAMABAD -- Pakistan is holding 700 suspected militants without charges under a controversial law that has been criticized by human rights groups, the country's attorney general said Thursday.
The attorney general's admission, made during a Supreme Court hearing, will likely fuel concerns about Pakistan's conduct during the past several years as it battled a domestic Taliban insurgency in the country's northwest.
The suspected militants are being held in internment centers in the country's semiautonomous tribal region along the Afghan border -- an area that is the main Taliban sanctuary in the country, Attorney General Irfan Qadir said.
They will be held until the military concludes operations against the Taliban, and then authorities will determine whether they can be tried in court, Mr. Qadir said.
2nd anniversary of uprising
CAIRO -- Egypt's opposition plans protests today to mark the second anniversary of the uprising against Hosni Mubarak, highlighting the tensions that have hampered efforts to restore stability and revive the economy.
Much of the anger will this time be aimed at President Mohamed Morsi. Many opposition groups accuse him of working to tighten the grip of his Muslim Brotherhood on power, while failing to improve living conditions or tackle the other complaints that sparked the 2011 uprising.
Egypt's economy has been growing at the slowest pace in two decades for the two years since the revolution, as tourists and investors stayed away.