BEIRUT -- The battle for Syria's second-largest airport intensified Saturday as government troops tried to reverse recent strategic gains the rebels have made in the northeast in their quest to topple President Bashar Assad.
Mr. Assad's forces have been locked in a stalemate with rebels in Aleppo since July when the city, the largest in Syria, became a major battlefield in the 2-year-old conflict the United Nations says has killed at least 70,000 people. For months, rebels have been trying to capture the international airport, which is closed because of the fighting.
Rami Abdul-Rahman, director of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group, said the current fighting was focused on a section of a highway linking the airport with Aleppo, the commercial hub of the nation.
In Damascus, government forces shelled several rebellious suburbs Saturday as part of their efforts to dislodge opposition fighters who have used the towns and villages surrounding the capital as a staging ground for their attempts to push into the center of the city.
Clash in West Bank
JERUSALEM -- Clashes erupted Saturday in the West Bank where Jewish settlers shot two Palestinian demonstrators in the northern village of Kusra, an Israeli military official and Palestinian residents said.
The clashes reflected mounting friction in the West Bank, where Palestinians have faced off against Israeli troops in recent weeks in a series of large demonstrations protesting Israel's control of the territory in general and in solidarity of four hunger-striking prisoners in Israeli jails.
Also Saturday, a Palestinian prisoner died in an Israeli jail, an event that is likely to intensify tension in the area.
The Israeli military official said Israeli forces dispersed Palestinian protesters using "riot dispersal means."
Iran issues acknowledged
TEHRAN -- Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad made a rare acknowledgment Saturday night of the economic challenges his country is facing.
"This was a very difficult year for our economy," Mr. Ahmadinejad said during a live television interview in which he outlined his government's budget plan for the coming fiscal year. He accused the United States of using its vast economic might to exert unfair pressure on the much smaller Iranian economy.
N. Korea warns over drills
SEOUL, South Korea -- North Korea warned Saturday that U.S. military forces in South Korea "would meet a miserable destruction" if the two allies went ahead with planned military drills in March, North Korean state media reported.
Washington and Seoul regularly carry out military exercises in the region. The North alleges they are preparations for an attack -- a claim denied by the South and the U.S.
The heated rhetoric comes after North Korea conducted its third nuclear test this month, drawing international condemnation.
Also in the world ...
China has reported a second fatality from the deadly H5N1 bird flu, a 31-year-old man who died Friday of organ failure in the south-central Chinese city of Guiyang. ... Cypriots return to the ballot box today to elect a new leader who can avert the island nation's financial collapse after a first-round presidential election failed to deliver an absolute winner.