BEIRUT -- Syrian rebels seized a major air defense base Saturday in a strategic region in the south near the Jordanian border, the latest battlefield triumph for fighters seeking to topple President Bashar Assad, activists said.
Fighters stormed the base used after a 16-day siege, according to the Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade. The base near the village of Saida sits along the international highway linking the Syrian capital, Damascus, with Jordan.
Fighting in Syria's southern provinces bordering Jordan and Israel has increased sharply in the past few days. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said dozens of people, mostly opposition fighters, were killed in heavy clashes last week in the Quneitra region along the cease-fire line between Syria and Israel in the Golan Heights.
Afghan prison accord
WASHINGTON -- The U.S. has reached an agreement with the Afghanistan government to transfer the Parwan Detention Facility to Afghan control, the Pentagon said Saturday, two weeks after talks broke down over whether the U.S. would have the power to block the release of some detainees.
According to a senior U.S. official, a key element to the agreement is that the Afghans can invoke a procedure that insures prisoners considered dangerous would not be released from the detention center.
Transfer of the Parwan detention center Monday is critical to the ongoing effort to gradually shift control of the country's security to the Afghans as the U.S. and allies move toward the full withdrawal of combat troops by the end of 2014.
Australian hostage freed
MANILLA, The Philippines -- Warren Rodwell, who was kidnapped in the Philippines in December 2011, was released from captivity on the southern island of Mindanao, the Australian government said.
Mr. Rodwell, an Australian citizen, is with Philippine authorities and Australian diplomatic staff and will be moved to a safe location, Foreign Minister Bob Carr said in an email Saturday.
He had been held by the Abu Sayyaf group after being seized from his home in Mindanao, the Australian Broadcasting Corp. reported on its website.
Warlord's death confirmed
PARIS -- The death of a top al-Qaida-linked warlord in combat with French-led troops represents a victory in the battle against jihadists who had a stranglehold on northern Mali. But it is far from the defining blow against an wily enemy that can go underground and regroup to renew itself.
A top commander of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, Abou Zeid had been in the crosshairs of the French military and their African partners since they moved in to Mali on Jan. 11 to rout radicals seen as a threat to northwest Africa and to Europe. An announcement Saturday by the French president's office that Zeid's death in late February has been "definitively confirmed" ends weeks of speculation about his fate.
Notre Dame's new bells
PARIS -- Thousands have gathered outside Notre Dame Cathedral to hear the inaugural ringing of nine gargantuan new bells at the landmark.
The bells, the largest of which weighs in at 61/2 tons were ordered for the cathedral's 850th birthday -- to replace the discordant "ding dang" of the previous four 19th-century chimes.
Saturday was the first time the bells have been rung since they were delivered in late January. They join the cathedral's oldest surviving bell, named Emmanuel, to restore the 10-bell harmony originally conceived for Notre Dame's bell towers.