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Syrian, Russian airstrikes make bloody 24 hours for civilians; 2015 letter detailing abuse, cover-up belies pope’s claim of ignorance; more in world news

Syria

Civilians suffer bloody 24 hours

Syrian opposition rescue teams pulled babies from incubators in a hospital under attack. Elderly patients lay motionless on the ground, and rescue workers searched for survivors in the rubble of an apartment building. On Monday, the stepped up airstrikes by Syrian government forces and their Russian allies on the last remaining rebel strongholds killed at least 28 civilians. Six were children. "It is like the end of days," said Raed Saleh of the first-responders group White Helmets, describing the 24 hours of attacks on eastern Damascus suburb of Ghouta ó which faced nearly 40 airstrikes ó and northwestern Idlib province. The escalating offensive, which included a suspected chlorine attack Sunday, reached a new ferocity after insurgents downed a Russian jet over the weekend, the first time they scored such a major hit against the governmentís main ally, Moscow. Cease-fire deals have failed to quell the violence or restore humanitarian aid to besieged Ghouta, where 400,000 residents face a looming humanitarian disaster. "Revenge should not be on civilians and children," Saleh said. "We need the international community to restore the humanity it has lost in Syria." The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said at least 70 people were wounded Monday and the number of casualties was likely to climb as rescue operations got under way.

South Sudan

Child abductions rise
amid grinding civil war

Itís been almost two years since Deng Macharís three young children were abducted from his home and likely sold for cattle. Sitting in South Sudanís opposition-held town of Akobo, the 35-year-old pointed to the dirt beneath his feet. "They were playing right there," Machar said. "It would be easier if they were dead because then I could forget." Machar said his 4-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son were likely sold for cattle after being seized by men from the rival Murle tribe. He doubts his 2-year-old son is still alive. Eleven children in all were abducted from this area that day and none has been seen since. It is a little-acknowledged tragedy in South Sudanís five-year civil war. Child kidnappings between clans have increased as people become more desperate amid widespread hunger and a devastated economy, human rights groups say.

Vatican City

Letter detailing abuse, cover-up belies popeís claim of ignorance

Pope Francis received a victimís letter in 2015 that graphically detailed how a priest sexually abused him and how other Chilean clergy ignored it, contradicting the popeís recent insistence that no victims had come forward to denounce the cover-up, the letterís author and members of Francisí own sex-abuse commission have told the Associated Press. The fact that Francis received the eight-page letter, obtained by the AP, challenges his insistence that he has "zero tolerance" for sex abuse and cover-ups. It also calls into question his stated empathy with abuse survivors, compounding the most serious crisis of his five-year papacy. The scandal exploded last month when Francisí trip to South America was marred by protests over his vigorous defense of Bishop Juan Barros, who is accused by victims of witnessing and ignoring the abuse by the Rev. Fernando Karadima. During the trip, Francis callously dismissed accusations against Barros as "slander," seemingly unaware that victims had placed Barros at the scene of Karadimaís crimes. On the plane home, confronted by an AP reporter, the pope said: "You, in all good will, tell me that there are victims, but I havenít seen any, because they havenít come forward." But members of the popeís Commission for the Protection of Minors say that in April 2015, they sent a delegation to Rome specifically to hand-deliver a letter to the pope about Barros. The letter from Juan Carlos Cruz detailed the abuse, kissing and fondling he says he suffered at Karadimaís hands, which he said Barros and others saw but did nothing to stop.

Italy

Tax fraud Berlusconi claims refugees Ďreadyí to commit crime

Former Premier Silvio Berlusconi has asserted 600,000 migrants who arrived illegally in Italy are "ready" to commit crimes. He vowed they would be deported if an election propels his center-right party into a coalition government with a right-wing, anti-migrant party and a party with neo-fascist roots. The leaders of the main rival parties in the March 4 parliamentary election retorted Monday that policies from Berlusconiís three stints in office helped create conditions that brought so many refugees to Italy, including war in Libya. On Sunday, Berlusconi said of immigrants in the country illegally: "600,000 are tantamount to a social bomb ready to explode, because they live by the expedient of committing crimes." The former prime minister cannot run for office due to a tax fraud conviction. Berlusconi also has faced extensive allegations of extortion, embezzlement, bribery of officials, sexual abuse and more. ó tbt* wires

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