BEIRUT (AP) -- Syria's state-run media and opposition activists are reporting heavy clashes in the strategic central province of Homs near the border with Lebanon.
The SANA news agency says four key villages -- Qadesh, Mansourieh, Saadiyeh and Radwaniyeh -- have fallen under government control on Saturday. The villages are close to the contested town of Qusair.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says there are casualties on both sides in the fighting in the area, which has been engulfed in clashes for the past two weeks.
Regime troops last week captured a hill overlooking several towns in the area and the highway linking the capital, Damascus, with the Mediterranean coast.
On Thursday, government forces captured a town in the province and rebels seized a military base in the area.
ISTANBUL (AP) -- U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is wrapping up a 24-hour visit to Istanbul with talks aimed at improving ties between Turkey and Israel and pushing ahead with Mideast peace efforts.
American officials say Kerry will use meetings Sunday with Turkey's foreign minister and the Palestinian president to urge the Turks to make good on pledges to normalize relations with Israel and explore ways to relaunch peace talks between the Palestinians and Israelis.
President Barack Obama has made both issues foreign policy priorities for his second term. During a trip to Israel in February, Obama secured pledges from Turkey and Israel to restore badly strained ties.
Earlier Sunday in Istanbul, Kerry announced that the Obama administration is doubling its non-lethal assistance to the Syrian opposition to $250 million.
BAGHDAD (AP) -- Polls are open in Iraq for local officials in the country's first elections since the U.S. military withdrawal.
Voting began Saturday for members of provincial councils in 12 of Iraq's 18 governorates. Thousands of candidates from 50 electoral blocs are running for 378 positions.
The results will not directly affect Iraq's national leadership. But the vote will be an important barometer of support for Iraq's various political blocs heading into 2014 parliamentary elections.
Authorities tightened security around the country. Nearly 14 million voters are eligible to participate.
Officials delayed voting in two largely Sunni provinces, citing security concerns. No vote is scheduled in the ethnically divided province of Kirkuk. Iraq's largely autonomous northern Kurdish region will hold local elections in September.
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran's oil ministry says the country is considering exporting oil to North Korea as a way to improve its battered economy.
The official IRNA news agency quoted on Saturday Oil Minister Rostam Ghasemi as saying talks are underway between Tehran and Pyongyang on oil exports.
An oil deal would bring the two nations deeply at odds with the U.S. and the West closer together. In September, they signed a scientific and technological cooperation agreement. A delegation from North Korea's oil ministry is currently visiting Iran.
Iranian and North Korean officials have said in the past that their nations are in "one trench" in the confrontation with Western powers.
But Iran has denied a U.N. report saying the two have exchanged ballistic missiles, components and technology in violation of U.N. sanctions.
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran's foreign ministry says the country is a committed signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and will continue cooperating with the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency.
Five major powers on Friday labeled Iran and North Korea as "serious challenges" to the world's nuclear security, saying they have defied U.N. sanctions. They cited Iran's "continued pursuit of certain nuclear activities" as among the biggest threats to the treaty, the world's most important pact on preventing the spread of nuclear arms.
Responding to the charge, the semi-official ISNA news agency on Saturday quoted Iran foreign ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast as saying that Iran is "loyal" to its commitments under the treaty and will continue working with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
The West suspects Iran is pursuing nuclear weapon, a charge Tehran denies.
CAIRO (AP) -- Rights activists including members of a high-level commission that issued a report detailing security abuse and atrocities since the 2011 uprising are accusing Egyptian Presdient Mohammed Morsi of ignoring their findings.
A fact-finding commission, which Morsi created, looked into 21 incidents of protester killings, torture, forced disappearance and other rights violations since the revolt that toppled former autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
The commission presented its report to Morsi in January. Some findings, leaked to the media, reported excessive use of force by Egypt's police and military.
The rights group, calling itself "We Are After You for the Report," said Saturday that Morsi had not held culprits accountable, but instead had consolidated their power.
The presidency could not be immediately reached for a comment.
CAIRO (AP) -- An Egyptian court has ordered the release of Egypt's deposed President Hosni Mubarak pending further investigation into corruption charges. But he will continue to be held in prison in two other corruption cases.
The decision by a misdemeanors court in Nasr City on Saturday came days after another court ordered Mubarak released pending his retrial in a separate case alleging responsibility for the deaths of nearly 900 protesters during the 2011 uprising against him.
In that case, an appeals court threw out a life sentence against him in January, granting him a new trial, which is set to resume May 11.
Egypt's prosecutor general Talaat Abdullah plans to appeal the latest release order.
Mubarak has been in detention since 2011 and currently is in Tora prison in Cairo.
YA'AN, China (AP) -- Rescuers and relief teams are struggling to rush supplies into the rural hills of China's Sichuan province after an earthquake left at least 179 people dead and more than 6,700 injured and caused frightened survivors to spend the night in cars, tents and makeshift shelters.
The earthquake Saturday morning triggered landslides that cut off roads and disrupted phone and power connections in mountainous Lushan county, farther south on the same fault line where a devastating quake wreaked widespread damage across the region five years ago.
Hardest hit Saturday were villages farther up the valleys, where farmers grow rice, vegetables and corn on terraced plots. State media reports rescuers hiked into a neighboring county after its roads were cut off, reaching it overnight. In Longmen village, authorities say nearly all the buildings were destroyed in a frightening minute-long shaking by the quake.
The quake -- measured by the earthquake administration at magnitude-7.0 and by the U.S. Geological Survey at 6.6 -- struck shortly after 8 a.m. Saturday, when many people were at home, sleeping or having breakfast.
BEIJING (AP) -- China's state news agency says a coal mine explosion has killed 18 and injured 12 in the northeast part of the country.
The Xinhua News Agency cites local authorities as saying the Saturday afternoon blast occurred in Helong city in Jilin province.
The report says rescue work has ended, but an investigation into the cause of the explosion continues.
China's mines are the deadliest in the world. Safety has tightened in recent years, but regulations are often ignored.
LAGOS, Nigeria (AP) -- Experts say that the growing piracy off the coast of West Africa takes root in the oil-slicked creeks of Nigeria's southern delta.
Speaking Saturday at a conference on piracy, the experts say the majority of the attacks happening across the Gulf of Guinea mostly happen along Nigeria's coast. The experts say those committing the acts likely come from the militant groups of the Niger Delta.
Freedom Onuoha, a research fellow at Nigeria's Center for Strategic Research and Studies, said those militants have the knowledge of the oil industry that makes it possible for them to hijack oil tankers and steal their cargo. He also said it appeared "state actors" had a role in the thefts as well.
WARSAW, Poland (AP) -- As his train rolled across Germany in 1939, passing through small towns where swastikas fluttered from flagpoles, Tad Taube cowered in fear each time Nazi police entered his compartment and barked orders for his documents -- papers that plainly identified him as an 8-year-old Jewish boy from Poland.
But Taube got safely through to France, and then to the United States, making a narrow escape from the Holocaust.
Now the 82-year-old Taube (pronounced TOH-bee), who lives in California, is back in Poland to celebrate the partial opening of a new Polish Jewish history museum for which he has spent years raising funds, including millions from his resources.
The Museum of the History of Polish Jews opened its doors to the public for the first time Saturday.