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In brief: Officials say 185 killed in attack

BAGA, Nigeria – Fighting between Nigeria’s military and Islamic extremists killed at least 185 people in a fishing community in the nation’s far northeast, officials said Sunday, an attack that saw insurgents fire rocket-propelled grenades and soldiers spray machine-gun fire into neighborhoods filled with civilians.

The fighting in Baga began Friday and lasted for hours, sending people fleeing into the arid scrublands surrounding the community on Lake Chad. By Sunday, when government officials finally felt safe enough to see the destruction, homes, businesses and vehicles were burned throughout the area.

The assault marks a significant escalation in the long-running insurgency Nigeria faces in its predominantly Muslim north, with Boko Haram extremists mounting a coordinated assault on soldiers using military-grade weaponry.

Authorities had found and buried at least 185 bodies as of Sunday afternoon, said Lawan Kole, a local government official in Baga.

Officials could not offer a breakdown of civilian casualties versus those of soldiers and extremist fighters. Many of the bodies had been burned beyond recognition in fires that razed whole sections of the town, residents said. Those killed were buried as soon as possible, following local Muslim tradition.

Troops kill 80, opposition says

BEIRUT – Syrian government security forces and paramilitaries killed dozens of people, many of them civilians, in a five-day battle for a Damascus suburb, rebel activists and a pro-opposition nongovernmental organization said Sunday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, considered close to the opposition, said at least 80 people had been killed in the fighting in Jdeidat al Fadel, a suburb of Damascus. The British-based organization said the dead included three children, six women and 71 men, of whom 19 were fighters.

The Syrian government had no immediate comment on the report.

Syrian opposition activists gave widely varying estimates of how many had died in the fighting, with figures as high as 250.

A rebel spokeswoman in Damascus, who goes by the name Susan Ahmed, said thousands of army and pro-government fighters had pushed into the suburb Saturday after bombarding the area with rocket and mortar fire. They also began summary executions, Ahmed said. Fighting in the war that began more than two years ago has intensified in recent months, including in Damascus.