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Syrians fleeing fighting between Turkish troops and Syrian Kurdish militiamen rest in a field between Afrin and Azaz on Wednesday.
Syrians fleeing fighting between Turkish troops and Syrian Kurdish militiamen rest in a field between Afrin and Azaz on Wednesday.

28 deaths reported in Syrian shelling

BEIRUT -- Turkish forces shelled the Kurdish-held northern Syrian town of Afrin on Wednesday, killing at least eight people, Kurdish forces said.

At the same time, activists reported government shelling and airstrikes that killed at least 20 civilians in the besieged eastern Ghouta enclave near the capital, Damascus.

Shells slammed into the heart of Afrin at dusk at intervals just seconds apart, forcing residents to rush for cover, according to video published by the People's Protection Units. The group is being targeted by Turkey as a threat to its national security.

Turkish airstrikes killed at least eight pro-government militiamen, deployed to help the People's Protection Units in the area, according to the Kurdish military group.

A Facebook page of the Nubl and Zahraa villages posted photographs of the eight killed fighters, who were from the villages.

Envoy censured for anti-Trump tweets

WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- New Zealand on Wednesday censured its second-ranking diplomat in Washington after she sent tweets saying U.S. Democrats needed to get their act together for the next presidential election "or we will all die."

Deputy Head of Mission Caroline Beresford later deleted the anti-President Donald Trump tweets and made her account private.

New Zealand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the tweets didn't meet its code of conduct for social media, which require diplomatic staff to maintain political neutrality and take care in expressing personal opinions.

"The ministry does not in any way endorse the content or tone of the tweets," it said in a statement. It said it was taking appropriate action but declined to further comment.

Beresford sent at least three tweets late last week disagreeing with an opinion column on political news website The Hill that said a 2020 Democratic ticket with Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren could "win big."

"No it couldn't," Beresford responded. "Please get your [expletive] together or we will all die."

Deaths hit 125 in New Guinea quake

WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- Papua New Guinea police said Wednesday that an earthquake last month killed at least 125 people and forced another 35,000 from their homes.

The Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary said relief efforts are underway in the central region where the magnitude-7.5 quake struck Feb. 26. The official death toll rose from 55 last week, and police said it could rise further.

The region is remote and undeveloped, and assessments about the scale of the damage and injuries have been slow to filter out. Strong aftershocks have continued to rattle the area.

Police said 80 people were killed in Hela province and another 45 in Southern Highlands province. They said those forced from their homes were staying in care centers set up across the region.

Many schools in the region remain closed and landslides continue to block roads.

Palestinians need $540M, U.N. says

BEIT LAHIYA, Gaza Strip -- About $540 million is needed for humanitarian relief in the Palestinian territories in 2018, a United Nations official said Wednesday.

Jamie McGoldrick, the top U.N. humanitarian coordinator, said 75 percent of that sum is for Gaza, where "a man-made tragedy is unfolding daily."

Gaza has been under an Israeli and Egyptian blockade since the Islamic militant group Hamas took over the territory in 2007. The closure along with Hamas' conflicts with Israel and a bitter power struggle with the group's rival, the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, has devastated the economy.

Half the sum is to support emergency projects by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, the main U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, after Washington slashed its funding this year.

A Section on 03/15/2018