KABUL, Afghanistan – Mortars slammed into a residential area of the Afghan capital, killing eight people Saturday, hours before outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo held what are likely his last meetings with the Taliban and Afghan government negotiators trying to hammer out a peace deal.
The attack in Kabul, which was blamed on Islamic State militants, also injured 31 people.
The assault came as peace talks were underway in Qatar, where Pompeo told Afghan government negotiators that the U.S. will “sit on the side and help where we can” in the negotiations with Taliban militants.
Two Taliban officials told The Associated Press that the two warring sides have found common ground on which to move forward the stalled talks.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the media, did not elaborate.
In Kabul, at least one of the 23 mortar shells fired from two cars hit inside the Iranian Embassy compound. No one was injured, but it damaged the main building, the Iranian Embassy said in a tweet. At least 31 people were hurt elsewhere in the city, according to the Afghan Interior Ministry.
Honduran shelters strained after Eta
Shelters for people whose homes were flooded or damaged by hurricanes Eta and Iota in Honduras are now so crowded that thousands of victims have taken refuge under highway overpasses or bridges.
The International Red Cross estimates that about 4.2 million people were affected by the back-to-back Category 4 hurricanes in November in Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala. Several hundred thousand are in shelters or informal camps across the region.
But nowhere are the evacuated victims piled up more densely than in the northern Honduras city of San Pedro Sula, where some neighborhoods are still under water. The evacuees say they fear that even when they are eventually allowed to return to their flooded neighborhoods, they will find everything gone.
Orlando Antonio Linares oversees a municipal shelter at a school in San Pedro Sula, where almost 500 hurricane victims have taken refuge. There are about 84 shelters across the city, holding as many 100,000 people.
Building burned in Guatemala unrest
Hundreds of protesters broke into Guatemala's Congress and burned part of the building Saturday amid growing demonstrations against President Alejandro Giammattei and the legislature for approving a budget that cut educational and health spending.
The protest came as about 7,000 people were demonstrating in front of the National Palace in Guatemala City against the budget, which protesters say was negotiated and passed by legislators in secret while the Central American country was distracted by the fallout of back-to-back hurricanes and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Video on social media showed flames shooting out a window in the legislative building. According to media reports, security agents fired tear gas at protestors and there were people injured.
25 arrested in wide Iowa drug sweep
Twenty-five people were arrested and illegal drugs, guns and cash were seized in a large law enforcement sweep of more than 40 locations in central Iowa, authorities said.
Search warrants were executed Wednesday at 45 locations in Des Moines, Windsor Heights, Clive, Waukee, West Des Moines and Adel, the federal Justice Department said. In addition to the arrests, state and federal officers seized 37 firearms, 3 pounds of cocaine and 18 pounds of marijuana, among other drugs, officials said. Agents also seized $50,000 in cash.
All 25 people arrested are facing federal drug or firearms charges, officials said.
Satellite launched to eye ocean levels
A U.S.-European satellite designed to extend a decades-long measurement of global sea surface heights was launched into Earth orbit from California on Saturday.
A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying the satellite blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base at 9:17 a.m. and arced southward over the Pacific Ocean. The Falcon's first stage flew back to the launch site and landed for reuse.
The Sentinel-6 Michael Freilich satellite was released from the second stage about an hour later. It then deployed its solar panels and made first contact with controllers.
Named for a former NASA official who had a key role in developing space-based oceanography, the satellite's main instrument is an extremely accurate radar altimeter that will bounce energy off the sea surface as it sweeps over Earth's oceans. An identical twin, Sentinel-6B, will be launched in 2025 to ensure continuity of the record.