NEW DELHI

Condition of rape victim, 5, reported to be improving

The condition of a 5-year-old girl who was raped, tortured and then left alone in a locked room for two days has improved, a doctor said, as protests continued in India’s capital over the authorities’ handling of the case.

The girl was in critical condition when she was transferred Thursday from a local hospital to the largest government-run hospital in the country. But D.K. Sharma, medical superintendent of the state-run hospital in New Delhi where the girl was being treated, said Sunday that she was responding well to treatment and that her condition had stabilized.

Police say the girl vanished April 15 and was found two days later by neighbors who heard her crying in a locked room in the same New Delhi building where she lives with her family.

A 24-year-old man was arrested Saturday in the eastern state of Bihar, 620 miles from New Delhi. After being flown to New Delhi, he was in custody Sunday and was being questioned, police said.

ISTANBUL

Kerry urges Turkey to seek better relations with Israel

Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday urged Turkey to speed up and cement an American-brokered rapprochement with Israel, and he explored with Palestinian officials new ways to relaunch Mideast peace efforts.

Kerry tried to advance those second-term foreign policy priorities for President Obama in meetings with Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, and the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas.

Kerry also said he had made it clear to the Turks that a planned trip to the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan after his May 16 visit to the White House “would be better delayed and that it shouldn’t take place at this point in time.”

Both Israel and Abbas, whose Palestinian Authority is based in the West Bank, oppose the Gaza visit.

BEIRUT

Syrian opposition calls on Hezbollah to withdraw

The Syrian opposition called on Hezbollah to withdraw its fighters from the country, as activists said regime troops supported by gunmen linked to the Lebanese Shiite militant group battled rebels Sunday for control of a string of villages near the Lebanon-Syria border.

Outside Damascus, activists said they had documented the names of 80 people killed in a government assault on the area over the past five days.

The Syrian National Coalition — the main Western-backed opposition group — warned that Hezbollah involvement in Syria’s civil war could lead to greater risks in the area, and urged the Lebanese government to “adopt the necessary measures to stop the aggression of Hezbollah” and to control the border to “protect civilians in the area.”

The statement coincided with a surge in fighting around the contested town of Qusair in Syria’s Homs province near the frontier with Lebanon.

JERUSALEM

Hagel: Israel must decide whether to strike Tehran

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel held out hope Sunday for a nonmilitary way to end the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. But he also emphasized Washington’s willingness to let Israel decide whether and when it might strike Tehran in self-defense.

Hagel, on his first visit to Israel as Pentagon chief, seemed intent on burying the image that Republican critics painted of him as insufficiently supportive of the Jewish state in a failed campaign to derail his Senate confirmation in February.

In an interview with reporters on his flight from Washington, Hagel said the United States and Israel see “exactly the same” threat from Iran, which he described as a toxic combination of nuclear ambition and support for terrorism.

But he acknowledged differences on when it may reach the point of requiring U.S. or Israeli military action.

WASHINGTON

As FAA furloughs kick in,most flights on time so far

Commercial airline flights moved smoothly throughout most of the country Sunday, the first day air traffic controllers were subject to furloughs resulting from government spending cuts, although some delays appeared in the late evening in and around New York.

And even though the nightmarish flight delays and cancellations that the airline industry predicted would result from the furloughs did not materialize yet, the real test will come Monday, when traffic ramps up.

Information from the FAA and others showed that flying Sunday was largely uneventful, with most flights on time. There were delays in parts of Florida, but those were caused by thunderstorms.

The trade group Airlines for America, which represents the airlines and had predicted a big traffic snarl, said Sunday evening that it was “not seeing a significant impact at this point.” A spokeswoman said the group would continue to monitor the situation, and urged fliers to stay in contact with their airlines.

CLARKSVILLE, Mo.

Surging Mississippi poses threat to river communities

Those fighting floods in several communities along the Mississippi River were mostly successful Sunday despite the onslaught of water, but an ominous forecast and the growing accumulation of snow in the upper Midwest tempered any feelings of victory.

The surging Mississippi was at or near crest at several places from the Quad Cities south to near St. Louis – some reaching 10-12 feet above flood stage. Hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland were swamped as planting season approaches; three people died; roads and bridges closed, including sections of major highways such as U.S. 61 in Iowa and Missouri and crossings at Quincy, Ill., and Louisiana, Mo.

The Coast Guard said 114 barges broke loose near St. Louis on Saturday night, and four hit the Jefferson Barracks Bridge in St. Louis County. The bridge was closed about six hours for inspection but reopened around 8 a.m. Sunday. Most of the runaway barges were corralled, but at least 10 sank and two others were unaccounted for, Coast Guard Lt. Colin Fogarty said.

The danger is far from over, as spots south of St. Louis aren’t expected to crest until late this week..

CHICAGO

Doctors advise against taking ‘cinnamon challenge’

Don’t take the cinnamon challenge. That’s the advice from doctors in a new report about a dangerous prank depicted in popular YouTube videos which has led to hospitalizations and a surge in calls to U.S. poison centers.

The fad involves daring someone to swallow a spoonful of ground cinnamon in 60 seconds without water. But the spice is caustic, and trying to gulp it down can cause choking, throat irritation, breathing trouble and even collapsed lungs, the report said.

Published online Monday in Pediatrics, the report said at least 30 teenagers nationwide needed medical attention after taking the challenge last year.

The number of poison control center calls about teenagers doing the prank “has increased dramatically,” from 51 in 2011 to 222 last year, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

“People with asthma or other respiratory conditions are at greater risk of having this result in shortness of breath and trouble breathing,” according to an alert posted on the association’s website.

– From news service reports