Middle East Updates Syria Air Force Strikes 200 Times in 36 Hours, Monitor Says

Pentagon: Kurdish fighters received vast majority of U.S. supply drop; Iran's Rohani pledges support to Iraq in fight against Islamic State.

A Turkish forces armored vehicle moves to a position on a hilltop on the outskirts of Suruc, at the Turkey-Syria border, during fighting between Syrian Kurds and Islamic State militants. Oct. 21, 2014
A Turkish forces armored vehicle moves to a position on a hilltop on the outskirts of Suruc, at the Turkey-Syria border, during fighting between Syrian Kurds and Islamic State militants. Oct. 21, 2014Credit: AP

Haaretz's latest Middle East analyses and opinions: Brazen Hezbollah could trigger third Lebanon war (Amos Harel), Israeli citizens fighting for Islamic State: a small, yet worrying trend (Jack Khoury)


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10:00 P.M. Pentagon: Kurdish fighters received vast majority of U.S. supply drop

Afghanistan's security forces guard the site of a suicide attack, targeting an Afghanistan's National Army convoy on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah, October 18, 2014Credit: AP

The Pentagon said on Tuesday the vast majority of military supplies air dropped near the Syrian city of Kobani had reached the Kurdish fighters they were intended to help, despite an online video showing Islamic State militants with a bundle.

Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said experts were analyzing the video and trying to determine if the bundle was the one the department reported earlier had fallen into the hands of Islamic State or if it was a second bundle in the group's possession.

Pentagon officials said a U.S. airdrop had delivered 28 bundles of military supplies to Syrian Kurdish fighters near Kobani on Sunday and reported that one had fallen into the hands of Islamic State militants. The Pentagon later said it had targeted the missing bundle in an air strike and destroyed it. (Reuters)

9:37 P.M. Islamic State fighters seize U.S. arms shipment meant for Kurds

Islamic State group fighters seized at least one cache of weapons airdropped by U.S.-led coalition forces that were meant to supply Kurdish militiamen battling the extremist group in a border town, activists said Tuesday.

The cache of weapons included hand grenades, ammunition and rocket-propelled grenade launchers, according to a video uploaded by a media group loyal to the Islamic State group. (AP)

6:55 P.M. Syria air force strikes 200 times in 36 hours, monitor says

The Syrian air force carried out more than 200 air strikes around the country in the past 36 hours, a group monitoring the war said on Tuesday, a rapid increase in government raids as U.S.-led forces bomb Islamist insurgents elsewhere.

The intensified strikes by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces will add to the fear among his opponents that the government is taking advantage of the U.S. raids on Islamic State to attack other foes, including opposition groups that Washington backs.

The military concentrated the strikes in the "western corridor" that stretches from the southwest up through Damascus towards the Mediterranean, according to the information from the the Observatory, which says it gathers details from all sides of the conflict.

The air raids struck areas in the Hama, Daraa, Idlib, Aleppo and Quneitra provinces as well as the Damascus countryside, it said. It also hit the eastern Deir al-Zor province where U.S.-led forces have also been bombing Islamic State, the Observatory added. (Reuters)

6:20 P.M. Egypt sets appeal hearing for Al-Jazeera staff

A Cairo court has set a Jan. 1, 2015 appeals hearing for three Al-Jazeera English journalists convicted of terrorism-related charges last June amid widespread international condemnation.

The three journalists — Egyptian-Canadian Fahmy, Australian correspondent Peter Greste and Egyptian producer Baher Mohammed — were convicted last June on charges linked to aiding the Muslim Brotherhood. Two of the men were handed seven-year sentences, and one was given 10 years.

Egypt President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi told a group of local journalists Tuesday that he is unable to issue a presidential pardon to the imprisoned journalists until after a final verdict. Fahmy's brother Adel said that the family has been hoping for a presidential pardon.

The judge who sentenced the journalists released his reasoning in July, saying they were brought together "by the devil" to destabilize the country. The main evidence cited was footage produced by the journalists critical of the government. (AP)

4:55 P.M. Pakistani Taliban sacks spokesman over Islamic State allegiance

The Pakistani Taliban have sacked their spokesman after he declared allegiance to Islamic State militants, the group announced Tuesday.

The move signals a widening rift in the ranks of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an umbrella organization of several militant outfits in Pakistan.

The Islamic State's attempt to make inroads into Pakistan and Afghanistan has challenged the dominance of Al-Qaida and its Taliban allies.

"He's no more our spokesman," the media-wing of the TTP posted on Facebook, referring to former spokesman Shahidullah Shahid.

Shahid was among six TTP commanders who announced allegiances to the Islamic State, which controls large swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria. All other commanders were also fired.

TTP chief Mullah Fazlullah said his group would continue to follow Afghan Taliban leader Mullah Omer. (DPA)

4:00 P.M. Islamic State wins ground from Syria gov't, monitor says

Islamic State militants won territory from Syrian government forces in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor on Tuesday, its first gain there in about two months, a group that tracks the civil war reported.

Fighters from both sides were killed during the clashes in Deir al-Zor city, about 450 km northeast of Damascus in a province bordering Iraq, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said without giving a death toll.

Islamic State, which is being targeted by U.S.-led air strikes in Iraq and Syria, seized large areas of Deir al-Zor's industrial region, meaning it now controls more than half the city, said Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Observatory. (Reuters)

2:39 P.M. Iran's Rohani pledges support to Iraq in fight against Islamic State

Iran's President Hassan Rohani says Iran will stand by its neighbor Iraq in its fight against the Sunni extremists of the Islamic State group.

Rohani told visiting Iraqi Prime Minister Heidar al-Abadi on Tuesday that Iran "will remain on the path until the last day," according to a report by the official IRNA news agency.

Rohani says Iran will continue to provide Baghdad with military advisers and weapons. He also criticized the U.S. for allegedly failing to sufficiently support Iraq. (AP)

2:20 P.M. EU imposes new sanction against Syria oil firms, Assad regime ministers

New EU sanctions against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad came into effect Tuesday, hitting 12 more government ministers and two companies active in the oil industry, among others.

Hassan al-Nouri, a candidate in the April 3 presidential elections, is among those hit by an EU travel ban and asset freeze. He has been minister of administrative development since August 27, when several new ministers were appointed.

The other ministers targeted are those for the economy, higher education, communications and technology, water resources, housing, labour, health, internal trade, culture, transport, and a state minister.

As government members, they all share "responsibility for the regime's violent repression against the civilian population," the European Union said in its Official Journal.

The bloc also imposed sanctions on an army commander and a senior air force officer, as well as two top energy company executives.

It froze the assets of Pangates International - which it lists as "an intermediary in the supply of oil to the Syrian regime" - and its parent company, the Abdulkarim Group.

The publication of the names follows a decision taken by EU foreign ministers on Monday. (DPA)

12:30 P.M. Britain sends drones to fly surveillance missions over Syria to gather intelligence on Islamic State

Britain said on Tuesday it was authorising armed and unarmed drones to fly surveillance missions over Syria "very shortly" to gather intelligence on Islamic State (IS) militants.

Michael Fallon, the defence minister, said both Reaper and Rivet Joint drones would fly over Syria as part of "efforts to protect our national security from the terrorist threat emanating from there."

But in a written statement to parliament, he stressed that Reapers would not be allowed to use their weapons in Syria, something he said would require "further permission." A defence ministry spokeswoman was unable to immediately clarify whether that meant ministerial approval or a vote in parliament.

Fallon announced last week that Britain was deploying armed Reaper drones to the Middle East to conduct air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq.

Parliament voted to approve air strikes against IS in Iraq last month, after a request from the Iraqi government, but Britain isn't conducting air strikes in Syria. It has previously said such strikes would require fresh parliamentary approval. (Reuters)

12:25 P.M. Two bombs kill at least nine in Baghdad

Iraqi officials say two separate bombings have killed nine people in Baghdad, the latest victims in near-daily attacks that have targeted the country's capital.

Police officials say a bomb at an out-door market in the southern district of Abu Dashir, a mostly Shiite neighborhood, killed four people and wounded nine on Tuesday.

They say a little bit later, a bomb blast near a small restaurant in central Baghdad killed five people and wounded 12.

Medical officials confirmed the casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to media. (AP)

11:20 A.M. Head of Iran's most influential clerical body charged with choosing supreme leader dies at 83

Ayatollah Mohammadreza Mahdavi Kani, the head of Iran's most influential clerical body charged with choosing or dismissing the country's supreme leader, has died. He was 83.

Kani was the the chairman of the Assembly of Experts, a body of 86 senior clerics that monitors the supreme leader and picks a successor after his death, making it one of the most powerful institutions in Iran, though it doesn't involve itself in daily affairs of state.

Kani held the post since March 2011, after his predecessor, Iran's influential former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was forced out following a dispute with several hard-line clerics.

Kani, a former acting prime minister and interior minister in the 80s, had been in a coma since June. He was considered a moderate conservative. (AP)

7:12 A.M. Taliban roadside bomb kills at least four Afghan soldiers

At least four Afghan soldiers have been killed in a roadside bomb attack on a bus in the capital.

Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense, says the blast occurred Tuesday morning while army troops were on their way to the ministry in Kabul.

Azimi says six other soldiers and six civilians were wounded in the blast, adding that the bomb was detonated by remote control.

A Taliban spokesman tweeted that the group was claiming responsibility for the attack.

Taliban insurgents have stepped up their attacks against both Afghan and NATO security forces. Most international security forces are preparing to withdraw by the end of the year. (AP)

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