Middle East Updates Insurgents Seize Strategic City in Southwest Syria From Army

Kerry, Zarif, Ashton start nuclear talks in Oman; Yemen swears in new; Syrian army planes bomb northern town killing 21; Syrian Kurds advance against ISIS in Kobani, monitors say.

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A view of a Baiji oil refinery, 180 km (112 miles) north of Baghdad, February 19, 2008.
A view of a Baiji oil refinery, 180 km (112 miles) north of Baghdad, February 19, 2008. Credit: Reuters

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Latest updates:

11:32 P.M. Syrian air raids kill at least 21 in ISIS-held town, activists say

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, Oman's Foreign Affairs Minister Yussef bin Alawi and ex EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton meet in Muscat.Credit: AFP

Syrian government helicopters and warplanes carried out a series of airstrikes overnight on a northern town controlled by the Islamic State group, killing at least 21 people, activists said Sunday.

The air raids struck the town of al-Bab in Aleppo province late Saturday and lasted through early Sunday morning. The Aleppo Media Center activist collective and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights both reported the attacks.

Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman said there were 10 strikes in total, including seven so-called barrel bombs dropped from helicopters. He said at least 21 people were killed and more than 100 wounded.

The Aleppo Media Center put the death toll at 30, with 85 wounded. Differences in casualty figures are common in the chaotic aftermath of attacks in Syria. (AP)

7:09 P.M. Syrian rebels seize key city in Syria's Deraa province

Syrian insurgents including fighters from Nusra Front, a wing of al Qaeda, seized a key city and other areas of Syria's southwestern Deraa province on Sunday after five days of fierce battles, fighters in the area told Reuters.

A source close to government forces confirmed the advance and said the army had pulled out of Nawa city.

The capture of Nawa and surrounding areas will help the insurgents consolidate control of territory stretching to near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

"Some of the (government) soldiers escaped at night, the rest escaped today," one insurgent who declined to be named told Reuters. "They left their heavy weapons and their military vehicles behind."

The insurgents also seized the surrounding areas of Sheikh al-Maskin, Tal Hauran and a military headquarters known as the 122 Brigade in the major offensive, the sources said. (Reuters)

5:07 P.M. Bomb explodes in Libyan city where UN envoy meant to meet PM

A bomb exploded on Sunday in an eastern Libyan town where a UN special envoy was due to meet Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni, but there were no casualties, officials said.

One government official said at least one car bomb went off in front of the security headquarters in the eastern city of Shahat.

Thinni and UN envoy Bernadino Leon were due to meet in a different building, and a security official said the blast had been near the venue of the meeting of other government officials.

Libya is in turmoil as two governments and parliaments allied to armed groups who helped toppled Muammar Gaddafi three years ago vie for power and control of the country's oil wealth. (Reuters)

1:00 P.M. Yemen swears in new government amid crisis

Yemen has sworn in a new government despite objections from the ruling party, led my former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, and allied Shi'ite rebels who control the capital.

Thirty ministers were sworn in on Sunday. Another three rejected their appointments, and three were outside Yemen. (AP)

12:42 P.M. Iraqi forces advance to try to break insurgent siege of Baiji refinery

Iraqi military forces reached the center of the northern city of Baiji on Sunday to try to break an Islamic State siege of the country's biggest refinery nearby, according to an army colonel and a witness.

Islamic State insurgents seized Baiji and surrounded the sprawling refinery in June during a lightning advance through northern Iraq. The Sunni militants have captured large expanses of neighboring Syria and now face U.S.-led air strikes.

The colonel said Iraqi troops entered Baiji, a city of some 200,000 people, from the south and west and took over the al-Tamim neighborhood and city center.

Baiji resident Sultan al-Janabi told Reuters by telephone from his house that clashes have been raging since the advance, the first time security forces reached the city center since launching a new encirclement strategy at the end of last month.

The army colonel estimated that Iraqi forces had taken control of about 40 percent of the city center. That could not be independently confirmed.

Iraqi security forces have used helicopters to attack Islamic State insurgents surrounding the refinery. (Reuters)

11:20 A.M. Syrian army planes bomb northern town killing 21, monitor group says

At least 21 people were killed and around 100 wounded overnight when Syrian army planes bombed a town in northern Syria that is controlled by Islamic State militants, a group monitoring the war said.

Syrian military helicopters dropped barrel bombs and warplanes launched air strikes on al-Bab which lies northeast of the city of Aleppo, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Sunday.

One of the 21 killed was a child and the death count was expected to rise as some of the wounded were in a serious condition, said the Observatory, which gathers information from a variety of sources in Syria. (Reuters)

10:03 A.M. Kerry, Zarif, Ashton start nuclear talks in Oman

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif began talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and European Union envoy Catherine Ashton in Oman on Sunday to try to advance efforts to end a standoff over Tehran's nuclear program, a witness said.

The discussions, aimed at curbing Iran's sensitive uranium enrichment work in return for a gradual lifting of sanctions, are taking place just two weeks before a self-imposed Nov. 24 deadline for reaching a comprehensive deal. Iranian official media also reported the start of the Muscat talks. (Reuters)

5:24 A.M. Yemen kidnappers free UN water engineer, says world body

The United Nations said a Sierra Leonean water engineer working in Yemen on a sanitation project had been freed more than a year after being kidnapped by unidentified armed men.

"Colleagues at the United Nations are delighted that James Massaquoi, who was abducted in Yemen in October 2013, has today been released and is safe and well," said a UN statement dated Nov. 8.

"James is a water engineer who has been working in Yemen to help provide water and sanitation services in order to improve the health of local children," it said, adding the world body thanked the Yemeni government and tribal leaders who it said had "supported efforts to bring about his safe release".

The UN Children's Fund, for whom Massaquoi works, has said he was kidnapped in the capital Sanaa on Sunday Oct. 6, 2013 "by unknown armed men." (Reuters)

12:33 A.M. Syrian Kurds advance against ISIS in Kobani, monitors say

Kurdish fighters from Syria on Saturday advanced against Islamic State militants in the embattled town of Kobane in northern Syria, a monitoring group said.

The People's Protection Units (YPG), the main Kurdish militia in Kobane, pushed into the city on the Turkish border after clashes with the jihadists, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

At least 13 Islamic State fighters and six YPG militiamen were killed, the Britain-based observatory said. (DPA)

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