Middle East Updates Iraqi Forces Recapture Most of Strategic Oil Town From ISIS

Iran announces new radar system; UN says 13.6 million displaced by wars in Iraq and Syria; Russia, Iran sign nuclear construction deal; Tunisia, France to cooperate on stopping jihadis.

new-hdc-logo
Haaretz
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
An undated file photo posted on a militant website on Fri., Sept. 19, 2014, shows Islamic State group policemen standing guard in front of a police station in Nineveh province, Iraq.
An undated file photo posted on a militant website on Fri., Sept. 19, 2014, shows Islamic State group policemen standing guard in front of a police station in Nineveh province, Iraq.Credit: AP
new-hdc-logo
Haaretz

Click here for Monday's updates

Latest updates:

10:36 P.M. Iran announces new long-range radar system

Iran's semi-official Fars news agency reports the country has inaugurated a new long-range radar system capable of detecting small drones and ballistic missiles.

The Tuesday report says the system, dubbed as Sepehr, or Sky, has a range of more than 2,500 kilometers or 1,550 miles.

Tehran regularly announces military advances that cannot be independently verified. (AP)

10:20 P.M. Canadian jets hit Islamic State artillery position in Iraq

Canadian fighter jets on Tuesday struck an Islamic State artillery position near the city of Bayju, Iraq, the government said. A Defense Ministry spokeswoman said that the airstrikes were being conducted in support of Iraqi forces in the area. (Haaretz)

8:45 P.M. Iraqi forces recapture most of strategic oil town from IS militants

Iraqi soldiers battling the Islamic State group recaptured most of the town of Beiji, home to the country's largest oil refinery, state television and a provincial governor said Tuesday.

The strategic town, 250 kilometers (155 miles) north of Baghdad, will likely be a base for a future push to take back Saddam Hussein's hometown just to the south, one of the main prizes overrun by the extremists last summer. But troops backed by Shiite militias faced pockets of stiff resistance around Beiji, hindering their advance.

There was no word on the fate of the refinery, which lies on Beiji's northern outskirts, but the advances in the town could help break the five-month siege of the facility by Islamic State fighters. Since June, a small army unit inside the refinery, resupplied and reinforced by air, has successfully resisted wave after wave of extremist assaults.

Lifting the siege of the refinery, which sits inside a sprawling complex, was likely the next objective in the campaign to rid Beiji of the militants, according to military officials reached in the town by telephone.

Hours after news from Beiji broke, a suicide bomber rammed his explosives-laden car into a military outpost in the Tarmiyah district north of Baghdad, killing seven soldiers and wounding 13 others, according to police and hospital officials. Those killed included the post's commander, a major, and two other officers, a captain and lieutenant, they said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but it bore the hallmarks of the militant Sunnis of the Islamic State group. Also, nine people were killed and 24 injured in three separate blasts in and around Baghdad.

State television quoted the top army commander in Beiji, General Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, as saying troops recaptured Beiji's local government and police headquarters at the center of the town. It aired footage taken Tuesday of army tanks and armored personnel carriers moving around the town's dusty streets and a ball of white smoke rising in the background.

Al-Saadi later spoke to state television by telephone but the line appeared to be cut off after he said his forces were meeting stiff resistance. Three military officials later reached by The Associated Press in the town said the advancing army troops and Shiite militiamen are being slowed down by booby-trapped houses and ambushes.

Raed Ibrahim, the governor of Salahuddin province, where both Beiji and Tikrit are located, said the military had secured about 75 percent of the town as of Tuesday, retaking the center of the town and outlying districts. He said government forces continued to meet fierce resistance from the militants, whom he said were using suicide bombers to stall the military's advance.

Ibrahim, speaking to the AP by telephone, also said booby-trapped buildings posed an added threat in Beiji.

Neither the military officials nor Ibrahim gave casualty figures for the government forces or the militants.

The officials, however, said the forces had blocked access to Beiji from Anbar province, where militants control vast swaths of land, prior to their assault on the town to prevent militant reinforcements from reaching the city.
The military, police and hospital officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Government officials in Baghdad offered no immediate comment on the news.
The Beiji oil refinery has a capacity of some 320,000 barrels a day, accounting for a quarter of Iraq's refining capacity. A fire raged for days back in June at one of its storage units, but the refinery is believed to have also suffered major damage elsewhere.

Iraq's army and security forces have partially regrouped after melting away in the face of the summer's Islamic State group offensive. In recent weeks, they recaptured a string of small towns and villages, but taking Beiji would be strategically significant in what is shaping up to be a drawn-out campaign of attrition against the extremists.

Recapturing Beiji also would be a major boost for Iraq's Shiite-led government. Airstrikes by a U.S.-led coalition have aided Iraqi forces, militias and Kurdish peshmerga fighters battling Islamic State militants. Hundreds of U.S. advisers and trainers also have been working with the Iraqis.

U.S. Central Command said Monday that coalition aircraft conducted seven airstrikes near Beiji since Friday, destroying three small militant units, a sniper position and two militant vehicles, including one used for construction.
Meanwhile in Syria, U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura repeated his call for a truce in the northern city of Aleppo where rebels still hold large areas, although they are under increasing attack from advancing government forces. De Mistura, who met Syrian President Bashar Assad on Monday, said an Aleppo truce could be a step toward a wider resolution of the country's civil war.

Assad has said the suggestion was "worth studying."

And in Qatar, ruling emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani warned that U.S.-led airstrikes won't be enough to defeat "terrorism and extremism" in Iraq and Syria. Speaking to the Gulf nation's legislative advisory council, he said the policies of Assad's government and "some militias in Iraq" — a thinly-veiled reference to Iranian-backed Shiite militias — are the most important factors contributing to extremism in the two countries.

Qatar allows U.S.-led coalition forces to use its vast al-Udeid air base to launch airstrikes against IS positions in Syria and Iraq. It also has provided arms and other aid to Syrian rebels, but has come under fire from critics for its support of Islamist groups. Qatar denies the charge. (AP)

7:37 P.M. Suicide bomber hits Iraq army post, kills 7

Iraqi police and hospital officials say a suicide bomber has rammed his explosives-laden car into a military outpost north of the capital, Baghdad, killing seven soldiers and wounding 13 others.

The officials say those killed in the Tuesday afternoon attack in the northern Baghdad district of Tarmiyah included the post's commander, a major, and two other officers, a captain and lieutenant.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but it bore the hallmarks of militant Sunnis from the Islamic State group, an Al-Qaida breakaway that has seized control of about a third of the country. (AP)

2:11 P.M. Russia, Iran sign nuclear construction deal

Russia will build two new nuclear power plant units in Iran under an agreement signed in Moscow on Tuesday between subsidiaries of the two countries' state atomic agencies.

The agreement precedes a Nov. 24 deadline for a deal at talks between Iran and world powers that would curb Tehran's nuclear programme, which the West says may be aimed at building atomic weapons but Iran says is for peaceful purposes.

Russia, which is involved in those talks, will also cooperate with Teheran on developing more nuclear power units in Iran, and consider producing nuclear fuel components there, according to a memorandum signed by the heads of the state atomic bodies, Sergey Kirienko of Russia's Rosatom and Ali Akbar Salehi of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation (AEOI).

Iran already runs one Russian-built reactor in its Bushehr power plant. (Reuters)

1:01 P.M. UN: 13.6 million displaced by wars in Iraq and Syria

About 13.6 million people, equivalent to the population of London, have been displaced by conflicts in Syria and Iraq, many without food or shelter as winter starts, the U.N. refugee agency said UNHCR on Tuesday.

Amin Awad, UNHCR's director for the Middle East and North Africa, said the world was becoming numb to the refugees' needs.

"Now when we talk about a million people displaced over two months, or 500,000 overnight, the world is just not responding," he told reporters in Geneva.

The 13.6 million include 7.2 million displaced within Syria - an increase from a long-held U.N. estimate of 6.5 million, as well as 3.3 million Syrian refugees abroad, 1.9 million displaced in Iraq and 190,000 who have left to seek safety. (Reuters)

12:30 P.M. More than 50 migrants rescued off Greece

Greece's coast guard Tuesday rescued 52 migrants, among them 32 women and children, in the Aegean Sea.

The coast guard said an inflatable raft had ran aground on an islet near the island of Skopelos. The migrants were transferred to a reception centre on the eastern mainland city of Volos.

It said all 22 women and 10 children were in good health.

Greece is a key entry point to the European Union for migrants from the Middle East and Africa. The country has registered more than 1 million arrivals during the past decade.

Many of the recent arrivals have been escaping civil war in Syria. (DPA)

12:25 P.M. UN Syria envoy calls for truce in Aleppo

The United Nations envoy to Syria is calling for a truce in the northern city of Aleppo as a building block to a wider resolution of the country's grinding civil war.

UN envoy Staffan de Mistura spoke at a news conference Tuesday in the capital, Damascus. His public call for a cease-fire came a day after Syrian President Bashar Assad said the suggestion was "worth studying."

Previously, pro-government Syrian media lashed out at de Mistura, accusing the international diplomat of overstepping his bounds for suggesting local truces throughout Syria.

Aleppo was Syria's former commercial hub and is now the last major city where rebels still hold large areas, although they are under increasing attack from advancing government forces.

De Mistura is on a three-day visit to Syria. (AP)

11:40 A.M. Tunisia, France to cooperate on stopping jihadis

France's interior minister says his country will work with Tunisia to stop their nationals from traveling to fight in Syria and Iraq.

Bernard Cazeneuve announced new measures late Monday during a 24-hour visit to Tunisia that included meetings with Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa and Cazeneuve's counterpart Lotfi Ben Jeddou.

More than 2,400 Tunisians have traveled to fight with the extremist Islamic State group, the most of any country, while hundreds of French have made the journey, the most of any European country.

The measures will include strengthening border controls and increasing police and intelligence cooperation between the two countries, Cazeneuve said.

He added that he also discussed fighting cybercrime and illegal immigration. (AP)

11:25 A.M. Iraq military: Troops take center of refinery town

Iraqi soldiers battling the Islamic State group recaptured the heart of the town of Beiji, home to the country's largest oil refinery, state television and a military official said Tuesday.

Retaking Beiji, 250 kilometers (155 miles) north of Baghdad, could allow Iraqi forces a base to attack neighboring Tikrit, taken by the extremists after their lightning advance this summer. It also represents a morale boost for Iraq's beleaguered security forces, which saw many of its troop flee the militant offensive.

State television quoted the top army commander in Beiji, Gen. Abdul-Wahab al-Saadi, as saying troops recaptured the city's local government and police headquarters at the center of the town. It aired what appeared to be archival footage of the town.

A senior military official reached by telephone in Beiji confirmed the recapture of the city center, but added that intense clashes continued elsewhere in the town. The official told The Associated Press that 75 percent of Beiji was now in the hands of government troops. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists. (AP)

8:37 A.M. Palestinian killed in apparent accidental blast at Gaza crossing

A Palestinian was killed and several others were injured on Tuesday in an explosion apparently caused by a technical malfunction during a fuel transfer at an Israel-Gaza border crossing, Israeli and Palestinian officials said.

The blast occurred as a fuel tank was being filled at the Kerem Shalom crossing.

Israeli and Palestinian officials said they believed the explosion was accidental. Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza fought a seven-week war in July and August. (Reuters)

Comments

SUBSCRIBERS JOIN THE CONVERSATION FASTER

Automatic approval of subscriber comments.
From $1 for the first month

SUBSCRIBE
Already signed up? LOG IN

ICYMI

The Orion nebula, photographed in 2009 by the Spitzer Telescope.

What if the Big Bang Never Actually Happened?

Relatives mourn during the funeral of four teenage Palestinians from the Nijm family killed by an errant rocket in Jabalya in the northern Gaza Strip, August 7.

Why Palestinian Islamic Jihad Rockets Kill So Many Palestinians

בן גוריון

'Strangers in My House': Letters Expelled Palestinian Sent Ben-Gurion in 1948, Revealed

AIPAC

AIPAC vs. American Jews: The Toxic Victories of the 'pro-Israel' Lobby

Bosnian Foreign Minister Bisera Turkovic speaks during a press conference in Sarajevo, Bosnia in May.

‘This Is Crazy’: Israeli Embassy Memo Stirs Political Storm in the Balkans

Hamas militants take part in a military parade in Gaza.

Israel Rewards Hamas for Its Restraint During Gaza Op