Middle East Updates Report: Al-Qaida and Islamic State Agree to Work Together in Syria

In recorded statement, ISIS leader vows to fight to last man; Syrian rebels mull ceasefires as food supplies dwindle; car bomb explodes near Egypt, UAE embassies in Tripoli, Libya.

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Members of the pro-government Libyan forces check their ammunition during clashes with Islamist militiamen on November 2, 2014 in Benghazi.
Members of the pro-government Libyan forces check their ammunition during clashes with Islamist militiamen on November 2, 2014 in Benghazi.Credit: AFP

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Latest updates:

9:55 P.M. Syria airstrike kills nine, including children

At least nine people were killed, including three children, in a Syrian government airstrike that targeted a rebel-held town near the capital Damascus on Thursday.

There were likely more dead in the airstrike that hit a residential building in the town of Saqba, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and local activists on a Saqba Facebook group.

The Saqba activists published a series of videos showing the strike's aftermath. The videos appeared genuine and corresponded to The Associated Press reporting of the event. They showed men rushing into buildings, carrying limp bodies. Other men dug out people from the rubble; and later, the lifeless bodies of some victims were seen wrapped in shrouds.

Government forces have been pounding areas near Saqba for months as they try to repel rebels fighting to overthrow the rule of President Bashar Assad.

Syrian airstrikes have killed thousands of civilians in the grinding war, now deep into its fourth year. (AP)

9:20 P.M. Report: Al-Qaida and Islamic State agree to work together in Syria

Two Syrian opposition figures say the Islamic State group and al-Qaida's branch met last week and agreed to stop fighting each other and work together against their opponents.

The deal could be a heavy blow to Washington's strategy against the Islamic State group, relying on arming moderate rebel factions to push back extremists in Syria.

A prominent Syrian opposition official and a rebel commander say delegates from the two groups met in secret on Nov. 2 in northern Syria and agreed to end months of fighting between them and cooperate on the ground. The two spoke on condition their names not be used for their own protection or because they were not authorized to release the information.

The accord stops short of a merger between the two. (AP)

6:14 P.M. Islamic State leader: Will fight to last man

The head of the extremist Islamic State group has said it will fight to the last man.

The comments by the militant group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, came in an audio statement, his first since a U.S.-led alliance began conducting airstrikes targeting the group in Iraq and Syria.

In the statement, released Thursday on social media networks, he says his fighters "will never leave fighting, even if only one soldier remains."

The recording appeared authentic, and his voice appeared to correspond with previous recordings released by the group.

Al-Baghdadi's statement came after rumors that he was wounded in an airstrike. It was not clear whether the recording was made before or after the incident. (AP)

17:58 Hagel: U.S. will intensify airstrikes on ISIS in Iraq

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said on Thursday the U.S.-led air war against Islamic State militants will intensify in the future as Iraqi ground forces improve and become more effective.

Defending the U.S. strategy during a House of Representatives hearing, Hagel said, "As Iraqi forces build strength, the tempo and intensity of our coalition's air campaign will accelerate in tandem." (Reuters)

5:45 P.M. Syrian rebels mull ceasefires as food supplies dwindle

Rebel fighters in the north of Syria were considering whether to agree on localized ceasefires, as the opposition government in exile warned Thursday that food supplies were running dangerously low.

With stockpiles of wheat only sufficient for about a month, the opposition government called on its Western backers to step up donations.

"The situation is very critical," Ibrahim Miro, the finance minister in the opposition government, said in Istanbul.

Part of the problem is that harvests have been affected by the civil war, as well as by droughts. Even prior to the start of the war, Syria had suffered from recurrent poor harvests due to several years of drought.

Miro asked for 323,000 tons of wheat from the Friends of Syria group. This would feed some 2.5 million people who live in shrinking areas that remain under the control of the so-called moderate opposition.

The UN's World Food Program says it is aiming to feed about 4.2 million people in Syria, but access remains problematic.

"Some places in Syria have not seen assistance for two years. Access is very hard and very sporadic," said a UN official.

Miro declined to be drawn about ceasefire proposals that were made by the United Nations envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, after talks earlier this week with President Bashar Assad. But rebel forces on the ground told DPA they fear the regime could be close to imposing a siege on Aleppo, Syria's second city.

There is concern the humanitarian situation inside rebel controlled areas of Aleppo could worsen further if the area is entirely encircled, making it even harder to get in food supplies.

"The regime, as you know, has tanks and heavy weapons and they are now doing all they can to tighten the siege on Aleppo. If they tighten the siege they will isolate Aleppo and all ways to get supplies into the city will no longer be open," an opposition official said. (DPA)

11:25 A.M. At least 16 injured after blast at Cairo metro triggers stampede

A loud explosion in a Cairo metro train trigged a stampede that caused at least 16 injuries Thursday, state-run newspaper Al-Ahram reported, quoting the Egyptian Health Ministry.

The incident took place at the Helmiet al-Zeitoun metro station, in northern Cairo.

The Interior Ministry said the blast was caused by a device planted on a luggage rack that was designed to cause a loud noise rather than provoke damage.

Most of the injuries were minor, and none were caused by the explosion itself, ambulance chief Ahmed al-Ansari was quoted as saying. (DPA)

8:15 A.M. Car bomb explodes near Egypt, UAE embassies in Tripoli, Libya.

Bombs exploded near the Egyptian and United Arab Emirates embassies in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, on Thursday though there were no immediate reports of casualties or major damage in the attacks.

The blasts followed a series of car bombs on Wednesday mainly in towns under the control of the internationally recognized government, based in the eastern city of Tobruk, which is facing a challenge from a rival government set up in Tripoli.

Both Egypt and the United Arab Emirates followed other nations in pulling diplomatic staff out of the capital over the summer after armed clashes in Tripoli between armed factions battling for control of the North African state.

A Reuters witness said the Egyptian embassy bomb had slightly damaged buildings and some stores, but it was not clear if the embassy had been hit.

There were no immediate details of whether embassies were the target of the bombs or whether any staff or security guards were in the buildings at the time. (Reuters)

10:49 P.M. Iraqi forces advance in bid for Baiji refinery

Iraqi government forces made significant advances on Wednesday in an effort to break an Islamic State siege of the country's biggest refinery just outside the city of Baiji, an army commander and state television said.

Backed by Shi'ite militias, government forces have seized 60 percent of the city center and are close to opening a corridor to Islamic State militants ringing the refinery, 200 km (130 miles) north of the capital, said the commander.

A deserted area between the edge of the city and the refinery may be difficult to cross because of roadside bombs and snipers, security officials say.

"We expect to break the siege within two days," said the commander, who asked not to be named. (Reuters)

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