Middle East Updates Iraq Strikes Kill 17 in ISIS-held Areas

Approx. 400 killed in Benghazi in six weeks, say medics; Syria says U.S.-led strikes have not weakened Islamic State; Pope visits iconic religious sites in Istanbul; Islamic State sets off suicide bombs on Turkey border.

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An F/A-18E Super Hornet from the Sunliners of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 81 as it launches from the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70).
An F/A-18E Super Hornet from the Sunliners of Strike Fighter Squadron (VFA) 81 as it launches from the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70).Credit: AFP

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10:15 P.M. Approx. 400 killed in Benghazi in six weeks, say medics

About 400 people have been killed in six weeks of heavy fighting between Libyan pro-government forces and Islamist groups in Libya's second-largest city Benghazi, medical staff said on Saturday.

Pope Francis, second left, leaves after visiting Haghia Sofia, the Byzantine church-turned-mosque that is now a museum, in Istanbul, Nov. 29, 2014.Credit: AP

Backed by forces led by a former general, the newly formed government army launched in mid-October an offensive against Islamists in Benghazi, expelling them from the airport area and from several camps the army had lost during the summer. In the past three weeks the fighting has centred around Benghazi's commercial port where pro-government forces say Islamists are holed up. The port has had to close, disrupting food supplies in the eastern city.

"The death toll has risen to 400," a source at a Benghazi hospital said, declining to be identified for security reasons. Medics at other hospitals in the city confirmed the estimated death toll. (Reuters)

8:47 P.M. Iraq strikes kill 17 in ISIS-held areas

Seventeen people were killed in Iraq on Saturday in air strikes targeting areas controlled by Islamic State militants, witnesses and an intelligence official said.

Two brothers who were members of the Albu Hishma tribe were mistakenly killed when an Iraqi military helicopter attacked the house of an Islamic State militant in the town of Yathrib, 90 km (56 miles), witnesses said.

Fifteen people from the same tribe were then killed in an airstrike as they headed to the funeral of the brothers, said witnesses. Both accounts were confirmed by an intelligence official.

It's not clear who carried out the second strike.

U.S.-led airstrikes have helped Iraqi government forces, Kurdish fighters and Shi'ite militias retake some territory from Islamic State militants, who swept through the north in June, consolidating on gains in western Iraq. (Reuters)

6:21 P.M.Taliban attack on foreign workers' compound ends, three gunmen dead

A Taliban attack on a foreign aid workers' guest house in the Afghan capital ended Saturday night with all three gunmen dead, an army commander said.

At least two civilians died in the assault in the city's western district of Karte Seh, said Qadam Shah Shaheem, commander of the Afghan army's 111 Military Corps Kabul.

He said eight people were rescued from the guest house.

The attack, the second in three days on expatriate aid workers' housing, led to a four-hour battle with army and police. (Reuters)

12:57 Pope visits iconic religious sites in Istanbul

His head bowed and hands clasped in front of him, Pope Francis on Saturday stood in two minutes of silent prayer facing east inside one of Istanbul's most important religious sites, as he shifted gears toward more religious affairs on the second leg of his three-day visit to the mainly Muslim nation.

Following in the footsteps of Pope Benedict XVI who visited Turkey in 2006, Francis prayed alongside the Grand Mufti of Istanbul, Rahmi Yaran, who had his palms turned toward the sky in a Muslim prayer, inside the 17th-century Sultan Ahmet mosque.

"May God accept it," Yaran told the pope, at the end of the prayer that aims to shows respect for Islam and encourage stronger ties between the two faiths. (AP)

11:40 A.M. Islamic State sets off suicide bombs on Turkey border

Islamic State fighters set off two suicide bombs on the Turkish border with the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani on Saturday amid clashes that have killed at least 30 fighters, a monitoring group said. (Reuters) Read full story

11:00 A.M. Egypt court drops case against Mubarak over protesters' deaths

An Egyptian court on Saturday dropped its case against ousted President Hosni Mubarak, his interior minister and six aides on charges of ordering the killing of protesters during the 2011 revolt that removed him from power. (Reuters) Read full story

00:02 Syria says U.S.-led strikes have not weakened Islamic State

Syria's foreign minister said U.S.-led air strikes had failed to weaken Islamic State it in Syria and the jihadist group would not be tackled unless Turkey was forced to tighten border controls.

A U.S.-led alliance started attacking Islamic State targets in Syria in September as part of a wider effort to destroy the al Qaeda offshoot that has seized large areas of the country and neighboring Iraq.

"All the indications say that (Islamic State) today, after two months of coalition air strikes, is not weaker," Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said in an interview with the Beirut-based Al Mayadeen TV broadcast on Friday.

The Syrian government has said it was willing to join the fight against Islamic State, but the United States refuses to deal with President Bashar Assad, who it says has lost legitimacy and must leave power. (Reuters)


9:13 P.M. Yemen's Shi'ite, Sunni rivals hold rare meeting

Yemen's main Sunni Islamist party says its top leaders have met with the powerful Shi'ite rebels who have been battling it for months and control the capital, in a rare meeting that might help ease the country's political deadlock.

The Islah party says in a statement Friday that a delegation met with Abdel-Malek al-Houthi, the leader of Shiite group known as the Houthis, on Thursday. The statement says the meeting was aimed at easing tensions between the rival groups.

The Houthis captured the capital in September after sweeping down from their northern stronghold and routing fighters loyal to the Islah party and its tribal allies. Opponents of the Houthis view them as a proxy of Shiite Iran determined to take over the country, charges the rebels deny. (AP)

5:57 P.M. Five Islamists, security personnel killed in Egypt anti-gov't protests

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