Middle East Updates U.S., Allies Conduct Air Strikes in Syria, Iraq Against ISIS

ISIS releases more than 100 flag-burning Iraqis; Men's release came shortly after Islamic State late Saturday published a new video showing British hostage John Cantlie in Mosul.

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U.S. F/A-18 fighter jets take off for mission in Iraq.
U.S. F/A-18 fighter jets take off for mission in Iraq. Credit: Reuters
Haaretz

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Latest updates

4:17 P.M. U.S., allies conduct air strikes in Syria, Iraq against ISIS

The United States and its allies conducted seven air strikes on ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq, the Combined Joint Task Force said on Sunday.

Six of the air strikes hit Islamic State positions near Kobani, Syria, and one struck near Mosul, Iraq, the task force said in a statement. It said the air strikes took place between Saturday morning and Sunday morning. (Reuters)

3:13 P.M. Iran's president: Nuclear talks a matter of heart

Iran's President Hassan Rohani has said ongoing nuclear negotiations with world powers are a matter of "heart" — not just centrifuges.
Rohani made the comments Sunday at a conference in Tehran.

He asked if "we are ready to stop some types of enrichment which we do not need at this time, does it mean we have compromised our principles and cause?"

He responded by saying: "Our cause is not linked to a centrifuge. It is connected to our heart and to our willpower." He later added that the discussion also involves "foreign policy interests, not principles and ideals."

The next round of nuclear talks with world powers is set to begin Jan. 15 in Geneva. Negotiators hope to reach a final agreement by June 30. (AP)

2:20 P.M. Islamist group seizes Damascus suburb from rivals

Islamist fighters seized a suburb east of Damascus on Sunday after driving out a smaller rival insurgent group in deadly clashes, a monitoring group said, the latest example of rebel infighting in Syria's nearly four-year conflict.

Fighters from the Army of Islam clashed with members of the Army of the Nation group in Douma, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Both groups include Sunni Muslim fighters opposed to President Bashar Assad's government, and the fighting is seen as more of a turf war than a conflict over ideology. (Reuters)

2:17 P.M. Suspected militants stab Tunisian policeman to death

Suspected Islamist militants captured and killed a Tunisian police officer, stabbing him and slashing his throat as he traveled home off-duty south of the capital, the government said on Sunday.

Nine suspected militants were arrested after the officer was killed on Saturday night near El Fahes in the Zaghouan region, around 60 km (37 miles) southwest of Tunis, the interior ministry said. (Reuters)

12:48 P.M. Australian prime minister arrives in Baghdad

Iraqi state-run TV says Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has arrived in Baghdad to discuss ways his country can boost Iraqi security forces in their fight against the Islamic State group.

Abbott and his Iraqi counterpart, Haider al-Abadi, discussed military cooperation between the two countries, including the training and equipping of Iraqi security forces, said Iraqiya television.

The Iraqi army collapsed last summer in the face of a lightning Islamic State group blitz that left about a third of Iraq and Syria in militant hands.

Australian fighter jets are launching airstrikes against Islamic State group targets in northern Iraq as part of a U.S.-led coalition and 200 Australian special forces troops will soon enter Iraq to advise and assist local security forces.

12:28 P.M. ISIS releases more than 100 flag-burning Iraqis

The Islamic State extremist group has released all but eight of the 170 people it had arrested on Saturday in northern Iraq on suspicion of burning banners of the group.

Officials, who declined to be named, said Sunday that 162 youths and men were released after the militants interrogated them about the incident, which allegedly took place near the town of Hawijah, in Kirkuk province.

Hawijah is a stronghold of former president Saddam Hussein's Baath Party. Analysts say that Baathist forces have joined the insurgency against the Iraqi government. However, they are considered to be generally weaker than the jihadists.

The men's release came shortly after Islamic State late Saturday published a new video showing British hostage John Cantlie in Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, which fell to the jihadists in June.

The video, shot in the style of a television news report, shows Cantlie driving through busy streets and shopping in a market as he denounces reports in Western media that the city is suffering shortages, price rises and electricity cuts.

Cantlie, a photojournalist who was abducted in Syria in November 2012, has appeared in previous propaganda videos released by the group.

Five Western hostages reportedly held alongside Cantlie have been beheaded by the extremists and videos of their killings released online.

Islamic State controls much of Sunni northern and western Iraq, as well as large areas of neighboring Syria, where it is fighting the army of President Bashar al-Assad as well as rival rebels and Kurdish forces. (DPA)

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