Middle East Updates Dozens of Islamist Fighters Killed in Kobani

UNICEF: 160 children dead in Syria school attacks in 2014; Syria to UN: Western diplomats violated our sovereignty; clashes with ISIS in Iraq kill 23 troops, allied fighters; U.S. senator, former French FM and former U.S. diplomat entered Syria without visas in separate visits.

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Displaced Syrian children stand in muddy water after heavy rains in the Bab Al-Salama in Syria, December 11, 2014.
Displaced Syrian children stand in muddy water after heavy rains in the Bab Al-Salama in Syria, December 11, 2014.Credit: AFP

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Latest updates:

8:59 P.M. Dozens of Islamist fighters killed as battle of Kobani rages on

Forty-one Islamic State militants were killed in the Syrian border town of Kobani on Tuesday as U.S.-led air strikes helped local forces push the group to the city's edges, a monitoring group said.

The predominantly Kurdish town, known as Ayn al-Arab in Arabic, close to the Turkish border, has become a symbol in the international fight against the hardline Islamist group that broke away from al Qaeda.

The U.S. military said it or its coalition partners had conducted 10 air strikes against Islamic State in Syria, mostly on Kobani, since Monday.

As well as the 41 members of Islamic State, seven Kurdish fighters and two civilians were killed in the fighting, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which tracks the war that has dragged on for four years. (Reuters)

6:26 P.M. Female suicide bomber attacks Istanbul police station

A female suicide bomber entered a police station and blew herself up in Istanbul's historic Sultanahmet district on Tuesday, injuring two police officers, one of them seriously, the city's governor said.

The woman spoke English after entering the police station but her nationality and identity were unknown, Vasip Sahin told reporters at the scene. (Reuters)

5:07 P.M. UNICEF: 160 children dead in Syria school attacks in 2014

The United Nations children's agency says at least 160 children were killed and 343 were injured in attacks on schools in Syria last year.

UNICEF spokesman Christophe Boulierac says there were at least 68 attacks on schools in Syria in 2014 and there are indications that some of the schools were deliberately targeted.

Boulierac told reporters Tuesday in Geneva an estimated 1.3 million to 1.6 million children are out of school as a result of the nearly four-year conflict that has claimed over 200,000 lives and displaced a third of Syria's population.

He says numerous schools have closed in areas controlled by the Islamic State extremist group, which now rules over vast swaths of Syria and neighboring Iraq. (AP)

2:04 P.M. Clashes with ISIS in Iraq kill 23 troops, allied fighters

Iraqi officials say a suicide blast targeting security forces and subsequent clashes with Islamic State militants have killed at least 23 troops and allied Sunni fighters in the embattled western province of Anbar.

The officials say a suicide bomber first struck a gathering of pro-government Sunni fighters near the town of al-Baghdadi on Tuesday morning. The town is about 180 kilometers (110 miles) northwest of Baghdad.

Soon after, Islamic State extremists attacked nearby army and police positions, setting off clashes.

Police and hospital officials say 23 were killed and 28 were wounded on the government side. They did not say give casualties on the militants' side.

All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. (AP)

12:45 P.M. ISIS kills 8 men for allegedly cooperating with Iraq government

The Islamic State group says it has killed eight men in northern Iraq's Salahuddin province for allegedly cooperating with the government.

A collection of photos posted late Monday on a Twitter account frequently used by the militants showed eight bearded men in orange jumpsuits with their hands tied behind their backs. Five were identified as police officers and two as informants, but no information was provided on the eighth victim.

The photos showed the men being brought to a riverbank by masked gunmen, then lined up on their knees and shot in the head. The group didn't mention when the killings took place. (AP)

12:35 P.M. Islamic State 'police' official beheaded

A top figure in Islamic State's self-declared police force, which has carried out beheadings, was himself found decapitated in eastern Syria, a monitoring group said.

His body, which showed signs of torture, was found near a power plant in al-Mayadeen city in the Deir-al-Zor province, the British-based the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Tuesday, citing contacts on the ground.

"We do not know whether Islamic State killed him or whether it was local people or other fighters," said Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Observatory, which reports on events in Syria through a network of contacts on the ground. (Reuters) Full story

12:25 P.M. Gunmen kill 2 Egyptian policemen guarding Coptic church

Gunmen opened fire and killed two policemen guarding a Coptic church south of Cairo early on Tuesday, security officials said as the nation's minority Coptic Christians prepared to mark Orthodox Christmas Eve.

The attack took place in the provincial capital of Minya, about 220 kilometers (135 miles) south of Cairo. The city is home to the nation's largest Coptic community and the members of the Orthodox minority observe Christmas according to the old, Julian calendar. Full Story

1:32 A.M. Syria complains to UN that John McCain, others violated its sovereignty by entering without visas

Syria has complained to the United Nations that U.S. Senator John McCain, former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and former U.S. diplomat Peter Galbraith entered the country without visas in separate visits in violation of its sovereignty.

Syria's UN ambassador, Bashar Ja'afari, called on UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the 15-member Security Council to pressure governments to take "the necessary measures against their nationals who enter Syrian territory illegally."

"Such actions are a blatant violation of Syria's sovereignty and of the resolutions of the Security Council concerning Syria," Ja'afari wrote in a letter dated Dec. 30 and seen by Reuters on Monday.

He complained generally about "certain journalists and prominent figures" entering Syria illegally but singled out McCain for entering Syria in June 2013. McCain, a former Republican presidential candidate, visited Syria in May 2013 and met with some Syrian rebels, his spokesman said at the time.

Ja'afari also cited Kouchner for visiting in November 2014, Galbraith for traveling to Syria in December 2014 with other U.S. political and military leaders, and former Kuwaiti politician Walid al-Tabtaba'i for entering Syria in September 2013.

In response, McCain said in a statement: "It is a sad but unsurprising truth that the Assad regime is less concerned with its massacre of more than 200,000 men, women and children than it is my visit with those brave Syrians fighting for their freedom and dignity.

"The fact that the international community has done virtually nothing to bring down this terrible regime despite its atrocities is a stain on our collective moral conscience," McCain added. (Reuters)

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