Middle East Updates At Least 30 Dead as Syria Bombs Livestock Market, Activists Say

Five Yemeni soldiers kidnapped by suspected Al-Qaida gunmen; Turkish police carry out wiretapping raids targeting Erdogan foes; ISIS demands $200m for two Japanese hostages; No confirmation yet of its authenticity.

Turkish opposition leaders carry posters decrying the massive corruption scandal within Erdogan's party, December 17, 2014.
Turkish opposition leaders carry posters decrying the massive corruption scandal within Erdogan's party, December 17, 2014.Credit: AP

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Latest updates:

6:40 P.M. At least 27 dead as Syria bombs livestock market, activists say

At least 27 people were killed and dozens wounded on Tuesday by a Syrian air raid on a cattle market in territory controlled by the hard-line Islamic State, a monitoring group said. Full story

4:44 P.M. Nearly 20 more air strikes target Islamic State

The U.S.-led coalition conducted nearly 20 more air strikes against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq since early on Monday, according to the Combined Joint Task Force leading the operations.

In a statement, the coalition said it led 10 strikes in Syria, mostly near the besieged border town of Kobani where it hit several fighting and staging positions. In Iraq, it launched nine air strikes near al-Qaim, al-Asad and Mosul, among other cities, it said on Tuesday. (Reuters)

1:36 P.M. Sissi: Egypt's abject poverty a greater concern than human rights

Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi says those questioning his government about human rights are ignoring the fact that his country of 90 million lacks development, stability and investment.

Speaking during celebrations of national Police Day Tuesday, Sissi said a large segment of Egyptians live in poverty — with much larger concerns than freedom of expression.

"Ninety million want to eat, drink, live and be reassured for their future," he told a room packed with police officers and public figures. He said the country is also battling terrorism.

To those who protest, he yelled: "Don't take us down with you."

Sissi said he respects human rights but amid Egypt's turmoil, there is bound to be violations.

1:11 P.M. Yemeni president, rival Shi'ite rebels holding talks amid cease-fire

Yemen's Cabinet spokesman says the president and rival Shi'ite rebels are negotiating amid a tense cease-fire, a day after heavy street fighting engulfed the capital, Sanaa, dragging the country into deeper turmoil.

The meeting comes as armed Houthi rebels in pickup trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns have set up checkpoints across the city and near the prime minister's residence on Tuesday while their fighters are patrolling Sanaa's streets.

The spokesman, Rageh Badi, says President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and a Houthi adviser are discussing possible members of a key commission that will have to fine-tune the outline of Yemen's future federation, as stated in the draft constitution.

Reforming the 85-member commission is long overdue and was part of a UN-brokered peace deal following the Houthis' capture of Sanaa in September. (AP)

12:32 P.M. Yemeni general's five bodyguards kidnapped by suspected Al-Qaida gunmen

A Yemeni general escapes an ambush by suspected al-Qaeda gunmen in which five of his bodyguards are killed, a military official says.

Gunmen opened fire with automatic weapons on the convoy of the 135th Brigade commander, General Yahya Abu Awja, near the town of al-Qatan in Wadi Hadhramaut in southern Yemen, says the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. (DPA)

10:28 A.M. Turkish police carry out wiretapping raids allegedly targeting supporters of Fethullah Gulen

Turkish police on Tuesday carried out raids targeting dozens of people suspected of a role in illegal wiretapping, a move local media said was aimed at supporters of President Tayyip Erdogan's ally-turned-foe, U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen.

Separately, the interior ministry replaced police chiefs in 21 provinces, according to an announcement published in Turkey's Official Gazette. It was not immediately clear why they were being replaced.

Broadcasters including CNN Turk said the raids, in four provinces including Ankara, were against the "parallel structure", the term Erdogan uses to refer to Gulen's supporters in the judiciary, police and other institutions.

Arrest warrants were issued for 28 people at the TIB telecommunications authority and at TUBITAK, Turkey's Scientific and Technological Research Council, local media said. (Reuters)

9:56 A.M. Turkish corruption probe nears final chapter with parliament preparing vote

In what could be the final chapter of a graft investigation that once seemed to threaten the inner circle of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's parliament is preparing to vote on whether to send four former ministers to court.

Given the strong majority of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the parliament looks set to sweep away an investigation that rocked Turkish politics in late 2013, when prosecutors launched a spectacular series of raids. The investigation targeted the sons of the four ministers and a prominent Iranian businessman, who were suspected of bribery and corruption. A separate investigation implicated a son of Erdogan, who was then prime minister.

The four ministers, who later resigned, have immunity as members of parliament, but the government established a parliamentary committee to investigate the allegations ahead of a vote by lawmakers on whether or not to lift immunity and refer the case to the courts.

The likely evaporation of the charges against the key members of the government comes less than half a year before parliamentary elections. So far, Erdogan's party seems to have weathered political damage, winning local elections last year as well as Erdogan's own decisive victory in the country's first direct presidential election.

However, some analysts say that use of the parliamentary majority to bury the allegations has undermined the party's reputation.

"This shows that however much President Erdogan may be saying he has established a new Turkey, in some areas the old Turkey is just the same as it ever was," said Gareth Jenkins, an Istanbul-based analyst with the Institute for Security and Development Policy.

Jenkins says he thinks everybody knows there is strong evidence that most of the allegations are rooted in fact even though the case hasn't gone to a court. (AP)

8:19 A.M. ISIS threatens to kill two Japanese hostages in purported video

An online video purports to show the Islamic State group threatening to kill two Japanese hostages unless it is paid a $200 million ransom in 72 hours.

The video was released online Tuesday. Militant websites affiliated with the Islamic State group posted it.

The video shows two hostages the militants identify as Kenji Goto Jogo and Haruna Yukawa. Japanese officials had no immediate comment on the video.

This is the first time the Islamic State group has threatened the Japanese. It has beheaded other Western hostages it has held.

The Islamic State group currently holds a third of both Iraq and Syria. A U.S.-led coalition is now targeting the extremists in airstrikes. (AP)

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