Middle East Updates UN Chief Paints Worsening Picture of War in Syria

President Rivlin pays tribute to Saudi King Abdullah; Biden to travel to Saudi Arabia 'in coming days'; Syrian Defense Minister visits site of air strike in Golan.

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A Shamiya Front fighter stops residents riding a motorcycle as he mans a checkpoint in Al-Ansari neighborhood of Aleppo January 23, 2015.
A Shamiya Front fighter stops residents riding a motorcycle as he mans a checkpoint in Al-Ansari neighborhood of Aleppo January 23, 2015. Credit: Reuters
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Haaretz

For Thursday's updates click here

Latest updates:

8:50 P.M. UN chief paints worsening picture of war in Syria

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is painting a worsening picture of the war in Syria, citing indiscriminate government bombing and opposition shelling, high civilian casualties and deteriorating humanitarian conditions.

In his monthly report to the UN Security Council obtained Friday by The Associated Press, the Ban said the use of roadside and vehicle-born improvised explosive devices increased and more than 21 suicide operations were reported in the provinces of Aleppo, Hama and Daraa in December.

An Iron Dome defense system in the Golan Heights, January 20, 2015.Credit: AFP

He said fighters from the Islamic State terrorist group, who control about one-third of Syria, reportedly incurred heavy casualties in intensified fighting with Kurdish forces last month. He said the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front reportedly continued to attract additional fighters and resources, particularly in Idlib and Daraa. (AP)

6:30 P.M. Activists: Syrian airstrike kills at least 35 near Damascus

A Syrian government airstrike hit an opposition-held suburb of the capital shortly after Friday prayers, killing at least 35 people, scattering bodies and rubble in the streets and setting at least one building on fire, activists said.

An activist based near the capital who goes by the name of Abu Yazan said the air raid struck near a popular market in the town of Hamouriyeh just east of Damascus.
The Local Coordination Committees, an activist collective, said the strike hit people leaving a mosque, killing 35 people. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll at 42, including six children. It said the number of dead is expected to rise because many people were seriously wounded.

Casualty figures often differ in Syria in the chaotic aftermath of an attack.

An amateur video posted online of the raid's aftermath showed two men carrying a lifeless body on a stretcher as others scamper across the rubble-strewn street looking for survivors. Thick, gray smoke hangs in the air. A fire rages in the shell of a building on the street corner. A boy screams over a puddle of blood on the pavement.

The video appeared genuine and corresponded to other Associated Press reporting of the events depicted.

Syria's crisis began with an uprising against President Bashar Assad, then turned into a civil war. So far, 220,000 people have been killed. (AP)

4:30 P.M. Rivlin pays tribute to King Abdullah

"I heard with sorrow of the death of Saudi Arabian King Abdullah," President Reuben Rivlin said in a statement on Friday.

"King Abdullah was an example of deeply rooted leadership that is measured, responsible and based on deep religious values. As 'Guardian of the Islamic Holy Places, King Abdullah was a moderating influence who respected the holiness of Jerusalem and sought to promote the vision of prosperity in the region. His wise policies contributed greatly to the balance and stability of the Middle East."

10:00 A.M. Erdogan delays Somalia trip to attend Saudi king's funeral

Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan has postponed Friday's planned trip to Somalia to attend the funeral of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah, Somali and Turkish sources said, a day after a bomb targeted a Turkish delegation in the capital Mogadishu.

"It's just a postponement. He will be coming to Somalia after the funeral but we don't know the exact date or the time," Daud Aweis, spokesman for the Somali presidency, told Reuters.

A suicide bomber on Thursday rammed a car laden with explosives into the gate of a Mogadishu hotel where Turkish delegates were meeting their Somali counterparts, killing two security guards.

Islamist al Shabaab militants, who have in the past attacked Turkey's embassy in Mogadishu, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Turkish delegates were unharmed and sources within Erdogan's office said the attack would not deter Erdogan from returning to Mogadishu for the first time since 2011, when he became the first non-African leader to visit Somalia in nearly 20 years. (Reuters)

8:50 A.M. Biden to travel to Saudi Arabia in 'coming days'

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden will lead a delegation on a trip to Saudi Arabia in the coming days to pay respects in the aftermath of King Abdullah's death, Biden said in a statement.

"King Abdullah's death is a great loss for his country ... I always appreciated his frankness, his sense of history, his pride in his efforts to move his country forward, and his steadfast belief in the U.S.-Saudi relationship," Biden said in a statement released by the White House.

"In the coming days, I will be leading a presidential delegation representing the United States to pay our respects and offer condolences to King Abdullah's family and nation," he said. (Reuters)

3:41 A.M. Syrian Defense Minister visits site of air strike in Golan

Syrian Defense Minister Fahd Jassam Alfarij visited Thursday the Syrian Golan Heights where an airstrike targeted a Hezbollah convoy a few days ago. Alfarij linked between the attack and Syrian rebel groups, saying that Syria can handle Israel and the "terrorists."(Jack Khoury)

1:24 A.M. Saudi King Abdullah dies, new ruler is Crown Prince Salman

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah died early on Friday and his brother Salman became king, the royal court in the world's top oil exporter and birthplace of Islam said in a statement carried by state television.

King Salman has named his half-brother Muqrin as his crown prince and heir. (Reuters) Full story

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