Middle East Updates Syrian Rebels Launch Offensive to Capture Idlib

UN: ISIS, Syrian gov't hampering delivery of humanitarian aid Two Egyptian soldiers killed by roadside bomb in Sinai Five killed in suicide bombing in Benghazi, say army officials Yemen's Houthis advance toward president's refuge in Aden

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Rebel fighters from Suqour al-Sham Brigade prepare to launch a locally made shell towards forces loyal to Syria's president Assad stationed around Idlib, March 23, 2015.
Rebel fighters from Suqour al-Sham Brigade prepare to launch a locally made shell towards forces loyal to Syria's president Assad stationed around Idlib, March 23, 2015.Credit: Reuters
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7:25 P.M. Five killed in suicide bombing in Benghazi, say army officials

Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari speaks during a news conference in Baghdad, March 23, 2015.Credit: Reuters

Five people were killed and eleven wounded on Tuesday when a suicide bomber blew up a car laden with explosives in front of an army camp in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, army officials said.

In a separate incident, a rocket hit a residential building, killing a 17-year old girl and wounding four, the officials said.
Libya's second-largest city is a war zone where forces allied to the country's recognized government are fighting Islamist militants. (Reuters)

4:55 P.M. UN: ISIS, Syrian gov't hampering delivery of humanitarian aid

A new U.N. report says the delivery of aid to millions inside Syria is becoming even more difficult as the Islamic State group closes down humanitarian efforts and Syria's government puts more obstacles in the way.

The U.N. secretary-general's latest monthly report says 700,000 people in areas controlled by the Islamic State group again went without food assistance in February after the World Food Program had to halt deliveries. The areas include parts of Aleppo and the group's de facto capital of Raqqa.

At the same time, Ban Ki-moon's report says Syria's government has started asking for lists of beneficiaries before aid can be delivered, and that all communication with government ministries should go through the foreign ministry.

The U.N. says 12 million people in Syria need aid. (AP)

4:10 P.M. Yemen's Houthis advance toward president's refuge in Aden

Fighters from Yemen's dominant Houthi movement drew closer to President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi's refuge in Aden on Tuesday, taking over two towns north of the port city as columns advanced from different directions.

A Houthi official said however that they were not targeting Aden but were defending the country against Islamist militants. The Houthis and allied army units captured Kirsh, a town about 100 km north of Aden, after heavy fighting with forces loyal to Hadi, officials and residents said. (Reuters)

3:55 P.M. Syrian rebels launch offensive to capture Idlib from Assad

Syrian rebels have launched an offensive against a major government-held city in northwestern Syria. Several armed opposition factions announced the campaign to capture the city of Idlib in a message posted online Tuesday.

The message tells residents the rebels "are at the walls of Idlib" and "have decided to liberate this good town." They also ask locals to remain indoors in the coming days.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says rebels are shelling the city, but have yet to try to push into Idlib itself. The Idlib Media Center also says the rebels are targeting government positions on the city's outskirts.

Observatory director Rami Abdurrahman says the opposition groups involved in the operation include the Al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front as well as Islamist rebel factions. (AP)

1:40 P.M Syria, Iraq discuss ways to tackle militants, Syrian TV reports

The foreign ministers of Syria and Iraq met on Tuesday to discuss ways to tackle militant groups in their countries and Iraq called for greater international cooperation to combat the violence, Syrian state media said.

Tuesday's high-level discussions "focused on the fight against terrorism and common dangers that threaten our countries," Syrian state television said, citing a joint news conference by the foreign ministers at Damascus airport. It did not specify which groups the discussions were referring to.

Iraq's Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari was also due to meet Syrian President Bashar Assad, Jaafari's office said earlier on Tuesday. His visit comes ahead of an Arab League meeting in Egypt this weekend. Syria's seat has been left vacant since its membership was suspended in November 2011 after the government's crackdown on protests. (Reuters)

11:10 A.M. 2 soldiers killed by roadside bomb in Egypt's Sinai

An Egyptian security official says a roadside bomb struck a passing armored vehicle in the northeastern Sinai Peninsula, killing two soldiers.

The official says the explosion took place Tuesday near the village of al-Kharouba, near the border with the Gaza Strip, as army forces were patrolling the area searching for Islamic militants. Six more soldiers were injured and remain in serious condition, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

Northeastern Sinai is a longtime hotbed of Islamic insurgency. The Sinai-based militant group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis has claimed responsibility for a series of attacks against Egyptian security forces. It recently pledged its loyalty to the Islamic State group and changed its name to the Sinai Province. (AP)

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