Middle East Updates Syrian Army General Said Killed in Damascus Bombing

Anti-Houthi fighters claim control of Yemen airport; suicide bomber detonates in heart of Damascus, Syrian army says, denying general's death.

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A man pushes a bicycle as he walks past damaged buildings in the Douma neighborhood of Damascus, February 24, 2015.
A man pushes a bicycle as he walks past damaged buildings in the Douma neighborhood of Damascus, February 24, 2015. Credit: Reuters
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7:50 P.M. ISIS forces closing in on Iraqi oil refinery

Iraqi forces besieged inside the country's largest oil refinery are running low on food and pleading for reinforcements to save them from Islamic State militants who have advanced deep into the compound in the past week.

The insurgents now hold large sections of the sprawling Baiji refinery complex in northern Iraq where some 200 policemen, soldiers and elite special forces are holding out.

"We are surrounded by Daesh from all sides," said a policeman called Mohanad, speaking via telephone from the refinery where his unit has taken up defensive positions in a guest house on the eastern side of the complex. Daesh is the Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS or ISIL in English.

"We can hear Daesh fighters shouting and threatening to behead anyone they catch. We are running short of ammunition, food and drinking water. We eat only one meal a day. We tear our uniforms to bandage other soldiers' and policemen's wounds."

Mohanad, who is from Baghdad, said he had set aside one bullet to end his own life in case they were overcome by the militants: "It's an easier way to die than being beheaded".

Baiji refinery has been one of the most fiercely contested spots in Iraq since Islamic State militants tore through the north last summer and proclaimed a caliphate.

Government forces held out for months under siege inside the refinery last year. The siege was broken in November, but the fighters launched a new offensive there last month after being driven out of the nearby city of Tikrit.

After the militants captured much of the compound, Iraqi officials said on April 18 they were again fully in control. But the militants have since gained ground once again. (Reuters)

5:00 P.M.: A Saudi-led Arab alliance conducting air strikes against Houthi fighters in Yemen is considering calling truces in specific areas in Yemen to allow humanitarian supplies to reach the country, the Saudi foreign minister said on Monday.

Adel al-Jubeir also said Saudi Arabia might host a center to coordinate delivery of humanitarian supplies.

The United Nations says the humanitarian situation in Yemen has grown desperate after weeks of air strikes.

"The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is holding consultations with members of the alliance in defense of legitimacy in Yemen and all countries that support it, to create specific areas inside Yemen to deliver humanitarian supplies, where all aerial operations will stop at specific times to allow these supplies in, as stipulated by UN Security Council resolution 2216," Jubeir said in a statement.

The resolution imposes an arms embargo on the Houthis and on their allies - army units loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh - and demands they disarm and leave captured cities, including the capital Sanaa that they seized in September.

Jubeir warned the rebels against exploiting the truces, saying air strikes would resume if the Shi'ite Muslim group did not abide by the truce.

2:15 P.M.: Local fighters in Aden on Monday wrested full control of the airport in Yemen's second city from Houthi rebels and allied military units, residents and local journalists told DPA.

The advances by the local militiamen raise the prospect of possible aid flights and military supplies to the beleaguered city, the last hold-out of President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi before he fled to neighboring Saudi Arabia in March.

The airport is also strategically important as it extends almost all the way across the narrow strip of land connecting mainland Aden with the city's port and older residential districts on a volcanic peninsula. (DPA)

12:28 P.M.: A monitoring group said a senior Syrian army officer was wounded in a bombing attack in a central Damascus district on Wednesday, though the military denied the report.

"A major general who heads the munitions and supply division of the Syrian army was injured and one of his companions killed and two hurt in the rebel attack," said Rami Abdul Rahman, the head of the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

A Syrian army source denied the report that a senior figure had been wounded and said five people involved in a suicide attack in the bustling central district of Rukn al Din had been killed or arrested.

11:30 A.M.: A suicide bomber blew himself up on Monday in a central neighborhood of the Syrian capital where major security compounds are housed, according to a Syrian army source.

The army source told state television the security forces had killed all the members of "a terrorist group" in the bustling Rukn al Din district during a chase after a suicide bomber blew himself up.

The source did not say whether there were any casualties but a resident contacted by Viber said the army had sealed off the main streets of the congested part of the capital adjacent to key government installations and embassies. (Reuters)

8:14 AM: A commercial plane was diverted to a military air base in Dubai after a passenger said the plane would explode, the United Arab Emirates' state news agency said early Monday.

The WAM news agency said authorities boarded the Air Arabia flight from Kuwait after it landed at al-Minhad air base, on the outskirts of Dubai.

Air Arabia, a budget carrier based in the emirate of Sharjah, said in a statement that the plane was diverted because of an "unruly passenger" and landed safely. It said authorities are currently investigating the incident, without providing further details. (AP)

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