Middle East Updates Yemen Truce Broadly Holds, but Violations Reported

Iran warns Saudi, U.S. against hindering Yemen aid ship; Dozens killed in Islamic State attack in central Syria, monitor says; gunmen kill 43 in attack on Shi'ite minority in Pakistan; closer defense ties between U.S., Gulf critical to terrorism fight, says Kerry.

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A protest against Saudi-led air strikes on Yemen, in front of the offices of the UN headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon, May 12, 2015.
A protest against Saudi-led air strikes on Yemen, in front of the offices of the UN headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon, May 12, 2015. Credit: Reuters
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Haaretz

For Tuesday's updates, click here

Latest updates:

11:16 P.M. Yemen says Iran to blame for any incident sparked by cargo ship

Yemen warned on Wednesday that if Iran did not allow a cargo ship bound for the Arabian peninsula with a military escort to be searched then it "bears complete responsibility for any incident that arises from their attempt to enter Yemeni waters."

Iran said earlier on Wednesday it would not allow Saudi Arabia-led coalition forces to inspect the ship, which it says contains humanitarian aid. The ship left Iran on Monday and is being escorted by Iranian warships.

"The Yemeni government and the coalition forces do not object to aid shipments entering Yemen as long as they obtain the necessary permits from the legitimate government of Yemen and are searched prior to entry," Yemen's U.N. mission told the UN Security Council in a letter, seen by Reuters. (Reuters)

10:40 P.M. U.S. has no information to corroborate death of deputy ISIS commander

The U.S. military on Wednesday strongly denied claims by Iraq's government that a coalition air strike hit a mosque where the deputy commander of Islamic State insurgents had been meeting other insurgents in the north of the country. Read the full story. (Reuters)

8:15 P.M. Obama vows security cooperation with Arab allies

U.S. President Barack Obama will pledge improved security cooperation with Arab allies at a Camp David summit Thursday with members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, he said in an interview ahead of the talks.

"Together, we have the opportunity to improve our security coordination and help our GCC partners strengthen and further integrate their defense capabilities in a range of areas including missile defense, maritime security, cybersecurity, and border security," Obama told Asrarq al-Awsat newspaper in an interview published Wednesday.

Obama will welcome the GCC delegations later Wednesday ahead of talks at the presidential retreat on defense cooperation, counterterrorism efforts, the fight against Islamic State and Saudi-led operations in Yemen.

The president discussed the conflict in Yemen and an ongoing humanitarian ceasefire with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office Wednesday morning. (DPA)

7:37 P.M. Iran files complaint with UN over aid to Yemen

Iran complained to the United Nations Security Council of the Saudi Arabia-led coalition's forces hindering its attempts to send aid to Yemen as a standoff loomed on Wednesday over an Iranian cargo ship bound for the Arabian Peninsula under military escort.

Gulf Arab nations in the military coalition have since March 26 been bombing Houthi militia and allied army units that control much of Yemen as well as inspecting ships in a bid to stop weapons smuggling.

Iran said on Wednesday it would not allow coalition forces to inspect the humanitarian shipment, which is being escorted by Iranian warships. Saudi Arabia has accused Tehran of arming the Houthis, charges the Islamic Republic denies.
"The Islamic Republic of Iran has tried by all means to alleviate the suffering of the affected Yemeni people; efforts that have mostly been thwarted by the coalition forces," Iran's U.N. Ambassador Gholamali Khoshroo wrote to the Security Council in a letter sent late on Tuesday and seen by Reuters.

"Indeed, the destruction of the transportation infrastructure of Yemen by the coalition forces has adversely impacted the delivery of humanitarian assistance," he wrote.

A five-day truce that began on Tuesday to allow for the delivery of aid to Yemen appeared to be broadly holding. The United Nations says some 12 million people in the war-torn impoverished country need help.

5:00 P.M. Iraq announces ISIS second-in-command killed by U.S.-led coalition airstrike

Afri, a former Iraqi physics teacher, replaced the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who reportedly was seriously wounded in a U.S. coalition airstrike in western Iraq in March, leaving him incapable of carrying out his day-to-day duties as caliph. Click here for the full story.

2:18 P.M. Iran warns Saudi, U.S. against hindering Yemen aid ship

A senior Iranian military official has warned the Saudi-led coalition targeting Yemeni rebels that blocking an Iranian aid ship bound for Yemen will "spark a fire," as a five-day humanitarian cease-fire appeared to hold early Wednesday after going into effect the day before.

"I bluntly declare that the self-restraint of Islamic Republic of Iran is not limitless," Gen. Masoud Jazayeri, the deputy chief of staff, told Iran's Arabic-language Al-Alam state TV late Tuesday.

"Both Saudi Arabia and its novice rulers, as well as the Americans and others, should be mindful that if they cause trouble for the Islamic Republic with regard to sending humanitarian aid to regional countries, it will spark a fire, the putting out of which would definitely be out of their hands."

Iran says the ship, which departed Monday, is carrying food, medicine, tents and blankets, as well as reporters, rescue workers and peace activists. It says the ship is expected to arrive at Yemen's port city of Hodeida next week. (AP)

12:55 P.M. Yemen truce broadly holds, but violations reported

A five-day humanitarian truce in Yemen appeared to be broadly holding on Wednesday, despite reports of some air strikes overnight by Saudi-led forces and continued actions by the country's dominant Houthi group in the east.

An Arab alliance headed by the world's top oil exporter Saudi Arabia has been bombing Iran-allied Houthi fighters who control much of its impoverished neighbor since March 26. A ceasefire is meant to allow in aid and medicine.

Eyewitnesses in the south-western city of Abyan said air strikes hit Houthi positions there after they seized the area for hours after the pause began at 11 p.m. (2000 GMT).

Residents of the southern provinces of Shabwa and Lahj, which have also witnessed heavy ground clashes between local militiamen and the Houthis, also reported air strikes overnight.

Residents said that at least 35 civilians were killed by Saudi-led air strikes on cities of Abs and Zabeed in western Yemen on Tuesday, before the ceasefire went into effect.

The reports, even if fully accurate, would suggest violence at a far lower level than before the truce formally began. (Reuters)

12:35 P.M. Dozens killed in Islamic State attack in central Syria, monitor says

At least 30 Syrian troops and 20 Islamic State militants were killed on Wednesday when the jihadist group launched an attack on government-held areas in central Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

The fighting was focused around the town of al-Sukhna, some 220 km (140 miles), east of the city of Homs.

12:22 P.M. ISIS attacks army-held areas in Homs, central Syria

Islamic State fighters launched an attack on Syrian army-held areas in Homs province overnight, a Syrian military source and an organization tracking the war said, part of the group's efforts to expand beyond its strongholds in the east.

Syrian troops repelled the attack in places and were still fighting in others, the military source said. The British-based monitoring group, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said there were large numbers of dead but had no toll.

Islamic State's targets included the town of al-Sukhna, the Observatory said.

The military source said, "(The army) repelled the attack in areas, there are areas where it is still ongoing." (Reuters)

11:42 A.M Gunmen kill 43 in attack on Shi'ite minority in Pakistan

Gunmen killed more than 40 people on Wednesday aboard a bus in southern Pakistan bound for a Shi'ite community center, in the latest attack targeting the religious minority.

The attack in the port city of Karachi was the deadliest Pakistan has seen in months. Provincial police chief Ghulam Haider Jamali said 43 people were killed, including 16 women, and another 13 people were wounded.

The bus was in a relatively deserted area on the outskirts of the city, en route to a community center for Ismaili Shi'ite Muslims when six gunmen boarded it and opened fire, Jamali said. The attackers then fled on three motorcycles.

"These are the people who are extremists, who are terrorists," Jamali said of the assailants. "These are the same people who have been doing terrorism before."

Qadir Baluch, a security guard at a nearby building, said he heard the gunshots and saw the militants driving away. He said one of them was wearing a police uniform.

Local TV showed the bus riddled with bullets and panicked relatives crying at the scene or waiting at the hospital.

A splinter faction of the Pakistani Taliban called Jundullah, or Army of God, claimed responsibility for the attack. A man purporting to be a spokesman for the group called the Associated Press from an undisclosed location and said "infidels were the target." The purported spokesman, Ahmad Marwat, has conveyed similar claims in the past. (AP)

11:35 A.M. Closer defense ties between U.S., Gulf critical to terrorism fight, says Kerry

A clearer security arrangement between Gulf countries and the United States is critical to fighting terrorism, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Wednesday, ahead of a summit in Washington with Arab leaders.

U.S. President Barack Obama will meet with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Washington's Oval Office later, before the summit with the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

"Defining ... a clearer defense arrangement between the GCC and other friendly countries and the United States is going to be critical to helping to push back against the terrorism, as well as some of the other activities that take place in that region that are unsettling to all of those countries," Kerry said.

He was speaking to reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Antalya, Turkey, before flying back to Washington to attend a dinner at the White House with Obama and GCC officials. (Reuters)

11:21 A.M. Turkey probes alleged links in military with U.S.-based cleric

Turkish Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz said on Wednesday that a military prosecutor has opened an investigation into allegations a U.S.-based Islamic preacher has sympathizers in the armed forces, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

It is the latest move against followers of Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, whose followers have been pushed out of key posts in the judiciary and police force, amid a long-running feud with President Tayyip Erdogan, once Gulen's close ally.

Yilmaz also said that 73 officers, whose convictions for plotting Erdogan's overthrow were overturned, had returned to their posts in the Turkish Armed Forces, Anadolu said on its website. (Reuters)

10:25 A.M. NATO says will look at what more it can do in fight against Islamic State

NATO foreign ministers meeting in Turkey on Wednesday will look at how the alliance can do more to fight Islamic State, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said.

"One of the important issues at this meeting, in different formats, will be how NATO can do even more in fighting terrorism and in fighting ISIL (Islamic State)," Stoltenberg told reporters at the start of the meeting.

He also called for the full implementation of the Minsk ceasefire agreement in Ukraine. "We call on Russia to stop supporting the separatists and to withdraw all its forces from eastern Ukraine," he told reporters. (Reuters)

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