Middle East Updates / Four Egyptian Christians Held Hostage in Libya, Says Family

U.S.-led forces target ISIS with 15 air strikes in Iraq, Syria; 200 Egyptians flee Libya through Tunisia; Swedish journalist missing in Syrian-Turkish border area.

AFP

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Latest updates:

9:29 P.M. Four Egyptian Christians held hostage in Libya, says family

The relatives of four Coptic Christian hostages held by gunmen in Libya for months are appealing for help from local and Libyan authorities to ensure their safe release

A video released earlier this week by the Islamic State group's Libyan branch showed the beheading of another 21 Egyptian Christian hostages.

The four hostages, all members of the same family from the southern Egyptian city of Abu Teeg, were abducted last August while trying to flee the Libyan capital, Tripoli.

Wageh Hakim, whose brother and cousins are being held, told The Associated Press on Friday that the four men were separated from Muslim friends at a checkpoint.

The four men were working in Tripoli as construction workers when Islamic and tribal militias overran the capital in August. (AP)

8:55 P.M. U.S. condemns violent attack in Libya

The United States on Friday condemned the violent attack in Libya that killed at least 40 people, calling on political parties to work together to form a new government.

"This latest terrorist attack underscores the need for all Libyan parties ... to participate in the U.N.-led dialogue convened by Bernardino Leon, the special representative of the U.N. secretary general, to form a national unity government," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters.

"Those who choose not to participate are excluding themselves from discussions which are critical to combating terrorism, as well as to the overall peace, stability and security of Libya."

Earlier on Friday, militants claiming loyalty to Islamic State killed 40 people by blowing themselves up in cars laden with explosives in eastern Libya. (Reuters)

7:38 P.M. 200 Egyptians flee Libya through Tunisia

A group of almost 200 Egyptians have crossed into Tunisia from Libya, the first of thousands expected to flee the turmoil in the country. The execution of 21 Egyptian Christians by extremists and retaliatory Egyptian airstrikes has prompted many Egyptians to want to leave Libya.

Authorities said 192 Egyptians went through the Ras Jdir border crossing Friday and headed to the Djerba airport where they will fly back to Cairo. Egypt has said it will send planes to transport home its citizens.

The Egyptians were briefly held up by protesters in the Tunisian border town of Ben Guerdane who have been calling for greater government investment in the impoverished region.

The protesters eventually let through the Egyptians, giving them bread and water. Many more are expected. (AP)

7:30 P.M. Swedish journalist missing in Syrian-Turkish border area

A Swedish freelance journalist has gone missing in the Syrian-Turkish border area, the Swedish newspaper Expressen reported on Friday, without disclosing its sources.

The journalist was not identified but was described as in his 30s. He had planned to enter an area of Syria controlled by Islamic State militants via the Turkish town of Gaziantep but had not been heard of for four days, the paper reported. (Reuters)

7:23 P.M. U.S.-led forces target Islamic State with 10 air strikes in Iraq, Five in Syria (Reuters)

5:40 P.M. bombs kill 40 in Libya in apparent revenge for Egyptian air strikes

Three car bombs ripped through the eastern Libyan city of Qubbah on Friday, killing 40 people and wounding 70 in what appears to be a revenge attack for Egyptian air strikes on Islamist militant targets.

Militants claiming loyalty to Islamic State said their fighters had been responsible for the suicide attacks in the eastern Libyan town, according to a statement posted on social media. (Reuters) Read full story

10:49 A.M. Yemen factions agree on interim governing council, UN envoy says

Yemen's rival factions have agreed to create an interim governing council in a bid to overcome the country's political crisis following a power grab by Houthi rebels, the United Nations envoy to Yemen, Jamal Benomar, said Friday.

Under the UN-brokered deal, the dissolved parliament is to be reinstated and a transitional council called the People's Assembly is to be set up.

The People's Assembly will seek to also reflect the views of groups currently not represented in parliament, such as women, youth and Yemen's formerly independent South.

The parliament and the new assembly will together be tasked with handling legislation during an unspecified transitional period.

"This progress is an important breakthrough towards reaching a comprehensive agreement," Benomar, a Moroccan diplomat, said.

On February 6, the powerful Shiite Houthis dissolved parliament and instituted a provisional constitution. The takeover was denouced as a coup by rival political factions and prompted mass protests, mainly from the country's Sunni majority. Several countries have closed their embassies as a result.

The Houthis originated as a movement to revive the Zaydi Shiite traditions of Yemen's historically dominant northern highlands. In January they placed President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi under house arrest and forced the government to resign.

Yemen is one of the Arab world's poorest countries and a stronghold of an active al-Qaeda offshoot. (DPA)

4:35 A.M. U.S., Britain reject calls for lifting of U.N. arms embargo on Libya

Two of the most powerful members of the U.N. Security Council are rejecting Libya's call to lift a U.N. arms embargo so it can defend itself against the Islamic State group, saying Thursday that the chaotic country needs a national unity government first.

Libya's foreign minister told an emergency council meeting Wednesday that lifting the embargo is necessary as the militant group establishes a presence in northern Africa and moves closer to Europe. Alarm soared after a video released over the weekend showed the beheading of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians there. "If we fail to have arms provided to us, this can only play into the hands of extremists," Mohammed al Dairi said.

But the United States and Britain are openly worried about allowing more weapons into a country that has two separate governments, multiple militant groups and a high risk of weapons falling into unwanted hands. Both countries, as permanent members of the 15-seat council, can use their veto to block any proposed action.

"The problem is that there isn't a government in Libya that is effective and in control of its territory," British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said during a visit to Spain. "There isn't a Libyan military which the international community can effectively support." (AP)