Middle East Updates / Clashes in Yemen Mar Truce as UN Envoy Pushes for Talks

U.S.-led coalition launches 24 air strikes against ISIS ISIS militants approach ancient Syrian city of Palmyra Iran's Zarif says nuke deal 'very likely'

AFP

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Latest updates:

9:30 P.M. U.S.-led coalition launches 24 air strikes against ISIS

The United States and its allies conducted 24 air strikes since early on Thursday targeting Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, the Combined Joint Task Force carrying out the operations said.

In Syria, 12 air strikes hit near Al Hasakah, Kobani and other towns, the task force said in a statement Friday. In Iraq, 12 strikes hit buildings and other structures near Bayji, Fallujah, Ramadi and other towns, it said. (Reuters) 

6:27 P.M. Clashes in Yemen mar truce as UN envoy pushes for talks

Security officials say fighting is underway across Yemen on the third day of a humanitarian truce between a Saudi-led coalition and Shi'ite rebels. 

The officials reported clashes Friday in the southern city of Aden, the western city of Taiz and the provinces of Marib and Shabwa. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the press.

The U.N. envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, has proposed peace talks in Geneva. Rebel spokesman Hamed al-Bokheiti says the Houthis are willing to hold talks in any "neutral" country. (AP)

5:00 P.M. Iran's Zarif says nuclear deal "very likely"  Spiegel

Iran is optimistic that it can reach a final nuclear deal with world powers, its foreign minister said in an excerpt of an interview with Germany's Spiegel magazine published on Friday.

"An agreement is very likely -- provided that our negotiation partners mean it seriously," Mohammad Javad Zarif told Der Spiegel.

Zarif criticised Saudi Arabia, which has voiced concern that a nuclear deal could embolden Iran and harm its security. "Some people in the region are evidently panicking," he said, adding there was no reason to do so. "We don't want to dominate the region. We are happy with our size and geography," he told the magazine. (Reuters)  

3:05 P.M. ISIS raises flag over local government compound in Iraq's Ramadi

Islamic State militants raised their black flag over the provincial government compound in the city of Ramadi in western Iraq on Friday, a Reuters witness said.

The insurgents attacked Ramadi overnight using six suicide car bombs to reach the city center, where the Anbar governorate compound is located, police sources said. (Reuters)

2:51 P.M. ISIS militants approach ancient Syrian city of Palmyra

The UN cultural agency's chief said Friday she is alarmed by developments in Syria, where clashes with Islamic State militants are getting closer to the ancient city of Palmyra — one of the Middle East's most famous UNESCO world heritage sites.

Irina Bokova said Palmyra, famous for its 2,000-year-old ruins, should not become the target of any military activity. She spoke to reporters in Beirut after meeting with Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam.

Activist groups such as the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees said that Syrian government warplanes have been attacking positions of the Islamic State group on the eastern edge of Palmyra. There has also been fighting on the ground, the groups said.

On Friday, Syrian state news agency SANA said troops were "chasing" IS fighters in several areas north and east of Palmyra.

Bokova said the news surrounding Palmyra was very alarming.

"Our position is very clear that heritage sites should not be used for military purposes," Bokova said. "I appealed yesterday to all parties concerned to protect Palmyra and to leave it outside their military activity." (AP)

Palmyra, Syria.(AFP)

1:18 P.M. Iran-backed Houthi rebels push into Yemen's third-largest city despite cease-fire

Iran-backed Houthi rebels on Friday attempted to expand their presence in the central Yemeni city of Taiz despite a humanitarian truce, local journalists said.

Taiz, the country's third-largest city after Sana'a and Aden in the south, is strategically located on the road leading to Aden, which the rebels have been trying to seize since March.

Fierce clashes erupted between local militiamen in Taiz and the rebels after the Houthis and their allied military units tried to seize the areas of Hud al-Ashraf and al-Shemasi from loyalists of embattled President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi.

At least 10 rebels were killed, the journalists told dpa without reporting casualties among the local fighters.

The ongoing fighting has prompted locals to flee to safer areas in Taiz.

Warplanes from an anti-rebel coalition led by Saudi Arabia were patrolling Taiz, but were not carrying out airstrikes, according to witnesses.

A five-day truce that went into effect in Yemen late Tuesday was intended to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid to civilians. (DPA)

12:08 P.M. At least 10 Iraqi policemen killed in suicide attacks amid ISIS clashes

Iraqi officials say three near-simultaneous suicide car bombings targeting a government compound have killed 10 policemen in Ramadi, the provincial capital of the western Anbar province where government forces are battling Islamic State militants.

A police officer says Friday's attack is part of a new push by the Islamic State group to capture areas still controlled by the government in Ramadi.

He says at least seven policemen were also wounded in the coordinated attack.

Athal al-Fahdawi, an Anbar councilman, says fighting is still underway around the Ramadi compound, which houses most of the city's government offices. (AP)

3:19 A.M. Obama not drawing new red line on Syria chemical weapons use

U.S. President Barack Obama says he is not drawing a new red line on Syrian chemical weapons usage.

Obama says the U.S. is working with international partners to investigate if Syrian President Bashar Assad's government is dropping chlorine bombs. (AP) Read full story