Middle East Updates / Iran's Khamenei Rejects Probe of Alleged Nuke Weapons Work

Britain says Syrian video footage exposes Assad barrel bomb lies; Iran to allow UN inspection of Yemen aid ship in Djibouti ; Syrian antiquities chief says statues moved from Palmyra.

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Latest updates:

11:35 P.M. Iranian leader rejects probe of alleged nuke weapons work

The U.S. may have to soften demands that any nuclear deal with Iran give UN experts a free hand to investigate possible past nuclear arms works by Tehran, after Iran's supreme leader stridently ruled out cooperation Wednesday.

"No inspection of any military site and interview with nuclear scientists will be allowed" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told military commanders. "The enemies should know that the Iranian nation and officials will by no means give in to excessive demands and bullying."  (AP)

8:48 P.M. U.S.-led air raid kills 15 Al-Qaida fighters in Syria 

Screenshot from Al Jazeera video purporting to show use of barrel bombs by Assad forces

An air raid by U.S.-led forces killed at least 15 members of Al Qaida's Syria wing Nusra Front in the northwest of the country on Wednesday, a group monitoring the Syrian civil war said. 

The raid hit the headquarters of the group in Tawama village in the western countryside of Aleppo province, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which gathers information from a network of sources on the ground. 

Most of the fighters killed were Turkish, it said, and there were several also wounded. It was not immediately clear how senior they were. (Reuters)

7:08 P.M. Britain says Syrian video footage exposes Assad barrel bomb lies

Video footage of a barrel bomb being dropped by Syrian government forces shows President Bashar al-Assad's denial that they are being used is a lie, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said on Wednesday. 

Britain's Foreign Office said the footage was discovered on a mobile phone found in the wreckage of a crashed government forces helicopter and handed to broadcaster Al Jazeera. 

"This video footage exposes Assad's lies on barrel bombs. It shows the casual and indiscriminate way in which Syrian regime forces are dropping these horrific weapons out of helicopters onto civilians below," Hammond said in a statement. 

"We will bring those involved in these criminal acts to justice and will continue to help those caught in attacks by continuing our support of rescue teams working on the ground." 

According to Amnesty International, barrel bombs -- containers packed with explosives and projectiles that are dropped from helicopters -- killed some 3,000 civilians in the northern Aleppo governorate last year. 

5:06 P.M. Anti-Islamic State coalition to meet in Paris on June 2 

Ministers from members of the coalition fighting Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria will meet in Paris on June 2 to plot strategy including how to reverse recent losses, French officials said on Wednesday. 

After taking the city of Ramadi earlier this week, Islamic State militants are seeking to consolidate gains in the vast Iraqi desert province of Anbar, where only small pockets of territory remain under government control. 

"It falls at the right time to assess what's happening because there have been some positive and negative developments," a senior French diplomat said, adding that the countries would meet on June 2. 

Government spokesman Stephane Le Foll confirmed the talks. (Reuters)

4:22 P.M. Iran to allow UN inspection of Yemen aid ship in Djibouti 

Iran will allow the United Nations to inspect an aid shipment to Yemen, the ISNA agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian as saying on Wednesday. 

"We have decided to dock our ship in Djibouti so the United Nations inspection protocol can take place," Abdollahian was quoted as saying by ISNA. (Reuters)

4:12 P.M. Syrian antiquities chief says statues moved from Palmyra 

Hundreds of statues have been moved from the historic Syrian city of Palmyra to locations safe from Islamic State militants who managed to infiltrate it on Wednesday, the country's antiquities chief told Reuters. 

Maamoun Abdulkarim said "small groups" of militants had entered the central city, and called on the Syrian army, opposition and international community to save the UNESCO World Heritage site. 

"Hundreds and hundreds of statues we were worried would be smashed and sold are all now in safe places," he said. "The fear is for the museum and the large monuments that cannot be moved," Abdulkarim said. "This is the entire world's battle." (Reuters)

2:38 P.M. ISIS fighters in Syria seize one-third of ancient city of Palmyra (Reuters)

1:56 P.M. Iran aid ship to enter Red Sea on Thursday, captain says

The captain of an Iranian cargo ship which Iran says is carrying thousands of tons of aid to Yemen expects to enter the Bab al-Mandeb strait linking the Gulf of Aden with the Red Sea on Thursday morning, state news agency IRNA reported. 

By crossing the strait, the Iran Shahed will sail past Djibouti where the United Nations is coordinating aid. U.S. officials have called on Iran to divert the ship to Djibouti to allow the ship's cargo to be inspected. 

"If the weather and the ship's technical conditions persist ... we will enter the Bab al-Mandeb strait tomorrow morning," the Iran Shahed's captain Massoud Ghazi Mirsaid was quoted as saying by IRNA on Wednesday. (Reuters)

12:23 P.M. Shell near Damascus school kills teacher, wounds 23 students

Syrian TV says a school teacher has been killed and 23 students wounded in shelling that struck near a school in the capital Damascus.

It says the shells fired by "terrorists" struck the upscale district of Malki in Damascus Wednesday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported the incident, saying a teacher was killed and around 20 students wounded in the attack. It said some of the wounded students were in critical condition.

Rebels in the suburbs of Damascus often lob mortar shells at the capital, although schools have rarely been targeted. (AP)

9:21 A.M. Saudi-led coalition pounds Yemen capital in most sustained bombardment yet

Warplanes from a Saudi-led coalition carried out the most sustained bombardment of Yemen's capital Sanaa in nearly two months of airstrikes on Tuesday night, residents of the city said, hitting army bases and weapons depots.

It was the first time air strikes continued from morning until after midnight since the campaign began on March 26, residents said, and led to terrifying blasts across the city.

Yemen's exiled government in Riyadh, backed by the coalition, said on Tuesday it would not agree to talks with rebels until they withdrew from cities and surrendered weapons, meaning peace talks to end the civil war seem unlikely soon.

The coalition restarted strikes late on Sunday after a five-day humanitarian pause, waving away pleas for an extension by the United Nations by pointing to what it said were repeated abuses of the ceasefire by rebels. (Reuters)

4:28 A.M. UN condemns attack on Russian embassy in Syria

The UN Security Council on Tuesday strongly condemned what it called a "terrorist attack" on the Russian embassy in Syria's capital.

Russia's Deputy UN Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov told The Associated Press that a mortar round penetrated a diplomat's office, but no one was killed because people were out at lunch. Safronkov said the attack came from the Jobar neighborhood, which he said "as far as we understand is controlled by illegal armed groups." He did not know which group was responsible.

The Russian diplomat said the embassy in Damascus has been targeted before.

The Security Council statement said the Russian embassy sustained "serious material damage." The current council president told reporters that news of the attack came during a council meeting.

The U.S. State Department issued a separate statement condemning the mortar attack and pointing out that the embassy compound is protected under international law. "We call for those responsible for all such acts to be held accountable and continue to stress the need for a political solution to the turmoil in Syria," the statement by spokesman Jeff Rathke said. (AP)