Middle East Updates / ISIS Releases 25 Kidnapped Kurdish Children From Kobani

ISIS militants line up, shoot dead 30 Sunni men in Iraq town; U.S. strikes ISIS command node in Kobani; Masked men burn two Saudi consulate cars in Egypt; U.S. air-drops supplies to Iraqi tribe that lost village to ISIS.



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Latest updates:

9:34 P.M. Government troops enter central Benghazi, Libya after nearly 10 days of fighting

Government troops entered central Benghazi Wednesday after nearly 10 days of fighting Islamic extremist militias, a military spokesman said, in violence that killed dozens of people and forced hundreds of families to flee.

Mohammed Hegazi says former Gen. Khalifa Hifter, who led a campaign against Islamist militias, appeared in a military parade on Gamal Abdel-Nasser Street in the heart of Benghazi. The majority of the city is now under army control, he said, although militias dispute the claim.

Pictures posted on social networking sites showed Hifter — once an army commander before joining the opposition decades ago — wearing a rain coat and standing on an army pickup truck.

Amid the fighting, a mortar round fell on a mourning tent in the al-Majouri neighborhood, killing seven people, a medical official said, adding that a total of 11 bodies arrived at the Benghazi Medical Center as a result of Wednesday's fighting. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press. (AP)

9:02 P.M. ISIS releases 25 kidnapped Kurdish children from Kobani

Islamic State insurgents freed 25 Kurdish school children on Wednesday, the last of more than 150 children kidnapped in May to be released, a Kurdish official and a rights group said.

The hardline Sunni Muslim group, which has fought Kurdish militia in Syria and Iraq, abducted the children aged 13 and 14 from the Syrian town of Kobani as they returned from taking exams in the city of Aleppo, rights groups said.

"It is true. They were released from (the Syrian town of) Minbij today. This is the last part of the releases," Idris Nassan, deputy foreign minister of Kobani district, told Reuters by telephone.

He said he did not know why the children had been released but suggested it could be part of a campaign of "propaganda."

New York-based Human Rights Watch said in July that 15 children were released in June as a hostage swap to free three Islamic State members held by Kurdish forces. (Reuters) 

8:54 P.M. Eight Pakistani soldiers, 21 militants killed in Khyber tribal region

Pakistan's army says eight soldiers have been killed during an operation in the country's Khyber tribal region.

The army statement issued late Wednesday night said 21 terrorists also have been killed and several wounded during an operation in the tribal region's Spinqamar area.

The army's casualty figures could not be independently confirmed as journalists are not allowed to report from the tribal regions. Civilians have been killed in previous operations.

The army is carrying out an operation in the Khyber tribal region near Afghanistan alongside a major offensive against militants in their main sanctuary in North Waziristan. It is believed that militants who fled the North Waziristan operation took refuge in hideouts in Khyber. (AP)

6:45 P.M. Libya PM says ready for peace talks with rivals controlling Tripoli

Libya's internationally-recognized Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni said on Wednesday he was ready for peace talks with rivals controlling the capital Tripoli and questioning his legitimacy if all sides made concessions.

The North African country has had two governments and parliaments since a militia group from the western city of Misrata seized the capital Tripoli in August, setting up its own cabinet and assembly and effectively splitting Libya.

Thinni, whose government has retreated 1,000 km (625 miles) to the east where also the elected parliament is now based, set one condition for talks with his rivals.

"We open the doors of dialogue with our brothers on the condition that there be concessions from all sides," Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni told reporters in Khartoum at the end of a three-day visit to Sudan.

Western powers worry that the Libya is heading towards civil war as authorities are too weak to control former rebels who helped oust Muammar Gaddafi in 2011 but now defy state authority to grab power and a share of oil revenues. (Reuters)

5:07 P.M. Armed tribesmen kill eight Shi'ite Houthi rebels killed in Yemen

A military official says that armed tribesmen in Yemen have killed eight Shiite Houthi rebels.

He says the attack happened on a road north of Yemen's capital, Sanaa, and that the tribesmen fled the scene.

The Houthis, widely suspected of being linked to Iran, captured Sanaa last month and have since advanced on provinces to the west and south of the city.

Troops suspected to be loyal to ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh opened fire on pro-secession protestors in the southern city of Aden, killing one person and injuring four, another military official said. The sit-in by thousands began two weeks ago in one of Aden's squares.

The two officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. (AP)

4:46 P.M. 14-year-old boy allegedly planning to travel to Syria arrested in Austria

Austrian authorities have detained a 14-year-old boy who was allegedly planning to travel to Syria and had researched on the internet how to build bombs, prosecutors said on Wednesday.

The boy, a Turkish national who has lived in Austria for about eight years, was taken into custody late on Tuesday.

"He admitted he had plans to go to Syria and searched the internet for plans on how to build explosive devices," said Michaela Obenaus, spokeswoman for prosecutors in St. Poelten, the capital of Lower Austria province. "There is suspicion of participation in a terrorist organization."

Obenaus said the boy had expressed sympathy with Islamic State militants fighting in Syria and Iraq. (Reuters) 

3:32 P.M. ISIS militants line up, shoot dead 30 Sunni men in Iraq town

An Iraqi official says Islamic State militants lined up 30 Sunni men in a town west of Baghdad and shot them dead.

The slayings took place on a main street in the town of Hit on Wednesday.

Anbar provincial council chairman, Sabah Karhout, says the Sunnis killed were tribal fighters allied with the government and members of the security forces captured when the IS group overran the town, located about 140 kilometers (85 miles) west of the Iraqi capital.

Hit fell to the Islamic State group in early October after fierce clashes with government forces backed by the Sunni fighters from the Albu Nimir tribe.

The IS militants have seized large swaths of land in western and northern Iraq in the country's worst crisis since the 2011 U.S. troop withdrawal.

3:25 P.M. At least ten killed in Benghazi, Libya clashes

At least 10 people were killed on Wednesday when rockets struck several residential districts of Libya's Benghazi city as the army fought with Islamist militias, medics said.

At least 180 people have been killed since pro-government forces launched an offensive on Islamists in Libya's second-largest city two weeks ago - part of chaos gripping the major oil producer three years after the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi.

The nascent army, backed by forces of former army general Khalifa Haftar and armed youths, had made initial gains by expelling Islamists from the airport area and claiming the seizure of one of their strongholds in the port city.

But heavy fighting erupted again on Wednesday in several parts of the city and rockets and artillery shells hit residential districts, residents said.

"Ten bodies were delivered to hospitals," said a medic. (Reuters)

2:53 P.M. U.S. strikes ISIS command node in Kobani

The U.S. military conducted 14 air strikes on Tuesday and Wednesday against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, according to a statement from U.S. Central Command.

U.S. forces in Syria made eight strikes near the key Syrian border town of Kobani near Turkey, destroying a small Islamic state unit of fighters, a "command and control node" and other buildings, vehicles and fighting positions for the militant group, Centcom said on Wednesday.

In Iraq, U.S. forces conducted six air strikes, three near Fallujah and three near Sinjar, destroying several small Islamic State unites and two vehicles, the statement said. (Reuters)

11:47 A.M. Islamic State recaptures gas fields in Syria, monitor says

Islamic State militants have recaptured gas fields in central Syria in a major offensive days after losing them, a monitoring group says.

"The Islamic State managed to control the 101, 102 and 103 gas fields located on the eastern outskirts of the Homs province after killing at least 30 members of the regime troops," said the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdel-Rahman. (DPA)

11:00 A.M. Iraqi Kurds to bring anti-tank weapons to Kobani

Iraqi Kurdish fighters are expected to bring anti-tank and anti-armour weapons when they enter the Syrian town of Kobani on Wednesday to aid fellow Kurds in their fight against Islamic State militants, a Syrian Kurdish official said.

Saleh Moslem, co-chair of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), said the Iraqi peshmerga fighters were expected to enter Kobani later on Wednesday.

"They're supposed to bring ... mainly anti-armour weapons, anti-tank," he said. "Of course, more than that they have some weapons ... to defend themselves also. But mostly it's mainly artillery, or anti-armour, anti-tank weapons."

He said the weapons should help the Syrian Kurdish fighters of the YPG armed group fend off Islamic State fighters who have used armoured vehicles and tanks in their assault on the town.

"The YPG, they're just defending. They can do it. But these armoured vehicles and tanks were making problems for them ... The YPG forces could not do it with the weapons they have. So now this will give support," he said. (Reuters)

9:50 A.M. Masked men burn two Saudi consulate cars in Egypt

Masked men set fire to two cars belonging to the consulate of Saudi Arabia in the Egyptian city of Suez on Friday morning, local security sources and the state news agency reported.

Security sources who spoke on condition of anonymity told Reuters that at least four men threw Molotov cocktails at the cars, which were parked.

Saudi Arabia has been a strong backer of Egypt since then-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi toppled Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood last year, and the attack appeared to be the first on Saudi property or personnel in Egypt since then.

Major General Tareq al-Gazar, director of security in the city, said authorities were working to identify the perpetrators of the attack.

The embassy of Saudi Arabia in Cairo declined to comment on the incident.(Reuters)

5:14 A.M. 150 Iraqi Kurdish fighters arrive to Turkey en route to Kobani

A group of Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga troops arrived in Turkey early Wednesday and headed toward the border to help their Syrian brethren fight Islamic State extremists in the embattled town of Kobani.

The unprecedented mission by the 150 fighters to help fellow Kurds in their battle with the Islamic State group came after Ankara agreed to allow the peshmerga to cross into Syria via Turkey — although the Turkish prime minister reiterated that his country would not be sending any ground forces of its own to Kobani.

The peshmerga forces landed early Wednesday at the Sanliurfa airport in southeastern Turkey, according to AP video journalists. They left the airport in buses escorted by Turkish security forces and are expected to travel to Kobani through the Mursitpinar border crossing.

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the BBC that sending the peshmerga was "the only way to help Kobani, since other countries don't want to use ground troops." (AP)

1:22 A.M. Iran envoy rejects UN investigator's charges of rights abuses

Iran on Tuesday dismissed a UN investigator's allegations of severe human rights abuses in the Islamic Republic, saying the criticisms were aimed at inciting "Iranophobia and Islamophobia."

The latest report, by UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran Ahmed Shaheed, says executions in Iran have sharply increased since President Hassan Rouhani's election last year. He said torture is used in prisons, the situation of women has deteriorated and religious minorities are still persecuted.

Iranian envoy Forouzandeh Vadiati told the UN General Assembly's Third Committee, which focuses on human rights, that its discussion of her country was a "fruitless annual ritual."

She said Shaheed's criticisms were encouraged by "certain countries' foreign policies" and "the final gain that they aim to achieve is to enhance their project of Iranophobia and Islamophobia."

Vadiati also rejected the idea that the situation of women in Iran has deteriorated. Shaheed's report said the number of women enrolled at Iranian universities has decreased to 48 percent in 2013-2014 from 62 percent in 2007-2008.

"Laws, policies and practices that discriminate against Iranian women and girls continue to institutionalize their second-class status," Shaheed told the Third Committee meeting.

Vadiati denied that there were problems for Iranian women.

"As an Iranian woman I never experienced such allegations as raised by the special rapporteur," she said.

Vadiati also dismissed the idea that torture was used in Iran, noting that it is illegal under Iranian law.

Speaking to reporters on Monday, Shaheed expressed shock at Iran's weekend execution of Reyhaneh Jabbari, a 26-year-old woman convicted of murdering a man she accused of trying to rape her as a teenager. Shaheed said he had repeatedly voiced concerns to Tehran about her trial.

Vadiati did not refer to the case of Jabbari.

"We will continue our efforts to the promotion of human rights, not as a result of a politically motivated mandate and resolution, but rather because of the will of our people and government," she said.

The European Union is drafting a General Assembly resolution condemning human rights abuses in Iran. It is expected to go to a vote in the Third Committee in the near future.

Assembly resolutions condemning human rights abuses in Iran, North Korea, Myanmar and Syria have become an annual ritual. (Reuters) 

1:10 A.M. U.S. air-drops supplies to Iraqi tribe that lost village to ISIS

The U.S. military has air-dropped humanitarian aid to members of Iraq's Albu Nimr tribe who lost their village in western Iraq to Islamic State militants last week after weeks of resistance, U.S. Central Command said on Tuesday.

The military said the airdrop near Iraq's Al Asad Air Base came on Monday at the request of the Iraqi government.

A U.S. Air Force C-130 aircraft delivered more than 7,000 halal meals, which were retrieved by Iraqi forces and delivered to members of the Albu Nimr tribe who recently fled their homes, Central Command said.

The Albu Nimr tribe had been fending off Islamic State since early October but finally lost the Sunni Muslim village of Zauiyat albu Nimr in the western province of Anbar last Thursday. (Reuters)