Middle East Updates / Insurgents Clash With Hezbollah Near Syria-Lebanon Border

Egyptian police arrest militants accused of recruiting for Islamic State; IS publicly kills six Iraqi soldiers in Anbar, witnesses say; Pakistani Taliban declares allegiance to IS.

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Smoke rises from the Syrian town of Kobani, seen from near the Mursitpinar border crossing on the Turkish-Syrian border in the southeastern town of Suruc, Sanliurfa province, October 5, 2014. Credit: Reuters

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Latest updates:

6:40 P.M. At least 16 insurgents from Syria's Al-Qaida wing Nusra Front were killed in clashes with Shi'ite group Hezbollah in eastern Lebanon on Sunday after launching a major offensive, a source close to Hezbollah said. (Reuters) Read full story

6:37 P.M. An Iranian-British woman has gone on hunger strike in prison in Tehran to protest against her arrest for trying to watch a men's volleyball game, the opposition website Kalame reported on Sunday.

Ghavami, 25, was arrested on June 20 outside Tehran's Azadi Stadium, where she was taking part in a demonstration demanding that women be allowed inside to watch Iran playing Italy in an international league match.  (Reuters)

6:03 P.M. Egyptian police have arrested four Islamic militants accused of recruiting youths to fight for Islamic State, the Mena state news agency said.

Mena reported that the men were arrested in the Mediterranean city of Port Said on Sunday and confessed to being part of an eight-strong cell, with the four remaining members currently in Syria. The men are being held pending investigation, Mena added. (Reuters)

5:55 P.M. Lebanese Shi'ite group Hezbollah clashed with hundreds of Sunni Islamist insurgents trying to capture land in a mountainous area near the border with Syria on Sunday and both sides suffered casualties, security sources said.

The insurgents, linked to the militant group Islamic State and Al-Qaida's Syria wing, launched a major offensive on Hezbollah-controlled areas near the Lebanese border town of Arsal, the sources said. Hezbollah had called on fighters to mobilize to defend the area, they added. (Reuters)

2:52 P.M. The assault on Kobani has forced some 160,000 people to flee across the frontier in one of the biggest single exoduses of Syria's civil war.

Overnight, coalition strikes targeted militant positions around Kobani, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights activist group.

Those strikes, combined with heavy clashes on the ground overnight, left at least 16 militants and 11 Kurdish fighters dead, it said. (AP) 

2:58 P.M. The United Arab Emirates said Sunday it wants "a formal clarification" of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden's recent comments that America's allies in the Middle East sent weapons and cash to extremists fighting in Syria. (AP) Read full story

2:12 P.M. At least five people were wounded in a Turkish village on Sunday when a projectile from fighting in Syria slammed into a house close to the border, witnesses said.

The fighting in Syria is centered around the town of Kobani, also known as Ayn al-Arab, where Syrian Kurdish forces are battling advancing Islamic State militants.

Turkey has not intervened in the fighting, which is close to its Mursitpinar border crossing.

The five people, from the same family, did not appear to be critically wounded, the witnesses said. (Reuters) 

2:02 P.M. Activists say Islamic State militants are shelling a beleaguered Kurdish town in northern Syria on the Turkish border.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the extremists fired at least 10 rockets Sunday on the town of Kobani, also known as Ayn Arab. The militants are also firing tank shells and mortars as they try to break the Kurds' hold on the town.

The Observatory says heavy clashes overnight, as well as U.S.-led coalition airstrikes on Islamic State positions around Kobani, killed at least 16 militants. At least 11 Kurdish militiamen were also killed the in the fighting.

From the Turkish side of the border, the heavy thud of shelling could be heard Sunday from Kobani, and pillars of smoke billowed over the town. (AP)

12:27 P.M. Witnesses say Islamic State group militants have publicly killed six Iraqi soldiers in Anbar province, where it continues to make gains despite an expanding U.S.-led campaign of airstrikes.

Witnesses say the soldiers — one in uniform and five in civilian clothes — were lined up against a wall Sunday in the town of Hit and shot in the head. They say the Islamic State group also bombed a police station in Hit, located some 140 kilometers (85 miles) west of the capital, Baghdad.

The witnesses spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal. (AP)

9:51 A.M. The Pakistani Taliban declared allegiance to Islamic State on Saturday and ordered militants across the region to help the Middle Eastern jihadist group in its campaign to set up a global Islamic caliphate.

Islamic State, which controls swathes of land in Syria and Iraq, has been making inroads into South Asia, which has traditionally been dominated by local Taliban insurgencies against both the Pakistan and Afghanistan governments.

The announcement comes after a September move by al Qaeda chief, Ayman al-Zawahri, to name former Taliban commander Asim Umar as the "emir" of a new South Asia branch of the network that masterminded the 2001 attacks on the United States.

Although there is little evidence of a firm alliance yet between IS and al Qaeda-linked Taliban commanders, IS activists have been spotted recently in the Pakistani city of Peshawar distributing pamphlets praising the group. (Reuters) 

1:41 A.M. Britain's Foreign Office says a teacher who had been held hostage by militants in Libya for the past four months has been safely freed and reunited with his family.

In a statement Saturday night, the Foreign Office identified the former hostage as David Bolam, a teacher at the Benghazi European School, and described him as "safe and well after his ordeal" and was with his family in an undisclosed location. It says his abduction had been kept secret for his own security.

The Foreign Office declined to provide other details on Bolam's background, captivity or release and said his family wants to protect their privacy. His LinkedIn profile indicates he was the director of the Benghazi school. (AP)

Saturday night:

11:23 P.M. The parents of a U.S. man threatened with beheading by the Islamic State group are pleading with his captors to free him, saying in a video statement Saturday that their son has devoted his life to humanitarian work and aiding Syria's war refugees.

Ed and Paula Kassig's video was released a day after Islamic State's online video threatened to behead 26-year-old Peter Kassig next — following the beheading of British aid worker Alan Henning. That video was a heartbreaking development for Kassig's family and friends, who had stayed silent since his capture while working to secure his release.

In the family's video, Ed Kassig says his son, who now goes by the first name Abdul-Rahman after converting to Islam during his captivity, was captured on Oct. 1, 2013, in Syria, where he was providing aid for Syrians fleeing that country's civil war. He says his son has grown "to love and admire" the Syrian people, after growing up in an Indianapolis family with a long history of humanitarian work and teaching. "Our son was living his life according to that same humanitarian call when he was taken captive," says Ed Kassig, a teacher. (AP) Watch the video