Middle East Updates / Over 1,000 Killed in U.S.-led Air Campaign on ISIS in Syria Since September

U.S. military says ten more strikes hit ISIS in Syria, Iraq; At least 290 cultural heritage sites in Syria damaged in civil war; suspected Islamist militants blow up natural gas pipeline in North Sinai, Egypt.

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A KC-135 Stratotanker takes off from a base in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility in support of a mission to conduct airstrikes in Syria against ISIS.
A KC-135 Stratotanker takes off from a base in the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility in support of a mission to conduct airstrikes in Syria against ISIS.Credit: AP
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An internally displaced Yazidi who fled from an Iraqi town after advances by Islamic militants takes shelter at a school in Dahuk, 420 kilometers northwest of Baghdad, Oct. 2, 2014.Credit: AP

Latest updates:

8:47 P.M. Ex-US Marine held in Iran suspends hunger strike

A former U.S. Marine imprisoned in Iran is temporarily suspending a hunger strike after authorities agreed to re-examine his case, his family said Tuesday.
Amir Hekmati, 31, told his Michigan family by phone December 16 that he was beginning the hunger strike and dictated a letter asking President Obama not to forget him as dialogue continues with Iran over its nuclear activities.

On Tuesday, the Flint-area family said in an email it learned that Hekmati agreed to suspend his hunger strike, and Evin prison officials promised "they would take certain steps to have his case revisited by appropriate Iranian government authorities."

Hekmati was arrested in 2011 and sentenced to death for spying. The U.S. denies he's a spy. He appealed and received a 10-year sentence for "cooperating with hostile governments." (AP)

6:05 P.M. ISIS militants return to outskirts of strategic Iraqi town

An Iraqi official says Islamic State militants have returned to the outskirts of a strategic oil refinery town after being driven out last month.

Gov. Raed Ibrahim of the Salahuddin province says the militants fought their way to the edge of Beiji on Tuesday after three days of heavy clashes. He says they were able to advance because Iraqi troops lack heavy weapons.

The militants captured Beiji and besieged its refinery - the country's largest - during their rapid advance across Iraq last summer. Iraqi forces wrested the town back in mid-November in one of their biggest victories to date against the insurgents. The refinery is some 20 kilometers north of town. (AP) 

3:55 P.M. U.S. military: Ten more strikes hit ISIS in Syria, Iraq

The U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State in Syria and Iraq launched 10 more strikes against the militants on Tuesday, destroying various fighting positions, the U.S. military said in a statement.

The seven strikes in Syria and three in Iraq also struck a unit of Islamic State fighters as well as some of the militants' oil collection equipment, according to the Combined Joint Task Force for the operation. (Reuters) 

2:17 P.M. More than 1,000 killed in U.S.-led air strikes in Syria targeting ISIS

Three months of U.S.-led strikes in Syria have so far killed at least 1,171 people, mostly Islamic State militants, a British-based Syrian monitoring group said on Tuesday.

Rami Abdulrahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told Reuters only 52 were civilians. But his network of activists, who are based around Syria, said the death toll since the military campaign was launched in late September was probably higher among hardline Islamist insurgents.

"This is because of the difficulty of activists reaching areas hit by the coalition and also because the Islamic State keeps a tight lid on it's human losses," Abdulrahman said. (Reuters) 

11:35 A.M. Satellite imagery shows damage to at least 290 cultural sites in Syria

A UN agency says satellite imagery shows that at least 290 cultural heritage sites in Syria have been damaged by the country's civil war.

The United Nations Institute for Training and Research says in its report released Tuesday that UNESCO World Heritage sites in Aleppo, Damascus, the ancient city of Palmyra and the Crusader castle known as Crac des Chevaliers have all sustained major damage.

UNITAR says it analyzed 18 different cultural areas using commercially available satellite imagery. It found that 24 sites were destroyed, 104 severely damaged, 85 moderately damaged and 77 possibly damaged.

UNITAR says "national and international efforts for the protection of these areas need to be scaled up in order to save as much as possible of this important heritage to human-kind."

9:47 A.M. Algeria troops kill militant leader behind Frenchman Herve Gourdel's murder

Algeria's army has killed the leader of the militant group responsible for kidnapping and beheading French tourist Herve Gourdel in September, a local television station close to the government said on Tuesday.

Ennahar TV, citing an unnamed security source, said troops had killed Gouri Abdelmalek, leader of the Caliphate Soldiers group, which declared its allegiance to jihadist Islamic State fighters in Iraq and Syria.

It said Abdelmalek and two other militants were killed east of the capital Algiers in a clash with special forces. His group had kidnapped and beheaded the Frenchman in retaliation for French military action against Islamic State. (Reuters)

9:18 A.M. Suspected Islamist militants blow up natural gas pipeline in North Sinai, Egypt

Security officials say suspected Islamic militants have blown up and set fire to a natural gas pipeline outside el-Arish, the provincial capital of North Sinai.

The officials say all roads leading to the area have been closed after the explosion, which took place early Tuesday morning.

Ansar Beit al-Maqdis or Champions of Jerusalem, a jihadi group based in the Sinai Peninsula, had claimed responsibility for several such bombings and attacks on security forces. It pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group last month at the time an Egyptian court designated it and all its affiliates as terrorist organizations and banned them from the country.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity according to protocol.

The official news agency MENA said the national gas company stopped the flow of the gas. (AP)

8:30 A.M. Iraqi Yazidi women endured horrors after being enslaved by ISIS, report says

Women and girls from Iraq's Yazidi minority endured horrors at the hands of Islamic State group extremists after they were taken as slaves last summer, leaving them deeply traumatized, an international watchdog group said in a report issued on Tuesday.

The Amnesty International report based on interviews with over 40 former captives who were among hundreds of women and girls from the Yazidi religious minority captured by IS fighters in early August when the militants overran their hometown of Sinjar. Hundreds were killed in the attack, and tens of thousands were either stranded in nearby Mount Sinjar or fled mostly to the Kurdish-held parts of northern Iraq.

The London-based group said the captives, including girls aged 10-12, faced torture, rape, forced marriage and were "sold" or given as "gifts" to IS fighters or their supporters in militant-held areas in Iraq and Syria. Often, captives were forced to convert to Islam.

"Hundreds of Yazidi women and girls have had their lives shattered by the horrors of sexual violence and sexual slavery in IS captivity," Amnesty's Senior Crisis Response Adviser Donatella Rovera said in a statement.

"Many of those held as sexual slaves are children — girls aged 14, 15 or even younger," Rovera added. (AP) Read full story here

8:27 A.M. Five bombs explode in Yemeni capital, killing one

Five bombs exploded on Tuesday in Sanaa's old quarter, where many supporters of the Shi'ite Muslim Houthi group live, killing at least one person and wounding another, a Yemeni security official said.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, but the Houthis have been fighting the Sunni Islamist militant Al-Qaida group and allied tribesmen since its gunmen captured Sanaa in September and forced the resignation of a government they had long seen as corrupt.

Witnesses said the blasts occurred early in the morning at a time when only a few people were on the streets. One of the bombs exploded when a member of the Houthi militia tried to dismantle it, residents said.

Several houses and some cars were damaged from the explosions. (Reuters)

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