Middle East Updates / Hezbollah Retakes Key Area From Al-Qaidi-linked Syrian Rebels

Al-Qaida claims official killed by U.S. strike in Yemen as U.S. military begins to train Syria fighters to combat Islamic State; Turkey and Saudi Arabia associate against regime of Syrian President.

Gil Eliyahu

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Latest updates:

11:20 P.M.: 
Hezbollah retakes key area from Al-Qaidi-linked Syrian rebels 

Hezbollah announced Thursday night that its forces had regained control over several hills in the Qalamoun Mountains region of Syria, where a battle has been raging against several Syrian rebel groups, first and foremost the Al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front. 

The report was confirmed by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, considered to be pro-rebel watchdog group, which said Hezbollah and the Syrian Army had made headway in several parts of the strategically located Qalamoun region. The group further said that both sides have deliberately exaggerated the scope of the fighting ahead of a much anticipated offensive in the area.

Other reports from Lebanon said that well-camouflaged Hezbollah trucks had been spotted in Lebanon's Bekaa, apparently to transport arms and ammunition in preparation for the coming offensive. Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has said the battle in Qalamoun is imminent, but the decision on zero hour has not yet been made. (Jack Khoury)

9:28 P.M. Al-Qaida claims official killed by U.S. strike in Yemen

Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula claimed that a U.S. air strike killed a senior official who appeared in several of the group's videos, including one taking responsibility for the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, according to a SITE Intelligence Group report on Thursday.

Reuters could not independently verify the SITE report that senior official Nasser bin Ali al-Ansi was killed with his eldest son and other fighters in Yemen. (Reuters)

6:31 P.M. U.S. military starts training Syria fighters to combat Islamic State

The U.S. military has started training Syrian fighters to combat Islamic State militants, U.S. and Middle East sources told Reuters on Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity, adding the program had begun in Jordan and would soon launch in Turkey.

The U.S. plan to train and arm a force that is expected to eventually total more than 15,000 troops is a major test of President Barack Obama's strategy in Syria, which critics say is too limited to steer events.

The Pentagon declined comment. (Reuters) 

5:54 P.M. Turkey and Saudi Arabia associate to fight the regime of Syrian President

Turkish officials are confirming that their country has forged an alliance with Saudi Arabia to help rebels fighting the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The pact, which provides rebels logistical and financial support, is a concern for a U.S. administration wary of empowering radical Islamist groups in Syria.

Turkey and Saudi Arabia have been at odds over how to deal with Assad, their common enemy. But mutual frustration with what they consider American indecision has brought the two together in a strategic alliance that is driving recent rebel gains in northern Syria, Turkish officials say. (Associated Press)

3:15 P.M. Saudi Arabia announces 5-day humanitarian pause in Yemen war

Saudi Arabia has announced a five-day ceasefire in Yemen's war to facilitate aid to civilians in need.

Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir made the announcement at a news conference with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

That means the Saudi-led coalition of Arab countries will cease airstrikes in Yemen. Al-Jubeir said he hoped Iran-backed Houthis rebels will halt attacks on the ground.

Aid groups say millions of Yemenis are in need of food, fuel and medicine.

It was unclear when the so-called "humanitarian pause" would start. (AP) 

11:48 A.M. Iran releases seized Marshall Islands flagged ship

The Iranian foreign ministry has confirmed the release of a Marshall Islands-flagged container ship and its crew on Thursday after they were seized last month by Iranian forces, the Students News Agency ISNA reported.

The vessel was seized on April 28 by Iranian patrol boats in the Strait of Hormuz, prompting the United States to send vessels to monitor the situation and to accompany U.S.-flagged vessels passing through the strait.

"The Maersk container ship was released and has left Iranian territorial waters," Foreign Ministry spokesman Marzieh Afkham told ISNA. (Reuters)
 

10:36 A.M. Two Egyptian policemen killed in Sinai shooting

Two Egyptian police recruits were killed on Thursday when unidentified gunmen shot them outside the gate of a security forces camp in the volatile Northern Sinai region, security sources said.

Last month, Egypt extended by three months a state of emergency imposed on Northern Sinai in October after Islamist militants stepped up attacks in the peninsula.

Insurgents have killed hundreds of soldiers and policemen in Sinai since mid-2013. No one has yet claimed responsibility for Thursday's attack.
 (Reuters)

9:45 A.M. Syrian army kills dozens of rebels near Lebanon border

Syrian army bombing in the mountainous area along the border with Lebanon killed dozens of insurgents, Hezbollah's Manar television said on Thursday.

The rebels have been attacking the Syrian army from the Qalamoun mountains and are battling Hezbollah, a staunch ally of Syrian President Bashar al Assad, which has sent hundreds to fight alongside his forces. (Reuters)

Wednesday, May 6

9:45 P.M. Yemen Shi'ite rebels capture Aden presidential palace

Yemen's Shi'ite rebels and their allies consolidated their hold in another part of the southern port city of Aden on Wednesday after heavy fighting with militiamen loyal to the exiled government and capturing the area's presidential palace, officials said.

The rebels took Aden's southwestern Tawahi district, killing the area's military commander, Maj. Gen. Ali Nasser al-Hassani, and seizing the palace, military officials said. (AP)