Middle East Updates / New Chlorine Attacks Reported in Syria's Idlib Province

U.S. bid to lay blame on Syria for reported chemical attacks has 'majority' at UN Security Council Saudi-led forces conduct air strikes in Yemen's Saada Hezbollah says 3 of its fighters killed in border clashes.

Reuters

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9:00 P.M. Iraq signs up 1,000 recruits for Sunni militia to fight ISIS

Iraqi authorities have signed up 1,000 recruits for a new Sunni militia in the western Anbar province, tasked with fighting the Islamic State group and retaking the insurgent stronghold of Fallujah.

The Anbar governor, Souhaib al-Ani, inaugurated the militia Friday, describing it as the "beginning of the end" for the Islamic State, which controls an estimated 65 percent of the desert province. (AP)

8:59 P.M. Twin bombings outside Shi'ite mosque kill 17 in eastern Iraq

Twin bombings outside a Shi'ite place of worship in eastern Iraq killed at least 17 people as they filed out after Friday prayers, police and hospital sources said.

A parked car laden with explosives blew up near the exit of the mosque in Balad Ruz, and when bystanders gathered to evacuate the wounded, a suicide bomber detonated himself among them.

A further 37 people were wounded in the attack in the eastern province of Diyala. Local military commander Adnan al-Tamimi was among the dead.

Another car bomb exploded in the parking lot of a Shi'ite mosque in the Kanan district of Diyala, wounding several civilians. (Reuters)

7:57 P.M. Saudi coalition gives Yemen rebel stronghold ultimatum

A Saudi-led coalition carrying out airstrikes against Yemen's Shiite rebels declared a rebel stronghold along the kingdom's border a "military target" on Friday and gave the residents an ultimatum to leave the region by nightfall, state TV reported. (AP) Read the full story

12:35 P.M. Saudi-led forces confirm air strikes in Yemen's Saada

Saudi-led forces conducted several air strikes on Thursday against the Yemeni province of Saada, a stronghold of the Iranian-allied Houthi movement, Saudi Arabia's state news agency SPA said on Friday.

The strikes targeted two Houthi control centres in Bani Maaz and destroyed a mine factory in the old quarter of the city of Saada and a communications centre in the Mothalath area, the agency said. Two Houthi command centres in the province were also destroyed.

Residents of Saada said the strikes had damaged the tomb of the founder of the Houthi movement, Hussein al-Houthi. 

There was also heavy shelling in the west of the province, on the border area between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, and 13 villagers were killed in strikes on Hajja province, also near the border, locals said. The figures could not be independently verified. (Reuters)

10:45 A.M. Hezbollah says 3 of its fighters killed in border clashes

The Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah says three of its fighters have been killed fighting against Islamic militants near the border with Lebanon this week. In a statement Friday, Hezbollah denied media reports that more than 40 of its fighters had died in the clashes, but confirmed that three Hezbollah fighters have been killed and their families informed.

Hezbollah has been fighting alongside Syrian President Bashar Assad's forces against predominantly Sunni rebels and militants seeking to topple him. Fighting has intensified in the past week in the mountainous Qalamoun region across the border from Lebanon, where militants from the Islamic State group and the al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front are entrenched. Hezbollah and Syrian government troops took control of areas near the border town of Assal al-Ward Thursday. (AP)

4:49 A.M. Activists in Syria claim new chlorine attacks in Idlib

Syrian activists and a doctor reported Thursday of new suspected chemical attacks in the northwestern province of Idlib, leaving several dozens of people suffering from asphyxiation.

Mohammed Tennari, a doctor who testified before the UN Security Council last month after treating a number of victims in Idlib from an earlier chemical attack, said there were at least three separate attacks in the province that injured nearly 80 people.

Tennari, who spoke with The Associated Press from near the border with Turkey, shared field reports from doctors in the three villages that were reportedly hit. The reports said government helicopters dropped barrel bombs containing chlorine on the villages of Janoudieh, Kansafrah, and Kafr Batiekh on Thursday. (AP)

3:55 A.M. U.S. bid to lay blame in Syria chlorine attacks has 'majority' at UN Security Council

A "large majority" of UN Security Council members support a U.S. effort to create a way to attribute blame for chlorine attacks in Syria and are ready to move quickly in the next few days, the council president said Thursday.

But Syria ally Russia worries whether it will be objective, with the Russian ambassador saying, "They've done their attribution of blame already."

The council has been unable to follow up on a resolution it passed last month that threatened action for such attacks because no one has a mandate to assign blame. Lithuanian Ambassador Raimonda Murmokaite said there has been an increase in alleged attacks since then. (AP)

2:45 A.M. Alternative to Iran deal 'not very attractive,' says German diplomat

Alternatives to a deal to curb Iran's nuclear program are "not very attractive," a top German diplomat said Thursday, noting that Germany and other nations are ready to move beyond sanctions despite what the U.S. Congress might do.

The German ambassador to the U.S., Peter Wittig, made the comments while speaking on a range of international issues during a forum in central Ohio.

Wittig, in remarks to the Columbus Metropolitan Club, said, "The alternatives to a negotiated deal are not very attractive." While he said the U.S. Congress would probably be willing to impose new sanctions, other countries would not follow. (AP)