Middle East Updates / UN: Nearly 25,000 Iraqis Have Fled ISIS-controlled Ramadi

White House vows to help Iraqis retake Ramadi from ISIS; Syrian insurgents battle Assad forces around key military base in Idlib; Erdogan warns of Mideast turmoil if Egypt's Morsi executed.

AFP

10:40 P.M. Nearly 25,000 Iraqis have fled ISIS-controlled Ramadi, says UN

Rebels take part in offensive to take control of the al-Mastouma army base in Idlib province, Syria.
Reuters

Close to 25,000 people fled the Iraqi city of Ramadi after it was attacked by Islamic State militants and most of them headed towards Baghdad, the United Nations said on Monday. 

Funds to help them were running out and aid stocks were almost gone, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Iraq said. (Reuters)

7:52 P.M. White House: U.S. will help Iraqis retake Ramadi from ISIS

The loss of the city of Ramadi in Iraq to Islamic State militants is a "setback" but the United States and its coalition will help Iraqi forces retake the city, a spokesman for the White House said on Monday. 

"There's no denying that this is indeed a setback, but there's also no denying that we'll help the Iraqis take back Ramadi," White House spokesman Eric Schultz told reporters traveling with President Barack Obama. 

"We believe that Iraqi forces have the capacity to ultimately take Ramadi with coalition support," Schultz said. (Reuters)

5:05 P.M. Syrian insurgents battle army around military base in Idlib

Heavy clashes between Syria's army and insurgents erupted around a military base south of Idlib city on Monday as part of a wider battle for control of the northwestern province, Syrian state TV and a monitoring group said. 

The Mastouma base is one of the last major army strongholds in a province controlled by a range of insurgent groups including al Qaeda's Syrian wing, the Nusra Front, and the Islamist Ahrar al-Sham movement. 

Army units "inflicted great losses" on armed groups in battles to the north and around Mastouma, Syrian state television reported, citing a military source. 

The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said most of the troops positioned in Idlib city were now in Mastouma after insurgents took over the provincial capital in March. The base is used for launching air raids in the province. There were reports of casualties in the battles, it said, without giving details. (Reuters)

4:30 P.M. Belgium convicts seven women for supporting ISIS

A Belgian court on Monday handed out prison sentences to seven women for supporting Islamic State and radicalising young women to go to Syria to join its ranks and marry fighters of the militant organisation. 

Four of the seven women - five Belgians, one Dutch and one Moroccan - were not in court to hear their convictions and were believed to be in Syria with female battalions of Islamic State, the Antwerp-based court said. 
In their absence, they were given five-year prison sentences for their activities with those battalions, including patrolling and guarding entrances to towns and cities in Syria. 

The women present in court were guilty of facilitating the departure of ISIS recruits and collecting money for organisations aiming to radicalize young girls. They received prison sentences of between 20 and 30 months. (Reuters)

3:53 P.M. ISIS advances east from Iraq's Ramadi toward army base

Islamic State militants advanced east on Monday from the Iraqi city of Ramadi towards an army base where Shi'ite paramilitaries were massing for a counter-offensive, witnesses and a military officer said. 

The Habbaniya base is located around 30 km (20 miles) east of Ramadi along the road to the Iraqi capital Baghdad. (Reuters)

3:02 P.M. Libyan militants detains 170 Tunisians over commander's arrest

An armed group allied to the Libya Dawn forces controlling Tripoli has detained 170 Tunisians in the Libyan capital since Saturday after Tunis arrested one of its commanders, Tunisian officials said on Monday. 

Brahim Rezgui, Tunisian consul in Tripoli, told a Tunis radio station the group demanded the immediate release of the Libya Dawn commander, whom he did not name. Libyan officials in Tripoli did not immediately respond to requests for comment. (Reuters)

2:46 P.M. Iran says it is ready to help Iraq confront ISIS, official claims

A senior Iranian official said on Monday his country was ready to help confront Islamic State militants who have seized the Iraqi city of Ramadi, and that he was certain the city would be "liberated".

"If the Iraqi government officially asks the Islamic Republic of Iran ... to carry out any step that helps Iraq to confront (them)... then the Islamic Republic of Iran will meet this call," Ali Akbar Velayati, an advisor to Iran's supreme leader, told Reuters Television. (Reuters)

1:50 P.M. Iran warships escort cargo ship bound for Yemen

Two Iranian warships have begun escorting the Yemen-bound Iran Shahed cargo ship in the Gulf of Aden, the vessel's captain said in remarks published by Iran's Tasnim news agency on Monday.

"The 34th fleet has made contact with us and told us that they will keep an active presence alongside the aid ship," Massoud Ghazi Mirsaid was quoted as saying by Tasnim, referring to a destroyer and a support vessel in the Gulf of Aden.

The warships will escort the cargo ship all the way to the port of Hodaida in western Yemen, which it is expected to reach on May 21, Mirsaid added. (Reuters)

1:31 P.M. Shi'ite militia forces arrives at base near Iraq's Ramadi

A convoy of Shi'ite militia fighters arrived at a base near the Iraqi city of Ramadi on Monday after the western provincial capital was overrun by Islamic State militants, an eyewitness and a local official said.

"The Hashid Shaabi forces reached the Habbaniya base and are now on standby," said the head of the Anbar provincial council, Sabah Karhout. (AP)

1:23 P.M. Erdogan warns of Mideast turmoil if Egypt's Morsi executed

Turkey's presidential spokesman said on Monday that the Middle East would be thrown into turmoil if death sentences handed down in Egypt to former president Mohamed Morsi and other senior Islamist figures were carried out.

Mohammed Morsi (AP)

Ibrahim Kalin told a news conference in Ankara that Turkey would work with the UN Human Rights Commission following the sentences, and take "all necessary steps". Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan is a vocal supporter of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. (Reuters)

12:57 P.M. U.S.-led coalition conducted 19 air strikes over Ramadi in 72 hours

The U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State has conducted 19 air strikes in the vicinity of the Iraqi city of Ramadi over the past 72 hours, a spokesman for the coalition said on Monday.

"The Coalition increased its support in Ramadi today, in order to fulfill all requests of the Iraqi security forces," said the spokesman.The strikes targeted Islamic State fighting positions, armoured and technical vehicles, and buildings they control.

A spokesman for the governor of Iraq's Anbar province says about 500 people — both civilians and Iraqi soldiers — are estimated to have been killed over the last few days as the city fell to ISIS.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Monday that he is confident about the fight against the Islamic State group, despite the setbacks like the loss of Ramadi, which he said would be reversed in coming weeks. (Reuters)

11:20 A.M. Iraq's Shi'ite militias to deploy en masse to Anbar after Ramadi falls to ISIS

Shi'ite paramilitaries were preparing on Monday to deploy en masse to Iraq's western province of Anbar after Islamic State militants overran the local capital Ramadi in their biggest victory since last summer.

A spokesman for the Shi'ite paramilitaries known as Hashid Shaabi told Reuters they had received instructions to mobilize, but the timing and scale of the deployment could not be revealed for security reasons.

"Now that the Hashid has received the order to march forth, they will definitely take part," said Ali al-Sarai, a member of the Hashid Shaabi's media wing. "They were waiting for this order and now they have it." (Reuters)

10:50 A.M. Explosions target pro-Kurdish party in Turkey; six wounded

Simultaneous explosions hit the offices of Turkey's opposition pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) in two southern cities on Monday, wounding six people weeks ahead of a parliamentary election, an HDP official said.

The explosion in the city of Adana, where the six were injured, appeared to have come from a package delivered to the office, the official told Reuters. There were no immediate reports of injuries at the second explosion in the nearby city of Mersin. (Reuters)

People stand at the site of an explosion at the office of pro-Kurdish People's Democratic Party in Mersin, Turkey. May 18, 2015. (AFP)

10:10 A.M. Houthi rebels violated ceasefire, Yemen FM says

 A Saudi-led coalition resumed airstrikes in Yemen on Monday after a five-day humanitarian pause because the Houthi militia and its allies violated the truce, Yemen's Foreign Minister Reyad Yassin Abdulla said by telephone.

The coalition is not now considering any new ceasefire offer despite a United Nations plea to extend the truce, Abdulla said, but he added that the renewed strikes would avoid Sanaa airport and Aden and Hodaida seaports to let aid get in. (Reuters)

8:34 A.M. Iraq says at least 500 killed, 8,000 fled as Ramadi fell to ISIS

A spokesman for the governor of Iraq's Anbar province says about 500 people — both civilians and Iraqi soldiers — are estimated to have been killed over the last few days as the city of Ramadi fell to the Islamic State group.

Muhannad Haimour said Monday that also, "approximately 8,000 have fled" Ramadi. Local officials have said that IS carried out mass killings of Iraqi security forces and civilians. (Reuters)

4:14 A.M. Iran says hopes to return oil exports to pre-sanctions level

Iran hopes its crude oil exports will return to pre-sanctions levels within three months once a deal with major powers to lift an oil embargo is finalised, Iran's deputy oil minister said on Monday. 

"We hope we can come back to the export levels that we had before the sanctions," Rokneddin Javadi, who is also the managing director of the National Iranian Oil Company, told Reuters. 

"Yes, 2.5 (million barrels per day), around," he said on the sidelines of the Asia Oil and Gas Conference in Kuala Lumpur. 

A recent framework deal on Iran's disputed nuclear programme between Tehran and world powers could see sanctions on Iran eventually lifted if a more permanent pact is finalised by a June deadline. 

The sanctions have more than halved Iranian oil exports since 2012 to about 1 million bpd, mainly to Asia. (Reuters)

2:11 A.M. Saudi-led coalition resumes air raids on Yemen's Houthis

A Saudi Arabian-led coalition resumed air strikes against Yemen's Houthi militia in the southern city of Aden after a five-day truce expired, a Reuters eyewitness said on Monday.

The witness said explosions could be heard near Aden airport and the districts of Khor Maksar and Crater. No further details were immediately available. The humanitarian truce ended on Sunday at 2000 GMT. (Reuters)

12:50 A.M. U.S.: Situation in Iraq's Ramadi "fluid," too early to say if Islamic State in control

The Pentagon said on Sunday it was monitoring reports of continued fighting in the western Iraqi city of Ramadi and that the situation remained "fluid and contested," despite an assertion by Islamic State militants that they had seized full control there. 

"It is too early to make definitive statements about the situation on the ground there at this time," said Defense Department spokeswoman Maureen Schumann when asked if the United States had confirmed Islamic State's statement that Ramadi, the capital of Anbar province, had completely fallen. 

She said the United States was "continuing to monitor reports of tough fighting in Ramadi and the situation remains fluid and contested." The routing of Iraqi forces in Ramadi, where security sources said they lost a key military base on Sunday, would mark the biggest defeat for Baghdad since last summer. (Reuters)