Middle East Updates / Iraqi Security Forces Retake Villages From ISIS

Mubarak's two sons freed from Egyptian prison; Turkey opens refugee camp for 35,000 fleeing ISIS-Kurdish fighting in Kobani' Turkish court orders Facebook to block pages deemed insulting to Mohammed.

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The two sons of ex-President Hosni Mubarak, Gamal, left, and Alaa Mubarak, June 2, 2012.Credit: AP
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Latest updates:

10:25 P.M. Sunni officials in Iraq say Shi'ite militias executed 70 civilians

An Iraqi governor, parliamentarian and two tribal chiefs on Monday accused Shi'ite militias of executing more than 70 unarmed civilians who had fled fighting with Islamic State militants.

Interior ministry spokesman Brigadier General Saad Maan denied the claims, saying Islamic State was trying to undermine the reputation of Iraqi security forces.

A local official said it was too soon to draw conclusions and suggested Islamic State could have been behind the deaths in the eastern village of Barwanah.

Security forces and pro-government militias took control of about two dozen villages from Islamic State fighters in Diyala province near the border with Iran earlier on Monday after a three-day assault. (Reuters)

9:10 P.M.  Iraqi security forces retake villages from ISIS

Iraqi security forces and pro-government militias took control of about two dozen villages from Islamic State fighters in the eastern province of Diyala near the border with Iran, security sources and local officials said on Monday.

The assault, which began Friday, enabled Shi'ite militias, the Iraqi army and Sunni tribesmen to push the militants out of the Muqdadiya area, the closest Islamic State outpost to the Iranian border about 40 km (25 miles) to the east.

Iraq's Shi'ite-led government, backed by U.S.-led air strikes, has been trying to push back Islamic State since it swept through northern Iraq in June, meeting virtually no resistance.

"We managed on Jan. 25 and after three days' tough battle to defeat the terrorists in northern Muqdadiya and we cleansed all the villages of Daesh," said Hadi al-Amri, head of the Badr Organisation, using a derogatory Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

He told a news conference broadcast on state television on Monday at least 58 soldiers and pro-government fighters were killed in the operation and 247 wounded.

6:30 P.M. Attacks in Baghdad kill eight

Iraqi officials say bombings in and around the capital, Baghdad, have killed eight people.

Police officials say the first of Monday's attacks took place in the afternoon when a bomb went off near an outdoor market in the city's western suburb of Abu Ghraib, killing two people and wounding seven.

Also, a bomb near a market in the northeastern Shiite suburb of Husseiniyah killed four and wounded 13.

After nightfall, police said a bomb exploded near a car dealership in Baghdad's southeastern Shiite-majority suburb of Nahrwan, killing two people and wounding 13. Several cars were damaged in that explosion.

Medics in nearby hospitals confirmed the casualty figures for the attacks. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to talk to media.(AP)

6:10 P.M. U.S. embassy in Yemen closes to public

The State Department says the U.S. Embassy in Yemen has closed to the public over security concerns amid street violence and turmoil that is roiling the impoverished Arab country.

Monday's statements says the embassy will be closed for consular services "until further notice out of an abundance of caution" for the safety of employees and others coming to the embassy.

The decision came hours after a U.S. drone strike killed three al-Qaida members in the first such operation since the resignation of Yemen's embattled President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the country's Cabinet.

They resigned following days of political wrangling with Shiite Houthi rebels who overran the capital, Sanaa, in September and have since been expanding their power grab. (AP)

2:46 P.M. Egypt court convicts doctor of female genital mutilation

An Egyptian appeals court on Monday convicted a doctor of manslaughter and performing female genital mutilation that led to the death of a 13-year-old girl, sentencing him to two years and three months in prison in the country's first case that came to trial over the widespread practice, defense lawyers said.

The doctor, Raslan Fadl, was initially acquitted of the 2013 death of Sohair el-Batea in a village in the Nile Delta province of Dakahliya. He was not present in court Monday and his whereabouts were unknown.

Monday's verdict was "a triumph for women," said lawyer Reda el-Danbouki, who represented the deceased. Egypt has one of the highest rates of female genital mutilation in the world and criminalized the practice in 2008, but it remains widespread.

"I am really happy," el-Danbouki told The Associated Press following the ruling. "Here is a judge that understands."

The lawyer said the court also fined Fadl $70 and ordered his clinic closed for a year, and handed el-Batea's father a three-month suspended sentence for complicity in subjecting his daughter to the procedure.

Rights advocates said the ruling could serve as a deterrent for doctors and families against the practice. The trial was the first on charges of breaking the ban on the practice.(AP) 

2:32 P.M. U.S.-led forces have conducted 21 airstrikes in Syria, 13 in Iraq since Sunday, according to the U.S. military. (Reuters)

2:28 P.M. U.S. drone strike kills three militants in first strike since Yemeni president resigned

A suspected U.S. drone attacked a car in Yemen's eastern Marib province on Monday, killing three suspected al Qaeda militants, local officials told Reuters.

It is the first reported such strike by a remotely piloted plane since Yemeni president Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, a leading advocate of U.S. counter-terrorism measures in the region, resigned last week. (Reuters) 

2:15 P.M. ISIS nearly driven out of Kobani by Syrian Kurds

The extremist Islamic State group has nearly been pushed out of the Syrian border town of Kobani, activists and Kurdish officials said Monday, marking a major symbolic victory both for the Kurds and the U.S.-led coalition targeting the militants.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and senior Kurdish official Idriss Nassan said the Islamic State group had been nearly expelled, with some sporadic fighting on the eastern edges of the city near Turkey.

"The Islamic State is on the verge of defeat," said Nassan, speaking from Turkey near the Syrian border. "Their defenses have collapsed and its fighters have fled." (AP)

1:04 P.M. Shi'ite rebels violently disperse demonstrators protesting power grab in Yemen

Shi'ite rebels armed with knives and batons attacked and detained demonstrators Monday protesting against their power grab in Yemen's capital, witnesses said.

The Houthi rebels seized Sanaa in September and days of gunbattles last week ended with them placing the president, prime minister and top Cabinet members under house arrest. After reaching a tentative deal with the Houthis, President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi and the prime minister later quit their posts, though parliament hasn't accepted their resignations.

As protesters converged Monday on Sanaa's Change Square — the epicenter of Yemen's 2011 uprising — Houthi militiamen attacked protesters and journalists and smashed photographers' cameras. It wasn't clear how many people they detained.

A well-known activist, Adel Shamsan, said in an audio testimony circulated by Yemeni activists on Twitter that the Houthis brought "thugs" who chased the protesters and accused them of being "American agents." Shamsan said he was briefly detained before being let go. (AP)

12:58 P.M. Egypt state newspaper runs unusually critical column calling out Sissi

In an unusually critical column, the chairman of Egypt's state-run daily Al-Ahram newspaper has specifically called out the country's president as being responsible for protecting the public after the shooting death of a protester.

The front-page piece by Ahmed Sayed el-Naggar, published Monday, focused on the killing of Shaimaa el-Sabbagh, shot dead Saturday on the eve of the fourth anniversary of the overthrow of autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

Witness testimony and online video strongly suggest police shot the woman dead. Authorities say they are investigating.

The editorial blamed overzealous police, empowered by wide-ranging laws criminalizing protests, for killing the protester. It also said finding justice after el-Sabbagh's death primarily "rests on the shoulders" of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, a rare, direct criticism of a man largely lionized in Egyptian media. (AP)

11:27 A.M. Turkey opens refugee camp for 35,000 fleeing ISIS-Kurdish fighting in Kobani

Turkey opened its biggest refugee camp on Sunday to house 35,000 people fleeing fighting between Kurdish forces and Islamist militants in Syria's Kobani, national disaster management agency AFAD said.

Located in the southeastern border town of Suruc, the tent city has two hospitals, seven medical clinics and enough classrooms for 10,000 children, AFAD spokesman Dogan Eskinat told Reuters.

He said months of fighting in Kobani had caused an influx of some 200,000 refugees into Turkey and that AFAD would see how the situation develops before deciding whether any more facilities should be constructed.

Turkey has some 24 camps housing 265,000 Syrian refugees with another set to open in Mardin next month, Eskinat said. More than 200,000 people have been killed and millions displaced in the Syrian civil war since March 2011.

The majority of Turkey's 1.7 million refugees live outside camps, sometimes on the streets and in shanty towns, causing tensions with the local population. Authorities have begun to transfer those living on city streets to camps. (Reuters) 

11:11 A.M. Mubarak's two sons freed from Egyptian prison

Egyptian security officials say two sons of ousted President Hosni Mubarak have been released from prison, nearly four years after they were first arrested along with their father.

The officials said the two, wealthy businessman Alaa and Mubarak's one-time heir apparent Gamal, walked free from Torah Prison in a southern Cairo suburb shortly after daybreak on Monday and were believed to have headed to their respective homes in the capital.

The two along with their father still face a retrial on corruption charges. The two sons separately face trial on insider trading. They had been acquitted of other charges.

Mubarak stepped down in February 2011 in the face of a popular uprising. He and his two sons were arrested in April that year. (AP)

10:31 A.M. Turkish court orders Facebook to block pages deemed insulting to Prophet Mohammed

A Turkish court has ordered Facebook to block a number of pages deemed insulting to the Prophet Mohammed, threatening to stop access to the whole social networking site if it does not comply, local media reported.

The order made by the court on Sunday followed a request by a prosecutor, state broadcaster TRT reported. No one from Facebook was immediately available for comment.

It was the latest move to crack down on material seen as offending religious sensibilities in the largely Muslim nation, where the government of President Tayyip Erdogan is seen pursuing an Islamist-leaning agenda. (Reuters) 

12:05 A.M. Images of killed Egypt protester revive criticism of police

Images of a mortally wounded protester, blood running down her face and hair as she was lifted from the pavement by a comrade, have touched off powerful criticism of Egypt's government on the anniversary of a revolution initially sparked by police brutality.

The photos and videos show a heavily armed police unit, with some members masked, shooting at a small, peaceful protest Saturday near Cairo's Tahrir Square in which 32-year-old Shaimaa Al-Sabbagh took part.

A labor rights activist with a history of involvement in protests that predated the country's 2011 revolution, el-Sabbagh was also a poet and mother of a 5-year-old boy.

She had traveled to Cairo from her home in Alexandria to attend the demonstration to demand police and officials be held accountable for protesters killed since the uprising four years ago that forced autocrat Hosni Mubarak from power.

She was killed by what authorities said was a blast of birdshot that pierced her heart and lungs from close range.

Relatives, friends and residents of Alexandria attend the funeral of Shaimaa al-Sabbagh, Jan. 25, 2015. (Reuters photo)

"I won't listen to anyone who undermines my resolve," she wrote on her Facebook page Saturday before taking part in the protest, saying she wouldn't pay attention to those who think there is no point in protesting anymore.

Mahienour Al-Masry, an activist and friend of Al-Sabbagh's, described her as a firm believer in change who used to take her son along with her.

"She really had her heart in it," Al-Masry said.

Her death renewed criticism of police use of force and the government's insistence that its crackdown is reserved for terrorists and violent protesters. (Reuters)

Sunday night:

11:05 P.M. Iran FM summoned by Iranian parliament explain stroll with Kerry

Iran's Foreign Minister Javad Zarif has been summoned before parliament to explain his recent public stroll with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, according to a Sunday report by the country's official IRNA news agency.

On January 14, on the sidelines of ongoing nuclear negotiations, Zarif took a 15-minute walk through the streets of Geneva with Kerry. Now, according to IRNA, 21 Iranian parliamentarians are demanding that Zarif explain his "diplomatic mistake."

Zarif is representing Iran in negotiations with the so-called "P5+1" global powers — the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. 

Zarif and moderate President Hassan Rouhani have faced intense skepticism from Iranian hard-liners — who believe they are making too many concessions to the West in negotiations to limit the scope of Iran's nuclear program in exchange for the easing of crippling international economic sanctions. (AP)

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