Middle East Updates / Over 230 Bodies Found in Mass Grave in Syria, Says Rights Group

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Smoke billows from a weapons depot allegedly belonging to anti-Assad rebel fighters, north of Aleppo, Dec. 15, 2014.Credit: AFP

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Latest updates:

5:33 P.M. Over 230 bodies found in mass grave in Syria, says monitoring group

More than 230 bodies of people believed to have been killed by Islamic State militants have been found in a mass grave in Syria's eastern Deir al-Zor province, a group monitoring the country's war said on Wednesday.

The bodies were believed to be members of the al-Sheitaat tribe which had battled Islamic State militants, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Their deaths would bring the number of Sheitaat members killed by the ultra-hardline group to over 900. (Reuters) 

5:10 P.M. UNSC re-authorizes cross-border aid deliveries into Syria

The United Nations Security Council has unanimously re-authorized one more year of cross-border aid deliveries into Syria without government approval at four border crossings. (Reuters)

4:50 P.M. U.K. police reportedly stop plane on runway to detain Syria-bound teenager

British counter-terrorism officers stopped a plane as it taxied towards the runway at Heathrow to prevent a 15-year old girl from travelling to Syria to join Islamist fighters, the Evening Standard newspaper said on Wednesday. 

The girl, from east London, had saved up and bought a ticket to Istanbul without her parents' knowledge, the paper said.  She was removed from the flight and has since returned home but another girl, also aged 15, who was taken off the plane with her, managed to leave before police could intervene, it added.

Asked about the report, police said they had received reports about a girl missing from Tower Hamlets on December 6. "Officers were able to locate her and she has since returned home safely," a spokeswoman said, without elaborating. No further details were immediately available. (Reuters)

1:20 P.M. Iraq Kurds launch Sinjar offensive after coalition air strikes

Kurdish forces launched an operation to retake the town of Sinjar in northwestern Iraq early on Wednesday after heavy coalition air strikes on Islamic State positions in the area overnight, Kurdish security officials said.

If the peshmerga succeed in recapturing the town, it would open up a corridor to Sinjar mountain, where hundreds of minority Yazidis have been besieged by ISIS militants since August.

It would also be a symbolic victory for the Kurds, whose reputation as fearsome warriors was bruised after Islamic State overpowered the peshmerga in Sinjar and killed or captured hundreds of Yazidis.

"At 8:00 this morning the ground offensive began to liberate Sinjar town," said one official in the region's Security Council, adding that coalition planes had pounded the area for several hours beforehand. (Reuters)

12:50 P.M. Iran: Good steps taken in nuclear talks, more to follow

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Wednesday nuclear talks with major powers were being conducted in a good atmosphere, "good steps" had been taken and more would follow.

U.S. and Iranian diplomats began a two-day meeting in Geneva on Monday to pave the way for resuming broader negotiations involving Iran and six world powers there on Wednesday.

The discussions were proceeding "in a good atmosphere," Zarif said on state television. "Good steps have been taken and more will be taken. I think the world needs this settlement, in light of challenges facing us, like the threat of terrorism. It is in everyone's interest."

In apparent criticism of Gulf Arab states, long nervous about Iran's nuclear program, Zarif added: "I wish our other neighbours would follow Turkey's example and help in finding a solution to the nuclear issue. Our nuclear program is to no one's detriment, they shouldn't be worried ... Turkey has all along supported our right to peaceful nuclear activities."

Zarif was speaking at a televised news conference with visiting Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.

Iran, the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia failed to strike a long-term deal by a self-imposed November 24 deadline, so extended the talks for seven more months to address what they call complex technical details. (Reuters)

6:41 A.M. Suspected Islamic State supporter arrested at Malaysia airport

Malaysian police on Wednesday arrested a suspected supporter of the Islamic State group while he was waiting for a flight at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, the country's police chief said.

The 39-year-old suspect was on the way to Syria via Brunei, Inspector General Khalid Abu Bakar said.

"From Brunei he was supposed to take a flight to Turkey and then go to Syria," he told reporters in a press briefing.

Khalid said the arrest brought to 46 the total number of suspected Islamic State supporters detained by Malaysian police since the country stepped up operations earlier in the year.

Home Affairs Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi said police had identified 39 Malaysians who have joined the Islamist militants in Syria and Iraq. (DPA)

2:40 A.M. UN Security Council to vote on extending cross-border aid delivery to Syria

The UN Security Council has scheduled a vote Wednesday on a resolution extending cross-border delivery of humanitarian aid to Syrians in rebel-held areas in desperate need of food and medicine, without government approval.

The draft resolution, sponsored by Australia, Jordan and Luxembourg, expresses grave distress at the continued deterioration of "the devastating humanitarian situation," and the fact that 12.2 million Syrians require urgent assistance including medical aid. This includes 7.6 million people displaced inside Syria, 4.5 million in hard-to-reach areas and 212,000 in besieged areas.

The resolution would extend until January 10, 2016 the authorization for UN agencies and aid organizations that assist them to deliver humanitarian assistance without approval from President Bashar Assad's government across conflict lines between government and rebel forces, and through four border crossings — two in Turkey, one in Iraq and one in Jordan. One crossing from Iraq, now controlled by extremists, has never been used. (AP)

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