Middle East Updates / Report: ISIS Using Chlorine Bombs

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Smoke rises over Kobani after an air strike on Islamic State targets, October 18, 2014.Credit: Reuters

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Latest updates:

6:08 A.M. Report: ISIS using chlorine bombs

New allegations have emerged that Islamic State extremists have expanded their arsenal with chlorine bombs and captured fighter jets — weapons that could help the militants in Iraq and Syria.

Kurdish fighters in the key Syrian border town of Kobani have held off a month-long offensive by the Islamic State group with the help of a U.S.-led campaign of airstrikes.

Turkey's president said he will allow Syrian rebels to transit through his country to help the town's beleaguered defenders, but both the Kurds and the rebels denied any such plan was in the works, underscoring differences over strategy that are hindering efforts to roll back the extremists. (AP)

10:30 P.M. Lebanese troops clash with gunmen in Tripoli

A Lebanese military official says troops are clashing with gunmen in the northern city of Tripoli.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, says three soldiers have been wounded in the clashes.

The Friday night clash occurred a day after troops killed three militants and detained a local leader in a raid in the northern Dinniyeh region.

Sunni militants inspired by al-Qaida and the Islamic State extremist group have killed and wounded several soldiers in a string of attacks in recent months.

The deadliest was in August, when jihadi fighters from Syria briefly overran the Lebanese border town of Arsal, capturing some 20 policemen and soldiers and killing several others. (AP)

4:50 P.M. Sinai car bomb kills 25, mostly Egyptian soldiers

At least 25 people were killed in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Friday by a car bomb that targeted two armoured vehicles stopped at a checkpoint, security sources said. (DPA, Rueters)

4:46 P.M. Iraqi military claims retaking town near Baghdad from ISIS

The Iraqi military said Friday that it had recaptured a town south of Baghdad from Islamic State.

The soldiers were backed by allied Shi'ite militia in their counter-attack against the radical Sunni group, which brands Shi'ites as heretics.

The army is in complete control of the mainly Sunni town of Jurf al-Sakhr, some 60 kilometers south-west of Baghdad, government-run Al-Iraqiya TV reported.

Jurf al-Sakr is located near a major route linking Baghdad to Iraq's largely Shi'ite provinces in the south.

1:27 P.M. Iraqi officials say ISIS used chlorine gas

Iraqi officials say Islamic State militants used chlorine gas during fighting with Iraqi security forces and Shiite militiamen last month north of Baghdad.

The use of chlorine gas as a weapon adds a new concern to the turmoil in the country.

A senior security official, a local official from the town of Duluiya and an official from the town of Balad say the IS group used bombs with chlorine-filled cylinders during September clashes.

They told The Associated Press on Friday that about 40 troops and militiamen were slightly affected by the chlorine and showed symptoms consistent with chlorine poisoning, such as difficulty in breathing and coughing. They were treated in hospital and quickly recovered. The three spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to media. (AP) 

12:29 P.M. Alert at 3 Istanbul consulates over suspicious package

Turkish emergency crews Friday were searching the premises of the Canadian consulate in Istanbul after suspicious yellow powder was found in an envelope delivered to the office, the Dogan news agency reported.

Precautionary measures were also being taken at the German and Belgian consulates in Turkey's largest city.

Emergency crews were seen wearing protective gear and securing the buildings. (DPA)

12:25 P.M. Three Kurdish fighters killed in attack on Turkish power plant

Turkish soldiers killed three Kurdish militants who were part of a group that attacked a power plant in the eastern province of Kars, Turkish sources said on Friday.

Fighters from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) set fire to two vehicles and a cabin at the plant in Kagizman district, and shot at soldiers who returned fire, the general staff said in a statement on its website.

Three PKK guerrillas were killed and a search was launched for the others, a security source said.

The shootout followed unrest in eastern Turkey earlier this month in which dozens died, triggered after Kurds rioted at what they saw as the government's refusal to help Syrian Kurds fighting Islamic State jihadists in the besieged town of Kobani on Turkey's southern border. (Reuters) 

11:39 A.M. Overnight French raid destroys ISIS arms center

France's military chief says an overnight air raid has destroyed an arms depot for the Islamic State group in Iraq.

Gen. Pierre de Villiers told Europe 1 radio that two French fighter jets dropped a total of 70 bombs, destroying a dozen buildings used for arms production and storage.

"We destroyed buildings in which Daesh produced their arms, their bombs to attack Iraqi forces. Seventy bombs were dropped," de Villiers said Friday, using an acronym for the Islamic State militants. He did not specify the location of the air raid. (AP)

10:38 A.M. Insurgents kill 5 in attack in Afghanistan, police say

Afghan police say five people were killed and two were wounded when gunmen opened fire on a car in an attack in one of the country's eastern provinces. Friday's attack took place in Nangahar province as seven civilians were travelling through Khogyani district early in the morning.

The provincial police spokesman, Hazrat Hussain Mashraqiwal, says the attack was carried out by "insurgents," a term that usually refers to the Taliban, and that police are investigating. Nangahar province borders Pakistan, where the Taliban leadership has safe havens in the North Waziristan tribal region. Khogyani is nestled in the mountains that line the border and has long been a hotbed of insurgent activity. (AP)

6:34 A.M. Iraq forces months away from being able to wage ground offensive against ISIS

Iraqi forces are months away from being able to start waging any kind of sustained ground offensive against the Islamic State and any similar effort in Syria will take longer, officials at the U.S. military's Central Command said on Thursday.

In Iraq, the timing will depend on a host of factors, some out of the military's control - from Iraqi politics to the weather. Iraqi forces also must be trained, armed and ready before major advances, like one to retake the city of Mosul, which fell to the Islamic State in June.

"It's not imminent. But we don't see that that's a years-long effort to get them to a place to where they can be able to go on a sustained counter-offensive," a military official said, instead describing it as a "months-long" endeavor.

The officials, briefing a group of reporters, said the priority in Iraq was halting the Islamic State's advance but acknowledged Iraq's western Anbar province was contested, despite U.S.-led air strikes.

Asked about whether U.S. military advisers in Iraq might head to Anbar, the first official acknowledged discussions were underway broadly about efforts to enable the Iraqis "as far forward as we can" but did not disclose details. The official said talks were also underway with coalition partners about where their advisers might be placed.

As the officials outlined a long-term battle in Iraq, they portrayed a longer-term effort in Syria.

Much of the timing in Syria is wrapped up in a planned training mission for U.S.-backed forces whose first goal, one official said, would be defensive - to ensure more towns do not fall.

"We're trying to train them initially to be able to defend their towns and villages," the first official said.

But training fighters to be able to challenge the Islamic State offensively requires a greater degree of instruction, and it will take longer to get enough fighters ready. (Reuters)

12:49 A.M. Tunisia policeman killed in pre-election clashes with Islamist militants

A Tunisian policeman was killed and another wounded on Thursday when security forces clashed with Islamist militants on the outskirts of Tunis, three days before parliamentary elections which voters hope will help them advance toward full democracy.

Police negotiators in the suburb Oued Ellil to the west of Tunis were trying to persuade militants to give themselves up after the house they were in was surrounded following heavy exchanges of gunfire, officials and a Reuters witness said.

Heavily armed security forces used tear gas and stun grenades to try to force at least two suspected militants out of the house, in which officials said several women and children were being held.

"We've called on them to let the woman and children out, but they refused ... they are family members," interior ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Aroui told reporters. "We have to move cautiously here."

Tunisia has struggled to subdue hardline Islamists and jihadists opposed to the transition to democracy following the 2011 fall of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, and the military has cracked down hard on militants in the run up to the election.

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