Middle East Updates / Saudi King Donates $104m for Syria Food Aid

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A Syrian refugee sits outside her tent at a refugee camp, in the eastern Lebanese Town of Al-Faour near the border with Syria, December 2, 2014. Credit: AP

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A police officer stands guard as Shi'ite pilgrims make their way to the holy city of Kerbala, ahead of the holy Shi'ite ritual of Arbaeen, in Baghdad, Dec. 10, 2014.Credit: Reuters

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Latest updates:

11:23 PM: Saudi king donates $104M for Syria food aid

A $104 million donation from Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah has helped restore food vouchers for 1.7 million Syrian refugees as winter approaches.

A statement Wednesday from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's spokesman expresses profound gratitude and says the money will help get food to millions of refugees from Syria as well as South Sudan and Somalia.

The World Food Program caused alarm last week when it announced that it would have to cut food vouchers to Syrian refugees. But an unusual social media campaign brought in more than $1 million from the public, while countries donated millions more.

In the end, the $64 million request was far surpassed. (AP)

8:25 P.M. Deputy Russian FM in Syria talks peace with Assad

A senior Russian official met President Bashar Assad on Wednesday, saying he discussed Moscow's efforts to bring all sides in Syria's civil war to the negotiating table and warning that terrorism poses a threat to everyone. Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov arrived in the Syrian capital for a two-day visit, the last leg of a regional tour that has taken him to Turkey for meetings with Syrian opposition leaders as well as Lebanon for talks with senior government officials and Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah.

Bogdanov has said Russia is trying to arrange a meeting between Syria's warring sides without preconditions. The two discussed how a political solution could be reached "as soon as possible because people are getting killed every day," he told reporters after meeting with Assad.

Asked whether Russia was cooperating with the United States in its efforts to convene talks, Bogdanov said: "If there is a desire among Syrians for the meeting in Moscow, then we will discuss this issue with the Americans." He added that the priority is fighting terrorism. "This terrorism poses a threat to everyone," he said. (AP)

5:47 P.M.  ISIS suicide bombing kills 12 Shi'ite militiamen

A suicide bomb and mortar attack by Islamic State militants killed 12 Shi'ite militia fighters north of Baghdad on Wednesday and a series of bombings in the Iraqi capital killed six people, military and medical sources said. 

The militia fighters were killed when Islamic State militants commandeered an armoured Humvee, rigged it with explosives and drove it into a school where the fighters were based near Dijla district, 20 km south of the city of Samarra. They followed up with mortar and machine gun fire, a source at the Samarra Operations Command said, and clashes continued. (Reuters)

2:45 P.M. Attacks kill 15 in Iraq as country battles ISIS

A series of attacks in and near Baghdad on Wednesday, including one involving a suicide bomber driving a tanker truck, killed at least 15 people, Iraqi officials said. In the tanker bombing, the suicide attacker targeted a security checkpoint in the village of Mikeshifa near the city of Samarra, about 95 kilometers north of Baghdad.

Nine Iraqi soldiers and Shiite militiamen aligned with government forces in the battle against the Islamic State group were killed in that attack, police officials said. The explosion also wounded at least 22 people. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombing. 

Also Wednesday, a bomb struck near an outdoor market in the town of Madain, just south of Baghdad, killing three people and wounding five. And a bomb explosion in a commercial street in southern Baghdad killed two people and wounded seven.
Later in the day, a roadside bomb hit an army patrol in Baghdad's western suburb of Abu Ghraib, killing one soldier and wounding six. (AP)

10:29 A.M. UN: 348,000 boat migrants set up 2014 for record year; many from Iraq, Syria, Libya

A record number of 348,000 people embarked on dangerous sea journeys to escape conflicts or economic hardship so far this year, the UN refugee agency UNHCR said Wednesday in Geneva. 

Nearly 4,300 migrants have died on the seas this year. This is equivalent to 1 death in 100 attempts.

Conflicts in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Ukraine prompted 207,000 people to flee across the Mediterranean this year, and 3,400 did not make the journey, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said. (DPA)

10:21 A.M. Hagel to Iraqis: U.S. firepower is not the solution

During a visit to Iraq - marking the first American defense secretary to visit the country since the U.S. officially ended its long war three years ago -  Chuck Hagel said that U.S. military power didn't solve Iraq's problems last time, nor will it now.

Hagel says Iraqi leaders and the people of Iraq know that only they can bring lasting peace to their country — if they are resolved to do it. Hagel made the comments Tuesday after meeting Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi (HY'-dahr ahl ah-BAH'-dee) and other top Iraqi officials.

Hagel offered assurances that Washington is committed to helping Iraq regain the territory it lost to Islamic State fighters this year, and he emphasized the importance of building an international coalition to combat the extremist group. (AP)

2:39 A.M. UN diplomats: Report says Iran buying for heavy water reactor

Iran is being accused of illicitly stepping up purchases for its heavy water reactor, which if completed will produce enough plutonium for several nuclear weapons a year, UN diplomats said Tuesday.

The U.S. and its partners want Iran to agree to re-engineer Arak to a light-water reactor that produces only minuscule amounts of plutonium. The Iranians would rather re-engineer it to produce less plutonium — but that process is reversible, and therefore opposed by the Americans.

The allegation against Iran by an unnamed country, if true, would suggest that Tehran is rejecting the U.S. reconfiguration into a light-water reactor. (AP)

12:53 A.M. Kerry urges flexibility in U.S. war against ISIS

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday urged flexibility in the war against the Islamic State group, saying that any congressional authorization of U.S. military force should not be limit the fight to Iraq and Syria.

The authorization should also not restrict U.S. President Barack Obama in deploying combat troops against the militant group if needed, Kerry told a Senate committee debating the need for an Authorization for the Use of Military Force, or AUMF. (Reuters) 

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