Middle East Updates / Yemen Government, Shi'ite Rebels Sign Peace Deal

Chinese destroyer docks in Iran, first such visit; Yemen clashes cast doubt on truce deal; wife of Alan Henning, Briton held by Islamic State, pleads for his release.

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Syrian refugees at the border in Suruc, Turkey, September 20, 2014.Credit: AP

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11:23 P.M. Yemeni government officials and Shiite rebels signed a peace agreement on Sunday following days of violence that left more than 140 people dead and sent thousands fleeing their homes, state media said, although major rebel advances earlier in the day deepened a sense of uncertainty in the country.

The agreement calls for an immediate cease-fire and the formation of a technocratic government within a month after consultations with all political parties, a UN envoy said later at a joint news conference with President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi in the capital, Sanaa.

"The head of the government may not belong to any political group," Jamal Benomer said, reading from the document, which, he added, also calls for security forces to be restructured based on consultations with the political parties.

Just hours earlier, state media reported that the country's prime minister had resigned, but the president's office denied it had received any such request. (AP)

4:29 P.M. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says no ransom had been paid for release of Turkish hostages held by Islamic State, but declined to be drawn on whether their release freed Turkey's hand to take a more active stance against the insurgents.

Turkish intelligence agents brought 46 hostages seized by Islamic State militants in northern Iraq back to Turkey on Saturday after more than three months in captivity, in what Erdogan described as a covert rescue operation.

"A material negotiation is totally out of the question ... This is a diplomatic success," Erdogan said before leaving for a gathering of the UN General Assembly in New York. (Reuters)

4:09 P.M. Philippine President Benigno Aquino III says he's been told security threats on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights are not expected to ease soon, dimming hopes that UN peacekeepers can be deployed back to the region in the near future.

A group of 244 Philippine peacekeepers were recalled and flew back to Manila on Friday, while 84 more were due home Sunday, ending a five-year presence in the Golan.

Aquino said his government was informed by the UN assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping operations, Edmond Mulet, that "there is no expectation" that the peacekeepers will be able to deploy back to the Syrian side of the Golan "in the short or mid-term."

The force has patrolled the buffer zone and helped enforce a truce between Syria and Israel since 1974. (AP)

2:30 P.M. Iran's state television is reporting that a Chinese destroyer has docked in a southern Iranian port in the first such visit to the country by the Chinese navy.

Adm. Hossein Azad, naval base chief in the southern port of Bandar Abbas, said the four-day visit saw the two navies sharing expertise in the field of marine rescue.

The Sunday report said the destroyer was accompanied by a logistics ship, both of which were on their way to the Gulf of Aden as a part of an international mission to combat piracy. (AP)

2:18 P.M. Syria's parliament speaker says the U.S. should work with Damascus in assembling a coalition to battle the Islamic State extremist group rather than allying with nations that support terrorism.

Mohammad Jihad Lahham was apparently referring to Saudi Arabia and other countries that back rebels trying to overthrow Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Lahham said during a parliament session Sunday that nations that "want to fight terrorism should coordinate" with Damascus rather than Syrian rebel groups. (AP)

2:07 P.M. The majority of French favor military intervention against Islamic State militants in Iraq, according to an Ifop poll carried out for French Sunday newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche.

The survey showed 59 percent of the 952 people interviewed supported international intervention, whilst 53 percent were in favor of French military involvement. (Reuters)

11:58 A.M. Turkish security forces on Sunday fired tear gas and water on dozens of Kurds in a village on the border with Syria where tens of thousands of Syrian Kurdish refugees have streamed into Turkey to escape the fighting with militants of the Islamic State group.

Authorities temporarily closed the border and refugees were piling on the Syrian side of the frontier.

There were conflicting reports as to what caused the clashes. The state-run Anadolu Agency said Kurdish protesters threw stones at the security forces who prevented dozens of Kurdish onlookers from approaching the border. Private NTV television said the security forces preventing a group of Kurds who claimed they wanted to take aid to beleaguered Kurds in Syria. (AP)

11:55 A.M. Alan Henning, a volunteer British aid worker being held by Islamic State (IS) militants, should be released unharmed, his wife said in a statement issued a week after his captors threatened to murder him.

Henning, 47, was part of an aid convoy taking medical supplies to a hospital in northwest Syria in December last year when it was stopped by gunmen and he was abducted. (Reuters)

11:28 A.M. A bomb blast killed at least two Egyptian police personnel near the foreign ministry in downtown Cairo, Egyptian and other news media reported. (Reuters)

8:48 A.M. Shi'ite Houthi rebels and government forces fought for a fourth straight day in the Yemeni capital, residents said, despite the announcement of a UN-brokered agreement due to be signed later on Sunday.

Residents reported sounds of heavy shelling throughout Saturday night in an area of the capital near the headquarters of the first armored division camp and close to the religious university of Iman.

UN special envoy Jamal Benomar announced late on Saturday that an agreement had been reached and was to be signed on Sunday. (Reuters)

8:00 A.M.  is ready to work with the United States and its allies to stop Islamic State militants, but would like to see more flexibility on Iran's uranium enrichment program, senior Iranian officials told Reuters.

The comments from the officials, who asked not to be named, highlight how difficult it may be for the Western powers to keep the nuclear negotiations separate from other regional conflicts. (Reuters)

3:08 A.M. U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke with Egyptian Defense Minister Colonel General Sedki Sobhy on Saturday to confirm the United States plans to deliver 10 Apache helicopters to Egypt to support Cairo's counter-terrorism efforts, the Pentagon said.

The United States originally announced in April that it had decided to lift its hold on the delivery of the attack helicopters to Egypt, imposed last year after the military's ouster of President Mohammed Morsi and an ensuing crackdown against protesters.

Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said at the time that the helicopters would support Egypt's counter-terrorism operations in the Sinai Peninsula. (Reuters)

Smoke rises from a residential area near the headquarters of Yemen's state-run television building during an attack from Shi'ite Houthi rebels in Sanaa September 20, 2014. Credit: Reuters
Iranian President Rohani delivers a speech during an annual rally commemorating anniversary of the 1979 Islamic revolution, February 11, Tehran, Iran.Credit: AP