Middle East Updates / Syria Claims Terror Groups Used Chlorine as Weapon

More than 1,200 Iraqis killed in November, UN says; Putin to visit Turkey amid Syria differences; Suicide bomber kills nine at funeral in northern Afghanistan.

Reuters

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Latest updates:

10:45 P.M. Post on Israeli Canadian Gill Rosenberg's Facebook page: I'm safe and secure (Haaretz)

7:35 P.M. Iraqi premier sacks 24 interior ministry officials

Iraq's prime minister said on Monday that he has retired 24 Interior Ministry officials as part of efforts to restructure the country's security apparatus and enable it to better confront the Islamic State threat.

Haider al-Abadi's announcement came as fighters with the Sunni extremist group attacked a police checkpoint near Iraq's border with Syria, killing at least 15 Iraqi officers in an assault that underscored the depth of the country's turmoil in the face of the ISIS group's onslaught.

The retirement of two dozen interior ministry officials is part of al-Abadi's efforts to "restructure the security forces and make them more effective in the face of terrorism," according to statements on his official Twitter and Facebook pages. (AP)

3:09 P.M. WFP suspends food aid for 1.7 million Syrian refugees

A lack of funds has forced the U.N. World Food Programme to stop providing food vouchers for 1.7 million Syrian refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt, it said on Monday.

"Without WFP vouchers, many families will go hungry. For refugees already struggling to survive the harsh winter, the consequences of halting this assistance will be devastating," said WFP, which needs $64 million to support the refugees for the rest of December. (Reuters)

2:57 P.M. Syria claims terror groups used chlorine as weapon

Syria's vice foreign minister has denied that his government ever used chemical weapons or chlorine during the country's brutal civil war and warns that terror groups are using such weapons.

The comments Monday by Faysal Mekdad to a meeting of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons underscored what could be the organization's next major challenge, even as it comes close to fully eliminating Damascus' deadly stockpile of nerve agents and poison gas.
Mekdad said Monday that terror groups "have used chlorine gas in several of the regions of Syria and Iraq."

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin
AP

The government of President Bashar Assad is widely believed to have unleashed chemical weapons during the civil war, but there are growing fears that terror groups like Islamic State also could use chlorine as a weapon. (AP)

2:08 P.M. UN: More than 1,200 Iraqis killed in November

The United Nations says that more than 1,200 Iraqis were killed in November by acts of terrorism and violence.

According to the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq, 1,232 Iraqis were killed in November and 2,434 were wounded, a slight decrease from last month's figures.

The UN obtained casualty figures for Iraq's western Anbar province from the Health Directorate in Anbar. The figures estimate that at least 402 people were killed in the province — the majority of them in Ramadi, where the Islamic State militant group continues to clash with Iraqi security forces. The UN independently verified that at least 332 people were killed in Baghdad province.

The UN said last month that at least 1,273 Iraqis were killed in violence in October. (AP)

12:21 P.M. Putin to visit Turkey amid Syria differences

Russian President Vladimir is traveling to Turkey for discussions on economic ties and the crisis in Syria and Iraq.

Russia and Turkey have opposing positions on Syria's crisis but Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are expected to downplay differences to concentrate on trade ties when they meet on Monday. Russia is Syrian leader Bashar Assad's closest ally while Turkey wants to see him deposed.

The two countries are important trade partners. Russia provides the bulk of Turkey's gas and is set to build its first nuclear plant. Turkish construction firms are active in Russia.

Putin arrives a day after Pope Francis wrapped up his Turkish visit with prayers for peace in Ukraine. (AP)

11:45 A.M. Suicide bomber kills nine at funeral in northern Afghanistan

A suicide bomber killed at least nine people at a funeral and wounded more than a dozen in northern Afghanistan on Monday, a provincial official said.

"Seven civilians and two policemen were killed and up to 20 civilians were wounded," said Jawid Basharat, a spokesman for the governor of Baghlan province, where the attack occurred.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

Taliban insurgents have launched increasingly deadly attacks in Afghanistan this year, as foreign forces continue to withdraw after more than a decade of war.

Last week, a suicide bomber killed more than 50 people, including several policemen, attending a crowded volleyball match in the eastern province of Paktika. (Reuters)

11:15 A.M. Islamist militants kill Tunisian policeman near Algerian border

Islamist militants beheaded a Tunisian policeman after he was kidnapped near the Algerian border late on Sunday, officials said on Monday.

The government has tightened security as it prepares for a presidential election runoff this month between incumbent Moncef Marzouki and veteran politician Beji Caid Essebsi, the leader of secular Party Nida Tounes.

Tunisia has struggled to subdue hardline Islamists and jihadists opposed to the transition to democracy following the uprising four years ago against the former president, Zine el- Abidine Ben Ali.

Interior Ministry spokesman Mohamed Ali Laroui said the policeman was seized along with his brother by 10 militants who attacked the car they were travelling in.

The brother was released, but beheaded Hassan Solatani in Touirif District in the city of El Kef, Laroui said.

Security units launched an operations to hunt down the Islamists in the area, where last month five officers were also killed in an ambush a bus carrying soldiers.

Among the militant groups operating in Tunisia is Ansar al Sharia, which the United States considers a terrorist organization and accuses of orchestrating the storming of the U.S. embassy in Tunis in 2012. (Reuters)

10:15 A.M. Egyptian Islamic State claims August killing of US oil expert

The Egyptian arm of the Islamic State militant group has claimed responsibility for the August killing of a US oil worker in the country's western desert, according to monitoring group SITE Intel.

A Twitter account in the name of the Islamic State's Sinai Province posted pictures of what it said were William Henderson's identity documents, against what appeared to be a computer-generated background.

Henderson's killing was reported at the time as a carjacking.
Three attacks by suspected Islamist militants in the western desert killed 31 Egyptian troops and police in July and August.

The Egyptian jihadist group Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, based mainly in the Sinai peninsula bordering Israel and the Gaza Strip, last month pledged allegiance to Islamic State and rebranded itself as Sinai Province.