Middle East Updates / Lebanon Army Fights Gunmen in Tripoli, Six Soldiers Killed

Egypt leader: Foreign hands behind Sinai attack; Egypt declares emergency in north Sinai; U.S. Drone strike reportedly kills three Al-Qaida-linked militants in Yemen; eight Lebanese soldiers wounded in clash with Islamist gunmen; Afghan president visit Saudi Arabia.

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Haaretz's latest Middle East analyses and opinions: Brazen Hezbollah could trigger third Lebanon war (Amos Harel) | Israeli citizens fighting for Islamic State: a small, yet worrying trend (Jack Khoury)

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10:11 P.M. Iraq government forces, militias take control of strategic town

Iraqi government forces and Shi'ite militias took control of the strategic town of Jurf al-Sakhar just south of Baghdad on Saturday, breaking the grip of Islamic State militants after months of fighting, security officials said.

The officials said the Sunni insurgents fled to two nearby villages and were still attacking with sniper fire and mortars and government forces were preparing for a major overnight operation against them. (Reuters)

10:00 P.M. Lebanon army fights gunmen in Tripoli, six soldiers killed

Six Lebanese soldiers were killed as the army clashed with Islamist gunmen in northern Lebanon for a second day on Saturday, using helicopters to fire rockets in the first such air attack since the war in neighbouring Syria began.

Soldiers exchanged heavy fire with the gunmen - whose exact affiliation was unclear - in the city of Tripoli in the morning and moved in on their positions in the afternoon, security sources said.

Three soldiers were wounded in a nearby incident when gunmen opened fire on an army vehicle near the northern village of Bahneen, the sources said. One soldier later died from his wounds.

An officer was killed in another attack near the town of al-Minya, also in the north, security sources said. The military used two helicopters to fire two rockets at militants in the area after the attack, security sources said.

A third soldier died from wounds sustained in fighting on Friday. At least four militants and two civilians were also killed, and about 14 soldiers wounded, the sources said.

Gunmen also took one soldier captive in Tripoli as he was riding in a taxi, security sources said.  (Reuters)

6:53 P.M. Kurdish militants kill three soldiers in southeast Turkey

Kurdish militants killed three Turkish soldiers in Turkey's southeast on Saturday, the Turkish Armed Forces said, in a further blow to peace talks between Ankara and the insurgents.

Three members of the "separatist terrorist organisation", a term used by the army to describe the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), shot the soldiers who were in plain clothes, the army said in a statement. The soldiers were buying electrical supplies for the military post where they served, media said.

On Friday, soldiers shot dead three PKK guerrillas after fighters from the outlawed group set fire to two vehicles and a power plant in the eastern province of Kars and shot at soldiers who returned fire. (Reuters)

5:42 P.M. Lebanon army fights gunmen in Tripoli, two soldiers killed

Two Lebanese soldiers died from their wounds on Saturday as the army clashed with Islamist gunmen in the northern city of Tripoli for a second day, trying to uproot the militants from the Old City.

Soldiers exchanged heavy fire with the gunmen, whose exact affiliation was unclear, in the morning and moved in on their positions in the afternoon, security sources said. One civilian was also killed in the fighting.

Three soldiers were wounded in a nearby incident when gunmen opened fire on an army vehicle near the northern village of Bahneen, the sources said. One soldier later died from his wounds.

At least two militants were killed and six soldiers were wounded during earlier fighting in Tripoli late on Friday. One of the soldiers died from his wounds on Saturday. (Reuters) 

5:16 P.M. U.S., allies stage 22 air strikes in Iraq 

The United States and its allies conducted 22 air strikes against Islamic State forces in Iraq on Friday and Saturday, the U.S. Central Command said.

U.S. warplanes also destroyed an Islamic State artillery piece near Kobani, Syria, officials said Saturday.

The 22 strikes in Iraq included attacks in the frequently targeted areas near the vital Mosul dam, the city of Fallujah and the northern city of Bayji, home of an oil refinery.

The Iraq strikes hit large and small Islamic State units, buildings, vehicles and fighting positions, Central Command said.

The bomber, fighter and remotely piloted aircraft used in the air strikes all returned safely, U.S. officials said.  (Reuters)

4:00 P.M.  Kurdish forces retake north Iraqi town from Islamic State

Kurdish regional forces retook the northern Iraqi town of Zumar and several nearby villages from Islamic State insurgents on Saturday, security sources said.

A Kurdish intelligence officer in Zumar said peshmerga forces had advanced from five directions in the early morning after coalition air strikes on Islamic State positions. The Kurdish forces encountered fierce resistance before prevailing.

Islamic State's capture of large expanses of northern and western Iraq and neighbouring Syria has caused international shock and U.S.-led air strikes began in August in support of regional ground forces to try to reverse the jihadist advance.  (Reuters)

2:20 P.M. Egypt leader: Foreign hands behind Sinai attack

Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi says a deadly assault on an army checkpoint in the Sinai Peninsula that killed 30 troops was a "foreign-funded operation."

Roaring in front of cameras on Saturday, Sissi said there are foreign powers that want to "break the back of Egypt," without elaborating. He vowed to take drastic measures to uproot the militants and said Egypt is engaged in an "extensive war" that will last a long time.

"There is a big conspiracy against us," he said while standing with army commanders ahead of a military funeral for the slain soldiers and officers. (AP)

2:15 P.M. Clashes in northern Lebanon kill 1

Lebanese troops battled Islamic militants in the northern city of Tripoli for a second day Saturday, with one person killed and 13 wounded in the clashes, the Lebanese army and state media said.

An army statement said troops have surrounded the gunmen in Tripoli's old market and are trying to detain them. The clashes in Lebanon's second largest city began Friday night, and on Saturday residents said they could hear gunfire and sporadic explosions.

The fighting came after troops killed three militants and detained a local leader in a raid in the northern Dinniyeh region. One of the three killed was Abdul-Qadir Akkoumi, a Lebanese soldier who announced in a video released earlier this month that he had defected and joined the Islamic State group, the army said. (AP)

11:22 A.M. Iranian woman hanged for killing alleged rapist

A young Iranian woman convicted of murdering a man she said was trying to rape her was hanged in a Tehran prison on Friday, despite an international campaign for a reprieve. (Haaretz) Read full story

8:12 A.M. Afghan president visit Saudi Arabia

Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai is making his first overseas trip since taking office, fulfilling an election promise to undertake religious pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia.

In a statement on Saturday, his office said Ghani Ahmadzai will perform Umrah, a pilgrimage to Mecca that can be undertaken at any time of year.

He will also meet with Saudi King Abdullah and other officials to discuss issues of mutual interest, the statement said. (AP)

12:49 A.M. Egypt declares emergency in northern Sinai

Egypt's National Defense Council declared a three-month state of emergency in areas near borders with Israel and the Gaza Strip in the northern part of Sinai Peninsula, including a curfew. State TV also announced closure of the Rafah crossing, Gaza's only non-Israeli passage to outside world.

The decision came in response to a coordinated assault on an army checkpoint in the Sinai Peninsula, which killed 30 Egyptian troops on Friday.

Headed by Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, the council vowed that the army would take "revenge for the shedding of dear blood." It instructed authorities to take measures which it described necessary to protect lives of civilians. (AP) Read full story

12:39 A.M. Eight Lebanese soldiers wounded in clash with Islamist gunmen

At least eight Lebanese army soldiers were wounded late Friday when troops clashed with Islamist gunmen in the northern port city of Tripoli, a Lebanese security source said.

The clash erupted after gunmen, believed linked to the Jihadist group Islamic State, tried to attack a Lebanese army post in Khan al Askar in Tripoli, the source said.

A Lebanese army source said at least six of the attackers were arrested, while a number of others were wounded in the attack. (DPA)

12:25 A.M. Tribal sources: Drone strike kills 3 Al-Qaida-linked militants

A U.S. drone strike killed three suspected members of an Al-Qaida-linked group with arch-rivals from the Shi'ite Muslim Houthi group, tribal sources said.

The sources said the drone was used in the al-Manasseh area against Ansar al-Sharia, the local wing of Al-Qaida in the Arab Peninsula (AQAP). The drone was still circling the area, they said.

This was believed to be the first U.S. air strike against the militant group in Yemen since the Houthis engaged Al-Qaida-linked militants in central Yemen after they captured the capital Sanaa last month. (Reuters)