Middle East Updates / U.S.-led Coalition Launches 20 Strikes Against ISIS

New leader for Syria's western-backed opposition; gunmen kill three Saudi guards along border with Iraq; Lebanon imposes visa requirement on Syrians for first time.

AP

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Latest updates:

6:26 P.M. Syria's Western-backed opposition elects new leader

Syria's Western-backed opposition group has elected a new leader, who announced Monday that his group is not yet willing to go to peace talks in Moscow.

Khaled Khoja was elected president in a close vote late Sunday during a three-day meeting of the National Coalition, in Istanbul. Khoja replaces Hadi al-Bahra, who did not run for reelection.

The meeting comes amid a push by Russia, a key supporter of President Bashar Assad, to try to bring the Syrian government and the opposition together in Moscow for talks.

At a press conference Monday, Khoja said Russia has invited some members of the National Coalition to the talks, but not the whole group. As such, he said no one from the coalition is prepared to go.

Another issue is that Khoja does not see Russia as a neutral broker. "Moscow is one of the enemies of the Syrian revolution," he said. (AP)

6:06 P.M. Gunmen kill three Saudi guards along border with Iraq

Four gunmen attacked a Saudi security patrol near the Iraqi border early Monday, killing three soldiers and wounding at least three more, the kingdom's Interior Ministry said.

A Saudi security official told The Associated Press the gunmen had come from inside Iraq. He spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to release the information.

It was the first deadly attack along Saudi Arabia's 1,200-kilometer (745-mile) border with Iraq since the kingdom joined the U.S.-led coalition conducting airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria. The ISIS group controls about a third of both Syria and Iraq.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for Monday's attack. (AP)

4:16 P.M. U.S.-led coalition launches 20 strikes against ISIS

The U.S.-led coalition has launched 20 more strikes against Islamic State since Sunday, according to the Combined Joint Task Force leading the operations.

In a statement on Monday, the task force said the United States and its partner nations conducted 14 strikes in Syria and six in Iraq. The air strikes hit several units of militant fighters as well as Islamic State oil collection points and a related pipeline, the statement said.  

2:11 P.M. Two dead as unknown aircraft bombs Greek tanker in Libyan port

An unidentified warplane has bombed a Greek-owned tanker ship at the eastern Libyan port of Darna, killing two crew members and injuring two more, Greek authorities said Monday.

The Liberian-flagged Araevo was chartered by Libya's state-run National Oil Corporation, Greece's Foreign Ministry said.

The ministry strongly condemned Sunday's attack, calling for the identification and punishment of the perpetrators, and demanding compensation for the victims' families.

Darna is a base for Islamic extremists who have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group. Widespread militia violence has plunged Libya into chaos less than four years after a NATO-backed uprising toppled and killed longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

The victims were identified as a Greek and a Romanian national. Araevo's crew of 26 consisted of 21 Filipinos, three Greeks and two Romanians.

Greece's Merchant Marine Ministry said the vessel had 12,600 metric tons of fuel on board. Damage is still being assessed. (AP)

1:50 P.M. Lebanon imposes visa requirement on Syrians for first time

New regulations came into force Monday requiring Syrian citizens to get visas to enter neighbouring Lebanon, as the authorities in Beirut struggle to cope with the massive influx of refugees fleeing the civil war in Syria.

Under the new rules, Syrians will only be able to enter Lebanon with the sponsorship of a Lebanese citizen or if they have documents supporting their status in one of a number of categories such as tourist, business or transit visitors.

Previously, Syrian and Lebanese citizens were able to cross the border simply by showing their identity cards to border guards.

Lebanon's National News Agency quoted Social Affairs Minister Rachid Derbas as telling Voice of Lebanon Radio that the visas could be obtained at the border.
Lebanon, which has a population of under 5 million, hosts some 1.16 million Syrian refugees.

The government started implementing restrictions on the entry of refugees in October.

According to United Nations figures, some 3.2 million Syrians have fled abroad since the country's conflict began in 2011, with another 7.6 million displaced internally. (DPA)

1:05 P.M. Suicide bomber hits European police in Kabul; 1 dead

A suicide car bomber struck near the headquarters of the European police training mission in Kabul on Monday, killing one Afghan civilian and wounding five others nearby, police and EUPOL said.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack, the first against a foreign target in the Afghan capital in 2015.

According to a statement from the EUPOL mission, the driver of the car packed with explosives apparently targeted a convoy of mission vehicles near its headquarters on the eastern outskirts of Kabul in the early afternoon.

"The vehicle's occupants were uninjured," EUPOL said on its Facebook page. The mission funds and trains Afghanistan's 157,000-strong police force.

The spokesman for the Kabul police chief, Hashmat Stanekzai confirmed the casualties.

A separate explosion struck near Kabul's international airport earlier on Monday, leaving no casualties.

Kabul was hit by a high number of attacks in the last weeks of 2014, as the Taliban targeted government, military and foreign installations. A total of six foreigners were killed in a flurry of attacks in the capital in late 2014. (AP)

11:25 A.M. Two Saudi border guards killed in dawn attack near Iraq border

Saudi Arabia says two armed men, including one with a suicide vest, attacked a patrol of border guards near the kingdom's frontier with Iraq, killing two guards and wounding a third.

The Interior Ministry says the attack occurred at dawn Monday near Arar, the provincial capital of the Northern Borders Province, along the border with Iraq.
It describes the attackers as "terrorists" and says they opened fire on the patrol. The guards returned fire, killing one of the attackers. The other detonated his explosives and blew himself up.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack.

Saudi Arabia has joined the U.S.-led alliance against Islamic State militants and is participating — along with Jordan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates — in airstrikes in Syria, with logistical support from Qatar. (AP)

10:30 A.M. Bomb wounds four policemen in Egypt's Sinai

Four Egyptian policemen were wounded on Monday by a bomb in the volatile Sinai Peninsula, security sources said.

The explosive was planted at the entrance of an apartment building in the provincial capital of Al-Arish, said the sources.

Security forces face a jihadist insurgency that has killed hundreds of soldiers and policemen since the army toppled President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in 2013 after mass protests against his rule.

Most attacks have been in the Sinai, which borders Israel and the Gaza Strip.

Security officials say Sinai-based militants are inspired by Islamic State, the al Qaeda offshoot that controls parts of Iraq and Syria and wants to redraw the map of the Middle East. 

6:29 A.M. Blast targets Houthi base in Yemen capital, residents say

A large blast targeted a base belonging to Yemen's Shi'ite Muslim Houthi militia in a western district of the capital Sanaa early on Monday, residents said, but it was not clear if there were casualties.

The Houthis, who control large swathes of Yemen and are regarded as enemies by Sunni militants including those in Al-Qaida's Yemeni wing, sealed off the area soon afterwards to prevent access to it. (Reuters)
 

5:50 A.M. UN-brokered Libya dialogue delayed again, diplomatic sources say

A new round of UN-brokered peace talks aimed at ending the escalating political crisis in Libya has been delayed once again and will not take place early this week as originally planned, diplomatic sources said on Sunday.

The United Nations had planned to hold a second round of talks on Monday to end a confrontation between two rival governments and parliaments. It has been working for months to organize Libyan peace talks but has said previously that a military escalation was undermining its efforts.

"Consultations to hold the second round of dialogue continue with the parties to reach agreement on the timing and venue. So, not tomorrow," one diplomatic source told Reuters on condition of anonymity. Another diplomatic source confirmed the remarks.

It was not clear when, and if, the new dialogue would take place.