Middle East Updates / U.S. Launches 10 Air Strikes Against ISIS Targets in Syria, Iraq

Islamist rebels seize Syria's Idlib province from Western-backed rebels; Dozens of Libyans in eastern town pledge loyalty to ISIS; Kurds in Turkey rally for Kobani; Peshmerga launch attack on ISIS in Sinjar; Egypt jails eight men over 'gay video.'

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8:01 P.M. At least 11 killed as Yemen troops battle Al-Qaida

At least eight Yemeni soldiers and three suspected Al-Qaida militants died in clashes on Saturday in the town of Jabal Ras in Yemen's western Hodeidah province, local officials and residents said.

Fighting has flared in certain provinces in Yemen since the rise to dominance by Shi'ite Muslim rebels in recent months, threatening the fragile stability of a country that lies next to Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter.

Houthi forces took over Sanaa in September and fanned out into central and western Yemen, irking Sunni tribesmen and Al-Qaida militants who regard the Houthis as heretics and have stepped up their attacks. (Reuters) 

5:06 P.M. Egypt signs $350 mln in oil, power financing deals with Saudi Arabia

Egypt signed $350 million worth of financing agreements with Saudi Arabia on Saturday aimed at upgrading its power grid and securing imports of petroleum products as it seeks to end its worst energy crisis in decades.

Power cuts have become common in Egypt as the cash-strapped government struggles to supply enough gas to its power stations let alone upgrade a grid suffering from decades of neglect.  The energy crunch has become a political hot potato in the Arab world's most populous country, which has turned from a gas exporter into a net importer in recent years as it diverts gas once destined for export to meet burgeoning domestic demand.

Two loan agreements signed on Saturday worth a total of about $100 million will be invested in two electricity stations that are expected to boost the capacity of the national grid. A further $250 million in assistance will come in the form of petroleum products. (Reuters) 

4:17 P.M. Dozens of Libyans in eastern town pledge loyalty to ISIS
Dozens of residents of a town in eastern Libya have pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, leader of the Islamic State group fighting in Syria and Iraq, according to a video and a resident.

Around 50 young people could be seen in a video posted on social media gathering in Derna to support Baghdadi, who calls himself "caliph", or Muslim leader, of Islamic State (also known as ISIS).

Derna, a port halfway between the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi and the Egyptian border, has since 2011 turned into a gathering point for militant Islamists and Al-Qaida sympathisers. (AP) Click here for the full article

4:00 P.M. Libya closes eastern lifeline airport for security reasons

Rocket fire has forced the closure of Labraq airport, the main gateway into Libya's government-held east, the airport director said on Saturday. Gunmen have repeatedly fired Grad rockets into Labraq airport, east of Benghazi, and all flights have been suspended for security reasons, director Abu Bakr al-Abaidi told Reuters.

Oil-producing Libya has descended into chaos with two governments and two parliaments vying for legitimacy three years after the ousting of strongman Muammar Gadhafi in 2011.

An armed faction mainly from Misrata seized Tripoli in August, setting up its own prime minister and parliament and forcing the old government to move to the east where the elected parliament is also based. (Reuters) 

3:59 P.M. U.S. launches 10 airstrikes against ISIS targets in Syria, Iraq

U.S. fighter and bomber planes have launched five attacks against Islamic State militants near Kobani, Syria and five in Iraq since Friday, Central Command said on Saturday.

The Kobani strikes "suppressed or destroyed" nine Islamic State fighting positions and a building, Centcom said. In Iraq, five air strikes destroyed an Islamic State vehicle southwest of Mosul Dam and hit four vehicles and four buildings used by militants near Al Qaim, it said in a statement. (Reuters)

3:34 P.M. Kurds in Turkey rally to back city besieged by ISIS

Tens of thousands of Kurds are rallying in Turkish cities in solidarity with the embattled Syrian city of Kobani, which has been under a brutal siege by the Islamic State group.

In Diyarbakir, in the heart of the Kurdish region in Turkey's southeast, protesters marched peacefully, chanting: "Long live the struggle for Kobani." The assault on Kobani has largely emptied the city that was once home to hundreds of thousands.

In villages along Turkey's border with Syria Kurds, including refugees from Kobani, marched within eyeshot of their former home. One demonstrator, Fatima Muslim said: "I came to show my support for my people and for the blood of our people." The 55-year-old added: "We've lost everything. They blew up our houses. And now we are in a refugee camp." (AP)

Turkish Kurds rally in support of Kurdish fighters who have gone to defend the Syrian town of Kobani against ISIS, Ankara, Nov. 1, 2014. (AFP)

2:16 P.M. Eight men sentenced to jail in Egypt for alleged same-sex wedding

An Egyptian court on Saturday convicted eight men for "inciting debauchery" following their appearance in an alleged same-sex wedding party on a Nile boat, sentencing each of them to three years in prison.

The Internet video shows two men exchanging rings and embracing among cheering friends.

The eight were detained in September when a statement from the office of Egypt's chief prosecutor said the video clip was "shameful to God" and "offensive to public morals." (AP) Click here for the full article

1:32 P.M. ISIS militants 'massacre 50 Iraqi tribesmen'

Islamic State group extremists lined up and shot dead at least 50 tribesmen and women in Iraq's Anbar province, officials said Saturday, the latest mass killing committed by the group.

The shooting happened late Friday in the village of Ras al-Maa, north of the provincial capital of Ramadi, Anbar councilman Faleh al-Issawi said.

Militants accused men and women of the Al Bu Nimr tribe of retaliating against them after being displaced from their homes when the group seized the Anbar town of Hit last month, al-Issawi said. "These killings are taking place almost on a daily basis now in the areas under the control of the Islamic State group and they will continue unless this terrorist group is stopped," al-Issawi told The Associated Press.

An official in the Anbar governor's office confirmed the death toll. He spoke on condition of anonymity as he is not authorized to brief journalists.

On Thursday, authorities found the bodies of 48 Sunni tribesmen killed by the Islamic State group in Anbar. (AP) Click here for the full article

1:00 P.M. Islamists sieze Syria's Idlib province from Western-backed rebels

Islamist militants affiliated to al-Qaida seized the last remaining stronghold of Western-backed rebels in Syria's northwest province of Idlib on Saturday after days of fighting, rebels and a monitoring group said.

Backed by other hardline Islamist groups, the Nusra Front are waging a major military campaign against the Syria Revolutionaries' Front led by Jamal Maarouf, a key figure in the armed opposition to President Bashar Assad, after accusing him of being corrupt and working for the West against them.

The Nusra Front is al Qaida's official affiliate in the Syrian civil war and was once one of the strongest insurgent groups fighting to topple Assad. But it has been overshadowed by the Islamic State, which has seized swathes of northern and eastern Syria and is now being targeted by U.S.-led air strikes. 

In the past few days, the Nusra Front captured several villages in the Jabal al-Zawiya region of Idlib province and on Saturday it entered the village of Deir Sonbol, the stronghold of the Revolutionaries' Front, forcing Maarouf to pull out. (Reuters) Click here for the full article

12:30 P.M. Iran says 93 percent of executions drug-related

Responding to a United Nations report criticizing death sentences in Iran, a senior official in the Islamic Republic is saying that 93 percent of executions in the country involve drug smuggling.

Mohammad Javad Larijani, secretary of Iran's Human Rights Council, made the comments in a report posted on the judiciary's website Saturday.

The Oct. 23 report by the UN said at least 852 people were reportedly executed between July 2013 and June 2014 and called it an alarming increase.

Delegates from many European countries have urged Iran to adopt a moratorium on the death penalty at an ongoing human rights meeting in Geneva. (AP)

12:12 P.M. Suicide car bomber kills nine Afghan police, soldiers

An Afghan official says at least nine members of the country's security forces have been killed in a suicide attack in eastern Logar province.

Din Mohammad Darwesh, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said Saturday that six police officers and three soldiers were killed by a suicide bomber in an explosives-laden vehicle. Darwesh said that the blast wounded about 20 civilians, damaged three houses and destroyed a mosque in the province's Azra district.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. Taliban insurgents have intensified their attacks against both Afghan and NATO security forces across the country as most international security forces prepare to withdraw by the end of the year. (AP)

11:02 A.M. Kurdish forces launch attack on ISIS in Sinjar

Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga forces Saturday started a major offensive to retake the northern town of Sinjar from the Islamic State militant group, a Kurdish official said.

"The Peshmerga launched today an attack from different directions to liberate Sinjar from the [Islamic State] organization and are making an advance," the official told dpa on condition of anonymity. He added that the Kurdish forces had attacked the jihadists' positions in the area using heavy weapons and causing unspecified casualties.

In August, the al-Qaida breakaway group overran Sinjar, near the Syrian border, and seized it from the Peshmerga, forcing an exodus of its mostly Yezidi inhabitants. The militants at the time executed dozens of the Yezidis for refusing to convert to Islam. (DPA)