Middle East Updates / UN: Islamic State Torturing, Killing Children in Iraq

Al-Qaida in Yemen says leading member killed by U.S. air strike; At least eight people wounded in rocket attack on Damascus.

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A member loyal of ISIS waving the group's flag in Raqqa, June 29, 2014.
A member loyal of ISIS waving the group's flag in Raqqa, June 29, 2014. Credit: Reuters
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For Wednesday's updates, click here

Latest updates:

5:00 P.M. Rocket attacks kill five in Damascus

Rocket attacks killed five people in Damascus and wounded at least 35 on Thursday, the state news agency SANA said, in what appeared to be the second heavy bombardment by Islam Army insurgents in less than two weeks.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that monitors violence in Syria said the army responded with at least 40 air strikes on several areas in the Eastern Ghouta district, where Islam Army is based, and 35 people were killed.

Shells thought to have been fired from the east of the capital could be heard exploding in the city, a witness said. Islam Army said it was behind the attacks.

A message on a Twitter account thought to belong to Islam Army chief Zahran Alloush said the attack was a taste of what the Syrian military had done to Ghouta. He described Damascus as a "military zone" in a statement earlier this week, and said his group would respond to air force strikes.

SANA said only that "infidel terrorists" carried out the bombardment. It showed a photograph of a blackened car with its trunk blown off. State television said three missiles hit areas around the Umayyad Mosque, one of the largest in the world, located in the capital's Old City. (Reuters)

4:05 P.M. Tunisian parliament ratifies first post-revolutionary government

Tunisia's parliament on Thursday overwhelmingly approved the country's first full-term post-revolutionary government.

Prime Minister Habib Essid, whose cabinet has ministers from four parties including the powerful Islamists, promised "work and nothing but work" on the country's economic and security problems.

In the four years since Tunisians overthrew their longtime dictator, the country has been ruled by a string of interim governments, some of them Islamist, that haven't succeeded in bringing the jobs and economic growth needed.

There have also been terrorist attacks from radical militants that have killed two politicians and left many members of the security forces dead.

"With this vote of confidence, Tunisia enters today a new stage to build a new Tunisia," said parliament speaker Mohammed Ennaceur.

A new constitution, parliamentary and presidential elections in 2014 have finally brought the transition to a close and a new nationalist party, Nida Tunis, which was elected largely for its opposition to the Islamists, has come to power. (AP)

4:05 P.M. Iraqi PM lifts Baghdad curfew

Iraq's prime minister on Thursday lifted a decade-old, midnight-to-5 a.m. curfew in Baghdad, ordered that long-blocked streets in the capital be opened up and declared some neighborhoods of the city weapons-free zones.

The measure by Haider al-Abadi appeared to be aimed at restoring a sense of normalcy in Baghdad, where residents enjoyed a vibrant night life before the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein. The curfew was imposed in 2004 as security deteriorated across the city and beyond.

A government statement said al-Abadi met with security officials at the Baghdad military command at dawn Thursday and ordered the curfew to be lifted starting Saturday.

He also ordered that streets, long blocked off for security reasons, reopen for traffic and pedestrians. The prime minister's order also banned the carrying of weapons in four major neighborhoods — the Shiite Kazimiyah area, the Sunni Azamiyah district, the Sunni Manous and the southwestern Sayidyah neighborhood. (AP)

3:05 P.M. Jordanian king visits slain pilot's family as jets flyover 

Jordanian fighter jets flew on Thursday over the hometown of a pilot killed by Islamic State militants after ending a mission against militants in Syria, a security official said.

Jordan's King Abdullah was visiting the pilot's family at the time of the flyover. The show of force came two days after the ultra hardline Islamic State released a video showing a captured Jordanian pilot being burned alive.

State television had earlier said the fighter jets had completed a mission without giving the location of their sortie. But a security official confirmed to Reuters the mission was in a location in Syria under Islamic State control. (Reuters)

2:42 P.M. Al-Qaida in Yemen says leading member killed by U.S. air strike

The Yemeni arm of Al-Qaida said on Thursday that one of its leading members had been killed by a U.S. air strike while travelling in a car in the southern province of Shabwa on January 31.

Three other Al-Qaida fighters were also killed in the strike, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula said in statement posted on Twitter.

Sheikh Harith bin Ghazi al-Nathari was on AQAP's legal committee and served as an adviser on legal and religious affairs, the statement said.

AQAP claimed responsibility for last month's deadly attack on France's Charlie Hebdo newspaper in Paris and is regarded as one of the global militant group's most potent branches. (Reuters)

11: 56 A.M. UN: Islamic State torturing, killing children in Iraq

The United Nations says the Islamic State group is systematically killing, torturing and raping children and families of minority groups in Iraq, and it is calling on government forces there to do more to protect them.

In a report issued Wednesday in Geneva, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child said it has received reports of "several cases of mass executions of boys, as well as reports of beheadings, crucifixions of children and burying children alive."

Iraq's military has been struggling in its fight against Islamic State, and the government has pleaded repeatedly for more weapons and training.

Still, the UN agency urged that more be done, saying Iraq needs to "take all necessary actions to ensure the safety and protection of children and their families." (AP)

9:40 A.M. At least eight people wounded in rocket attack on Damascus

At least eight people were wounded in a "terrorist" rocket attack on residential areas of the Syrian capital on Thursday, state news agency SANA said, citing a source in the Damascus police headquarters.

Shells fired from the east of Damascus could be heard landing in the centre of the Syrian capital, a witness said, and media reported that rockets and shells fired by Islamist insurgents had hit residential areas.

A witness in Damascus heard more than 30 bombardments in quick succession. Lebanon's Hezbollah-run al-Manar television said the projectiles were fired by Islam Army, an insurgent group based in the eastern Ghouta region on the outskirts of the capital.

Local radio Sham FM said the projectiles had hit at least five areas of the capital, including the historic Old City.

The Islam Army's leader had warned this week that Damascus was a "military zone" and that his group would respond to airstrikes by the Syrian military on Ghouta. (Reuters)

3:45 A.M. NBC's Brian Williams apologizes for telling false Iraq story

NBC "Nightly News" anchor Brian Williams has admitted he spread a false story about being on a helicopter that came under enemy fire while he was reporting in Iraq in 2003.

Williams said on "Nightly News" on Wednesday he was in a helicopter following other aircraft, one of which was hit by ground fire. His helicopter was not hit.

He said on air, "I want to apologize."

Williams spread the false story most recently last Friday, when he reported on a reunion with one of the military veterans his NBC News team came into contact with that day.(AP)

12:08 A.M. UN chief Ban Ki-moon to meet new Saudi king this weekend

The United Nations secretary-general says he will meet with Saudi Arabia's newly enthroned king this weekend during a visit to the Middle East.

Ban Ki-moon told reporters Wednesday that he is traveling on Friday to Riyadh to meet with King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud and pay his respects after the death of King Abdullah last month.

Ban says he plans to discuss the situations in Syria, Iraq and Yemen as well as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with senior leaders.

On Sunday, Ban will travel to the United Arab Emirates.

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