Iraqi army, militants clash near Baghdad; UN declares Iraq's crisis at highest level
BAGHDAD (AP) -- Clashes between Iraqi troops and Sunni militants west of Baghdad killed at least four children on Thursday as the United Nations announced its highest level of emergency for the Arab country's humanitarian crisis in the wake of the onslaught by the extremist Islamic State group.
Since their blitz offensive in June, the al-Qaida-breakaway group has overrun much of Iraq's north and west and driven out hundreds of thousands from their homes. The push has displaced members of the minority Christian and Yazidi religious communities and threatened Iraqi Kurds in the Kurdish autonomous region in the north.
The U.N. on Wednesday declared the situation in Iraq a "Level 3 Emergency" -- a development that will trigger additional goods, funds and assets to respond to the needs of the displaced, said U.N. special representative Nickolay Mladenov, pointing to the "scale and complexity of the current humanitarian catastrophe."
The Security Council also said it was backing a newly nominated premier-designate in the hope that he can swiftly form an "inclusive government" that could counter the insurgent threat, which has plunged Iraq into its worst crisis since the U.S. troop withdrawal in 2011.
Extension of truce in Gaza fans hope of progress in Israel-Hamas talks in Cairo
CAIRO (AP) -- A five-day extension of a Gaza truce appeared to be holding despite a rocky start on Thursday, fanning cautious optimism of progress in the negotiations underway in Cairo between Israel and major Palestinian factions, including Hamas.
It's the longest cease-fire yet since the war broke out last month in the Gaza Strip. The fighting has so far killed more than 1,900 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians, according to Palestinian and U.N. officials. Israel has lost 67 people, all but three of them soldiers.
Violence briefly spiked as the extension of a previous, 72-hour truce was announced shortly before midnight on Wednesday. The extension is to last until midnight on Monday.
Israel's military said eight Hamas rockets were launched at Israel but that the firing stopped in the early hours of Thursday morning. Israel retaliated with airstrikes on rockets and rocket-launching sites in Gaza, the military said.
Gaza police said it recorded 17 Israeli strikes but that no casualties were reported.
Russian aid convoy resumes travel toward Ukraine, taking road to rebel-held area
VORONEZH, Russia (AP) -- A large Russian aid convoy resumed its journey toward Ukraine Thursday, taking a road leading directly toward a border crossing controlled by pro-Russian rebels in the Luhansk region.
The convoy of more than 200 vehicles had been parked at a military depot in the southern Russian city of Voronezh since late Tuesday amid disagreement over how and where the aid could be delivered to Ukraine, where government troops are battling pro-Russia separatists.