Middle East

An explosion near a group of military buildings in Turkey's capital has killed at least 28 people and wounded 61 others, according to Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmuş.

Reporting from Istanbul, NPR's Peter Kenyon says officials suspect it may have been a car bomb that detonated in Ankara. Here's more from Peter:

"The explosion hit near a military base in the capital, which also hosts residences for military officers. The blast occurred as a vehicle carrying military personnel was passing.

Last year, an Iranian economist named Mohammad Mehdi Behkish was extremely optimistic about prospects for a nuclear deal that would end many economic sanctions on his country.

"Personally, I would say it can't be that there would not be a deal," he told me when I met him in Tehran.

The alternative, he said, was disaster.

Behkish leads Iran's International Chamber of Commerce. When I met him again this month in his Tehran office, he sounded even more optimistic.

Just a few days ago, major world powers announced they would work on a plan to stop hostilities in Syria within a week. The proposed agreement would be temporary, and would fall short of a full cease-fire.

Instead, the nations involved have agreed "to encourage their proxies to cease hostilities in a week with an eye to a more permanent cease-fire down the road," NPR's Michele Kelemen explained Friday.

Since then, fighting on the ground has only intensified.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced late Thursday that they had agreed to push for a "nationwide cessation of hostilities" in Syria within one week.

The communiqué backed by major world powers also vowed to work toward getting humanitarian aid into hard-to-reach areas such as the city of Aleppo.

Gaida / Facebook

Syrian singer and songwriter Gaida is featured this Friday evening at Wesleyan University. Gaida performs innovative interpretations of traditional Syrian songs -- improvisations over Arabic grooves -- and she composes original music.

Mohamad Hafez / The Harts Gallery

Think of them like magic portals: tiny architectural models transporting you directly onto Syria's streets and forcing you to look at the bombed-out buildings and homes hit by the worst of that country's civil war.

New satellite images of St. Elijah's Monastery, located in the ISIS-held city of Mosul, no longer show a neatly chiseled, square parcel of land, complete with walls and buildings built into a hill.

All that can be seen of the Christian monastery, parts of which are 1,400 years old, is a dusty field of rubble. It was apparently razed by ISIS in its quest to destroy religious or historical artifacts deemed heretical.

Security forces are now in control of a university in Pakistan, hours after militants stormed the campus firing on students and teachers. Officials are still tallying the casualties; so far, at least 20 people are reported dead.

The four attackers died in the gun battle that followed the attack, according to local reports. No clear claim of responsibility has been made; an initial claim that attributed the violence to Pakistan's Taliban has been cast into doubt.

NPR's Philip Reeves reports:

Less than 24 hours after reports of their detention emerged, 10 U.S. Navy personnel have been freed by Iran. The sailors left an Iranian naval base on Farsi Island in the Persian Gulf on Wednesday morning, along with the boats they were operating when they were taken into custody.

"There are no indications that the sailors were harmed during their brief detention," the Department of Defense says, confirming the release of nine men and one woman.

At least 10 people are dead and more than a dozen wounded after an explosion struck a historic district in Istanbul on Tuesday morning. Civilians and tourists are among the victims from what officials say was a suicide blast in Sultanahmet Square, site of the famed Blue Mosque.

After the blast, speculation immediately began to fly over who might be responsible. Many fingers pointed at ISIS because of the apparent target — a historic cultural area that's popular with tourists.

Ryan Caron King / WNPR

Connecticut has gained a reputation globally as a sanctuary for immigrants, according to Dr. Saud Anwar, a South Windsor town council member who recently returned from a trip to Jordan.

Chion Wolf / WNPR

DataHaven, a New Haven-based nonprofit organization, recently completed the nation’s largest survey on community well-being. This hour, we take a look at the results and consider what they reveal about health, happiness, and quality of life in Connecticut. 

Saudi Arabia executed 47 people convicted of terrorism Saturday, including prominent Shiite Muslim cleric Nimr al-Nimr, prompting condemnation throughout the Middle East.

Nimr has been an outspoken advocate for Shiite rights in Saudi Arabia; he also supported opposition protests in the Shiite-majority Eastern Province, reports NPR's Leila Fadel.

Leila tells our Newscast unit:

The cold war between Saudi Arabia and Iran turned a lot hotter in the past 48 hours, after the Saudis executed a Shiite cleric accused of terrorism on Saturday and hours later an Iranian mob ransacked and firebombed the Saudi Embassy in Tehran.

After executing a well-known Shiite cleric, inflaming sectarian conflict, Saudi Arabia has now announced it is severing diplomatic ties with Iran, NPR's Leila Fadel reports.

Saudi Foreign Minister Abdel al-Jubeir said Iran's diplomatic mission to Saudi Arabia had 48 hours to leave the country, Reuters reports; Saudi Arabia's diplomats in Tehran have already left Iran, the wire service notes.

A hotel in downtown Dubai erupted in flames on Thursday evening, just two hours before the city was due to celebrate New Year's Eve with a massive fireworks display.

At midnight local time, the celebration proceeded as planned — resulting in a jarring double display of light and smoke, as firefighters continued to battle the blaze at one skyscraper while fireworks were sent off from the nearby Burj Khalifa.

Chion Wolf / WNPR

National security expert Scott Bates recently returned from Amman, Jordan where he was working with government ministries and elected officials on a project funded by USAID. This hour, he stops by tell us more about his trip and discuss United States foreign policy in the Middle East. 

Iraq's military has launched an offensive to wrest control of the city of Ramadi from Islamic State militants.

NPR's Alison Meuse told our Newscast unit that the operation is backed by U.S.-led airstrikes. Here's more from Alison:

"A 72-hour government deadline for civilians to leave Ramadi is over. Now, U.S. airstrikes are targeting ISIS positions, and Iraqi troops are pushing into the city center from three sides. The troops are working alongside Sunni tribal fighters and militiamen — against the Sunni extremists of Islamic State.

Stephen Dunn / WNPR

The debate over who should be allowed into the U.S. continues to dominate headlines, most recently at last week's Republican presidential debate. All of the GOP candidates said they oppose the Obama administration's plans to permit 10,000 more Syrian refugees into the country. Syrians living in Connecticut are following the rhetoric closely. 

President Obama wrapped up 2015 by taking another round of questions from the press.

At the traditional end-of-year news conference Friday afternoon, Obama began with a list of achievements, including the legalization of same-sex marriage across America and progress made toward addressing global climate change.

Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, who was held by the Taliban for five years after he left his base in Afghanistan in 2009, could receive life in prison.

Overriding the recommended punishment by an Army officer, head of Army Forces Command Gen. Robert B. Abrams ordered that Bergdahl, now the subject of the Serial podcast, face a court-martial for desertion.

Bringing Syrian refugees to the U.S. has become an especially contentious issue. In Canada, however, they're being welcomed with open arms.

Roughly 600 Syrians from refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon will arrive by plane in Canada this evening. They're the first of 25,000 Syrians the new Canadian government wants to resettle by the end of February.

Pete Souza / White House

Dozens of reporters rushed the apartment of the San Bernardino shooters on Friday. They live-streamed their tour through the home for 15 minutes, holding up everyday items that included personal photographs and private documents.

They were roundly condemned on social media and by neighbors concerned by the frenzy. Where is the line between what people need to know and voyeurism? How does the drive for speed and ratings affect journalistic integrity?

The Islamic State is taking responsibility for an attack that killed the governor of Aden in Yemen on Sunday.

Reuters reports that Jaafar Mohammed Saad and six of his aides were killed by a car bomb as he was headed to work.

Reuters adds:

The British Parliament has begun a daylong debate over whether to grant the government authority to conduct airstrikes against ISIS in Syria.

The U.K. is already conducting strikes against ISIS in Iraq.