Middle East Updates U.S. Told Iran of Intent to Strike IS Militants in Syria, Source Says

Nasrallah: Hezbollah opposes U.S.-led air strikes in Syria; Syria's Assad expresses support for anti-ISIS coalition; Five Arab states participate in air strikes.

F/A-18F Super Hornet
A F/A-18F Super Hornet flies over the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush in the Persian Gulf on Tues., Sept. 23, 2014, after conducting strike missions against Islamic State targets in Syria. AP/U.S. Navy

Haaretz's latest Middle East analyses and opinions: Large scale, showy terror attacks loom on Israel's horizon (Amos Harel) | An impressive coalition vs. the Islamic State - just get ready for the infighting (Zvi Bar'el) | Islamic State closing in on Kurds in Syria (Carl Drott)

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00:14 P.M. The U.S. informed Iran in advance of its intention to strike Islamic State militants in Syria and told Tehran that it would not target the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad, a senior Iranian official told Reuters.

"This issue was first discussed in Geneva and then was discussed thoroughly in New York where Iran was assured that Assad and his government will not be targeted in case of any military action against Daesh (Islamic State) in Syria," the official said on condition of anonymity. He added that Iran was informed separately in advance of the airstrike.

Asked about the assurance that Syrian government forces would not be targeted, a senior U.S. State Department official told Reuters: "We communicated our intentions, but not specific timing or targets, to the Iranians. As we've said, we won't be coordinating military action with Iran. And of course we won't be sharing intelligence with Iran either." (Reuters) 

22:18 P.M. The leader of Hezbollah said on Tuesday he opposed U.S-led air strikes on Syria, where his Lebanese Shi'ite Muslim group has been fighting alongside forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad.

Hassan Nasrallah, whose group is one of the most important helping Assad fight a Sunni-dominated insurgency, was speaking after strikes against Islamic State and other groups in Lebanon's neighbor Syria.

"We are against American military intervention and an international coalition in Syria, whether that (action) is against the regime or IS," Nasrallah said in a speech aired on Hezbollah-run al-Manar television.

"U.S. military intervention, whether under the guise of an international coalition or under the cover of NATO or under the guise of multinational forces: we have a principled position based on basic rules and norms," he said. "America, is in our view, the mother of terrorism and the origin of terrorism," he said, adding this meant the United States was not ethically qualified to lead a "war on terrorism".

Nasrallah, whose group is backed by Shi'ite Muslim power Iran, has previously described Islamic State as a growing "monster" that could threaten Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and other Gulf states. (Reuters) 

9:47 P.M. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry says more than 50 countries have joined the coalition to fight the Islamic State extremist group.

Flanked by Iraq's president and foreign minister, Kerry was speaking hours after a U.S.-led coalition conducted airstrikes against the militants in Syria. He says the fight must be led by countries in the region.

Kerry says the United States has made clear that "we will not allow geography or borders to prevent us from taking action" against the Islamic State militants. "We will hold them responsible for their grotesque atrocities," Kerry says. "And we will not allow them to find safe haven where they think they can have sanctuary against accountability."

If left unchecked, Kerry warned that the group would be a threat to countries, "including here." (AP) 

9:13 P.M. In televised speech, Hasan Nasrallah says Hezbollah opposes U.S.-led military intervention in Syria (Reuters) 

9:02 P.M. Saudi Arabia's air force participated in U.S.-led bombing strikes against Islamic State insurgents in Syria, the official Saudi Press Agency reported on Wednesday.

"An official source revealed that Saudi air forces took part in military operations in Syria against the Islamic State group, and to support the moderate Syrian opposition, within an international coalition, to combat terrorism..., and to support the fraternal Syrian people in returning security, unity and development to this devastated country," SPA said. SPA gave no details about the Saudi role in the air strikes.

Jordan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates had already acknowledged participating in the bombing runs against Islamic State and other radical Islamist fighters in eastern Syria. Qatar said it had a supporting role. (Reuters) 

7:56 P.M. Erdogan says Turkey could give military support to U.S.-led coalition (Reuters)

7:44 P.M. The United Nations secretary-general has welcomed airstrikes against militants in Syria which he says pose "an immediate threat to international peace and security." In opening remarks at a climate summit press conference Tuesday, Ban urged world leaders gathered in New York "to come together decisively" in support of efforts to confront extremist groups. Ban cautioned, however, that parties involved in the airstrikes must abide by international humanitarian law and take all precautions to avoid and minimize civilian casualties. (AP)

7:28 P.M. U.S. and Arab strikes on militant targets in Syria overnight were 'only the beginning' of a coalition effort to weaken Islamic State and other extremists, the U.S. military said on Tuesday. Rear Admiral John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters that a barrage of strikes across Syria overnight were 'very successful.'

"I can tell you that last night's strikes were only the beginning," Kirby said. He said the strikes were the start "of a credible and sustainable persistent campaign to degrade and ultimately destroy" Islamic State. (Reuters) 

7:20 P.M. Three Frenchmen, including the brother-in-law of a Toulouse-based Al-Qaida-inspired gunman who killed seven people in 2012, were arrested on Tuesday at a Paris airport suspected of having joined Islamic militants in Syria, a French official said.

The three men including the husband of Souad Merah, whose brother Mohamed killed seven people including three Jewish children in March 2012, were arrested at Orly airport in Paris.

The 2012 attack was the worst France has suffered since 1995, when the Algerian Armed Islamic Group bombed a Paris metro station, killing eight people and wounding dozens. (Reuters) 

6:54 P.M. The U.S. Defense Department says airstrikes in Syria and Iraq are the beginning of a "credible and sustainable, persistent" campaign to degrade and ultimately destroy the Islamic State militant group. Lt. Gen. William Mayville, director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, tells reporters at the Pentagon that future strikes can be expected. (AP)

6:18 P.M. The United States made strikes in Syria to disrupt planning by the Khorasan group, an Al-Qaida affiliate, to launch imminent attacks against U.S. or European targets, a senior White House official told reporters on Tuesday.

"For some time now, we've been tracking plots to conduct attacks in the United States or Europe," said Ben Rhodes, Obama's deputy national security adviser. "We believe that attack plotting was imminent and that they had plans to conduct attacks external to Syria," Rhodes told reporters traveling with Obama to the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York. (Reuters)

5:50 P.M. U.S. President Barack Obama on Tuesday vowed to continue the fight against Islamic State fighters following the first U.S.-led airstrikes targeting the militant group in Syria, and pledged to build even more international support for the effort.

"Once again, it must be clear to anyone who would plot against America and do Americans harm that we will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten our people," Obama said before leaving the White House for the United Nations in New York.

Obama said the strength of the coalition, now at more than 40 countries, including five Arab states that took part in Tuesday's air campaign, shows the fight against such militants is not America's alone. "America is proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with these nations on behalf of our common security," he said. "The strength of this coalition makes it clear to the world that this not America's fight alone." Read the full article

5:38 P.M. British Prime Minister David Cameron may announce as soon as Wednesday that Britain is ready to join air strikes against Islamic State in Iraq and that he plans to seek parliament's approval for such action, government sources said on Tuesday.

Cameron is due to set out his position in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Wednesday night at which he will call on the world to unite to destroy Islamic State militants, whom he has warned are planning to attack Britain.

The decision to strike in Iraq would be at Baghdad's request.
Cameron has not yet decided whether Britain would take part in strikes against IS targets in Syria because of legal issues, one source familiar with the matter said, and any announcement on Iraq would be to join strikes in principle and not herald immediate action.

"This is a fight you cannot opt out of," Cameron told NBC News in an interview on Tuesday. "These people want to kill us. They've got us in their sights and we have to put together this coalition...to make sure that we ultimately destroy this evil organization." (Reuters)  

5:10 P.M. U.S. President speaks on American airstrikes against Islamic State: "This is not America's fight alone… Over 40 nations have offered to help... The security of the U.S., the region and the entire world is at stake." "The U.S. will not tolerate safe havens for terrorists who threaten Americans."

4:21 P.M.The relationship between Iran and Saudi Arabia deserves to be better, though differences between the two Middle Eastern states appear to be narrowing, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday. "Our relationship with Saudi Arabia ... deserves to be warmer," said Rouhani. (Reuters)

4:06 P.M. The Islamic State group on Tuesday paraded Iraqi troops captured in battle earlier this week in a militant stronghold west of Baghdad, residents said.

Residents of Fallujah said about 30 men in Iraqi military uniforms were driven in the back of seized military vehicles through the city. Fallujah is about 65 kilometers (30 miles) west of Baghdad. The captured soldiers looked very exhausted, eyewitnesses said.

The militants driving the convoy blasted songs glorifying the leader of the Islamic State group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as they paraded their captives. The residents spoke on condition of anonymity, fearing for their safety. (AP) 

3:52 P.M. An official from Turkey's crisis management agency told the AP Tuesday that the number of refugees who reached Turkey escaping an Islamic State group's advance in the past few days now stands at around 150,000. (AP)

The U.N. refugee agency says that along with the Turkish government, it had made contingency plans for hundreds of thousands who might cross the border, but could not predict a number. (DPA)

3:48 P.M. An estimated 70 Islamic State fighters have been killed in U.S.-led airstrikes on the group's positions in northern and eastern Syria, a monitoring group says. A further 300 extremists are estimated to have been injured, according to a count by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. (DPA)

2:28 P.M. France's prime minister said Tuesday his country won't stop fighting Islamic State militants despite demands by kidnappers holding a French hostage.

The 55-year-old man was abducted in Algeria on Monday by a splinter group from Al-Qaida's North African branch. The Jund al-Khilafah, or Soldiers of the Caliphate, said it would kill him unless France halts it airstrikes in Iraq within 24 hours.

Manuel Valls said Tuesday on Europe 1 radio that French authorities are "doing everything" to try to free the hostage, but won't negotiate with his captors.

"If we cede, if we retreat one inch, that would hand victory" to the militants, he said. (AP)

1:52 P.M. Western countries including the United States are training Kurdish peshmerga forces in Iraq to fight Islamic State militants who have overrun around a third of the country.

Outgunned and untested for years, the Kurds failed their first major test on the battlefield last month, when IS militants overran their positions in northwestern Iraq, prompting air strikes by the United States.

Since then, at least eight countries have begun arming the Kurds, whose Soviet-era weaponry proved ineffective against insurgents flush with military hardware plundered from the Iraqi army after it abandoned its posts in June.

"What the peshmerga are being trained in is the new arms they have received," said peshmerga spokesman Halgurd Hikmat. "Some of the countries that have sent us weapons are instructing them, including the Americans".

More than 100 instructors from Germany, Canada, Australia and United States are now on the ground in Iraqi Kurdistan, teaching the region's peshmerga forces how to use the new weapons.

Hikmat listed the United States, France, Italy, Germany, Canada, Australia, Britain and Czech Republic as the countries that had so far sent weapons to Kurds. (Reuters)

1:18 P.M. Death toll from U.S. strike on Nusra Front positions in northern Syria reportedly rises to 50. (Reuters)

12:49 P.M. The United Nations refugee agency said on Tuesday that it was making contingency plans for all 400,000 inhabitants of the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani to flee into Turkey to escape an advance of Islamist militants.

Some 138,000 Syrian Kurdish refugees have entered Turkey in an exodus that began last week, and two border crossing points remain open, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said.

"We are preparing for the whole population fleeing into Turkey. The population of Kobani is 400,000," UNHCR chief spokeswoman Melissa Fleming told a news briefing in Geneva.

"We don't know, but we are preparing for that contingency." (Reuters) 

12:02 P.M. NATO said on Tuesday it was not involved in U.S.-led strikes on Islamic State targets in Syria.

"There is no NATO involvement," an alliance official said in response to a query from Reuters.

The United States and Arab allies hit Islamic State targets including training camps, headquarters and weapon supplies in northern and eastern Syria in dozens of air and missile strikes on Tuesday, the U.S. military and a monitoring group said. (Reuters) 

11:46 A.M. British Prime Minister David Cameron will meet Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in the next two days in New York and ask him for help to fight Islamic State, the first meeting between leaders of the two nations since Tehran's 1979 Islamic revolution.

Cameron will meet Rouhani on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, a source in the British leader's office told Reuters, speaking after the United States and Arab partners struck IS targets inside Syria.

Cameron is in New York to try to bolster international action against IS and to clarify his own country's position when it comes to air strikes, something London has so far held off participating in.

Cameron is expected to ask Rouhani to drop his support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to tell him that developing nuclear weapons is unacceptable, and to urge him to join the international coalition against IS. (Reuters) 

11:43 A.M. The imprisoned leader of a Kurdish rebel group fighting Turkey has called for a mass mobilization of all Kurds against the Islamic State militant group which is fighting Kurdish forces in Syria.

In a message relayed through his lawyer late Monday, Abdullah Ocalan said: "I call on all Kurdish people to start an all-out resistance against this high-intensity war."

"Not only the people of Rojava (Syrian Kurdistan) but also all people in the north (Turkey) and other parts of Kurdistan should act accordingly," lawyer Mazlum Dinc quoted Ocalan as saying.

The call came hours before the United States and five Arab countries on Tuesday launched airstrikes against the Islamic militants in Syria. (AP)

11:27 A.M. At least 30 fighters from the Nusra Front were killed in U.S.-led air strikes in Syria, according to a group monitoring the war. Eight civilians, including three children, were killed in the strikes. (Reuters) Read full article here

An American A-18C Hornet prepares to launch from the flight deck of the USS George H.W. Bush to conduct air strikes on Islamic State targets, Tues, Sept. 23, 2014. (Photo by AP) 

11:04 A.M. A suicide bomber blew up his car near a vehicle carrying a senior military officer in north-western Pakistan on Tuesday, killing three people and wounding over a dozen, officials said.

Brigadier Khalid Javed escaped unhurt in the bombing targeting him in Peshawar city, capital of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, provincial Information Minister Mushtaq Ghani said.

The bomber tried to ram his car loaded with explosives into the military vehicle carrying the brigadier but exploded a few yards away, senior police official Najib-ur-Rehman said.

A paramilitary soldier and a woman were among the dead, said doctor Jameel Shah at the city's Lady Reading Hospital where 13 injured people were also being treated. (DPA)

10:57 A.M. Syria's Western-backed National Coalition opposition group welcomed air strikes by the United States and Gulf Arab allies on Islamic State strongholds in Syria on Tuesday, saying they would strengthen its struggle against President Bashar al-Assad.

"This will make us stronger in the fight against Assad... The campaign should continue until the Islamic State is completely eradicated from Syrian lands," Monzer Akbik, special envoy to the president of the coalition, told Reuters. (Reuters) Read full article here

10:31 A.M. U.S. CentCom confirms Jordan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates participated in air strikes against the Islamic State in Syria.

The U.S. military launched strikes from warships in international waters in the Red Sea and North Arabian Gulf in order to disrupt an "imminent attack" against the U.S. and western interests by Al-Qaida veterans, according to the CentCom statement.

An Islamic State fighter in Syria told Reuters that the group will respond to the air strikes and blamed Saudi Arabia for allowing the strikes to occur. (Reuters) Read full article here

9:58 A.M. The Jordanian army said on Tuesday it had mounted air strikes against "terrorist groups" that were planning attacks in Jordan, an indication Amman had joined U.S.-led air strikes against Islamic State in neighboring Syria.

A Jordanian army statement did not say where the air force had struck. "Air force jets destroyed a number of targets that belong to some terrorist groups that sought to commit terror acts inside Jordan," the statement broadcast on state TV said. (Reuters) 

8:10 A.M. Dozens of Islamic State fighters were killed or wounded in air strikes on the Syrian city of Raqqa and surrounding areas, a group that tracks the war said on Tuesday.

"There are tens of wounded and dead," Rami Abdulrahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told Reuters by phone. The Observatory gathers information from a network of activists on the ground. (Reuters)  

7:44 A.M. Strikes by the United States and partners on Syria were aimed at the Islamic State's stronghold of Raqqa as well as near the Iraq border, with targets including weapons supplies and buildings used by the Sunni militant group, a U.S. official told Reuters on Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Rami Abdulrahman, told Reuters by telephone in Beirut that the air strikes also hit checkpoints in Raqqa city and surrounding areas.

The United States informed Syria's UN representative on Monday that Islamic State targets would be hit in the Syrian city of Raqqa, Syrian state television reported on Tuesday.

The television broadcast the news in a headline bar and cited Syria's Foreign Ministry as the source. (Reuters) 

4:35 A.M. The United States and partner nations are carrying out the first air strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria, the Pentagon said on Monday, in ongoing operations that mark the opening of a new, far more complicated front in battle against the militants.

"I can confirm that U.S. military and partner nation forces are undertaking military action against ISIL terrorists in Syria using a mix of fighter, bomber and Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles," Rear Admiral John Kirby, Pentagon press secretary, said in a statement. 

"Given that these operations are ongoing, we are not in a position to provide additional details at this time." Read full story (Reuters)

3:48 A.M. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan indicated for the first time Monday that his country may have traded Islamic State group prisoners it held captive in exchange for 49 Turkish hostages held by the militants.

Asked about it in New York on Monday, Erdogan said "such things may be possible." He said Israel released 1,500 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for one Israeli hostage. "So you see, it's possible," he added.

The hostages — 46 Turks and three Iraqis — were returned to Turkey on Saturday after more than three months in the hands of the Islamic State group, which captured them when it overran the Iraqi city of Mosul in June. (Reuters)

3:20 A.M.  President Barack Obama wants some Arab participation in air strikes against the Islamic State in order to expand the campaign to Syria, reflecting U.S. concerns that any long-term campaign must count on regional involvement, U.S. officials say.

Obama authorized air strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria almost two weeks ago and was briefed on U.S. war plans last week by the U.S. military's Central Command. But Obama held off on approving those plans as diplomats pushed ahead with efforts to forge a coalition.

Two U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Arab participation was essential for Obama as he looked to expand the American campaign of air strikes to Syria from Iraq, where the U.S. military has already carried out 190 strikes as of Monday.

Several Arab countries have offered to join the United States in air strikes against Islamic State targets, a senior U.S. official told reporters on Sept. 14. (Reuters)