Middle East Updates U.S. Threatens Sanctions on Buyers of ISIS Oil

Lebanese cabinet decides to drastically restrict entry of Syrian refugees; U.S., allies stage 15 air strikes on ISIS targets in Iraq and Syria; 200 Iraqi Kurds to pass through Turkey to defend Kobani from ISIS.

Smoke from an airstrike by the US-led coalition rises outside Kobani.
Smoke from an airstrike by the US-led coalition rises outside Kobani, Syria, as seen from a hilltop on the outskirts of Suruc, at the Turkey-Syria border, Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014. AP

Haaretz's latest Middle East analyses and opinions: Brazen Hezbollah could trigger third Lebanon war (Amos Harel), Israeli citizens fighting for Islamic State: a small, yet worrying trend (Jack Khoury)

A plane flies over Kobani, Syria.
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Displaced Syrian boys and girls in a refugee camp in Deir al-Ahmar, Lebanon, Tuesday, Sept. 16, 2014
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Latest updates:

12:49 A.M. Tunisia policeman killed in pre-election clashes with Islamist militants

A Tunisian policeman was killed and another wounded on Thursday when security forces clashed with Islamist militants on the outskirts of Tunis, three days before parliamentary elections which voters hope will help them advance toward full democracy.

Police negotiators in the suburb Oued Ellil to the west of Tunis were trying to persuade militants to give themselves up after the house they were in was surrounded following heavy exchanges of gunfire, officials and a Reuters witness said.

Heavily armed security forces used tear gas and stun grenades to try to force at least two suspected militants out of the house, in which officials said several women and children were being held.

"We've called on them to let the woman and children out, but they refused ... they are family members," interior ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Aroui told reporters. "We have to move cautiously here."

Tunisia has struggled to subdue hardline Islamists and jihadists opposed to the transition to democracy following the 2011 fall of Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, and the military has cracked down hard on militants in the run up to the election.

7:56 P.M. ISIS seizes Iraqi village, press assault on Yazidis

Islamic State wrested a Sunni Muslim village in western Iraq on Thursday from tribal defenders who put up weeks of fierce resistance, and the insurgents tightened a siege of the Yazidi minority on a mountain in the north.

The attacks showed Islamic State's continued operating resilience despite air strikes by U.S.-led coalition forces aimed at defeating the ultra-radical Sunni jihadist group, which has captured large expanses of Iraq and neighbouring Syria, beheaded prisoners and massacred people from other religious communities, and declared a medieval-style caliphate.

The Albu Nimr tribe had been fending off Islamic State since early October but finally lost the village of Zauiyat albu Nimr in the western province of Anbar overnight on Thursday. (Reuters) 

7:12 P.M. Lebanon restricts entry of Syrian refugees

Following earlier reports in Lebanese media, Syrian refugees will no longer be allowed into Lebanon "except for humanitarian and extraordinary cases," the Lebanese cabinet decided Thursday.

"No new refugees will be registered without prior approval from the Lebanese Social Affairs Ministry," Information Minister Ramzi Jreij said. "Refugees who live in fairly safe areas will be encouraged to go back to their country," the minister said.

More than 1.1 million Syrian refugees are living in Lebanon, which has a population of 4 million people. (DPA) 

5:08 P.M. U.S. threatens to sanction buyers of ISIS oil

The Obama administration on Thursday threatened to slap sanctions on anyone buying oil from Islamic State militants in an effort to disrupt what it said was a $1 million a day funding source.

"With the important exception of some state-sponsored terrorist organizations, ISIL is probably the best-funded terrorist organization we have confronted," Cohen said, referring to another name for Islamic State. His remarks were prepared for delivery at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

ISIS is generating tens of millions of dollars a month through a combination of oil sales, ransom, extortion and other criminal activities and support from wealthy donors, Cohen said in laying out the most comprehensive outline yet of the U.S. financial strategy against the group. Cohen said that each day, ISIS earns $1 million from oil sales alone. 

Cohen, the Obama administration's point man on sanctions, said the Syrian government, which has been fighting a long civil war against opposition forces, has also apparently agreed to buy oil from IS. "The middlemen, traders, refiners, transport companies, and anyone else that handles ISIL's oil should know that we are hard at work identifying them, and that we have tools at hand to stop them," Cohen said. 

U.S. sanctions block people and firms from accessing the U.S. financial system, and are usually followed by banks around the world who are wary of dealing with U.S. enemies. (Reuters) 

5:02 P.M. Saudi Arabia warns women not to join protest against driving ban

Saudi Arabia's Interior Ministry on Thursday issued a warning to women not to get behind the wheel in defiance of the kingdom's men-only road rules after a renewed social media campaign to challenge the law by driving in public.

The announcement comes ahead of the anniversary on October 26 of a demonstration last year in which dozens of Saudi women said they had taken to the road in protest at the ban on female drivers, leading to some arrests.

In recent weeks, campaigners have been pushing on social media for women to drive themselves and post pictures or films online, as they did in the run-up to last year's protest.

"The Interior Ministry emphasises it will firmly apply the laws against anyone who participates (in a protest by female drivers)," the ministry said a statement carried by state media. Any such attempt by women to drive in public in breach of the law was "an opportunity for predators to undermine social cohesion", the ministry said. (Reuters)

4:20 P.M U.S., allies stage 15 air strikes on ISIS targets in Iraq, Syria

U.S. military forces again focused air strikes on the area near the Syrian city of Kobani in their campaign to turn back Islamic State forces and also hit oil facilities held by the militant group, the U.S. Central Command said on Thursday.

A total of 15 strikes were staged against ISIS in Iraq and Syria on Wednesday and Thursday, according to a statement from Central Command. The statement said U.S. fighter and bomber aircraft staged four strikes near the key border city of Kobani, destroying an ISIS control center and fighting positions in an area that has often been targeted this month, and two more that knocked out oil tanks east of Dawr Az Zawr. 

Four air strikes by U.S. and allied forces in Iraq near the vital Mosul Dam hit small ISIS units and destroyed a vehicle while another attack near Bayji took out a fighting position. Four strikes in the Fallujah area targeted a training facility, a larger Islamic State unit and a building.

All aircraft involved in the strikes returned safely, the statement said. (Reuters) 

12:40 P.M.Turkey's Erdogan says 200 Iraqi Kurdish fighters to enter Kobani

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday he had been informed that agreement was reached for 200 Iraqi Kurdish Peshmerga fighters to pass through Turkey to help defend the Syrian border town of Kobani against Islamic State militants.

Erdogan was speaking at a news conference in the Latvian capital Riga after Iraqi Kurdish lawmakers on Wednesday approved a plan to send the fighters, marking the semi-autonomous region's first military foray into Syria's war. (Reuters)

9:23 A.M. U.S.-led air strikes killed 521 people in Syria, 32 civilians

Air strikes by U.S.-led forces have killed 521 people, including 32 civilians, during a month-long campaign in Syria against Islamic State militants, a Syrian monitoring group which tracks the violence said on Thursday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the majority of the deaths, 464, were Islamic State fighters. Six of the civilians were children and five were women, the Observatory said.

It said 57 members of the al-Qaida-affiliated Nusra Front were also killed in the air strikes, which started a month ago. Strikes hit the provinces of Aleppo, Deir al-Zor, Idlib, Raqqa and al-Hassakah, it said. (Reuters)