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Haaretz's latest analysis on the Middle East: Why Egypt won't let Turkey be the key Mideast player it dreams of being

See Thursday's Middle East Updates

Live Updates [Friday]:

12:44 A.M. The UN Security Council on Friday condemned the beheading of U.S. journalist James Foley by Islamic State militants, saying that they and their ideology of intolerance must be defeated.

"The Security Council strongly condemned the heinous and cowardly murder of James Foley," the 15-nation council said in a statement.

"This incident is a tragic reminder of the increasing dangers journalists face every day in Syria," it said. "It also once again demonstrates the brutality of ISIL (Islamic State), which is responsible for thousands of abuses against the Syrian and Iraqi people."

The militants released a video this week showing one of the group's fighters beheading Foley and threatening to kill a second American reporter, Steve Sotloff.

"The members of the Security Council stressed that ISIL must be defeated and that the intolerance, violence and hatred it espouses must be stamped out," the statement said.

"The Council further emphasized that there has to be a common effort amongst governments and institutions, including those in the region most affected, to counter ISIL, al Nusra Front and all other individuals, groups, undertakings, and entities associated with Al-Qaida," it added. (Reuters)

12:04 A.M. Gunmen attacked a Sunni mosque during Friday prayers, killing at least 64 people and prompting Sunni lawmakers to freeze talks on forming a new government — a move that presents a major challenge to efforts to create an administration that can confront Islamic extremists who have seized large swathes of Iraqi territory.

It was not immediately clear if the attack was carried out by Shiite militiamen or extremists of the Islamic State group, who have been advancing into mixed Sunni-Shiite areas in volatile Diyala province and have been known to kill fellow Sunni Muslims who refuse to submit to their harsh interpretation of Islamic law.

However, Sunni lawmakers quickly blamed the carnage on powerful Shiite militias out to avenge an earlier bombing, and two major Sunni parliamentary blocs pulled out of talks on forming a new Cabinet. The move creates a major hurdle for prime minister-designate Haider al-Abadi as he struggles to reach out to disaffected Sunnis to form a government that can confront the Islamic State extremists.

Both al-Abadi and outgoing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki condemned the attack and called for an investigation.

The onslaught on the Musab bin Omair Mosque in the village of Imam Wais began with a suicide bombing near its entrance, followed by a raid by gunmen who stormed the building, opening fire on worshippers, security officials said.

Iraqi security forces and Shiite militiamen raced to the scene to reinforce security but stumbled on bombs planted by the militants, which allowed the gunmen to flee, according to officials in Imam Wais, 75 miles (120 kilometers) northeast of Baghdad.

At least 64 people were killed, including four Shiite militiamen, and more than 60 people were wounded, according to medical officials. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media. (AP)

11:30 P.M. The United States is considering taking the fight against Islamic State militants into Syria after days of airstrikes against the group in Iraq and the beheading of an American journalist, the White House signaled on Friday.

President Barack Obama, soon to end a two-week working vacation on the Massachusetts island of Martha's Vineyard, has not yet been presented with military options for attacking Islamic State targets beyond two important areas in Iraq, said White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes.

But Rhodes made clear that going after Islamic State forces based in Syria is an option after the release of a video this week showing one of the group's fighters beheading American journalist James Foley and threatening to kill a second American, Steve Sotloff.

"We will do what's necessary to protect Americans and see that justice is done for what we saw with the barbaric killing of Jim Foley. So we're actively considering what's going to be necessary to deal with that threat, and we're not going to be restricted by borders," he said. (Reuters) 

10:59 P.M. Two French girls, aged 15 and 17, have been captured by a security net that authorities are using to ferret out citizens who are considering traveling to other countries to join jihads.

The action is one example of how France is taking judicial action against citizens suspected of seeking careers as foreign fighters, even if they have yet to leave French soil. Thousands of European citizens have made the trip to Syrian battlegrounds, but there is no unified plan of action in Europe.

France is leading the way in Europe in the battle against this problem, and its sweep could get even wider with a planned law that would allow passports to be confiscated from those suspected of planning to fight in Syria or Iraq, and would create new measures to prosecute jihadi wannabes or returnees. France also is planning to join other European countries in blocking Internet sites that espouse the jihadi cause. (AP)

10:35 P.M. Two of Iraq's most influential Sunni politicians have suspended participation in talks on forming a new government after Shi'ite militiamen machinegunned Sunnis in a village mosque, killing 68 people, a Sunni lawmaker said on Friday.

Deputy Prime Minister Saleh Mutlaq and Parliament Speaker Salim al-Jibouri have pulled out of talks with the main Shi'ite alliance until the results of an investigation into the killings are announced.

"I confirm we have suspended negotiations with the National Alliance because of this crime, until the results of the investigations are announced," said Raad al-Dahlaki, a lawmaker with Jibouri's bloc. (Reuters) 

1:40 P.M.  Iraq's most influential cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, says that all sides are agreed on the need to form a "proper" government in Baghdad and repeats his call on compatriots to fight Islamic State insurgents.

10:27 A.M. Syrian government forces have been sent to reinforce an air base being attacked by Islamic State militants in northeast Syria. Some 30 of the radical group's fighters were killed in the area on Thursday.

The airbase at Tabqa, east of the city of Raqqa in northeast Syria, represents the government's last foothold in an area otherwise controlled by the Islamic State group that has seized swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Right said the reinforcements had been flown in overnight into Friday.

The Syrian state news agency SANA on Thursday denied reports that Islamic State fighters had entered the air base. It also said government forces had taken a nearby village.

7:20 A.M. At least 33 people have been killed and dozens injured in a collision between two buses before dawn on Friday in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, the state news agency and security sources reported.

The Middle East News Agency (MENA) quoted local health ministry official Mohamed Lashin as saying that Russian, Yemeni and Saudi Arabian citizens were among the more than 40 people injured, but did not give further details.

Lashin said that the injured were being transferred to two hospitals in the area. He said bodies were still being lifted from the wreckage so the death toll could rise.

The buses were travelling in the southern part of the Sinai, one of them from the Red Sea resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh and the other from a Nile Delta province, security sources said.

Thursday August 21

12:51 A.M. The sophistication, wealth and military might of Islamic State militants represent a major threat to the United States that may surpass that once posed by al Qaida, U.S. military leaders said on Thursday.

"They are an imminent threat to every interest we have, whether it's in Iraq or anywhere else," Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told reporters at the Pentagon.
Hagel's assessment of Islamic State, which gained strength during Syria's civil war and swept into northern Iraq earlier this summer, sounded a note of alarm several days after the group posted a video on social media showing one of its fighters beheading an American hostage kidnapped in Syria.

Asked if the hardline Sunni Muslim organization posed a threat to the United States comparable to that of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Hagel said it was "as sophisticated and well-funded as any group we have seen."

"They are beyond just a terrorist group. They marry ideology, a sophistication of ... military prowess. They are tremendously well-funded. This is beyond anything we've seen." (Reuters)