President Barack Obama pauses as he speak in Edgartown, Mass., Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014
U.S. President Barack Obama pauses as he speaks in Edgartown, Mass., Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014. Photo by AP
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Egyptian Army soldiers on duty in northern Sinai. Photo by AP

Haaretz's latest analysis on the Middle East: Four beheaded bodies found in Sinai Peninsula

See Tuesday's Middle East Updates

10:32 P.M. Kuwait detained a prominent Sunni Muslim cleric at the Gulf state's airport on Wednesday after the United States included him on a sanctions list on suspicion that he is funneling money to militants in Iraq and Syria, a security source told Reuters.

Hajjaj al-Ajmi was detained at the airport on his arrival from Qatar, whose leadership supports Islamist groups such as Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and gives refuge to prominent figures from Hamas and the Taliban but does not back the militant Islamists operating in Iraq and Syria.

The security source gave no further details about Wednesday's detention. Nobody at Kuwait's Interior Ministry was immediately available for comment.  (Reuters)

8:10 P.M. U.S. President Barack Obama on Wednesday condemned the Islamic State militants who beheaded an American journalist as "a cancer" and said "their ideology is bankrupt."

"The whole world is appalled by the brutal murder of James Foley," Obama said, speaking a day after the militants released a video of Foley being beheaded.

Obama said he called Foley's family to express his condolences.

Islamic State, which has been marching through northern Iraq, released the video as a warning to Washington but Obama said the United States will continue to do "what we must do to protect our people."  

6:37 P.M. Germany's development aid minister, Gerd Mueller, accused Qatar of financing the jihadist group Islamic State, operating in Syria and Iraq, AFP reported.

"A story like this always has a history," he said in an interview with public broadcaster ZDF. "Who is financing these troops? Hint: Qatar." Read full article

6:15 P.M. France said it wanted the permanent members of the UN Security Council and regional countries, including Arab states and Iran, to coordinate action against the Islamic State, the insurgents who control parts of Iraq and Syria.

"In our minds and we hope that it will be possible ... we want not only all the regional countries, including Arab states and Iran, but the five members of the Security Council, also to join this action," Foreign Minister Faurent Fabius told lawmakers.

France's president earlier on Wednesday called for an international conference to tackle the militants.

"The president announced an international conference. We have to see with different partners how we can face them in terms of intelligence and military dispositions. That means cutting resources, it means taking social action to separate the support this group has from the population," Fabius said.  

5:26 PM Egypt's state news agency says a court has convicted a Jordanian and an Israeli of spying on Egyptian officials and security deployments.MENA reported Wednesday that the Jordanian was sentenced to 10 years in prison, while Israeli tried in absentia had been sentence to life in prison.

MENA identified the Jordanian as Bashar Abu-Zaid, an engineer who has been detained in Egypt since 2011. Abu-Zaid was convicted of planting communication devices to spy on Egyptian officials and reporting to the Israeli spy sentenced with him.

The alleged Israeli spy, identified by MENA as Ofer Harare, would receive a new trial under Egyptian law if he's detained.

Since Egypt's 2011 revolt, a spate of cases have accused Egyptians and foreigners of spying for Israel or other countries to harm national interest. (AP)

5:14 PM A tanker carrying crude oil from Iraqi Kurdistan reappeared unladen on August 19 about 30 kilometers off the coast of Israel, ship tracking data on Reuters showed. This is the second time the Kamari has appeared in the area in the last two weeks carrying Kurdish oil.

The tanker Kamari was partly laden north of Egypt's Sinai on August 17, tracking showed, before it turned off its satellite transponder until early on Aug. 19. It was not possible to determine where the oil had been delivered to or who the buyer was.

A spokesman for the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Ministry of Natural Resources did not immediately respond to phone calls and emails seeking comment on Wednesday. The KRG has previously denied selling oil to Israel "directly or indirectly". (Reuters)

4:57 PM The FBI believes the Islamic State video purporting to show the beheading of American journalist James Foley is authentic, GlobalPost reported on Wednesday. U.S. authorities had previously said they were trying to verify the contents of the video, which was released on Tuesday. (Reuters)

Foley went missing in Syria in 2012. His mother, Diane Foley, said in a statement late on Tuesday that her son gave his life to expose the suffering of the Syrian people.

2:58 PM Four beheaded corpses were found by residents of a town in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula on Wednesday, security sources said, blaming Islamist militants waging an insurgency against Cairo.  The security sources in Sinai and Cairo, said residents of Sheikh Zuwaid found the bodies two days after the men were abducted by gunmen while travelling in a car in the town, a few kilometres from the Gaza Strip.

Though the men were civilians, they may have been targeted for their perceived allegiance to the police and army, the sources said, speaking on condition of anonymity. They gave no other indication of the identity of the men. The militants have stepped up attacks on policemen and soldiers since then-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi toppled President Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood in July 2013.

The government does not distinguish between the Sinai militants and the Brotherhood, which it has designated a terrorist group although the movement says it is peaceful and denies any links to the wave of militant attacks. Sisi, now elected president, said last month that Islamist militants were ravaging the Middle East and pose a threat to security globally.

The Sinai militants are not believed to be officially linked to Islamic State insurgents who have swept through parts of Iraq and Syria and have releaesd a video purporting to show the beheading of a U.S. journalist.

2:23 PM Germany says it is prepared to arm Kurdish fighters battling Sunni insurgents in northern Iraq. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier says Germany would closely coordinate its efforts with France, Britain and other European countries who are already delivering weapons to the Kurds.

Wednesday's announcement follows intense domestic and international pressure for the German government to provide more than humanitarian assistance to those fighting the Islamic State group, which has taken control of large parts of Iraq in recent weeks.

Sending weapons would be a significant step for Germany, which traditionally has shied away from such moves. Steinmeier said the decision was taken in light of the fact that a collapse of Kurdish defenses could precipitate a wider catastrophe in Iraq that would directly affect Europe. (AP)

1:40 PM U.K. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond says the person appearing in the video posted by Islamic militants beheading American journalist James Foley appears to be British.

Hammond's comments come after U.S. officials confirmed the grisly video showing Islamic State militants beheading Foley and threatening to kill another hostage. Hammond says the person in the video with Foley "appears to have been a British person."

Hammond told the BBC on Wednesday that Britain was aware that UK nationals were involved in the commission of atrocities, making jihad with Islamic State extremists and other organizations. Hammond says the possible involvement of a Briton underscored the risks that those now fighting with Islamic militants could return to Britain and carry out attacks at home. (AP)

1:01 PM Iranian lawmakers dismissed the country's science minister on Wednesday over his alleged support for pro-Western voices at universities, dealing a blow to moderate President Hassan Rouhani.

The no-confidence vote against Science, Research and Technology Minister Reza Faraji Dana is a sharp rebuke of Rouhani, who was elected last year on promises of greater openness and diplomatic engagement with the West.

Out of 270 lawmakers present on Wednesday, 145 voted against Dana. The chamber has 290 seats.

The lawmakers were angered by Dana's support for teachers seen as pro-Western or who had been involved in opposition rallies following the disputed 2009 presidential election. They also accused him of tolerating student publications that question Islamic teachings. (AP)

12:39 PM Activists say Islamic extremists have launched an attack on a major air base in northeastern Syria, aiming to seize the last position held by the Syrian government in a province that is an Islamic State stronghold.

The attack on the Tabqa air base had been expected for weeks. Islamic State fighters have tightened their siege of the sprawling facility in recent days, capturing a string of nearby villages.

The group has virtually eliminated the military's presence in the Raqqa province, with the exception of Tabqa.

Wednesday's attack was announced on militant websites. It was also reported by the Raqqa Media Center, an activist collective, which reported fierce clashes around the facility accompanied by government airstrikes. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also reported the clashes. (AP)

11:49 AM Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas will meet the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, and exiled Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Doha today to discuss the conflict in Gaza and more aid for Palestinians, diplomatic sources told Reuters. 

A ceasefire in the Gaza Strip collapsed on Tuesday, with Palestinian militants firing dozens of rockets at Israel and Israel launching air strikes. 

Abbas's visit to Qatar, a close ally of Hamas, will be his second since the hostilities in Gaza began on July 8. 

"The President will be in Doha to meet with the Emir and talks will be on how to lift the siege of Gaza, the political scene that will follow that and then the urgent needs of the Palestinian people given the catastrophic losses," Palestinian ambassador in Doha Monir Ghannam told Reuters. 

Qatar, which has been acting as a communication channel between the West and Hamas, has donated more than $500 million in humanitarian aid to Palestinians in addition to grants of $1,000 for every Palestinian who lost their home. 

The Palestinian Health Ministry says some 2,026 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the current conflict that began last month. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers and three civilians in Israel have also been killed during the offensive.

11:36 AM French President Francois Hollande called on Wednesday for an international conference on ways of tackling Islamic State insurgents who have seized control of territory in Iraq and Syria. "We can no longer keep to the traditional debate of intervention or non-intervention," Hollande told Le Monde newspaper in remarks published on Wednesday.

"We have to come up with a global strategy to fight this group, which is structured, has significant financing, very sophisticated weapons and threatens countries like Iraq, Syria and Lebanon," he said.

10:53 AM Taliban fighters attacked police outposts in eastern Afghanistan, leaving two police officers and seven Taliban dead, an official said on Wednesday.

"Scores of Taliban militants attacked checkpoints in Du Ab district on Monday and have continued fighting the security forces since then," said Hafiz Abdul Qayum, the governor of the province of Nuristan.He said two police officers and seven Taliban fighters were killed during the heavy clashes, and another two police officers were wounded.

10:45 AM Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari urged the world on Wednesday to back his country against Islamic State militants after the al Qaeda offshoot released a video purportedly showing the beheading of a U.S. journalist kidnapped in Syria.

Zebari told Reuters that Islamic State was a threat to the world, not just to Iraq's minority ethnic groups whose members it has killed in its latest sweep through the north. (Reuters)

10:34 AM An Iraqi lawmaker says residents of a minority Shiite town besieged by Sunni militants are appealing to the military to help end the siege. Lawmaker Fawzi Akram al-Tarzi said on Wednesday that nearly 15,000 Shiite Turkmens in the town of Amirli have been besieged for the past two months by militants affiliated with the al-Qaida-breakaway Islamic State group.

Al-Tarzi says the army has airdropped some weapons and supplies to the townspeople who are putting up a fierce resistance. Amirli is about 170 kilometers (105 miles) north of Baghdad. Resident Jaafar Kadhim al-Bayati said over the phone that children in Amirli are getting sick and that the town needs more help. (AP)