Middle East Updates Islamic State Jihadists Closing in on Syrian Rebel Stronghold

Activists say Islamic State executed 700 people from Syrian tribe; air strikes target Iraq after reports of Yazidi massacre; Iraqi Kurdish leader appeals to Germany for weapons; Taliban executes five people in a busy Afghanistan opium market; death toll in Egypt pro-Morsi protests rises to five.

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A Syrian rebel fighter poses for a picture, after returning from fighting against Syrian army forces in Aleppo, at a rebel headquarters in Marea on the outskirts of Aleppo city, Syria, Aug. 26, 2014.
A Syrian rebel fighter poses for a picture, after returning from fighting against Syrian army forces in Aleppo, at a rebel headquarters in Marea on the outskirts of Aleppo city, Syria, Aug. 26, 2014.Credit: AP

Haaretz's latest analysis on the Middle East: An Iraqi electrical engineer vs. the Islamic State; The Islamic State: A small, cruel modern army in the spirit of Ghengis Khan.

See Friday's Middle East Updates

9:20 P.M. The Islamic State militant group has executed 700 members of a tribe it has been battling in eastern Syria during the past two weeks, the majority of them civilians, a human rights monitoring group said on Saturday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which has tracked violence on all sides of the three-year-old conflict, said that reliable sources reported beheadings were used to execute many of the al-Sheitaat tribe, which is from Deir al-Zor province. (Reuters)

6:30 P.M. Activists say fighters from the Islamic State extremist group have captured three villages in northern Syria as they close in on a stronghold of rival rebels.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Saturday the jihadi group's gunmen overran the village of Maled near the town of Marea in Aleppo province late Friday.

Fayez Abu Quteibah, an activist in the area, said the group also captured two other villages near Marea — Hamidiyeh and Sonbol.

Those gains come days after the extremists overran several other villages and two towns in Aleppo province.

The Islamic State group's ultimate goal appears to be Marea itself, which is a stronghold of the once-powerful Islamic Front rebel group that has been fighting the jihadists since January. (AP)

6:01 P.M. Heavy fighting erupted on Saturday between rival militias in Libya's capital, hours after the new UN special envoy said he planned to visit Tripoli as early as next week to try to broker a ceasefire.

Gunfire and shelling with Grad rockets and artillery guns could be heard from the early morning near the airport and several residential parts of Tripoli.

Spanish diplomat Bernardino Leon, who is due to start his job officially on September 1, aims to end fighting between brigades from Misrata and fighters allied to the western town of Zintan, whose rivalries erupted a month ago into the worst clashes since the 2011 uprising that ousted Muammar Gadhafi.

The battles, which involve brigades of former rebels who once fought Gadhafi together, have forced the United Nations and Western governments to evacuate their diplomats, fearing Libya is sliding into civil war. (Reuters)

4:05 P.M. The leader of Iraq's Kurds appealed to Germany for weapons to help Kurdish fighters battling militants of the Islamic State, and said foreign powers must find a way to cut off the group's funding.

The European Union on Friday gave a green light to EU governments to supply arms and ammunition to the Kurds if it has the consent of the government in Baghdad.

Germany has shied away from direct involvement in military conflicts for much of the post-war era and a survey conducted for Bild am Sonntag newspaper indicated that almost three quarters of Germans were against shipping weapons to the Kurds.

But Germany's defense minister has said the government was looking into the possibility of delivering military hardware. (Reuters)

3:30 P.M. The Taliban executed five people in a busy opium market in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province and left their bodies hanging overnight after accusing them of kidnapping a businessman, officials told Reuters.

The militant group has stepped up its fight for control of the southern region since June, launching a string of attacks on government buildings, seizing territory and imposing its brand of Islamic justice.

Thursday's public hanging, in the largely Taliban-controlled Kajaki district, was the second group execution reported in Helmand since the offensive began. (Reuters)

2:55 P.M. An Egyptian health official says the death toll from violence during protests by supporters of the country's ousted Islamist president has risen to five people killed during clashes on the anniversary of the dispersal of two Cairo sit-ins.

Emergency services chief Mohammed Sultan said Saturday the five were killed in the capital a day earlier. He said the violence left 34 people wounded.

This raises the death toll from two days of clashes during small, scattered protests to nine people. The demonstrations come on the one-year anniversary of the Aug.14 break-up of two protest camps by supporters of toppled President Mohammed Morsi, killing hundreds. (AP)

2:20 P.M. Air strikes pounded the area around Iraq's largest dam on Saturday in an effort to drive out militants who captured it earlier this month.

Residents living near the Mosul Dam told The Associated Press that the area was being targeted in air strikes, but it was not immediately clear whether they were being carried out by Iraq's air force or the U.S., which last week began launching air strikes aimed at halting the advance of the Islamic State group across the country's north.

Earlier, CNN said that the U.S. had struck the area, citing Kurdish news agency Rudaw. According to CNN, the report was in line with a planned U.S. and Iraqi military operation aimed at reclaiming the dam from the Islamic State. The plan includes U.S. in Iraqi air strikes against Islamic State positions, with Iraqi and Kurdish Peshmerga troops following up on the ground. Read full article

The report emerged as the UN Security Council passed a resolution to cut off support to the Islamic State, which has taken control of a large swath of eastern Syria and northern and western Iraq, brutalizing civilians and forcing hundreds of thousands to flee.

The UN's most powerful body, in a resolution adopted unanimously, imposed sanctions on six men for recruiting or financing foreign fighters in Iraq and Syria and threatened additional sanctions against those supporting terrorist groups. (AP)

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1:10 P.M. Iraqi officials said Saturday that survivors of an Islamic State group attack on a northern village told them the militants killed over 80 Yazidi men there, warning that the minority group remains in danger.

The officials, a Yazidi lawmaker and an official with Kurdish security forces, said that the attack happened Friday afternoon in the village of Kocho. Both said they based their information on the accounts of survivors.

Kocho is in an area held by the Islamic State group where journalists cannot operate.

Islamic State group fighters besieged the village for several days and gave its Yazidi residents a deadline to convert to Islam, Yazidi lawmaker Mahma Khalil said Saturday.

"When the residents refused to do this, the massacre took place," Khalil said.

Halgurd Hekmat, a spokesman for Kurdish security forces, said Friday night that the militants captured the women and children of Kocho took them to the nearby city of Tal Afar, which is controlled by the Islamic State group. (AP)

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