Middle East Updates UN: Syrian Government May Have Used Chlorine Against Civilians

Islamic State executes soldiers, takes hostages at Syria base; official: U.S. jihadist killed in Syria; reporter held captive in Syria returns to U.S., via Israel; Seven countries pledge to sends arms to Kurds in Iraq.

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An undated photo showing Islamic State fighters during a parade in Raqqa, Syria.
An undated photo showing Islamic State fighters during a parade in Raqqa, Syria. Credit: AP
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Haaretz's latest analyses on the Middle East: New enemies across Syrian border (Amos Harel) | How Obama should declare war on Islamic State (Seth Lipsky)

See Tuesday's Middle East Updates

Latest updates [Wednesday]:

4:36 P.M. Syrian rebels, including fighters from the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front, have seized control of the Golan Heights border crossing with Israel after heavy clashes with President Bashar Assad's forces, activists and rebel said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said an array of rebel fighters, including from the Nusra Front and the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, took the crossing after heavy fighting that left at least 20 Syrian soldiers and an unknown number of rebels dead. (AP)

4:20 P.M. Iran has begun redesigning its Arak heavy water reactor to limit the amount of plutonium it can make as part of the country's temporary deal over its nuclear program with world powers, state TV reports. (AP)

4:17 P.M. Six Libyan ministers resign, accusing the interim government of taking sides in the country's inter-militia fighting, official Libyan News Agency LANA reports.

3:21 P.M. Germany announces it will not participate in military action against Islamic State fighters in Syria.

2:09 P.M. The Syrian government and Islamic State insurgents are both committing war crimes and crimes against humanity in their increasingly brutal fight against each other, UN investigators said on Wednesday.

Islamic State forces in northern Syria are waging a campaign to instill fear, including amputations, public executions and whippings, they said.

Government forces have dropped barrel bombs on civilian areas, including some believed to contain the chemical agent chlorine in eight incidents in April, and have committed killings, torture and other war crimes that should be prosecuted, they said in a 45-page report issued in Geneva. (Reuters)

10:52 A.M. Islamic State militants have executed Syrian army soldiers and are holding a group hostage after capturing an air base in northeast Syria at the weekend, pictures posted on social media by supporters showed on Wednesday.

The Islamic State, an offshoot of Al-Qaida, stormed the Tabqa air base near Raqqa city on Sunday after days of fighting with the army that cost more than 500 lives, according to monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. (Reuters)

7:09 A.M. An American man believed to have been killed in Syria was there to fight alongside an extremist militant group, most likely the Islamic State, a U.S. official said.

Investigators were aware that Douglas McAuthur McCain was in the country to fight with the militant group, but they did not yet have his body and were still trying to verify information about his death, said the official, who was not authorized to discuss by name an ongoing investigation and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

A cousin, Kenyata McCain, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that she had spoken to McCain as recently as Friday and "he was telling all of us he was in Turkey."

"I know that he had strong Muslim beliefs," she told the newspaper. "But I didn't know that he was in support of ISIS. I didn't think he would be." (AP)

6:51 A.M. Journalist Peter Theo Curtis returned home to the United States on Tuesday, two days after being freed by a Syrian extremist group that held him hostage for 22 months, his family said.

Curtis family spokeswoman Betsy Sullivan said in a statement that Curtis arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport Tuesday afternoon after leaving Tel Aviv. By evening he had been reunited with his mother Nancy Curtis at Boston Logan International Airport. (AP)

1:27 A.M. The U.S. military has said that seven countries have pledged to provide urgently needed arms and equipment to Kurdish forces in Iraq.

Small-arms ammunition and other personnel weaponry announced by the Pentagon will be sent by Albania, Britain, Canada, Croatia, Denmark, France and Italy.

"Operations have already begun and will accelerate in the coming day with more nations also expected to contribute," U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said. (DPA)

This March 23, 2008 photo provided by the Hennepin County, Minn. Sheriff's Office shows Douglas McAuthur McCain.Credit: AP
Peter Theo Curtis, a freelance reporter who had been held hostage for about two years in Syria, reunites with his mother in the U.S., August 26, 2014.Credit: AP

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