Middle East Updates Ireland Demands Review of UN Golan Mandate

Philippine military chief calls for investigation of Golan Heights UN peacekeeping commander for allegedly asking Filipino troops to surrender to Syrian rebels.

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel, January 22, 2014.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, January 22, 2014.Credit: AP

Haaretz's latest analyses on the Middle East: Egypt: We’ll open Rafah crossing only if PA troops guard it (Amos Harel)


See Sunday's Middle East Updates

Latest updates:

10:05 P.M. A Saudi Arabian court jailed 17 men for up to 26 years on Monday for seeking to fight in Iraq and funding militants, official media reported, part of a security crackdown in which scores have been imprisoned in recent weeks. (Reuters)

9:18 P.M. Ireland may not replace its 130-person rapid response force in the Golan Heights, where 44 peacekeepers from Fiji are being held by militants, until the United Nations reviews its mandate for its forces there, the defense minister said on Monday. (Reuters)

9:01 P.M. Iraq's outgoing Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki pledges to turn his country into "a big grave" for Sunni militants from the Islamic State group and commended security forces who achieved a rare victory over insurgents by ending the siege of the Shiite town Amirli. (AP)

7:26 P.M. U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday formally notified Congress that he had authorized targeted air strikes in Iraq to help deliver a humanitarian aid to the besieged Shi'ite town of Amerli, the White House said in a statement. (Reuters)

7:17 P.M. The United Nations Human Rights Council on Monday condemned violations committed by Islamic State forces in Iraq that may amount to international crimes and agreed to send a mission to investigate them.

The forum adopted a resolution presented by France and Iraq without a vote, but South Africa's delegation said it disassociated itself from the text as it lacked balance.

"We are facing a terrorist monster," Iraq's human rights minister, Mohammed Shia' Al Sudani, told the emergency session in Geneva. "Acts by ISIS threaten not only to Iraq but the whole region and world." (Reuters)

6:30 P.M. Al-Qaida militants in Yemen executed three local men in the easterly Hadramout province on Monday whom they suspected of assisting U.S. drone strikes, security sources told Reuters.

In a statement posted online, Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) acknowledged the threat it faced from air attacks by unmanned U.S. drones, which require on-the-ground intelligence to guide them in.

AQAP said it had captured a group of spies, adding: "The greatest help they give to the crusaders against the holy warriors is the placing of trackers for American spy planes."

AQAP is deemed by Washington to be one of the most dangerous franchises of the global militant group and controls broad swathes of Yemen, where security has deteriorated badly since the Arab spring protests that ousted the veteran president in 2011. (Reuters)

5:20 P.M. Libya's elected parliament asked Monday the recently resigned prime minister with forming a new government as the outgoing Cabinet acknowledged it had lost control of the capital to Islamist-allied militias.

The official news agency said the parliament convening in Tobruk voted Monday to name Abdullah al-Thinni as the new head of an 18-portfolio Cabinet, of which seven ministries would form a "crisis government." The agency didn't elaborate.

Al-Thinni resigned Wednesday, saying he hoped a new government would be more inclusive. Al-Thinni's government was at odds with an alliance of Islamist militants who took over the capital, Tripoli, from rival groups after weeks of fighting. Dozens were killed and thousands fled the capital, including the government, which set up a base in the east, as well as residents and foreign diplomats.

In a statement late Sunday, the outgoing government of al-Thinni said it had lost control of almost all state institutions and government offices to armed militias. The statement said some of those buildings were "occupied," others "stormed," and staff and employees had been prevented from entering.

"It has become dangerous for (employees) to get to their work places without the risk of being detained or killed especially after some of the armed groups issued direct threats against them, attacked and torched their homes and terrorized their families," the statement said. (AP)

4:29 P.M. Syrian rebels clashed with government troops on Monday in the Golan Heights, where al-Qaida-linked insurgents abducted UN peacekeepers last week, activists said.

The fighting was focused around the town of Hamidiyeh in Quneitra province near the disputed frontier with Israel, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Observatory said there were casualties on both sides but did not have exact figures.

Syria's state news agency said the military killed "many terrorists" and destroyed a heavy machine gun in the fighting. The government refers to those trying to oust President Bashar Assad as terrorists.

Heavy clashes have raged in the area since Syrian rebels captured a border crossing near the abandoned town of Quneitra on Wednesday. One day later, fighters from al-Qaida's Syria branch, the Nusra Front, abducted 45 Fijian peacekeepers and surrounded two Filipino contingents serving in the UN mission that monitors the buffer zone between Israel and Syria. (AP)

3:42 P.M. The Philippine military chief says a UN peacekeeping commander in the Golan Heights should be investigated for allegedly asking Filipino troops to surrender to Syrian rebels who attacked their camp.

Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang said Monday that 40 Filipino peacekeepers defied the UN commander's order after being advised by him and instead escaped to safety under cover of darkness from the Golan encampment, which was surrounded by more than 100 insurgents.

Forty-five Fijian peacekeepers who surrendered their firearms to the rebels last week are still being held by the Al-Qaida-linked insurgents.

The United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, which oversees the peacekeeping mission in Golan, did not immediately reply to a request for a comment. (AP)

3:36 P.M. German Chancellor Angela Merkel: Islamic State is a threat to Germany and Europe. (Reuters)

3:32 P.M. UN appoints representatives to negotiate with the Syrian rebels holding the Fiji soldiers kidnapped near Quneitra, Arab media reports. The Nusra Front said it would release the Fijians in exchange for the transfer of humanitarian aid to Damascus suburbs under siege of Assad-loyal forces. (Jack Khoury)

3:16 P.M. A judiciary spokesman in Iran says a former vice president has been convicted of a charge that includes a prison term and cash fine, without elaborating.

The semi-official ISNA news agency quoted judiciary spokesman Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejehei on Monday as saying the verdict against Mohammad Reza Rahimi is not finalized.

Rahimi served as vice president to former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran has 12 vice presidents, but Rahimi was the most senior among them in Ahmadinejad's government.

In 2010, some of Ahmadinejad's political foes alleged Rahimi had a part in a major government embezzlement scheme, without releasing details. In March, local Iranian media reported Rahimi had been indicted, though details of the indictment were unclear. Rahimi has said he is innocent. (AP)

12:47 P.M. Libya's government said it has lost control of most ministries and state institutions located in Tripoli after rival armed groups took over the capital.

Last month, senior officials and the elected parliament moved to the remote eastern city of Tobruk as an alliance of armed factions led by forces from the western city of Misrata took control of Tripoli, having expelled a rival group.

Libya is descending into anarchy as former rebels who helped topple Muammar Gaddafi in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011 have turned their guns on each other as they seek to set the country's political agenda and control its vast oil reserves.

"We announce that most ministries, institutions and state bodies in the capital Tripoli are out of our control," the government said in a statement late on Sunday.

Armed groups had prevented staff from entering some government buildings, it added.

All ministries, the state-oil National Oil Corp (NOC) and central bank are located in the capital.

The persistent violence has not affected oil production but traders have said ownership of the oil might be subject to legal challenges if the Misrata forces take control of the central bank, where crude revenues are booked.

The new forces controlling Tripoli, some with Islamist leanings, have refuse to recognize the Tobruk House of Representatives, which has a strong liberal and federalist presence.

They have reconvened the previous parliament, the General National Congress, in which Islamists were strongly represented.

12:40 P.M. Islamic State has committed barbaric acts against civilians in Iraq, threatening the country's territorial integrity and posing a global threat, the Iraqi government's human rights minister said on Monday in an appeal for international support.

"The land of ancient Babylon is subjected to threats starting to its very independence, they are attempting to change its demographic and cultural composition," Mohammed Shia' Al Sudani told an emergency debate at the U.N. Human Rights Council.

"Isis is not an Iraqi phenomenon, it is a transnational phenomenon that poses an imminent danger to all countries of the world, it defies all human rights principles and international law," he told the 47-member Geneva forum. (AP)

8:40 A.M. Heavy fighting between Syrian army forces and rebels erupted on the Golan Heights on Monday. It is unclear if either of the two sides had gained an advantage to control the key Quneitra border crossing with Israel.

A mortar shell, apparently errant fire from the fighting in Syria, fell on Monday morning on the Israeli side of the border fence. No damage was reported. Read the full article. (Reuters and Gili Cohen)

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