Middle East Updates Al-Qaida Affiliate in Syria Kills Captive Lebanese Soldier

France launches air strikes against Islamic State; Car bombings kill 20 in Baghdad; Nuclear talks between Iran, P5+1 to resume Friday; Militants behead man in Sinai.

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Turkish soldiers stand guard as Syrian Kurds wait behind the border fence to cross into Turkey near the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province, Sept. 19, 2014.
Turkish soldiers stand guard as Syrian Kurds wait behind the border fence to cross into Turkey near the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province, Sept. 19, 2014. Credit: Reuters

Haaretz's latest analyses and opinions on the Middle East: Who's on whose side in fight against Islamic State(Zvi Bar'el).


See Thursday's Middle East Updates

Latest updates:

9:53 P.M. The Nusra Front, al Qaeda's affiliate in Syria, has killed one of the Lebanese soldiers it had been holding in captivity, Lebanese security sources and a statement on Twitter said on Friday.

The statement, distributed by an account affiliated with the group, said the soldier had become "the first victim of the intransigence of the Lebanese army". (Reuters)

9:39 P.M. Iraqi Kurdish leader Masoud Barzani called on Friday for international intervention to protect a Kurdish town in neighbouring Syria from Islamic State fighters who have forced many Syrian Kurds to flee across the border into Turkey.

Thousands of Kurds crossed the frontier on Friday, fearing an imminent attack on the border town of Ayn al-Arab, known as Kobani in Kurdish, as Islamic State fighters advanced after seizing dozens of nearby villages over the past two days.

"I call on the international community to use every means as soon as possible to protect Kobani," Barzani, the president of Iraq's autonomous Kurdish region, said in a statement. "IS terrorists ... must be hit and destroyed wherever they are.

The United States is drawing up plans for military action in Syria against the radical Sunni Muslim group which has seized swathes of territory in Syria and Iraq, proclaiming a caliphate in the heart of the Middle East. (Reuters)

9:29 P.M. The U.N. Security Council is reaffirming its "unconditional support" for maintaining the U.N. peacekeeping force in the Golan Heights to monitor the 1974 agreement that established a buffer zone between Syria and Israel. The mission's future had been clouded by the spillover of the Syrian war. Peacekeepers have become targets of al-Qaida-linked rebels who recently seized and later freed 45 Fijians.

A presidential statement approved by the 15-member council Friday said Israel must remain committed to the agreement that followed the 1973 Mideast war, despite the withdrawal of the majority of the U.N. force last weekend. The region has been destabilized by fighting between Syrian government forces and opposition fighters.

The council called the 12,000-strong force known as UNDOF vital "to peace and security in the Middle East." (AP)

9:05 P.M. An Al-Qaida-inspired militant group in Egypt beheaded a man in the restive Sinai Peninsula for allegedly conspiring with Israel, security officials said Friday.

Militants from the Ansar Beit al-Maqdis group dumped the beheaded body on the road in the town of Sheikh Zuweyid, and continue to hold several other men for the same reason, according to the officials. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.

Ansar Beit al-Maqdis, whose name means Champions of Jerusalem in Arabic, posted an online video in August showing the beheading of four men in Sinai. The men in the video said they helped Israel target the group's members with drone strikes in exchange for money.

The group claimed most of the major militant attacks that have hit Egypt since the 2013 ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi. (AP)

8:25 P.M. Western states defeated a Russian proposal on Friday to remove Syria's alleged past nuclear activities from the agenda of meetings of the UN atomic agency, diplomats said.

But in a vote that highlighted how polarizing the global political debate has become, China supported Russia's initiative while only about half of the nations on the International Atomic Energy Agency board - 17 out of 35 - voted against.

Western diplomats argued that Damascus should be kept under pressure to cooperate with the IAEA's long-stalled inquiry, even though this has hardly advanced in the last three years as the country descended into bloodshed.

U.S. envoy Laura Kennedy told the meeting ahead of the vote that the Russian proposal if adopted "would threaten the credibility" of the IAEA's board of governors. (Reuters) Read full article

6:52 P.M. Shiite rebels and Sunni militiamen battled in Sanaa for a second day Friday in battles that have killed at least 120 people and have shaken the Yemeni capital with thousands fleeing their homes. The violence raises fears that this chronically unstable country could be dragged into the sort of sectarian conflicts that have plagued other nations in the region.

Yemen has had years of turmoil and division, particularly a longtime battle with perhaps the most dangerous branch of the al-Qaida terror network, separatist uprisings in the south and political upheaval that overthrew a longtime autocrat, all on top of deep poverty and tribal tensions. (AP)

4:27 P.M. Joining U.S. forces acting in Iraqi skies, French fighter jets struck Friday against the militant Islamic State group, destroying a logistics depot, Iraqi and French officials said. A pair of Rafale fighter jets accompanied by support planes struck in northern Iraq on Friday morning, and the target was "entirely destroyed," President Francois Hollande said.

Four laser-guided bombs struck the Iraqi military installation that had been overrun by the militants, and hit a munitions and fuel depot, a French military official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss operational details.

Iraq's military spokesman said dozens of extremist fighters were killed in four strikes. "Other operations will follow in the coming days with the same goal — to weaken this terrorist organization and come to the aid of the Iraqi authorities," Hollande said. "There are always risks in taking up a responsibility. I reduced the risks to a minimum.

Qassim al-Moussawi, spokesman for the Iraqi military, said the French planes hit near the town of Zumar, in an area that remains heavily contested by Islamic State fighters even though Iraqi and Kurdish security forces have managed to make headway nearby with the support of U.S. airstrikes.

4:19 PM A Turkish official says the country has opened its border with Syria to allow up to 4,000 people, mostly Kurds, to cross to safety as they flee militants from the Islamic State group. Izzettin Kucuk, the governor of Sanliurfa province, says Turkey decided to permit the Syrians to cross over Friday after reports emerged that militants were closing in on their communities. A day earlier, Turkish authorities refused entry.

The Islamic State group has taken over more than 20 Kurdish villages since Wednesday in northeastern Syria as the extremists try to crush one of the last pockets of resistance against their rule there, the Kurdish-controlled area known as Kobani. Turkey is already home to nearly 850,000 registered Syrian refugees.(AP)

1:06 P.M. Two Lebanese soldiers were killed in a bomb attack targeting a military personnel carrier at the Syrian border on Friday, security sources said.

Another three soldiers were wounded in the attack near the town of Arsal, where Islamist insurgents including militants affiliated to Islamic State staged a cross-border incursion last month that triggered five days of deadly battles.

The insurgents are holding at least 15 Lebanese soldiers taken captive during the August incursion that marked the most serious spillover to date of the Syrian civil war into Lebanon. Islamic State militants have beheaded soldiers taken captive in the incursion.The Sunni militants are demanding the release of Islamists held in a Lebanese jail. (Reuters)<

12:54 P.M. France says it has conducted its first airstrike in Iraq and had destroyed a logistics depot held by the Islamic State group.

The office of President Francois Hollande said Rafale fighter jets struck the depot in northeastern Iraq on Friday morning and the target was "entirely destroyed." (AP)

12:30 P.M. The Philippines has withdrawn the bulk of its peacekeepers early from the United Nations mission in the Golan Heights due to escalating fighting in the border region, the country's military said Friday. (AP)

6:35 A.M. U.S. President Barack Obama is not scheduled to meet Iranian President Hassan Rohani in New York during the United Nations General Assembly next week, though the U.S. leader remains open to such a meeting, a senior U.S. official said on Thursday.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is likely to hold bilateral talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Tehran's nuclear program and other issues on the sidelines of the annual gathering of world leaders at UN headquarters, the official said on condition of anonymity.

"At this point there is no meeting scheduled," the official said. "The president of the United States is well known for being open to such a meeting but the choice is really Iran's."

The U.S. official said it was possible that foreign ministers from the six powers and Iran would join the nuclear talks on the sidelines of the General Assembly, two months ahead of a November 24 deadline for a final agreement. (Reuters)

3:03 A.M. U.S. President Barack Obama says that strong bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress for the training and arming of moderate Syrian rebels showed Americans were united in the fight against Islamic State militants. (Reuters)Read full article

2:50 A.M. The U.S. Senate easily approves controversial legislation requested by Obama to allow the training and arming of moderate Syrian rebels in their fight against Islamic State militants. (Reuters) Read full article

A French Rafale fighter jet over Iraq, September 19, 2014.Credit: AP
Rohani (Photo by Reuters), and Obama (Photo by AFP).

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