Middle East Updates Bomb Explodes at Hezbollah Checkpoint in Eastern Lebanon

Renewed Yemen clashes kill 4 civilians; UN reaffirms support for force in Golan; Jihadi ideologue urges Islamic State to free British hostage, saying Islam forbids harming aid workers.

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Syrian Kurds gather after crossing the border between Syria and Turkey near the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province, September 19, 2014.
Syrian Kurds gather after crossing the border between Syria and Turkey near the southeastern town of Suruc in Sanliurfa province, September 19, 2014.Credit: AFP
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Haaretz's latest Middle East analyses and opinions: Who's on whose side in fight against Islamic State (Zvi Bar'el).

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Latest updates:

11:40 P.M. A car bomb exploded at a checkpoint controlled by Shi'ite Muslim group Hezbollah in eastern Lebanon on Saturday, security sources and the state news agency NNA said, without giving information on casualties.

The explosion took place outside the village of Khraibeh in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, a region that has experienced increased violence and spillover from Syria's civil war next door.

It was not clear who was behind Saturday's attack. (Reuters)

7:37 P.M. Libyan security officials say apparently targeted killings over two days have left 10 rights activists, journalists, and army and police officers dead in the country's east.

The officials also said Saturday that three others targeted survived assassination attempts in the eastern city of Benghazi. Among the slain Thursday and Friday were two activist bloggers, a journalist and four current and former security officers.
The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.

The identity of the killers was not immediately known. Islamic radical militias, however, have been blamed for frequent killings of secular activists, judges, moderate clerics, policemen and soldiers in Benghazi, Libya's second largest city.

7:19 P.M. Egypt's President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi has told The Associated Press he is prepared to give whatever support is needed in the fight against the Islamic State group but says military action is not the only answer.

In his first interview with foreign media since taking office in June, al-Sissi on Saturday did not elaborate what support Egypt might give, but appeared to rule out sending troops, saying Iraq's military is sufficient and "it's not an issue of ground troops from abroad."

Instead, he spoke of a "comprehensive strategy" that confronts militants across the region, not just the Islamic State group. He says he warned about the threat of terrorism in the region a year ago but others only understood when Islamic State group fighters overran parts of Iraq.

6:26 P.M. US airstrikes were directed at the city center of jihadist-occupied Mosul for the first time Saturday, marking a strategic shift in the aerial campaign against the militant group known as the Islamic State.

Since the US began its strikes in northern Iraq in August, the pounding has targeted Islamic State targets on the outskirts of Mosul, which has been in jihadists' control since June. But on Saturday, airstrikes concentrated upon the group's gatherings and facilities deep inside Mosul, Iraq's second-largest city, according to local residents. "The air raids caused heavy losses," one resident told DPA by phone without elaborating. There was no official comment.

The bombardment comes a day after France launched its first strikes against the Islamic State in north-eastern Iraq. The French strikes, which targeted a depot manned by the al-Qaida splinter group, killed at least 75 militants, independent Iraqi site Alsumaria News reported Saturday, citing an unnamed intelligence official.

The US is seeking to build an international coalition to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and neighboring Syria, where the extremist Sunni group controls considerable territory. (DPA)

1:54 P.M. Yemeni security officials and witnesses say four civilians have been killed in a third day of fighting between Shiite rebels and Sunni militiamen in the capital Sanaa. (AP)

1:40 P.M. More than 300 Kurdish fighters have crossed into Syria from Turkey to help push back an Islamic State advance on a Kurdish border town, a group monitoring Syria's conflict said on Saturday.

"They crossed over last night, they are more than 300," said Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights that monitors the war using sources on the ground. He said it was not clear which group the fighters belonged to but said they had joined Kurdish forces in Syria who are fighting Islamic State around the town of Ayn al-Arab, known as Kobani in Kurdish. (Reuters)

1:06 P.M. Yemen's state-run television building caught fire as mortar attacks continued by Shi'ite rebels who are protesting against the government, residents and a TV employee said on Saturday.

The fighting expanded mainly between the Houthis and tribesmen allied with the al-Ahmar clan. Prominent figures from the mainly Sunni Muslim clan, one of the most powerful tribes in Yemen, hold senior positions in the armed forces and the government.

Part of the TV building, which is located near other vital state institutions, caught fire after shelling intensified on Saturday morning, the employee told Reuters, adding that hundreds were trapped in the building as a result. (Reuters)

11:43 A.M. An Israeli drone has crashed in southern Lebanon, Lebanese media report. (Jacky Khoury) Read full article

10:48 A.M. Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said on Saturday 45,000 Syrian Kurds had crossed into Turkey over the past day, fleeing an advance by Islamic State militants after Ankara opened a stretch of the border.

"Around 45,000 Syrian Kurds have crossed the border as of now from eight entrance points along a 30 km distance from Akcakale to Mursitpinar since we opened the border yesterday," Kurtulmus told CNN Turk television. (Reuters) Read full article

10:22 A.M. A renowned jihadi ideologue has urged the Islamic State group to release British aid worker Alan Henning, saying Islam forbids harming non-Muslims who work with relief agencies.

Abu Mohammed al-Maqdisi, who was released by Jordan in June after serving a five-year sentence on terror charges, said in a statement posted on his website and by a militant forum Saturday that non-Muslims who help weak and poor Muslims should be respected and protected.

Al-Maqdisi, also known as Essam al-Barqawi, was the mentor of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al-Qaida in Iraq who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in 2006. (AP)

8:44 A.M. The release on Saturday of 49 Turkish hostages seized by Islamic State insurgents in northern Iraq in June was part of a "pre-planned operation" by Turkish intelligence, President Tayyip Erdogan said in a statement cited by broadcaster NTV.

The hostages, including Turkey's consul-general, diplomats' children and special forces soldiers, were brought safely into Turkey by its MIT intelligence agency in the early hours of Saturday, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said earlier. (Reuters) Read full article

2:54 A.M. The UN Security Council urged the international community Friday to expand support for the Iraqi government as it fights the Islamic State group and its allies, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said there is a role for nearly every country in the world — including Iran.

The presidential statement approved by all 15 council members at a meeting chaired by Kerry expressed "deep outrage" at the killing, kidnapping, rape and torture carried out by the Islamic State group. Some of those acts might constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity, it said. (AP)

2:27 A.M. The UN Security Council on Friday reaffirmed its unconditional support for maintaining the U.N. peacekeeping force in the Golan Heights that has been caught up in Syria's civil war.

Questions about the future of the 12,000-strong force had been raised after the abduction of 45 Fijian peacekeepers by al-Qaida-linked rebels who later freed them. The UN then withdrew soldiers from many positions on the Golan Heights last weekend because of escalating fighting in Syria.

A presidential statement approved Friday by the 15-member council made clear that the force will not be withdrawn or disbanded. (AP)

Syrian Kurds flee into Turkey, Sept. 20, 2014Credit: AFP
An elderly Syrian Kurd woman holds a bottle of water after she crossed the border into Turkey, Sept. 20, 2014.Credit: AFP

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