Middle East Updates British PM Cameron Meets Iran's Rohani; First Meeting Between Iran, Britain Leaders Since 1979 Revolution

Jordan acquits radical cleric Abu Qatada of terrorism charges; U.S. officials warn: Al-Qaida planning imminent attack in Europe, U.S.; UN Security Council blacklists foreign fighters, recruiters.

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An undated handout of Herve Gourdel, the French hostage killed by an Islamic State-linked group in Algeria on September 24, 2014.
An undated handout of Herve Gourdel, the French hostage killed by an Islamic State-linked group in Algeria on September 24, 2014.Credit: AFP
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Haaretz

Haaretz's latest Middle East analyses and opinions: Large scale, showy terror attacks loom on Israel's horizon (Amos Harel) | An impressive coalition vs. the Islamic State - just get ready for the infighting (Zvi Bar'el) | Islamic State closing in on Kurds in Syria (Carl Drott)

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Latest updates:

10:54 P.M. British Prime Minister David Cameron and Iranian President Hassan Rohani have met on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, the first such meeting since the Iranian revolution in 1979.

A Cameron spokesman said Wednesday the two leaders agreed to seek to progressively improve their bilateral relationship.

Cameron and Rohani noted the threat posed to the region by the Islamic State militant group and "agreed that all states in the region must do more" to cut support for terrorists groups.

Britain and Iran have recently taken steps to solidify relations.

The spokesman said Cameron and Rohani agreed it is vital to secure a comprehensive agreement in ongoing negotiations about Iran's nuclear program. (AP)

10:43 P.M. The Qatari emir has accused Israel of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity during this summer's 50-day war against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip.

Sheik Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani used his speech at the UN General Assembly Wednesday to urged world leaders not to receive Israeli leaders in their "diplomatic salons."

The Qatari leader also called on the Security Council to pass a resolution forcing Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian lands according to a clear time table. (AP)

10:37 P.M. The UN Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution on Wednesday aimed at stopping the recruitment and the movement of suspected foreign terrorists.

The resolution adopted by the 15-member council calls on member countries to "prevent and suppress" the recruiting, transporting, organizing and equipping of suspected terrorists.

It calls on members countries to prevent suspected terrorists from crossing borders by increasing border security and monitoring travel documents.

The resolution is legally binding for the 197 UN member states, but does not call for any military action. (DPA)

10:29 P.M. Egypt hopes to get a seat on the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi said in his speech before the UN General Assembly Wednesday.

"As you know, Egypt is a founding member of the United Nations, and has ever since strongly contributed to the realization of its goals, especially in the areas of peacekeeping, peace-building and development," Sissi said in asking for support from member states.

"Egypt's aspiration to the non-permanent membership of the Security Council ... stems from its desire to make use of its membership to achieve the purposes of the organization, and protect the interests of developing countries, especially in Africa."

If elected, Egypt would serve a two-year term as one of the 10 non-permanent members of the 15-member Security Council starting 2016. (DPA)

10:17 P.M. Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi says Islamic extremists must not be allowed to abuse Islam and called for intensifying efforts to fight them.

In a speech at the United Nations General Assembly Wednesday, he described terrorism as a plague.

It is imperative, he said that the world intensifies cooperation and coordination to end the support for organizations.

Egypt is not among Arab nations that joined the U.S. in airstrikes targeting the Islamic State group in Syria this week.

In his speech, Sissi pledged to build a "new Egypt" that respects rights and freedoms. (AP)

9:56 P.M. A warplane attacked the non-oil port in Libya's eastern city of Benghazi on Wednesday, witnesses said.

Forces loyal to former general Khalifa Haftar said they carried out the attack to stop a ship from docking and supplying Islamist fighters.

"We warned the port manager that we will not allow ships to dock to supply Majlis al-Shura with weapons," said Saqer al-Jouroushi, head of Haftar's air defence unit. He was referring to an umbrella group of Islamist fighters that Haftar has been fighting in Benghazi. (Reuters)

9:12 P.M. Syria's Western-recognized opposition is the sole representative of the Syrian people, not the Damascus government that has been complicit in years of violence, French President Francois Hollande said on Wednesday.

"France supports the democratic Syrian opposition as the only legitimate representation of the Syrian people," he told the 193-nation UN General Assembly. "We won't change here and we won't make any compromise because there is the threat of the (Syrian President) Bashar al-Assad regime."

"They also need to be condemned because they are complicit in what has been happening for the last few years in Syria - 200,000 people dead and just as many displaced," he added. (Reuters)

9:02 P.M. Jordan's King Abdullah is calling for a collective strategy to contain and defeat extremists targeting Syria and Iraq.

"Those who say 'this is not our business' are wrong," he said in a speech at the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday. The security of every nation will be shaped by the fate of the Middle East, the king said, as he called for urgent humanitarian and security measures to deal with extremism and its victims.

Jordan, which shares a border with Syria, is among five Arab countries that launched airstrikes this week on Islamic State group targets in Syria this week.

In his speech, the king did not mention the airstrikes, but said his country is "at the forefront" of efforts to fight extremism. (AP)

8:51 P.M. Qatari Emir Shiekh Tamin Bin Hamad al-Thani says the fight against terrorism will fail if the Syrian people believe that it is stabilizing President Bashar Assad's regime.

"We cannot succeed in the war on terrorism if the people were not satisfied that it is their war, and not a war to stabilize a regime that is oppressing them," al-Thani told the UN General Assembly.

Al-Thani, whose country is one of the five Arab nations that has joined the U.S.-led coalition to strike Islamic State militants inside Syria, says the Syrian people must not be pushed "to choose between terrorism and tyranny." (DPA)

8:33 P.M. The government of the Netherlands said on Wednesday it will deploy six F-16 fighter jets to support the U.S.-led strikes against Islamic State in Iraq.

The Dutch, a member of NATO and a close U.S. ally, will conduct flights over Iraqi airspace and provide training and advice to Iraqi and Kurdish military forces for a period of up to a year, it said in a statement. (Reuters)

8:32 P.M. French President Francois Hollande has confirmed the killing of a French hostage in Algeria.

The French government has insisted it will not cease air strikes against Islamic State fighters in Iraq.

Hollande told reporters Wednesday that the hostage was cruelly "assassinated" because he was French and because his country was fighting terrorism and defending human liberty against barbarity.

He spoke on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly which he is attending. (AP)

8:22 P.M. Prime Minister David Cameron's office says Parliament is being recalled to debate Britain's response to a request from Iraq's government to support air strikes to thwart Islamic State group extremists.

Downing Street said Tuesday that the speaker agreed to the request to bring lawmakers back from a recess called for party conference season.

The move came after Cameron met with the Iraqi leader in New York. (AP)

8:09 P.M. A Kurdish organization has accused the Turkish government of backing Islamic State militants fighting with Kurds in Syria, and suggested that could jeopardize a truce that Kurdish rebels in Turkey began in March 2013.

The statement was issued Wednesday by the Kurdish Communities Union, whose honorary leader is Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party, the Kurdish rebel group that has long fought Turkey for autonomy.

The umbrella group accused Turkey of "waging a war against the Kurdish people" and vowed to step up its "struggle."

It accused Turkey of supporting Islamic State group battling Syrian Kurdish forces along the Syria-Turkish border, and of stalling the peace process that it launched two years ago with the Kurdistan Workers' Party that led to the cease-fire in Turkey. (AP)

7:48 P.M. President Barack Obama says new Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is the right person to lead Iraq as the country faces an enormous threat from the Islamic State group.

Obama is holding his first one-on-one meeting with al-Abadi since he took office this month. Obama says he's impressed that al-Abadi understands there must be political change for Iraq to succeed. He's crediting al-Abadi with reaching out to all sectarian groups and articulating a vision of reform. Obama says the U.S. fully supports that vision.

The leaders met in the UN Security Council just after Obama spoke to the UN General Assembly.

Al-Abadi says through a translator that Obama has promised weapons and supplies for Iraq's armed forces. He's calling for that assistance to be delivered quickly. (AP)

7:43 P.M. Iraqi officials say Sunni militants have killed 19 Shi'ite militiamen in an ambush north of Baghdad.

Police officials say the attack took place Wednesday afternoon when gunmen from the Islamic State extremist group opened fire with machine-guns on a convoy of Shiite militiamen travelling on a road in Babilan village. They said 39 other people were wounded in the attack.

Babilan is about 90 kilometers (60 miles) north of Baghdad.

Medical officials confirmed the casualty figures. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to release information. (AP)

6:33 P.M. A terrorism watchdog says Algerian extremists allied with Islamic State have killed a French hostage.

A group calling itself Jund al-Khilafah said after abducting Herve Gourdel on Sunday that he would be killed within 24 hours unless France ended its air strikes against Islamic State fighters in Iraq. The French government has insisted it will not back down.

U.S. terrorism watchdog SITE Intelligence Group says Jund al-Khilafah released a video online Wednesday saying Gourdel has been killed. He was a 55-year-old mountaineering guide from Nice. The French government would not immediately comment. (AP)

6:00 P.M. The Syrian army destroyed Islamic State positions northeast of the northern city of Aleppo on Wednesday, state media said, after U.S.-led forces carried out air strikes against the group for a second day.

Syrian state television said the military hit Islamic State militants between the towns of al-Bab and al-Qabasein and had "eliminated a number of terrorists".

After the U.S.-led coalition began its strikes on Tuesday, the Syrian government said it would continue to confront Islamic State and other militants. (Reuters)

4:59 P.M. Around 1,500 Algerian troops are searching for a Frenchman taken hostage by a jihadist group, official Algerian broadcaster Chaine 3 reported on Wednesday.

The search was taking place in the mountainous area of Tizi Ouzou, around 100 kilometres east of the capital Algiers, according to the report.

The operation involves paratroopers from an anti-terrorism unit.

An Algerian jihadist group, linked to the Islamic State militants, has claimed responsibility for kidnapping the man, identified as Herve Gourdel. (DPA)

4:30 P.M. Al-Qaida's Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front, has evacuated its bases in populated areas of the Idlib region in northwest Syria, after U.S.-led forces carried out air strikes on the group, its fighters said on Wednesday.

Another Syrian Islamist group, Ahrar al-Sham, has also ordered its followers to evacuate bases, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group.

"Heavy weapons have been moved out of the bases. We do not want civilians to be harmed because of us," one Nusra fighter said in an online message posted on the Internet.

The Observatory also reported the Nusra withdrawal. (Reuters)

4:26 P.M. Belgium is set to offer six fighter jets to the U.S.-led coalition to combat Islamic State militants in Iraq, the country's defense ministry said on Wednesday.

Defence Minister Pieter De Crem was due to outline Belgium's proposed contribution to a parliamentary defense committee on Wednesday afternoon after the country received a formal request from the United States.

Any Belgian engagement will require the approval of parliament, although there appears to be a very broad majority in favour of action. It is set to debate and vote on the issue on Thursday or Friday.

Belgium would send six F-16 jets, along with 120 pilots and support staff. Belgium would also provide C-130 cargo planes to carry troops and material to Iraq. (Reuters)

3:26 P.M. A senior Revolutionary Guard commander says a top Iranian general and 70 Iranian advisers were on the ground in Iraq this summer, helping Kurdish fighters defend the regional capital of Irbil against Islamic State militants.

Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, who runs the Guard's aerospace division, says Gen. Ghasem Soleimani "stood up to" the Islamic State group and was instrumental in preventing the fall of Irbil.

Hajizadeh's remarks late Tuesday to Iranian state TV were Tehran's first confirmation of Iranian military presence and hands-on involvement in the struggle against the Islamic militant group.

Iran earlier only confirmed providing military advice to the Iraqis but denied sending forces or weapons. (AP)

3:24 P.M. A suspected U.S. drone fired four missiles at a vehicle carrying Uzbek and local militants in Pakistan's northwestern tribal region near the Afghan border on Wednesday, killing 10 of them, two Pakistani intelligence officials said.

The missiles hit the moving vehicle when it was about 500 meters (yards) away from the Afghan border in the Pakistani border town of Datta Khel in North Waziristan, the officials said.

Both Uzbek and local militants were among the 10 men killed, the officials said, adding that authorities were trying to get more details. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media. (AP)

1:10 P.M. A Jordanian court on Wednesday acquitted radical Muslim preacher Abu Qatada – known for his fiery pro-Al-Qaida speeches – of involvement in a plot to target Israeli and American tourists and Western diplomats in Jordan more than a decade ago.

The ruling capped a lengthy legal odyssey for the 53-year-old cleric, who has been described as a onetime lieutenant to Osama bin Laden, but in recent months emerged as a harsh critic of the Islamic State militant group. Abu Qatada was deported from Britain to Jordan last year, after years of fighting extradition.

The three-judge panel unanimously acquitted Abu Qatada "because of the lack of convincing charges against him," said Judge Ahmed Qattarneh. (AP)

1:04 P.M. Islamic State has reinforced fighters who are battling Kurdish forces for control of a Syrian town at the border with Turkey in the last day, a redeployment triggered by U.S.-led air strikes on the group elsewhere, a Kurdish military official said.

Ocalan Iso, deputy leader of the Kurdish forces defending the town of Kobani at the Turkish border, said more Islamic State fighters and tanks had arrived since the U.S.-led coalition began air strikes on the group on Tuesday. A spokesman for the U.S. military said those strikes were "only the beginning." (Reuters) Read full story

10:38 A.M. Five air strikes hit Islamic State-controlled territory in Syria near the Iraqi border on Wednesday, a group that tracks the Syrian war said.

Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, told Reuters the raids had hit the border town of Albu Kamal and surrounding areas.

It was not clear who had mounted the air raid. A U.S.-led alliance launched air strikes on Islamic State in Syria on Tuesday. A spokesman for the U.S. military said those strikes were "only the beginning." (Reuters)

3:15 A.M. A United Nations Security Council committee blacklisted on Tuesday more than a dozen foreign extremist fighters, fundraisers and recruiters tied to militant groups in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Tunisia and Yemen, including a senior Islamic State leader.

Individuals from France, Saudi Arabia, Norway, Senegal and Kuwait are among those targeted by the Security Council's al Qaeda sanctions committee for an arms embargo, global travel ban and asset freeze.

France submitted three of the individuals to the committee, while the United States proposed 11 individuals and the groups Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia, which has links to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and has recruited Tunisian youth to fight in Syria, and the Al-Qaida-linked Abdallah Azzam Brigades.

One individual sanctioned by the UN committee is Abd al-Rahman Muhammad Mustafa al-Qaduli, an Iraqi who is a senior Islamic State leader in Syria and previously served as a deputy to Al-Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Also blacklisted is Norwegian Anders Cameroon Ostensvig Dale. He is described as a member of Al-QaIda in the Arabian Peninsula who made several trips to Yemen where he was trained to make bomb belts, improvised explosive devices and car bombs. (Reuters)

1:35 A.M. U.S. security agencies issued an intelligence bulletin on Tuesday about threats from Syria-based Al-Qaida operatives, a Homeland Security spokeswoman said.

The Department of Homeland Security and FBI alerted state, local and federal law enforcement to the latest threats, said to DHS spokeswoman Marsha Catron.

"Recent intelligence indicated that senior Syria-based AQ operatives were nearing the execution phase for an attack in Europe or the homeland," she said.

U.S. officials cited an imminent attack planned by an Al-Qaida group in Syria as one reason they launched air strikes in Syria on Tuesday. (Reuters)

12:14 P.M. The U.S. informed Iran in advance of its intention to strike Islamic State militants in Syria and told Tehran that it would not target the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad, a senior Iranian official told Reuters.

"This issue was first discussed in Geneva and then was discussed thoroughly in New York where Iran was assured that Assad and his government will not be targeted in case of any military action against Daesh (Islamic State) in Syria," the official said on condition of anonymity. He added that Iran was informed separately in advance of the air strike.

Asked about the assurance that Syrian government forces would not be targeted, a senior U.S. State Department official told Reuters: "We communicated our intentions, but not specific timing or targets, to the Iranians. As we've said, we won't be coordinating military action with Iran. And of course we won't be sharing intelligence with Iran either." (Reuters)

U.S. airstrike on a jihadist target in Syria, September 23, 2014.Credit: AP

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