Middle East Updates British Citizen Fighting With Kurds Against ISIS Killed in Syria

U.S., Iran resume nuclear talks hours after Netanyahu's Congress speech; Kerry heads to Saudi Arabia to consult on Iran nuke talks; Saudi Arabia, South Korea sign memorandum of understanding on nuclear power.

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Undated image showing British citizen Konstandinos Erik Scurfield, center, posing with other foreign volunteers and Kurdish militants fighting against ISIS, Sinjar, Iraq.
Undated image showing British citizen Konstandinos Erik Scurfield, center, posing with other foreign volunteers and Kurdish militants fighting against ISIS, Sinjar, Iraq.Credit: AP/Jordan Matson
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Haaretz

For Tuesday's updates, click here

Latest updates:

8:30 P.M. UN envoy: ISIS will 'stop at nothing' to strengthen Libya presence

Islamic State militants will "stop at nothing" to strengthen their presence in Libya and the urgency of a request by the country for international help to tackle the extremists should not be underestimated, a top United Nations official said on Wednesday.

U.N. special envoy Bernardino Leon briefed the United Nations Security Council on the situation in Libya, where two rival governments and their armed forces are battling for control four years after the civil war that ousted Muammar Gaddafi.

Islamist militants have bolstered their foothold in the North African state amid the chaos and on Tuesday stormed two oilfields, driving out security forces.

"I have no doubt that terrorists groups, such as Islamic State, will stop at nothing in their bid to play on existing political divisions... to consolidate their own presence and influence in Libya," Leon told the 15-member council. (Reuters)

6:00 P.M. Saudi state newspaper claims six Saudi Al Qaida operatives kidnapped top diplomat in Yemen

A newspaper says six Saudi nationals were behind Al Qaida's abduction of the kingdom's diplomat in Yemen, who was released this week after three years in captivity.

The state-linked Saudi Okaz newspaper reports Wednesday that the six militants are on the kingdom's most-wanted terrorist list but did not give their names. The newspaper, quoting unnamed security officials, says the abduction was carried out under direct orders from Al Qaida's leader in Yemen, Nasser al-Wahishi, who was Osama bin Laden's top aide in Afghanistan.

Diplomat Abdullah al-Khaldi was abducted in March 2012 in front of his home in the southern Yemeni port city of Aden, where he worked as the deputy consul at the Saudi mission. He was freed Monday, though the kingdom did not disclose how its intelligence services secured his release. (AP)

3:50 P.M. Massive fire at Cairo convention center leaves 19 injured

A massive fire broke out at Cairo's main convention center on Wednesday, injuring 19 people, Egyptian officials said. The fire, which was extinguished, appeared to have started by accident, security officials said. Thirteen fire trucks and 13 ambulances were dispatched to the scene.

Health Ministry spokesman Hossam Abdel Ghaffar said there have been no deaths so far. Huge clouds of black smoke rose from the blaze in the Nasr City neighborhood, and could be seen drifting across the skyline in the city center some 10 kilometers (6 miles) away. (AP)

1:30 P.M. Report: German woman held captive by Swiss Al-Qaida militant in Syria

The Public Prosecutor in Stuttgart is investigating a Swiss Al-Qaida fighter believed to be holding captive in Syria a female German convert to Islam, media reports said on Wednesday.

The 22-year-old woman from the town of Tuebingen is believed to have accompanied the man on holiday of her own free will, the Stuttgarter Nachrichten newspaper and Swiss broadcaster SRF reported. The prosecutor only revealed that an investigation had been opened, but did not give any details.

The Swiss man is believed to be a 20-year-old Salafist with a Turkish background who travelled to Syria in the autumn of 2014 to fight for the al-Nusra Front organization, the Syrian offshoot of the al-Qaeda terrorist network, the reports said. The reports said that the woman, thought to be his wife, travelled with him while pregnant to Turkey in the firm belief that they were going on holiday.

The couple travelled across the border to the war-torn northern Syrian city of Aleppo, after which the husband was reported to have prevented his wife from returning to her native Germany. She was also held captive in conflict zones within Syria and abused, the reports said. (DPA)

12:40 P.M. British citizen fighting with Kurds against ISIS killed in Syria

A British citizen fighting alongside Kurdish forces against the Islamic State group has been killed in Syria, a Kurdish commander said Wednesday.

Konstandinos Erik Scurfield was shot dead March 2 in the front-line village of Tel Khuzela, Kurdish commander Redor Khalil told The Associated Press. Another foreign fighter battling with the Kurds, American Jordan Matson, said he is with the body and working on getting the remains back to Britain.

Several foreign fighters have traveled to Syria and neighboring Iraq to fight with Kurdish militias battling the Islamic State group. Matson and four other foreign nationals told AP last month that they arranged to join Kurdish forces through the Facebook page run by the People's Protection Units, or YPG, the main Syrian Kurdish militia fighting in northern Syria.

The Islamic State group, which currently holds territory in a third of Iraq and Syria, has recruited thousands of foreign fighters from Europe and elsewhere in the Middle East. The British Foreign Office said it is aware of reports that a British national died in Syria.

"As we do not have any representation in Syria it is extremely difficult to get any confirmation of deaths or injuries and our options for supporting British nationals there are extremely limited," it said. (AP)

12:20 P.M. Kerry heads to Saudi Arabia to consult on Iran nuclear talks

Fresh from the latest round of Iran nuclear negotiations, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry is heading to Saudi Arabia to ease Gulf Arab concerns about an emerging deal and discuss ways to calm instability in troubled Yemen.

Kerry flies later Wednesday to Riyadh where he will meet the new Saudi king and the foreign ministers of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. The Sunni-ruled Gulf states are unnerved by Shiite Iran's increasing assertiveness in the region. U.S. officials say Kerry will reassure them that any deal with Tehran will not mean American complacence on broader security matters.

The situation in Yemen, where Shiite rebels recently toppled the government, will also be a major topic. The officials say Kerry will reiterate that the U.S. supports political transition. (AP)

11:07 A.M. Saudi Arabia, South Korea sign MOU on nuclear power

Saudi Arabia and South Korea have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to cooperate on the development of nuclear energy, Saudi state news agency SPA said, building on a deal signed in 2011.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye met with Saudi Arabia's King Salman on Tuesday in Riyadh during an official visit, SPA said.

The MOU calls for South Korean firms to help build at least two small-to-medium sized nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia, the South Korean presidential office said in a statement.

"If the two units go ahead, the cost of the contract will be (near) $2 billion," the statement said.

Saudi Arabia aims to build 17 gigawatts (GW) of nuclear power by 2032 as well as around 41 GW of solar capacity. The oil exporter currently has no nuclear power.

Those plans are likely to take until 2040, the head of the King Abdullah City for Atomic and Renewable Energy (K.A.CARE), in charge of overseeing such projects, said in January. (Reuters)

10:15 A.M. U.S., Iran resume nuclear talks hours after Netanyahu's Congress speech

The U.S. and Iranian foreign ministers began a third day of talks over Iran's nuclear program on Wednesday, just hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had warned that the deal being negotiated was a serious mistake.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Iran's Mohammad Javad Zarif resumed their discussions in the Swiss lakeside town of Montreux, hoping to work out a framework deal by late March.

However, Netanyahu's controversial speech to the U.S. Congress on Tuesday, where he harshly criticized the diplomatic efforts to resolve the dispute, will make it harder for the Obama administration to sell the potential deal back home.

Netanyahu argued that rather than preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear arms, a deal would "all but guarantee" that it would one day get the atomic bomb, putting Israel, the wider region and U.S. interests at risk.

U.S. President Barack Obama responded within hours saying that Netanyahu had offered no "viable alternatives" to the current course of negotiations.

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