Middle East Updates Iran Fires on Singaporean Cargo Ship in Gulf, Says U.S. Official

White House says open to giving GCC partners major non-NATO ally status U.K.: Over 700 potential terror suspects gone to Syria Sahara extremists pledge allegiance to ISIS

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Ships off the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas in the Persian Gulf. (illustrative)
Ships off the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas in the Persian Gulf. (illustrative) Credit: Petr Adam Dohnálek/Wikimedia Commons

For Wednesday's updates, click here

President Obama and King Salman meeting in Riyadh, January 2015.Credit: AP

Latest updates:

9:22 P.M. White House says open to giving GCC partners major non-NATO ally status

The White House said on Thursday that it was open to the idea of granting its Gulf Cooperation Council partners major non-NATO ally status.

But talks at the Camp David summit have been focused more on public assurances about help the U.S. can provide with security, Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes said. (Reuters)

7:58 P.M. Iran fires on Singaporean cargo ship in Gulf, says U.S. official

A U.S. official says an Iranian naval boat fired on a Singaporean commercial ship in the Persian Gulf in an apparent attempt to disable it. The Iranians initially fired warning shots Thursday after the MT Alpine Eternity refused to move into Iranian waters.

When the ship began heading toward territorial waters of the United Arab Emirates, the Iranians tried to disable it with machine gun fire, according to the U.S. official, who was not authorized to discuss details by name. The official said early reports indicated no one aboard the ship was injured.

The U.A,E coast guard responded after the Iranian attack and the Iranian patrol vessels left the area.

The official said the Singaporean ship owes Tehran money from having struck and damaged an Iranian oil platform March 22. (AP)

4:57 P.M. Sahara extremists pledge allegiance to ISIS

An extremist group based in the Sahara desert known for carrying out terror attacks in Algeria, Mali and Niger has pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group after years with the rival Al-Qaida.

In an audio recording sent to a Mauritanian news agency late Wednesday that has received its statements in the past, the Mourabitoune group declared its allegiance to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, whose group rules over large sections of Syria and Iraq.

The statement was made by Adnan Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, rather than the group's founder Moktar Belmoktar who gained notoriety for the January 2013 assault on an Algerian gas complex. The statement could indicate a change of leadership in the group. (AP)

3:55 P.M. Over 700 potential terrorists have gone to Syria from Britain, says U.K. official

British police say more than 700 potential terror suspects have traveled to Syria to fight or support extremists, and about half are believed to have returned to the U.K. Mark Rowley, the national police lead for counter-terrorism, said the suspects were "not aid workers or visiting relatives — they are people of real concern."

He added that it was a "fairly even balance" between those still in Syria and those who have returned.

Rowley also said Thursday that a record 338 people were detained on suspicion of terrorism offenses since last year. He said more than half of those arrests were related to Syria. He did not say how many suspects had been charged with offenses. (AP)

3:20 P.M. Verdict against Bahrain activist for insulting government on Twitter upheld

A Bahraini appeals court on Thursday upheld a verdict against prominent rights activist Nabeel Rajab for insulting government ministries on Twitter, his lawyer said.

The decision confirms a January verdict against Rajab, who was sentenced to six months in prison for insulting the ministries of defense and interior in tweets alleging that Bahrain's security institutions were incubators for extremist ideology.

Rajab had been allowed to remain free on bail pending appeal, but he was detained early last month on suspicion of separate charges related to different comments he made on Twitter. That case is still ongoing and he remains behind bars.(AP)

2:51 P.M. Prominent Iranian lawmaker slams U.S. training of Syrian rebels

A prominent Iranian lawmaker has criticized the training of some Syrian rebels by the United States and its allies, calling it a "strategic mistake."

The U.S. program to train Syria's moderate rebels began earlier this month in Jordan and is scheduled to expand to Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Iranian parliament member Alaeddin Boroujerdi said during a visit to Damascus on Thursday that the program is the "hated and despicable" face of what he called training and empowering "terrorists" — a term the Syrian government uses for rebels fighting to topple Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Boroujerdi reaffirmed Iran's support for Assad's government, saying it's "stable and permanent."

He also lashed out at Saudi Arabia for its military campaign against Yemen's Iran-backed Shi'ite rebels. He called the Saudi monarch a "traitor." (AP)

12:38 P.M. Report: Saudi-led coalition conducts airstrikes in southern Yemen on second day of cease-fire

The Saudi-led coalition battling Houthi rebels conducted three air raids in southern Yemen early Thursday, local media reported, on the second full day of an increasingly shaky cease-fire.

Coalition aircraft targeted positions of the Houthis and allied Yemeni military units in the key southern port city of Aden, local newspaper Aden al-Ghad reported citing eyewitnesses.

Clashes had been reported in Aden and other areas of southern Yemen on Wednesday, despite a five-day cease-fire intended to facilitate aid distribution.

The reported strikes came after the mainly Shi'ite rebels and the Saudi-led coalition traded accusations of breaches of the cease-fire throughout Wednesday.

The coalition overnight charged the Houthis with seven attacks across the Saudi border as well as five cease-fire breaches inside Yemen, mostly in the south where the rebels are meeting determined resistance from local fighters. It did not acknowledge carrying out any airstrikes.

Houthi spokesman Ali al-Quhum late Wednesday accused the coalition of air raids in the rebel movement's northern strongholds and the southern province of Abyan, as well as opening fire across the border. He denied that Houthi forces had breached the cease-fire. (DPA)

8:02 A.M. Obama seeks to reassure Gulf allies on security, Iran at Camp David summit

President Barack Obama will seek to convince Gulf allies including Saudi Arabia on Thursday that the United States is committed to their security despite deep concern among Arab leaders about U.S. efforts to broker a nuclear deal with Iran.

During a rare, high-profile summit at the Camp David presidential retreat in Maryland, Obama will meet with representatives from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Oman, all members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, to discuss security cooperation.

Tension over U.S. policy toward Tehran, Syria and the Arab Spring uprisings will loom over the meetings, which have already been overshadowed by some countries' decisions to send lower-level leaders.

Saudi King Salman pulled out, sending Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman instead.

The White House has said such decisions were not snubs and has portrayed the summit as a set of working meetings rather than symbolic photo sessions. (Reuters)

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