Middle East Updates / Egypt Prosecutor Orders Seven Men Held for Homosexuality

Syrian warplanes kill 25 after bombing an Islamic State-run bakery; French ex-hostage identifies Jewish Museum shooter in Syria.


Haaretz's latest analyses and opinions on the Middle East: Islamic State forcing the West out of its Iraq trauma (Anshel Pfeffer); The real threat from Islamic State isn't in the Middle East (Anshel Pfeffer); Enough hysteria about European jihadists (Khaled Diab).


See Friday's Middle East Updates

Latest updates:

10:30 P.M. Iraq's air force hit a hospital in a town controlled by Islamic State and other militant groups on Saturday, killing seven patients and wounding 22 others, including children, eyewitnesses said.

The attack on Hawija, near Kirkuk city, was one strike in a series of raids by warplanes in the area, the witnesses said.

The government did not immediately respond to requests for comment. (Reuters) 

9:23 P.M. Egypt's top prosecutor has ordered seven men detained and physically examined over accusations of "debauchery," a charge often leveled at gays, after a video emerged of a same-sex wedding party. In a statement Saturday, the prosecutor said the suspects are also accused of broadcasting footage that "violates public decency," ordering them detained for four days pending an investigation. The statement described the video, which appeared online, as showing "a devilish shameless party" where two of the men were getting married.

A video on news website Youm7 shows two men in suits, with faces blurred, putting rings around each other fingers and hugging as friends celebrate on a boat. In Egypt, consensual same-sex relations are not explicitly prohibited, but other laws have been used to imprison gay men in recent years. (AP)

9:07 P.M. The mother of a Lebanese soldier held captive by the militant Islamic State group says that photographs posted online purporting to show his beheading appear real.

Zeinab Noun called her son, Abbas Medlej, a "martyr" after Islamic State supporters posted images Saturday appearing to show a captured Lebanese soldier before and after he was beheaded. Medlej's maternal uncle, Abu Ali Noun, also said the photographs appeared to be of his nephew. A spokesman for Lebanon's military said it was still investigating the incident.

Militants from the Islamic State and other groups in Syria are holding around 35 Lebanese soldiers and policemen captive. They were seized in August when militants from Syria overran the Lebanese border town of Arsal in the most serious spillover of the neighboring civil war. (AP)

7:05 P.M. Heavy clashes erupted between a former general's forces and Islamist fighters in the eastern city of Benghazi on Saturday, military officials said, one of several conflicts raging in Libya in the worst violence since Muammar Gadhafi fell in 2011.

Armed Islamists are trying to prize Benghazi's civilian and military airport from the control of government troops allied to Gadhafi-era general Khalifa Haftar.

In response, Haftar's forces used helicopters to bomb camps of suspected Islamist militants, military sources said.

Haftar, who was once accused by the post-revolution government of trying to stage a coup against it, has declared war on several Islamist factions and teamed up with government forces in Benghazi.

Three people were killed and three others wounded in clashes between the two sides throughout most of the day in a suburb of the port city, hospital medical staff told Reuters. (Reuters)

5:08 P.M. Yemeni security officials and tribal leaders say clashes between Shiite rebels and Islamist tribesmen have killed 40 people over two days in the country's north.

The officials said Saturday the fighting in al-Jawf province killed 18 of the Hawthi rebels and 22 tribesmen who are backed by an army unit and allied with the Muslim Brotherhood's Islah party. The battle left dozens of wounded on both sides.

The officials said tribesmen have managed to take control of Hawthi positions some 175 kilometers (109 miles) east of the capital Sanaa.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to brief reporters.

The Hawthis have been camping for nearly three weeks in the capital near key installations, calling for the government's removal and the reinstatement of fuel subsidies. (AP)

4:49 P.M. The Danish foreign minister is heading to the Middle East to discuss cooperation on facing the Islamic State Sunni extremist group, the Foreign Ministry said Saturday.

Martin Lidegaard's trip includes stops in Iran and Saudi Arabia. The Foreign Ministry declined to say if more country would be visited.

Islamic State, which controls large parts of Syria and Iraq, posed "one of the largest, if not the largest security threat in recent times. It affects us all," Lidegaard said in a statement.

Lidegaard is set to be the first Danish foreign minister to visit Iran since 2005. (DPA)

4:26 P.M. A Bahraini court on Saturday ordered human rights activist Maryam al-Khawaja to remain in detention for a further 10 days as authorities continue to investigate her case, which stems from her decision to return to the Gulf nation to visit her jailed father.

Al-Khawaja was detained after arriving on a flight to Bahrain a week ago. Authorities have charged her with assaulting police after she refused to hand over her mobile phone during questioning at the airport. She denies the charge.

Al-Khawaja has dual Danish and Bahraini citizenship. She was returning to Bahrain to visit her activist father, prominent rights activist Abdulhadi Al Khawaja, who is on hunger strike to protest a life sentence he is serving in connection to his role in 2011 anti-government protests.

Lawyer Mohammed al-Jishi provided details of the court order following a hearing Saturday. He said a Danish Embassy representative also attended the hearing. (Reuters)

3:43 P.M. Syrian warplanes bombed a bakery run by Islamic State in the city of Raqqa, killing 25 people, in air raids on Saturday that also hit a major training camp used by the insurgent group for a second day running, a group monitoring the war said.

The air strikes on Raqqa, Islamic State's stronghold some 400 km (250 miles) northeast of Damascus, also hit a building used as an Islamic court, and another of the group's offices, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Rami Abdulrahman, founder of the Observatory, said the bakery was run by the militant group. The Observatory, which gathers information from all sides in the civil war, said the dead included 12 civilians and nine Islamic State activists. (Reuters) 

2:35 P.M.: A French journalist held hostage for months by extremists in Syria says one of his abductors was Mehdi Nemmouche, the Frenchman suspected of killing four people, two of them Israeli citizens, at the Brussels Jewish Museum earlier this year.

French magazine Le Point on Saturday quotes its reporter Nicolas Henin as saying he was tortured by Mehdi Nemmouche, a Frenchman who had spent time with extremists in Syria. Read full article here

2:00 P.M.: Syrian airstrikes targeting a stronghold of the Islamic State extremist group, including one that struck a crowded bakery, killed at least 13 civilians on Saturday, activists said.

The eight airstrikes targeted the northeastern city of Raqqa, which is under the full control of the militant group, said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

Most of the civilians were killed after at least one strike hit a bakery on a busy street, and the death toll was likely to rise, said the Observatory, which obtains its information from a network of activists on the ground.

The airstrikes were also reported by a Moscow-based activist who uses the name Abu Ibrahim and is a member of a media collective called "Raqqa is being silently slaughtered."

The local morgue was packed with charred bodies, making identification difficult, said Abu Ibrahim. He said the dead included at least eight members of one family.
Other strikes hit a government finance building that the Islamic State used as its headquarters and another building used as a jail, Abu Ibrahim said.

It has been virtually impossible for journalists to visit Raqqa since the town fell to the Islamic State group, which routinely abducts reporters and recently beheaded two American journalists in response to U.S. airstrikes against the militants in Iraq.

The strikes were part of an uptick of government military action against the Islamic State group since it swept into neighboring Iraq, seizing northern and western swaths of that country and declaring a proto-state straddling the border.

Syrian President Bashar Assad's government has also suffered heavy losses against the Islamic State group, which killed hundreds of soldiers and pro-government fighters in recent months as it overran oil fields and military bases.

There was no immediate government comment on the airstrikes. (AP)