Middle East Updates / Islamic State Denies Lost Control of Mosul Dam

U.S. blacklists two Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria; Magnitude 6.1 earthquake hits near Iran-Iraq border.

Haaretz's latest analysis on the Middle East: Kurds chalk up 1st victory against Islamic State (Zvi Bar'el)

See Sunday's Middle East Updates

5:00 PM Lebanese Hezbollah fighters have killed a senior member of the Islamic State group who was known to be one of their top explosives experts in an operation inside Syria, activists said Tuesday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the man known as Abu Abdullah al-Iraqi was killed by a bomb planted in his car in Syria's rugged Qalamoun region along the border with Lebanon. Three other Islamic State militants died in an ensuing clash with Hezbollah fighters, according to the group.

Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV reported al-Iraqi's death but said he was killed in a "qualitative" operation carried out by the Syrian army in Qalamoun. It said he was in charge of rigging cars with explosives and preparing suicide bombers which he sent to Lebanon to carry out attacks.

11:36 P.M. The Islamic State militant group that has seized large parts of Iraq and drawn the first American air strikes since the end of the occupation in 2011 has warned the United States it will attack Americans "in any place" if the raids hit its militants.

The video, which shows a photograph of an American who was beheaded during the U.S. occupation of Iraq, featured a statement which said in English "we will drown all of you in blood." (Reuters)

8:42 P.M. The United States on Monday blacklisted two Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria, including the Islamic State spokesman, following similar actions by the UN Security Council last week.

The move aims to weaken the Islamic State and al Qaeda's Syrian wing, Nusra Front. The State Department said it was adding the two men, Islamic State spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani and Nusra Front member Said Arif, to its list of 'Specially Designated Global Terrorists." The label imposes a travel ban on them, and freezes any assets they may hold in the United States.

A parallel move from the U.S. Treasury Department also prohibits U.S. firms and people from dealing with the men. (Reuters) 

6:10 P.M. The Islamic State denied it has lost control of the Mosul dam, dismissing the Iraqi government claim as a 'mere propaganda war' in an online statement. A U.S. defense official in Washington confirmed the Islamic State group has not entirely lost control of the Mosul dam. "It's not over," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing military operations.

Earlier it was reported that Iraqi and Kurdish forces wrested back control of the country's largest dam from the Islamic militants. (AP)

6:06 P.M. Libyan forces loyal to renegade General Khalifa Haftar are responsible for air strikes in the capital Tripoli, one of his senior officers told Reuters on Monday.

Tripoli residents reported jets flying over the city after midnight followed by explosions, and Libyan media said the aircraft had targeted militias from Misrata which have been battling with a rival group for control of the city. (Reuters)

5:50 P.M. Syrian government air raids against Islamic State positions in Raqqa have destroyed the city's water plant, locals said, cutting water supplies to homes and businesses.

Residents said there had been some 16 air raids on Monday on Raqqa and in nearby areas, including close to the al-Tabqa military base to the west of the city, a government-controlled airport that is surrounded by militants.

Raqqa is a major stronghold of the Islamic State, formerly known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), which took one of the Syrian army's last outposts in the city this week to extend its gains across both Iraq and Syria. (Reuters) 

5:16 P.M. Unidentified warplanes bombed militia positions in the Libyan capital Tripoli on Monday, the government said. Several Libyan TV channels said planes targeted bases of militiamen from Misrata who have been battling brigades from the western Zintan region to gain control of Tripoli in Libya's worst violence since Muammar Gaddafi was toppled in 2011. 

Pro-Misrata news websites accused renegade General Khalifa Haftar of responsibility for the air strike. Haftar has previously used some aircraft from an air base under his control in Benghazi to attack militant Islamists in eastern Libya. 

Haftar's spokesman declined to comment "at the moment" when Reuters asked whether his planes had attacked Tripoli targets. (Reuters)

4:11 P.M. The extremist Islamic State group shot and beheaded hundreds of tribesmen from eastern Syria over the past two weeks after crushing an uprising they led amid the country's civil war, activists said.

The killing of members of the Shueitat tribe come as Islamic State group fighters close in on the last government-held army base in the region. Syrian warplanes bombed the extremists' positions Monday in an attempt to halt their advance.

A Turkey-based activist who is originally from Deir el-Zour and is in contact with people in the province told The Associated Press that as many as 200 members of the Shueitat tribe have been killed by Islamic State members. On Saturday, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights put the death toll among the tribesmen at 700.

The activist spoke on condition of anonymity for fear that family members in Syria might be harmed. Differences in casualty figures are common in the aftermath of attacks in Syria.

Last week, Islamic State fighters crushed the tribal uprising against their rule in eastern Syria after three days of clashes near the border with Iraq. Tribesmen expelled the jihadi fighters from the villages of Kishkiyeh, Abu Hamam and Granij earlier this month before the Islamic State launched a counteroffensive that killed dozens, activists said. (AP)

4:03 P.M. Iran has begun implementing nuclear transparency measures ahead of an August 25 deadline agreed with the United Nations atomic watchdog, the IAEA, the head of the organization said Monday.

"The implementation of these five measures started," International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Yukiya Amano told reporters at Vienna airport on his return from Tehran, where he met senior Iranian officials.

"I expect that progress will be made over the next week," said Amano, after securing what he called on Sunday a firm commitment to cooperate with the IAEA's long-running inquiry into Iran's disputed nuclear program. (Reuters)

3:11 P.M. Turkey on Monday summoned Germany's ambassador and demanded a "formal and satisfactory explanation" over a report that Germany's foreign intelligence agency targeted NATO ally Turkey in addition to eavesdropping on U.S. officials' conversations.

German Ambassador Eberhard Pohl was also told that, if the reports were true, Turkey expected Germany to immediately stop any spying activity targeting Turkey, according to the Foreign Ministry.

German magazine Der Spiegel reported Saturday that the agency, known by its German acronym BND, had inadvertently listened to calls made by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and predecessor Hillary Clinton. It also cited a confidential 2009 BND document listing Turkey as a target for intelligence gathering, but didn't say what that spying involved.

If true, Turkey's Foreign Ministry said, "such practices would in no way be acceptable in an environment that requires mutual trust and respect between friends and allies."

German officials would not confirm Der Spiegel's report on Monday. (AP)

2:44 P.M. Activists say Syrian warplanes have bombarded jihadi positions in the northern province of Raqqa as Muslim extremists close in on the last army base in the region.

The Tabqa air base is the last position held by Syrian government troops in Raqqa province — which is mostly under the control of the extremist Islamic State group.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported intense clashes Monday between troops and Islamic State fighters on the edge of the villages of Ajil and Khazna. It said there were casualties on both sides.

The Raqqa Media Center, an activist collective, said Islamic State group fighters captured four villages near Tabqa air base, including Ajil.

The Observatory and RMC also reported intense air raids for the second day on Raqqa's provincial capital. (AP)

2:40 P.M. Kurdish officials will take part in negotiations on forming a new Iraqi government, the country's outgoing foreign minister said on Monday, signaling the possibility of improved ties with the central administration. Hoshiyar Zebaria added that a final decision on whether the Kurds will end their suspension of participation in the government would come later. (Reuters)

1:58 P.M. Kuwait has detained a prominent Sunni Muslim cleric less than two weeks after the United States included him on a sanctions list for allegedly funnelling money to militants in Iraq and Syria, his lawyer said on Monday.

Shafi al-Ajmi was detained on the border with Saudi Arabia on Sunday while returning from a pilgrimage. "He is at the state security compound," his lawyer, Mohammed al-Jumia, told Reuters by telephone. "So far, there are no charges."

An Interior Ministry spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

Some Islamist activists in the Gulf have exploited their governments' support for an uprising against President Bashar al-Assad to channel millions of dollars to militants.

Kuwait has been one of the biggest humanitarian donors to Syrian refugees through the United Nations, but it has also struggled to control unofficial fundraising for opposition groups in Syria by private individuals. (Reuters)

12:23 P.M. Armed robbers held up a convoy of Saudi diplomatic vehicles that was bound for a Paris airport with 250,000 euros in cash and "sensitive" documents, police said on Monday.

The incident took place on Sunday evening, on a road leading out of the city to Le Bourget airport in the northern suburbs, according to radio and television reports.

BFMTV news channel quoted police as saying an unnamed Saudi prince was part of the convoy, which was attacked by robbers armed with assault rifles.

The gang hijacked the vehicle that was carrying the cash.

France Info radio said three people travelling in the car were released unharmed.

No shots were fired and nobody was injured in the attack.

Police later found the abandoned hijacked vehicle, which had been set alight.

Le Parisien newspaper quoted police as saying that "sensitive" documents were also stolen but gave no details about their content. (DPA) 

11:35 A.M. Kurdish peshmerga fighters and Iraqi counter-terrorism forces have pushed Islamic State militants out of Mosul dam, state television reported on Monday.

The television station quoted Lieutenant-General Qasim Atta, a military spokesman, as saying the forces were backed by a joint air patrol. He did not give details. An independent verification was not immediately possible. (Reuters) 

10:50 A.M. Health officials in the Emirati capital of Abu Dhabi say that a Nigerian woman who arrived on a flight transiting the city and who may have been infected with the Ebola virus has died.

The city's Health Authority said in a statement carried by the state news agency WAM late on Sunday that the 35-year-old was traveling from Nigeria to India for treatment of advanced metastatic cancer.

Her health deteriorated while in transit at Abu Dhabi's main airport and as medics were trying to resuscitate her, they found signs that suggested a possible Ebola virus infection.

The woman's husband and the five medics who treated her are being isolated pending test results. (AP)

10:15 A.M. Britain's role in the Iraq crisis has moved beyond a "humanitarian mission" and its expanded operations could last for months, its defense minister said in a newspaper interview published on Monday.

Britain has so far limited itself to aid drops, surveillance and a deal to transport more military supplies to Kurdish regional forces allied with the Baghdad central government against Islamist insurgents who have overrun much of northern Iraq. In addition, Britain's trade envoy to Iraq has said SAS special forces are gathering intelligence there.

"This is not simply a humanitarian mission," Defence Minister Michael Fallon told The Times newspaper.

Warning that the operation could last months, Fallon was reported as saying that RAF Tornado military jets and a spy plane were flying further into Iraq, beyond the focus area of the humanitarian crisis in the Kurdistan region, to gather information on the forces of Islamic State. (Reuters) 

9:51 A.M. One Egyptian policeman was killed and another wounded in an armed attack at a checkpoint in the northern province of Gharbiya on Monday, state news agency MENA said.

Authorities closed of the area and started searching for the perpetrators, an Interior Ministry source told MENA.

Security forces have come under attack in Egypt by Islamist militants since former army chief Abdel Fattah al Sisi, now the country's president, ousted Islamist President Mohammed Morsi last year.(Reuters)

7:43 A.M. A strong, magnitude 6.1 earthquake jolted a sparsely populated mountainous province near Iran's border with Iraq on Monday, Iranian state television reported.

There were no reports of fatalities but a local official said there were injuries and that the temblor had caused damage.

The TV said the quake hit the town of Murmuri, about 500 kilometers (310 miles) southwest of the capital, Tehran, at 7:02 local time (0232 GMT). Read the full story here

7:31 A.M. Japan has received information that one of its citizens has been captured in northern Syria by the Islamic State militant group and is analyzing it, the foreign ministry said on Monday.

A video clip posted earlier on YouTube showed a man lying on the ground being questioned by unidentified persons and responding that he was Japanese and that his name was Haruna Yukawa.

The name is the same as that of a chief executive of a self-described private mercenary and security firm. No one answered the telephone at the Tokyo-based company.

In the video clip, the authenticity of which could not be independently verified, the man can be heard being asked in English, "Why do you have a gun?" But his answer is inaudible.

A Facebook posting by the head of the Japanese security firm on July 11 shows him test firing an assault rifle in what he says is Aleppo, Syria. His Facebook page also shows pictures purporting to be from the Iraqi border. In a series of pictures, he poses in an armoured vehicle and complains of the heat.

7:12 A.M. The U.S. has expanded its air campaign in Iraq with attacks aimed at helping Iraqi forces regain control of the strategic Mosul dam.

The White House said President Barack Obama notified Congress on Sunday that the widened mission would be limited in duration and scope.

The administration's letter to Congress said "the mission is consistent with the president's directive that the U.S. military protect U.S. personnel and facilities in Iraq, since the failure of the Mosul dam could threaten the lives of large numbers of civilians and threaten U.S. personnel and facilities — including the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad." It also noted that the failure of the dam could "prevent the Iraqi government from providing critical services" to the Iraqi people.

The letter said: "I am providing this report as part of my efforts to keep the Congress fully informed, consistent with the War Powers Resolution." 

Mosul dam in Iraq.