Middle East Updates / Kabul's High-security Int'l Zone Under Attack, Afghan Police Say

UN urges world to shut down extremists' resources; Suicide car bomb kills 5 in Iraqi Kurdish capital; Turkey: Plan to train Syrian rebels not finalized; France says jets strike IS targets to break Kirkuk frontline.

Reuters

Read Tuesday's updates

7:20 P.M. UN urges world to shut down extremists' resources

The UN Security Council is urging countries to deny Islamic State and other extremist groups their sources of money and fighters by shutting down oil trade, refusing ransom payments, tightening security checks and more.

A council statement Wednesday follows a new UN report that recommends new sanctions but warns that sanctions alone are insufficient to counter the global terror threat.

Council members in an open debate are expressing alarm that the new wave of fighters are younger, more diverse and skilled in using social media to attract thousands of foreigners. Australian Ambassador Gary Quinlan warns that a significant number have European passports. (AP)

7:00 P.M. Kabul's Green Village international zone under attack

A high-security international zone in eastern Kabul known as the Green Village is under attack, a senior police source said on Wednesday.

"Initial reports we have gathered show that the Green Village is the target. Small explosions from either grenades or RPGs (rocket propelled grenades) can be heard," said the senior security official on condition of anonymity.

Earlier on Wednesday evening, a loud explosion followed by sporadic gunfire were heard in the Afghan capital. (Reuters)

6:30 P.M. Kerry, Omani official meet amid Iran nuclear talks

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held an unexpected second meeting Wednesday in London with the foreign minister of Oman, which has emerged as a key go-between in nuclear talks with Iran.

A senior U.S. official said Kerry met Wednesday at his hotel with Youssef bin Alawi for follow-up discussion about the foreign minister's weekend trip to Tehran.

The talks come as negotiations with Iran in Vienna continue ahead of a Monday deadline for a nuclear deal.

Unlike their first meeting Tuesday, Wednesday's meeting was unannounced. It was confirmed only after an AP reporter saw the foreign minister in the hotel.

Oman, which has close ties with Iran, was the site of secret US-Iranian talks in March 2013. It hosted the last round of high-level talks earlier this month in Muscat. (AP)

5:45 P.M. Prominent Egyptian activists end hunger strike

The mother and sister of two jailed Egyptian pro-democracy activists ended a 76-day solidarity hunger strike Wednesday that they had undertaken to press for the release of imprisoned government critics.

Activists have used hunger strikes recently to protest the arrest of thousands of people in a sweeping government crackdown on dissent.

In a statement announcing the end of their strike, Mona Seif said the experience made her "truly appreciate more the struggle of the brave detainees in our country's prisons."

Seif's brother Alaa Abdel-Fattah, a symbol of Egypt's 2011 uprising, has spent time in prison under four different Egyptian governments. He is currently facing a retrial on a 15-year year prison sentence for violating a draconian law that bans protests without prior government approval. Her sister Sanaa was convicted for breaking the same law along with 22 other activists and sentenced to three years in prison.

The detention of dozens of young activists, mostly over breaking the contested protest law, over the past year has taken place amid a vicious media campaign to smear their reputation as agents of foreign powers or on the payroll of dubious rights groups in the West.

In a sign of the times, police quickly moved in with tear gas to disperse dozens of demonstrators protesting the military-backed government's rule as they marched near Tahrir Square Wednesday. A security official said at least 15 protesters were arrested, speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to brief the media.

The protesters were attempting to commemorate the third anniversary of one of the most brutal confrontations with security forces since the 2011 uprising. The clashes in November 2011 left nearly 50 dead and came to be known as the Mohammed Mahmoud Battle, named after the street were they took place.

Rights groups say dozens of prisoners from across the political spectrum are on hunger strike in protest of ill-treatment and lack of due process. (AP)

2:20 P.M. Turkey: Plan to train Syrian rebels not finalized

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says no final decisions have been reached for Turkey to start training rebels fighting the Islamic State and Syrian government forces.

A U.S. military delegation spent two days late last week in Ankara discussing details of the train-and-equip mission, but Erdogan's remarks raises doubt about when training could start.

He spoke to reporters before leaving on a trip to Algeria.

The issue will be among topics that retired Marine Gen. John Allen, the U.S. envoy for the international coalition to counter IS, will have Wednesday with Turkish officials in Ankara.

Erdogan said the coalition still has not taken steps toward a comprehensive strategy in Syria, which he insists must be focused on the removal of President Bashar Assad. (AP)

2:06 P.M. France says jets strike IS targets to break Kirkuk frontline

France's defense ministry said on Wednesday that two Rafale jets had struck Islamic State targets alongside coalition planes near the northern Iraqi oil city of Kirkuk in an effort to breach the group's frontlines.

Two Dassault-built Rafale fighters, both armed with four missiles, targeted trenches used by Islamic State to besiege the city at around 0330 GMT, the ministry said in a statement.

"This action was carried out simultaneously with our allies to create a breach in the defensive positions held by the terrorists on the frontline between Iraqi forces and Islamic State," the ministry said. (Reuters) 

1:54 P.M. Iraq, Kurdish region implement deal on oil exports, salaries

The government of Iraq and the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region have begun implementing a deal under which Baghdad resumes funding Kurdish civil servant salaries in return for a share of Kurdish oil exports, Iraq's finance minister said on Wednesday.

The accord aims to reduce friction between Baghdad and Kurdish authorities as they face a common threat from Islamic State insurgents who have seized large parts of the north and west of the country.

Under the agreement reached last week, Kurdish authorities committed to pump 150,000 barrels per day of oil - around half their overall shipments - to Iraqi government export tanks in the Turkish port of Ceyhan.

Baghdad agreed to pay $500 million towards Kurdish salaries.

Finance Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said that the Kurdish Regional Government began pumping oil to State Oil Marketing Organisation (SOMO) tanks at Ceyhan on Tuesday and the $500 million was transferred on Wednesday.

"This payment will be followed by other payments," Zebari, who is a Kurd, told a news conference in Baghdad. (Reuters) 

11:52 A.M. Suicide car bomb kills 5 in Iraqi Kurdish capital

A suicide bomber driving a car packed with explosives blew himself up in the capital of Iraq's Kurdistan region on Wednesday, killing at least five people in the first big attack there in more than a year.

Mayor Nihad Latif Koja told Reuters the assailant had detonated himself as he tried to enter the governor's compound, which is protected by blast walls, in the centre of Irbil. (Reuters)

10:20 A.M. Suspected U.S. strikes hit Syrian Al-Qaida-held town

An air strike believed to have been carried out by the U.S.-led coalition overnight targeted a town controlled by Al-Qaida militants in northwestern Syria, two activist groups said Wednesday.

The Local Coordination Committees and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, both of which gather information from local activists, said the strike hit the town of Harem in Syria's Idlib province. There was no immediate word on casualties.

It also was not immediately clear what was targeted, but Harem is controlled by Al-Qaida's Syrian branch, known as the Nusra Front. U.S. aircraft bombed Nusra militants near Harem last week.

If the latest strike is confirmed, it would mark the fourth time that American aircraft have targeted the Al-Qaida affiliate in the U.S.-led coalition's broader aerial campaign against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq. (AP)

9:56 A.M. Second Frenchman likely on IS beheading video, official says

France's government spokesman said on Wednesday it seemed that a second man who appears on a beheading video released by Islamic State at the weekend was a French citizen.

"It seems that there is a second Frenchman," Stephane Le Foll told BFM TV. "We are checking his identity," he said declining to confirm a name circulating in French media.

The Paris prosecutor said on Monday analysis by its DGSI security service had confirmed that one of the men shown herding prisoners to the execution site was Maxime Hauchard, a Frenchman from Normandy who left for Syria in August 2013.

The 15-minute video posted online shows the decapitations of at least 14 men who Islamic State said were pilots and officers loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad. The video also shows the severed head of U.S. aid worker Peter Kassig. (Reuters)

9:30 A.M. Egyptian woman dies of bird flu, second death in two days

An Egyptian woman died on Tuesday of H5N1 bird flu after coming into contact with infected birds, the second death from the disease in two days and the third in the country this year, a health ministry statement said.

The 30-year-old woman was from the province of Minya, south of Cairo. She died in a hospital in the southern city of Assiut, the statement on the official MENA news agency said.

A 19-year-old woman died of bird flu on Monday in Assiut.

Egypt has identified a total of seven cases of the virus this year, including the three who died. (Reuters) 

2:29 A.M. UN committee expresses concern about 'alarmingly high frequency' of death penalty in Iran

The UN General Assembly human rights committee approved a resolution Tuesday expressing deep concern about rights violations in Iran, including the "alarmingly high frequency" of the use of the death penalty.

Support came from 78 member countries, with 35 voting no and 69 abstaining. Several countries have objected to the targeting of a specific nation.

The Canada-drafted resolution was approved less than a week before a Nov. 24 deadline for Iran and six world powers to reach a deal on its nuclear program, but the word "nuclear" isn't mentioned in the text.

Instead, the resolution builds on a recent report by a UN special investigator on human rights and points out that Iran has not allowed an investigator to visit since 2005.

Iran's representative protested that the resolution doesn't acknowledge "positive developments" since President Hassan Rohani took office in 2013.

"At the time when many parts of our region are burning in the fires of extremism," the resolution is counterproductive, the diplomat said.(AP) 

1:48 A.M. U.S. disputes U.A.E.'s terrorist designation of two U.S. groups

The United States Tuesday defended two U.S. organizations against a terrorist designation by the United Arab Emirates (U.A.E.).

The two organizations blacklisted by the U.A.E. are the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and the Muslim American Society.

"The United States does not consider these US organizations to be terrorist organizations, but we are seeking more information from the government of the U.A.E.," said Jeff Rathke, a spokesman for the US State Department.

Rathke noted that U.S. government officials have routinely met with a "broad spectrum of faith-based organizations" including the two groups - "even if some of their views expressed are, at times, controversial."

The U.A.E. over the weekend issued a blacklist that named the CAIR and the Muslim American Society among 80 alleged jihadist and militant Islamist groups in the U.A.E., the Arab region and other parts of the world. (DPA)

1:36 A.M. Seven civilians, three militants reported dead in Egypt after exchange of fire in Sinai

Egyptian security officials say seven civilians and three militants have been killed in an exchange of fire between militants and the army in North Sinai.

The officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to reporters, say a mortar round killed seven civilians from a prominent Bedouin family in the village of Negah Shabana.

Over the past decade, the northern region of the Sinai Peninsula has become a hub for Islamic extremists, and the insurgency has spiked since last year's military ouster of Islamist President Mohammed Morsi.

The military has launched a massive crackdown against militants in the area, including demolishing hundreds of homes along the border with the Gaza strip. (AP)

1:04 A.M. UN General Assembly's human rights committee condemns Syria's rights violations

The UN General Assembly's human rights committee has again condemned Syria's rights violations by a strong vote.

One hundred and twenty-five countries approved this year's resolution Tuesday, with 13 voting against and 47 abstaining.

China, Russia and Iran were among the countries voting against the Saudi Arabia-sponsored resolution, which targets Syrian authorities' armed violence against civilians and "flagrant violations" of human rights since the country's conflict began in 2011.

The resolution also condemns the growing violence by the Islamic State militant group, which has seized large parts of Syria. (AP)

12:41 A.M. UN human rights chief calls for Muslims to undermine ISIS ideology

The UN human rights chief called Tuesday for a campaign led by Muslims to undermine the ideology of the Islamic State terrorist group, saying this may ultimately be more effective than airstrikes.

Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, a Jordanian prince and the first UN human rights chief from the Muslim and Arab world, told the UN Security Council that by calling for a caliphate, or Islamic state, the group is exploiting "a general yearning" shared by many Muslims the world over.

But he stressed that many Muslims are opposed to the terrorist group for the crimes it has committed in enforcing its ideology, which likely amount to genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes.

The Islamic State group first took control of parts of Syria and then swept across the border in early June capturing a large swath of northern and western Iraq. A U.S.-led coalition has been carrying out airstrikes against the group in Iraq and Syria but Zeid questioned "whether it is possible to bomb an ideology like this into submission." (AP)