Middle East Updates / Qatar Issues New Law Aimed at Regulating Charities Amid ISIS Funding Concerns

White House: U.S. would retaliate if Assad targets planes during Syria air strikes; Roadside bomb kills six police in Egypt's Sinai; Turkey drawing up plans for 'buffer zone'.


Haaretz's latest analyses and opinions on the Middle East: Some more willing than others in coalition against Islamic State (Zvi Bar'el)  War fever: Overselling the war against Islamic State? (Peter Beinart) | WATCH: Obama's fight against ISIS is a gamble, but one the U.S. is willing to take (Aimee Amiga)


See Monday's Middle East Updates

Latest updates:

7:43 P.M. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday urged countries that are capable to take decisive action against Islamic State militants, who have taken over large swaths of Iraq and Syria.

"I ... urge the international community, and those with the means, to act decisively and after sober reflection," Ban told reporters on the subject of Islamic State. "It is critical to keep at the forefront the protection of civilians." (Reuters)  

7:01 P.M. Qatar has issued a new law to regulate charities in the Gulf state amid growing concern in the West over funding received by Islamic State militants.

Local media said the Qatari ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, approved the law on Monday aimed at charity organisations involved in politics, as well as those that sent money abroad or received foreign financing.

The Peninsula, an English language newspaper in Doha, said charities that defied the regulators could be shut down. Those violating the law also faced up to three years in jail and a 100,000 Qatar riyal ($27,464) fine, it said. (Reuters)  

6:22 P.M. Iraq's national security adviser briefed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on efforts to counter Islamic State on Tuesday, Syrian state media reported, the first such meeting since the United States launched air strikes on the radical group in Iraq.

The United States and other Western governments have dismissed the idea of cooperating with Syria in the fight against Islamic State, which has seized large areas of both Iraq and Syria. Western governments see Assad as part of the problem and say he must leave power.

Faleh al-Fayad, the Iraqi official, "put Assad in the picture of the latest developments in Iraq and the efforts that the Iraqi government and people are making to combat the terrorists", the Syrian state news agency SANA reported.

The meeting stressed "the importance of strengthening cooperation and coordination between the two brotherly countries in the field of combating terrorism that is hitting Syria and Iraq and which threatens the region and the world", SANA said. (Reuters) 

5:18 P.M. The United States is not preparing to unleash a "shock and awe" campaign of overwhelming air strikes in Syria against Islamic State fighters, the top U.S. military officer said on Tuesday.

"We will be prepared to strike ISIL targets in Syria that degrade ISIL's capabilities," General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, using the acronym for the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, the group's former name.

"This won't look like a 'shock and awe' campaign because that's simply not how ISIL is organized. But it will be a persistent and sustainable campaign." (Reuters) 

4:46 P.M. A court in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday postponed issuing its verdict in a sensitive case against a popular Shi'ite cleric who faces charges that carry a death sentence.

Sheik Nimr al-Nimr's brother told The Associated Press that the verdict was delayed until Oct. 21. Mohammed al-Nimr said that for the first time since his brother's arrest in July 2012, security officials barred the sheik from attending Tuesday's court session.

The prosecution is asking that al-Nimr be executed and crucified. In Saudi Arabia, most death sentences are carried out by beheading. Crucifixion in this context would mean that the body and head would then be put on display.

Such a punishment is rare in the kingdom and reserved for only the most serious crimes. It is meant as a warning to others.

The 54-year-old cleric is a longtime critic of Saudi Arabia's treatment of its Shi'ite minority and is revered among many young Shiites. He led Shi'ite protests in 2011 in Saudi Arabia's Eastern Province and openly criticized the Sunni government of Bahrain's handling of Shi'ite protests there.

Al-Nimr faces charges that include disobeying the ruler, firing on security forces, sowing discord, undermining national unity, interfering in the affairs of a sisterly nation and inciting protests. He was shot in the leg when he was arrested.

Al-Nimr does not deny the political charges against him, but denies ever carrying weapons or calling for violence. (AP)

4:21 P.M. A security official says a couple hundred Christian protesters clashed with police in southern Egypt after holding a demonstration in front of a police station demanding authorities locate an abducted housewife.

The official says protesters on Tuesday hurled Molotov cocktails at Samalout police station, in Minya province, injuring three policemen. The police arrested at least 33 protesters. The official says the demonstration was over the abduction of a 37-year-old Coptic housewife, who went missing two weeks ago.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press. (AP)

4:03 P.M. The Iraqi parliament rejected the prime minister's nominees for defense and interior ministers, leaving the two crucial posts unfilled as a U.S.-led coalition prepares to intensify airstrikes against the Islamic States group that controls vast parts of the country.

Lawmakers convened Tuesday, even as U.S. jets carried out an airstrike near Baghdad for the first time since launching an aerial campaign in early August, and French warplanes flying from the United Arab Emirates began reconnaissance missions over Iraq.

Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi put forward Sunni lawmaker Jaber al-Jabberi as his candidate for defense minister, and Shiite lawmaker Riyad Ghareeb as his pick for interior minister. Parliament, which could confirm the nominees with a simple majority, voted 118-117 against Ghareeb, and 131-108 against al-Jabberi.

"The failure of the parliament to agree on the candidates to fill the posts of interior and defense ministers shows clearly that the gap among and inside political groups are still huge and that each bloc is pursuing its own ambitions," said lawmaker Mutashar al-Samarie. "I think that the posts of defense and interior minister should be kept away from sectarian power sharing. Iraq's problems in Iraq can be solved only by bringing independent and efficient people to fill ministerial posts." (AP)

3:32 P.M. A Syrian military aircraft crashed into the de facto capital of the Islamic State group on Tuesday, killing at least eight people, as thousands of residents fled to nearby villages in anticipation of expected U.S. airstrikes against the militants, activists said.

It was not immediately clear whether the plane that slammed into the northeastern city of Raqqa was hit by anti-aircraft fire or experienced a technical failure, according to an activist based in the city and the Britain-based Observatory.

In Damascus, Syrian rebels emerged from underground sewers to attack government troops at dawn, one of very few such infiltration attempts to pass the boundaries of the capital since the conflict erupted three years ago against the rule of President Bashar Assad, activists said.

At least 18 fighters were killed in the southern area of Midan after two groups of rebels crawled into the city through the tunnel network to attack a Syrian government checkpoint, said Rami Abdurrahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The fighters belonged to several rebel brigades, including Syria's Al-Qaida affiliate, the Nusra Front.

The fighting lasted for four hours, said an activist based east of Damascus who uses the name Mamoun Ayoubi. The activist said the fighters were trying to relieve pressure on rebels in eastern Damascus. (AP)

3:17 P.M. The United States would retaliate against Syrian President Bashar Assad's air defenses if he were to go after American planes launching airstrikes in his country, senior Obama administration officials said Monday.

Officials said the U.S. has a good sense of where the Syrian air defenses, along with their command and control centers, are located. If Assad were to use those capabilities to threaten U.S. forces, it would put his air defenses at risk, according to the officials, who insisted on anonymity in order to discuss the administration's thinking on the matter.

President Barack Obama has authorized U.S. airstrikes inside Syria as part of a broad campaign to root out the Islamic State militant group, though no strikes have yet been launched in the country.

Asked Monday about the prospect of striking Assad's regime if his forces were to target Americans, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said there will be "rules of engagement that are related to any military orders the president directs."

"It won't surprise you to know that there are contingencies related to self-defense when it comes to these sorts of rules of engagement," he said. (AP)

3:11 P.M. Up to 15 children died after receiving contaminated measles vaccines in a rebel-held area of northern Syria, an opposition watchdog said Tuesday.

Another 50 children were hospitalized with symptoms of poisoning after receiving the vaccinations in the Maarat al-Nuaman area south of Aleppo, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

Opposition news site Siraj Press said that the vaccination campaign was being carried out by the Assistance Coordination Unit, a humanitarian wing of the opposition National Coalition.

Syria's vaccination program has broken down in areas outside government control. Last year saw the country's first polio outbreak in 14 years.

The UN children's agency UNICEF says it has delivered millions of doses of polio vaccine to Syria since the outbreak and is working with local partners to ensure children receive it. (DPA) 

9:53 A.M. Six Egyptian policemen were killed on Tuesday when a roadside bomb exploded as they passed through a volatile part of northern Sinai in an armored convoy, the interior ministry said. Two others were wounded in the attack, it added.

Militants in Sinai have stepped up attacks on policemen and soldiers since then-army chief Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi toppled President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood in July 2013. (Reuters)

9:32 A.M. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Turkey could take in leaders of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood group who have been asked to leave Qatar.

The leaders had sought refuge in Qatar following the ouster of Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and the crackdown on his supporters. But their presence in Qatar had severely strained Doha's relations with Egypt as well as with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Erdogan told reporters on his return from a visit to Qatar that Turkey would "review case by case" any request for refuge in Turkey.

9:28 A.M. Qatar has denied an accusation by Libyan Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni that it sent three military aircraft loaded with weapons to a Tripoli airport controlled by an armed opposition group.

In a statement to Qatar's news agency (QNA), Assistant Foreign Minister for Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdullah Al Rumaihi described the allegation as misleading and unfounded.

"The policy of the State of Qatar is based on clear and consistent foundations: mutual respect and non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries," said the statement on Monday evening. (Reuters)

5:50 A.M. Reiterating it would not send combat troops, Australia signalled Tuesday that its involvement in the U.S.-led military intervention against Islamic State could extend beyond Iraq to Syria. "I don't rule it out, but it's not our intention at this time," Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on ABC radio.

Abbott's comments came as Australian forces began deploying to the region as part of the mission. The country is sending 600 air force and army personnel, special forces advisers and aircraft this week.

Australia would back only legitimate forces, he said, responding to media reports that Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) was fighting alongside Kurdish Peshmerga. Canberra lists the PKK as a terrorist group.

Australia's Fairfax Media group reported Tuesday that PKK fighters have openly been providing support to Peshmerga groups in northern Iraq since early August. (DPA)

2:38 A.M. U.S. launches first offensive strikes against ISIS in Iraq, officials say, going to the aid of Iraqi security forces south of Baghdad who were being attacked by enemy fighters.(AP)

00:08 A.M. The Turkish military is drawing up plans for a possible "buffer zone" on Turkey's southern border, where it faces a threat from Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, Turkish media quoted Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan as saying on Monday.

The government would weigh up the plans and decide whether such a move was necessary, Turkish television stations quoted Erdogan as telling reporters on his plane as he returned from an official visit to Qatar.

A presidency official confirmed he had made such remarks but did not specify where along the border the zone might be established and gave no further details. (Reuters)