Middle East Updates / ISIS Executes Four Journalists in Mosul, Locals Say

France inks $3B deal with Saudis to arm Lebanon; U.S. drone strikes kill at least 10 suspected Al-Qaida fighters in Yemen; ISIS releases 93 Syrian Kurds captured in Feb.; At least five killed in Saudi Arabia after gunmen open fire.

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Haaretz's latest Middle East analyses and opinions: Rivalries in Kobani play into hands of ISIS | In Egypt's fight against terror, it's the anti-terror Bedouin who suffer most Israeli citizens fighting for Islamic State: a small, yet worrying trend

An Egyptian military helicopter over Rafah, near the Gaza border. October 29, 2014.
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Latest updates:

9:17 P.M. Death toll from Saudi Arabia Ashoura shooting rises to 8

The death toll from Monday night's shootings in eastern Saudi Arabia rose to eight on Tuesday from five reported previously, with another 12 injured, the Interior Ministry told Reuters.

Seven of the eight people were killed at a Shi'ite Muslim place of worship in the village of al-Dalwah in al-Ahsa district of Eastern Province. The other person was found shot dead in a car in a neighbouring village, a ministry spokesman said. (Reuters) 

7:10 P.M. Turkey's new presidential palace to reportedly cost over $500 mln

Turkey's newly inaugurated presidential palace, a vast 1,000-room complex in Ankara woodland, is set to cost more than half a billion dollars by the end of next year, the country's finance minister was quoted as saying in a newspaper on Tuesday.

The construction of the sprawling edifice has sharply divided public opinion, with critics pointing to it as evidence of President Tayyip Erdogan's increasingly domineering stature after more than a decade at the helm of Turkish politics.

"Some $432.7 million has been paid for the construction of the new presidential palace as of now and some $135 million will be allocated for the palace in 2015," Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek said, according to the Hurryiet Daily News.
The total value of the project was expected to reach $615 million, and a new presidential jet would be bought for $185 million, Simsek told parliament's planning and budget commission. (Reuters) 

5:31 P.M. France inks $3 billion deal with Saudis to arm Lebanon

France and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement on Tuesday for Paris to provide the Lebanese army with $3 billion worth of weapons paid for by Riyadh, the French foreign minister said.

The deal, first announced in December, aims to boost Lebanon's military as it struggles to contain a rising tide of violence linked to the civil war in neighboring Syria. There were no immediate details on what weapons systems would likely be delivered under the agreement, or when Lebanon would receive them.

"I welcome the signing of the contract to assist the Lebanese army," French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said in a statement. "This agreement, financed by a Saudi donation, will strengthen the Lebanese army, which is the guarantor of the unity and stability of Lebanon." (AP) Real the full article

4:07 P.M. ISIS executes four journalists in Mosul, locals say

The Islamic State group has executed four journalists in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul, local residents tell DPA.

The militant group handed over the bodies of the four people, who were among 12 journalists abducted last month, to medical authorities in the city, the residents say. 

3:43 P.M. Security tight as Shiites mark holy day in Iraq

Hundreds of thousands of Shiite pilgrims flocked Tuesday to an Iraqi holy city for the peak of a 10-day religious ritual amid tight security over fears of sectarian attacks — the first time Ashoura has been observed since Sunni extremists seized much of northern and western Iraq.

The militants, who view Shiites as apostates deserving of death, claimed responsibility for two bombing attacks against pilgrims that killed 23 people in Baghdad on Sunday. They have systematically massacred thousands of their opponents, including Sunni rivals, in Iraq and Syria and are battling Lebanese army troops near the country's border with Syria.

Ashoura rituals were so far peaceful in the city of Karbala, 50 miles (80 kilometers) south of Baghdad, as more than 30,000 Iraqi troops were deployed to protect the worshippers. The occasion marks the anniversary of the death in the seventh century of the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, Imam Hussein, in a battle outside Karbala — which sealed Islam's historic Sunni-Shiite split. Shiite festivals in Iraq have often been attacked by Sunni extremists. (AP)

2:23 P.M. More than 30 dead in Yemen after Shi'ite Houthis clash with Al-Qaida-backed fighters

Yemeni security officials say more than 30 people have been killed in clashes between Shi'ite Houthi rebels and tribal fighters backed by al-Qaida militants in the embattled town of Radda south of the capital Sanaa.

The officials said the two sides traded heavy artillery fire that lasted until early Tuesday, killing several civilians and damaging houses and cars. The indiscriminate shelling has forced dozens of families to flee the town.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity according to military regulations.

Some 250 people were killed late last month in fighting between the Houthis, who control large parts of Radda, and the Qifa tribe. The Houthis swept down from their northern strongholds and overran Sanaa in September. (AP)

1:55 P.M. U.S. drone strikes kill at least 10 suspected Al-Qaida fighters in Yemen

U.S. drone strikes killed at least 10 suspected Al-Qaida militants on Tuesday in central Yemen, where fighting between members of Ansar al-Sharia and Shi'ite Muslim rebels also killed 10 people, local tribesmen said. (Reuters)

12:10 P.M. Politician from Turkey's pro-Kurdish party politician stabbed at party HQ in Ankara

A politician from the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) was stabbed in the neck and leg in an attack at the party's offices in Ankara, an official told Reuters, amid tensions over a fragile Kurdish peace process.

Ahmet Karatas was being treated in intensive care in a hospital in the Turkish capital, the HDP official said.

The unknown assailant stabbed Karatas after the politician opened a door to him at the party's offices on Tuesday morning.

"We don't consider this to be a personal attack on Ahmet Karatas. At this stage we assess it to be an attack on our party," added the official, who declined to be named.

Dozens were killed last month in unrest in southeast Turkey as Kurds protested at what they saw as the government's failure to help their kin, who have been fighting Islamic State militants in the besieged town of Kobani across the border in Syria.

The government and the HDP have accused each other of fuelling the unrest and damaging a peace process launched by Ankara and Kurdish militants two years ago to end a decades-old conflict in which more than 40,000 people have died. (Reuters)

10:50 A.M. ISIS reportedly tortured, abused captured Kurdish children in Kobani

An international rights group says Islamic State militants tortured and abused Kurdish children captured earlier this year near the northern Syrian town of Kobani.

Human Rights Watch based its conclusions on interviews with several children who were among more than 150 Kurdish boys from Kobani abducted in late May as they were returning home after taking school exams in the city of Aleppo.

It says around 50 of the Kurds escaped, while the rest were released in batches — the last coming on Oct. 29.

Four of the children held by the extremists described frequent beatings with a hose and electric cable.

Human Rights Watch's Fred Abrahams says the evidence of the Islamic State group's abuse of children "underlines why no one should support their criminal enterprise." (AP)

10:28 A.M. ISIS releases 93 Syrian Kurds captured in February

The militant Islamic State group has released 93 Syrian Kurds it captured in February as they made their way from northern Syria to neighboring Iraq, a group monitoring the conflict said on Tuesday.

Islamic State seized around 100 people, accusing them of being members of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) which has opposed the militants, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. It was not immediately clear why they were released.

Islamic State, an al Qaeda offshoot which is the target of U.S.-led air strikes in Syria and Iraq, released all but six of the Kurds in Syria on Monday, the Observatory said. (Reuters)

8:57 A.M. Iraq security forces on alert for possible ISIS attacks as Shi'ites gather for Ashoura religious ritual

Shi'ite Muslims gathered at shrines and mosques across Iraq on Tuesday for the Ashoura religious ritual as Iraqi security forces were on alert for possible attacks that have inflicted mass casualties during past pilgrimages.

The presence of ultra-hardline ISIS militants in the country who swept through the north raises the possibility of wider bloodshed this year as crowds swell into the millions.

Islamic State, seen as more ruthless than its predecessor in Iraq, al Qaeda, believes Shi'ites are infidels who deserve to be killed and the group has claimed responsibility for numerous suicide bombings against members of the majority sect.

Security for the event has been tight since suspected al Qaeda suicide bombers and mortar attacks killed 171 people during Ashoura - an event that defines Shi'ism and its rift with Sunni Islam - in Kerbala and Baghdad in 2004.

Shi'ites are commemorating the slaying of Prophet Mohammad's grandson Hussein at the battle of Kerbala in AD 680.

During the ritual, Shi'ites beat their heads and chests and gash their heads with swords to show their grief and echo the suffering of Imam Hussein.

Under Saddam Hussein's secular rule, such displays were banned in Iraq, which was ruled mostly by Sunnis in his secular Baath Party. (Reuters) 

8:28 A.M. Drive-by shooting in Sydney influenced by ISIS, Australia PM says

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Tuesday said a drive-by shooting at a Shiite Islamic Centre in Sydney in which a man was injured was influenced by Islamic State.

Rasoul al-Mousawi sustained pellet wounds to his face and shoulder in Monday's attack outside the centre in the suburb of Greenacre.

Witnesses told media the assailants shouted the words "Shia dogs" and pro-Islamic State slogans. Al-Mousaw was shot in front of his wife and four children, reports said.

"What we have seen here is an apocalyptic millennial extremist ideology which is now rampaging across Syria and Iraq ... and it has echoes here in Australia," Abbott told reporters.

"It seems there is an ISIL [Islamic State] death cult influence on this shooting in Sydney in the last 24 hours or so." (DPA)

8:14 A.M. At least five killed in eastern Saudi Arabia after gunmen open fire

Saudi Arabia's state news agency says masked gunmen opened fire on a group of people in the east of the kingdom, killing five and wounding nine others.

The official Saudi Press Agency said the attack happened late Monday evening in the village of al-Dalwah, which is located in the country's al-Ahsa province. The area is one of the main centers for Saudi Arabia's minority Shi'ite community.

SPA says the attackers shot the victims with pistols and machine guns. There were no further details on the identities of the attackers or the victims. The agency says an investigation is underway.

The attack comes as Shiite Muslims mark Ashoura, which commemorates the 7th-century death of Imam Hussein, a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad revered by Shi'ites. (AP) 

7:09 A.M. Anti-ISIS Coalition must shift focus to Aleppo, France says

The coalition fighting ISIS must now save Syria's second city Aleppo as moderate rebels face destruction by attacks from forces loyal to President Bashar Assad and jihadist militants, France's foreign minister said.

In a column in French daily Le Figaro, the Washington Post and pan-Arab Al-Hayat, Laurent Fabius said the city, the "bastion" of the opposition, was almost encircled and abandoning it would end hopes of a political solution in Syria's three-year civil war.

"Abandoning Aleppo would condemn 300,000 men, women and children to a terrible choice: the murderous siege of the regime's bombs or the barbarity of the Islamic State terrorists," Fabius wrote.

"It would condemn Syria to years of violence. It would be the death of any political perspective and would see the fragmentation of the country run by increasingly radicalized warlords. It would also export the internal chaos of Syria towards already fragile neighbors Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan."

As U.S. warplanes bomb Islamic State in parts of Syria, Assad's military has intensified its own campaign against some of the rebel groups in the west and north of the country that Washington considers its allies, including in and around Aleppo. (Reuters)

0:03 A.M. Egypt's Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis militants swear allegiance to ISIS

Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, Egypt's most dangerous militant group, has sworn allegiance to Islamic State, a statement from Ansar said Monday night.

Ansar is waging an insurgency against the government that has killed hundreds of security personnel in the Sinai Peninsula, and has looked to Islamic State, also known as ISIS, for inspiration and advice in the past. (Reuters)