Middle East Updates / British PM: Anyone Who Considers Fighting With Islamic State Will Be Treated as Enemy of the State

UN: At least 1,119 Iraqis killed in September; British jets bomb Islamic State for first time; court in Egypt jails 68 Muslim Brotherhood supporters; Iran to give military grant to Lebanese Army.


Haaretz's latest Middle East analyses and opinions: Israel is no longer the center of the Mideast story (Amos Harel) | In hesitating on Iraq, U.K. exposes its diminishing role in global affairs (Anshel Pfeffer) | Will Gaza be the global jihadists' next 'ground zero'? (Aaron Y. Zelin)


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Latest updates:

4:42 P.M. The Libyan army has declared a halt to military operations "on all fronts," local media said Wednesday, two days after rival parliamentarians at a UN-sponsored meeting called for a ceasefire in the troubled country.

Military spokesman Colonel Abu Zaid al-Mismari said the decision was taken out of respect for the Islamic feast of Eid al-Adha, which starts within days, and in response to the parliamentarians' ceasefire call.

A UN statement after the talks said the lawmakers also agreed on confidence-building measures including addressing humanitarian needs and re-opening the country's airports.

Further meetings are due to take place after Eid al-Adha.

But local news site Al-Wasat reported that the head of the Islamist-backed rival assembly based in the capital Tripoli, Nuri Abu Sahmain, complained that he had not been invited to the talks. (DPA)

2:31 P.M. Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday condemned anyone considering travelling to fight in Iraq and Syria with Islamic State, saying they would be treated as an enemy of Britain.

Britain has raised its terrorism alert to its second-highest level and has said Islamic State militants battling for territory in Syria and Iraq pose a grave security risk.

Cameron told his Conservative party conference on Wednesday he would do everything possible to stop people from travelling to Iraq and Syria to fight alongside Islamist militants, and from returning home.

"If you try and travel to Syria or Iraq, we will use everything at our disposal to stop you - taking away your passport, prosecuting, convicting, imprisoning and even if you're there already we may even prevent you from coming back," he said.

"You have declared your allegiance, you are an enemy of the U.K. and you should expect to be treated as such."

The British government says at least 500 of its citizens are currently involved in the conflict in addition to 250 who have already returned. (Reuters)

1:06 P.M. The UN mission in Baghdad says at least 1,119 Iraqis died in violence in September but that the real figure was likely much higher since the organization's death toll does not include killings in areas controlled by the Islamic State group.

Wednesday's statement says 854 civilians and 265 members of the Iraqi security forces were killed, and that 1,946 Iraqis were wounded last month.

The worst-hit city was Baghdad, with 352 civilians killed.

The United Nations says the figures are the "absolute minimum" number of casualties and they do not include deaths in the western Anbar province or other militant-held parts of northern Iraq.

The August death toll stood at 1,420. In June, 2,400 were killed as Sunni militants swept across Iraq, the highest figure since at least April 2005. (AP)

12:00 P.M. Gunmen shot and wounded a Saudi policeman in the eastern part of the kingdom, state news agency SPA reported late on Tuesday, in an attack that highlights the volatile situation in the area ahead of the annual Muslim haj pilgrimage.

The attack came days after the fatal shooting of a Shi'ite activist in the same town in Eastern Province, which is home to a large number of the country's Shi'ite Muslim minority and has seen protests against the Sunni Muslim al-Saud ruling family.

The policeman, Mohammed Atiq al-Jehani, was shot and wounded by unknown assailants while stationed at a checkpoint at the entrance to the restive town of al-Awamiya late on Monday night, Saudi-owned al-Sharq al-Awsat reported.

Saudi Interior Minister Prince Mohammed bin Nayef later visited Jehani at a police hospital in the capital Riyadh, SPA said. (Reuters) 

10:13 A.M. Islamist militants have released a Lebanese soldier they seized last month from a town at the border with Syria where they have clashed with the Lebanese army, security sources and state media said on Wednesday.

It was not immediately clear why the soldier, identified by Lebanon's state news agency as Kamal al-Hujairi, had been released. He was seized while visiting his family's farm near the border town of Arsal last month, the National News Agency said.

Militants are believed to be holding about 15 Lebanese soldiers and 15 other members of the security forces captured during an incursion by gunmen - including some linked to the Islamic State group - into Arsal in August. (Reuters) 

9:46 A.M. Turkey's parliament will debate allowing foreign military forces to use Turkish bases for cross-border operations against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, according to a government proposal submitted late on Tuesday.

"The cabinet of ministers has decided ... to ask permission from parliament ... to send the Turkish Armed Forces if necessary to foreign countries for cross-border operations and interventions, and to position foreign militaries in Turkey for the same purposes," the proposal said.

Parliament is expected to debate the proposal on Thursday, with the ruling AK Party's strong majority meaning it is likely to be approved. (Reuters) 

9:25 A.M. The silence of Algeria's ailing president since the kidnapping and beheading of a French hiker by Islamic State-inspired militants has ignited new concerns over his health and whether he's fit to rule the oil-rich North African nation — or indeed whether he's still doing so.

Since Abdelaziz Bouteflika's election to a fourth term in April, the 77-year-old leader has been almost entirely absent from public view, including during key crises such as the crash of an Air Algeria plane in July that killed 118 passengers, half of them French. He last appeared on television in August.

After the appearance of a video Thursday showing extremists beheading hiker Herve Gourdel, who had been kidnapped just days earlier, French President Francois Hollande spoke twice with Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal, rather than Bouteflika as would have been customary.

It was the same situation when extremists stormed one of Algeria's largest natural gas plants in January 2013, resulting in the death of 39 captive foreign workers. Bouteflika was again nowhere to be seen.

"Where has Bouteflika gone?" asked Soufiane Djilali, the leader of the New Generation party at a forum hosted Saturday by the newspaper Liberte. He noted how U.S. President Barack Obama publicly gave his condolences to France at the U.N. General Assembly, while "our president was not even there!"

Bouteflika, who has led the country since 1999, was re-elected despite noisy claims by the opposition that he was not physically fit to rule after a stroke in 2013, followed by months of convalescing in France. He was totally absent from the election campaign and has rarely been seen since. (AP)

8:34 A.M. Australia was sending two unarmed air force planes to support U.S.-led coalition combat operations against the Islamic State movement in Iraq, but would not yet launch its own air strikes, the prime minister said Wednesday.

An E-7A Wedgetail early warning and control aircraft and a KC-30A refueling plane will join operations from the al-Minhad Air Base outside Dubai, Prime Minister Tony Abbott told Parliament.

Cabinet ministers were awaiting final clearances from the Iraqi government before deciding on combat missions, Abbott said.

The Australian government can commit troops to war without asking the Parliament for permission.

"We have not yet made a final decision to commit our forces to combat, but Australian aircraft from today will start flying over Iraq in support of allied operations," Abbott said. (AP)

8:04 A.M. Egypt has offered to train pro-government forces battling rival armed groups in Libya, stepping up efforts to eradicate what it says is a threat to its own stability from the anarchy engulfing its neighbor.

The offer was the latest sign of intervention by competing Arab powers in Libya - a haven for Islamist militants and close to becoming a failed state - while Western governments are preoccupied with Iraq and Syria.

Egypt is trying to reassert its regional authority on its own terms while also winning back the U.S. military aid suspended after Cairo cracked down on the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood.

Egyptian military officials and representatives of pro-government Libyan forces have met several times over the past two months in Cairo and the Mediterranean city of Marsa Matrouh, Egyptian security officials said.

An intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said "intelligence and training" assistance were on the table. The Egyptian government spokesman declined comment, but Ahmad Buzeyad Al-Missmari, spokesman of the Libyan General Chief of Staff, confirmed Egypt had offered training for troops. (Reuters)  

7:16 A.M. Two suicide bombers in the Afghan capital targeted two buses carrying Afghan army troops on Wednesday, killing seven and wounding 21 people, police said.

The first attacker hit a bus with Afghan National Army officers, killing seven and wounding 15 in west Kabul, said Kabul criminal investigation police chief Mohammad Farid Afzali.

The second attacker, who was also on foot, blew himself up in front of a second bus in northeast Kabul, wounding additional army personnel, Afzali said.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid claimed responsibility for the attacks. They came a day after Afghanistan and the U.S. signed a security pact allowing U.S. forces to remain in the country past the end of the year to support Afghans as they take over the fight against the Taliban insurgency. (AP)

Which countries support the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State?