Middle East Updates / Nusra Front Offers to Free Lebanese Soldiers in Exchange for Prisoners in Syria, Lebanon

Report: 56 Egyptian judges suspended for backing Morsi; Egyptian journalists defy editors' pledge of near-blind support to regime.

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Islamic State fighters in Iraq's Anbar Province.
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11:44 P.M. Nusra Front offers to free Lebanese soldiers in exchange for prisoners in Syria, Lebanon

The Syrian Nusra Front has offered to free Lebanese soldiers it has captured in exchange for Islamist prisoners held in Syria and Lebanon, the SITE Intelligence Group reported on Sunday.

The Al-Qaida-linked front said in a statement monitored by SITE that it had presented a Qatari negotiatior with three proposals for the release of the soldiers, taken when its fighters and their Islamic State allies briefly seized the border town of Arsal in August.

According to the statement, which SITE said was posted on Twitter on Saturday, Nusra asked for the release of 10 "brothers" held in Lebanon, or seven prisoners in Lebanon and 30 female prisoners held in Syria, or six prisoners and 50 female prisoners for each captive soldiers.

It was not clear if these proposals also include a number of soldiers held by the hardline Islamic State militants.

Nusra said in its statement that once an agreement was reached, the handover of the female prisoners would occur either in Qatar or Turkey. Male prisoners would be handed over in Arsal's mountainous countryside.

The group said it had also handed the Qatari delegate with some of the names of the prisoners it wanted freed.

The names were not revealed but sources told Reuters in August the group was seeking the release of several detained Islamists, including some jailed since a 2007 insurrection by an Al-Qaida-inspired group at a Palestinian refugee camp in north Lebanon.  

9:10 P.M. Gunmen kill Yemeni liberal party leader

Unidentified gunmen shot and killed a leader of a liberal Yemeni political party that is close to the powerful Houthi rebel group on Sunday, the official state news agency Saba said.

The killing took place one day after Yemen's main political factions, including the Houthis, signed an agreement mandating the president and prime minister to form a new government in an effort to defuse political tensions in the impoverished state.

Gunmen on a motorbike shot Mohamed Abdelmalik al-Motawakal of the Union of Popular Forces party as he was walking in a street close to his home in central Sanaa, Saba said. He died in hospital, medical sources said.

The Zaydi Houthis are close to the Union of Popular Forces, which is a liberal party but dominated by Zaydis, a sect of Shi'ite Islam that predominates in Northern Yemen.

In recent months, the Houthis have become Yemen's main power-brokers and sent their militiamen into the west and center of the country, far beyond their traditional redoubts. They captured the capital Sanaa on Sept. 21, following weeks of anti-government unrest.

The Zaydi Houthi movement, which calls itself Ansar Allah, condemned the assasination and blamed the government for not providing better security.

The Houthi takeover of Sanaa and their spread into central and west Yemen antagonised Sunni tribesmen and al Qaeda militants, who regard the Houthis as heretics. (Reuters)

8:10 P.M. 50 Iraqis dead in attack by Islamic State militants on Sunni Tribe

Islamic State group extremists lined up and shot dead at least 50 Iraqi men, women and children from the same tribe on Sunday, officials said, in the latest targeting of the group by militants.

The killings, all committed in public, raise the death toll suffered by the Sunni Al Bu Nimr tribe in recent days to some 150, suggesting ISIS fighters now view them as a threat. Some Sunnis in the volatile province had previously supported the local expansion of ISIS and other militants in December.

Meanwhile, separate attacks around Baghdad killed at least 19 people, authorities said.

Sunday's attack on the Sunni tribe took place in the village of Ras al-Maa, north of Ramadi, the provincial capital. There, the militant group killed at least 40 men, six women and four children, lining them up and shooting them one by one, senior tribesman Sheikh Naim al-Gaoud told The Associated Press. The militants also kidnapped another 17 people, he said.

An official with the Anbar governor's office corroborated the tribesman's account. He spoke on condition of anonymity as he was not authorized to brief journalists.
 (AP)

3:40 P.M. Report: 56 Egyptian judges suspended for backing Morsi

Egyptian judicial authorities Sunday suspended 56 judges for allegedly backing deposed Islamist president Mohammed Morsi, state-run newspaper al-Ahram online reported.

The suspension by a judicial disciplinary board could result in their sacking, according to the report.

The judges were accused of expressing backing to Morsi in a statement they issued last year following his overthrow by the military.

Egypt's judicial system bars judges from engagement in political activities.

A judicial body called the Eligibility Council will have to meet to look into the possibility of sending the 56 judges to early retirement, al-Ahram quoted an unnamed judicial official as saying. (DPA)

12:27 P.M. Egyptian journalists defy editors pledge of near-blind support to regime

About 200 Egyptian journalists have rejected a recent policy declaration by newspaper editors pledging near-blind support to the state and banning criticism of the police, army and judiciary in their publications.

The journalists said in a Sunday statement that fighting terrorism is a duty that has nothing to do with the "voluntary surrender" of the freedom of expression.

Last week's statement of government support by the editors came in response to President Abdel-Fattah al-Sissi's call on Egyptians to rally behind him in the face of terrorism following the killing by suspected Islamic militants of 30 soldiers, the deadliest attack on the Egyptian army in decades.

The dispute is the latest episode in Egypt's struggle between authorities giving security precedence over nearly all else and a small but vocal pro-democracy camp. (Reuters)

11:01 A.M. Lawyer: Iranian-British woman gets year in prison

A lawyer in Iran says an Iranian-British woman detained while trying to attend a men's volleyball game has been sentenced to one year in prison.

Lawyer Mahmoud Alizadeh Tabatabaei told The Associated Press on Sunday that a court found 25-year-old Ghoncheh Ghavami guilty of "propagating against the ruling system." Tabatabaei says he has been shown the text of the verdict but is still waiting to officially receive it. He declined to immediately comment further.

Ghavami was detained in June at a Tehran stadium after trying to attend a men's volleyball match between Iran and Italy. She was held for a few hours and then released but she was detained again a few days later. She stood trial last month. (AP)

10:33 A.M. Islamic State executes 67 people in western Iraq, tribal leader says

Islamic State extremists have executed 67 people from a pro-government Sunni tribe in the western Iraqi province of Anbar, a tribal leader said Sunday, the latest mass killing carried out by the militant group.

"Daesh executed last night (Saturday) 67 members of the al-Bu Nimr tribe including children and women," Naeem al-Kaud, a senior al-Bu Nimr leader, said using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State.

He told Iraqi site Alsumaria News those executed were among 200 tribal captives held by the jihadists in the town of Ras al-Maa north of Anbar.

"The 125 others also face the threat of death," he said.

Fighters of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, have scored a number of advances in Anbar in recent weeks, threatening to gain full control of the Sunni-populated province, which stretches from the Syrian border to the outskirts of the capital Baghdad. (DPA)