Middle East Updates / Qatar Condemns Barbaric ISIS Murder of James Foley

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Spent bullet shells litter the ground as a member of the Islamist-linked militia of Misrata walks past following three days of battles in the area of Tripoli's International airport, on August 21, 201Credit: AFP

See Friday's Middle East Updates

Latest updates [Saturday]:

4:38 PM Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards is saying its forces have shot down an Israeli drone as it approached an Iranian nuclear site. The Guards issued a statement on its website saying its forces fired a missile at the drone as it neared its uranium enrichment facility in Natanz, more than 300 kilometers (185 miles) south of the capital, Tehran.

The statement did not say when it shot down the drone, nor did it elaborate on how the Guards knew the drone was from Israel. Israeli officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

This comes as world powers negotiate with the Islamic Republic over its contested nuclear program. The West fears it could allow Iran to build a nuclear weapon. Tehran says its program is for peaceful purposes. (AP)

10:24 P.M. Forces from the Libyan city of Misrata on Saturday seized Tripoli's main airport after more than a month of fighting with a rival group, a Misrata spokesman said.

Pictures on social media purportedly showed Misrata fighters celebrating at the terminal building in what, if confirmed, would be a big development in the battle to control the capital.

War planes had earlier struck Misrata positions in Tripoli in an attack claimed by renegade general Khalifa Haftar. The raids had killed 10 people and wounded dozens, the Misrata faction said. (Reuters)

7:35 P.M. Qatar condemned on Saturday the Islamic State's "barbaric" murder of U.S. journalist James Foley and flatly rejected accusations of giving financial support to the militant group.

Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah's comments came a day after the German government apologized for remarks by a minister accusing Qatar of financing Islamic State militants.

Attiyah described the recent comments as ill-informed.

"Qatar does not support extremist groups, including ISIS, in any way. We are repelled by their views, their violent methods and their ambitions," he said in a statement released in London.

"The vision of extremist groups for the region is one that we have not, nor will ever, support in any way."

Qatar has previously denied supporting Islamist insurgents who have seized wide areas of northern Iraq, northern and eastern Syria. (Reuters) 

7:30 P.M. The air force of Libya's renegade general Khalifa Haftar on Saturday attacked positions of Islamist-leaning militia in Tripoli for the second time in less than a week, one of his commanders said.

The faction under attack, Operation Dawn mainly from the town of Misrata, said the raids had killed 10 people and wounded dozens.

Haftar launched a campaign against Islamists in the eastern city of Benghazi in May. He threw his weight behind fighters from the western region of Zintan who are battling militia from the town of Misrata, east of Tripoli. (Reuters)

6:55 P.M. A bomb exploded on Saturday in Arbil, the capital of Iraq's Kurdistan region, a relatively stable region which has recently come under threat from advancing Islamic State militants, local television network Rudaw reported.

TV footage from the scene showed firefighters dousing the charred remains of a car, which blew up outside a technical college on the road from Arbil to Kirkuk. Several people were wounded but none killed in the blast, Rudaw said.

Kurdish security forces have been on high alert since Islamic State militants overran large swathes of Iraq, opening a more than 1,000 km-long (600-mile) front with the semi-autonomous region.

The last major attack in Arbil was in September, when militants launched a coordinated suicide and car bomb attack on the headquarters of the security services.

Kurdistan's relative security has attracted some of the world's largest oil companies including ExxonMobil and Chevron Corp to the region, but many of them have put their operations on hold or withdrawn staff since the Islamic State sweep earlier this month. (Reuters)

6:40 P.M. Iran's defense minister on Saturday said there was no need for UN nuclear inspectors to pay another visit to the Parchin military site, where the country is suspected of having tested components used in nuclear weapons.

Gen. Hossein Dehghan was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying the IAEA had already been to the site southeast of Tehran and carried out tests there. "Besides, they have accepted that nothing happened in Parchin," he said.

He added that Iran would not make its nuclear scientists available to the inspectors. Tehran has in the past charged the agency with leaking information that led to the assassination of scientists.

Inspectors from the UN nuclear watchdog have visited Parchin in the past but want to go back. Iran denies it has ever pursued nuclear weapons at Parchin, insisting it is a conventional military site. (AP)

6:34 P.M. Germany's foreign intelligence agency has been spying on Turkey for nearly four decades, Focus magazine said on Saturday in a report which could raise tensions further between the NATO allies.

The details about the duration of possible surveillance and on the decision-making surrounding it go further than first reports earlier this week.

Turkey summoned Germany's ambassador in Ankara on Monday after media reports that Berlin had identified Ankara as a top target of surveillance in a government document from 2009 and had been spying on Turkey for years.

Focus magazine said the BND intelligence agency had been spying on Turkey since 1976 and that German government under the then Social Democrat chancellor Helmut Schmidt had expressly approved the step.

The magazine also cited government sources as saying the BND's current mandate to monitor Turkish political and state institutions had been agreed by a government working group. That included representatives of the chancellor's office, the defense, foreign and economy ministries.

A spokesman for the German government declined to comment on the report.

The report is a further embarrassment for Angela Merkel's government which faces accusations of hypocrisy because of its outrage over allegations of widespread surveillance by the United States on Germans, including the tapping of the chancellor's phone.

However, conservative lawmaker Hans-Peter Uhl told Focus there were "good reasons" for the BND to bug Turkey. He cited human trafficking, drugs and terrorism as issues of concern and his comments chime with the views of many German politicians. (Reuters) 

3:53 P.M. A suicide bomber hit an interior ministry building in central Baghdad and killed at least 11 people on Saturday, officials said, as an investigation was underway into a deadly attack on a Sunni mosque that has heightened sectarian tension as the country undergoes a fragile political transition.
The suicide bomber drove an explosives-laden car into the gate of the intelligence headquarters in Karrada district in the early afternoon, killing six civilians and five security personnel, a police officer said. He added that 24 other people were wounded. (AP)

1:35 P.M. Iran inaugurated a new plant to convert a type of uranium into a material that cannot be used to make nuclear weapons as part of its interim atomic deal with world powers, its official news agency reported.

The report by IRNA quoted Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of Iran's nuclear agency, saying that the plant will convert uranium hexafluoride, which can be used to make nuclear weapons and fuel. It will become uranium dioxide, which can only be used in nuclear reactors, he said.

"The process has begun and we have implemented our commitment," Salehi was quoted as saying.

The plant is located in central Iranian city of Isfahan, the report said. Iran has a nuclear power plant in southern port of Bushehr that went online in 2011.

In November, Iran accepted to cap its uranium enrichment in return for the easing of some sanctions by the West. Iran and world powers now are negotiating terms of a final deal, which faces a November deadline.

The West fears Iran's nuclear program could allow it to build atomic weapons. Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes, like power generation and medical research.

A Shiite Muslim fighter, loyal to Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, takes part in a last combat training near the city of Najaf in Iraq on August 23, 2014.Credit: AFP

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