Middle East Updates / UN Envoy Calls for Urgent International Response in Kobani

UN says Syria declares another four chemical sites; at least 400 killed over three weeks of Islamic State fighting in Kurdish town.


Haaretz's latest Middle East analyses and opinions: Will the blood of Kobani’s Kurds be on Turkey’s hands? (Seth Lipsky) | Israel is no longer the center of the Mideast story (Amos Harel)


See Monday's Middle East Updates

Latest updates:

11:30 P.M. The United States stepped up discussions with Turkey on Tuesday over Ankara's role in a U.S.-led coalition that is fighting Islamic State militants, who were closing in on a key Syrian town on the Turkish border.

NATO member Turkey has not joined the U.S.-led coalition against the Sunni insurgents, saying the campaign should also remove Syrian President Bashar Assad.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has spoken twice in recent days with his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoglu, once on Monday night and again on Tuesday morning, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told a regular briefing.

"Turkey is determining what larger role they will play going forward and that conversation is ongoing," Psaki said. "They have indicated their openness to doing that, so there is an active conversation about that." (Reuters)

9:38 P.M. The new United Nations envoy to Syria is calling for an urgent international response to the Islamic State group's assault on a Kurdish town by the Turkish border, saying the global community can't sustain another city falling to the extremist group.

Staffan de Mistura issued the demand for "concrete action," after Turkey's president declared that Kobani is on the brink of being captured.

De Mistura's statement says: "The world, all of us, will regret deeply if ISIS is able to take over a city which has defended itself with courage but is close to not being able to do so. We need to act now."

The attack has forced more than 200,000 people to flee, one of the largest single exoduses of the three-year Syrian conflict. (AP)

8:15 P.M. A special representative of the UN secretary-general has told the Security Council that Syria has declared four chemical weapons facilities it had not mentioned before. (AP) Read the full article here.

7:22 P.M. A security official says gunmen in an eastern Libyan city have killed a local politician who was a prominent opponent of Islamic militants controlling the city. Rival radical groups have vied for control of Derna in Libya's oil-rich eastern region. Officials there say a number of hardened Libyan militants have recently patrolled the city flexing military power. Some have returned from fighting in Syria and Iraq.

The security official said Osama al-Mansouri was killed Tuesday when gunmen fired at his car. Al-Mansouri headed a political group that opposes Islamist groups and advocates autonomy for the east. The official spoke only on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to speak to the media.
Assassinations have become a common way to settle political scores in increasingly lawless Libya. (AP)

6:20 P.M. Lebanon's Hezbollah claims responsibility for an attack against an Israeli military border post that wounded two soldiers. The IDF responded to with artillery fire at two Hezbollah targets near the border. (Haaretz) Read full article

4:47 P.M. France said on Tuesday that everything needed to be done to stop Islamic State's advance on the besieged northern Syrian border town of Kobani and that it was discussing with Turkey what action was necessary.

"A tragedy is unfolding, and we must all react," Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told lawmakers. "For Kobani, we are mobilising."

Fabius said he had already spoken to his Turkish counterpart and that French President Francois Hollande would speak to the Turkish president later on Tuesday "to see how to react in face of the urgent situation".

"We are also reinforcing our own cooperation with the forces that are fighting Islamic State," Fabius added without specifying if he meant Kurdish forces. (Reuters)

4:36 P.M. Yemeni parties agreed on Tuesday to appoint an associate of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi as prime minister, two aides of Hadi said, a move some Yemenis expect may lead to the withdrawal of Shi'ite Muslim fighters from the capital Sanaa.

Hadi was expected to ask Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak bin Mubarak, the director of his office, later on Tuesday to form a government, under an accord between the president and several parties, including the Shi'ite Houthi movement, intended to create a more inclusive administration.

Houthi forces overran the capital last month, allowing them to dictate terms to Hadi's weakened, fractured government. (Reuters)

4:05 P.M. Three Finnish men were arrested in Helsinki on Friday on suspicion of carrying out "terrorist" crimes and joining foreign fighters abroad, police said.

The case was linked to Syria and the hardline Sunni Muslim group Islamic State, local broadcaster MTV said, citing unnamed sources. Police declined to comment on that report.

"They are suspected of participating in an armed group's activity abroad, and of crimes with a terrorist purpose," Finland's National Bureau of Investigation said in a statement. (Reuters)

2:16 P.M. At least 400 people have been killed during three weeks of fighting between Islamic State and Kurdish fighters in and around the Syrian border town of Kobani, a monitoring group said on Tuesday.

Fighters from both sides and civilians had died, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.

The organization said it had documented 412 deaths from sources on the ground, but the real figure was likely double that. (Reuters) 

2:13 P.M. A parish priest and around 20 Christians have been kidnapped from a Syrian village near the border with Turkey, Catholic news agency Fides reported on Tuesday, quoting Bishop Georges Abou Khazen, the Apostolic Vicar of Aleppo.

"Unfortunately I have to confirm news of the kidnapping of Father Hanna Jallouf..., the Syrian priest in the village of Knayeh, who was taken with around 20 Christians," Fides quoted him as saying.

He said the kidnapping took place in the night between Sunday and Monday. (Reuters)

2:00 P.M. Kurdish protesters have forced their way into the European Parliament, part of Europe-wide demonstrations against the Islamic State group's advance on a town on the Syrian-Turkish border.

The activists are demanding more help for the besieged Kurdish forces struggling to hold onto the Syrian town of Kobani. Some European countries are arming the Kurds or firing airstrikes against the Islamic extremists, but protesters say it isn't enough.

In Brussels, about 50 Kurdish protesters smashed a door and pushed past police to get into the European Parliament on Tuesday, while 600 other Kurds demonstrated in Berlin.

Kurdish protesters overnight occupied the Dutch Parliament and protested at the French Parliament. (AP)

12:52 P.M. President Hassan Rohani on Tuesday called for more academic freedom in Iran's universities, saying restrictions stifle innovation and breed sycophancy.

"Irrelevant restrictions will lead to lack of tolerance, the departure of honest, competent individuals and the promotion of ingratiating people," Rohani said at an event marking the start of the academic year at Tehran University.

"Let's not create a climate of flattery in the university," Rohani said in the speech, which was broadcast live on state TV. "We should not be concerned about the expression of diverse views by university professors."

He complained that no student representatives were speaking at the ceremony, saying: "I am here to listen, not to make a speech. It is a matter of regret that there was no speech by a student association representative in today's program."

Rohani added that "governing and administering the country is not possible without tolerance. Let's let people express themselves."

Several students at the meeting were carrying placards reading: "We are waiting to realize your promises," a reference to last year's election, when Rohani vowed change after the conservative rule of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. (AP)

10:56 A.M. Warplanes believed to have been sent by the U.S.-led coalition struck positions held by Islamic State militants near a Syrian border that beleaguered Kurdish forces have been struggling to defend.

The air strikes on Tuesday came after fighters from the extremist group managed to enter some neighborhoods of Kobani, a strategic town near the Turkish border. Journalists on the Turkish side of the border heard the sound of warplanes before two large plumes of smoke billowed just west of Kobani.

The U.S.-led coalition has launched several air strikes over the past two weeks near Kobani in a bid to help Kurdish forces defend the town, but the strikes appear to have done little to slow the Islamic State offensive. (AP)

10:41 A.M. Media reports say police in Istanbul and at least six other Turkish cities clashed with hundreds of demonstrators protesting the Islamic State group's advance on a Kurdish town on Syria's border with Turkey.

The private Dogan news agency said Tuesday clashes broke out in several Istanbul neighborhoods overnight, as protesters set up barricades, hurled stones, fireworks and firebombs at police and set a bus on fire. One police officer was injured.

Police used tear gas and water cannon to disperse similar protests in the mostly Kurdish-populated cities of Diyarbakir, Batman, Van, Sirnak, Sanliurfa and Hakkari. (AP)

10:26 A.M. Islamic State fighters advanced into the south west of the Syrian Kurdish town of Kobani overnight, a monitoring group said on Tuesday, taking several buildings to gain attacking positions from two sides of the city.

Two Islamic State flags were still visible over the eastern side of Kobani, Reuters journalists viewing from across the nearby Turkish border said. Sporadic gunfire could be heard.

More than 2,000 Syrian Kurds including women and children were evacuated from the town, a member of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) said on Monday. Read full article here

10:00 A.M. U.S. drone strikes killed 13 Islamist militants in Pakistani tribal district, officials said Tuesday.

The first unmanned aircraft fired two missiles at a compound in the Shawal area of North Waziristan, near Afghan border, killing eight militants on Monday.

Most of the victims were believed to be members of an Islamist group of ethnic Uzbek militants, a military official said.

The compound was being used as a transit point to launch cross-border attacks on international forces in Afghanistan, an intelligence official said. (DPA)

6:19 A.M. Japanese police raided the house of a 26-year-old man who allegedly planned to go to Syria to join Islamic State militants, a report said Tuesday.

Tokyo police questioned the university student Monday, a day before he planned to leave for Syria, the Kyodo News agency reported, citing an investigative source.

The student told an investigator that he was planning to join the jihadists as a fighter, Kyodo quoted police sources as saying.

He had cancelled a scheduled trip to Syria in August and it was unclear if he has ever been to the country, the report said.

The student apparently responded to a "help wanted" poster inviting people to go to Syria, which had been put up at a second-hand bookshop in Tokyo, Kyodo said. (DPA)

5:16 A.M. The Pentagon has spent as much as $1.1 billion on U.S. military operations against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria since the mission began in mid-June, including more than $62 million alone in Navy airstrikes and Tomahawk cruise missiles. Read full story (AP)

2:50 A.M. U.S. Sen. Bob Casey says it would be "very healthy" for the United States if members of Congress spend about two weeks getting briefings, holding hearings, and having a real debate about authorizing the use of force against the Islamic State terrorist group.

The Pennsylvania Democrat said in an interview Monday with The Associated Press that even if members believe, as he does, that President Barack Obama has the legal authority to mount an aerial bombing campaign against the terrorist group, a debate and even some votes could be helpful for his strategy.

Casey said the administration also has to prepare the country for a counterterrorism campaign that is going to take years, "and I think we should not only say that, we should have a strategy that reflects that." (AP)

2:04 A.M. The White House defended Vice President Joe Biden on Monday after he was forced to call leaders in Turkey and the United Arab Emirates to apologize for remarks he made suggesting they had supported Islamist militants in Syria.

"The vice president is somebody who has enough character to admit when he's made a mistake," White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.

"(Biden) is somebody who continues to be a core member of the president's national security team. He is somebody who has decades of experience in dealing with leaders around the globe. And the President is pleased to be able to rely on his advice as we confront the variety of challenges that are so critical to American national security."  (AP)

0:24 A.M.  Dozens of Kurds stormed the national parliament building in The Hague on Monday night in a protest against Islamic State fighters who are attacking a Kurdish town in northern Syria, Kurdish officials in the Netherlands said.

Riot squads and hundreds of officers were deployed and helicopters were flying overhead, said a demonstrator at the scene.

Around 100 protesters forced their way through to the main hall of the building and were sitting on the floor with banners, one of which read "Stop Kobani."

"The situation in Kobani is getting of control. IS has stormed the town and a lot of civilians are being killed. We want the West to do more to stop the situation in Syria," said the protester, who asked not to be named. (Reuters)