Middle East Updates / Yemen's Shi'ite Rebels Announce Takeover of Country

UN and Arab League appeal for funds to rebuild war-torn Gaza; thousands of Jordanians hold mass rally to denounce ISIS, pilot's execution; Syrian bombs kill 47 civilians in Aleppo.

AFP

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Jordanians hold a rally to show their support for the government against terror in Amman, February 5
AP

Latest updates:

9:10 P.M. UN and Arab League appeal for funds to rebuild war-torn Gaza 

The United Nations and the Arab League are urgently appealing to donors to honor their funding commitments to rebuild the war-ravaged Gaza Strip.

A statement Friday from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby expressed "deep concern" at the situation in Gaza, saying the pace of reconstruction remains slow and it's crucial to expand efforts now "to bring hope to the people of Gaza and ensure stability."

They said donors should also include funding for U.N. agencies to prevent further deterioration in the already dire humanitarian situation.

Donors at an international conference in Cairo on Oct. 12 promised $2.7 billion to rebuild Gaza following the war last summer between Israel and Hamas.

The Palestinians have complained about the failure of donors to turn the pledges into contributions. (AP)

8:30 P.M. New sanctions proposed for ISIS oil trading

A proposed U.N. resolution to crack down on the financing of terrorist groups calls for sanctions on individuals and companies trading oil produced by the Islamic State and other Al-Qaida-linked groups.

The Russian-sponsored resolution, obtained Friday by AP, would also require all 193 U.N. member states to take "appropriate steps" to prevent the trade in antiquities and other items of historical, cultural, rare scientific and religious importance illegally removed from Syria. A similar ban already exists for antiquities from Iraq.

The draft resolution would also reaffirm that it is illegal to pay ransom to individuals and groups that are already subject to U.N. sanctions, and that all countries are required to freeze such funds.

If adopted, the proposed measure would be another in a series of Security Council resolutions targeting terror that go back to the days immediately after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. The earliest resolution bans all countries from supporting or financing terrorism. Subsequent measures have ordered sanctions against terrorists and terrorist groups, demanded an end to ransom payments to such groups, and required nations to bar their citizens from traveling abroad to join terrorist organizations. (AP)

6:55 P.M. Israeli minister urges West to give more arms to Kurds, Jordan

Western states should provide more weapons to Jordan, Egypt, Kurdish forces and certain opposition forces in Syria, Israel's Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz said on the sidelines of the Munich Security conference on Friday.

Israeli officials had previously stopped short of making such explicit calls, citing concern that such groups would face added hostility by being publicly associated with Israel.

Kurdish regional forces are battling Islamic State militants on Syrian and Iraqi territory where IS has submitted whole towns to strict Islamic rule. Egypt is trying to defeat jihadists operating in the Sinai Peninsula, bordering Israel.

When asked what the Western-led alliance conducting air strikes against IS strongholds could do better, Steinitz said: "More support with weapons and also financial support to more moderate groups, Islamic forces, like for example the Kurds, like the Free Syrian Army and like moderate Arab states, like Jordan, like Egypt." (Reuters)

5:40 P.M. Yemen's Shi'ite rebels announce takeover of country

Yemen's powerful Shi'ite rebels announced on Friday that they have taken over the country and dissolved parliament, a dramatic move that finalizes their months-long power grab.

The development also plunges the impoverished country deeper into turmoil and threatens to turn the crisis into a full-blown sectarian conflict, pitting the Iran-backed Houthi Shiites against Sunni tribesmen and secessionists in the south.
It could also play into the hands of Yemen's Al-Qaida branch, the world's most dangerous offshoot of the terror group, and jeopardize the U.S. counter-terrorism operations in the country.

In a televised announcement from the Republican Palace in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, the Houthi rebels said they are forming a five-member presidential council that will replace President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi for an interim two-year period.

The Houthis also said that "Revolutionary Committee" would be in charge of forming a new parliament with 551 members. The committee is the security and intelligence arm of the rebel group, led by Mohammed Ali Al-Houthi, relative to the Houthis' leader, Abdel-Malek Al-Houthi. (AP)

4:48 P.M. Germany announces more military aid to Iraq to fight ISIS

Germany is to step up arms supplies - including of armour-piercing Milan missiles - to peshmerga fighters battling the Islamic State in Iraq, the Defence Ministry in Berlin said on Friday.

Last year, Germany sent 70 million euros (79.5 million dollars) worth of military aid, including Milan launchers and rockets. It will now send 30 more launchers and 500 more rockets, along with 203 bazookas, 4,000 more rifles and 10 Dingo armoured vehicles.

The new aid, announced after a meeting in Berlin between Chancellor Angela Merkel and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, is worth 13 million euros.
A-Abadi, for his part, noted that intelligence links with Germany were vital in tracking foreign fighters, among them German nationals. now in the service of the Islamic state.

"There is intelligence cooperation at the present time. There are thousands of foreign fighters from around the world, including from Germany," he said. "We are hoping above all for cooperation in intelligence, in training and equipment to fight the Islamic State." (DPA) 

3:45 P.M. Turkey withdraws from Munich security conference to avoid Israeli delegation

Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Friday pulled out of a security conference in Munich at the last minute, saying he did not wish to attend a joint session with an Israeli delegation.

"I was going to attend the conference but we decided not to after they added Israeli officials to the Middle East session at the last minute," Cavusoglu told a news conference in Berlin, where he has been meeting Turkish ambassadors based in Europe.

Relations between Israel and Turkey remain strained since a major rupture in 2010, when Israeli soldiers killed nine Turks travelling in a Turkish-led humanitarian aid convoy attempting to break a blockade of Gaza. (Reuters)

3:10 P.M. British 'severed heads' jihadist jailed for 12 years

A Briton who helped an Islamist group in Syria record videos of severed heads and then faked his own death in the hope of being able to return home undetected was sentenced to 12 years in jail on Friday.

Imran Khawaja, 27, of Southall, west London, travelled to a training camp in Syria in January last year and joined Rayat al Tawheed, which became aligned with Islamic State, prosecutors had said. The group began posting violent propaganda online in an attempt to persuade others to come out and join them.

"Khawaja was seen in a disturbing video posted on social media which includes a bag of severed heads," a police statement said after Friday's sentencing at Woolwich Crown Court. "He appears in the footage with his face covered picking up one of the heads from the bag and showing it to the camera."

In May 2014, the group put out a message on social media claiming that he had been killed, alongside an image of two masked men holding a flag associated with Islamic State. But Khawaja and his cousin Tahir Bhatti were arrested last June at the southeastern port of Dover. (Reuters)

2:09 P.M. Syrian barrel bombs kill 47 civilians in Aleppo

Observers say Syrian army helicopters have dropped two barrel bombs on a crowded square in the northern city of Aleppo, killing 47 civilians as they sat on a bus and collected water.

Thursday night's attack by government forces on the rebel-held city came hours after rebels bombarded the capital, Damascus, killing nine.

An Aleppo-based activist, Ahmad al-Ahmad, says one barrel bomb exploded beside a crowded bus, the second near a line of people waiting in line to fill their canteens from a public water tanker.

He said Friday that 27 died on or near the bus, 10 more in the water line, and 10 others as ambulances ferried scores of wounded to hospital.

Other activists reported that Syrian airstrikes on rebel-held suburbs of Damascus claimed more than 80 lives Thursday. (AP)

A cloud of smoke rises following an air strike by Syrian government forces in the rebel-held area of Douma, Feb. 5, 2015. (AFP)

1:25 P.M. Thousands of Jordanians hold mass rally to denounce ISIS, pilot's execution

Thousands of Jordanians packed the streets of the capital Amman on Friday, urging their monarch to step up air strikes on Islamic State to avenge its killing of pilot Mouath al-Kasaesbeh. Crowds massed near the main Husseini mosque, then marched chanting "Death to Daesh," using an Arabic acronym for the jihadist group, in the latest sign of mounting public anger.

The rally came three days after ISIS released a video purporting to show Kasaesbeh being burned alive in a cage as masked militants in camouflage uniforms looked on.

Many Jordanians have opposed their country's involvement in U.S.-led air campaign against Islamic State positions, fearing retaliation. But the killing of the recently-married pilot, from an influential Jordanian tribe, has increased support for the military push.

Queen Rania, the wife of King Abdullah, joined Friday's marchers, carrying a picture of the pilot. "Mouath died standing for his country and faith, defending our common humanity. We are united in our grief and pride in our brave martyr," she told Reuters in a statement.

"Jordan is united in it's resolve to confront this ideology of terror and ultra-violence," she added. (Reuters)

11:30 A.M. ISIS cleric who objected to Jordanian pilot's killing to be put on trial

An Islamic State cleric who objected to the group's decision to burn to death a captive Jordanian pilot has been removed from his post and will be put on trial, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Friday.

The cleric, a Saudi national, had voiced his objections during a meeting of an Islamic State clerical body in the town of al-Bab in Aleppo province, said Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Observatory.

The killing was been widely condemned by Muslim clerics. Even some Al-Qaida-linked figures denounced it as un-Islamic. A video released by Islamic State militants on Tuesday showed the pilot, Mouath al-Kasaesbeh, being burnt alive in a cage.

The Saudi cleric had said those responsible for the killing should face trial, the Observatory said. Abdulrahman, whose organisation gathers information via a network of sources on the ground, said the group may now kill the cleric.

The Islamic State posted a religious edict on Twitter, which ruled that it is permissible in Islam to burn an infidel to death. Muslim clerics have said it is forbidden to kill anyone that way. (Reuters) 

10:32 A.M. Suicide bomber kills two, wounds around 20 in Benghazi, Libya

A suicide bomber detonated a car laden with explosives in Libya's eastern Benghazi city on Friday, killing two people and wounding around 20, medics and military officials said.

Military officials told a Reuters reporter at the scene the car had apparently targeted an army base but exploded early. Medics said the explosion killed a man and a child. (Reuters) 

10:07 A.M. 82 killed by Syrian air force strikes following Damascus rocket attack

Syrian air force strikes killed 82 people in an opposition district outside Damascus following rocket attacks by rebels that hit the government-controlled center of the capital, a monitoring group said on Friday.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war in Syria, said the air force conducted 60 strikes on the Eastern Ghouta district on Thursday and into Friday. Eighteen children and 11 fighters were among the dead, it said.

High death tolls from air attacks are not rare but the Observatory said the focused barrage was a response to rocket attacks by Islam Army insurgents on Thursday, which killed 10 people in Damascus.

Syria's state news agency SANA said on Friday that the army had "eliminated scores of terrorists, the majority of them from the so-called 'Islam Army' organisation in the villages of Eastern Ghouta in the Damascus countryside."

It said the army had also carried out a series of strikes in the district of Jobar, and special operations in Zamalka and Erbin. The Observatory said 26 people were also killed in insurgent-held areas of Aleppo on Thursday. (Reuters)  

9:54 A.M. Turkey urges its citizens to leave Yemen due to worsening security situation

Turkey has urged its citizens to leave Yemen due to the worsening security situation, despite a tentative deal among the country's rival factions battling for power.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry published the warning -- the third of its kind since August -- late on Thursday, after most Yemeni factions had agreed to set up an interim presidential council to run the country for up to a year. That deal aims to ease the power struggle in a country where the president resigned last month after Shi'ite Houthi rebels overran the capital Sanaa in September.

"Protests and public demonstrations are taking place. There is a possibility that incidents effecting public security could take place," the Turkish Foreign Ministry said.

The ministry did not say how many Turks live in Yemen. (Reuters)