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UK Parliament to vote on expanded attacks on Islamic State

AKROTIRI, Cyprus (AP) — British warplanes carried out airstrikes in Syria early Thursday, hours after Parliament voted to authorize air attacks against Islamic State group targets there.

Four Royal Air Force Tornados took off from a British air base in Akrotiri, Cyprus, shortly after the 397-223 vote by lawmakers in the House of Commons.

A Ministry of Defense spokesman told the AP the planes had conducted strikes in Syria, and details about their targets would be provided later Thursday.

He spoke on condition of anonymity in line with British policy for government spokespeople.

The RAF has been launching strikes against IS targets in Iraq since 2014. The decision to expand the campaign to Syria came after an emotional 10 1/2-hour debate in which Prime Minister David Cameron said that Britain must strike the militants in their heartland and not "sit back and wait for them to attack us."

Opponents argued that Britain's entry into Syria's crowded airspace would make little difference, and said Cameron's military plan was based on wishful thinking that overlooked the messy reality of the Syrian civil war.

Cameron has long wanted to target IS in Syria, but had been unsure of getting majority support in the House of Commons until now. He suffered an embarrassing defeat in 2013 when lawmakers rejected a motion backing attacks on the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The mood has changed following the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, claimed by IS, that killed 130 people. Both France and the U.S. have urged Britain to join their air campaign in Syria, and Cameron said Britain should not let its allies down.

He said Britain was already a top target for IS attacks, and airstrikes would reduce the group's ability to plan more Paris-style carnage.

"Do we work with our allies to degrade and destroy this threat and do we go after these terrorists in their heartlands, from where they are plotting to kill British people?" he said. "Or do we sit back and wait for them to attack us?"

He said that attacking IS was not anti-Muslim but "a defense of Islam" against "women-raping, Muslim-murdering, medieval monsters."

Cameron was backed by most members of his governing Conservative Party — which holds 330 of the 650 Commons seats — as well as members of the smaller Liberal Democrat party and others.

Labour, the main opposition, was divided. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn — who represents the left wing of the party — spoke against what he called a "reckless and half-baked intervention." But more than 60 Labour lawmakers, including senior party figures, voted in support of airstrikes, a move likely to make fissures between the right and the left of the party even worse.

Labour foreign affairs spokesman Hilary Benn said Britain could not "walk by on the other side of the road" when international allies were asking for help against IS "fascists."

Britain already conducts airstrikes against IS targets in Iraq, and in August launched a drone strike that killed two British IS militants in Syria.

British officials say Royal Air Force Typhoon and Tornado fighter jets, armed with Brimstone missiles capable of hitting moving targets, would bring the campaign highly accurate firepower and help minimize civilian casualties.

President Barack Obama welcomed the British vote to join the air campaign in Syria, saying the Islamic State group "is a global threat that must be defeated by a global response."

Critics claim British airstrikes will make little practical difference, and that ground forces will be needed to root out IS. Britain has ruled out sending troops, and critics of the government have responded with skepticism to Cameron's claim that there are 70,000 moderate Syrian rebels on the ground.

Cameron stood by that claim Wednesday, though he conceded, "I'm not saying that the 70,000 are our ideal partners."

Karin von Hippel, who was chief of staff to U.S. Gen. John Allen when he was the United States' anti-ISIS envoy, said force alone would not defeat the militants — but neither would diplomacy by itself.

"The Brits have expertise and capabilities," she said. Their involvement "brings moral authority and legitimacy to the fight."

The British vote came as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said NATO members were ready to step up military efforts against the Islamic State group — and held out hope of improved cooperation between the West and Russia to end Syria's four-year civil war.

A day after U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said the United States would deploy a new special operations force to Iraq to step up the fight against the militants, Kerry said other countries could provide assistance that did not involve combat. He said the effort to expand operations would require more medical facilities, intelligence-gathering, military support structure, refueling operations, aerial defenses and other action.

The German Cabinet has approved plans to commit up to 1,200 soldiers to support the anti-IS coalition in Syria, though not in a combat role.

Despite talk of increased international cooperation, tension has soared between Russia and Turkey after the shooting down of a Russian military jet by Turkish forces last week.

On Wednesday, Russia's deputy defense minister, Anatoly Antonov, accused Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his family of benefiting from illegal oil trade with Islamic State militants.

Erdogan called the claim "slander" and said Turkey would not "buy oil from a terror organization."

Russia and the United States also disagree about tactics in Syria, with Moscow backing Assad and Washington saying he must go.

But Kerry, speaking after NATO meetings in Brussels, said that if Russia's focus on fighting IS was "genuine," it could have a constructive role in bringing peace. He didn't say whether the U.S. might be willing to bring Russia into its military effort against the group, as some members such as France have proposed.

The top NATO commander in Europe, U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, said the bulk of Russia's air operations in Syria are still directed against moderate anti-Assad opposition forces, not Islamic State positions.

U.S. officials had hoped Russia would change its bombing focus after the Oct. 31 attack on a Russian airliner over Egypt, which killed 224 people.

Asserting that the "vast majority" of Russian sorties targeted moderate groups, Breedlove said coalition forces were "not working with or cooperating with Russia in Syria" but had devised safety routines to make it easier for both groups.

The British debate was sometimes bad-tempered as opposition lawmakers demanded Cameron apologize for remarks, reportedly made at a closed-door meeting, in which he branded opponents a "bunch of terrorist sympathizers."

Cameron did not retract the comments but said "there's honor in voting for, there's honor in voting against" the motion to back airstrikes.

From the passionate speeches in the House to the anti-war protesters outside Parliament, the debate recalled Britain's divisive 2003 decision to join the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq on what turned out to be false claims about Saddam Hussein's alleged weapons of mass destruction. Many lawmakers came to regret supporting the war and ensuing chaos, and blamed then-Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair for lacking a plan for post-war reconstruction.

Labour leader Corbyn said that "to oppose another reckless and half-baked intervention isn't pacifism. It's hard-headed common sense."

Labour's Shabana Mahmood — one of the few Muslim lawmakers in Parliament — called IS "Nazi-esque totalitarians who are outlaws from Islam," but said she opposed the strikes because "we cannot simply bomb the ground, we have to have a strategy to hold it as well."

But Cameron said doing nothing was a worse option.

"The risks of inaction are greater than the risks of what I propose," he said.


Lawless reported from London. Associated Press writers Danica Kirka and Gregory Katz in London, Suzan Frazer in Ankara, Deb Riechmann in Washington, Jamey Keaten in Brussels and Sinan Salaheddin in Baghdad contributed to this report.

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The Latest: Erdogan denies Russian claims over IS oil

LONDON (AP) — The latest developments regarding the fight against the Islamic State group in Syria and Iraq: All times local:

4:00 a.m.

British warplanes have carried out airstrikes in Syria, hours after Parliament voted to authorize air attacks against Islamic State group targets there.

Four Royal Air Force Tornados took off from a British air base in Akrotiri, Cyprus, shortly after the vote.

A Ministry of Defense spokesman told the AP the planes had conducted strikes in Syria, and details about their targets would be provided later Thursday,

He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give his name when discussing operations.

The RAF has been launching strikes against IS targets in Syria from Cyprus since 2014.

— Menelaos Hadjicostis


11:40 p.m.

President Barack Obama is cheering signs that coalition allies are deepening their involvement in the campaign against the Islamic State.

In a statement released by the White House, Obama says he welcomes British lawmakers' vote in favor of joining in the air campaign in Syria. He also welcomes news that Germany may commit up to 1,200 support troops to the mission. The deployment still needs final approval, but Obama says it's a sign that Germany is committed to fighting a "shared threat."

The White House has sought to enlist additional support for the anti-IS campaign in the wake of the attacks in Paris.

Obama says the Islamic State group "is a global threat that must be defeated by a global response." He praised the allies' steps as demonstrating the coalition's "unity and resolve."


10:33 p.m.

British lawmakers have voted to join the international campaign of airstrikes against the Islamic State militant group in Syria.

The 397-223 vote in the House of Commons means Royal Air Force fighter jets — already operating against IS in neighboring Iraq — could be flying over Syria within days or even hours.

Prime Minister David Cameron said that after the deadly Nov. 13 Paris attacks, claimed by IS, Britain should strike the militants in their heartland and not "sit back and wait for them to attack us."

Opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn opposed what he called a "reckless and half-baked intervention," but dozens of his lawmakers voted with the government to back airstrikes.


8 p.m.

The Islamic State group has released a video in which a Russian-speaking man confesses to spying for Russia's security service and then is shown apparently being beheaded with a knife by another Russian-speaking man.

The authenticity of the video or the claims in it could not immediately be confirmed and there was no comment from Russia's Foreign Ministry or its FSB security service.

The man, appearing to be in his late 20s, is shown speaking from a chair. He says he is from Chechnya and was pressured into working for the FSB, to report on Russians who had gone to fight with IS.

The video then shows the man kneeling on a beach while another man stands behind him, declaring that Russians will be killed in retaliation for Russia's airstrikes in Syria against IS. The man then places a large knife against the prisoner's throat and appears to begin decapitating him.


4:40 p.m.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has rejected Russian claims that he and his family are profiting from trade in oil with the Islamic State group.

"No one has the right to make such a slander as to suggest that Turkey buys Daesh's oil," said Erdogan, speaking in Qatar and using an Arabic acronym for the Islamic State group.

"Turkey has not lost its moral values as to buy oil from a terror organization... Those who make such slanderous claims are obliged to prove them. If they do I would not remain on the presidential seat for one minute. But those who make the claim must also give up their seat if they can't prove it. "

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov and his colleagues on Wednesday showed foreign defense attaches based in Moscow satellite images purporting to show IS transporting oil to Turkey.

Relations between Turkey and Russia have fallen to a low point since Turkey shot down a Russian jet that it claimed had encroached into Turkish airspace.


4 p.m.

Poland's foreign minister says that the country is mulling how it might support the anti-Islamic State coalition, though it is unlikely that Warsaw would provide troops.

Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said Wednesday that Poland's Defense Ministry is determining how Poland might help the coalition after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry appealed for support during a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels on Tuesday.

Waszczykowski said: "We will certainly exchange political and intelligence reports. Everything depends on the abilities of the Defense Ministry."

Poland sent troops to the U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but many Poles feel bitter that its contributions in Iraq did not bring more benefits to the country.


3:50 p.m.

British Prime Minister David Cameron says the British government is changing the way it refers to the Islamic State militant group, now calling it Daesh.

Britain had previously used the acronym ISIL — Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Cameron told lawmakers in the House of Commons that he was making the change "because frankly this evil death cult is neither a true representation of Islam nor is it a state."

Cameron spoke amid an all-day debate about whether Britain should extend airstrikes against IS from Iraq into Syria.

Daesh is an Arabic acronym for the group's name that also carries negative associations. The Twitter account U.K. Against ISIL — now rebranded U.K. Against Daesh — said the term is hated by the militants because it sound similar to Arabic words meaning "trample" and "one who sows discord."


3:30 p.m.

The U.S.-led coalition has been pounding Islamic State group targets near the militant-held Iraqi city of Ramadi. Iraqi forces have encircled Ramadi and this week asked the city's civilian residents to leave — a sign that a major operation could be imminent.

The coalition says its aircraft conducted 15 airstrikes in Iraq on Wednesday, nine of them on IS targets near Ramadi, including fighting positions, vehicles, weapons and buildings. Also hit were IS group units and vehicles in Iraq's north, outside the recently liberated town of Sinjar.

In Baghdad, coalition spokesman Col. Steve Warren says the strikes are in support of Iraqi operations to liberate Ramadi.

He says that "with the support of coalition air power, Iraqi forces recently seized the Palestine bridge, which completed the isolation of the city."


2 p.m.

The top NATO commander in Europe, U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, says the bulk of Russia's air operations in Syria are still directed against moderate opposition forces that oppose President Bashar Assad.

He said there's been some shift in Russian tactics lately but the "vast majority of their sorties" are targeting moderate groups, not Islamic State extremists.

Breedlove said Wednesday that coalition forces "are not working with or cooperating with Russia in Syria" but have devised safety rules with Russia.

He says "we have established a safety regime — a series of tactics, techniques and procedures — by which the two groups, the coalition forces and the Russian forces, communicate and try to maintain safety."

He says the coalition "is focused almost entirely" on fighting Islamic State extremists.


1:50 p.m.

France's finance minister is calling for tougher rules on imports of art works as part of efforts to dry up financing for the Islamic State group.

Minister Michel Sapin says Wednesday "we perhaps don't speak enough of financing ... by the sale of works of art" of the group. He said that trafficking of art looted by IS isn't as big a source of money for the extremists as oil, but it is "one element." He says ultimately it is "people in our developed countries" who buy the looted art, sometimes without knowing.

He said many countries control exports of art works, but there needs to be harmonized rules in Europe and beyond on imports too.

German counterpart Wolfgang Schaeuble said money-laundering rules should also be expanded to cover art.


12:45 p.m.

Russia's deputy defense minister says the Turkish president and his family are benefiting from illegal oil trade with Islamic State militants.

Minister Anatoly Antonov told reporters on Wednesday that Moscow has evidence showing that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his family are involved in the oil trade with IS and personally benefit from it.

Antonov and his colleagues at the defense ministry's headquarters showed foreign defense attaches based in Moscow some satellite images purporting to show IS transporting oil to Turkey.

Erdogan has said he would resign if the accusations against him are proven.


12:25 p.m.

Prime Minister David Cameron has opened a critical debate on whether Britain will take part in airstrikes in Syria, insisting that Britain could make a real difference in the fight against Islamic State militants.

But Cameron struggled to get through his opening remarks Wednesday as outraged opposition Labour Party lawmakers demanded he retract remarks at a closed-door meeting Tuesday in which Cameron branded opponents of the measure a "bunch of terrorist sympathizers."

Lawmakers demanded an apology as the 10½ hour debate got underway, arguing the comment showed a lack of respect to those who disagreed with his policy.

Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond defended Cameron before the debate started, saying the comments weren't aimed at long-time opponents of war such as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Hammond says Corbyn's views were "obviously sincerely held."


12:20 p.m.

Secretary of State John Kerry has lauded British Prime Minister David Cameron's decision to go to parliament and seek approval for British strikes against IS in Syria.

Speaking at NATO headquarters, Kerry says "this is a very important step. We applaud his leadership." The US envoy urged the British parliament to approve the request.

The British vote would authorize the Royal Air Force to launch air strikes against suspected IS positions inside Syria, allowing it to take a more active role in the U.S.-led coalition seeking to weaken the militants held responsible for attacks in Paris, Beirut, Egypt and elsewhere.


11:55 p.m.

Authorities in Russia's predominantly Muslim republic of Chechnya have organized classes to stave off Islamic State recruitment.

Thousands of Russian Muslim have joined IS in Syria, and some have taken senior positions. Local students in Chechnya say many of their peers are tempted to go to Syria because they believe in a true Islamic state there.

Islamic militancy has engulfed Russia's North Caucasus region, the republic of Dagestan in particular, following two separatist wars in neighboring Chechnya. While nearly 1,000 people are believed to have left Dagestan for Syria, the number of Chechen recruits is far lower.

Chechnya's authoritarian leader Ramzan Kadyrov said last month that less than 500 Chechens are believed to have joined IS and about 200 of them have been killed. Kadyrov has even offered to send thousands of Chechen fighters to fight IS.


11:15 a.m.

The European Union is trying to close legal loopholes that allow people to travel to Syria or Iraq as foreign fighters and then launch attacks like those in Paris last month when they return home.

Around 5,000 so-called foreign fighters are thought to be in the EU or come from it, but only about 1,500 are listed on Europe's criminal databases. The EU's executive Commission unveiled proposals on Wednesday that would criminalize attempts to recruit or train people for extremist activities.

New measures would target those who travel within the 28-nation EU or abroad to work with extremists like the Islamic State group. Others would attempt to choke off access to funds and assets.

The proposals must still be debated and adopted by EU member countries and the European Parliament.


11.05 a.m.

Belgian police have raided five more houses in the Brussels area early Wednesday and detained two people for questioning regarding the Paris attacks that left 130 people dead last month.

The raids targeted people who could have a link to Mohamed Abrini, who was seen driving with Paris fugitive Salah Abdeslam two days ahead of the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, and Ahmed Dahmani, who is detained in Turkey.

None of Wednesday's detainees have been charged.

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