Top News: Anti-Houthi Forces Seize Saudi Border Town

Army forces loyal to Yemen’s exiled president seized a border crossing with Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, officials in the area and witnesses said, dealing a rare blow to the country’s dominant Houthi group. The Houthis and their allies in Yemen’s army control three other crossings with the kingdom. Witnesses reported that thousands of Yemenis gathered there to flee the country after the Wadi`ah crossing in eastern Hadramawt province changed hands amid heavy combat. SABA, the Houthi-run state news agency, quoted a military official saying that “a group of gunmen, al Qaeda militants, and mercenaries” had taken the border area. The Chief-of-Staff for the pro-Hadi forces, General Mohammed Ali al-Maqdeshi, said border staff were struggling to cope with the waves of refugees. [ReutersSABA, 6/24/2015]



US ambassador to Egypt reportedly lauds police
US ambassador to Egypt Robert Stephen Beecroft on Tuesday reportedly lauded the Egyptian interior ministry’s efforts to combat terrorism and maintain stability, while being hosted by Interior Minister Magdy Abdel Ghaffar. Abdel Ghaffar also praised cooperation with the US concerning security, specifically in providing training programs to security personnel. Beecroft stressed the importance of Egypt’s role in fighting terrorism not only domestically, but also regionally, according to the Ahram Arabic website. [Ahram Online, 6/23/2015]

Egypt’s army receives multipurpose frigate in France
Egypt received a FREMM (European multi-purpose frigate) at the port of Lorient in west France on Tuesday, as part of a military deal it had signed with France in February to upgrade its military force in the face of ongoing regional crises. French Defense Minister Jean-Yves le Drian said the delivery is the “first step” in creating a “unique relationship” between the two states, adding that Paris acknowledges Egypt’s central role in ensuring security in the region. Egypt had secured the purchase of the frigate and two dozen Rafale fighter jets in February. Defense Minister Sedky Sobhi will witness the handover of the first batch of Rafale jets during his visit, a military source said. The frigate is expected to be at the inauguration of the new canal in Egypt’s Suez on August 8. [Ahram Online, Anadolu Agency, Aswat Masriya, 6/23/2015]

Two journalists in custody on charges of affiliation with Brotherhood
The Supreme State Security Prosecution on Tuesday remanded journalists Farida Ali Ahmed and Samar Hassan Mahmoud in custody for fifteen days pending investigations into their alleged affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood. They were charged with joining an illegal group, assaulting personal freedoms, taking funds from abroad, and spreading false news and statements to harm the national interest and promote terrorism. The journalists were arrested from their homes on February 11 for allegedly broadcasting false information on the Turkey-based pro-Brotherhood satellite channel, Mekameleen. [Egypt Independent, 6/23/2015]

Egypt court overturns conviction of journalist on slander charges
A Cairo appeals court has overturned the conviction of a TV broadcaster closely linked to the security services for insulting a liberal politician. The court acquitted talk show host Ahmed Moussa, annulling a two-year prison sentence and 30,000 Egyptian pound fine previously leveled against him last March in a lawsuit filed by Democratic Front Party Head Osama al-Ghazaly Harb. A misdemeanors court had sentenced Moussa to a year in prison and a 10,000 Egyptian pound fine for libel and slander against Harb and another year and 20,000 Egyptian pound fine for propagating false news. A courtroom scuffle between Moussa supporters and lawyers broke out before Tuesday’s ruling. Harb said that he respects the court’s verdict. [Ahram Online, DNE, AP, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, 6/23/2015]

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Libya’s House of Representatives delays UNSMIL decision on fourth draft
The House of Representatives (House) ended its discussions yesterday on the fourth draft presented by the UN-brokered Dialogue without a decision. Much of the debate focused on the High Council of State, which under the draft would represent the upper house of the Libyan parliament. Many House members were opposed to the proposals as it stands, particularly the provision that 90 of its 120 members should come from the General National Congress. Some House members also called for the name to be changed to the State Consultative Council, an indication that it would have little real power. Discussions are expected to resume today. [Libya Herald, 6/23/2015]

Rival governments find common ground in warning EU on migrant plans
Both Libya’s eastern and western governments have issued strong warnings against EU plans to tackle the growing crisis of migrants crossing the Mediterranean. The commander of the Tobruk government’s air force Saqr al-Jaroushi said this week that his planes would carry out air strikes against any vessels that entered Libyan territorial waters without the proper approval. The interior ministry in Tripoli also issued a statement saying that the EU had not taken into consideration the “difficult situation” in Libya, nor the complex dynamics within and between the different groups in the country. The warning came after European Union foreign ministers agreed on Monday to launch a naval operation to combat people-traffickers who have brought thousands of migrants on perilous journeys across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. [Reuters, Libya Monitor, 6/23/2015]

Review board weighs release of injured Guantanamo prisoner
A Libyan prisoner at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba with battlefield wounds made his initial appearance Tuesday before a review board that will decide whether he can be released after thirteen years in custody. Omar Khalif Mohammed Abu Baker appeared by video-link from the base in Cuba before members of the Periodic Review Board in the United States. The board is charged with reconsidering whether it is still necessary to hold prisoners previously deemed too dangerous to release. Khalif was captured by Pakistani security forces in March 2002 along with suspected al-Qaida figure Abu Zubaydah and was sent to Guantanamo five months later. He has not been charged with a crime. A profile released ahead of his review hearing says he was a senior member of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group who once worked for a company owned by Osama bin Laden and traveled to Afghanistan where he “probably” trained other militants and fought against the Northern Alliance and US forces. [AP, 6/23/2015]

Algeria participates in Beirut in conference on European Neighborhood Policy
Algeria participated this Tuesday in the Ministerial Conference on the Review of the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) in Beirut, bringing together Arab countries of the southern shore of the Mediterranean and high executives of the European Union (EU). Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Ramtane Lamamra will represent Algeria during the two-day meeting. The works will bring together Algeria, Lebanon, Morocco, Jordan, Tunisia, and Egypt representatives, the European commissioner on ENP and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn, and other high executives of the European Union. [AllAfrica, 6/23/2015]


Syrian Kurds say ISIS shoring up self-proclaimed capital of Raqqa
Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) fighters appear to be shoring up their defenses around their Syrian stronghold Raqqa city after losing ground to Kurdish-led forces this week. A YPG spokesman said Wednesday that ISIS has “begun digging trenches in the vicinity of Raqqa to improve their defenses.” Kurdish YPG forces are reportedly not yet planning an assault on Raqqa, and may instead aim to seize control of an east-west highway linking Aleppo and Hasaka. The US-led coalition confirmed that air strikes last week near Raqqa killed at least four ISIS fighters, including Australian jihadist Mohamed Elomar. [Reuters, 6/24/2015]

Syrian army secures oil field perimeter; barrel bomb attack kills civilians
Syrian state television said Wednesday its army and allied militia secured the perimeter of Jazal oil field near Palmyra, which contains important sites for energy production in Homs province, and killed a number of ISIS fighters. In a separate development, a government barrel-bomb attack Monday night killed at least ten civilians, including two children, in Aleppo. [Reuters, 6/24/2015]

ISIS suicide bombers kill ten in attack on Hasaka
Two ISIS suicide bombers killed ten Syrian soldiers and injured at least fifteen in Hasaka Wednesday. A third suicide bomber attacked a Kurdish security forces post, causing serious damage to buildings in the area but no deaths. Separately, a car bomb attack near a mosque in Damascus left at least thirteen civilians dead. [AFP, 6/24/2015]

Israel arrests Druze suspects in Syria ambulance attacks
Israel arrested nine Druze Arabs Wednesday over two attacks on ambulances bringing casualties from Syria’s civil war to Israeli hospitals. Crew and patients were unharmed in one ambulance, while one Syrian casualty was killed and one seriously wounded in the other ambulance. Dozens of Druze men in Sweida defected from the Syrian army Wednesday morning to the anti-regime Sheikhs of Dignity group, led by Sheikh Wahid al-Balaous. The day prior, the Sheikhs of Dignity had stopped a Syrian army bus transporting Druze fighters to battlefronts in Deraa and returned the men to their families, according to the group. [Reuters, AFP, 6/24/2015]

Iraqi Shia special forces take lead in Baiji fight
Powerful Iraqi Shia militia Asaib Ahl al-Haq said Wednesday that it relies heavily on elite units who fought in Syria as it battles ISIS for control of the Baiji oil refinery. The refinery has changed hands several times over the past months and is one of the main fronts in the Iraqi bid to retake territory from ISIS. The militia claims to be effective in street combat and is hopeful that this new strategy will turn the tide in favor of government troops and their Shia militia allies. The Pentagon said Tuesday that Shia fighters and the 450 US forces recently sent as reinforcements at Taqqadum base are failing to cooperate, underscoring concerns over working with sectarian groups. The International Organization for Migration said Tuesday that more than 3 million people have been displaced by the conflict in Iraq since the start of 2014.[Reuters, 6/24/2015]


Anti-Houthi forces seize Saudi border town
Army forces loyal to Yemen’s exiled president seized a border crossing with Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, officials in the area and witnesses said, dealing a rare blow to the country’s dominant Houthi group. The Houthis and their allies in Yemen’s army control three other crossings with the kingdom. Witnesses reported that thousands of Yemenis gathered there to flee the country after the Wadi`ah crossing in eastern Hadramawt province changed hands amid heavy combat. SABA, the Houthi-run state news agency, quoted a military official saying that “a group of gunmen, al Qaeda militants, and mercenaries” had taken the border area. The Chief-of-Staff for the pro-Hadi forces, General Mohammed Ali al-Maqdeshi, said border staff were struggling to cope with the waves of refugees. [Reuters, SABA, 6/24/2015]

Saudi Arabia regrets Yemen talks failure
Saudi Arabia has expressed its deep sorrow over the failure of Geneva talks to reach an agreement on Yemen while appreciating UN efforts to implement Security Council Resolution 2216. The cabinet on Monday, chaired by King Salman bin AbdulAziz, praised the positive cooperation shown by the legitimate Yemeni government with global efforts to alleviate the suffering of its people. The cabinet welcomed the final communiqué issued by OIC foreign ministers following their extraordinary meeting in Jeddah on Yemen, stressing the Kingdom’s support for all efforts to end the Yemeni crisis and its rejection of any foreign intervention in Yemen’s affairs without a request from the country’s legitimate government. [Arab News, 6/24/2015]

Saudi cables reveal Iran shipped nuclear materials to Sudan
Saudi diplomats in Khartoum believed Iran shipped advanced nuclear equipment including centrifuges to Sudan in 2012, according to a document leaked last week that WikiLeaks says is a cable from the embassy. “The embassy’s sources advised that Iranian containers arrived this week at Khartoum airport containing sensitive technical equipment in the form of fast centrifuges for enriching uranium, and a second shipment is expected to arrive this week,” the document, dated February 2012 and marked ‘very secret’, read. The cable does not provide details on the source of the embassy’s information or any further evidence of the shipment. There have been no previous reports of Iran sending nuclear equipment to Sudan, which has no known nuclear program. Other cables suggested a Saudi effort to buy influence with regional media outfits and a cover up of a scandal involving Saudi students caught cheating at a Montana college. [Reuters, 6/23/2015]

Kuwaiti Shia Minister resigns over sectarian insult
A lawmaker from Kuwait’s Shia Muslim minority resigned Wednesday after a Sunni MP insulted him during a heated exchange in parliament. “I was deeply hurt … by the contempt and insult against my religious sect by my colleague, Hamdan al-Azemi,” Faisal al-Duwaisan wrote in his resignation letter. During a debate Tuesday, Azemi “told me: ‘you should rectify your sect,'” Duwaisan said. Duwaisan said he will not withdraw his resignation unless Azemi publicly apologies or parliament takes disciplinary action against him. [Daily Star, 6/24/2015]


Syrian army reopens key oil supply route near Palmyra
The Syrian army has reopened a key oil supply route and secured the perimeter around the Jazal oil field near Palmyra. Head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Rami Abdul Rahman said the capture of the area “allows the regime to secure a transport route for oil from the Jazal field … to other Syrian cities under its control.” Last week, government forces recaptured Jazal from the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). One of the few oil fields still in government hands, Jazal lies 20 km northwest of Palmyra. Abdul Rahman said the government depends on gas and oil fields around Palmyra to provide electricity to cities under its control, namely Damascus. [AFP, Reuters, 6/24/2015]

World Bank releases Spring 2015 Egypt Economic Monitor
The World Bank has issued its Spring 2015 Egypt Economic Monitor, which provides an update on key economic developments and policies over the past six months. The Bank expects annual growth to double to 4.3 percent in FY 2015. Growth could reach 5 percent by FY 2016/2017 if tourism and manufacturing continue to recover. Meanwhile, unemployment has started to decrease, averaging 13 percent in the first half of FY 2015. However, the report warned that Egypt’s budget deficit and debt aggregates “will remain high and unsustainable,” despite the government’s “ambitious fiscal consolidation plan.” The report further cautioned that there is “significant uncertainty regarding the financing of the announced mega-projects.” [DNE, 6/23/2015]

World’s lowest debt-to-GDP ratio seen aiding Saudi debt sales
Saudi Arabia has the world’s lowest debt to economic output ratio – for now. With oil prices tumbling and the kingdom burning through currency reserves at a record pace, economists expect authorities to start raising money through the local bond market to cover a widening budget deficit. The potential sales will help create a benchmark for corporate borrowers. They may also be a boon for investment bankers after bond issuances in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) dropped by 34 percent this year. This comes as Saudi Arabia lost its spot last month as India’s top oil supplier for the first time in at least four years. The country also fell behind Russia and Angola as the biggest crude supplier to China last month. [Bloomberg, 6/23/2015]

Turkey’s central bank leaves key rates unchanged after election
Turkey’s central bank left interest rates unchanged on Tuesday, resisting government pressure for post-election cuts, and said it would stick to its cautious policy even though it predicts inflation will fall. Investors hoped that the election setback for the ruling AK Party this month would give the central bank some much-needed breathing space to fight inflation. “Inflation is expected to decline in the short term owing to a partial correction in food prices. Yet, recent movements in the exchange rates have delayed the improvement in the core indicators,” the bank said in a statement accompanying its rate decision. [Reuters, 6/23/2015]