Top News: Syrian Rebels Accuse Kurds of Deliberately Displacing Arabs

More than a dozen Syrian rebel and militant groups on Monday accused the country’s Kurdish militia of committing “ethnic cleansing” against Arabs and Turkmen in northern Syria, a charge strongly denied by the Kurds and lacking in conclusive evidence. Thousands of Syrians cut through a border fence and crossed into Turkey on Sunday, fleeing fighting in northern Syria between Kurdish fighters and Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants. Earlier Sunday, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said that the refugees were fleeing possible bombings in the area by the US-led coalition, not fighting between Kurds and ISIS. Turkish troops later brought in reinforcements, using water cannons and firing warning shots to prevent Syrians from crossing the border into Turkey. As of Monday, at least 400 Syrians have been given initial permission to enter Turkey via the Akcakale border crossing. [AP, 6/15/2015]


Former PM Shafiq steps down as leader of Egyptian Patriotic Movement
Former prime minister Ahmed Shafiq announced late Saturday night that he had resigned from leading the Egyptian Patriotic Movement, casting further doubts about his political future. Shafiq cited his inability to perform duties from outside Egypt as the reason behind his resignation. “I had to resign due to the difficult circumstances I had to face while doing my job,” he said on Twitter. Meanwhile, Yehia Qadri, Shafiq’s deputy, said that he had been told that Shafiq was facing outside pressure to resign. Shafiq denied this claim. Qadri said in statement that the party’s board would hold a meeting Monday to discuss Shafiq’s resignation. However, board member Osama al-Shahed said in press statements Sunday that initial indicators within the party show that they will likely “reject Shafiq’s resignation.” [Ahram Online, DNE, Egypt Independent, Cairo Post, 6/15/2015]

Egypt’s Press Syndicate to hold emergency meeting to discuss ‘media crackdown’
Egypt’s Press Syndicate is to hold an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss the ongoing crackdown on journalists and press freedom, the head of the syndicate’s freedoms committee, Khaled al-Balshy, told Ahram Online. “The interior ministry and many other governmental apparatuses have been filing frequent legal complaints against journalists, and these are all proof that the current government is targeting journalists,” Balshy said. Syndicate council member Mahmoud Kamel confirmed that the meeting would take place at the syndicate’s headquarters on Monday afternoon in the presence of syndicate head Yehia Qallash. Balshy said the crackdown on journalists and media figures had gone far beyond expectations, adding, “Even those who are close [to the authorities] are being summoned and investigated.” [Ahram Online, 6/15/2015]

Nearly 2,000 cases of sexual harassment in Sisi’s first year; FGM initiative announced
The sexual harassment issue in Egypt has reached a peak, placing it on President Sisi’s agenda since his first day in office, according to non-governmental initiative “I Saw Harassment.” In a recent report on harassment cases between June 2014 and June 2015, “I Saw Harassment” counted at least 1,964 reported incidents across Egypt. The number is likely to be higher due to the number of unreported cases. Egypt also announced an ambitious plan to reduce female genital mutilation by 10-15 percent over the next five years by mobilizing doctors and judges against a practice that still affects more than 90 percent of women in the country. The national FGM abandonment strategy, announced on Sunday, calls for doctors to be trained, prosecutors to be mobilized, and a media campaign to be launched to change public perceptions. The initiative will include the ministries of justice, health, and education, Al-Azhar, Egyptian church officials, and the public prosecutor’s office. [DNE, The Guardian, 6/15/2015]

Tripartite meeting to discuss impact of Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam
Egyptian irrigation minister Hossam Moghazi said the next tripartite meeting would take place in Cairo on July 1 to discuss the findings of the two European consultancy firms that conducted studies on the impact of Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam. Moghazi said that Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan would receive the French Artelia Group and the Dutch company reports on the impact of the dam on June 22. Moghazi expressed his optimism ahead of the meeting that is scheduled to discuss the technical and financial results of the impact of the Renaissance Dam provided by of the consultancy firms. [Ahram Online, 6/14/2015]

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Libya says veteran militant killed in US strike
A veteran Islamist militant blamed for a deadly attack on an Algerian gas field and who ran smuggling routes across North Africa has been killed in a US air strike inside Libya, Libya’s government said on Sunday. The internationally recognized government said the strike had killed Mokhtar Belmokhtar, an Algerian militant who became a major figure in insurgencies across North Africa and the Saharan border region and was dubbed “the uncatchable” by the French military. The US military confirmed Belmokhtar had been targeted in Saturday night’s air strike but did not say if he was killed. However, an Islamist with ties to Libyan militants said the airstrikes missed Mokhtar Belmokhtar, instead killing four members of a Libyan extremist group the US has linked to the 2012 attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. [Reuters, AP, Libya Herald, ANSAmed, 6/15/2015]

Seven shot dead at protest against ISIS in Libya
Seven people were shot dead on Friday at a protest against Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in the eastern city of Derna. Demonstrators, angered at the amount of foreign fighters coming in to join the militant group, started marching towards its main base in the coastal settlement when gunmen opened fire into the crowd. About thirty people were wounded. [Reuters, 6/15/2015]

Attackers seize ten employees at Tunisian consulate in Libya
Tunisia’s foreign ministry says an armed militia has attacked the Tunisian general consulate in Libya’s capital and taken ten employees hostage. In a statement, the ministry condemned the attack, calling it “a vile aggression” against Tunisia’s sovereignty and a violation of international conventions protecting diplomatic personnel. The ministry statement Friday said Tunisia’s government was monitoring the situation and working to secure the release of the employees. Special Representative for Libya Bernardino Leon called for “the immediate and unconditional release” of the abducted staff and recalled that the principle of inviolability of diplomatic and consular premises must be respected. This second mass kidnapping is also thought to be linked to Thursday’s refusal by a Tunisian court to release Walid al-Ghleib, a senior Libya Dawn commander whom the Libyans have charged with terrorism offences. When al-Ghleib was first arrested last month, some 250 Tunisians were seized in retaliation. [AP, Libya Herald, 6/15/2015]

Three troops killed in gun battle in Tunisia
Tunisia’s government says a gun battle between security forces and extremists preparing an imminent attack has left three troops and one of the attackers dead. Mohamed Ali Aroui, a Spokesman for Tunisia’s Interior Ministry, says the firefight in the tense region of Sidi Bouzid began around dawn on Monday when security forces set out to trap the men, who were on a motorcycle. One terrorist was killed and another was seriously injured and was taken to hospital following his arrest. [AP, Al Arabiya/AFP, 6/15/2015]

North African foreign ministers attend AU Assembly
Tunisia Foreign Minister Taieb Baccouche takes part in the 25th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union (AU) Heads of State and Government held, June 14-15 in Johannesburg in South Africa, under the theme “Year of Women Empowerment and Development towards Africa’s Agenda 2063.” Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry is also attending the meeting. Shoukry met with his Libyan counterpart Mohammed al-Dairi to discuss coordination to resolve the Libyan crisis. In a released statement, the foreign ministry said that the two top diplomats stressed the importance of extending support to the Libyan government by the African Union and the International Contact Group for Libya. [AllAfrica, 6/15/2015]


UN Special Envoy for Syria goes to Damascus for talks with government
UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura has accepted an invitation from the government to travel to Damascus to give the Syrian government a chance to express their views about the ongoing negotiations between different factions in the conflict. De Mistura intends to address the Syrian government’s duty to spare civilians and stop the use of barrel bombs. Two bombs exploded Sunday in government-held neighborhoods in Homs, wounding at least two dozen people. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the bombings. Amnesty International issued a report Monday urging world leaders to radically overhaul refugee policies and create a comprehensive global strategy to deal with the crisis. The report suggested that world leaders have abandoned millions of refugees and left thousands to die by failing to provide basic human protections. The report estimates that 4 million people have fled Syria, with most struggling to survive in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq and Egypt. [AP, 6/14/2015]

Syrian rebels accuse Kurds of deliberately displacing Arabs
More than a dozen Syrian rebel and militant groups on Monday accused the country’s Kurdish militia of committing “ethnic cleansing” against Arabs and Turkmen in northern Syria, a charge strongly denied by the Kurds and lacking in conclusive evidence. Thousands of Syrians cut through a border fence and crossed into Turkey on Sunday, fleeing fighting in northern Syria between Kurdish fighters and Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants. Earlier Sunday, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said that the refugees were fleeing possible bombings in the area by the US-led coalition, not fighting between Kurds and ISIS. Turkish troops later brought in reinforcements, using water cannons and firing warning shots to prevent Syrians from crossing the border into Turkey. As of Monday, at least 400 Syrians have been given initial permission to enter Turkey via the Akcakale border crossing. [AP, 6/15/2015]

ISIS turns to widescreen TV propaganda in Iraq
ISIS militants are using giant television screens in Ramadi to proclaim that they will seize more Iraqi territory. A resident of Ramadi says the videos show “military operations in Iraq and confessions by captured soldiers,” and “encourage young men to abide by Islamic norms.” An internal US State Department assessment released Friday concludes that ISIS is winning the social media war and is recruiting more people to its cause than the United States and allies can deter. The report also casts an unflattering light on internal discussions between US officials and coalition members, saying the group “has not really come together.” Clashes between ISIS and the Iraqi military killed at least seventeen people Monday in Baiji on a road used by ISIS for supply lines and close to Iraq’s largest oil refinery, which has changed hands a number of times over the past year. [Reuters, 6/14/2015]

The Nusra Front says it regrets killing of Druze
The Nusra Front said Saturday that members who participated in the killing of twenty Druze villagers in northern Syria this week acted in violation of orders and will face trial before an Islamic court. The killings sparked an outcry in Syria and in Lebanon. The head of Lebanese Democratic Party Talal Arslan described Nusra Front’s apology as a “ploy,” adding that the Druze will not be fooled. A Nusra Front leader’s Twitter account claimed that ISIS is preparing a large-scale attack on the Lebanese Army in Tripoli, north Lebanon. Five suspected terrorists were arrested in Lebanese border towns over the weekend, though it has not been disclosed whether the suspects were members of ISIS or the Nusra Front. [AP, 6/13/2015]


Yemen’s Geneva talks begin one day late
The negotiations between the Houthis and forces loyal to President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi that were set to begin on June 14 have begun one day late. The delay came amid growing concerns about the talks and the various parties’ participation. As of Saturday, the Houthi delegation had not yet boarded a plane from Sana’a, leaving late Sunday night instead due to internal disagreements between former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the General People’s Congress. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon opened the talks by stressing their importance, saying, “The region simply cannot sustain another open wound like Syria and Libya.” He further urged for a ceasefire in honor of Ramadan, so that humanitarian supplies may be distributed to those in need. [Yemen Post, AP, Reuters, SABA, 6/15/2015]

Houthis capture province on the Saudi border
Houthi militants took over the province of Jawf, local sources said on Sunday. The takeover occurred without resistance from the pro-government forces, the sources said, elaborating the pro-government withdraw from their positions including those which they had taken from the Houthis a few weeks ago. “The Saudi-led Arab coalition could not help us lately. We were targeted by US drones on allegations al-Qaeda supporters were among us,” a source within the Jawf resistance said. In other cities, the confrontations between the pro-government and pro-Houthi forces continued a day before UN-sponsored talks between the government and the Houthis kick off in Geneva. [Yemen Post, 6/14/2015]

Six Yemeni prisoners transferred from Guantanamo bay to facility in Oman
Six Yemenis held for more than a decade at the US military prison at Guantanamo have been flown to Oman for resettlement, the Pentagon said on Saturday. The six men sent to Oman were identified as low-risk detainees cleared years ago for transfer. They had been held at Guantanamo for about thirteen years. The sixty-nine Yemenis still held at Guantanamo make up more than half of the remaining detainees, but Washington has ruled out sending them home because of the chaotic security situation in their homeland. The transfer of the prisoners to Oman highlights the Sultanate’s growing role as a diplomatic liaison between the United States and Gulf. [Reuters, The Guardian, 6/12/2015]

Bahrain jails over fifty Shia citizens
Bahrain has jailed fifty-seven Shia citizens and stripped all but one of them of their nationality for an alleged plot to bomb sites across the kingdom. The court alleged that the main Shia opposition group, al-Wefaq, and the banned al-Wafa group funded the suspects’ operations. In a statement, two Bahrain advocacy groups said that nine of those found guilty were under the age of eighteen. “Bahrain’s politicized courts are disenfranchising an entire generation of Bahrainis with unfair imprisonment,” said Husain Abdulla, of Americans for Democracy and Human Rights in Bahrain.[BBC, Asharq al-Awsat, 6/13/2015]


Saudi Arabia opens $585 billion stock market to foreign investors
Saudi Arabia’s stock market, valued at $585 billion, opened up to direct foreign investment for the first time today, as the kingdom seeks an economic boost amid low global oil prices. The opening of the Tadawul Saudi Stock Exchange allows companies to raise money straight from foreign investors, with the goal of expanding businesses, diversifying the economy, and creating more jobs. Before today, foreigners only could access the market indirectly. However, foreign investors say they are taking a cautious approach and warn not to expect an immediate rush of foreign investment into the Middle East’s biggest market. Saudi Arabian stock advanced the most it has in two months yesterday, ahead of the stock market opening. [AP, WSJ, Bloomberg, BBC, 6/15/2015]

Mideast oil powers Saudi Arabia, UAE to cut gasoline imports
Middle Eastern oil producers Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will sharply cut or even halt costly gasoline imports next year after ramping up new refining capacities that put them a step closer to becoming exporters of the motor fuel. The estimated loss of at least 60,000 barrels per day (bpd) in shipments to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is expected to be mitigated by strong global demand. [Reuters, 6/15/2015]

Egypt considers postponing fuel subsidy smart card system
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi asked his government on Saturday to consider postponing a smart card system for subsidized fuel, which was due to be rolled out today. “The president directed the government to urgently study postponing the application of this system until all the sectors that don’t have these cards are covered,” said presidency spokesman Alaa Youssef. A similar smart card system for subsidized bread has been widely seen as a success. The new fuel cards do not entail rationing for now, but they will enable the government to monitor the amount of fuel being consumed per vehicle and crack down on smuggling. Eventually, each card will be assigned a ration for subsidized prices. [Reuters, 6/14/2015]

Libya’s official government fails to sell oil directly
Libya’s internationally recognized government in Tobruk has so far failed to sell oil by itself, despite setting up a Dubai bank account and new central bank unit. Last week, premier Abdullah al-Thinni launched another attempt to control public finances by setting up a new central bank headquarters in the eastern city of Bayda. However, a central bank source confirmed that oil buyers were continuing to pay through the National Oil Corporation (NOC) and central bank in Tripoli. A central bank source in Tripoli said eastern bank officials had set up computers in Bayda that had been moved out of Benghazi. However, banks in Europe refused to deal with the Bayda officials, saying they only process payment orders from Tripoli. According to the NOC, Libya’s oil production is at 500,000 barrels per day. [Reuters, 6/13/2015]