Top News: Pentagon Confirms Russia is Planning an Air Base in Syria

“We have seen movement of people and things that would indicate that they plan to use that base there, south of Latakia, as a forward air operating base,” said Pentagon Spokesman Captain Jeff Davis. Davis declined to offer specifics on US intelligence. He added that the United States was concerned that Russian military moves could come into conflict with US and coalition air strikes that were being conducted in Syria against ISIS. Davis also said that the United States would be happy to accept the support of Russian troops in the coalition fight against ISIS, but not if they are fighting with the Syrian regime. In related news, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov when asked on Tuesday whether talks on Syria were possible between Russian President Vladimir Putin and President Barack Obama said that dialogue between Moscow and Washington on solving the Syria crisis was indispensable. [BBC, TIME, Reuters, 9/15/2015]



Parliamentary candidates to be announced Wednesday; violations documented
Egypt’s High Elections Committee (HEC) has said it will announce on Wednesday which candidates it has accepted to run for parliament in the upcoming elections. Parliamentary Elections’ Observatory (PEO), affiliated to the NGO Maat’s international-local joint mission, has said that while the rate was “good,” the number of candidate applications for upcoming parliamentary election has declined compared to past polls. The HEC had previously announced it received 5,936 applications. The alliance cited cost and fears of another suspension of elections as possible reasons for the decline. The PEO added that parties “struggled to meet the requirements of closed-lists in terms of proportional representation of different social categories.” According to the Egyptian Coalition for Human Rights and Development (ECHRD), before elections were cancelled in February 2015, 6,792 candidates applied, 5,181 applied in 2011, 4,686 in 2010, and 7,000 in 2005. The PEO documented violations committed by political parties and independent politicians including distributing goods to citizens in an attempt to buy votes and advertisements prior to beginning of the legal campaigning period. The ECHRD reported a campaign by the Nour Party in Alexandria distributing free Hepatitis-C medication. Meanwhile, the HEC rejected steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz’s parliamentary candidacy application, saying his papers were incomplete. Ezz’s national post office account, where he had deposited his money, was frozen on Friday by the prosecution and Illicit Gains Authority. [Ahram Online, 9/15/2015]

Mexico Foreign Minister flies to Cairo for answers on attack
Mexico’s Foreign Minister, Claudia Ruiz Massieu, flew to Cairo late Monday to seek answers from Egyptian authorities over an airstrike that mistakenly killed Mexican tourists. She said that her government had confirmed that two Mexicans were killed and six wounded in the attack, seeking information on another six tourists. Mexico’s ambassador to Egypt reportedly said Monday that the two dead Mexican citizens were identified as Luis Barajas Fernandez and Maria de Lourdes Fernandez Rubio. A third Mexican citizen, Rafael Bejarano, was confirmed dead by his sister. The US State Department said Monday, during a daily press briefing, that it was looking into reports suggesting a US national was among those injured. Egypt’s Ambassador to Mexico, Yasser Shaaban, meanwhile, told reporters in Mexico City that vehicles used by a tour group attacked by Egyptian forces in the western desert were “similar to those used by terrorists.” Egypt’s prosecution ordered on Tuesday DNA tests to identify the bodies of the victims. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, 9/15/2015]

Eleven top Agriculture Ministry officials referred to judiciary over corruption charges
Egypt’s Irrigation Minister Hossam Moghazy referred eleven top officials at the Agriculture Ministry to the judiciary, accusing them of embezzlement and facilitating the seizure of public funds, state news agency MENA reported Monday. The accused officials face accusations of illegally facilitating the sale of a piece of land, affiliated with the General Authority for Agriculture Reform in Daqahlia, and of profiteering by facilitating the licensing of a poultry farm in Minya. Moghazy was tasked with temporarily running the ministry after former minister Salah Helal was removed from office and arrested. [Ahram Online, AMAY, Cairo Post, 9/14/2015]

Egypt introduces new rules for foreign workers, says Ministry of Manpower
Foreign workers in Egypt must now obtain a permit from the Ministry of Manpower or other state bodies, as part of new regulations Egypt has announced on Monday. Some workers are exempt from the new regulations, including foreign correspondents, embassy, and consulate staff. The permit granted to foreigners will allow them to work in Egypt for one year or less. Each year, workers will be required to pay a fee of 3,000 Egyptian pounds (around $383), while applying for the permit, and the amount paid will increase each year after four years. The new regulations also set a cap on the percentage of foreign workers in a particular institution, which cannot exceed 10 percent, unless an exemption is granted. [Aswat Masriya, MENA, 9/15/2015]

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ISIS claim Tunisian executed in Benghazi
The Libyan branch of Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) has released a video purportedly showing the execution of a Tunisian man in Benghazi. The group claims the man, whom it named as Saleh Mohamed Elhadaoui, had been spying for the Libya National Army. He is said to have been a baker. It is not known when, or even if, the supposed execution took place. ISIS has developed a reputation for deliberate misinformation for propaganda purposes. Photos posted of the killing initially look real, but on closer inspection they appear they may have been altered. If true, the killing may have meant to punish Tunisia, which on Friday arrested another six Tunisian militants trying to enter Libya suspected of planning to join ISIS. [Libya Herald, AFP, ANSAmed, 9/15/2015]

Tunisia launches project for 200 small, medium-sized firms
The World Bank and International Trade Center are launching a partnership to support 200 small and medium-sized Tunisian companies to aid them in joining web markets. The initiative is funded with aid pledged by the Deauville partnership (G8 2011) and has brought in Tradekey, a Saudi company that specializes in interfacing with virtual markets. The initiative is part of a larger project to help small and medium-sized firms’ across Tunisia, Jordan and Morocco to increase their international visibility and access new markets through computer technologies. [ANSAmed, 9/14/2015]

Morocco says breaks up militant cell in contact with ISIS
Moroccan authorities said on Monday that they had dismantled a militant cell planning to create an Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) affiliate, seizing weapons and bomb-making materials in raids on their hideouts. The cell is the latest in a series of radical groups Morocco says it has uncovered. The group was operating in the southern city of Essaouira and the central town of Sidi Allal al-Bahraoui. The five members of the group had pledged allegiance to ISIS and planned to create a local offshoot called the Caliphate Soldiers in Morocco. Five members of the latest cell were planning to leave to Syria and Iraq after perpetrating an attack, authorities said. [Reuters, AP, 9/14/2015]


Hollande says air strikes against ISIS in Syria necessary
French President Francois Hollande, whose country is carrying out surveillance flights over Syria, said Monday that it would be necessary to carry out air strikes against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). “We announced surveillance flights that would allow us to prepare air strikes if they were necessary, and they will be necessary in Syria,” he told journalists. [Reuters, AFP, 9/15/2015]

New deadly bombing in Syria’s Hasaka
One person was killed Tuesday in a new car bomb attack on Hasaka, Syrian state media said, a day after twin blasts left dozens dead in the northeastern city. State television said fifteen people were also wounded in the explosion in front of a water resources building in the city. The attack comes a day after twin blasts that killed thirty-two people, a monitoring group said. ISIS later claimed those attacks. [AFP, 9/15/2015]

Cameron in Jordan for Syrian refugee talks
British Prime Minister David Cameron arrived in Jordan on Monday for a visit to a Syrian refugee camp and talks with King Abdullah II, the Foreign Ministry in Amman said. Before Jordan, Cameron toured a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon on his one-day visit to discuss the refugee crisis gripping the Middle East and Europe. Cameron said he wanted “to see for myself and to hear for myself stories of refugees and what they need.” [Al Arabiya, 9/15/2015]

Harrowing travel of refugees through Turkey
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reported that the number of Syrian refugees in Turkey is now close to two million. Neighboring countries, namely Iraq, Lebanon, and Jordan have recently seen a reduction in refugees. The International Organization for Migration said on Tuesday that an estimated 464,876 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean Sea in 2015, already more than twice the total for 2014. These statistics come as twenty-two people drowned off the shore of Bodrum when their boat capsized. Also on Tuesday in Edirne, near the Turkish border with Greece, Turkish security forces stopped hundreds of refugees. [Reuters, 9/15/2015]

Clashes continue in southeast Turkey; tensions harming national unity and free speech
Security forces reported that thirteen Turkish soldiers were wounded when a roadside bomb explosion in the largely Kurdish eastern province of Mus hit their convoy on Tuesday. Renewed violence in the southeast has increased the popularity of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), a Turkish Metropoll survey showed. Support for the AKP has risen to 41.4 percent from 40.9 percent in June’s election. While an increase, the results suggest that the party may not win the votes necessary to form a single-party government after the November 1 elections. Tensions between the Turkish state and the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) in southeast Turkey have also resulted in heightened state-censorship of media outlets in recent weeks. Doğan Media, a subsidiary of Turkish conglomerate Doğan Holding and the wide-circulation newspaper Hürriyet and the news channel CNN Türk, is the latest media outlet to be investigated on terrorism propaganda charges. [Reuters, BGN, 9/15/2015]


Yemen troops press campaign towards rebel-held Sana’a
Saudi-backed forces in Yemen continue the second day of their push against Houthi rebels for the capital in Sana’a. The first stage of the major push remains focused on the capture of Marib province, the capital’s East. Marib city is allegedly in the hands of coalition forces. One military official noted that the campaign aims to cut off supply lines to the rebels, as other reports note that coalition strikes have destroyed bridges in Mawheet and Hajjah, near the northern rebel stronghold of Saada. The bulk of the Arab coalition troops, approximately 4000 out of 5000, come from the UAE. An Emirati general denied reports that Egyptian and Qatari ground troops were present. [AFP, 9/15/2015]

UN envoy in Riyadh to meet with Yemeni government
The United Nations envoy to Yemen will return to Saudi Arabia to meet with members of the exiled Yemeni government after it pulled out of UN mediated peace talks with its Houthi adversaries. Yemeni political parties, including Islah and Herak, showed their support for this decision. However, the Riyadh based government affirmed their commitment to peace talks, but called upon the Houthi rebels first to accept the UN resolution that compels them to pull out of cities, return weapons to the state, and allow the exiled government to resume duties from Yemen. UN chief Ban Ki-moon’s special envoy on Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, plans to head back to Riyadh for “further consultations with the government of Yemen, other Yemeni stakeholders and states in the region and address outstanding concerns,” the UN statement said. “There is no military solution to the conflict,” it added. “All sides to the conflict must engage urgently and in good faith in the search for political solutions at the negotiating table with a view to bringing an end to the fighting in Yemen.” [Reuters, Al Masdar (Arabic), Gulf News, 9/15/2015]

Bahrain rejects UN Human Rights Council statement on worsening human rights situation
Bahrain has rejected a statement issued by a group of states at the 30th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, saying that it was not truthful and that it was out of context. Thirty-two countries including the United States and Britain expressed concern on September 14 about Bahrain’s human rights record, as it urged the Western-allied kingdom to protect the right to peaceful assembly and address reports of torture. The statement said that the human rights situation in Bahrain remained “an issue of serious concern to us” and welcomed steps by Bahrain to improve observance of human rights, including the creation of a unit to investigate abuses by security forces. Bahrain’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Yousuf Abdul Karim Bucheeri said that the countries supporting the statement should obtain their information from impartial and credible resources, through diplomatic channels instead of naming-and-shaming. Bahrain’s opposition says the human rights situation in the Persian Gulf monarchy is worsening as the government continues to target opposition activists. [Gulf News, Reuters, Al-Alam, 9/15/2015]

Seven sentenced to death over Kuwait mosque bombing
Kuwait has sentenced seven people to death over the suicide bombing of a Shia mosque in which at least twenty seven people were killed. More than 220 people were wounded in the June 26 attack, which targeted the Imam Sadiq Mosque in a busy area to the east of Kuwait City. Another eight suspects were given terms of between two and fifteen years in jail while fourteen others were acquitted. A group affiliated with Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) said it was behind the attack. Kuwaiti officials say the bombing was aimed at causing conflict between Sunnis and Shias in the majority Sunni state where the two sects have usually coexisted in peace. Kuwait launched a security crackdown on ISIS after the attack was claimed by the group in June. [Zawya, BBC, Al Jazeera, 9/15/2015]


Turkish lira or Syrian pound? Currency debate in Syria
Opposition groups in Syria’s North are opting to use the Turkish lira over the Syrian pound to take advantage of a more stable currency, while also deliberately seeking to devalue the Syrian pound and undermine Assad’s power. Doing business with the lira also allows local merchants to carry out cross-border exchanges with Turkish companies. This has sparked an interesting controversy amongst Syrians, especially in Aleppo, where some see the use of the lira as anti-nationalist even though many also oppose the Assad regime. [GRI, 9/15/2015]

Egypt Central Bank seen keeping rates on hold
Egypt’s Central Bank is expected to keep interest rates unchanged on Thursday as it balances efforts to control inflation with efforts to stimulate its struggling economy, according to economists surveyed by Reuters. Annual inflation accelerated after the government slashed subsidies last year but has since slowed down. It dropped for the third consecutive month in August to its lowest level in more than two years, with urban consumer inflation dropping to 7.9 percent in August. Three of five economists surveyed by Reuters said they expect the central bank’s monetary policy committee (MPC) to keep rates on hold during their meeting on September 17. At its last meeting, on July 30, the central bank kept its deposit rate at 8.75 percent and its lending rate at 9.75 percent. It was the fourth consecutive meeting in which the central bank kept rates on hold. [Reuters, 9/15/2015]

Stalled oil field project adds to Iraq’s woes
A stalled project aimed at sustaining Iraq’s record oil production by injecting seawater into its southern oil fields has become a symbol of missed opportunities for a country reeling from falling crude prices and the war against Islamic State. By using water drawn from the Persian Gulf to extract oil remaining in the fields, Iraq hoped to expand the country’s output beyond its current 4.1 million barrels a day. The project’s completion isn’t expected until 2020 at the earliest—seven years behind schedule. Without it, production in Iraq’s southern oil wells is expected to decrease by some 10 percent a year, said Michael Cohen, head of energy commodities research at Barclay’s. The faltering venture, known as the Common Seawater Supply Facility, has become yet another example of how bureaucratic infighting and ethnic tensions have stymied efforts to modernize Iraq’s oil sector. [WSJ, 9/15/2015]