Suspected al-Qaeda militants killed at least fifty-six soldiers and policemen in three simultaneous attacks in southern Yemen on Friday, military sources and civilian officials said. Two of the three attacks in Shabwa province, an al-Qaeda stronghold, involved vehicle bombs, they said. The deadliest single attack was at an army camp responsible for ensuring security at oilfields in the region, where thirty-eight soldiers were killed, the sources added. Yemen’s foreign minister called the attacks a sign of increasing desperation in the face of security improvements in the country. [Ahram OnlineAPReutersAl Arabiya, 9/20/2013]


Syrian opposition slams al-Qaeda-linked militants
Syria’s main Western-backed opposition group on Friday slammed al-Qaeda-linked gunmen and their expanding influence in the country, saying the jihadis’ push to establish an Islamic state undermines the rebels’ struggle for a free Syria. The statement from Syrian National Coalition comes as a truce was reached late Thursday after two days of vicious infighting in which the extremists seized control of the northern town of Azaz, near the border with Turkey, from mainstream opposition fighters. [AP, Al Arabiya, 9/20/2013]

Syria war, refugees to cost Lebanon $7.5 billion, says World Bank
Syria’s conflict will cost Lebanon $7.5 billion in cumulative economic losses by the end of next year, the World Bank has said in a report prepared for an aid meeting at the United Nations. A summary of the report provides the most detailed assessment yet of the strain Syria’s conflict has placed on its small Mediterranean neighbour. It estimates that the war and resulting wave of refugees into Lebanon will cut real GDP growth by 2.85 percent a year between 2012 to 2014, double unemployment to above 20 percent and widen the deeply indebted nation’s deficit by $2.6 billion. [Reuters, 9/19/2013]

Putin, Kerry forge ahead with Syria plan; Syria admits stalemate
Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a statement on Thursday that despite the successful completion of the US-Russian plan for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, he was still not 100 percent certain that the plan will work. US Secretary of State John Kerry Thursday urged for a binding UN resolution on Syria’s chemical weapons next week, as a senior Syrian official revealed that the country’s conflict has reached a stalemate. Syrian Deputy Prime Minister Qadri Jamil has said that neither the government forces nor the rebels are currently capable of outright military victory in the country’s civil war, though he later denied that Syria will offer a ceasefire to the rebels. [Al Arabiya, Al Jazeera, 9/20/2013]

Chemical weapons watchdog postpones Syria meeting
The world’s chemical weapons watchdog, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), has postponed Sunday’s meeting to discuss a Russia-US plan to destroy Syria’s arsenal. “We will announce the new date and time in this space as soon as possible,” the Hague-based organisation said in a statement on Friday. Diplomatic sources said that a draft text to be discussed at the meeting had not yet been agreed upon by the United States and Russia. [Naharnet, 9/20/2013]


Constitutional assembly holds first hearing session on military trials
The fifty-member constituent assembly, tasked with drafting amendments to the 2012 constitution, conducted a hearing session on military trials on Thursday, hosting Medhat Radwan, the head of the military judiciary authority. The session is the first among two, called for by the No Military Trials for Civilians group. Following the session, constituent assembly spokesman Mohamed Salmawy held a press conference where he provided Radwan’s statements during the three-hour long session. [DNE, 9/19/2013]

Muslim Brotherhood call for march to Kerdasa, sixty-eight more arrested
Supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi have called for demonstrations on Friday after security forces raided a pro-Morsi area on the outskirts of Cairo. The National Alliance to Support Legitimacy, an Islamist grouping led by the Muslim Brotherhood, said the protests would continue for a week under the slogan “youth are the pillar of the revolution”  to mark the start of the new academic year. Security forces raided the Islamist bastion of Kerdasa on Thursday to round up suspects accused of killing eleven policemen in the city last month. The ministry of interior announced on Thursday night that it arrested sixty-eight people in the villages of Kerdasa and Nahia in Giza governorate during its security operation, launched Thursday morning. [Ahram Online, DNE, Reuters, EGYNews (Arabic), 9/20/2013]

Egypt returns $2 billion to Qatar in sign of growing tensions
Egypt has returned $2 billion that Qatar had deposited with its central bank, after talks to convert the funds into three-year bonds broke down, central bank Governor Hisham Ramez said on Thursday. Egypt authorities have also refused a Qatari request to increase the number of flights between the two states, according to Egyptian airport sources, in a further sign of rising tension between the two Arab Muslim states. [Reuters, EGYNews (Arabic), AMAY (Arabic), Ahram Gate (Arabic), Amwal al-Ghad, 9/19/2013]

Rebuilding trust is absolutely critical, says León
European Union Special Envoy for the Southern Mediterranean Region Bernardino León expressed concern over deepening rifts between camps in Egypt during his most recent visit. The envoy met with the chairman of the fifty-member assembly amending the constitution Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the National Salvation Front Ahmed Saeed, Minister of Foreign Affairs Nabil Fahmy, representatives from the Salafi al-Nour Party, and Minister of Transitional Justice Mohamed Amin al-Mahdy. León also met with Amr Darrag and Mohamed Ali Bishr of the Brotherhood. The EU representative said both sides called for an inclusive political process during his meetings with them. [DNE, 9/19/2013]


Regional stability will boost security in Libya
The stability of the wider North Africa and Sahel regions will help the security situation in Libya, according to Stephen O’Brien, the UK special envoy to the Sahel. Speaking during a two-day visit to explore the links between the Sahel and Libya, he added that regional cooperation is essential for Libya to develop into a stable and secure country. O’Brien met with senior Libyan officials, including the minister of defense and acting interior minister, as well as military figures and representatives from the UN and EU missions in Libya. [Libya Herald, 9/20/13]

Abdullah Senussi charged in Tripoli court; Saif still in Zintan
Ousted Muammar Qaddafi’s intelligence chief Abdullah Senussi appeared in court for the first time in Tripoli to face charges of murder, conspiracy to murder, and human rights crimes committed during the revolution. He was joined by thirty-six other former regime defendants. Saif al-Islam, son of the ousted leader, did not join Senussi in court however, despite earlier reports, because the militias in Zintan did not hand him over to authorities in the capital. Human Rights Watch released a statement urging Libya to surrender Saif al-Islam to the International Criminal Court. [Libya Herald/Tripoli Post, 9/19/13]

Ambassadors’ views on easing new entrants to Libyan hydrocarbon sector
The US, Italian, Korean, British, and Spanish ambassadors participated in a special session of a forum on oil and gas in Tripoli to discuss Libya’s need to attract international technology and know-how to maximize its hydrocarbon value. US Ambassador Deborah Jones said US small and medium enterprises require an efficient and transparent Libyan system to plug into the industry. A delegation of representatives from eight Italian companies will visit Tripoli later this month to discuss the further development of business relations. [Libya Herald, 9/20/13]

More attacks on journalists by still powerful militias
Reporters Without Borders has sounded the alarm about repeated cases of violence against journalists in Libya. The statement, released as the country prepares to mark the second anniversary of Qaddafi’s ouster, reminds Libya “that it is subject to national and international obligations to ensure respect for freedom of expression and information” and urges authorities to ensure that journalists are protected. There have been numerous cases of reporters being threatened, assaulted, or killed. [RWB, Libya Herald, 9/18/13]


Ruling parties support dialogue but cautious about union proposal
Tunisia’s governing Islamists expressed support for dialogue today but did not specifically endorse the details of the trade union proposal that it step down to make way for a transitional government and new elections. “We studied the initiative and consider it the right frame for national dialogue, and hope the rest of the parties agree to it,” said Amer Larayedh, a member of the ruling Ennahdha party’s political board. [Reuters, Tunisia Live, 9/20/2013]

Poll: Tunisians oppose dissolution of NCA, still support the opposition
A new poll shows more Tunisians oppose than support opposition demands to dissolve the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) and government, with many undecided. Asked whether they favored dissolving the NCA, 48 percent of respondents opposed the measure, 37 supported and 15 percent were undecided, according to a survey conducted by Tunisian market research firm 3C Etudes. [Tunisia Live, 9/20/2013]

Minister of interior says government failed to protect Brahmi; NCA creates commission to monitor ministry’s ongoing inquiry
Minister of Interior Lotfi Ben Jeddou announced Thursday at a National Constituent Assembly (NCA) plenary session that his ministry had “failed” to protect assassinated politician Mohamed Brahmi despite having received warnings that there was a threat against him. He added that the ministry’s investigation about the document is ongoing. The president of the Committee on Rights, Freedoms and External Relations at the NCA announced the committee’s decision to establish a commission to monitor the interior ministry’s inquiry into the matter. [Tunisia Live, TAP, 9/20/2013]

Journalists’ syndicate calls for a boycott of all activities of the prime minister
The National Union of Tunisian Journalists called on reporters in a statement on Thursday to stop covering the prime ministry and to refrain from answering questions from prosecutors. Journalists were advised not to respond to questions from prosecutors if they do not abide by the post-revolutionary press code, Decree 115, issued in February 2011. Journalists have accused the government of largely ignoring the code. [Mosaique FM (Arabic), Assabah (Arabic), Tunisia Live, 9/20/2013]


United States increases annual aid to Yemen by $20.5 million
On Thursday, Yemen and the United States signed an agreement to increase the annual US aid to Yemen by $20.5 million. Under the agreement, $7.5 million of US aid will be allocated for the improvement of water resource management. The remaining $13 million will support the work of the National Dialogue Conference as it comes to a close. [Saba News, 9/20/2013]

Yasser al-Raeina says the NDC will likely be extended until October
A source at the General Secretariat for the National Dialogue Conference (NDC), Yasser al-Raeina, confirmed that the conference, which was scheduled to conclude its work this past Wednesday, will likely be extended until October. Al-Raeina said in a statement that the Conciliation Commission will begin its review of reports submitted by the working groups this weekend and will determine the date for a final plenary session to vote on a plan for the government. [Al Masdar (Arabic), 9/20/2013]


Bahrain opposition defies ban on meeting diplomats
Bahrain’s main Shiite opposition group is defying a ban by the island’s Sunni government to have direct contacts with foreign diplomats. Al-Wefaq’s secretary-general, Sheikh Ali Salman, met Norwegian political affairs envoy Hakon Smedsvig on Thursday in the Bahraini capital, Manama. This week, authorities detained a top Al Wefaq official on allegations of inciting violence. In return, the group announced a boycott of reconciliation talks with the government. [AP, 9/20/2013]

Jordan to open new Syrian refugee camp
More than half a million Syrian refugees have crossed into Jordan since the start of the conflict.
The Jordanian government is about to open a new camp for them which will be able to house over 100,000 people. [Al Jazeera, 9/19/2013]

Tammam Salam says dialogue table not the place to form a cabinet
Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam is set to break late prime minister Rachid Karami’s record in the length of time it took him to form a cabinet in 1969–seven months. However, Salam is at odds with the recent initiative proposed by Speaker Nabih Berri and does not agree with his proposal to put the issue of the cabinet formation on the agenda of the national dialogue. [Al Akhbar, 9/20/2013]