Top News: Arab League Vows Military Support For Libya, No Word On Air Strikes

The Arab League pledged military support on Tuesday to help Libya’s internationally recognized government fight the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), but did not publicly agree to a request for airstrikes. A communique issued after the Arab League meeting in Cairo said there was an urgent need for an Arab strategy to fight ISIS in Libya. The League also urged Libyans to back the UN-brokered political dialogue process and quickly produce a government of national unity. Cairo’s representative to the Arab League Tarek Adel said Egypt would continue pressuring the international community to lift an arms embargo and provide assistance to Libya’s military. [ReutersAl Arabiya, 8/18/2015]



Egypt’s new anti-terrorism bill would affect basic freedoms, says Washington
The United States denounced Egypt’s newly expanded counterterrorism law Tuesday, expressing concern about its potential impact on human rights. “We are concerned that some measures in Egypt’s new anti-terrorism law could have a significant detrimental impact on human rights and fundamental freedoms,” State Department Spokesman John Kirby said during a press briefing. But Kirby reaffirmed that Washington stands with Egypt in its fight against terror. The Committee to Protect Journalists also criticized the law in a statement Monday. Human Rights Watch said in a statement that the law erodes basic rights and defines terrorism so broadly that it could encompass civil disobedience. Criticism for the law also came from local rights groups including the semi-governmental National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) and the Journalists’ Syndicate. [Ahram Online,AFP, 8/19/2015]

US reportedly weighs more security, withdrawal option for Sinai forces
The Obama administration is quietly reviewing the future of America’s three-decade deployment to Egypt’s Sinai, fearing attacks on peacekeepers. Options range from beefing up their protection or even pulling them out altogether, officials said. Armed primarily with light weapons, armored personnel carriers, and similarly limited materiel, the forces lack the capacity to take on Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) or other militants across the desert territory. The Obama administration’s “interagency review” of the US posture in the Sinai has included an examination of ways to bolster the safety of the Americans, possibly by bringing in additional equipment to secure positions, according to senior administration officials familiar with the discussions. But the debate also has encompassed the question of bringing the US peacekeepers home, said the officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity. Given America’s close relationships with both Egypt and Israel, one senior official said the United States would prefer not to make changes to its posture unilaterally. [AP, 8/19/2015]

Court refuses to accept Shawkan’s release documents
A Cairo appeals court refused Tuesday to receive an official demand from lawyers for detained photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, better known as Shawkan, for his release after exceeding the maximum pretrial detention period. The court insisted that it cannot receive the file prior to first receiving the documents for the case in which Shawkan has been detained, according to his lawyer Ahmed Abdel Nabi. Since Shawkan has not been referred to trial, his lawyers and family had anticipated his release. On August 14, Shawkan completed two years in Tora Prison since his arrest in 2013 while covering the violent dispersal of the pro-Muslim Brotherhood sit-in at Raba’a al-Adaweya. The law states that a pretrial detention period can last a maximum of two years for crimes with strict penalties, such as death sentences or life imprisonment. Currently, there is no confirmation regarding whether Shawkan has been referred to court in the “dispersing Rabaa sit-in” case. [DNE, 8/19/2015]

Egypt’s Wasat Party denies political reconciliation initiative
Islamist Party al-Wasat denied reports of a possible political initiative proposed by party leader Abul Ela Mady following his release last week. Several newspapers claimed Mady proposed a reconciliation initiative between Egypt’s current government and the pro-Morsi political parties and powers, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Mady has been imprisoned for two years and will will not speak to the media the Islamist party announced in an official statement. The party also affirmed that Mady had not been able to follow political developments while detained. “The leader of the party did not propose any political initiatives, nor did he issue any recent political statement since his release, as he did not follow the latest political developments in Egypt during his detention,” the party said in a statement issued on its official Facebook page Tuesday. [Ahram Online, 8/19/2015]

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Arab League vows military support for Libya, no word on air strikes
The Arab League pledged military support on Tuesday to help Libya’s internationally recognized government fight the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), but did not publicly agree to a request for airstrikes. A communique issued after the Arab League meeting in Cairo said there was an urgent need for an Arab strategy to fight ISIS in Libya. The League also urged Libyans to back the UN-brokered political dialogue process and quickly produce a government of national unity. Cairo’s representative to the Arab League Tarek Adel said Egypt would continue pressuring the international community to lift an arms embargo and provide assistance to Libya’s military. [Reuters, Al Arabiya, 8/18/2015]

UNHCR to help Libya improve response to boats in distress off its coast
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) helped set up a forum to improve Libya’s response to boats in distress off its coast by streamlining information sharing and coordination with international organizations. UNHCR Spokesperson Leo Dobbs said, “We hope the new contact group will boost Libya’s ability to save lives at sea, collect bodies at sea or along the coast, and improve the humanitarian care of the rescued on disembarkation.” The contact group—including Libyan officials responsible for search and rescue, border security, and detention centers for rescued or intercepted boat people—was established at a recent workshop organized in Tunis by UNHCR and its partner the International Organization for Migration. [UNHCR, 8/18/2015]

Libya’s Haftar accused of working with terrorists
In a letter to the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the President of the General National Congress (GNC) in Tripoli Abu Sahmain said, “There are many indications to show that there is coordination between the terrorists in Sirte and Derna and Haftar’s forces.” Sahmain added that ISIS and Haftar were “getting support from the remnants of old regime currently based in Egypt.” Sahmain also said that the GNC and the National Salvation Government had committed themselves to fighting extremism and terrorism. Sahmain urged the UN to recognize and support the Tripoli forces in their fight against terrorism. [Libya Herald, 8/18/2015]

Almost 100 Egyptians deported via Tobruk; Libyan pullout from Egyptian border post denied
Ninety-five Egyptian citizens have been deported from Libya, allegedly for entering the country illegally. An official at the Egyptian illegal Immigration Department said, “The immigrants were arrested in the Libyan desert, as they entered the country illegally.” Earlier this month, eighty-nine people were also arrested at the Egyptian side of the border. Meanwhile, reports from Egypt that Libyan security forces have pulled out of the main border post at Musaid were denied. The head of public relations at Musaid Security Directorate said that the stories in the Egyptian media about Libyan border forces “disappearing” were untrue. While Battalion 418, which focused on reconnaissance work, was pulled out, he said that other border guards were still present and cross-border traffic was moving normally. [Libya Monitor (Subscription), 8/19/2015]

Two soldiers killed by landmine in Tunisia
The Tunisian defense ministry said on Tuesday that two soldiers were killed by a landmine in the west of the country near the Algerian border, a region where the army has been chasing militants since 2012. [Al Arabiya/ AFP, 8/18/2015]


ISIS beheads leading antiquities scholar in Palmyra
Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants beheaded one of Syria’s most prominent antiquities scholars Khaled al-Asaad on Tuesday in the ancient town of Palmyra. According to monitoring groups and Syrian state television, al-Asaad was beheaded Tuesday in a square outside Palmyra’s museum as dozens of people gathered to witness the killing. His body was then taken to Palmyra’s archaeological site and hung from one of the roman columns. Head of the Antiquities and Museums Department in Damascus Maamoun Abdulkarim told Syria’s state news agency that al-Asaad was “one of the most important pioneers in Syrian archaeology in the 20th century,” and that ISIS supposedly beheaded him because he refused to disclose information to the militants about where some of the town’s treasures were hidden. [AP, Reuters, BBC, 8/19/2015]

UN says typhoid outbreak among Palestinian refugees in Syria
The UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA, said Tuesday that typhoid has spread among civilians in the besieged Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk on the outskirts of Damascus. UNRWA Spokesman Christopher Gunness said the agency’s staff gained access to an area east of Yarmouk camp called Yalda for the first time since early June and has established a mobile health point to help the ill. UNRWA said in a situation report that there have been six confirmed cases of the disease so far and that the agency’s medical personnel provided 211 consultations on Tuesday alone. [AP, 8/18/2015]

Eight Turkish soldiers killed in southeast Turkey bomb attack
Eight Turkish soldiers were killed Wednesday morning in a bomb attack on their vehicle by Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants in Turkey’s southeastern province of Siirt. Earlier Wednesday, Turkey held funeral ceremonies in Diyarbakir city for three more soldiers killed during clashes with PKK militants disguised as villagers earlier this week. [Reuters, 8/19/2015]

Suicide truck bomb targets Kurdish security agency in Syria
A suicide bomber set off a truck bomb Wednesday morning outside the offices of a Kurdish Asayish security agency in the northeastern Syrian town of Qamishli. The attack killed at least eleven people and wounded another twenty-nine. ISIS quickly claimed the attack, releasing a statement that naming the suicide bomber as Abu Mohamed al-Ansari and saying that he used a “water tanker rigged with explosives to infiltrate an Asayish command base.” [Reuters, AFP, 8/19/2015]

ISIS attacks Hezbollah near Lebanon’s northern border with Syria
A monitoring group reported Tuesday that ISIS attacked Hezbollah fighters near the Lebanese-Syrian border south of the Homs province town of Qusayr, which Hezbollah seized two years ago. The clashes reportedly erupted after midnight on Monday near the Jousiya border crossing but that there is no readily available information on the casualties of the fighting. Lebanon’s state news agency (NNA) reported late Monday that the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) helped foil an ISIS attempt to approach the country’s border, saying that LAF shelling forced ISIS to withdraw. Hezbollah’s ARA News reported that Hezbollah members had “withdrawn from three positions on the Jousiya crossing after ISIS members advanced to those areas amid fierce clashes that left dozens of party members dead.” [NOW, 8/18/2015]


Houthi rebels ambush pro-government forces in Yemen, killing scores
Yemen’s Houthi rebels ambushed pro-government forces in the south on Tuesday, setting off a major battle that killed sixty-five anti-Houthi forces and handed them their first serious setback following a series of recent advances, officials said. Officials from both sides of the conflict said the rebels destroyed at least eight armored vehicles and four tanks and that fifteen Houthi militia members were also killed. The officials said both sides were rushing reinforcements to the area, with the Houthis attempting to squeeze the pocket closed and their opponents attempting to break out. [AP, 8/19/2015]

International agencies and aid groups issue new concerns over humanitarian situation in Yemen
Months of brutal conflict in Yemen have killed or injured more than 1,000 children, and the number of young people recruited or used as fighters has soared, the United Nations children’s agency UNICEF said Wednesday. Some 400 children have been killed and more than 600 injured–an average of eight casualties every day–since fighting escalated at the end of March, according to UNICEF.The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Tuesday it was “extremely concerned” by a growing number of corpses being abandoned in the war zones of Yemen. Yemen’s ICRC Protection Department chief Nourane Houas urged all sides in the conflict “to respect the dignity of the dead and to allow their swift recovery, while taking all feasible measures to ensure their proper identification and their handover to the families.” Edward Santiago of Save the Children condemned the Monday bombing of the Hodeida port by the Saudi-led coalition, saying, “The impact of these latest air strikes will be felt most strongly by innocent children and families.” Rights group Amnesty International has called for a UN investigation into possible war crimes in Yemen.  [Reuters, AFP, 8/19/2015]

Saudi Arabia reaffirms support for implementation of UN 2216 in Yemen
Saudi Arabia on Monday called for the unconditional implementation of UN Security Council resolution 2216  to end the conflict in neighboring Yemen and intensifying efforts to send humanitarian aid to the country. The call came during the weekly meeting of the cabinet chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Naif at al-Salam Palace in Jeddah on Monday afternoon. The council reviewed efforts to support the Yemeni people and their “legitimate government.” It emphasized the importance of the unconditional implementation of the Security Council Resolution 2216 to bring Yemen out of its current crisis, simultaneously intensifying efforts to provide humanitarian aid to the “brotherly people of Yemen.” [Saudi Gazette, 8/19/2015]


Algeria says crude, natural gas exports down in 2014
Algeria’s crude oil and natural gas exports dropped sharply in 2014 after its ninth straight annual decline in its domestic energy production. Algeria has struggled to keep up production due to declining output and a lack of foreign investment. The government expects energy earnings will drop by 50 percent to $34 billion this year as a result of falling global crude oil prices. Officials have announced cost-cutting measures and attempts to control imports to counter the drop in prices.  Natural gas exports dropped 17 percent last year, while crude oil and condensate volumes fell 16 percent. The National Statistics Bureau said energy production has been in decline since 2006.  [Reuters, 8/18/2015]

Iraq’s Abadi visits oilfield to reassure Lukoil amid protests
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi visited the West Qurna-2 oilfield to reassure its Russian operator Lukoil after officials warned production could be affected by protests. The state-run South Oil Company (SOC) last week sent a report to the oil ministry asking it to defuse protests near some of the southern fields where most of Iraq’s crude is produced, including West Qurna-2. In a sign of the growing challenges facing foreign firms operating in the south, hundreds of locals demanding jobs recently blocked some of the entrances to the oil field. “We explained in the report that if such undesired harassments to the foreign operators continue, oil production will definitely be affected,” said a senior SOC source. “The situation is under control and the companies must not fear any threat,” Abadi said. [Reuters, 8/18/2015]

Iraqi Kurdistan says oil pipeline sabotage cost it $501 million
Repeated sabotage by “organized gangs” of the oil pipeline from northern Iraq to Turkey has cost the autonomous Kurdistan region $501 million since July 1, the ministry of natural resources said. The flow of oil is currently suspended due to a theft attempt on the pipeline, which runs to the Turkish port of Ceyhan from fields in Iraq’s Kurdish north and Kirkuk. Lost revenue from July 1 to August 17 amounted to $251 million, the ministry said, “in addition to $250 million damage to KRG finances caused by the explosion on the pipeline at the end of July.” [Reuters, 8/18/2015]

Weak lira adds nearly $4 billion to Turkish natural gas bill
The weakening of Turkey’s lira has added nearly $4 billion to Turkey’s natural gas bill since the beginning of the year, Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said on Wednesday. So far this year, the cost has risen by around 11 billion lira ($3.8 billion lira), Yildiz said. He added that there has been an 8 percent drop in Russian gas sales to Turkey in the last five to six months, without giving further details. Yildiz added he had sent a draft bilateral agreement to Russia on the proposed Turkish Stream project, a proposed natural gas pipeline from Russia to Turkey, and was awaiting a response. [Reuters, 8/19/2015]

Egypt to issue EUR 600 million one-year T-bill
Egypt will issue a one year treasury bill worth EUR 600 million to local and foreign financial institutions on August 25, the central bank said in a statement said on Wednesday. The government has turned to the local money market to finance its public deficit since the 2011 revolution, which deterred many foreign investors. [Reuters, 8/19/2015]