Top News: At Least Fourteen Tunisian Troops Killed in Mountain Ambushes

A defense ministry spokesman said at least fourteen troops were killed, and another twenty-five wounded Wednesday evening when militants attacked with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. These attacks targeted two military checkpoints in the region of Hanchir Ettala in Mount Chaambi, in the Kasserine region near the Algerian border.


Egypt’s NGO draft law needs to be reviewed by new parliament, says NCHR head
The state-affiliated National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) called Tuesday for postponing the issuance of a draft legislation regulating the activities of civil society organizations within Egypt. The NCHR met with representatives from a group of civil society organizations on Tuesday to discuss the controversial NGO draft law, which presented the council with a research paper detailing their criticism to the law. In a meeting with a delegation of NGOs in Egypt on Wednesday, Mohamed Fayek, the head of the NCHR, said that it was important for the next parliament to have time to discuss the law due to the vital role it will play in governing volunteer and NGO work as well as international contributions to social development in Egypt. [Ahram Online, DNE, 7/16/2014]

Egypt deteriorates to thirty-first on Fragile State Index
The Fund For Peace recently released its 2014 Fragile States Index, in which Egypt’s position worsened year on year from 34th to 31st out of a total of 178 listed countries. Top problem areas cited included “human rights, legitimacy of state, factionalized elites and group grievances.” Egypt was placed into the “Alert” category, the third worst of eleven possible tiers ranging from “Very High Alert” for the most fragile states, to “Warning” for those in the middle, to “Very Sustainable” at strongest. Egypt’s total score came in at 91 out of a possible 120, while its individual indicators averaged at a score of 7.6 out of 10. The country’s greatest challenges, the report indicates, are political, as three of Egypt’s four main sub-indicator scores fall under this category. [DNE, 7/16/2014]

Egypt Caucus gets off to rough start
The launch of a new Congressional Egypt Caucus was disrupted by anti-war protesters on July 16, highlighting the intensifying opposition to America’s $1.5 billion a year in military and economic support to the country. The bipartisan group of four conservative Republicans and California Democrat Loretta Sanchez launches just as Senate appropriators voted to cut aid by $400 million and the Obama administration is holding up weapons deliveries, including Apache attack helicopters. The Republican members made clear that their goal in forming the Caucus was to push back against criticism of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, repeatedly praising him as a key ally in America’s fight against Islamist militants. [Al Monitor, 7/16/2014]

Prosecutor sends 163 to court for committing ‘massacre’
Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat referred 163 defendants involved in the Sidi Gaber clashes in Alexandria to criminal court on Wednesday. The defendants are charged with committing a “massacre” by killing twenty-nine people and attempting to murder thirty after the dispersal of sit-ins in support of former president Mohamed Morsi in August 2013. Investigations indicated that the defendants, who are allegedly members of the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, reacted to the death of one of its members by carrying different melee and automatic weapons, gathering at Ibrahim Square, and violently clashing with local residents. “Investigations have been taking place to confirm the causes of death of the victims, as well as inspecting the corpses and questioning 43 eyewitnesses,” according to a Wednesday statement from the prosecution. [DNE, Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, 7/16/2014]


Libya offers first oil from Ras Lanuf port since reopening
Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) has offered the first crude oil from its major eastern Ras Lanuf terminal for end-of-July loading, two weeks after a rebel group agreed to end its blockade of the facilities. NOC has issued tenders to sell 2 million barrels of crude oil from Ras Lanuf, according to a tender document and traders. There is no sign of offers for oil from Es Sider. The two ports have a combined capacity of around 500,000 barrels per day. Earlier on Wednesday, a senior Libyan oil official did not expect any exports from either port before August due to safety checks after nearly a year-long blockade, saying that assessments were still being carried out. [Reuters, 7/16/2014]

Libyan air controllers strike to protest airport shelling
Air controllers in western Libya have gone on strike to protest the shelling of Tripoli’s main airport, halting flights in much of the oil-producing country, a government official said. The strike puts pressure on rival militias to end four days of heavy fighting over control of the country’s biggest airport, in which militias from Misrata attacked the area to wrest control from Zintani militias and that have damaged twenty aircraft. The Tripoli air controllers refused to go to work at the control tower in Tripoli, which regulates traffic for all of western Libya, forcing the Misrata airport to close after reopening briefly. Meanwhile, as a result of the clashes, Tripoli residents are reporting fuel and cooking gas shortages. Many banks are also closed due to lack of security, adding to the daily strife. [Reuters, 7/17/2014]

GNC ready to hand power to House of Representatives on time
The General National Congress (GNC) will hand over power to the new House of Representatives on August 3 in Benghazi, a member of the new legislature said, adding that the House must begin holding sessions within ten days of the announcement of final election results. The High National Election Commission says it will release results on July 20. Not all members of the GNC plan to attend the handover ceremony in Benghazi. Both GNC President Nuri Abu Sahmain and the second deputy president are said to be unwelcome there. A number of members of the new legislature are also thought to be at risk if they go to the eastern city. [Libya Herald, 7/16/2014]

Libyan Red Cross staff transferred to Tunisia
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) decided on Wednesday to move about ten of its staff members stationed in Libya out of the country due to security issues. ICRC personnel were forced to go to Tunis overland, as the Tripoli airport has been closed because of continued fighting. A spokesman said the organization hopes the relocation will only be a temporary measure but that in the meantime operations will continue in Libya, where 130 local staff remain. Last month, the ICRC decided to suspend its activities in Libya after the killing of staff member Michael Greub. [ANSAmed, 7/16/14]


ISIS seizes gas field east of Homs
The militant group Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS, also known as IS) seized control of the Sha’ar gas field east of the central city of Homs after an assault against government forces on Thursday. A monitoring group said at least twenty-three members of forces protecting the field were killed in a “wide assault carried out by ISIS fighters from several directions.” [Reuters, 7/17/2014]

Pentagon envisions small training program for Syria opposition
A Pentagon plan to aid rebels is emerging as far smaller than advocates hoped, ramping up slowly over an extended period while offering no quick support to moderate fighters, who are losing ground both to the Assad regime and to jihadists. Critics inside and outside the administration say the limited steps President Obama is taking are too modest to make a difference on the battlefield, reflecting his own and the Pentagon’s reluctance to get entrenched in another Middle East conflict. Military officials told congressional committees in closed-door briefings last week that the $500 million program could be used to train a 2,300-man force—less than the size of a single brigade—over an eighteen month period that probably wouldn’t begin until next year. Senior congressional committee staffers questioned the low number and told the Pentagon and the State Department to “go back to the drawing board” and come up with a “concept that works.” [WSJ, 7/16/2014]

United Nations working to start cross-border aid
The United Nations said Wednesday that it has already positioned supplies for the first convoys that will deliver aid from several neighboring countries to rebel-held areas in Syria, and hopes to reach 2.9 million people. UN humanitarian chief Valerie Amos and the heads of the World Food Programme and the UN children’s agency said in a joint statement that a Security Council resolution adopted Saturday authorizing cross-border aid deliveries “represents a breakthrough in our efforts to get aid to Syrians in need.” [AP, 7/17/2014]

Assad forces try to recapture town along strategic corridor
Activists say that Syrian government forces have heavily shelled the central town of Morek in an attempt to wrest it from rebels. The Local Coordination Committees, an activist group, said Thursday that military helicopters were dropping barrels filled with explosives on the city. Morek lies on a strategic highway linking central and northern Syria. Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad appear to be trying to seize Morek to supply the Wadi Deif military base further north. [Daily Star, 7/17/2014]


At least fourteen Tunisian troops killed in mountain ambushes
A defense ministry spokesman said at least fourteen troops were killed, and another twenty-five wounded Wednesday evening when militants attacked with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. These attacks targeted two military checkpoints in the region of Hanchir Ettala in Mount Chaambi, in the Kasserine region near the Algerian border. The gunmen attacked as the soldiers were breaking their fast for the evening. These attacks make for the heaviest recorded death toll sustained by the army since independence in 1956, said the ministry’s press office. One terrorist was killed during the attack. National army units continue to pursue the terrorist groups, which withdrew into the mountains. Caretaker President Moncef Marzouki announced three days of national mourning. [Reuters, AFP, TAP, 7/17/2014]

IMF announces fourth installment of Stand-By Arrangement
The IMF Executive Board is tentatively scheduled to discuss the fourth review of Tunisia’s Stand-By Arrangement (SBA) in late August. The completion of this review would make 379.2 million Tunisian dinars (about $220 million) available to Tunisia. Protecting the most vulnerable in the population during necessary economic reform remains a priority for the Tunisian authorities and the IMF. Since the agreement was signed, the IMF has made $888.4 million available to the country. [IMF, TAP, 7/16/2014]

Marzouki, NGOs discuss ongoing torture in Tunisian prisons
Wednesday, caretaker President Moncef Marzouki received representatives of national and international human rights organizations. They reported on the ongoing phenomenon of torture in post-revolution Tunisia. President of the Tunisian Organization of Fight against Torture Radhia Nasraoui specified impunity and slow investigations as the key issues allowing torture in prisons to continue. Representatives of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Arab Commission for Human Rights, and the High Committee of Human Rights and Fundamental Liberties, among others, took part in the discussion. [TAP, 7/15/2014]


Armed militants kill two soldiers in Al Bayda’
Two soldiers were killed and another wounded on Wednesday when unidentified armed militants attacked a police department in Al Bayda’. Clashes between policemen and armed militants lasted for half an hour. In related news, unidentified gunmen attacked a security checkpoint and kidnapped two soldiers also in Al Bayda’. [Al Masdar (Arabic), 7/16/2014]

Houthi militants return to Hamdan
Clashes broke out between Houthi militants and Hamdan residents’ hours after the army withdrew from the area and returned to Sana’a. Militants attacked several houses prompting local tribesmen to confront them. [Al Masdar (Arabic), 7/16/2014]

Yemen’s human rights observer releases first report
Yemen’s human rights observer released its first report addressing violations against human rights activists in 2013. The report exposed thirty violations against human rights activists and revealed several violations against government personnel. A number of finance ministry employees claimed that the government falsely accused them of violating government policies, prevented them from entering the building, and transferred them from Sana’a to Marib without their consent. [Saba (Arabic), 7/16/2014]


Iraq’s PM welcomes the new parliament speaker
During his weekly-televised address prime minister Nouri al-Maliki, welcomed the election of the parliament speaker. The prime minister called on the new legislative body to put aside political rivalries, to work together to pass pending laws, and to coordinate with the executive body. Security wise, an Iraqi official announced that security forces repelled an insurgent attack on a northern Shia Turkmen town, killing fifteen militants. On Thursday, a bomb hidden in wooden cart exploded in a main marketplace in central Baghdad, killing at least four people. [AFP, AP, 7/17/2014]

Violence threatens Iraqi diversity according to the UN
The UN warned that over that past month nearly 600,000 Iraqis have been displaced due to the recent crisis, which witnessed the jihadist-led militants conquer large swaths of the country. The head of the UN refugee agency, Antonio Guterres told reporters in Baghdad, “The most worrying situation for us is when we see movement of population that tends to destroy the diversity that existed.” [Naharnet, 7/17/2014]

Germany vows to resume support to Lebanon over refugee’s crisis
Christoph Strasser, the Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Policy and Humanitarian Aid, announced that Germany is willing to continue supporting Lebanon to help it confront the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis. In his visit to Lebanon, Strasser presented the new forms of solidarity offered by the international community in an attempt to share the refugee burden with Lebanon. Strasser hailed the efforts exerted by the Lebanese authority to aid the Syrian people during the past two years. [Naharnet, 7/17/14]