Top News: Blast Decimates Ahrar al-Sham Leadership; New Chief Named

An explosion tore through a secret meeting of Ahrar al-Sham, killing nearly fifty of its top leaders, including its head. The blast on Tuesday hit a basement in Idlib Province where the leaders of the group, one of Syria’s strongest and most enduring rebel groups, had collected to plot strategy. It remained unclear who had carried out the attack, and the group did not immediately assign blame. New leadership has already been named. Ahrar al-Sham was considered a pragmatic Islamist rebel brigade, and the strike dealt a new blow to the country’s armed opposition that could splinter its most important coalition, the Islamic Front, which has been key in the fight against ISIS, expelling the radical group from parts of northern Syria.



US diplomat arrives in Cairo for talks
State Department Counselor Thomas Shannon arrived in Cairo on Wednesday morning, ahead of talks hosted by Saudi Arabia to discuss means of combating extremist groups within the region. Shannon is scheduled to meet with Egyptian officials to discuss several issues of mutual interest. In addition, David Thorn, senior advisor to the Secretary of State, arrived in Cairo from Riyadh late Tuesday and will stay for a four-day visit. This visit comes as part of ongoing talks with Cairo regarding regional issues, including growing militancy in Iraq and Syria, and political instability in Libya. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, 9/10/2014]

Egyptian army kills two suspected members of Ansar Bayt al-Maqdes
The Egyptian army has raided suspected militant hideouts in the Sinai Peninsula, killing two and arresting twenty-five on Tuesday, a security source told state news agency MENA. The security source said that they have been targeting militant hideouts in Sheikh Zuweid area; where clashes took place as militants started firing on the military. Two police officers and nine conscripts were injured when an explosion targeted a security vehicle in North Sinai’s Arish on Monday. One officer and ten conscripts were killed last Tuesday in an attack on a security convoy. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, 9/10/2014]

At least twenty-four protesters arrested for violating protest law
Police forces arrested on Tuesday at least twenty-four protesters from downtown Cairo for violating the protest law, a security source said. Those arrested will undergo forensic examination to identify which opposition group they belong to, the security source added. It is unclear whether those arrested are affiliated with the Dank movement that called for protests on Tuesday against the increasingly high cost of life in Egypt. The group claimed on its official Facebook page that “thousands” have peacefully participated in what it called “the metro strike,” however, videos posted online showed limited participation in the protests. [Aswat Masriya, 9/9/2014]

Egypt inflation keeps rising in August
Egypt’s annual headline inflation rate registered 11.4 percent in August compared to 11.1 percent the previous month, state statistical body CAPMAS announced on Wednesday. The food and beverages Consumer Price Index (CPI) registered a higher increase of 11.6 percent. [Ahram Online, Mada Masr, Reuters, 9/10/2014]


Battle for Benghazi could break up Libya
Three weeks after losing Tripoli to a different militia, pro-government Libyan forces now face an offensive in Benghazi from Ansar al-Sharia, which has overrun special forces bases and is attacking Benghazi airport. Losing the port city would increase the risk of the country crumbling into de facto autonomous regions: the militants demand Islamist rule, while other armed groups want greater powers for the eastern region. Meanwhile, neither government can actually rule; the Tripoli militias control ministry buildings, but employees have largely ignored calls to come to work, and there is no one to make decisions. [Reuters, AP, 9/9/2014]

Operation Dignity offers opposing combatants amnesty before Benghazi assault
Operation Dignity is offering opposing Libyan fighters a final chance to lay down their weapons ahead of what it has said will be a “massive assault on Benghazi.” No further details of the offensive were given. Meanwhile, pro-Operation Dawn mayors are working to galvanize support in the country’s southern municipalities. The Tuareg have rejected an appeal from Misrata to back the Islamist-leaning operation. [Libya Herald, 9/9/2014]

Italy says France’s call for military action in Libya unlikely to have results
Italian officials say that a French call for joint action with other European states to bring about peace in Libya and stamp out terrorists is unlikely to result in any direct military action, asserting that any European action on Libya will be diplomatic. Italy, which currently holds the EU presidency, is organizing a meeting of European defense ministers in Milan, and their immediate objective is to ensure joint European naval action to deal with soaring numbers of migrants heading to the country from Libyan ports. Meanwhile, a Libyan delegation led by Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni and House of Representatives President Ageela Saleh is in Abu Dhabi to discuss ways in which the United Arab Emirates (UAE) can support Libya. The UAE and Egypt back the House, and the opposing Operation Dawn has accused both countries of being behind last month’s raids on its positions in Tripoli. [Libya Herald, 9/9/2014]

Libyan refugees flee to Tunisia for care and describe a home that is falling apart
Since the 2011 revolution, an estimated 1.8 million Libyans—nearly a third of the country’s population—have fled to Tunisia. A new wave of refugees has arrived in recent months as fighting has engulfed the Libyan capital, Tripoli, driven away by random shelling and shooting, as well as shortages of cash, electricity, and fuel. Hundreds of wounded fighters from opposing sides have arrived in Tunisia since August seeking medical care, as have civilians caught in the crossfire. Some express hopes that the recently elected House of Representatives could resolve the crisis, while others say they are waiting for international intervention. [NYT, 9/10/2014]


Blast decimates Ahrar al-Sham leadership; New chief named
An explosion tore through a secret meeting of Ahrar al-Sham, killing nearly fifty of its top leaders, including its head. The blast on Tuesday hit a basement in Idlib Province where the leaders of the group, one of Syria’s strongest and most enduring rebel groups, had collected to plot strategy. It remained unclear who had carried out the attack, and the group did not immediately assign blame. New leadership has already been named. Ahrar al-Sham was considered a pragmatic Islamist rebel brigade, and the strike dealt a new blow to the country’s armed opposition that could splinter its most important coalition, the Islamic Front, which has been key in the fight against ISIS, expelling the radical group from parts of northern Syria. [NYT, Al-Arabiya, Naharnet, 9/9/2014]

Combat reversals pressure Assad; Ban Ki-moon urges Assad to come to the table
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who four months ago seemed on the verge of defeating rebel forces, is now mired in defensive battles on several fronts, complicating efforts to fight the Islamic State militant group. In a span of weeks, the Islamic State has overrun military bases in Syria’s east. In the west, the regime faces a coalition of rebels that threatens the heartland of Mr. Assad’s Alawite minority and could alter the course of Syria’s multi-sided civil war. Yacoub El Hillo, the UN’s top humanitarian official in Syria said he knew of truces being negotiated in 40 or so areas around the country, a potential starting point for a UN envoy now preparing to begin work. Western officials said local ceasefire agreements, coupled with political concessions by the regime, may be the best way to contain Islamic extremists without directly supporting the Assad regime. [WSJ, Reuters, 9/2/2014]

Obama to unveil new anti-ISIS strategy, indicates possible action in Syria
The Obama administration hinted on Tuesday that the President is prepared to use U.S. military airstrikes in Syria as part of an expanded campaign to defeat the Islamic state in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Sources within the administration also expressed the President’s wish to expand the anti-ISIS campaign without formal congressional approval. The decision signals the administration’s conviction in the President’s authority to act in both Syria and Iraq despite early caution on sidelining congressional input in a campaign that is projected to last for at least three years. Many congressional Republicans, as well as some Democrats, have criticized Obama as being too cautious. But a late evening meeting on Tuesday with congressional leaders might have generated the level of support needed for the administration to proceed. The president did, however, acknowledge the need for congressional support, in part because the increased military campaign—including the training of Kurdish and Iraqi forces-will come with a significant price tag that must be funded and approved through congress. [The Washington Post, The New York Times, 9/10/2014]

Islamic State advances in Iraq force Syria to cancel wheat deal
Syria has canceled a deal to sell 200,000 tons of wheat from its 2013 local crop to Iraqi private traders as conflict raging in both countries has paralyzed transport of the grain.
The deal was agreed in a June tender, days before Islamic State fighters seized large swathes of Iraq in a lightning offensive. The wheat is still being held in silos in the northeastern city of Hassaka, just fifty kilometers from the border with Iraq’s northwest Nineveh Province, which was overrun by the Islamic State in June. The move by Syria to sell some of its wheat was surprising as experts predicted a fall in the war-ravaged country’s 2014 crop to around a third of pre-war levels. [Reuters, 9/10/2014]


IMF chief signals new economic aid; commends current progress
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced Wednesday, that it is ready to establish a second program for Tunisia if requested by the next government. Speaking on the sidelines of a training session organized in Tunis, IMF Middle East and Central Asia division chief Ahmed Massoud said the IMF is also willing to give Tunisia technical assistance to improve its economy and strengthen its institutions. IMF envoys will be visiting Tunisia at the beginning of next week to finalize the fifth instalment of an aid program already agreed upon. The envoys will be meeting high government and Tunisia’s Central Bank officials, businessmen, unionists, members of the NCA, and civil society. [TAP, 9/10/2014]

Marzouki’s official visit to Italy stresses economic and security partnerships
President Moncef Marzouki, who started a two-day official visit to Italy on Wednesday, met with President of the Italian Chambers of Deputies Laura Boldrini and President of the Senate Pietro Grasso. The meeting focused on bilateral relations, particularly on economic and security cooperation. Marzouki called on Italy to continue its logistic support to Tunisia in its fight against terrorism. The two sides also discussed the issue of illegal migration with the death toll of migrants lost in attempted sea crossings reaching the 2,000 mark late last month. [TAP, 9/10/2014] 

NCA president receives delegation of Indonesian Electoral Commission
President of the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) Mustapha Ben Jaafar received, Tuesday, a delegation of the Indonesian Electoral Commission, led by Executive Director of Indonesian Institute for Peace and Democracy Ketut Putra Erawan. The Indonesian delegation commended Tunisia’s democratic transition and underlined the importance of exchanging experiences and expertise especially in matters relating to the drafting of a constitution and the implementation of free and fair elections. [All Africa, 9/10/2014]


President Hadi meets with UK ambassador; Saudi Embassy in Sana’a closes
President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi received UK Ambassador Jane Marriot on Tuesday to discuss national developments and the necessity of Britain’s ongoing support for Yemen’s implementation of the National Dialogue Conference outcomes. President Hadi also spoke with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal by phone Tuesday, with the foreign minister reaffirming his support for the president. He also voiced Saudi concerns over escalating violence and tensions with the Houthis, and expressed his disapproval at Houthi attempts to undermine the GCC-brokered settlement deal. The call followed Saudi Arabia’s decision on Sunday to close its embassy in Sana’a and evacuate its personnel due to safety concerns. [Yemen Times, 9/8/2014]

Clashes with Houthi militants continue in Jawf
War planes continued to bomb Houthi sites and arms depots in Jawf on Wednesday in response to ongoing clashes between Houthi militants and security forces, killing eighty and wounding hundreds. Once again, sources claimed that the strikes were aimed against armed targets in the directorate of Gheil. Meanwhile, the governor of Jawf claimed that clashes with the Houthis will be over in days, with continued operations to take place near the neighboring Saada province. Meanwhile, Houthis attacked the reserve forces’ headquarters on Monday afternoon in Haziz according to a local source. He said the clash escalated after four cars carrying Houthi gunmen overcame a military checkpoint. [Marib Press (Arabic), Al Masdar (Arabic), 9/9/2014]

Tensions in Sana’a remain high as Houthi protests continue
A senior Houthi official reported that seven Houthi protesters were killed and dozens were wounded Tuesday when demonstrators allegedly tried to raid the cabinet building in Sana’a. The number of casualties reported contradict earlier numbers announced by the government, which put the number of protesters killed at four. Meanwhile, some Yemeni government officials claim the Houthis plan to take over government institutions. The Yemeni High Security Committee claimed that the group issued radio messages to its members encouraging the raid on the cabinet and blamed the group for the ensuing deaths and injuries. [Yemen Post, 9/9/2014]

Prime Minister issues new appointments in the ministry of the interior
Prime Minister Muhammad Salem Basendwah issued ministerial decrees 330 and 331 for 2014, appointing Dr. Muhammad Ahmad Salah al-Hajri as chief of the General Directorate for Police Patrols and Road Security and Muhammad al-Quwati as Director General for Police in the Sana’a governorate. [Al Masdar, 9/10/2014]


Kerry in Iraq to back government, build support against Islamic State
US Secretary of State John Kerry arrived in Baghdad on Wednesday as he began a tour of the Middle East to build military, political, and financial support to defeat Islamic State militants controlling parts of Iraq and Syria. Kerry will meet Abadi, whose government faces multiple crises–including the need to pull Sunni Muslims back from armed revolt, persuading minority Kurds not to break away, and convincing Abadi’s own majority Shiites he can protect them from Sunni hardliners. [Asharq al-Awsat, 9/10/2014]

Lebanon’s security chief heads to Doha as tensions over captured soldiers escalate
The head of Lebanon’s General Security will head to Doha on Wednesday for talks with Qatari officials over case of captured soldiers held by the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and the Nusra Front since August. ISIS beheaded two soldiers, prompting a wave of tit-for-tat kidnappings in the Bekaa Valley with a sectarian bent, while the Nusra Front has released seven. The relatives of the soldiers and policemen held captive by the islamist militants staged a sit-in on Wednesday in Beirut’s Martyrs’ Square, demanding that the government exert all possible efforts to ensure the release of their loved ones. [The Daily Star, 9/10/2014]

Lebanon, Denmark discuss anti-ISIS cooperation
Foreign Minister Jebran Bassil met on Wednesday with his visiting Danish counterpart Martin Lidegaard, who is in the region to strengthen cooperation against Islamic State in iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). Speaking at a joint news conference following talks on regional developments and the need to cooperate in countering ISIS, Bassil said a united global front should be set up to prevent the expansion of terrorism which, he warned, was bound to reach Europe and jeopardize the world’s stability. [Naharnet, 9/10/2014]