Top News: Child Labor Rises Sharply in Syria, Upended by War and Mayhem

Save the Children and the UN Children’s Fund released a report on child labor Wednesday indicating that many Syrian children, some as young as six years old, are working to supplement family incomes. The report surveyed found that children were working in more than 75 percent of the households surveyed in Syria and nearly half of the Syrian refugee children surveyed in neighboring countries were joint or sole breadwinners. Regional Director for Save the Children’s Middle East operations Roger Hearn announced the report and said, “The Syria crisis has dramatically reduced family livelihood opportunities and impoverished millions of households in the region, resulting in child labor reaching critical levels.” [NYT, 7/1/2015]



Egyptian cabinet approves stricter anti-terrorism law, avoids emergency measures
Egypt’s cabinet approved in a plenary meeting Wednesday a number of legislative amendments aimed at countering a new wave of terrorism, Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Transitional Justice Ibrahim al-Heneidy said. He said the new fifty-five article anti-terrorism law was discussed intensely in a three-hour cabinet meeting Wednesday. The cabinet said in a statement that the law would provide “quick and just deterrence” against terrorism. Heneidy also said that the new law removes the need for “extraordinary or emergency measures to stand up to terrorism.” The new anti-terrorism law will be sent to Sisi and referred to the State Council and the Higher Council for Judges for revision. The law allows the prosecution to extend pretrial detention periods and gives prosecutors powers to issue orders to tap and record private conversations and messages and record what happens in private spaces, online, or on the phone in the context of an investigation of a terrorism crime. Further details can be found here. Human rights lawyers groups have expressed concern over the law, saying it will affect judicial independence. [Ahram Online, Reuters, 7/1/2015]

International community condemns deadly terrorist attacks in Sinai
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned late on Wednesday a series of coordinated terrorist assaults in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula that killed dozens earlier in the day, asserting his solidarity with Egypt in its battle against terrorism. John Kirby, the spokesperson of the US State Department, also condemned the militant attacks. “We express our sincere condolences to the victims, their families, and the government and the people of Egypt,” Kirby said in a press briefing. He added that Washington remains “steadfast in its support of the Egyptian Government’s efforts to combat terrorism in Egypt.” In a press statement by the Qatari foreign ministry, Doha said that such “criminal acts” seeks to “destabilize Egypt’s security, adding that they “violate all religious and humanitarian principles.” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas offered his condolences to the Egyptian state and people after meeting the Egyptian Ambassador to Palestine in the West Bank city of Ramallah. The Kuwaiti government also expressed Kuwait’s willingness to provide Cairo with all the tools it needs to combat these “criminal acts.” [Ahram Online, 7/2/2015]

Fresh airstrike kills twenty-three Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis militants in North Sinai
Egyptian security forces shelled early Thursday areas of North Sinai’s Rafah, killing twenty-three suspected militants, hours after deadly attacks and clashes left dozens killed, military sources said. The sources said those killed had taken part in Wednesday’s fighting in which 100 militants and seventeen soldiers, including four officers, were killed, according to the army spokesman. Wednesday’s attacks were the deadliest militant attacks Egypt has seen since 1973. A newspaper close to the Egyptian government says the ISIS-linked Sinai State (formerly known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis) attacked troops in Sinai with sophisticated weaponry, including Russian-made Kornet anti-tank missiles. Major General Hisham al-Halaby who teaches at the National Defense College of the Nasser Military Academy, says that within security institutions—including the military—some believe that foreign intelligence agencies planned the militant operation. Egypt’s military spokesman said on Wednesday the situation was “100 percent under control.” [Ahram Online, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, AP, The Guardian, 7/2/2015]

Egypt’s security forces kill nine Brotherhood members during raid in October 6 city
Nine Muslim Brotherhood leaders were killed by police on Wednesday, with conflicting reports on the conditions of their death. The Interior Ministry said in a statement that Brotherhood leader Abdel Fattah Ibrahim held a meeting in Cairo’s October 6 suburb to discuss “plots” to carry out “terrorist” attacks. The police said they were shot at upon approaching the meeting point, responding with fire killing Ibrahim and eight others. Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Mohamed Montaser, on the other hand, said the leaders who were killed were “unarmed,” adding that the reports on clashes with security forces are “lies.” A statement posted on a Brotherhood website said the killings mark the beginning of a new phase. The statement added that such a violent act only proves that “Egypt has become a country of outlawed gangs,” but that “the Muslim Brotherhood denounces murder and violence.” A statement published in English called on Egyptians to “rise in revolt.” [Ahram Online, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, DNE, Mada Masr, Cairo Post, 7/2/2015]

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UN Security Council backs Libya’s Draft Five peace plan
The United Nations Security Council urged acceptance of the latest peace accord and warned that it was still prepared to sanction those who blocked political transition. The Security Council said it was ready to act against “those who threaten Libya’s peace, stability and security, or that undermine the successful completion of its political transition.” It gave unqualified backing to UNSMIL Chief Bernardino Leon and Draft Five of the Peace Accord. It welcomed last week’s negotiations in Morocco and urged rapid agreement and signing of the deal. It praised “the efforts made by all participants in the political dialogue and other tracks of the peace process, including civil society contributions, local-level ceasefires, prisoner exchanges, and the return of internally displaced persons.” [Libya Herald, 7/2/2015]

GNC withdraws from UN talks for further consultations
The team representing the General National Congress (GNC) suspended its participation in UN dialogue until next week, saying the amendments it requested to a draft agreement were not taken into account. “The amendments introduced in the latest text submitted by the UN did not include [our own] proposals,” it said in a July 1 statement. UN envoy Bernardino Leon hoped the rival parties would agree on the latest draft agreement on July 2 after failing to sign earlier this week. In Tripoli, the Speaker of the GNC Nuri Abu Sahmain led a protest in front of the parliament building on July 1. The protest was against the “latest amendments made to the agreement and the threats and intimidation against the [GNC] team to push them to sign the deal,” according to a report on the GNC website. [Libya Monitor, 7/2/2015]

Libyan and Maltese Prime Ministers met to discuss the situation in Libya
Libya’s Prime Minister Abdullah Thinni had talks in Malta with the island’s Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat on the situation in Libya. Thinni said at a press conference with Muscat that he hoped the UN-brokered negotiations in Morocco would succeed and that an agreement would be signed paving the way for a Government of National Accord. He was speaking before it became known that the GNC delegation had announced it would not return to Morocco until next week at the earliest. Once a government is formed, Thinni said, a main priority would have to be the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). The Government of National Accord would be based in Tripoli, but warned that if it were to be effective and there were to be peace, weapons would have to be handed in, an issue that had not been discussed. [Libya Herald, 7/1/2015]

Final British death toll in Tunisia attack rises to thirty
The final number of British citizens confirmed killed by a gunman in Tunisia a week ago is thirty and all the victims have been identified, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said on Thursday. “We now have all thirty British victims positively identified and we can say with a high degree of confidence that is the final death toll,” Hammond added that the British authorities will be repatriating bodies over the next few days. [Reuters, 7/2/2015]


Iraqi forces say they recaptured majority of Baiji from ISIS
A spokesman for the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs), a group of Shia militias, said Thursday that they and Iraqi forces have cleared Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants from most of the northern town of Baiji and hope to drive them from the nearby oil refinery within days. He told a news conference in Baghdad, “Over 90 percent of the district has been cleared and the remaining areas will be done in the coming hours.” If the PMU fighters and Iraqi security forces regain full control around Baiji, it could help them push north towards the ISIS-held city of Mosul and offset losses to the Sunni militants in the western province of Anbar. [Reuters, 7/2/2015]

David Cameron believes ‘there is a case to do more’ in Syria; Pentagon committed
A spokeswoman for British Prime Minister David Cameron said Wednesday that Britain is considering whether to do more to help defeat ISIS militants in Syria after the deadly attack in Tunisia last week that killed up to thirty British nationals. Britain’s Defense Secretary Michael Fallon described the current strategy as illogical and said that members of parliament needed to think very carefully about how to defeat an organization that ignores international borders. Fallon further urged that the Royal Air Force should expand its aerial bombing to targets in Syria, as it currently only targets militants in Iraq. Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey told reporters Wednesday that the Pentagon is committed to its program to train-and-equip moderate Syrian rebels to fight ISIS, even though the program has recruited far fewer rebels than initially planned. [Guardian, Reuters, 7/2/2015]

Hezbollah launches offensive in Syria’s Zabadani; field commander killed in Idlib
Hezbollah fighters moved into the outskirts of the Syrian border town Zabadani Wednesday, engaging in fierce fighting with Syrian rebel factions after shelling militant positions with rockets and mortar bombs. Zabadani, a large town in Syria’s Qalamoun mountains fifty kilometers from Damascus, is one of the Syrian rebels’ last strongholds along Lebanon’s border. The decision to launch the offensive came after negotiations with rebels failed to secure the militants’ withdrawal from the area. Control of the area would be strategically significant for Hezbollah as it once served as a logistical hub for supplying the party with Iranian weapons and as a base for party fighters and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. A Hezbollah field commander was killed in Syria’s northwest Idlib province Thursday, reportedly from wounds inflicted by clashes with Syrian rebels.[Daily Star, 7/2/2015]

Four south Syria hospitals closed after regime raids
Four hospitals in Syria’s southern Deraa province have been forced to close in recent days after intense government air strikes, which have killed at least eighteen people in the province over the past two days. One of the air strikes directly damaged Saida field hospital, killing “a member of the hospital’s staff … along with three fighters.” Another hospital run by a charity in the town of Eastern Ghariyah had also closed its doors because of “continuous regime targeting and the need to protect the safety of [its] staff.” [AFP, 7/2/2015]

Child labor rises sharply in Syria, upended by war and mayhem
Save the Children and the UN Children’s Fund released a report on child labor Wednesday indicating that many Syrian children, some as young as six years old, are working to supplement family incomes. The report surveyed found that children were working in more than 75 percent of the households surveyed in Syria and nearly half of the Syrian refugee children surveyed in neighboring countries were joint or sole breadwinners. Regional Director for Save the Children’s Middle East operations Roger Hearn announced the report and said, “The Syria crisis has dramatically reduced family livelihood opportunities and impoverished millions of households in the region, resulting in child labor reaching critical levels.” [NYT, 7/1/2015]


Yemen’s Hadi sends letter to Ban Ki-moon
On Tuesday, Yemen’s President-in-exile Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi sent a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, highlighting the need for humanitarian assistance in the country. In the letter, Hadi said that there had been a “dangerous escalation” of violence around the government-controlled southern port city of Aden, adding, “The Yemeni government has been coordinating with UN humanitarian groups to allow ships carrying aid to dock at Yemeni ports.” Yemen’s UN Ambassador Khaled Alyemany confirmed the correspondence and said that the government had submitted a draft peace proposal to UN Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed. As of Wednesday morning, the United Nations declared Yemen a Level 3 humanitarian crisis, the highest level given to such situations. [Al Arabiya, 7/1/2015]

War in Yemen sparks media battle between regional superpowers
Iran has intensified a media counteroffensive against Riyadh, accusing its regional rival of inflicting catastrophic suffering while presenting itself as a blameless peacemaker. Iranian state media have given blanket coverage in Arabic, Farsi and English to the three-month-old war in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia and GCC allies continue an aerial offensive against Houthi forces. On Wednesday, the hardline Fars news agency released a video clip showing the face of Saudi King Salman morphing into that of Saddam Hussein, interspersed with scenes of crying Yemeni children. “Iran’s political win comes from the ability to present itself as a potential peacemaker, rather than the ability actually to secure a deal on the ground,” Julien Barnes-Dacey, of the European Council on Foreign Relations, said. The Saudis have tried to portray their Yemen campaign as lawful, as being undertaken in Yemen’s own interests, and as a turning point in what Riyadh sees as unchecked Iranian expansionism in Arab countries. [Reuters, 7/2/2015]

Kuwait establishes DNA testing law in reaction to growing terrorist threat
Kuwait’s parliament, reacting to a suicide bombing last week that killed twenty-six people, adopted a law Wednesday requiring mandatory DNA testing on all the country’s citizens and foreign residents. The legislation, requested by the government to help security agencies make quicker arrests in criminal cases, calls on the interior ministry to establish a database on all 1.3 million citizens and 2.9 million foreign residents. Under the law, people who refuse to give samples for the test face one year in jail and a fine of up to $33,000 (29,700 euros). Those who provide fake samples can be jailed for seven years. “We have approved the DNA testing law and approved the additional funding. We are prepared to approve anything needed to boost security measures in the country,” independent MP Jamal al-Omar said. [AFP, 7/1/2015]


World Bank to lend Iraq $1.7 billion
The World Bank will provide loans totaling $1.7 billion to Iraq, the country’s finance ministry said. The ministry added that $1 billion will take the form of a development policy loan, but did not specify what projects the loan would fund. A $350 million loan will go towards reconstruction in parts of the country recaptured from Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) fighters, including Diyala province, northeast of Baghdad, and the area around Tikrit. Another $350 million will finance a road project linking the southern oil city of Basra to the Gulf port of Umm Qasr. Iraq has projected a budget deficit of around $25 billion this year, in a budget of roughly $100 billion. [Reuters, 7/2/2015]

Fitch Ratings says Sousse attack hits Tunisia’s growth
Fitch Ratings released a statement on Wednesday saying last week’s attack in Sousse highlights the risks terrorism poses to Tunisia’s economy. Fitch said, “An increase in security-related, social or political instability would put negative pressure on Tunisia’s ‘BB-‘ sovereign rating.” However, the ratings agency added that the country’s successful political transition could help support structural economic reforms that would increase growth in the medium term. Fitch affirmed its support for Tunisia’s political transition and called on the government to implement “growth enhancing” reforms in several sectors including investment and banking. [Fitch Ratings, 7/1/2015]

Egypt’s central bank lets pound weaken by 1.3 percent
Egypt’s central bank let the Egyptian pound depreciate for the first time in five months on Thursday, a move analysts said would please international investors. The bank said it sold $38.8 million at a cutoff price of 7.63 pounds per dollar at a regular auction, sending the currency to its weakest level since auctions began in December 2012. Letting the pound weaken in a controlled manner again after doing so over a few weeks earlier this year could boost exports and attract further investment, analysts said. At the same time, a weaker currency could raise Egypt’s large bill for imports, which many Egyptians rely on for fuel and food staples.[Reuters, 7/2/2015]

Saudi economy accelerates in Q1, may not be sustained
Saudi Arabia’s economy accelerated in the first quarter of 2015, however growth may slow as the government faces pressure to rein in spending. Saudi Arabia has attempted to offset the impact of oil’s price plunge by relying on heavy state spending and a strong private sector. Gross domestic product (GDP), adjusted for inflation, grew 2.4 percent from a year earlier in the first quarter. However, the kingdom may find it harder to sustain growth if oil prices stay below $70 a barrel. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is projecting a state budget deficit of 20 percent, or about $150 billion due to cheap oil, and the bank’s net foreign assets have dropped $65 billion from August to May. The government may issue bonds, but economists expect it to become more cautious about spending. [Reuters, 7/2/2015]

Kuwait parliament approves budget with $27 billion deficit
Kuwait’s parliament on Wednesday approved a state budget for the current fiscal year with a budget deficit of 8.18 billion dinars ($27 billion)—nearly half total spending—because of low oil prices. The actual deficit may not turn out to be nearly as large, expected at about 4.5 billion dinars if oil prices stay in the mid-$60s, Finance Minister Anas al-Saleh told members of parliament. Nevertheless, the budget plan underlines the dramatic change in Kuwait’s finances due to last year’s plunge of oil prices. Kuwait is considering issuing bonds to finance the budget deficit, Finance Minister Anas al-Saleh said on Thursday. [Reuters, 7/2/2015]