Top News: Drone Strike Kills Five Al-Qaeda Militants in Yemen

A suspected US drone strike killed five al-Qaeda fighters in eastern Yemen on Wednesday, officials said, as Islamist militant groups claimed a string of attacks in the war-torn country. The officials said the bombs hit the men in their car while they were traveling on a coast road east of the Arabian Sea port of Mukalla, which was has been occupied by al-Qaeda since April. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is the deadliest branch of the global militant organization and has taken advantage of the war in Yemen to grab territory and operate more openly. AQAP recently claimed one bombing and multiple gun attacks aimed at Houthi forces in the central province and capital Sana’a. [Reuters, 8/12/2015]



Press Syndicate: New draft law implements constitutional guarantees of press freedom
Egypt’s Press Syndicate praised in a Monday statement a new draft press law, saying it “honestly translates constitutional articles guaranteeing media freedom into real legislations.” The new “unified press and media” law project was drafted by the governmental advisory committee for press and media legislations, headed by former Syndicate President Diaa Rashwan. The committee included forty-five members representing different media fields, including press, broadcast and the printing business. The Press Syndicate, headed by Yehia Qallash, said it would soon announce a copy of the law, which has seven chapters, in a press conference. During the press conference, he will call for open discussions on the law so it truly reflects the needs of the journalism and media community. The syndicate stated one of its most important achievements to be the cancellation of laws allowing the imprisonment of journalists in publishing crimes. [DNE, 8/11/2015]

Military court sentences 250 Brotherhood members to life in absentia
A military court sentenced 253 defendants tried in absentia to life in prison on Tuesday for committing acts of violence in the northern city of Beheira in 2013. Initially, 506 defendants were facing trial, all identified as supporters of the banned Muslim Brotherhood. The military prosecution charged the defendants with murdering six people, attempted murder, vandalism, breaking into a police station, helping prisoners escape, confiscating weapons and disrupting public transport. The court sentenced 199 other defendants to times ranging from three to fifteen years in prison. The remaining fifty-four defendants were acquitted of the charges. [Aswat Masriya,Ahram Online, Reuters, 8/12/2015]

Islamic State Egypt affiliate behead Croatian hostage: SITE
Islamic State’s (ISIS or ISIL) affiliate in Egypt, Sinai State, formerly known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, has circulated an image online that purports to show the beheaded body of a Croatian man abducted in Egypt in July. The alleged beheading comes following the expiration of the 48-hour deadline set last Wednesday. The Sinai-based militant group posted a photo of the 30-year-old Croatian national Tomislav Salopek in a washed out orange jumpsuit seemingly after beheading him, in a post shared by its supporters on Twitter. A statement released with the still image accused Croatia of participating in “the war against the Islamic State.” The image bears some of the hallmarks of previous killings of foreign hostages by the militant group in Iraq and Syria. The purported killing could mark a shift in tactics for the Sinai State, which until now has focused the majority of its attacks on the Egyptian military and security forces. A spokesman from the Egyptian interior ministry’s press office said: “We have seen this news online but are currently making our own checks. If we confirm that it is indeed true, we will inform the media through a statement.” The Croatian embassy and foreign ministry declined to comment. [Reuters, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, The Guardian, Cairo Post, 8/12/2015]

Israeli delegation visits Egypt for bilateral security talks
A delegation of five Israelis led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s special envoy, Isaac Molho, were in Cairo on Tuesday for meetings with Egyptian military figures, Turkey’s Andolu Agency has reported. No further details about the talks were given. In July 2014, a delegation including Molho and other senior security members in the Israeli cabinet paid a short visit to Egypt and discussed Egypt’s mediation in a ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas. [Cairo Post, Haaretz, 8/12/2015]  

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Libyan government spokesman denies al-Thinni’s resignation
Libya’s internationally recognized Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni angrily promised to quit during a live television broadcast but his government said that al-Thinni remains in office. Al-Thinni made the remark after a host grilled him with questions submitted by angry Libyans. The premier said, “If me leaving is the solution, I am announcing it on live TV that I am resigning.” Later in the day, a government official said that al-Thinni’s remarks were only an offer to resign but were unofficial and that al-Thinni would have to submit his resignation to the parliament. [AP, Libya Herald, Libya Monitor (Subscription), 8/12/2015]

UN envoy proposes new timetable for Libya’s peace talks
The UN Envoy for Libya Bernardino Leon proposed an “ideal timetable” on Tuesday that would have the country’s feuding parties agree on a national unity government in the next three weeks and sign a peace agreement in the first weeks of September. Leon said that it would depend on the political will, wisdom, and creativity of the parties to bring good names and good proposals to the negotiating table. Leon added that the UN is glad to see that all key actors showed up for peace talks, that were supposed to take place on Monday but were delayed to Tuesday, and expressed hope that in the coming days they will sit down together for talks. [AP, Libya Herald, 8/11/2015]

Saadi Qaddafi appears in video interview from within jail, claims he is treated well
Saadi Qaddafi, the son of Muammar Qaddafi, appeared in a video interview claiming he was being treated well. In the video Saadi said, “I have problems with the district attorney in investigating my case.’’ Saadi was asked if there was anything he needed and he said that he would like to be visited by his relatives. He also said that there were no mistreatments and that he is provided with health care. [Libya Herald, 8/11/2015]

Benghazi council plans 500 emergency homes for displaced
Benghazi Municipal Council met with the Islamic Committee of the International Crescent (ICIC) to look into emergency housing for the displaced in the city. The Municipal Council and the ICIC discussed the possibility of creating 500 homes in what would effectively be a model village within the city. According to City Counselor Awad al-Qawiri, the construction could be financially supported by the government and from loans by Benghazi businessmen. [Libya Herald, 8/11/2015]


Two-day ceasefires begin in three Syrian towns
Syrian opposition group Ahrar al-Sham and Hezbollah agreed Tuesday to forty-eight-hour ceasefires in the rebel-held town of Zabadani along Syria’s border with Lebanon and the government-held Shia villages of Fuaa and Kafraya in northwestern Syria. The truces will allow food and medical supplies to be delivered to the areas. A monitoring group reported that talks are continuing on evacuating rebel fighters from Zabadani and ending the sieges on Fuaa and Kafraya. Three officials close to Damascus described the truce as a result of mediation by Turkey and Iran and a signal of a new regional approach to the Syrian conflict. [BBC, AP, 8/12/2015]

Deadly attacks in Damascus ahead of Iran Foreign Minister’s Syria visit
Heavy rebel shelling and government air strikes around Damascus on Wednesday killed at least thirty-six people and wounded dozens more. The violence came just hours before Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif was scheduled to arrive to discuss Iran’s four-point peace plan proposal to end Syria’s civil war. A monitoring group said the clashes began as rebels shelled the capital during morning rush hour, and government warplanes soon after attacked several rebel-held suburbs with air raids. Amnesty International released a report Wednesday accusing the Syrian government of committing war crimes against besieged residents of Eastern Ghouta outside damascus. [AP, Reuters,  8/12/2015]

Syrian army retreats in al-Ghab plain
A Syrian military source said Tuesday that the Syrian army has retreated to the Alawite village of Joreen in the Sahl al-Ghab plain as rebels continue to advance in the area. The army source explained that the Syrian army is “giving up positions in the interest of strengthening and fortifying a fixed defense line,” and claimed that the army will be able to recover them in the future. A military source from within the rebel Army of Conquest coalition said he expects the coming battle “will be more difficult because it will be in the stronghold of the regime.” [Reuters, 8/12/2015]

US denies agreeing to Syria “safe zone”
US Department of State Spokesman Mark Toner denied on Tuesday that the United States has agreed to a “safe zone” in northern Syria after a news broadcaster quoted a senior Turkish diplomat as saying the countries have settled on terms for such a zone in their campaign against ISIS. Toner said during the news briefing, “We’ve been pretty clear… [that] there’s no zone, no safe haven… what we’re talking about is a sustained effort to drive ISIS out of the region.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday vowed to “continue to fight with determination” against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) rebels, saying that Turkey will make no concessions in its fight against terror and that “a state subjected to an armed attack has the right to defend [itself] with arms.” A monitoring group reported Tuesday that the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) released twenty-two of the dozens of Assyrian Christians it abducted this year from villages in northeastern Syria. All of the freed captives were elderly, and chairman of the Assyrian Federation of Sweden said he believes “[ISIS] released them because of health issues and because they are old.” [Daily Star, 8/12/2015]

US-led coalition hits Nusra-affiliate arms depot in Syria
The US-led coalition against ISIS hit a weapons depot belonging to Jaish al-Sunna, a rebel group allied with the Nusra Front, in the Atmeh region of Syria’s Idlib province. The strikes hit an area close to a camp for internally displaced Syrians. Eighteen people were killed in total, ten of whom were Jaish al-Sunna fighters and the other eight civilians, including five children. [AFP, 8/12/2015]


Drone strike kills five al-Qaeda militants in Yemen
A suspected US drone strike killed five al-Qaeda fighters in eastern Yemen on Wednesday, officials said, as Islamist militant groups claimed a string of attacks in the war-torn country. The officials said the bombs hit the men in their car while they were traveling on a coast road east of the Arabian Sea port of Mukalla, which was has been occupied by al-Qaeda since April. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) is the deadliest branch of the global militant organization and has taken advantage of the war in Yemen to grab territory and operate more openly. AQAP recently claimed one bombing and multiple gun attacks aimed at Houthi forces in the central province and capital Sana’a. [Reuters, 8/12/2015]

Yemeni President in United Arab Emirates for talks
Exiled Yemeni President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi has arrived for a two-day working visit in the United Arab Emirates. The UAE is one of the key backers of a Saudi-led coalition fighting against the Houthi militias. Hadi has been living in neighboring Saudi Arabia after he and much of his government fled advances by the Shiite Houthi rebels earlier this year. A recent uptick in ground support by the Arab coalition in Yemen has resulted in multiple provinces returning to pro-government hands. Hadi has not yet returned to Yemen, although several of his cabinet members have. Two senior government officials were wounded in clashes in Abyan province over the weekend. [AP, 8/12/2015]

Anti-Houthi fighters gain more territory
Saudi-backed forces loyal to Yemen’s exiled government captured more territory from the Houthis Tuesday. The gains by forces backing President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi have been aided by weapons and troops from Gulf countries, as Saudi-led coalition warplanes continue to pound rebel positions. The anti-Houthi forces continue to get closer to Sana’a, with heavy fighting in Utmah 100 kilometers outside of the capital and Arhab, just twenty-five kilometers outside the city. Militiamen also clashed with Houthis inside the city of Ibb Tuesday, residents said. The city of Taiz is expected to be the next major front as Houthis and pro-government forces struggle for control. [The Daily Star, 8/12/2015]

Thousands of Somali refugees flee war-torn Yemen
Tens of thousands of Somali refugees have fled back home from war-torn Yemen since an upsurge in fighting in March, adding to the 3 million already in need, the United Nations said Tuesday. Most of the refugees, who originally fled hunger and conflict in Somalia before being caught up in the war in Yemen, have crossed the Gulf of Aden by boat to northern Somaliland and Puntland. “Since March 2015, nearly 29,000 people have arrived in Somalia from Yemen, 90 percent of whom are Somali, with more expected to arrive in the coming months,” the United Nations office for the coordination of humanitarian affairs said. Almost 10,000 Yemenis have also arrived in Djibouti since late March. Meanwhile thousands of Ethiopians and other migrants continue to travel in the opposite direction into Yemen, many tricked by smugglers into believing the fighting is over. The United Nations said last month that more than 10,000 had arrived in Yemen since airstrikes began in March. [AFP, 8/12/2015]


Sisi establishes economic zone around Egypt’s Suez Canal
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued a decree establishing an economic zone around the Suez Canal, the country’s state news agency said on Tuesday. The decree establishes a 460-square-kilometer economic zone around the canal. The government says the zone will be used to develop an international industrial and logistics hub that will attract foreign investment. It will include six ports and one thousand factories and will offer investors eighteen projects worth almost $40 billion. Egypt’s investment minister said in March that the economic zone is expected to eventually make up about a third of the country’s economy. [Reuters, Ahram Online, 8/11/2015]

Iraq’s oil output climbs to record as south escapes fighting
Iraq’s crude production climbed to an all-time high in July with record exports from southern terminals mostly unscathed by Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants. Output rose to 4.18 million barrels per day (BPD) last month from 4.15 million in June. Oil fields in the south cranked out record Basra crude exports of 3.06 million bpd, up by about 40,000 barrels from June. Meanwhile, exports in shipments from the north of Iraq through the port of Ceyhan dipped 50,000 bpd to about 520,000 bpd. The drop was due to rising tension between the central government and Kurdish regional authorities in the north over oil payments. [Bloomberg, 8/12/2015]

Former Saudi official presses for change in managing oil wealth
A former senior official at Saudi Arabia’s central bank says he believes the kingdom may soon change the way it manages its oil wealth as part of efforts to protect its financial reserves in an era of cheap crude. Since last year, exactly that has been happening: Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA) foreign assets have been shrinking at an annual rate of about $120 billion. Khalid al-Sweilem, Chief Investment Officer at SAMA is proposing an alternative: the creation of two sovereign wealth funds which would be shielded from direct use by the finance ministry and the introduction of rules to decouple the level of state spending from oil revenues. [Reuters, 8/12/2015]