Top News: Emboldened by Russian Air Strikes, Syrian Regime Forces Mount Attacks

Syrian troops backed by Russian air strikes battled insurgents in Idlib and Hama provinces on Wednesday in the first major ground fighting since Moscow began launching air raids on militants last week, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Activist Ahmad al-Ahmad, currently in Idlib, said government troops are “heavily” shelling central areas after rebels attacked an army post and destroyed a tank. The Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) has no presence in the area that was attacked on Wednesday, but the al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front is active in central and northern Syria, as are Western-backed rebels. More than forty Syrian insurgent groups vowed to attack Russian forces in retaliation for Moscow’s air campaign in a show of unity among the usually fragmented rebels against what they called the “occupiers” of Syria. The forty-one groups, including powerful factions such as Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam, and the Levant Front, said Russia joined the war in Syria after President Bashar al-Assad’s forces were on the verge “of a crushing defeat.” [AP, 10/7/2015]



Sisi issues presidential decree amending penal code
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued on Tuesday a decree amending the Penal Code. Sisi’s third amendment to the Penal Code adds a new article, which introduces a punishment for failing to report persons in possession of explosives. The penalty includes one year in prison and a fine of 20,000 Egyptian pounds. [SIS, Shorouk (Arabic), 10/7/2015]

Freed Al Jazeera journalist Fahmy receives award, leaves Egypt for Canada
Mohamed Fahmy, a Canadian journalist with Al-Jazeera whose name was included in a presidential pardon last month announced Tuesday he was flying home to Canada. Fahmy posted a photo taken in Cairo Airport on Twitter saying, “Canadian Ambassador Troy (Lulashnyk) kindly escorted me to the gate at Cairo airport. A glorious end to our battle for freedom!” An airport security official who also confirmed that Fahmy had boarded a flight bound for London. Fahmy had previously been convicted of fabricating “false news” in August. Fahmy, along with his colleagues Baher Mohamed and Peter Greste were honored with a Freedom of Speech Award from the International Association of Press Clubs on Tuesday for standing up for freedom of speech despite intimidation and incarceration. [AFP, AP, 10/6/2015]

Journalist running for parliamentary elections shot by unknown assailants in Egypt’s Kafr al-Sheikh
Nashaat al-Alwany, a journalist running for the upcoming parliamentary elections, was shot by unknown assailants in Nile Delta’s Kafr al-Sheikh governorate on Tuesday night, Al-Ahram reported. Alwany, who works as a reporter for TV program, al-Ashera Masaa, and independent weekly Sawt al-Umma, was transferred to the hospital in critical condition after being attacked following his electoral campaign. His family accused five individuals from an antiquities smuggling group of attacking Alwany after he published an investigative report on the theft of antiquities in the governorate. According to his family, police have opened an investigation in order to identify the culprits. [Ahram Online, 10/7/2015]

Turkey-based Muslim Brotherhood entity calls on army personnel to ‘dissent’
In a statement issued on Monday, the Turkey-based, Brotherhood-led ‘Egyptian Revolutionary Council’ called upon Egyptian soldiers and officers to quit their army posts, and join the people’s revolution, marking a development in the opposition’s view on army service in the country. In its statement, the group accused President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and his “military regime,” of “fully agreeing to terms of the ‘the enemy’ and is working as a close ally on their behalf against Palestinians and Arabs.” It added, “We acknowledge the existence of personnel in the military institution who are complaining secretly of what the ‘coup’ leaders are doing.” [DNE, 10/6/2015]

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Leon says Libyan unity government could be announced today
UN Special Envoy for Libya Bernardino Leon said today that he expects that a Government of National Accord (GNA) could be finalized as early as Wednesday afternoon. He told a press conference in Skhirat that the General National Congress (GNC) would meet Wednesday morning to put forward names for the roles of prime minister, deputy prime ministers, and two other members of the presidential council. Quizzed by journalists who wondered if he was not being overly optimistic, Leon replied that the prospects of agreement were good. “It is not a matter of optimism,” he insisted. Leon said that the House of Representatives and GNC delegations would propose and then mutually accept a deputy prime minister. With other parties to the dialogue, they would then seek to propose a consensus prime minister and the two senior ministers. [Libya Herald, UNSMIL, Libya Monitor, 10/6/2015]

EU military operation against migrant traffickers begins of the Libyan coast
A military operation to catch migrant traffickers begins Wednesday, with European warships patrolling international waters in the Mediterranean to arrest smugglers. Six ships are already in place in international waters off the coast of Libya—the departure point for many of the migrant boats—including an Italian aircraft carrier, a French frigate, and one British, one Spanish, and two German ships. The EU gave permission to proceed with the operation in international waters in September, but its ships cannot pursue traffickers into Libyan waters. The operation will patrol areas off the Libyan coast along the twelve nautical mile mark, which separates international from Libyan waters, and others further out to sea. The northwestern coast of Libya from the Tunisian border to Sirte will be on lockdown, apart from an area directly in front of Tripoli, left open to prevent a total maritime blockade. But the operation will need approval not yet granted from the UN Security Council and Libyan authorities to venture into Libyan waters. [AFP, 10/7/2015]

Tunisian counterterrorism effort receives EUR 20 million in aid from France
Tunisia and France signed an agreement worth EUR 20 million designated to support special military forces and cooperation between the two countries in the areas of intelligence and counterterrorism. While signing the document, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian noted that it is time to reexamine the protocol of the defense accord sealed by France and Tunisia in 1973. Tunisia’s Minister of Defense Farhat Horchani announced that the Tunisian-French Joint Military Commission will convene towards the end of October 2015 to discuss training, intelligence, and the possibility of a second battalion of special forces in Tunisia. [ANSAmed, L’Economiste Maghrébin (Fr), 10/6/2015]

Tunisia probes TV presenter’s politician murders claims
Tunisia opened a probe Tuesday after controversial television personality Moez Ben Gharbia, owner of the private channel Attasiaa TV, said in a video posted online that he had information about the 2013 assassinations of opposition politicians Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi, a judicial source said. Media reports said Ben Gharbia made the recording from Switzerland. His video was posted ahead of a new hearing on October 30 in the trial of twenty-four Tunisians accused of involvement in the Belaid killing. On March 18, Ben Gharbia was given a six-month suspended sentence for identity theft, embezzlement, and insulting the head of state. [AFP, 10/6/2015]


Oxfam report shows inadequate international aid for Syrians
International aid group Oxfam published the “Solidarity with Syrians” report on Wednesday, which highlights the “utterly inadequate” aid provided to Syrians both inside and outside of Syria. The report analyzed aid and resettlement opportunities for Syrian refugees provided by more than twenty-eight countries and said only a “handful” had been providing their fair share. Oxfam notably criticized Russia, which has not resettled any Syrian refugees and has only provided one percent of its fair share contribution to humanitarian aid, and France, which has only contributed 22 percent of its fair share to aid. Oxfam’s Syrian crisis response head Andy Baker blamed “the lack of funds—or more accurately, the lack of political will to loosen up funds” for the massively underfunding of aid programs. Oxfam said the only laudable exceptions to their criticism—besides countries neighboring Syria, which have taken in a majority of refugees—were Norway and Germany. [AFP, 10/7/2015]

US, Russian coordination in Syria reached only at level of pilot safety
US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Wednesday that the United States would not cooperate militarily with Russia in Syria because its strategy is “tragically flawed,” but it is prepared to carry out basic, technical discussions on pilot safety. On Tuesday, Pentagon officials said that Russia informally said it would push ahead with efforts to avert potential mishaps between Russian and US pilots flying missions over Syria. [Reuters, AFP, 10/7/2015]

Russian warships hit ISIS targets
Four Russian warships in the Caspian Sea launched twenty-six rockets at ISIS in Syria, according to Russia’s Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and President Vladimir Putin in a joint television appearance on Wednesday. Russia started its air campaign in Syria saying it would target ISIS. But its planes have also bombed other rebel groups opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. According to Turkish military intelligence, only two of the fifty-seven air strikes deployed by Russia have targeted ISIS, the rest targeting Turkish and US-backed rebel groups. [Daily Star, NYT, 10/7/2015]

UK still seeking to conduct air strikes in Syria
Britain is still seeking to conduct air strikes in Syria even though Russia’s military action there is making the country extremely dangerous, the Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said on Wednesday. The senior cabinet minister said it was unhelpful that Russia was “conniving with and propping up” the regime of the Syrian dictator when countries should be working together to fight ISIS. [Guardian, 10/7/2015]

European body concerned over possibility of free and fair elections in Turkey
A delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) voiced concerns over pressure on media, recent violence on political party premises, and the highly disproportionate coverage of different political parties by state-owned media during their meeting in Ankara on October 5-6. The delegation expressed serious concern about “instances of repeated intimidation, pressure, and physical attacks against journalists and media groups,” and said the sharp rise in prosecutions launched against critical voices, on charges of “defamation against the president” and “terrorism,” and a number of restrictions on freedom of expression, including the internet and social media. “The delegation is concerned that this situation may hamper free democratic debate and freedom of expression,” said the statement. [Hurriyet, 10/7/2015]


Houthi rebels commit to UN peace plan
The party of Yemen’s former President Ali Abdullah Saleh confirmed, in an emailed statement to the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, their commitment to UN resolutions, including resolution 2216, aimed at ending the country’s conflict. The letter committed the Houthi rebels to a seven-point plan drafted in peace talks in Oman, which includes a ceasefire, the removal of armed militias from the cities, and the return of the government to the capital, Sana’a. Yemen’s President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi has insisted that rebels pull back from territory seized over the past year before an agreement can be reached. In the letter, the Houthi representatives welcomed the UN call for “all sides to return to the table of dialogue,” and criticized the Yemeni government for having “not shown any positive reciprocity” with the peace process. The United Nations estimates nearly 4,900 people, including 2,355 civilians, have died in the conflict in Yemen. [BBC, Reuters, Al-Masdar (Arabic), 10/7/2015]

ISIS claims responsibility for bomb attacks in Yemen
The Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) claimed responsibility for a series of bombings in Yemen’s two largest cities, Aden and Sana’a, on Tuesday that killed at least twenty-five people, including troops from the Gulf who are fighting Yemeni rebels. The first attacks were the largest ISIS attacks in Aden since the group surfaced in Yemen last year, as the bombings struck a hotel housing members of Yemen’s government along with a building that served as a headquarters for soldiers who belonging to the Saudi-led coalition. ISIS also bombed a mosque in Sana’a, the capital, and killed at least seven people later on Tuesday. These attacks are the latest sign that Sunni extremists are gaining strength amid the country’s multi sided war. ISIS is hostile to both the US-backed Yemeni government and Arab coalition allies, as well as to the Houthi rebels in Yemen’s conflict. [NYT, Reuters, 10/7/2015]

Saudi-led coalition accused of war crimes by human rights group
Britain is being urged to halt the supply of weapons to its ally Saudi Arabia in the light of evidence that civilians are being killed in Saudi-led attacks on rebel forces in Yemen. Amnesty International, a UK based human rights group, warned that “damning evidence of war crimes” highlights the urgent need for an independent investigation of violations and for the suspension of transfer of arms used in attacks. The human rights group said in a report that it had examined thirteen deadly air strikes by the coalition, assembled by Saudi Arabia that had killed about one hundred civilians, including fifty-nine children. Amnesty International also said its researchers had found remnants of two types of internationally banned cluster bombs as it investigated attacks on Saada, a Houthi stronghold in northeastern Yemen. Human Rights Watch also accused Saudi forces of using cluster bombs in Yemen in August, which the Saudi-led coalition denied. [Al Jazeera, TIME, The Guardian, 10/7/2015]


IMF says Iran nuclear deal to boost Mideast economy
The Iranian nuclear deal will lift economic growth in the Middle East next year as the rolling back of sanctions brings a rebound in oil exports, the International Monetary Fund said Tuesday in its latest World Economic Outlook. Growth in the Middle East and North Africa will “pick up substantially in 2016, supported by accelerated activity in the Islamic Republic of Iran,” the report said. “The lifting of sanctions … should allow for a recovery in oil production and exports,” it added, while predicting “a gradual improvement in the outlook for countries severely affected by conflicts, such as Iraq, Libya, and Yemen.” Regional growth has slowed to 2.3 percent this year from 2.6 percent in 2014, before an expected rebound to 3.8 percent in 2016. Oil exporters, including the Gulf states, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Algeria, account for most of the weakness in growth this year. In addition, “spillovers from regional conflicts and intensified security and social tensions are weighing on confidence and holding back higher growth,” the IMF said. [AFP, 10/6/2015]

Yemen’s Aden refinery resumes oil-product imports
Yemen’s Aden Refinery Company has resumed imports of oil products after a nearly six-month hiatus, industry sources said. The imports are expected to boost oil product margins in Asia at a time when refinery maintenance has cut supplies, traders said. The refinery declared force majeure in April on its oil imports and exports as Yemen’s civil war escalated. Sources expect it to issue a tender soon to import 60,000 tonnes of gasoil, with traders already indicating interest in shipping cargoes to Aden. Still, many shipping companies are unwilling to risk their vessels in Aden, traders said. The refinery resumed operations at its refinery late last month, and is now producing 75,000 barrels per day (about half its capacity). [Reuters/Trade Arabia, Al Masdar, 10/7/2015]

Egypt’s growth forecast unchanged in latest IMF report
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) kept its forecast for Egypt’s growth at 4.2 percent in 2015 and 4.3 percent in 2016 in its latest World Economic Outlook. The IMF expects consumer prices to increase in 2015 to 11 percent (compared to 10.1 percent in 2014) and slow to 8.8 percent in 2016. The IMF also forecast a 0.8 percent decrease in Egypt’s deficit in 2015. IMF Research Director Maurice Obstfeld said that Egypt’s savings following the the global drop in oil prices have been a main factor allowing the economy to maintain its performance. “But this is an unsustainable factor,” he said, noting that commodity prices continue to fall. “The fall in commodity prices, which accelerated recently, will have a dramatic impact on developing countries,” he added. Meanwhile, the Central Bank of Egypt said Wednesday that foreign currency reserves fell to $16.335 billion at the end of September from $18.096 billion the previous month. [Ahram Online, 10/6/2015]

Qatar National Bank Q3 net profit rises 6.1 percent, beats forecasts
Qatar National Bank (QNB), the largest lender in the Gulf Arab region, achieved a 6.1 percent increase in third quarter net profit, beating analysts’ forecasts. The bank made a net 3.11 billion riyals ($854 million) from July through September, up from 2.93 billion riyals a year before. The bank did not provide a quarterly breakdown in its earnings statement. For the first nine months of the year, net profit rose to 8.70 billion riyals, up 9 percent from the same period of 2014, the bank said in a statement. Loans and advances rose 11.5 percent in the first nine months of 2015, QNB added. QNB aims to become the largest bank in the Middle East and Africa by 2017. [Reuters, 10/7/2015]