Top News: Exiled Yemeni Ministers Return to Aden

Senior members of Yemen’s exiled administration flew into Aden on Thursday to make preparations for the government’s return, an official said, three months after being pushed out by the armed Houthi group. The visit by ministers and intelligence officials follows military setbacks for the Houthis at the hands of Saudi-backed Yemeni fighters, which may mark a turning point in the conflict that has killed more than 3,500 people. “[Exiled President] Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi delegated this group to return to Aden to work to prepare the security situation and ensure stability ahead of a revival of the state institutions in Aden,” local officials said after the group arrived by helicopter at a military air base. The delegation included the Ministers of the Interior and Transport, a former Interior Minister, the intelligence chief and the Deputy Head of the House of Representatives. [Reuters, 7/16/2015]



Foreign Minister underlines importance of Egypt-US Strategic dialogue
Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry has underlined the importance of the Egyptian-US strategic dialogue to be held by the end of July. The dialogue will include specialists from both sides in a number of fields and tackle all aspects of relations binding between Cairo and Washington, Shoukry told diplomatic journalists on Wednesday. The dialogue is a “good opportunity” to discuss means of enhancing bilateral relations and exchange views over regional issues, Shoukry said. The dialogue will be held on July 28 to 29. He also said that Egypt has invited all world countries, including Qatar and Turkey, to take part in the inauguration ceremony of the New Suez Canal Project, slated for August 6. [SIS, 7/16/2015]

Egypt’s cabinet alters controversial anti-terror bill
Egypt’s cabinet on Wednesday agreed to amend a controversial article of a draft anti-terror law imposing jail terms on journalists for contradicting the government’s official version of events in cases of terrorist attacks, a government spokesman said. Article 33 threatened a minimum two-year sentence as punishment for “reporting false information on terrorist attacks which contradict official statements.” The cabinet on Wednesday agreed to scrap jail sentences under Article 33, but replaced them with hefty fines, government spokesman Hossam al-Qawish said. Qawish said the article was cancelled after the cabinet discussed amendments with the head of the press syndicate and chief editors of Egyptian newspapers. The changes, according to the Journalists Syndicate still represent a setback for press freedom and an alternate method of sending journalists to prison if they cannot afford the fine. Syndicate members vowed to challenge the draft judicially. The draft is still awaiting final approval from the presidency. [Ahram Online, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, The Guardian, 7/26/2015]

Cabinet renames Rabaa square after slain Attorney General
Egypt’s cabinet approved changing the name of Raba’a al-Adaweya Square to Hisham Barakat Square, after the late prosecutor general who was assassinated late in June. The square once hosted an encampment organized in late June 2013 to show solidarity with and support for ousted president Morsi and his administration. The encampment were forcibly dispersed on August 14, 2013, leaving hundreds of protesters dead. Head of the Judges Club Abdullah Fathy had announced his intention to submit a request to the cabinet immediately following Barakat’s death to change the name of the square. The request was made in order to “erase the memory” of the Raba’a al-Adaweya sit-in and “replace it with the everlasting memory of Barakat’s martyrdom as a respected judge,” Fathy explained in a phone interview on the day of the assassination. [Cairo Post, Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, DNE, 7/16/2015]

Sinai State claims responsibility for attack on navy vessel
The Islamic State’s affiliate in Egypt’s Sinai says it has destroyed an Egyptian navy vessel with a rocket off the strategic peninsula’s Mediterranean coast. The claim of responsibility by the Sinai State, previously known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, was made in a brief statement posted on Twitter accounts known to be linked to the group. The authenticity of the statement could not be immediately verified, but it was accompanied by photos purporting to show what appears to be a rocket flying toward the vessel, a large explosion engulfing most of the boat and then black smoke rising up from the vessel. Egypt’s military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Mohamed Samir, said in a statement earlier that the vessel caught fire off the coast of Sinai on Thursday after an exchange of gunshots with militants from the shore. According to a statement by Samir, there were no fatalities among the vessel’s crew in the shootout with “terrorists.” Samir did not say how much damage the vessel suffered and gave no details on the type of ship or the size of its crew. However, security officials said an unspecified number of crew members suffered injuries from the fire. [AP, Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, Cairo Post, 7/16/2015]

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Libya blames UNSC for hampering bid to fight ISIS
Libya accused the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on Wednesday of hindering its terrorism fight, while UN Envoy to Libya Bernardino Leon said the growing threat of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) could only be tackled once warring parties agree on a government of national unity. Libyan UN Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi complained that the Security Council Libya Sanctions Committee had not responded to its March request to import weapons, tanks, jets, and helicopters to take on ISIS militants and monitor its borders. “The committee has indirectly contributed to continuing instability, as well as entrenching terrorism in Libya,” he told the UNSC. “There is premeditated hampering of the efforts of the Libyan government to strengthen its capacity to combat terrorism and to extend its authority to all Libyan territory.” [Reuters, 7/15/2015]

Libyan commander killed as offensive against Islamists stalls
Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants said they killed a Libyan army commander in the eastern city of Benghazi on Wednesday, as a pro-government offensive against the Islamists appeared to stall. Forces loyal to Libya’s internationally recognized government have been fighting Islamist groups in the country’s second-largest city for over a year. New clashes erupted on Wednesday in the Lithi district. During the fighting, Salem al-Naili, the commander of a special forces brigade, and another soldier were killed. Four more soldiers were wounded. ISIS claimed responsibility on social media for al-Naili’s killing. [Reuters, 7/15/2015]

2,700 migrants rescued at sea near Libya
Around 2,700 migrants were rescued from thirteen boats near the coast of Libya on Wednesday. A German navy vessel and a search and rescue ship deployed by the medical charity organization Medecins Sans Frontieres participated in the rescues along with the Italian navy and coastguard. A spokeswoman for the Italian coastguard said the rescues had all been carried out in an area around thirty-five miles from the coast of Libya. An estimated 150,000 migrants have reached Europe by sea so far in 2015, most of them in Greece and Italy, the International Organization for Migration said. More than 1,900 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean, twice the toll during the same period last year, said spokesman Joel Millman. [Reuters, 7/15/2015]

Korea extends Libya travel ban
Seoul has extended an existing ban preventing its citizens from travelling to Libya, citing security reasons. The official Korean news agency said on July 15 that the ban would be extended for a further six months, until February 2016. Five other countries—Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, and Syria—were also included in the restrictions. “The political instabilities, poor security, and threats of terrorism are expected to continue for the time being in the six countries,” Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said. Any Korean nationals wishing to visit Libya are required to obtain special permission from the government. [Libya Monitor, 7/15/2015]

Tunisia hosts security meeting with G7 to discuss terrorism threat
The Tunisian government hosted a security meeting with officials from the Group of 7 industrialized nations on Wednesday to discuss ways that they can further help the country deal with the growing threat of terrorism, officials said. The Tunisian Ministers of Defense, Interior, and Tourism attended, as did US officials from the Department of State and Homeland Security, ambassadors, and senior officials from several other nations. Tunisian officials described the meeting as a workshop to explore what more Tunisia can do to secure the country against terrorist attacks like those that have recently singled out foreigners. President Beji Caid Essebsi said on Wednesday night in a television interview that the United States was the only country that “has really helped in the war against terrorism” in Tunisia. [NYT, 7/15/2015]


Obama says Iran, Russia, Turkey should be part of discussions on Syria
President Barack Obama said Wednesday that the problems in Syria cannot be solved without support from partners such as Russia and Turkey, and that Iran must be part of the discussions as well. He stated “in order for us to resolve it, there is going to have to be agreement among the major powers that are interested in Syria that this is not going to be won on the battlefield.” [Reuters, 7/15/2015]

The Nusra Front and allies attack Shia villages in northwest Syria
The Army of Conquest rebel coalition, consisting of the Nusra Front and allied Islamist groups, launched an attack Wednesday on the last two Shia villages under regime control in Syria’s northwest Idlib province. The group announced online its assault on the villages of Fuaa and Kafraya, reportedly in response to Hezbollah’s recent offensive in Zabadani along the Syrian-Lebanese border. The group said the attack will “give you a taste in the north of what our people are tasting in Zabadani.” Hezbollah has commanders stationed in Kafraya and Fuaa to train local military leaders. [AFP, 7/16/2015]

Barrel bombs kill civilians in ISIS-held towns; Regime and Hezbollah advance in Zabadani
At least eleven civilians, including three children, were killed Thursday in regime barrel bomb attacks on the ISIS-held town of al-Bab in Syria’s Aleppo province. Syrian regime air raids also killed thirteen civilians, including seven children, in the nearby ISIS-controlled town of Taduf on Wednesday. The bombing campaign is reportedly an effort by the regime “to turn civilians against the opposition factions or against ISIS, with the reasoning that the aerial attacks are a result of the presence of fighters inside their towns and villages.” The Syrian Army and Hezbollah advanced deeper into the Syrian city of Zabadani along the Lebanese border on Wednesday, continuing its campaign to capture the city from insurgents. Hezbollah militiamen and the army advanced closer to Zabadani’s center under cover of heavy artillery fire and intense aerial bombardment of insurgent hideouts. [AFP, 7/16/2015]

At least fifty ISIS child soldiers killed in 2015
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Wednesday that at least fifty child soldiers recruited by ISIS have been killed in Syria since the beginning of 2015. The children were all under the age of sixteen and had been recruited into ISIS’s “Cubs of the Caliphate” program, which provides intense military and religious training. ISIS’s child soldiers had been used to operate checkpoints or gather intelligence from areas outside ISIS control and have recently been used to execute prisoners and conduct suicide attacks. ISIS is believed to have recruited over 1,100 children since the beginning of 2015. [AFP, 7/15/2015]

Lebanese troops confiscate drone taken to Syrian militants
The Lebanese army said Wednesday that its troops confiscated a drone in the eastern Bekaa Valley while it was being taken to insurgents on the Syrian side of the border. The drone was reportedly to be used for spying on Lebanese army positions. An investigation to determine the source of the drone has begun. [Al Arabiya, 7/15/2015]


Exiled Yemeni ministers return to Aden
Senior members of Yemen’s exiled administration flew into Aden on Thursday to make preparations for the government’s return, an official said, three months after being pushed out by the armed Houthi group. The visit by ministers and intelligence officials follows military setbacks for the Houthis at the hands of Saudi-backed Yemeni fighters, which may mark a turning point in the conflict that has killed more than 3,500 people. “[Exiled President] Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi delegated this group to return to Aden to work to prepare the security situation and ensure stability ahead of a revival of the state institutions in Aden,” local officials said after the group arrived by helicopter at a military air base. The delegation included the Ministers of the Interior and Transport, a former Interior Minister, the intelligence chief and the Deputy Head of the House of Representatives. [Reuters, 7/16/2015]

Bahraini blows himself up while planting bomb targeting police
A man accidentally blew himself up as he tried to plant a bomb targeting police in a Shia village in Bahrain, the Interior Ministry said Wednesday. One officer was killed after a bomb went off near East Eker, south of the capital Manama, in July last year. “Person killed himself in blast while trying to plant a bomb in East Eker. Bomb was meant to target police. Investigation opened,” the ministry wrote on its Twitter feed. The island says it has made strides in political reform and is increasing monitoring for abuses by security forces. Opponents and rights groups say abuses continue. Bahrain freed prominent dissident Nabeel Rajab on health grounds Tuesday, more than two months into his six-month jail term for insulting the authorities. [Reuters, 7/16/2015]

Former Saudi Ambassador to the United States condemns Iran deal
Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the former Saudi ambassador to the United States, said in an opinion piece for Elaph newspaper that the United States moved forward with the Iran nuclear deal despite predictions of the situation developing into a North Korean-style scenario. Prince Bandar, also the former chief of intelligence for the Kingdom, said that the nuclear deal “will wreak havoc in the Middle East, which is already living in a disastrous environment in which Iran is a major player in the destabilization of the region.” In the article, Prince Bandar points out that the Clinton administration’s North Korea deal the result of “a major intelligence failure” and calls the Obama administration’s Iran deal a “deja-vu.” [Al-Arabiya, 7/16/2015]


Saudi bond issues to soar as government plugs deficit
Bond issues by Saudi Arabia’s government are expected to be worth tens of billions of dollars by the end of 2015 as the state ramps up debt sales to fill a gap in finances created by low prices for oil exports. Central bank governor Fahad al-Mubarak announced last week that Riyadh had sold its first sovereign bonds since 2007, a 15 billion riyal ($4 billion) issue. Bankers and investors believe the recent issue signals the government’s intention to launch regular debt sales, which will find ready buyers among local institutions. While Mubarak did not say when more bonds would be issued, bankers expect heavy issuance in coming months that could change Saudi banks’ balance sheets and eventually help to create an active domestic bond market. [Reuters, 7/16/2015]

Syria’s opposition plans to replace Syrian pound with Turkish lira
The Syrian opposition forces and institutions in the north are investigating whether the Turkish lira could substitute the Syrian pound. The Committee for Replacing the Currency—a civil society initiative sponsored by the Association of Syrian Economists—is working in opposition-controlled areas to replace the Syrian pound with the Turkish lira. Starting August 1, the committee will take steps to move Syrians gradually toward use of the Turkish lira in collaboration with several opposition institutions. Essential items such as bread and fuel will be priced in Turkish lira under the supervision of an oversight committee. The salaries of the employees in opposition institutions will be paid in Turkish lira and traders and manufacturers will be encouraged to price their goods in Turkish lira. [Al Monitor, 7/15/2015]

Tunisia bill would pardon financial corruption if funds returned
Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi is calling on parliament to adopt a law pardoning people charged with or convicted of financial corruption if they confess and return any money obtained. A bill was presented to the cabinet on Tuesday and should be submitted to parliament soon, government spokesman Dhafer Neji said. It would apply to both public servants and the broader public. Government employees under investigation or convicted in cases of financial corruption would be exonerated if they did not personally benefit financially. Anyone who profited from financial corruption would be able to go before a special commission and be exonerated if they paid back the money with five percent interest for each year since it was obtained. [AFP, 7/15/2015]

Egypt cancels temporary ban on cotton imports
Egypt’s cabinet decided Wednesday to cancel a temporary ban on cotton imports and form a committee to review agricultural policy on cotton. The committee will include the Ministry of Industry and International Trade, the Ministry of Investment, the Ministry of Agriculture, and the Ministry of Planning. Last week, the Ministry of Agriculture imposed a temporary ban on cotton imports to protect domestic cotton production and improve its marketing. However, the decision sparked fears of a backlash on the domestic spinning and weaving industry. [Ahram Online, 7/16/2015]