Top News: Fifty People Killed in Saudi-Led Coalition Airstrikes

Airstrikes by a Saudi-led coalition killed fifty people in Yemen when they hit a Houthi-held security compound and a house in Sana’a in an escalating campaign that has claimed increasing civilian lives. The bombing campaign coincides with the Saudi announcement that Houthi forces are holding two of its soldiers. A coalition jet fired a missile on Monday into police headquarters in the Houthi controlled al-Shaghadra district of Hajjah. A second missile crashed at the compound as rescue teams and residents arrived, causing a large number of casualties including at least thirty dead. In Sana’a, at least eighteen members of one family were killed when a missile fired by a plane struck their house in the al-Hasaba district of the capital. Neighbors said the missiles was apparently aimed at an adjacent residence occupied by members of the Houthi group. The United Nations has reported that almost 5,000 people, nearly half of them civilians, have been killed in since the Saudi-led coalition launched an air campaign in March to restore President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi to power. In the past four days alone, 236 people have reportedly been killed. The escalating violence in the country coincides with UN report stating that at least 400 children have died between March and August, already triple the amount killed in 2014. [BBCReutersUN, 9/22/2015]



HRW condemns Egypt’s Sinai campaign; Cabinet says Egypt complied with international law
The Egyptian government’s destruction of thousands of buildings in the Rafah border area to “counter the threat of smuggling tunnels was likely disproportionate,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in an 84-page report released Tuesday. The government evicted 3,200 families over the past two years, and razed hundreds of acres of farmland and thousands of homes in its bid to destroy illegal smuggling tunnels connecting the Gaza Strip with Egypt’s northern Sinai Peninsula, the rights group said. The report claims an additional 540 buildings were demolished in the sixteen months between Mohamed Morsi’s ouster and the official authorization of the campaign. HRW argued that, based on interviews with North Sinai citizens, Egyptian authorities “provided residents with little or no warning of the evictions and no effective way to challenge their eviction, home demolition, or compensation.” The rights group also said the United States had trained the Egyptian military to use “sophisticated tunnel-detecting technology” to find and destroy tunnels and avoid wiping out entire neighborhoods. The new cabinet meanwhile issued a statement, also on Tuesday, saying Egypt has complied with international human rights law and has consulted with local residents while combating terrorism in Sinai. The statement, which sums up the efforts of the Egyptian government in Sinai over the past two years, said that residents subject to compulsory evacuation were surveyed to find out their preferred method of compensation, with the majority choosing compensation in the form of cash. A minority preferred replacement land and housing. The cabinet also outlined a plan, which among other things, addresses the need for urgent humanitarian aid and precise economic compensation to local residents affected by security operations, the need to protect residents during military operations, and outlines strict rules for military engagement. [Aswat Masriya, AP, Mada Masr, 9/22/2015]

Egypt says military killed ten militants in Western Desert, nine in North Sinai
Egypt’s Military Spokesman Brigadier General Mohamed Samir announced in a statement that troops have killed ten militants and arrested one suspect near the Bahariya Oasis in the country’s western desert—an area where Egyptian forces earlier this month mistakenly attacked a group of tourists, killing twelve. The operation took place on September 21, involving both air and ground forces. The military acted after receiving information that the “terrorists were preparing to infiltrate” several provinces during the upcoming Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha for “attacks on vital institutions and foreign interests.” The spokesman also announced that nine militants were killed and seventeen arrested during the fifteenth consecutive day of the Martyr’s Right operation in North Sinai. [AP, AMAY, Aswat Masriya, SIS, Cairo Post, Ahram Online, 9/22/2015]

Court sentences Mubarak-era housing minister to three years in jail
Former housing minister Mohamed Ibrahim Suleiman was sentenced on Monday to three years in prison for squandering public funds during his time in office. He was convicted of selling public lands at below-market prices to the SODIC real estate group. The court also ordered the former minister, and fugitive businessman Magdy Rasekh, to return 970 million Egyptian pounds to the state treasury. Rasekh was sentenced to five years in prison in absentia. Other officials received various smaller sentences, ranging from a fine to one year in prison. [Ahram Online, DNE, Mada Masr, 9/21/2015]

HEC rejects 9 percent of candidates primarily over positive drug tests
High Elections Committee (HEC) Spokesperson Omar Marwan announced that of the 5,955 individuals who applied to run in Egypt’s upcoming parliamentary elections, 535 have had their applications rejected. Marwan explained that there were a number of reasons for the high number of rejections. Marwan said many failed to provide necessary documents including proof of military service, proof of clean criminal records, statements about personal wealth, and proof they had not received money and donations for campaigning. The HEC spokesman, however, said the majority of the rejections were due to candidates failing obligatory medical tests by testing positive for illegal drug use. [Ahram Online, 9/21/2015]

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Libya envoy says text of political deal finalized
On Monday, the United Nations announced a final draft of a political agreement and urged all parties to accept it. UN Special Envoy Bernardino Leon told reporters that he hoped the factions would return to sign the final agreement after Eid al-Adha celebrations this week and before October 20, when the mandate of the elected parliament ends. “We finished our work, we have a text that it is a final text. So our part in the process is now finished,” Leon said. “It is up now to the participants to react to this text, but not in terms of adding more comments or getting back to something to negotiate.” He said all parties had confirmed their willingness to return to discuss representatives for a united government within days and for a deal to be signed before October 20. [Reuters, UNSMIL,  AP, AFP,  WSJ, VOA, Deutsche Welle, 9/21/2015]

Prime Minister Thinni blocked from a second flight this week
Libya’s Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni was stopped from boarding his official plane at Labraq airport for the second time in a week. No details were given about who ordered the move nor where Thinni was heading, but it comes only five days after soldiers acting on orders from a top commander stopped him boarding a flight to Malta to address a conference organized by the National Oil Corporation. Local media reports suggest that on both occasions, orders from Saqr Jaroushi prevented the Prime Minister from traveling. Al-Jaroushi is the senior commander of the air forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar. [Libya Herald, Libya Monitor (subscription), 9/21/2015]

Libyan Wings starts flights to Istanbul
Libyan Wings’ inaugural flight from Tripoli’s Mitiga Airport to Istanbul finally took off early Tuesday morning. The airline, owned by Libyan businessman Wissam al-Masri but widely believed to also involve Abdulhakim Belhaj, becomes the fifth Libyan airline to service the Tripoli-Istanbul route, which has an average of six flights a day in each direction. The visa requirement for Libyans traveling to Turkey that will take effect September 24, however, will likely result in a dramatic drop in the number of Libyans going to Istanbul. [Libya Herald, 9/22/2015]

A million fewer tourists visit Tunisia this year
The number of foreign tourists in Tunisia dropped by 20 percent to four million in the first eight months of the year after two deadly attacks on foreign visitors, the tourism minister said on Monday. European tourism has dropped in particular, down an estimated 50 percent from last year, while tourists from Algeria have increased, up 17 percent with one million visitors. Tunisia, for whom foreign tourism contributes some 7 percent of gross domestic product, has been under a state of emergency since the attacks. Security has been heightened around tourist sites, and some hotels have closed and many foreign tour groups have canceled their routes. [Reuters, ANSAmed, 9/21/2015]


Syrian regime air strikes kill thirty-eight ISIS fighters
At least thirty-eight Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) fighters were killed in air strikes by the Syrian regime. The strikes hit Palmyra and two other towns in Homs province, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). “The number of raids is growing and the strikes are more precise after the Syrian air force received arms and more efficient planes from Moscow,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, Head of SOHR. [AFP, 9/22/2015]

US officials say Russia deployed twenty-eight combat planes in Syria
Russia has deployed twenty-eight combat planes in Syria, US officials said, confirming the latest move in Moscow’s increasing military presence in Syria. “There are twenty-eight fighter and bomber aircrafts” at an airfield in the western Syrian province of Latakia, one of the officials confirmed, speaking on condition of anonymity. A second official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the figure and noted about twenty Russian combat and transport helicopters at the base. “Russian weapons are starting to have an effect in Syria,” the official said.  “The Syrian military has started using them in the cities of Deir Ezzor and Raqqa, in particular against ISIS positions,” the official said. That official also mentioned Russia was operating drones over Syria, but did not give additional details. [AFP, Reuters, 9/22/2015]

United States increases aid to Syrian refugees
The United States will add another $419 million to help civilians endangered by the fighting in Syria, officials said Monday, after criticism that Washington is not doing enough to help refugees. The announcement came a day after Secretary of State John Kerry said the United States would increase the US refugee cap to 85,000 in 2016 and 100,000 in 2017. Washington has been by far the single biggest humanitarian donor to Syrians and the additional funds will bring the sum it has spent since the start of the conflict in early 2011 to $4.5 billion. [AFP, WSJ, 9/22/2015]

United Nations appoints heads of working groups for Syria talks
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has appointed the heads of four working groups on Syria signaling a step towards talks where warring parties are expected to discuss how to implement a roadmap for peace. “It is hoped that their outcomes could eventually set the stage for a Syrian agreement to end the conflict on the basis of the Geneva Communique,” UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said in a statement, referring to a 2012 international agreement on resolving the war. [Reuters, 9/22/2015]

November 1 elections to test democracy in Turkey
The snap elections set for November 1 come at a time of deep political tensions and violence following renewed clashes between the Turkish state and the separatist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Concerns are mounting over voter fraud, electoral irregularities, and media suppression. The Supreme Electoral Council reportedly decided not to set up ballot boxes in twenty-three villages surrounding the town of Cizre, officially citing security concerns. The main opposition party Republican People’s Party (CHP) Deputy Chair Sezgin Tanrıkulu presented a motion to the parliament on Monday asking for inquiries to be made into claims of 650,000 voters who had been disenfranchised since the June 7 elections. On Tuesday, two ministers from the People’s Democracy Party (HDP) resigned from their posts in the interim cabinet, stoking concerns over HDP representation in Ankara. The primary issues this election include security in the twenty-two predominantly Kurdish provinces in eastern and southeastern Turkey and protecting the integrity of the process. [Hurriyet, Al-Monitor, 09/22/2015]

Turkish state-PKK relations continue to unravel amid tit-for-tat attacks
Turkey’s state run news agency reported that a total of twenty-four Turkish soldiers were wounded in roadside bomb attacks in the eastern province of Van late Monday and early Tuesday morning. The attack is reported to be a retaliation for a Turkish state operation which killed five Kurdistan Workers’ Party fighters in the Hakkari province on Monday. [AP, Daily Sabah, 09/22/2015]


Exiled President Hadi reportedly returning to Aden
The son of Yemen’s President-in-exile Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi has returned to the strategic port city of Aden amid strong speculation that Hadi is on his way to Yemen after six months in Saudi Arabia. Nasser Abdrabbo Hadi, the head of his father’s special guard, has reportedly arrived in Aden for a security assessment amid reports that al-Qaeda and local militias have wreaked havoc since the Houthis’ defeat. Yemeni Foreign Minister Dr. Riyad Yassin said that the government intends to install a sense of security and stability in the city, with Yemeni Vice President and Prime Minister Khalid Bahah and some members of his cabinet returning to Aden from Riyadh on Wednesday. [Sahafa (Arabic), Gulf News, 9/22/2015]

Saudi-led alliance denies targeting Omani ambassador’s residence
The Saudi-led coalition has denied its warplanes bombed the Omani ambassador’s home in the Yemeni capital Sana’a on Saturday and called for an investigation into the incident. The Omani Foreign Ministry summoned the Saudi ambassador in Muscat on Saturday and handed him a protest letter over the airstrikes, which said the Saudi-led alliance had targeted the residence of its ambassador to Yemen. The coalition’s military spokesman, Brigadier-General Ahmed al-Asiri, said that the airstrikes had instead targeted the Yemeni Interior Ministry building, not the Omani ambassador’s home. General Asiri accused Houthi militias of carrying out the attack, arguing that they have targeted civilian areas with mortars and missiles across the country. He further said it was not in the interest of the Saudi alliance to bomb homes, as it focuses on targeting Houthi operation centers and ammunition depots. [Reuters, Asharq al-Aswat, 9/20/2015]


Tunisian government, labor union sign deal on public worker wage hike
Tunisia’s government and the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) signed an agreement on Tuesday to increase the wages of 800,000 public sector workers for the second time this year after weeks of negotiations. The deal for a monthly wage hike of 50 Tunisian dinars ($25), which will take effect in January, was signed between Prime Minister Habib Essid and Head of the UGTT Hussein Abassi. The increase will add about 500 million dinars in public spending to the budget. “The economic situation of the country is very difficult, and we have to make sacrifices to keep social tensions calm. But we have to get back to work and productivity to revive the economy,” Essib said. International Monetary Fund Director Christine Lagarde last week urged Tunisia to accelerate economic reforms, noting that public sector pay in Tunisia accounts for about 13.5 percent of the country’s gross domestic product, one of the highest rates in the world. Meanwhile, Reuters reported Tunisia’s Tourism Minister as saying that the number of foreign tourists in the country dropped by 20 percent to 4 million in the first eight months of 2015. [Reuters, 9/22/2015]

KRG to boost oil exports to Turkey, member of parliament says
The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) will increase oil exports to Turkey by up to 900,000 barrels per day (bpd) by the end of 2015, an official from the northern Iraqi parliament announced on Tuesday. “Including Kirkuk oil, we currently deliver 700,000 bpd to Turkey, and we suppose it will rise to 900,000 bpd by the end of this year,” said Delshad Shaban, Deputy Head of the Oil and Gas Committee in the Kurdish parliament. Shaban added that the KRG delivers 150,000 bpd of Kirkuk oil to the Iraqi government’s oil company (SOMO) at the Ceyhan port of Turkey. He emphasized that the KRG will continue to sell oil independently to international markets due to budget issues with the Iraqi central government. Meanwhile, a US court ruled on Monday that the KRG cannot sell Iraqi crude oil in the United States, dismissing an attempt by the KRG to overturn a judge’s earlier decision against its planned sale of oil to an unidentified buyer in the United States.[Anadolu Agency, 9/22/2015]

Gulf countries will stick to currency dollar pegs, Fitch says
Gulf countries’ currency pegs to the dollar are under pressure from low oil prices and a stronger dollar, but there is no chance of them being abolished, ratings agency Fitch said on Tuesday. Oil exporters in the region including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have shackled their currencies to the dollar in longstanding arrangements that made sense when commodity prices were high and the dollar was weak. Paul Gamble, senior director at Fitch Ratings, said that abolishing the pegs would be a political rather than an economic decision. “The central banks [of these countries] – they do not have the tools and they are not preparing to move for an exchange rate arrangement that is not a peg,” he said. [Reuters, 9/22/2015]

African Development Bank allocates $450 million for Egypt in 2015
The African Development Bank (AfDB) has allocated has so far $450 million to Egypt in 2015, which plans to develop a strategy for cooperation from 2015 to 2019, Egypt’s new Minister of International Cooperation Sahar Nasr announced on Tuesday. Nasr met with a delegation from the AfDB on Monday to discuss the strategy. The ministry stated that since 1974, the AfDB has provided an estimated $1.9 billion to Egypt for more than thirty-five projects in sectors including agriculture, transportation, and irrigation. During the meeting, Nasr and the AfDB agreed to complete financing for the development of the Sharm El Sheikh International Airport, the deal for which was first signed in May. Also on Monday, Nasr confirmed that the ministry is working with various partners to receive needed financing for national development projects. She will participate in annual meetings with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in October. [Cairo Post, 9/22/215]