Top News: Iraq Ministry Says an ISIS Leader Killed

Iraq’s Defense Ministry said Wednesday the second most senior member of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) had been killed in a coalition airstrike on a mosque where he was meeting with other militants in the north of the country. “Based on accurate intelligence, an airstrike by the coalition forces targeted the second in command of ISIS, Abu Alaa al-Afari,” the ministry announced in a statement on its website. Abu Alaa al-Afari, whose real name is Abdul-Rahman Mustafa Mohammad, is an ethnic Turkmen from the town of Tal Afar in northwestern Iraq and is thought to be second in command to self-proclaimed ISIS caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The US military denied that coalition aircraft bombed a mosque. US Central Command said, “We can confirm that coalition aircraft did not strike a mosque as some of the press reporting has alleged.” The Pentagon said it was aware of the reports but could not confirm them. [BBCReutersAPAFPThe Daily StarNY Times, 5/13/2015]



Israel says Egypt buying advanced Russian air defense system
A senior Israeli intelligence official who tracks the regional arms balance said on Wednesday that Egypt was buying Russia’s advanced S-300 air defense system, a deal reported in Russian media but not confirmed by Cairo. Asked about the Israeli remarks, an Egyptian official reached by Reuters did not corroborate them but said that Israel should not feel threatened. “If we are getting such a thing, it’s because we’re looking east, not north,” the official told Reuters, in an apparent reference to Iran, whose nuclear and missile programs worry many in the Arab world, as they do Israel. An Egyptian military spokesman was not immediately available for comment on the Israeli remarks. [Reuters, 5/13/2015

National Security Agency urges action against NGOs
Privately owned Al-Shorouk newspaper published parts of a report by National Security on Wednesday, which urged the presidency, intelligence, and other state institutions to take action against non-governmental organizations recently in contact with Western embassies. The report perceived this communication as “suspicious” attempts by NGOs to conspire and create unrest against the government. The National Security report accuses the Revolutionary Socialists and the April 6 Youth Movement by name — while asserting that other organizations are also involved — of conspiring with foreign agents to spur chaos in Egypt’s streets, “similarly to what happened in 2011.” The report specified the United States, European countries, and Canada as conspiring powers and urged state institutions to instruct the embassies of these nations to stop interfering in Egypt’s affairs. [Mada Masr, 5/13/2015]

Egypt human rights council presents its annual report to interior minister
The head of Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) Mohamed Fayek met earlier Wednesday with Minister of Interior Magdy Abdel-Ghaffar to discuss a number of issues related to human rights and to hand over their annual report, several news websites reported. The council’s annual report covered the period from June 30, 2013 to December 2014. Fayek discussed with Abdel-Ghaffar suggestions sent by the NCHR to the government’s High Legislative Reform Committee regarding the Prisons Law to allow visits and to limit the period of punishment inside jails to one week. The report also called for the amendment of the Protest Law, NGOs law, and anti-torture laws. Mohamed Fayek gave the report to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi on Tuesday. [Ahram Online, DNE, 5/13/2015]

Leading Muslim Brotherhood figure dies in jail
A senior Muslim Brotherhood official died in Egypt on Wednesday after more than a year in detention, the interior ministry said in a statement. Farid Ismail, a former lawmaker and official in the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the Brotherhood’s political arm, died in a Cairo hospital of liver failure, medical and police officials said. The ministry said Ismail’s death had received treatment for liver cirrhosis and Hepatitis C. Ismail’s family and the Muslim Brotherhood accused prison authorities of negligence and of deliberately leaving the health of the deceased leader to deteriorate without proper medical care. “We asked the court multiple times in the past month to move him to an outside hospital because his health was deteriorating,” his lawyer Abdel Moneim Abdel Maqsood told Reuters. “The court agreed but the prison never implemented (the order).” Reuters could not immediately reach a judicial official for comment on the allegations. Ismail was sentenced to seven years on charges of rioting and protesting. [DNE , Reuters, Ahram Online, Mada Masr, AFP, 5/14/2015]

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Libyan House of Representatives calls for national reconciliation, may extend mandate
The House of Representatives (House) says it wants to see a national reconciliation conference take place to enable Libyans from across the country to lay aside current divisions and forge a new unity. The House emphasized that the primary objective of such a conference would be to rebuild stability and promote the principle of peaceful coexistence between all Libyans. People from every town and city, from every tribe, would be invited and there would be no exceptions. The President of the House Ageela Saleh Gwaider said that the House would not leave the country in a constitutional vacuum and that it would make sure to hand over power to an elected parliament before its term ends in October. Official House spokesman Faraj Buhashim has said, however, that the House would vote on a constitutional amendment to extend it mandate, adding that in the present circumstances it would be impossible to hold fresh elections. [Libya Herald, 5/13/2015]

Tobruk government and army vow to strike unauthorized boats
The Tobruk-based government and its allied force, the Libyan National Army have reiterated a warning not to infringe upon state sovereignty, saying that boats without authorization must not enter Libyan territorial waters. Government forces will strike any vessel that does not follow this guideline, just as the Turkish ship was attacked several days ago. The government went on to say that what happened to the Turkish ship is the consequence of its entering Libyan territorial waters by force. [ANSAmed, 5/13/2015]

Misrata demonstrators back municipal council
Demonstrators turned out in significant numbers in Misrata to support the municipal council in its opposition to moves by the continuing General National Congress to impose an Elders’ Council on the city. At a meeting in Sabratha last month, councils described the law as undemocratic and called for it to be repealed. Protesters claimed that the formation of any parallel body to their elected council was an attempt to suppress their rights and take authority away from the council. The numbers that turned out Wednesday in favor of the municipal council were far larger than the fifty or so who took part in what was effectively an anti-municipal council demonstration on Sunday, which was reportedly organized by the Muslim Brotherhood. [Libya Herald, 5/13/2015]

Heavy fighting continues in Benghazi
Heavy fighting rages on in Benghazi as the Tobruk-allied Libyan National Army (LNA) continued to hit Ansar al-Sharia positions both in Sabri and southwest of the city, in the Garyounis area and at Mreisa. Ansar al-Sharia snipers have been active, killing one LNA soldier and sending four others to the hospital. In a separate development, the Islamic State has claimed that it was responsible for mortar attacks of the type that killed three Benghazi children earlier this week. [Libya Herald, 5/13/2015]

Tunisia announces new measures to rein in extremist preachers
Tunisian government officials have announced the launch of new measures designed to stop extremist preachers spreading hate in the country’s mosques. Minister of Religious Affairs Battikh Othman is spearheading the plans, which will see the creation of a specialized register designed to monitor who is at the helm of the country’s prayer houses. Meanwhile, a recent poll conducted found that only 33 percent of respondents in Tunisia support the right to freedom of belief. The study spells bad news for minority religions hoping to practice openly in the post-revolution state. [Tunisia Live, 5/13/2015]


Iraq ministry says an ISIS leader killed
Iraq’s Defense Ministry said Wednesday the second most senior member of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) had been killed in a coalition airstrike on a mosque where he was meeting with other militants in the north of the country. “Based on accurate intelligence, an airstrike by the coalition forces targeted the second in command of ISIS, Abu Alaa al-Afari,” the ministry announced in a statement on its website. Abu Alaa al-Afari, whose real name is Abdul-Rahman Mustafa Mohammad, is an ethnic Turkmen from the town of Tal Afar in northwestern Iraq and is thought to be second in command to self-proclaimed ISIS caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The US military denied that coalition aircraft bombed a mosque. US Central Command said, “We can confirm that coalition aircraft did not strike a mosque as some of the press reporting has alleged.” The Pentagon said it was aware of the reports but could not confirm them. [BBC, Reuters, AP, AFP, The Daily Star, NY Times, 5/13/2015]

Syrian security chief appears with Assad after arrest claim
Syria’s security services chief Ali Mamlouk attended a meeting between President Bashar al-Assad and an Iranian official Wednesday, after the Telegraph reported he was under house arrest for plotting a coup. SANA, the Syrian state news agency, showed Mamlouk sitting on the president’s left in a meeting with Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the Iranian parliament’s national security committee and the Iranian ambassador. The setting is significant because it had been suggested that Mamlouk was unhappy with Tehran’s growing influence in Damascus.[The Guardian, AFP, 5/13/2015]

Hezbollah, Syrian army make big gains in border battle
Hezbollah and pro-regime forces made big advances against insurgents in mountains north of Damascus on Wednesday, according to SANA. The gains in the Qalamoun region close to Lebanon against groups including the Nusra Front follow significant defeats for Assad elsewhere, notably in Syria’s Idlib province. Hezbollah fighters and the army seized Talat Moussa, the highest peak in the area targeted in the offensive.[Reuters, 5/14/2015]

Syrian opposition armed groups reject UN invitation
Syrian armed groups opposed to President Bashar al-Assad have rejected an invitation to UN consultations in Geneva. In a letter from thirty armed opposition groups to the UN Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura, they accuse him of abandoning his neutrality and “standing on the side of one party without the other… Your positions and your statements, especially your statement that Bashar al-Assad is part of the solution in Syria, have shown and given us a clear impression of your indifference towards the massacres that the regime is committing.” De Mistura’s low-key process, which involves him talking separately to scores of interested parties, follows failed attempts by his predecessors to stop the fighting. He was hoping to involve the armed groups directly for the first time. De Mistura’s spokeswoman Jessy Chahine said he had taken note of the letter. “The consultations continue as usual, and we remain in contact with all relevant parties, including the armed factions, who play an important role in the current Syrian conflict,” she said. [Reuters, 5/14/2015]

ISIS threaten Syria’s ancient Palmyra
ISIS militants battled Syrian troops near ancient Palmyra Thursday, threatening the UNESCO world heritage site with destruction like that which it has already wreaked in Iraq. After an advance across the desert, they overran government forces in ferocious fighting in which 110 combatants were killed. The jihadists were within a mile of the ruins, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. “Palmyra is under threat… ISIS has taken all the army posts between al-Sukhna and Palmyra,” said Observatory director Rami Abdel Rahman. On Wednesday, UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova launched a dramatic appeal, saying that the destruction and looting of archaeological sites in the Middle East should be condemned as a war crime. [AFP, 5/14/2015]


Aid starts to flow as truce holds in Yemen
Relief agencies on Thursday used a five-day humanitarian truce in Yemen to expand aid distribution to some of the millions deprived of food, fuel and medicine by weeks of fighting and air strikes. Aid flights have started from the United Arab Emirates to the capital Sana’a, which is under Houthi control and has faced air strikes but no ground fighting. The United Nations said aid ships had docked at ports of Hodeida and Aden. Planes from the International Committee of the Red Cross and Medecins sans Frontieres have landed in Sana’a. Late on Wednesday, twenty-four hours after the ceasefire began, Saudi Arabia said the Houthis had fired on the Saudi border and continued to fight inside Yemen, but that it would not resume air strikes yet. On Thursday, residents said Houthis were still pushing towards al-Bureiqa, where Aden’s oil refineries are located. Residents also said that Houthi snipers in Aden had killed two people and seven Houthis had died in the city of al-Dhalea. Saudi Arabia’s fighter jets attacked a Houthi convoy in Abyan after the ceasefire began. [Reuters, Washington Post, 5/14/2015]

Iran warns Saudi, US against hindering Yemen aid ship
A senior Iranian military official has warned the Saudi-led coalition targeting Yemeni rebels that blocking an Iranian aid ship bound for Yemen will “spark a fire,” as a five-day humanitarian cease-fire appeared to hold early Wednesday after going into effect the day before. Iran says the ship, which departed Monday, is carrying food, medicine, tents and blankets, as well as reporters, rescue workers and peace activists. It says the ship is expected to arrive at Yemen’s port city of Hodeida next week. Iran’s navy said Tuesday that it would protect the ship. Saudi Brigadier General Ahmed Asiri, a military spokesman, said Tuesday that no ship would be permitted to reach Yemen unless there was prior coordination with the coalition and that if Iran wants to deliver humanitarian aid it should do so through the United Nations. [AP, 5/13/2015]

New UN Envoy begins mission in Yemen
The new UN envoy to Yemen, Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed, said that his visit to Yemen comes in support for the humanitarian team efforts that aim to ease the suffering of Yemeni people caught in the conflict. Ahmed arrived in Sana’a on Tuesday few hours before the five day proposed ceasefire began. Ahmed will be working on trying to reach a permanent ceasefire agreement in order to provide the right climate for reviving the political process in the interest of the Yemeni people. The UN envoy made it clear that dialogue is the only way to solve the Yemeni conflict. [Yemen Times, 5/13/2015]

Absent from Obama summit, Bahrain king to visit UK horse show
Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Issa Al Khalifa has skipped a Gulf Arab summit with President Barack Obama, and will instead join Britain’s Queen Elizabeth at a horse show and also discuss bilateral relations with her. A Bahraini royal court statement said the king would leave for Britain on Thursday at the invitation of Queen Elizabeth to attend “the joint yearly celebration at Windsor” — an apparent reference to the Royal Windsor Horse Show. Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed Al Khalifa told the country’s official news agency the monarch’s absence from the Camp David summit was “due to a longstanding prior engagement of His Majesty the King in the United Kingdom.” [Reuters, 5/13/2015]


Yemen war could strangle strategic sea trade routes
With Saudi Arabia and Iran squaring up on opposing sides in the Yemen war, the dangers to vital oil tanker and goods voyages are growing. Millions of barrels of oil pass through the Bab al-Mandab and Strait of Hormuz every day to Europe, the United States, and Asia, waterways that pass along the coasts of Yemen and Iran, respectively. Saudi-led forces have imposed inspections on all ships entering Yemen in an attempt to prevent weapons being smuggled to the Iran-allied Houthis. Insurance costs for shippers are likely to jump and the likelihood of a sharp rise in the premiums on voyages could be as much a deterrent to trade as the conflict itself. [Reuters, 5/13/2015]

Saudi claims oil price strategy success
Saudi Arabia says its strategy of squeezing high-cost rivals such as US shale producers is succeeding, as the world’s largest crude exporter seeks to reassert itself as the dominant force in the global oil market. The kingdom’s production rose to a record high of 10.3 million barrels a day in April and there is no sign that it plans to reverse its policy at next month’s meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). The International Energy Agency released data on Wednesday backing up the Saudi position; however, the agency also cautioned that it would be “premature” to suggest that OPEC had “won the battle for market share.” [Financial Times, 5/13/2015]

Egypt targets 5 percent growth in 2015/2016 fiscal year
Egypt is targeting 5 to 6 percent average growth in gross domestic product in the next fiscal year 2015/2016, up from an expected 4 percent for the current year, Planning Minister Ashraf al-Araby said. The government is targeting 6 percent growth by fiscal year 2018/2019. Araby said the government’s policy of subsidy cuts would continue but he did not give a breakdown of the intended cuts. Egypt will begin rolling out a smart card system for subsidized fuel starting on June 15 as part of plans to reduce costly energy subsidies over time. Al-Araby said the government would not raise fuel prices immediately once the smart card system comes into force. [Reuters, Ahram Online, 5/13/2015]

Eni’s oil output in Libya rises above pre-war levels
Italy’s oil and gas company Eni is producing around 300,000 barrels per day (bpd) of oil in Libya, raising output higher than the 280,000 bpd that Eni produced before Muammar Qaddafi was ousted in 2011. Eni, Libya’s biggest oil producer, is one of the few foreign companies still operating in the country. Meanwhile, the ports at Zueitina and Hariqa remain the main outlets for oil exports. So far, all the crude oil leaving Zueitina is from storage as protesters demanding jobs currently block fresh supplies. [Bloomberg, Libya Monitor (subscription), 5/13/2015]