Top News: Iraqi Forces Edge Towards Ramadi

Iraqi forces retook an area west of Ramadi on Saturday as they pressed their operation aimed at sealing off ISIS by severing their supply lines. “The Iraqi army and the Hashed al-Shaabi [the Popular Mobilization Units] liberated the Anbar traffic police building in the five kilometers area west of Ramadi after a fierce fight,” an army officer said. “The battle forced ISIS to withdraw from the building, which they had used as a base, and pull back into Ramadi city.” In related news, an Iranian officer, Jassem Nouri, was killed near Ramadi while advising Iraqi forces. ISIS suicide bombs have killed at least forty-five Iraqi police officers in an attack in the Tharthar area in Anbar Province. [AFP, 5/31/15]



Hunger-striking prisoner Mohamed Soltan gives up Egyptian citizenship, is deported to US
Egyptian authorities freed an Egyptian-American on Saturday who was sentenced to life in prison and had been on hunger strike for over a year, forcing him to renounce his Egyptian citizenship as a precondition of his release. Egyptian officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said Soltan boarded a flight for Frankfurt, Germany, early Saturday en route to the United States, using a US passport. In a statement, Soltan’s family thanked those who helped work for his release, saying that the US government had made extensive efforts to secure his return home. Halim Hanish, one of Soltan’s lawyer, said his release was per a presidential decree issued last November that allows deportation of foreign defendants and convicts “whenever the [state’s] supreme interest necessitates so.” [Ahram Online, DNE, AP, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, The Guardian, 5/30/2015]

Egypt’s NCHR says 2,600 killed since Morsi’s ouster
At least 2,600 people have been killed in violence in the 18 months after the military overthrew Egypt’s president in 2013, nearly half of them supporters of Mohamed Morsi, the head of a state-sanctioned rights body has said. Mohammed Fayeq, head of the National Council for Human Rights, said on Sunday that the dead included 700 policemen and 1,800 civilians were killed, including 1,250 Muslim Brotherhood members. In addition to the deaths caused by violence, at least eighty detainees died in custody in prisons and police stations in the same period, the report said. It cited health and living conditions and “extreme overcrowdedness” as the reasons for the deaths. Occupancy inside police stations reached 400 percent and 160 percent in prisons, the report stated, citing the Interior Ministry. “It is true that there is nothing to prove that any of them died as a result of torture but there is nothing to prove otherwise,” it read. [Ahram Online, AP, Aswat Masriya, The Guardian, 5/31/2015]

Saudi, Egypt downplay reports of discord over Syria
Egypt and Saudi Arabia sought Sunday to downplay reports of discord among the close allies over Syria during a visit of the Saudi Foreign Minister to Cairo. “There is no disagreement,” he told reporters. “In Syria, we are all seeking to remove Bashar Assad from power after he lost his legitimacy, and we are all seeking to restore peace and stability in Syria. We are seeking to protect the government and military institutions in Syria to be able to deal with the challenges after the Assad regime.” This is Adel al-Jubair’s first visit to Cairo since his appointment as Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister in April. He appeared with his Egyptian counterpart Sameh Shoukry at a joint press conference in Cairo, where much of the focus was on Yemen. Both stressed concordance between Egypt and Saudi Arabia on the situation in Syria and Yemen, saying that there is convergence of views towards dealing with the crises. Diplomatic sources said Jubair would also meet with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for general discussions over regional and bilateral issues. [AP, Ahram Online, DNE, Aswat Masriya, Egypt Independent, 6/1/2015]

Coptic families forcibly displaced after Beni Suef attacks
A village in Beni Suef has witnessed religious conflict over the past week, following the alleged insulting of Islam by a Coptic man on Facebook, allegations denied by the accused. Ayman Youssef Tawfiq, from the village of Kafr al-Darwish in al-Fashn, around 100km south of Cairo, was accused of posting cartoons that are offensive to the Prophet Mohamed online. Youssef is reportedly illiterate. In what followed, Coptic homes in the village were allegedly attacked with rocks and Molotov cocktails, leading to numerous fires in houses and the destruction of a car. After days of conflict, meetings were held in the village, but the outcome was the forcible displacement of Youssef and four of his relatives’ families. Despite the meeting, a further 10 homes were reported by Coptic sources as having been burned in ongoing attacks. Host Youssef al-Husseiny highlighted the story during his program on OnTV Channel Sunday evening, displaying the damage left in the wake of the attacks. [DNE, Egypt Independent, 6/1/2015]

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ISIS suicide bombing in western Libya kills five; Tripoli government and GNC condemn attack
Five people were killed and eight wounded in a suicide bombing claimed by the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) outside the Libyan city of Misrata on Sunday, security officials said. Several cars and nearby shops were damaged by the blast. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack, issuing a statement on Twitter that it had been carried out by a Tunisian. Inspecting the site, the Tripoli Interior Minister described ISIS as “cowardly terrorists,” and the Tripoli government announced it was planning new moves to fight the extremist group. Also on Sunday, ISIS took control of the town of Hawara, east of Sirte, after a week-long siege. Separately, a member of the Tripoli parliament was found dead south of the capital, according to local media. [AP, Libya Herald, Reuters, 5/31/2015]

ISIS advances in Libya, seizes Sirte airport
ISIS has made advances in Libya, most recently seizing the civilian airport of Sirte, halfway between Tripoli and Benghazi. The news came from the spokesman of the 166 Brigade in Misrata, the same that has been trying for months to stem ISIS’s moves toward the western part of the country. The spokesman reported that the brigade was forced to withdraw from the base of al-Qardabiya after aid failed to arrive from Tripoli. ISIS confirmed the report, claiming it has also gained control of some buildings part of the “great artificial river project” promoted by Muammar Qaddafi. [ANSAmed, 5/29/2015]

Rocket attack in Benghazi leaves eight dead; Double IED explosion kills four in Derna
Eight people were killed and eight wounded when a rocket hit a residential district in Benghazi on Friday, according to officials. One army commander blamed Islamist fighters for the strike. In a separate incident, this time near Derna, two soldiers and two civilians were killed in two IED attacks, in which the second device was exploded as soldiers rushed to help the victims of the first. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 5/30/2015]

Tunisia rejects military intervention in Libya; All Tunisians detained in Libya released
Delivering remarks at a UN-organized meeting of Libyan municipal and local council representatives, Tunisian Foreign Minister Taieb Baccouche underscored his country’s commitment not to interfere in Libya’s internal affairs, but to help Libyan parties reach consensus toward a political solution. Baccouche said that military intervention “will only provoke disaster, destruction, and anarchy,” and offered Tunisia’s readiness to share its experience in democratic transition. Tunisia’s foreign ministry announced that all Tunisians detained in Libya since May 16 have now been now released. Meanwhile, the Tunisian consul in Tripoli met with the Deputy President of Libya’s General National Congress to discuss a number of issues, including safeguarding the rights of Tunisians in Libya. [TAP/All Africa, Libya Herald, 5/31/2015]

Tunisian PM says destroying migrant boats will not stem crisis
Speaking to press during his visit to Portugal, Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid said that the European Union’s proposal to destroy boats smugglers use to ferry migrants to the continent from Libya is unlikely to work. Authorities should instead fight the root of the illegal migration problem by helping to raise living standards in the countries from which the migrants originate, said Essid. He also said that the EU’s proposal resembled military intervention and poses risks. [AP, 5/29/2015]


ISIS advances in Syria against both regime and rebel forces
The Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) seized territory from both Syrian government forces and rival rebels over the weekend further expanding the caliphate it has proclaimed straddling Iraq and Syria. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that following gains in both Homs province in the center and Aleppo province in the north, ISIS now controlled half of the country’s land area. Geographer and analyst Fabrice Balanche said that across Iraq and Syria, the jihadi group now controlled nearly 300,000 square kilometers, an area the size of Italy. In Aleppo province – on Syria’s border with Turkey – ISIS has expanded its control at the expense of rival rebel groups. ISIS captured the village of Suran on Sunday taking them to within ten kilometres of the border. In related news, ISIS launched an assault on the largely Kurdish city of Hasaka in northeast Syria on Saturday, the Observatory said. The attack came a day after Kurdish militia executed twenty civilians accused of supporting the extremists. Control of Hasaka, capital city of the province by the same name, is split between President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and Kurdish forces. [Reuters, AFP, 5/31/15]

Iraqi forces edge towards Ramadi
Iraqi forces retook an area west of Ramadi on Saturday as they pressed their operation aimed at sealing off ISIS by severing their supply lines. “The Iraqi army and the Hashed al-Shaabi [the Popular Mobilization Units] liberated the Anbar traffic police building in the five kilometers area west of Ramadi after a fierce fight,” an army officer said. “The battle forced ISIS to withdraw from the building, which they had used as a base, and pull back into Ramadi city.” In related news, an Iranian officer, Jassem Nouri, was killed near Ramadi while advising Iraqi forces. ISIS suicide bombs have killed at least forty-five Iraqi police officers in an attack in the Tharthar area in Anbar Province. [AFP, 5/31/15]

Anti-ISIS strategy to face scrutiny at Paris coalition meeting
The anti-ISIS coalition will meet in Paris Tuesday after a series of shock battlefield gains by the jihadists, with Iraq under pressure to step up its fight by being more inclusive of the Sunni minority. The focus of the meeting will be the crisis in Iraq, where ISIS seized the city of Ramadi two weeks ago in the biggest blow to the US-led coalition since it began bombarding jihadist positions in August. US Secretary of State John Kerry will take part in the talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and other diplomats “remotely” after breaking his leg in a cycling accident, the State Department said. “We are going to discuss Iraq, how to get Daesh [ISIS] to retreat,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said last week. “We engaged militarily but with a political condition: that the government be inclusive, that means bringing everyone together, Shia, Sunnis and Kurds.” [AFP, 5/31/15]

ISIS blows up empty prison complex in Palmyra
ISIS demolished a prison in the Syrian city of Palmyra, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said, eliminating what was for decades one of the country’s most feared detention centers Saturday. The jail was “largely destroyed after IS planted explosives inside and around it”, ten days after the jihadists seized Palmyra from regime forces.The prison was the site of a massacre in 1980 in which hundreds of inmates were killed. It became notorious throughout Syria as a symbol of the brutality of the regime of former president Hafez al-Assad and his son and successor, Bashar. The prison was empty of people at the time of the detonation. [Reuters, AFP, 5/31/15]

President Erdogan vows to punish journalist over Syria truck video
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to punish the editor of a newspaper, which published video footage it, said showed the National Intelligence Organization (MIT) helping send weapons to Syria. The Cumhuriyet newspaper published footage on its website on Friday, which it said showed gendarmerie and police officers opening crates of what it described as weapons and ammunition on the back of three trucks belonging to MIT. “The individual who has reported this as an exclusive story will pay a high price for this,” Erdogan said in a television interview on Sunday. “I will not let this go.” Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also said in an interview on Sunday that the trucks were carrying aid for Turkmens but declined to comment on their content. “It is nobody’s business what was inside the trucks. Yes there were serious clashes in Syria and we helped the Turkmens,” Davutoglu said. [Reuters, AP, AFP, 6/1/15]


Arab air strikes pound Houthi strongholds across Yemen; Houthis strike across Saudi border
Warplanes from a Saudi-led coalition launched air strikes on Monday against Yemen’s Houthi militia positions in the north, center and south of the country, residents said. Saudi planes and artillery bombed the Iran-allied group’s northern stronghold province of Saada, which borders the Kingdom, and air strikes hit suburbs of the southern port of Aden on the Arabian Sea. At least eight civilians were killed and twenty wounded Monday in explosions sparked by Saudi-led air strikes on rebel arms depots in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a, a medical source said. Aided by the airstrikes, forces loyal to President in exile Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi took over key Houthi positions from militants after fierce battles in Yemen’s southern city of Taiz on Saturday. On Saturday, Saudi Arabia’s state news agency has reported that shelling from Yemen has killed border guard Lance Cpl. Ismail Mohammed Ibrahim Sindi and wounded seven others in the Jazan region. [Reuters, AFP, AP, Yemen Post, 6/1/2015]

Thousands of tonnes of Yemen food aid diverted by fighting, say UN officials
A UN World Food Programme (WFP) chartered ship carrying vital food assistance destined for the Yemeni port of Aden was diverted yesterday to the port of Hudaydah following reports of ongoing fighting and security threats. The MV Amsterdam was on its way from Djibouti carrying over 5,700 metric tons of food including wheat, pulses, vegetable oil and micronutrient powder, which is used to protect young children against malnutrition and anaemia, said a statement released from WFP today. “We will continue to try to reach Aden and surrounding areas by sending supplies from Hudaydah by road,” said Tahir Nour, WFP Emergency Coordinator for Yemen. [Reuters, UN News Centre, Al Masdar (Arabic), 6/1/2015]

France says Yemen hostage video is genuine; United States says Americans held
A French woman held hostage in Yemen appeared for the first time in a video that surfaced on Monday, appealing for her release. Isabelle Prime, who works as a consultant with ties to the World Bank, was abducted from Sana’a along with her Yemeni translator in February. The translator was released shortly afterward, but there was no word until now on Prime. In her first video since her disappearance, Prime appeared to be under severe duress. France authenticated and it said it was doing all it could to secure her release. US officials on Friday revealed that Houthi rebels were holding at least five Americans, their location uncertain. [Reuters, AP, AFP, Washington Post, 6/1/2015]

Yemen’s Houthis in talks with US, Iranian officials in Oman, says Yemen government
Senior figures from Yemen’s dominant Houthi group are holding talks with US officials in Oman to advance efforts to resolve the conflict in Yemen, the Riyadh-based Yemeni government said on Sunday. “We have been informed that there are meetings, at American request, and that a private American plane carried the Houthis to Muscat,” Rajeh Badi, a spokesman for Yemen’s government in exile told Reuters by telephone from the Saudi capital Riyadh. The Yemeni government was not party to the talks, Badi said. There was no immediate comment from the Houthis or US officials. If confirmed, the Oman meeting would be the first between the Houthis and the United States since the start of the war. “We hope that these talks are being held in the context of international efforts to implement UN Security Council resolution 2216,” that calls on Houthis to end the violence, Badi said. Officials from the UN envoy’s team were not immediately available to comment. [Reuters, Marib Press (Arabic), 6/1/2015]

Bahrain court jails six police for torture
A Bahraini court on Sunday jailed six police officers for up to five years after convicting them of torturing inmates, one of whom died, a judicial source said. The officers beat up three prisoners in an attempt to force them to admit to smuggling drugs and mobile telephones into jail. Human rights groups have in the past accused police in the Gulf monarchy of routinely torturing Shia detainees held over their role in anti-government protests which rocked the country in 2011. [AFP, 5/31/2015]


Oil halts advance as Saudis pump at record before OPEC meeting
Oil halted a two-day advance as Saudi Arabia maintained record crude output in May before the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) meets this week to discuss its production policy. Oil’s recovery from a six-year low in January is stalling amid speculation a global glut will persist. OPEC is likely maintain its collective output at 30 million barrels per day when it meets on June 5, as the group sticks with its strategy of favoring market share over prices. While OPEC has traditionally slashed production to raise prices when the market was soft, Saudi Arabia, the group’s largest oil producer, is now less concerned about the price of crude oil and more concerned about delivering fuel to its growing economy. [Bloomberg, Reuters, NYT, 5/31/2015]

Libya calls on world to protect oil fields from ISIS
Libya’s internationally recognized government in Tobruk has called for outside help in combating the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), warning that the group’s capture of a key coastal airport endangered nearby oil terminals. The eastern government, in a statement on its official Facebook page, called on the international community to “supply arms to its forces to fight [ISIS] plans to seize oil fields to fund its operations.” ISIS took control of the airport in Sirte after forces from the rival Tripoli-based government withdrew last week. [AFP, 5/30/2015]

World Bank to grant $600 million to Egyptian SMEs
The World Bank announced that it will provide $600 million to fund small and micro-enterprises in Egypt. Sahar Nasr, a lead financial economist in Bank’s Finance and Private Sector Development Department, said the the funds will contribute to projects executed with Egypt’s Social Fund for Development (SFD) and will aim to create jobs and control the unemployment rate among youth. Nasr added that the project will also work to encourage financial institutions to support small and micro-enterprises. Meanwhile, the SFD said its funding for small and micro-enterprises reached about $235 million at the end of May. [DNE, 5/30/2015]

Prices hit all-time record in violence-stricken Yemen
Fuel and supply prices in Yemen soared last month amid ongoing violence and a blockade on the country’s ports, which has affected all imports into the country. The Studies and Economic Media Center (SEMC) said in a report that the price of petrol rose by 700 percent and the price of diesel by around 450 percent as as lack of fuel persists. Meanwhile, the black market has flourished in the face of a power vacuum, leading to product monopoly and price manipulation, the report said. In surveyed conflict cities, the prices of other key supplies, such as food, have increased by around 60 percent. [Yemen Post, 5/30/2015]

Iraq begins heavy oil exports after complaints about quality
Iraq is set to increase oil exports after starting a new grade of crude to quell customer complaints about the quality of its oil. The Basrah Heavy crude will be exported for the first time starting today, shipped from the south on the Persian Gulf, Oil Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said. Orders for this month total 850,000 barrels a day, he added. Iraq previously sold only Basrah Light grade and had to give discounts of as much as $3 a barrel because it was not clear how much of the oil was heavy or light. Selling two grades will allow Iraq to better guarantee the quality of the two blends and get the most value for its exports. [Bloomberg, 6/1/2015]