Top News: ISIS Blows Up Ancient Temple At Palmyra

The Islamic State (ISIL or ISIL) set off explosions at a temple in the ancient ruins of Palmyra in Syria on Sunday, continuing a pattern of destruction that they have visited upon historical sites across the territory they control there and in Iraq. A monitoring group said the ISIS fighters detonated “a large quantity of explosives” that they had arranged around the Temple of Baalshamin, one of the most grand and well-preserved structures in the sprawling complex of ruins. A government official told reporters that it was heavily damaged by the blast. [NYTAFPBBC, 8/23/2015]



Sharqiya policemen end two-day sit-in; Interior ministry accuses Brotherhood of instigation
Lower-ranking Sharqiya policemen demanding financial and occupational benefits ended their two-day sit-in after holding negotiations with interior ministry officials, Egypt’s state news agency reported on Monday. Dozens of low-ranking policemen in the Nile Delta governorate of Sharqiya had been protesting at the provincial security directorate in the town of Zagazig since Saturday, pledging to continue with an open-ended sit-in until their demands were met. They include better financial and working conditions, improved health insurance, scheduled promotions, and the payment of delayed bonuses. State news reported that police personnel ended their protest late Sunday after “successful negotiations” with interior ministry officials. A provincial security official said that an agreement had been reached with the protesters to “leave and call off the sit-in and present their demands to the interior minister for a decision by September 5.” However, Yasser Farouk, Media Director at the Security Directorate, denied minutes earlier that the sit-in had ended. The strike escalated Sunday when dozens of police officers attempted to storm the security directorate after the arrival of anti-riot troops from the Central Security Forces (CSF). Following arguments between the protesters and the forces securing the building, riot police attempted to disperse the protesters, who occupied the front of the building. Tear gas was fired as protesters threw stones and fired warning shots in the air. The attempted dispersal reportedly resulted in dozens of injuries. Before the sit-in disbanded, solidarity statements from policemen’s association across the country were issued. Ministry of Interior Spokesperson Abu Bakr Abdel-Karim said, “Instigators and participants will be handled based on the law,” and accused “Muslim Brotherhood elements” of fueling the strike. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, 8/24/2015]

Egypt arrests three under new terrorism law
Egyptian police have arrested three individuals under a new anti-terrorism law who are accused of spreading Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) propaganda through Facebook. A security campaign targeted the houses of a veterinary physician and two students in a center in Sohag, according to a statement from the Sohag security directorate. The prosecution ordered their detention for fifteen days pending investigation. Authorities found a laptop with videos released by ISIS fighters in Syria and Iraq in possession of the three detainees, the statement read. They are accused of embracing the jihadist ideology and attempting to spread it among citizens and through Facebook. [Ahram Online, DNE, AP, Aswat Masriya, 8/24/2015]

Court sentences Brotherhood leaders Badie, Hegazi, and Beltagi to life in prison
The Port Said Criminal Court sentenced Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie and eighteen others to life imprisonment for storming the Arab Police Station in Port Said, the state-owned Al-Ahram reported on Saturday. Badie was put on trial alongside 190 others before a Port Said court. They are accused of encouraging violence and murder in the port city in August 2013. The court acquitted sixty-eight defendants and sentenced twenty-eight to ten years in a maximum security prison. The remaining seventy-six, tried in absentia, were sentenced to life. According to investigation, Badie and other Brotherhood figures encouraged group members to storm a police station, “murder the policemen inside,” steal weapons, and smuggle detainees out. Official charges leveled against the defendants in this trial include murder and attempted murder. Badie, the Brotherhood’s highest figure, has faced numerous trials and has accumulated two death sentences and five life sentences in separate cases, still subject to appeal. [Ahram Online, DNE, Reuters, Aswat Masriya,Mada Masr, 8/24/2015]  

Ten-year prison term for one, five acquitted in a Port Said Stadium massacre retrial
Port Said Criminal Court sentenced Sunday one defendant to ten years in prison and acquitted five others in the retrial of seven defendants in the 2012 Port Said Stadium massacre case. Seventy-three defendants, including nine police officers, were charged in the killing of seventy-four Ahly Football Club fans during a game in Port Said city in February 2012 between Ahly and Masry. The court upheld a death sentence for another defendant after he failed to show up in court. The retrial was ordered after seven defendants sentenced in absentia to death turned themselves in. In June, Port Said’s criminal court ruled on the case, sentencing eleven to death, acquitting twenty-one and handing the remaining defendants prison terms varying from fifteen to five years. [Ahram Online, DNE, Aswat Masriya, 8/24/2015]

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Militants attack Tunisian customs officers near Algerian border, one killed
Late Sunday, Islamist militant gunmen opened fire on a Tunisian customs team near the Algerian border, killing one customs agent and wounding three more. The attack on a customs vehicle was in a remote mountain area in Kasserine, where Islamist militants from the al-Qaeda linked Okba Ibn Nafaa group often attack police, army, and local officials. The government said in July it had mostly wiped out the Okba Ibn Nafaa group in a crackdown that followed two attacks earlier this year. Authorities blame Okba Ibn Nafaa for the Bardo museum attack on March 18. [Reuters Africa, AFP, 8/24/2015]

Libya’s Haftar signs military MOU with Jordan
According to a memorandum of understanding signed in Amman by General Khalifa Haftar, the Commander of the Armed Forces of Libya’s internationally recognized government, and Lieutenant General Mashal Mohamed al-Zaben, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Jordanian Armed Forces, Jordan has agreed to train the Libyan Armed Forces. The agreement follows the decision by the Arab League last week to allow Arab states to provide military support to Libya in the fight against terrorism. Haftar arrived in Jordan on Friday to discuss ways of implementing the decision. Jordan, along with Egypt and the UAE, had strongly backed Libya’s appeal. Following the Jordan visit, Haftar will reportedly head to Cairo for talks with Egyptian military leaders. [Libya Herald, 8/23/2015]

One-day record for 4,400 migrants rescued at sea near Libya
The Italian coast guard says it coordinated the rescue of some 4,400 migrants in a single day, a record-setting number, prompted by requests for help received from nearly two dozen boats in one of the biggest multinational operations so far. Italian coast guard, navy, and border police boats pitched in, as did Norwegian and Irish naval vessels deployed in a European patrol-and-rescue force. The Mediterranean has become the world’s most deadly crossing point for migrants. More than 2,300 people have died this year in attempts to reach Europe by boat. Separately on Sunday, Tunisia’s coast guard rescued 124 would-be migrants bound for Italy from a boat adrift at sea near Libya, said the International Committee of the Red Cross. [AP, Reuters, AFP, 8/23/2015]

Tunisian President Essebsi committed to consensus on national reconciliation bill
Tunisian president Beji Caid Essebsi is committed to reaching a broader consensus about fundamental reforms and the economic reconciliation bill, Secretary General of Afek Tounes party Faouzi Abderrahman said on Friday. The bill in question is hotly contested. On Saturday, a representative of the president said that the draft law on economic and financial reconciliation would consolidate the system of transitional justice, boost investment, and revitalize the national economy. However, President of the Tunisian Observatory for the Independence of the Judiciary Ahmed Rahmouni said this draft law means a “legal immunization of the former regime” and may compromise the process of transitional justice. The parliament will begin reviewing the bill on Wednesday. [All Africa/TAP, 8/22/2015]


ISIS blows up ancient temple at Palmyra
The Islamic State (ISIL or ISIL) set off explosions at a temple in the ancient ruins of Palmyra in Syria on Sunday, continuing a pattern of destruction that they have visited upon historical sites across the territory they control there and in Iraq. A monitoring group said the ISIS fighters detonated “a large quantity of explosives” that they had arranged around the Temple of Baalshamin, one of the most grand and well-preserved structures in the sprawling complex of ruins. A government official told reporters that it was heavily damaged by the blast. [NYT, AFP, BBC, 8/23/2015]

Number 2 ISIS leader killed in US military air strike
The Number 2 leader of ISIS was killed in a US military airstrike in Iraq earlier this week, the White House said Friday. The spokesman said Fadhil Ahmad al-Hayali was traveling in a vehicle near Mosul in northern Iraq when he was killed on August 18. As the senior deputy to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, al-Hayali coordinated moving large amounts of weapons, explosives, vehicles, and people between Iraq and Syria. Turkey and the United States said it would soon launch “comprehensive” air operations to eliminate fighters from a zone in northern Syria. They plan to provide air cover for moderate Syrian rebels as part of the operations. On Friday, civilians in Marea, in northern Aleppo province, were treated with injuries suggesting that ISIS used mustard gas. [AP, 8/21/2015]

Syrian regime air strikes kill 34 near Damascus; Rebel shelling near Damascus kills ten
The toll from heavy government bombardment of a rebel stronghold outside the Syrian capital rose on Sunday to thirty-four civilians, including twelve children and eight women, a monitoring group said. Regime forces targeted the rebel-held town of Douma with shelling and air raids on Saturday. Some strikes killed entire families inside their homes. Also on Sunday, rebels shelled the Adra prison near Damascus and residential neighborhoods killing at least ten and wounding forty more people. [AFP, 8/23/2015]

Iraq says twenty-three soldiers killed in Anbar province
At least twenty-three Iraqi soldiers and ISIS militants in the Anbar province west of Baghdad killed government-allied militiamen Sunday in an attack—the second heavy death toll suffered by the Iraqi military and its allies in recent days. Officials said Sunday’s attack took place in the rural district of Jaramshah, north of Anbar’s provincial capital, Ramadi. They said the ISIS fighters used suicide bombings and mortar shells and that Chief of Army Operations in Anbar Maj. Gen. Qassim al-Dulaimi was lightly wounded in the attack. News of Sunday’s attack came two days after ISIS killed up to fifty soldiers in two ambushes elsewhere in Anbar province, much of which is under ISIS control, including Ramadi and Fallujah. [AP, Al-Jazeera, 8/24/2015]

President Erdogan set to call snap polls for November 1
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was expected to call snap polls Monday likely to be held on November 1 after efforts to form a coalition government failed. Erdogan is due to meet with Parliament Speaker Ismet Yilmaz this afternoon, a day after the deadline for forming a new government expired. After the President calls a re-run of elections, he is expected to give a mandate to Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to form an interim “election government” to take the country to the November polls. Turkey’s government is also seeking to extend for one more year a parliamentary mandate that allows the military to combat Islamist jihadists and Kurdish militants in neighboring Syria and Iraq, a foreign ministry official said on Friday. [AFP, 8/24/2015]


British hostage freed as al-Qaeda gains territory in Aden
Al-Qaeda militants took control of a western district of Yemen’s main port city of Aden Saturday night, residents said, in another sign that the group is drawing strength from five months of civil war. “Dozens of al-Qaeda militants were patrolling the streets with their weapons in total freedom in a number of areas in Tawahi,” a resident said. Yemen’s Deputy Interior Minister Brigadier General Ali Nasser Lakhsha played down the threat posed by the gunmen in the Aden neighborhoods. “What’s happening there relates to a bunch of lawless gunmen who do not constitute any danger to the city of Aden. Their behavior shows they don’t belong to al-Qaeda and that they are trying to achieve narrow, self-interested goals,” he said, without elaborating. The territorial gains came as Douglas Robert Semple, a British engineer, was freed by a special Emirati military force from his al-Qaeda captors. Semple was captured in Hadramawt in February 2014. The UAE said it had succeeded in freeing Semple during a military intelligence operation, transporting him to a safe location in Aden before flying him out on Saturday night to Abu Dhabi, where the British ambassador received him. [Reuters, 8/23/2015]

Heavy clashes continue in Taiz, resulting in civilian casualties
Rockets fired by Houthi militiamen killed fourteen civilians, most of them children, as fighting intensified for control of Yemen’s third largest city, Taiz, residents said on Monday. The Houthi attacks come after heavy air raids by the Saudi-led campaign in Taiz on Thursday, which resulted in over sixty casualties. International aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) on Friday made a dramatic appeal to Yemen’s warring factions to halt attacks on civilians, saying that it was unable to reach the hospitals in Taiz. “We call on the warring parties to stop attacking civilian targets, especially hospitals, ambulances and densely populated neighborhoods and allow medical personnel and humanitarian organizations to provide assistance,” the aid group said in a statement. [Reuters, 8/24/2015]

Exiled President Hadi calls for ceasefire and complete Houthi withdrawal in Yemen
Yemen’s President-in-exile Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi is proposing a fifteen day ceasefire that would coincide with the withdrawal of Houthi militias from all government institutions, military installations, and all cities and provinces. President Hadi’s proposal, obtained Friday, was given to the UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed before his departure to Oman for discussions with Houthi representatives. The proposal calls for the Houthis and allied troops loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh to implement immediately a UN Security Council resolution, which demands an end to violence and a swift return to UN-led peace talks. The proposed ceasefire would last for fifteen days and could be extended “in conjunction with the withdrawal of the Houthi-Saleh militias from military and civil institutions of the state, all cities and provinces.” [AP, 8/21/2015]

British Embassy reopens in Tehran
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond reopened his country’s embassy in Tehran on Sunday in a long-awaited step signaling better relations four years after a mob stormed the compound, forcing its closure. Hammond’s trip comes five weeks after Britain and five other world powers struck a deal with Iran to end a thirteen-year dispute over the Islamic republic’s disputed nuclear program. He entered the embassy at noon and held a ceremony shortly afterwards in its garden with Ajay Sharma, the new Charge D’affaires who will be Britain’s top diplomat in Tehran. Iran’s embassy in London will also reopen on Sunday. The two countries are expected to appoint ambassadors in the coming months. Hammond follows his Italian, French and German counterparts who traveled to Iran with business delegations after the nuclear deal. Europe is keen on renewing trade ties with Iran and most countries have diplomatic representation in Tehran. [AFP, 8/23/2015]

Activist Ibrahim Sharif denies accusations in Bahrain case
Prominent Sunni opposition leader in Bahrain Ibrahim Sharif pleaded not guilty Monday at the opening of his new trial for “promoting political change through forceful means,” judicial sources in Manama said. Addressing the Higher Criminal Court, Ibrahim Sharif said the charges against him were based on “assumptions” and not facts. Sharif, who headed the secular Waed Party, was freed on June 19 after spending four years in jail over his involvement in 2011 Shia-led anti-government protests. He was rearrested three weeks later for promoting “violent disorder” in a “direct attempt to undermine stability in the kingdom and overthrow the regime,” in addition to other charges. The next hearing will take place on October 12. Also on Monday, the main Shia opposition bloc Al-Wefaq, slammed accusations by authorities that its member, former lawmaker Sheikh Isa Hasan, is “financing terrorism.” Bahraini authorities said in a statement that the ex-MP was arrested on August 18 after returning from Iran, which the kingdom accuses of fueling unrest on its soil. [AFP, 8/24/2015]


Fitch revises Saudi Arabia’s outlook to negative from stable
Fitch Ratings revised its outlook on Saudi Arabia to “negative” from “stable,” citing lower oil prices and increased spending tied to the accession of King Salman. While the ratings agency affirmed its AA rating for the Kingdom, it forecast a general government deficit of 14.4 percent of gross domestic product in 2015. Fitch added that deficits in the mid-single digits are forecast for 2016 and 2017, but could remain in the double digits if there is no fiscal consolidation. “We expect deficit financing to erode Saudi Arabia’s substantial buffers, a key support for its rating. Drawing down government deposits at the central bank has accounted for virtually all deficit financing so far in 2015,” the ratings agency said. Fitch said cutbacks in public spending will “test the resilience” of the private sector, as oil production is expected to remain flat. [CPI Financial, The National, Reuters, 8/22/2015]

Egypt stock market falls to lowest level in almost two years
Egypt’s stock market fell to its lowest level in almost two years on Sunday. The 5.43 percent drop came after a steady fall last week amid an overall global slowdown. “It’s a global sell-off; there’s lack of foreign investments, given the macroeconomic headwinds,” said Amr Elalfy, Global Head of Research at Mubasher Financial Services. He added, despite the optimism following Egypt’s economic development conference in March, “People are realizing now that most of them have not yet materialized and that these reforms take time.” He also cited the delay in the formation of the parliament as contributing to doubt surrounding Egypt’s monetary policies and to what foreign investors see as an overvaluation of Egypt’s currency. [AP, 8/23/2015]

Algeria posts Jan-July trade deficit over $8 billion
Algeria posted a trade deficit of $8.041 billion for the first seven months of 2015, reversing a $3.9 billion surplus a year earlier, due to a sharp fall in energy earnings. Oil and gas exports, which accounted for 94 percent of Algeria’s total exports, fell about 42 percent n in the first seven months of 2015, official data showed. The value of overall exports during the period fell about 40 percent year-on-year, while imports declined 10.31 percent. Algeria has implemented several measures that seek to counter the global oil price drop, including restricting imports. [Reuters, 8/23/2015]

Eastern Libyan oil firm looks to discuss contracts with oil majors
The National Oil Corporation (NOC) set up by Libya’s internationally recognized government in Tobruk has invited foreign companies to meet its management in Dubai next month to discuss existing oil purchase contracts. The move is a fresh attempt by the Tobruk government to convince oil buyers to deal with its NOC in the east, as buyers have been going through the NOC in Tripoli in the west. The conference will take place three months after NOC Tripoli held a similar event in London to demonstrate its control of Libya’s oil reserves and to reassure customers that the country’s political conflict would not affect the state oil firm. Meanwhile, Libya’s state electricity firm is seeking assistance from Turkish firms to carry out badly needed maintenance work at Libyan power plants. A delegation from Tripoli recently visited Turkey to discuss security measures with Turkish companies in an effort to persuade them to return to Libya. [Reuters, Libya Monitor (subscription), 8/23/2015]