Top News: ISIS Claim Suicide Bombing in Sana’a Mosque

Yemen’s branch of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) claimed responsibility on Thursday for a suicide bomb attack on a mosque in Yemen’s capital Sana’a that killed at least twenty-nine people and wounded at least thirty-six. Two explosions struck the Balili mosque during prayers for the Eid al-Adha holiday. One suicide bomber reportedly detonated explosives inside the mosque and as people fled a second bomber set off explosives at the mosque entrance. The attack comes two days after Yemen’s President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi returned to the southern city of Aden from exile in Saudi Arabia. [Al ArabiyaBBCCNNAl Masdar (Arabic), 9/24/2015]



No politics, no campaigning in Eid sermons, warns Endowments Ministry
The Endowments Ministry warned preachers against campaigning for the upcoming elections in their Eid Al-Adha sermons, as aspiring parliamentary candidates gear up for the first round of voting at the end of October. In a statement published on its official website on Wednesday, the ministry said it would immediately “file reports against all those who violate this rule, with no exception, and will also inform the High Elections Committee of all violations.” Endowments Minister Mokhtar Gomaa also warned against using streets and alleyways as informal prayer sites over the holidays. The faithful can only pray at ministry-sanctioned sites, he said. A member of the Salafi Call told privately owned newspaper Al-Shoroukthat the ministry sent them instructions to refrain from addressing politics during the Eid sermons. Instead, they were asked to focus on tolerance and morality, and warn the congregation against extremism and militancy, he said. [Mada Masr, 9/23/2015]

Early campaigning for parliament, minor clashes mark Eid celebrations
Egyptians celebrated on Thursday the beginning of Eid al-Adha holidays, marking the end of the pilgrimage season for Muslims. Minor clashes occurred between security forces and alleged supporters of Islamist groups took place after Eid prayers in Alexandria, where twenty-seven were arrested for launching fireworks after prayers. Early campaigning for parliamentary elections was also noted across the country, with some candidates exploiting the mass gathering of people for prayers to distribute flyers bearing their information. In the Upper Egyptian province of Minya, for example, some parliamentary hopefuls distributed meat and school supplies, as the academic year begins right after the Eid break. They also plastered their campaign material in public parks and prayer areas. [Aswat Masriya, 9/24/2015]

New Immigration Minister has reservations on IOM
Egypt’s newly appointed Minister of Immigration and Egyptian Expatriates Affairs Nabila Makram said she has reservations on dealing with the International Organization for Migration (IOM), adding that the international body has to work within the framework of Egyptian laws. “We have some reservations concerning the IOM,” the minister said. “That said, we will coordinate that matter with the Foreign Affairs Ministry, and the IOM is required to operate based on Egyptian laws.” Egypt has been an IOM member state since 1990. When asked how illegal immigration could be curbed, Makram replied. “We have to exert more effort in the field of promoting awareness among people that the countries they are heading to are not goldmines.” The Minister said she supports asking countries targeted by illegal immigrants to legalize entry and residency. “That would form a burden on those governments, but, we would love to demand it,” said Makram. She also lauded the presidency’s decision to add a separate ministry for expatriates’ affairs, although she commented that the measure “came too late.” Makram said the ministry will act as the main point of communication between the government and expatriates and will work to “eliminate any hurdles” Egyptians face abroad, most notably passport renewals. [AMAY, DNE, 9/24/2015]

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Benghazi hospitals deny EU claims of civilian airstrike casualties
Benghazi hospitals say they have received no civilian casualties resulting from the latest military operation launched on Saturday by Khalifa Hafter against Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) forces and other militants in the city. In a joint statement on Sunday, ambassadors and representatives at the negotiations in Skhirat from the EU, France, Germany, Italy, Morocco, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States condemned “air strikes against the civilian population in Benghazi.” The statement has drawn widespread criticism from Libyans who accuse UN Special Envoy Bernardino Leon and the ambassadors of bias towards the Islamists. There was no condemnation of ISIS or Ansar al-Sharia activities in Benghazi in a similar statement by Leon, although he has since spoke against them. [Libya Herald, 9/23/2015]

Misrata frees Qaddafi soldiers
At least forty-five Qaddafi regime soldiers held in Misrata were freed on Wednesday. All were regular army soldiers who fought against the revolution, not mercenaries. Some had been held for as long as four years; other were said to have been captured more recently. All were being held at the military police station in the city’s Seket district. Their release was ordered by Colonel Sharif Arhuma, the military police chief for the central area (from Sirte to Khoms). The soldiers’ freedom, coinciding with Eid, is said to be another sign of Misrata’s efforts at reconciliation with its former opponents. [Libya Herald, 9/23/2015]

Essebsi names wage increases, reconciliation law as the initiatives to address economy
The agreement between the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) and the government on wage increases will aid social peace, productivity, and employment, President Beji Caid Essebsi said on Tuesday. It is the second initiative aimed to bring the country out of its economic crisis, Essebsi pointed out in a television interview. The first, he said, is the draft law on economic reconciliation. He affirmed that the law is fully constitutional and will not be withdrawn. In the same interview, Essebsi emphasized the importance of guaranteeing the freedom of protest and expression. Nevertheless, he claimed that the protest movements against the draft law on economic reconciliation had presented a real security risk. [All Africa/TAP, 9/23/2015]


Assad makes rare public appearance for Eid prayers
Syrian President Bashar Assad attended Eid prayers at a Damascus mosque on Thursday, state media reported, in a rare public appearance for the leader. “President Assad led Eid al-Adha prayers at the Adel mosque in Damascus, with senior officials from the (ruling Baath) party, the state, and a number of Muslim religious leaders and civilians,” Syria’s official news agency reported. In a photograph published on his official Twitter account, Assad appears standing in prayer, flanked by Prime Minister Wael Halaqi and Grand Mufti Ahmed Badreddin Hassoun. On Wednesday, Assad issued two decrees increasing monthly wages for public sector employees in Syria, in an apparent gesture on the eve of the Muslim holiday. [Reuters, AFP, 9/24/2015]

Merkel says Assad must be involved in Syria talks
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Thursday that President Bashar al-Assad should be involved in any Syrian peace talks. “We have to speak with many actors, this includes Assad, but others as well,” Merkel told a press conference after an EU summit. “Not only with the United States of America, Russia, but with important regional partners, Iran, and Sunni countries such as Saudi Arabia,” Merkel added. The comments by the leader come amid increasing signs that Western powers who were once insistent on Assad’s departure may be softening their positions in a bid to end the war. US Secretary of State John Kerry also said that Assad must step down, but not necessarily immediately. British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has made similar comments. [AFP, 9/24/2015]

Erdogan says Assad may take part in Syria transition
Turkey has been a harsh critic of a political resolution to the Syrian conflict with President Bashar al-Assad at the table. Having staunchly supported regime change in Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan came out on Thursday morning saying, “A transition process without al-Assad, or with al-Assad, is possible.” Erdogan maintained that “nobody can see Syria’s future with al-Assad,” but he committed Turkey to cooperating in the UN General Assembly discussions with the United States, Russia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Turkey’s shift in tone towards the role of President Assad echoes recent shifts from the United States and European countries.  [Hurriyet, 09/24/2015]

Putin plans air strikes in Syria if no US deal is reached
Russian President Vladimir Putin is preparing for unilateral air strikes against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in Syria if the United States rejects his proposal to join forces. Putin’s preferred course of action, though, is for the United States and its allies to agree to coordinate their campaign against the terrorist group with Russia, Iran, and the Syrian army, which the Obama administration has so far resisted. The initiative will be the centerpiece of Putin’s one-day trip to New York for the UN General Assembly on September 28, which may include talks with President Barack Obama. [Bloomberg, Reuters, 9/24/2015]

EU leaders agree on migrant issues at summit
After months of delay and debate, EU leaders agreed to mount a broader, more comprehensive response to Europe’s migration crisis, including putting up more money to aid refugees in the Middle East and to toughen EU border controls. “Urgent needs” of refugees currently in the Middle East will be met with at least $1.1 billion. The leaders agreed to beef up border controls by providing more resources, including personnel and equipment from their countries. The issues will be back on the agenda at the next meeting of EU Presidents and Prime Ministers in mid-October in Brussels. Between now and then, the leaders said their governments and EU institutions should take “operational decisions” on the most urgent actions agreed to at the summit. [AP, 9/24/2015]

Access to democracy in Turkey’s southeast in question before November 1 elections
The besieged town of Cizre in southeastern Turkey will not have ballot boxes for the upcoming elections in November. The decision, made earlier this month by Turkey’s Supreme Election Board (YSK), has sparked political debate about the quality of democracy in Turkey. The YSK cited security concerns for its decision, but some 48,000 people in the town and surrounding villages will be affected by the decision. Members of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), and the Republican People’s Party (CHP) have come out in criticism of the decision, warning of voter disenfranchisement. CHP Deputy Baris Yarkadas said, “even if a single citizen goes to YSK and submits a petition saying they were unable to vote because the transportation system provided wasn’t available or didn’t have room for him, then the entire election will be annulled. The Justice and Development Party knows this, yet they’re still taking the risk.” [BGN, Hurriyet, 09/24/2015]


President Hadi denounces Houthis in first televised speech from Aden
Yemeni President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi said that the “end of the Houthis will come soon” in a televised speech on Wednesday night. President Hadi also used his speech to address the Yemeni people on the occasion of Eid al-Adha, which comes two days after his return to Aden since six month in exile. He denounced the Houthi militias and former deposed president Ali Abdullah Saleh for “waging an unjust war in a number of governorates that have killed scores of innocent people and destroyed civil and state instructions because of their coup” and said that the past year reveals the extent of their hatred for the Yemeni people. Meanwhile, dozens of people protested in Aden against President Hadi and his government for failing to pay them compensation for their role in fighting to oust the Houthi militias from the southern port city. Fighting between the government and rebel Houthi forces in the country has raged for more than a year killing more than 2,000 civilians. [Al Masdar (Arabic), Al Arabiya, UN News Centre, 9/24/2015]

United States supports Saudi Arabia appointment to key UN human rights panel
The United States “welcomes” the appointment of Saudi Arabia to head up a key UN human rights panel. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that the United States and Saudi Arabia are “close allies” with whom “we have a strong dialogue with that spans many issues.” He said “as to this leadership role, we hope that it is an occasion for them to look at human rights around the world but also within their own borders.” The United Nations appointed Faisal bin Hassan Trad, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador in Geneva, to a position that gives him the power to select applicants from around the world to expert roles in countries where the United Nations has a mandate on human rights. [The Independent, 9/24/2015]


Soaring bad debts sound alarm in Turkey
The deterioration of Turkey’s economy is accelerating, as political uncertainty, early elections, and a conflict with Kurdish militants take a toll on the economy. Statistics by the Banks Association of Turkey Risk Center show a dramatic increase in both the number and value of bounced checks, especially in August. The problem seems to be particularly rife in the predominantly Kurdish provinces in the east and southeast, where since August 2014 the number and value of bounced checks increased by up to 115 percent. The regional breakdown for August indicates how political uncertainty has put a serious strain on businesses across Turkey, including the country’s economic powerhouses in the west. In the southeast, the trend is even gloomier. In August, five southeastern provinces topped the list of regions with the worst rate of bounced checks in terms of value. [Al Monitor, 9/23/2015]

Investments of Upper Egypt’s conference to reach $51 billion
Pledges to Upper Egypt’s Investment Conference, which will be held in November, are projected to reach EGP 400 billion ($51.08 billion), according to Investment Minister Ashraf Salman. According to Salman, projects that will be presented at the conference include cement, marble, and glass factories, in addition to hotels and resorts. “The General Authority for Investment (GAFI) headed by Alaa Omar chose about 100 projects out of 320 of the governorates’ projects to be presented for investment,” Salman said. He noted that Upper Egypt has suffered from marginalization during the recent years despite possessing many resources. “We are looking forward to holding a conference on the same level of Egypt’s Economic Development Conference (EEDC), held in last March,” said Salman in June regarding the conference. Agriculture Minister Salah Helal said that integrated proposals to encourage agriculture development and investment in Upper Egypt will also be presented. [Cairo Post, 9/23/2015]

Libya’s AGOCO cuts overall budget, faces difficulties paying salaries
Head of Finance at Libya’s Arabian Gulf Oil Company (AGOCO) Khalid Baio said the latest budget approved by the board included a 43 percent reduction in salaries. He said this has made it difficult for the company to pay salaries. “We are now planning measures to help with liquidity during the coming period,” Baio said. “Our overall running budget has also been cut – including [budgets for] production, refining, administration, insurance and costs of running ports – by 76 percent,” he added. He said that costs had exceeded the approved budget and were 158 percent higher than the amount originally approved. “This means the company cannot keep up with its [original] spending plans and we may be forced to postpone procurement of various equipment we require,” which would hurt production, according to Baio. Baio said AGOCO was in “constant contact with the relevant authorities” in an attempt to secure adequate finances for the coming months. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 9/24/2015]

Russia’s Gazprom Neft increases oil output at Iraqi Badra to 45,000 bpd
Russia’s Gazprom Neft, the oil arm of state gas producer Gazprom, said on Thursday that production at its Iraq Badra oil field has reached 45,000 barrels per day (bpd). The production was increased from 35,000 bpd after the new production well was launched. [Reuters, 9/24/2015]