Top News: ISIS Kidnaps 230 Civilians in Central Syria

The Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) abducted 230 civilians, including at least sixty Christians, in central Syria’s Qaryatain after capturing the town Wednesday night. A Syriac Orthodox bishop in nearby Damascus said, “When ISIS entered the town, it forced some people into house arrest… to use them as human shields” against regime air strikes. Those abducted were wanted by ISIS for “collaborating with the regime.” A monitoring group told reporters it suspects that many of the kidnapped Christians had fled to Qaryatain seeking refuge from sectarian violence in the northern Aleppo province. [AFPGuardianBBC, 8/7/2015]



New Suez Canal boosts Egyptians’ confidence during tough times says Sisi
Egypt President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi announced on Thursday that the New Suez Canal, apart from its expected economic and strategic benefits, has given Egypt a confidence boost during a challenging time. During his speech in the canal city of Ismailia, where the inauguration of the 35-kilometer long waterway took place, Sisi added that, “completing such an achievement within a short period of time is a source of pride for Egyptians.” Egypt is not a one-project nation—the canal is just one of a thousand steps that Egypt is planning to take, he declared. Sisi focused some of his speech on the turmoil Egypt has faced over the past two years. “The Suez Canal wasn’t the only achievement by the Egyptians, they also said ‘no’ to terrorism,” the President stated. “Egypt during this year stood against the most dangerous terrorist ideology, that would burn the world if it could… We are fighting them and will defeat them.” French President Francois Hollande attended the ceremony as a guest of honor, along with an array of heads of state representing Arab and African countries. Read the full text of Sisi’s speech here. [Ahram Online, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, SIS, Mada Masr, DNE, 8/6/2015]

Mubarak-era Interior Minister Habib al-Adly referred to court over corruption charges
Former Minister of Interior Habib al-Adly and twelve other officials in the ministry of interior were referred on Thursday to criminal court over illicit gains charges. The ex-government officials are accused of misappropriating some EGP 1.8 billion in state funds by illicitly signing over bonuses to police officers and leading ministry figures during a period spanning from 2000 to 2011. Some eighty employees accused of receiving the rewards were excluded from the case due to “lack of evidence” against them. The case was motioned following a police report filed by journalist Mostafa Bakry against Adly and Nabil Khalaf, an official at the financial department in the interior ministry. Investigations into the report started in 2012, and a number of the ministry’s figures were put on a travel ban list in 2013. Adly was released in March after the court acquitted him and former Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif of charges of illicit gains. [Ahram Online, Mada Masr, Cairo Post, 8/7/2015]

Rocket shell kills Sinai senior tribal chief in his house
Eyewitnesses in al-Mahdeya village, south of Rafah City, North Sinai, have reported the killing of senior tribal chief of al-Sawarka Tribe Ahmed Hammad al-Meneai after an unidentified rocket shell fell on his house, Egypt Independent reported. The body was transferred to Rafah Central Hospital. The Sawarka tribe is one of Sinai’s oldest tribes and the largest in number. [Egypt Independent, 8/6/2015]

Yemeni President asks Egyptian Navy to protect ports
Yemeni President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi has asked his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for more Egyptian naval units to protect Yemeni ports, Yemeni Foreign Minister Riad Yassin told newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat on Thursday. Yassin added that Sisi called for a political solution for the Yemeni problem because the infrastructure would be destroyed completely if the conflict continues. [Egypt Independent, 8/6/2015]

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Libya talks to continue in Geneva
The United Nations will convene a new round of Libya talks on Monday in Geneva in a push to persuade warring parties to agree on a unity government and end the violence gripping the country. Last month, some factions signed an initial UN-sponsored deal to form a unity government, but delegates from a parliament controlling the capital Tripoli stayed away. United Nations Support Mission in in Libya said, “Underscoring the significant progress achieved to date … Leon is urging the main parties to redouble their efforts and continue working together towards narrowing existing differences.” Leon stressed the importance of all parties working together in this process. The factions have yet to agree on details. [Reuters, AP, Libya Herald, 8/6/2015]

Algeria and Egypt discuss the urgent need to implement UN agreement in Libya
In Cairo, Minister for the Maghreb, African Union, and Arab League Affairs Abdelkader Messahel spoke on Thursday with Egyptian Foreign Affairs Minister Sameh Shoukri where the two sides underlined the urgent need to implement the United Nations’ agreement in Libya. During these discussions, the two sides agreed on the urgent need to implement the UN-led agreement and to speed up negotiations that will accompany it to create a government of national unity aimed at managing the transitional phase in Libya. The two sides also called for sanction, in case the negotiations fail. [APS, 8/7/2015]

UK military action partly to blame for chaos in Libya, says Tunisian Prime Minister
Tunisia’s Prime Minister Habib Essid said that United Kingdom has a responsibility to help Tunisia in the fight against terrorism, claiming the UK is partly to blame for the “chaos” in Libya following military intervention four years ago. Essid warned against further military action in Libya, calling for a political solution in the country. Essid said, “Terrorism isn’t a national problem. It has no borders. Helping to fight terrorism in Tunisia means helping to defend themselves.” He said the turmoil in Libya was largely caused by the intervention of countries including Britain and France in 2011. When asked about the role of Britain and France in helping Tunisia, Essid said, “They have a responsibility. Terrorism has no borders.” [The Guardian, 8/6/2015]

Algeria discovers eighteen ammunition caches and seizes explosives
The Algerian army discovered eighteen ammunition caches on Thursday in an area where al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the killing of nine soldiers last month, the defense ministry said. The military seized ammunition and explosives, transmitters, detonation tools, and mobile phones in the caches in Ain Defla province, west of the capital Algiers. The ministry said that the place had also been used to make bombs. [Reuters, 8/6/2015]


Syria and Oman say time to seek Syria solution
Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem and Omani Foreign Minister Yusuf bin Alawi said during bilateral meetings in Muscat Thursday that it is time to bring together “constructive efforts” to end Syria’s four-year crisis. Syria’s state news agency SANA reported that the men agreed that any solution to the crisis “should be based on meeting the aspirations of the Syrian people in the fight against terrorism,” and should ensure the stability, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Syria. Russian news sources reported that a delegation from Syria’s Western-backed National Coalition for Syrian Revolutionary and Opposition Forces (SNC) would visit Moscow next week to meet with Russian officials and discuss the potential for another round of Syria peace talks. A monitoring group said Thursday that more than 240,000 people including 12,000 children have been killed in Syria’s conflict since its outbreak in 2011. [Reuters, NYT, 8/6/2015]

United Nations expected to approve resolution on Syria chemical weapons
The UN Security Council (UNSC) is expected to unanimously approve a resolution Friday aimed at identifying those responsible for using chlorine and other chemical weapons in attacks in Syria that have killed and injured a growing number of civilians. The Security Council is scheduled to vote at 10 a.m. Friday, just two days after US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reached agreement on the text. None of the thirteen other council members raised objections on the text, which will give UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and Director-General of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) Ahmet Uzumcu twenty days to submit to the council recommendations to establish a joint investigative body. [AP, 8/7/2015]

Two killed, ten wounded in clashes in southeast Turkey
Two people were killed and at least another ten wounded in ongoing clashes between police and Kurdistan People’s Party (PKK) militants in the southeastern Turkish town of Silopi on Friday. Both of the dead were Kurds, one of them a teenager, and at least two of the injured were Turkish police officers. A Turkish news agency said security forces retaliated when they came under fire as they entered districts of the town Friday morning to seal ditches dug by the youth wing of the PKK. Leader of Turkey’s Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtas met with European Union leaders Thursday during an unscheduled trip to Brussels. He urged the world to denounce Ankara’s new “unjust war” on rebel Kurds and asked the European Union to “very clearly and openly support negotiations between the PKK and Turkey.” [Reuters, AFP, 8/7/2015]

United States transfers wife of suspected ISIS member to Iraqi Kurds
The US military transferred Umm Sayyaf, the wife of a suspected ISIS member, over to Iraqi Kurdish custody after holding her for three months in low-profile captivity for interrogation purposes. Sayyaf had been captured by the US military during a raid on May 15 in eastern Syria. Some have suggested that Sayyaf and her husband were the captors of American hostage Kayla Mueller who was believed to be held in Syria before she was killed. Pentagon officials did not respond to requests for an explanation as to why Sayyaf was transferred to Iraqi Kurdish custody rather than the Iraqi government. The US-led coalition conducted twenty-seven air strikes against ISIS militants in Syria and Iraq Wednesday. The strikes in Syria targeted eleven ISIS positions including seven near the city of Hasaka, while those in Iraq targeted sixteen militant positions near eight different cities. [Guardian, AP, 8/6/2015]


French hostage freed in Yemen
Frenchwoman Isabelle Prime, who has been freed after nearly six months of captivity in Yemen, arrived in Oman Friday before she returns to Paris to be welcomed by her father. The thirty-year-old worked as a consultant on a World Bank-funded project in Yemen and was released late Thursday. There is no confirmation yet on the identity of her kidnappers. The Omani foreign ministry said efforts by the Gulf nation “in coordination with certain Yemeni parties” had helped track her down. Prime was seized with her translator in February as they were driving to work in the capital Sana’a. Her translator Sherine Makkaoui was freed in March. Prime was last seen in a video posted by her captors in late June. [AFP, 8/7/2015]

Turkey freezes accounts of Saleh and top Houthi leaders
Turkey has frozen the assets of officials from Yemen’s former regime including ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh, along with five Houthi rebel leaders. The move by Ankara followed UN Security Council sanctions on the same five men for threatening peace in the impoverished, conflict-torn country. The sanctions freeze any assets, bank accounts, and safe deposit boxes the five might have in Turkey and will be in place until February 26, 2016. [AFP, 8/7/2015]

New ISIS cell claims responsibility for Saudi mosque bombing
An alleged new branch of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in Saudi Arabia has claimed responsibility for Thursday’s mosque bombing that killed at least ten people. The attack, which targeted a mosque used by police forces, is one of the deadliest in the past decade. The new ISIS affiliate, named the Hijaz Province, claimed responsibility hours after the explosion in Abha, using pro-ISIS twitter accounts. Previous ISIS attacks in the Kingdom have been carried out by the Najd Province, referring to the country’s central region, as opposed to the Hijaz which contains the holy sites of Mecca and Medina. [AP, 8/7/2015]

Bahrain suspends pro-opposition newspaper
Bahrain has announced the temporary suspension of a newspaper close to the Shia opposition, drawing condemnation from Human Rights First which said Manama was seeking to crush dissent. “The Information Affairs Authority has temporarily suspended Al-Wasat newspaper until further notice,” the Bahrain News Agency reported late Thursday. “This is due to its violation of the law and repeated dissemination of information that affects national unity and the kingdom’s relationship with other countries,” it added. At the height of the 2011 uprising, Al-Wasat was suspended by authorities. Its chief editor Mansoor al-Jamri was tried and fined for allegedly publishing false information. It was later allowed to reopen. In a statement released on Thursday, a spokesperson for Human Rights First expressed his dismay at the newspaper’s suspension, but added that it was not an unexpected action. He further urged President Barack Obama to stop the sale of arms to Bahrain, which resumed in June after the United States declared that the Bahrain’s monarchy had made “meaningful progress” on human rights. [AFP, 8/7/2015]


Fitch issues first rating on Iraq’s debt
Iraq has a stable outlook and a long-term foreign currency issuer default rating of B-, Fitch Ratings said in a statement on Friday. “Political risk and insecurity [in Iraq] are among the highest faced by any sovereign rated by Fitch,” the company said in the statement. “Iraq’s fiscal position has deteriorated rapidly since 2013 and Fitch forecasts a double-digit fiscal deficit for 2015, owing to lower oil prices, higher military spending and costs associated with civil conflict.” Government debt may equal 51 percent of Iraq’s gross domestic product by the end of 2015 with the ratio forecast to increase next year, Fitch said. Savings built up over years of high oil prices have largely been eroded. [Bloomberg, FT, 8/7/2015]

Saudi June foreign reserves fall 1.2 percent month/month
Saudi Arabia’s net foreign reserves fell to 2.492 trillion riyals ($664.5 billion) in June, down 1.2 percent from the previous month to their lowest level since March 2013, central bank data showed on Thursday. The world’s largest oil exporter has been drawing down its reserves to cover a huge state budget deficit caused by low oil prices. Net foreign assets dropped 9.4 percent from a year earlier in June. They peaked at a record $737 billion last August. Saudi Arabia’s reserves have shrunk for nine out of the last ten months. The government is “hemorrhaging” money, said Farouk Soussa, Citigroup’s chief Middle East economist. [Reuters, Bloomberg, 8/6/2015]

Egypt to build six tunnels under the Suez Canal
Head of the Suez Canal Authority Mohab Mamish said that Egypt plans to build six tunnels under the new Suez Canal. The tunnels are worth EGP 29 billion ($3 billion) and will link the Sinai to the western bank in an effort to boost development in the peninsula and facilitate the transport of goods. Half of the tunnels will be built in Ismailia–two of them will be road tunnels and one will be a railway tunnel. The other three tunnels will be built in Port Said, according to Mamish. [Cairo Post, 8/7/2015]