Top News: ISIS Seizes More Towns in Northern Iraq

The Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) seized control of three towns in northern Iraq on Sunday after violent clashes with Kurdish security forces. The fighting sent thousands of people fleeing to the nearby mountains and allowed ISIS to get closer to controlling Iraq’s largest dam.


Egypt rejects US military aid comments, Sisi to miss US-Africa Leaders Summit
US deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said US military aid to Egypt was temporarily suspended last year because Egypt was using weapons “against their own people.” Harf, in a state department press briefing on Thursday, made a comparison between Israel and Egypt when a reporter asked her why the US did not suspend its military aid to Israeli, for killing civilians in Gaza, while aid was suspended to Egypt. Egyptian spokesperson Badr Abdel-Atti said Harf’s comparison between Egypt and Israel was “unacceptable” and “unjustifiable.” New Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will not attend an unprecedented gathering of African leaders in the United States after he was given a belated invitation. Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab will head an Egyptian delegation to a three-day US-Africa Leaders Summit taking place in Washington, August 4-6. He arrived Sunday along Minister of Finance Hany Kadry Dimian and the Minister of Industry and Foreign Trade Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour in Washington. [Ahram Online, AP, DNE, AFP, DNE, 8/3/2014]

Egypt holds Gaza truce talks with Palestinian factions; Israel declines to send envoys
Palestinian groups, including representatives from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, held their first formal meeting in Cairo on Monday with Egyptian mediators hoping to pave the way towards a durable ceasefire agreement with Israel. Talks focused on a list of demands agreed by the Palestinian factions on Sunday, including an appeal to Egypt to ease movement across its own border crossing with blockaded Gaza. It was not clear how far the talks would progress, however, after Israel declined to send its envoys. An Israeli official accused enemy Palestinian Islamists of misleading international mediators. Prior to talks, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Saturday that there is “no alternative” to the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire talks to curb the violence in Gaza. [Reuters, 8/4/2014]

Egyptian Popular Current rejects Brotherhood accusations against member
The Egyptian Popular Current has denied accusations that one of its members, Amr Saleh, belongs to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. Saleh, a senior commerce student at Damanhour University in the Nile Delta, was recently detained on charges of belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood. A statement from the Egyptian Popular Current said that prosecutors had ordered Saleh to be detained for fifteen days, pending investigations. The statement also denounced all cases of arbitrary arrest and the ministry of interior’s “haphazard fabrication of charges.” The group called the accusations false and demanded his immediate release. [Ahram Online, DNE, 8/3/2014]

Egypt finance ministry says it is preparing a new economic stimulus package
Egypt’s government is currently working on the launch of a new economic stimulus package to boost the sectors that are necessary to economic development such as the industrial, housing and construction, communication and tourism sectors, the Ministry of Finance’s July bulletin stated. The report noted that the second half of FY 2014/2015 is expected to witness a “development surge” as a result for implementing the projects of the two stimuli packages announced in 2013. [DNE, 8/2/2014]


Confusion on location of parliamentary transfer of power
The battle of wills between the outgoing General National Congress (GNC) and the newly elected House of Representatives played out over determining the location of the ceremony to transfer power. House members exerted enormous pressure to persuade the GNC to hold the ceremony in the eastern town of Tobruk on Monday. Ninety percent of House members assembled there only to receive conflicting information from the GNC office. The first communique confirmed Tobruk as the location, temporarily alleviating concerns of a potential split parliament and competing handover ceremonies, but that was overturned with a Facebook notice that the event would happen in Tripoli. However, the House seem determined to go ahead with its official inaugural meeting today, with or without the participation of the GNC. [Libya Herald, 8/4/2014]

More than twenty killed as Libyan factions fight to control airport
Libya’s government said twenty-two people had been killed in the latest battles between factions seeking to control the main airport in Tripoli, bringing the death toll resulting from clashes in Tripoli and Benghazi to 236 people. Rival brigades from the towns of Misrata and Zintan have been fighting for nearly three weeks over control of the capital’s airport in the worst violence since the 2011 revolution. Renewed shelling set fuel tanks ablaze again, after firefighters succeeded to quell raging fires at at a fuel depot last week. [Reuters, AP, 8/4/2014]

Protesters in Libya’s Benghazi march against militias
Two thousand people took to the streets of Benghazi on Friday to protest against Islamist militants who have been fighting armed forces and taken over an important military base in the city. They chanted slogans praising Libya’s army and condemning extremism, as one demonstrator said they “are here to say Benghazi will not become another Mosul,” referring to the Iraqi city which has fallen under the control of an al-Qaeda splinter group. Mediators, including tribal leaders and elders, have been trying to negotiate separate ceasefire agreements to stop the militia clashes in Benghazi and Tripoli. [Reuters, 8/1/2014]

British announce diplomatic pullout
As one of the last remaining western countries with a functioning embassy in Tripoli, the United Kingdom announced the closure of its embassy and evacuation of its staff to Tunisia. British Ambassador to Libya Michael Aron announced the closure on his Twitter account. “The risk of getting caught in the crossfire is too great.” The foreign office said in a statement that it would no longer be able to provide consular services in Tripoli after August 4. The EU Border Assistance Mission also announced that it was pulling out, as did the Polish embassy. Of the EU embassies, only the Italians and the Maltese diplomatic missions remain in Tripoli. [Libya Herald, Reuters, 8/2/2014]


Nusra chief in Idlib killed in attack
The local chief of Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate, has died in an apparent assassination after a bomb went off in his car in Idlib, an activist group said Saturday. Yaacub al-Omar, a Syrian in his 40s, took over as local chief in April after his predecessor, Abu Mohammed al-Ansari, was killed by ISIS. Two of Omar’s sons were also killed in the attack. [Daily Star, 8/4/2014]

Thirteen Lebanese soldiers killed as Syrian militias battle for border town
Islamist fighters from Syria killed thirteen Lebanese soldiers and appeared to have captured more than a dozen others in an armed offensive over the weekend for control of the Lebanese border town Arsal. The fighters from Syria—who included members of rebel brigades, Nusra Front, an affiliate of al-Qaeda, and the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS, also known as IS)—carried out a series of attacks on army checkpoints that left them largely in control of the town on Saturday and Sunday. On Monday, the Lebanese army, which had surrounded Arsal and conducted artillery bombardments, began advancing into the town. [NYT, 8/3/2014]

Seven members of Ismaili family executed by ISIS in Hama
ISIS executed seven members of a single family from the Ismaili minority in the central province of Hama overnight. “An armed terrorist group committed a massacre in the Mzeiraa area near the town of Salmiya, killing seven people, including two aged thirteen and fifteen years old,” Syrian state news agency said Monday, adding that four others had been injured. Elsewhere, monitors reported clashes between ISIS and a Sunni tribe in the oil-rich eastern province of Deir Ezzor overnight that killed at least thirteen people–civilians and members of the Shaitat tribe. [AFP, 8/4/2014]

Attacks kill forty-four in Damascus area
At least forty-four people were killed in and near the Syrian capital Sunday in regime air strikes and rebel mortar fire. Monitors said at least thirty-two people were killed in air raids on two rebel-held towns near Damascus; seventeen were killed in Douma, northeast of the capital, and fifteen in Kfar Batna, to the east, including a woman and child in each of the towns. State news meanwhile, said twelve people were killed in rebel mortar fire on southern districts of Damascus. [Al Arabiya, 8/3/2014]


Tunisia dinar drop shows momentum for reform
For the past four months, the central bank has permitted a slide of the dinar against both the euro and the US dollar, ending a period of several months in which the bank intervened to keep the currency steady or even rising. The depreciation carries economic and political risks, but a cheaper currency has big long-run benefits for Tunisia, creating jobs by stimulating export industries, and making it more economical for foreign investors to put money into the country. The depreciation coincides with reforms to the foreign exchange market that were discussed with the IMF, which agreed in June 2013 to lend Tunisia $1.74 billion under a two-year program. [Reuters, 8/4/2014]

Marzouki to take part in US-Africa Leaders Summit
Caretaker President Moncef Marzouki will take part in the US-Africa Leaders Summit, to be held in Washington, DC on August 5 and 6 under the theme “Investing in the Next Generation.” Marzouki will be accompanied by Foreign Minister Mongi Hamdi. [TAP, 8/4/2014]

Ras Ajdir border post reopens
The Ras Jedir border post reopened to those coming from Libya on Saturday afternoon, after having been partially closed Friday afternoon, letting only urgent cases and the diplomatic missions cross the border. Egyptian nationals were allowed to enter the Tunisian territory to board buses that will take them directly to Djerba/Zarzis international airport for their evacuation to Egypt. An air bridge has been established to evacuate the 6,000 Egyptians who were delayed at the Ras Ajdir border crossing as they left Libya. [TAP, 8/2/2014]

Militants attack Tunisian army base, kill one soldier
A Tunisian soldier was killed after Islamist militants tried to storm an army base early on Sunday in the town of Sbeitla, governorate of Kasserine, near the Algerian border. “A group of armed terrorists tried to storm a military base and units from the army and the security forces fought them,” a statement from the defense and interior ministries said. “One soldier was killed and one civilian was wounded,” the statement added. Tunisia’s state radio reported earlier on Sunday that militants had also attacked Sbeitla’s police station. [Reuters, 8/3/2014]


World Bank grants $50 million to improve access to basic services in Yemen
The World Bank approved a $50 million grant on Friday to support the government’s efforts to improve access to basic services for underserved communities. According to a World Bank press release, the additional funds are destined for the Community and Local Development Program (CLDP), a core component of the Social Fund for Development Phase IV Project (SFD IV) covering the years 2011 to 2016. While expanding access to basic services, the program also empowers local communities by putting them in charge of identifying infrastructure projects that address their specific needs. [World BankSaba, 8/2/2014]

Houthis protest over fuel prices after ceasefire was reached in Jawf
On Saturday, a presidential mediation committee managed to broker an agreement to suspend confrontations between the Yemeni army and Houthi rebels in Jawf. The two-phase agreement requires Houthi rebels to hand over captured areas to the Yemeni army. Just one day after the government held a meeting and announced the creation of a ministerial committee focusing on mitigating the implications of increased fuel prices, Houthi rebels took to the streets on Monday to protest against the rise in fuel prices. [Al Masdar (Arabic), 8/4/2014]

Three killed in clashes in Marib
Three people were killed in clashes between the army and armed tribesmen on Sunday after a mortar shell hit a residence in Marib, killing a mother and her two children. Clashes erupted after tribesmen prevented engineers from reaching the damaged section of an oil pipeline that was blown up last month, only a day after the government announced a fuel price hike in a bid to reduce its budget deficit. [Business Standard, 08/3/2014]

Suspected al-Qaeda militants kill nine Yemeni soldiers
Suspected al-Qaeda militants killed nine soldiers in attacks in south and eastern Yemen over the past three days. On Monday, a group of militants attacked a security checkpoint on a main road in Hadhramawt, killing six soldiers. On Saturday, three soldiers were killed in a similar attack in Shabwah. Authorities responded by deploying troops to Seiyoun in Hadhramawt with instructions to maintain security and stability. [Reuters, Al Masdar (Arabic), 8/4/2014]


ISIS seizes more towns in northern Iraq
The Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) seized control of three towns in northern Iraq on Sunday after violent clashes with Kurdish security forces. The fighting sent thousands of people fleeing to the nearby mountains and allowed ISIS to get closer to controlling Iraq’s largest dam.  ISIS fighters have also battled for the control of Iraq’s second-largest dam, in Haditha, on the Euphrates River in Anbar Province. Sunni tribes, along with some Iraqi security forces, have so far managed to hold off the militants’ advance. [NY Times, 8/4/2014]

Iran’s elite forces fighting in Iraq to push back ISIS
In early July, a colonel from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps was killed by ISIS fighters inside Iraq. ISIS militants killed Kamal Shirkhani in a mortar attack while he was carrying out his mission to defend a revered Shia shrine in the city of Samarra nearly a hundred miles away from the Iranian border. At least two other Revolutionary Guard members were killed in Iraq since mid-June, a clear sign that Iran has ramped up its military presence in Iraq to counter the threat of Sunni fighters from ISIS. [Reuters, 8/4/2014]

ISIS targets Saudi intelligence officers
ISIS has started targeting Saudi Arabian intelligence officers. The campaign of assassination is part of ISIS plans to expand activities inside the oil-rich kingdom. A Twitter campaign by ISIS terrorists was launched Friday, which sought information on Saudi intelligence officers, was followed by a fatal knife attack against a Saudi police officer last week. [Washington Free Beacon, 8/4/2014]

Strong condemnation by the US toward Israel
The United States declared Sunday that it is shocked by what it called disgraceful shelling by Israel of a United Nations school sheltering 3,000 displaced civilians in southern Gaza. The US condemnation follows one by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who depicted the shelling near the Rafah School as “a moral outrage and a criminal act.” [AP/Al Arabiya, 8/7/2014]