Top News: Libya’s GNC Delays Peace Talks After Official Quits

Delegates for Libya’s rival GNC parliament will hold off joining peace talks that were due to start today until they manage to form a new team following the resignation of a senior negotiator, a representative said. The group did not say how long it might be until they could take part in the UN-backed negotiations in Morocco. The lawmaker who quit on Wednesday was the head of the GNC delegation Saleh Makhzoum. The GNC gave no reason, but in a separate statement Makhzoum’s Justice and Construction Party blamed differences between him and GNC President Nouri Abu Sahmain over the handling of the UN talks. [ReutersUNSMILReuters AfricaLibya Herald (subscription), 8/27/2015]



Sisi, Putin discuss bilateral relations, war on terror
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin for the fourth time during his third visit to Russia as head of the Egyptian state, for talks that focused on economic and nuclear developments, and international conflicts. In a joint press conference prior to their meeting, Putin praised an increase of 86 percent in bilateral trade to $5.5 billion in 2014, compared to the previous year. Russia intends to establish a new free industrial zone in Egypt’s Suez Canal area to increase mutual economic cooperation between the two countries. Egypt’s Presidential Spokesperson Alaa Youssef also said that negotiations with Russia to set up a power-generating nuclear plant on the Mediterranean coast are ongoing as Cairo mulls offers from other states to establish the mega-project. During Sisi’s visit, Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft signed a deal to supply Egypt with liquefied natural gas (LNG). Meanwhile, Putin and Sisi called for a coalition to combat terrorism. Sisi said “the Egyptian people” hope for broader ties with Russia in all areas, particularly in fighting terrorism in the Middle East. Putin told reporters after the talks that regional powers should join their efforts to combat ISIS. Sisi also held meetings with Sergey Kiriyenko, chairman of the Rosatom, a Russian nuclear power station company and Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich on Wednesday. He also met with Russian Defense Minister Sergy Shoygu on Thursday afternoon before returning to Cairo. [DNE, AP, Aswat Masriya, SIS, Mada Masr, MENA, 8/27/2015]

Arab League postpones meeting to establish joint military force
The Arab League has postponed a meeting of member state defense ministers who were scheduled to ratify a protocol for a new joint military force to intervene in troubled areas in the region, the organization said in a statement Wednesday. The meeting was postponed upon the request of Saudi Arabia’s permanent representative, the statement said. Arab League countries will decide later on a new date for the meeting, which had been scheduled for Thursday, the statement added. Members had formally announced the agreement in March, and drafted a protocol for it in May. Members reportedly disagree over whether the force should be headquartered in Cairo, the home of the Arab League, with Qatar and Algeria reportedly objecting to the location. [AP, Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, 8/26/2015]

Egypt election committee to announce date for parliamentary poll Sunday
Egypt’s main election committee said it will announce when the long-awaited parliamentary polls will begin on Sunday. The High Elections Commission (HEC) also said Thursday it “will announce the measures of the 2015 parliamentary elections in a press conference on Sunday.” The committee will announce “when the vote will begin, the timetable for the poll, and conditions and time of candidacy,” a statement from HEC Spokesman Omar Marawan, said. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, 8/27/2015]

Anti-terrorism law encourages extrajudicial killings say NGOs
The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) released a report (in Arabic) on Wednesday describing the recently issued anti-terrorism law as “a new blow to the constitution.” The law, which was ratified by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on August 15, was criticized for “destroying the state of law, consolidating the undeclared state of emergency with the excuse of protecting society and national unity, and preventing the promotion of violence.” The report said, “CIHRS and EIPR assert that the current security, legislative, and judiciary policies aggravates the acts of political revenge and terrorism instead of stopping them,” the report said. The organizations also said that the law encourages those enforcing it to use lethal force and guarantees their impunity, since it exempts them from criminal responsibility when using force to “perform their duties.” [DNE, Mada Masr, 8/26/2015]

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UN Envoy confident Libya factions can seal deal around September 10
UN Special Envoy to Libya Bernardino Leon said he was optimistic that the country’s two parliaments would be ready to agree on forming a unity government by mid-September. Leon has scheduled talks to resume Morocco today, August 27, to push the factions to agree on a deal, but the General National Congress (GNC) parliament based in Tripoli has so far refused to sign it. Leon expressed confidence that demands raised by the powerful Islamist-backed GNC parliament can be addressed in the upcoming round. The UN proposal calls for a one-year unity government in which a cabinet headed by a prime minister and two deputies would have executive authority. Libya’s UN Ambassador Ibrahim Dabbashi meanwhile pressed for exemptions from a UN arms embargo for the Libyan army so it can counter the extremists, in a letter to the UN Security Council circulated Wednesday. “The priority is to conclude a political accord. Libya’s main weapon against the Islamic State is unity,” Leon said, when asked whether there should be an international intervention to fight the group. [Reuters, AFP, AP, ANSAMed, 8/27/2015]

Local government ministry tells Tripoli councilors to elect new mayor despite court order
Despite a court injunction seemingly preventing municipal councilors in central Tripoli from electing a new mayor to replace Mahdi al-Harati, the Tripoli-based Ministry of Local Government has now ordered the councilors to do so today. According to the ministry, a legal loophole enabled the order. Al-Harati had obtained a court injunction against holding new mayoral elections for Central Tripoli Municipality after councilors had voted to remove him. “He has failed to manage Tripoli and people around him will not work with him now,” said a local government official. A new mayor is expected to be announced by early afternoon Thursday. [Libya Herald, 8/26/2015]

Tunisia and UK look at military cooperation
On Wednesday, Tunisian Minister of National Defense Farhat Horchani discussed with Ambassador of the United Kingdom in Tunis Hamish Cowell ways to strengthen Tunisian-British military cooperation. The Minister stressed the need to expand cooperation in the fields of training, logistical support, technical assistance and information exchange. The aim is to increase the operational potential of the national army in its fight against unconventional threats, such as terrorism. The British ambassador voiced his country’s readiness to support Tunisia against terrorism. [All Africa/TAP, 8/26/2015]

Severe drop of foreign tourists to Tunisia in July
Tourism in Tunisia has plummeted after the terror attack in Sousse on June 26. According to the Tunisian Central Bank, the number of foreigner tourists registered in July this year dropped 44.1 percent from the same period in 2014 and 65.7 percent from the same period in 2010, the year used as a reference point by tourist operators before the 2011 uprising. Among foreign tourists who were deterred from Tunisia as a holiday destination, British nationals ranked first (down 93.1 percent), followed by Italians (79.6 percent), Germans (66.4 percent), and French nationals (39.5 percent). Tourists from Maghreb countries increased by 26.3 percent. [ANSAMed, 8/27/2015]


Syrian army and rebels agree to new truce in Zabadani
A new forty-eight-hour truce between Syrian regime forces and rebels in three towns went into effect Thursday morning. A monitor said that fighting and rocket fire had stopped in the rebel-held town of Zabadani and the besieged government-held villages of Fuaa and Kafraya. The new two-day truce follows a similar ceasefire earlier this month that meant to precede a broad agreement to end the fighting in Zabadani and the blockade of Fuaa and Kafraya. The earlier talks included discussion of the withdrawal of rebels from Zabadani in exchange for the evacuation of civilians from Fuaa and Kafraya or the delivery of aid. The rebels have also sought the release of prisoners held by the regime. Negotiations on those points were now ongoing. [Naharnet, AP, Al Jazeera, Reuters, 8/27/2015]

ISIS suicide bomber kills two Iraqi generals
An Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) suicide bomber killed two Iraqi generals on Thursday in Anbar province. Military spokesman Brigadier General Yahya Rasool said the suicide bomber struck in the al-Jaraishi area north of Ramadi as Iraqi forces advanced. He said the attack killed the Deputy Head of the Anbar Operations Command, Staff Major General Abdulrahman Abu Raghif, and 10th Division commander Staff Brigadier General Safin Abdulmajid. A statement from the Joint Operations Command confirmed the deaths of the two officers along with an unspecified number of other “heroic martyrs.” [AFP, AP, Al Jazeera, BBC, 8/27/2015]

ISIS advance against rebels in Aleppo province; Kurds seize ten villages from ISIS in Iraq
ISIS seized new territory from Syrian rebels in northern Syria. A monitoring group said that ISIS captured three villages near the town of Marea and entered its southern outskirts. ISIS fighters also took another two villages further north in Aleppo province, near the border with Turkey. Marea lies on a key supply route running to the Turkish border. ISIS has targeted the town for months, seeking to expand westwards from territory it already holds in Aleppo province. The ISIS advances come despite an agreement between Turkey and the United States to work on the establishment of an ISIS-free zone in northern Aleppo. In northern Iraq, Kurdish forces backed by US-led coalition air strikes drove ISIS militants out of ten villages in Iraq’s Kirkuk province in an offensive to secure their territory to the north. “This area [near Daquq] posed a danger to the main road from Kirkuk to Baghdad and the Kurdish and other villages adjacent to the areas occupied by ISIS,” Kurdish Brig. Gen. Aras Abdel Rahman said. [Reuters, AFP, 8/27/2015]

New US Envoy for Syria travels to Russia, Saudi Arabia
The new US Special Envoy for Syria Michael Ratney will visit Moscow, Riyadh, and Geneva later this week in an attempt to find a political solution to the four-year old Syrian conflict. A senior State Department official said Ratney would meet with officials in Moscow and Riyadh “to continue discussions about working towards a genuine political transition and bringing an end to the devastating crisis in Syria.” In Geneva, Ratney will meet with the UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura. [Reuters, 8/26/2015]

Syrian rebel commander dies in attack in southern Turkey
A commander from the rebel Free Syrian Army died in a bomb attack on his car in the southern Turkish province of Hatay Wednesday. Jamil Raadoun was commander of Sukour al-Ghab, a brigade that has fought against both ISIS and Syrian government forces and is considered moderate by the United States. Raadoun had survived a similar attack in Turkey in April. [Daily Star, Reuters, AFP, 8/27/2015]


Human rights organizations accuse Saudis of “carnage,” use of cluster munitions
Human Rights Watch (HRW) is calling for a UN-led inquiry into all “laws-of-war violations” committed by all parties involved in Yemen’s conflict since September 2014, when Houthi rebels seized the capital of Sana’a. The Saudi-led coalition began operations in March 2015. HRW highlighted Saudi Arabia’s use of US-made cluster munitions that have killed injured civilians. Amnesty International’s Donatella Rovera similarly condemned the Saudi-led coalition’s indiscriminate attacks and use of cluster munitions, castigating the United States for supplying munitions banned by international convention in 1990s. [Human Rights Watch, 8/26/2015]

Yemen says it will not negotiate with Houthi rebels
Foreign Minister Riad Yassin called talks held between Yemen’s government-in-exile and Houthi rebels, facilitated by UN Envoy Ismail Ould Sheikh, mere “consultations” aimed at convincing the rebels to implement the terms of UN resolution 2216. Passed in April, the resolution demands the group’s withdrawal from major cities as well as forfeiture of weapons looted from the state. “That is the only solution on the table,” said Yassin, “There is nothing else.” Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir affirmed that a political solution based on 2216 was the only way the crisis. Jubeir also pledged Saudi Arabia’s commitment to Yemen’s reconstruction. [AP, 8/27/2015]

AQAP destroys military HQ in Mukalla; four suspects killed in drone strike
Militants associated al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) blew up an army checkpoint and began setting up checkpoints in Mukalla, the capital of Hadramawt province in southeastern Yemen. The bombing occurred a day after the group destroyed the headquarters of Yemen’s secret police in Mukalla. AQAP seized Mukalla in early April. A US drone strike destroyed a house in Mukalla where five alleged AQAP militants were believed to be gathering. A previous strike, on August 22, killed four alleged militants in the city. AQAP is believed to have deployed more fighters in Mukalla recently in fears of the Saudi-led coalition beginning a campaign to retake the city. [AFP, 8/27/2015]

Bahrain says Ex-MP involved in blast funding
Bahrain’s Terrorism Prosecution Advocate General accused a former member of parliament of being involved in funding a terrorist cell believed to behind a bombing that killed two police officers in July. Hassan Isa al-Marzooq, a member of the Shia opposition group al-Wefaq National Islamic Society, was arrested at Bahrain’s airport on August 18 after returning from a trip to Iran. He is accused of collecting money abroad, which was then funneled, to those suspected in the bombing. Al-Wefaq, the largest opposition group in Bahrain, affirmed Marzooq’s innocence in a statement released after his arrest. [Gulf News, 8/27/2015]


Kurds vow steady payments to oil companies as exports rise
Iraqi Kurdistan said on Thursday it expects to begin making regular payments to oil exporting companies in the first half of September. The Kurdish Ministry of Natural Resources said in a statement that $75-$100 million of revenue from its direct crude oil sales would be allocated as payment to the companies. Additional export revenue will be paid to the companies as Kurdish shipments rise in 2016. “Regular payments will allow the exporting companies to cover their ongoing expenses and plan for further investment in the oilfields, which will in turn boost production,” the statement read. The payment would be the first stable compensation to the companies that have been caught in a dispute over revenue sharing between Iraq’s federal government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Also on Thursday, Gulf Keystone Petroleum said it was owed $283 million for oil sales and other costs from the KRG. [Reuters, Bloomberg, 8/27/2015]

IMF makes $300 million available to Tunisia following review
A mission from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has concluded its 2015 Article IV discussions in Tunisia and released its preliminary findings. IMF Mission Chief for Tunisia Amine Maty said about $300 million in loans will be made available to Tunisia upon completion of the mission’s review. “The mission welcomes the authorities’ continued commitment to implementing their national economic program following the successful conclusion of their political transition and looks forward to continuing the close cooperation to achieve the program objectives of macroeconomic stability and stronger and more inclusive growth,” Maty said. He also emphasized Tunisia’s need to enact structural reforms to boost job creations and move forward with banking reforms. The funds are part of the IMF’s $1.68 billion Stand By-Agreement with Tunisia signed in 2013. IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde is scheduled to visit Tunisia in September. [IMF, 8/26/2015]

UAE to lower domestic gasoline, diesel prices in September
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) will lower domestic prices for gasoline and diesel in September, the Energy Ministry said on Thursday. The price of a liter of octane 95 gasoline will fall 8.4 percent at the start of September, while domestic diesel prices will drop 9.3 percent. Last month, the UAE said it would raise domestic prices for gasoline and cut them for diesel in a politically sensitive reform designed to save money and encourage fuel efficiency. The Gulf Cooperation Council has discussed efforts to align fuel prices, though none of its other members has taken steps yet to allow fuel prices to follow the market. [Reuters, Bloomberg, 8/27/2015]

Egypt extends high-moisture wheat exemption for one year
Egypt will accept higher moisture levels in government tenders to buy wheat for one year after an initial exemption expires at the end of August, Supply Minister Khaled Hanafi said. Egypt’s state grain buyer, the General Authority for Supply Commodities (GASC), began accepting wheat with more moisture a year ago, having previously set a 13 percent limit. France, one of Egypt’s most important wheat supplier, had struggled to meet the moisture limits imposed by GASC. “The request for the exemption to be extended was made by the French side,” said Francois Gatel, director of export lobby France Export Cereales. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said his country would increase the quantity of wheat it supplies to Egypt. [Reuters, 8/27/2015]