Top News: Massive Prison Break in Yemen’s Taiz

Around 1,200 prisoners, including suspected members of al-Qaeda, escaped during clashes at a jail in Taiz on Tuesday, a security official said. The incident is the largest in a series of prison breaks that have freed Yemeni militants in recent years and signals the further erosion of the state amid a raging civil war.  The security official said army forces linked to former President Ali Abdulla Saleh allowed the prisoners to escape as the militiamen, dubbed “popular committees” by their supporters, advanced. Another prison break allowed a group of al-Qaeda militants to escape in the eastern city of Mukalla in April. [Reuters, 6/30/2015]



Militants attack Egyptian army checkpoints in Sinai, kill fifty; Sinai State claims responsibility
Militants on Wednesday unleashed a wave of simultaneous attacks, including suicide car bombings, on Egyptian army checkpoints in the restive northern Sinai Peninsula, killing at least fifty soldiers, a security source said. The attacks were followed by ongoing clashes with militants. So far, over thirty militants have been killed in the clashes, the source added. A North Sinai resident said that several civilians were also killed. An Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) affiliate in Egypt, Sinai State, claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying in a statement that its fighters targeted a total of fifteen army and police positions and staged three suicide bombings, two of which targeted checkpoints and one that hit an officers’ club in the nearby city of Arish. Militants also attacked eleven checkpoints and a police station in Sheikh Zuweid, the statement added. The statement’s authenticity of the could not be verified. Militants also besieged a police station in Arish. News outlets report that the Sinai State said it had prevented reinforcements from approaching the attack sites, using air defense missiles in response to attacks by Egyptian military jets. Egyptian army F-16 jets and Apache helicopters, meanwhile, strafed the region that lies within the Sinai Peninsula. An army statement said that about seventy militants attacked five checkpoints. Another two explosions were heard in Rafah on Wednesday hours after the clashes began, security sources and witnesses said. The cause of the blasts was not immediately clear. [AP, Aswat Masriya, Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, Mada Masr, DNE, The Guardian, 7/1/2015]

Attacks continue ahead of July 3 anniversary; At least six killed
Several attacks hit Egyptian governorates Tuesday, killing at least six amid tight security measures ahead of the July 3 anniversary. Two explosive devices detonated inside a private car next to a shopping center in October 6 City on Tuesday. The explosion, which took place near a police station, killed three people inside the car, Health Ministry Spokesman Hossam Abdel-Ghaffar said. Four people were also injured in the blast. Witnesses said the car was on its way to the police station. A policeman was also killed Tuesday, when gunmen opened fire on the policemen guarding the Wax Museum in Cairo’s Helwan suburb. Unknown assailants shot dead one man was in Arish on Tuesday morning. A security checkpoint at a police station in Alexandria was fired at late Tuesday. Unknown assailants on a motorcycle carried out the attack. One police officer was shot dead and four conscripts injured after their police vehicle was shot at early Tuesday, in a village near Beni Suef. Two sound bombs also went off in Beni Suef: one near a police station and another in the center of the Beni Suef city. Meanwhile in Qalubiya, bomb squad forces neutralized an explosive device planted near a bank. In a separate incident in Qalubiya’s city of Banha, three security personnel were injured after bombs detonated below three transmission towers. In Fayoum, three other IEDs exploded early Wednesday inside the Civil Registry Office, injuring one civilian. [Cairo Post, DNE, 7/1/2015]

Egypt arrests suspect over chief prosecutor assassination
Egypt’s security forces on Tuesday arrested a person who claimed that a pro-Morsi militant group was responsible for assassinating late Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat in Cairo on Monday, state news agency MENA reported. Security forces arrested a 23-year-old unemployed man who claimed that a pro-Morsi group calling itself the Giza Popular Resistance Brigade was responsible for killing Barakat on a Facebook page carrying the group’s name, a source at the Giza security directorate said. A Twitter account claiming to be the official and only account of the group, however, announced that it had no Facebook page, and that it had not claimed the attack. The suspect was arrested at an internet cafe in Giza. Meanwhile, judicial and security sources speaking on condition of anonymity said that an investigation by the National Security Agency found that the car bomb used in the attack on the Prosecutor General’s convoy was not reported stolen, but was bought with a forged ID card and given stolen number plates. They added that the surveillance camera of a nearby shop spotted a person wearing dark clothes, parking the car at dawn, four hours before it was detonated. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, 6/30/2015]

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Western powers urge Libya rivals to sign peace deal
The United States and five European allies on Tuesday called for rival Libyan groups to endorse a deal at UN-led negotiations to resolve the country’s ongoing crisis. Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and the United States urged the parties to sign a proposed deal at talks in Morocco and called for peace in the violence-wracked country. “We urge all Libyan parties to sign in the coming days the political agreement presented by the UN,” said a joint statement from the nations. UN envoy Bernardino Leon said he hoped Libya’s rival parliaments would endorse his proposals for a unity government this week after they failed to do so at the weekend. The six countries said they welcomed the proposal and supported the formation of a Government of National Accord. [Al Arabiya/AFP, 7/1/2015]

Internal displacement doubles in Libya since September
According to the United Nations refugee agency, the number of people displaced within Libya has almost doubled from an estimated 230,000 last September to more than 434,000 amid escalating fighting this year in different parts of the country. The United Nations High Commissioner for refugees (UNHCR) Spokesperson from Geneva said on Tuesday, “The internally displaced persons (IDPs) comprise 83,697 families, according to countrywide data collected.” The numbers could be higher, but with limited access, the agency relies heavily on local partners who are themselves unable to reach all affected areas due to the volatile situation. [UN News, 6/30/2015]

Tunisia’s beach attacker trained in Libya
Libya has been linked to the Sousse beach resort massacre that happened last Friday and to the March slaughter at the Bardo Museum in Tunis, which both killed sixty-one individuals. The Tunisian Interior Ministry claimed that all the terrorists involved were trained near Sabratha. A senior Tunisian Security Official, Rafik Chelli said that Seifeddine Rezgui, the gunman who carried out Friday’s Sousse attack was trained at a terrorist camp at al-Ajaylat, on the outskirts of Sabratha. In its initial response to the Sousse attack, Tunisian sources claimed there was no evidence that Rezgui had ever left the country. [Libya Herald, Reuters, Tunisia Live, 6/30/2015]

Algerian Prime Minister receives Iranian President’s Special Envoy
Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal received on Tuesday Hamid Chittchian, the Iranian Minister of Energy and Special Envoy of the Iranian President Hassan Rohani. Algerian Energy Minister Salah Khebri also attend the meeting, which discussed bilateral energy relations between the two countries. Chitchian also met with President Bouteflika on Monday and invited him to participate in the third meeting of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum, which will be held before the end of the year 2015 in Tehran. [APS, 6/30/2015]


Syrian Kurds thwart ISIS incursion into Tal Abyad, warn against Turkish intervention
A spokesman for the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia said Wednesday it had recovered full control of Tal Abyad after Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) fighters raided its outskirts supposedly in preparation for a larger assault. The YPG militia said three ISIS militants were killed and another had blown himself up with an explosive belt. He added that a large convoy of ISIS-led vehicles is headed from the town of Soor in Deir Ezzor towards the northern province of Hasaka. ISIS reportedly announced a mobilization of hundreds of militants and declared “jihad against the Kurds, Shiites, and apostates [in Deir Ezzor].” Syria’s Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) warned Turkey on Wednesday that any military intervention would threaten international peace and said the Kurdish YPG militia is ready to face any “aggression.” A top aide of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Tuesday rejected accusations that the President was ready to intervene militarily in Syria and said that any security measures Turkey takes would be intended only to secure its southern border. [Reuters, AFP, 7/1/2015]

UN says world should be ashamed at failure to end Syria conflict
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Tuesday the world should be ashamed for failing to bring peace to Syria, as the suffering of the Syrian people has reached new depths, over 220,000 Syrians have died, and the country is “on the brink of falling apart.” The Secretary-General’s statement came on the third anniversary of the June 30, 2012 Geneva Communique, which developed a roadmap to Syrian peace. He spoke of how different parts of Syria have increasingly fallen under the control of violent players such as ISIS and the Nusra Front and asserted that “the international community, in particular the Security Council, cannot afford to waste any further time in ending the cycle of violence.” UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura will brief Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon next week on his recent talks with Syria’s warring parties, regional, and world powers in which he discussed ways to end the country’s four-year conflict. [AP, 6/30/2015]

Food aid to Syrian refugees cut in half amid funding crisis
The World Food Programme (WFP) said Wednesday that it has to cut in half the food aid for Syrian refugees in Lebanon because of a funding crisis and may soon have to halt all food support for most refugees in Jordan. The WFP said that refugee food aid in Lebanon will drop to $13.50 per person per month in July, and 440,000 urban refugees in Jordan could be left empty-handed if funds do not arrive by August. The program said it needs $139 million to keep helping Syrian refugees through September. The UNHCR Country Representative in Jordan called for jobs programs Tuesday as Syrian refugees in the country are slipping deeper into poverty due to cuts in international food and cash assistance. [AP, Reuters, 7/1/2015]

Lebanese army kills five militants on Syrian border; seven wounded in clashes south of Beirut
The Lebanese army said Wednesday that it killed five Nusra Front militants in a clash on the border zone with Syria, the second such confrontation in less than a week. An army statement said the militants were targeted as they attempted to cross between the Lebanese town of Arsal and Syria’s border zone. Clashes erupted early Wednesday between rival Lebanese factions south of Beirut, wounding at least seven people. The National News Agency said the fighting in the town of Saadiyat was between supporters of the Sunni Future Movement and the Shia Hezbollah-affiliated Resistance Brigades. [Reuters, 7/1/2015]

UN says at least 1,466 Iraqis killed in June due to violence; attacks near Baghdad kill eight
The UN Mission to Iraq (UNAMI) said Wednesday that at least 1,466 Iraqis were killed by armed conflict in June, and an additional 1,687 were wounded, an increase of greater than 40 percent over the previous month. At least 665 of the dead were civilians, and the rest were members of Iraqi security forces and pro-government militias fighting ISIS. Iraqi officials said Tuesday that a series of attacks in Baghdad and two nearby towns killed at least eight people. Police said the deadliest attack was in the town of Mahmudiyah, in which a bombing killed three civilians and wounded ten.[AP, 7/1/2015]


Massive prison break in Yemen’s Taiz
Around 1,200 prisoners, including suspected members of al-Qaeda, escaped during clashes at a jail in Taiz on Tuesday, a security official said. The incident is the largest in a series of prison breaks that have freed Yemeni militants in recent years and signals the further erosion of the state amid a raging civil war. The security official said army forces linked to former President Ali Abdulla Saleh allowed the prisoners to escape as the militiamen, dubbed “popular committees” by their supporters, advanced. Another prison break allowed a group of al-Qaeda militants to escape in the eastern city of Mukalla in April. [Reuters, 6/30/2015]

Houthi rocket fire kills at least twenty in Aden
Houthi rocket fire on a residential district of Aden killed at least twenty civilians and wounded forty more early Wednesday, according to medical sources. The militias and their allies pounded the city’s loyalist-held Mansura district with fifteen Katyusha rockets from their positions in the Dar Saad neighborhood, beginning the attack before dawn when the streets were busy ahead of the daytime fast. A fresh salvo of rockets later in the morning hit mourners burying some of the dead from the earlier fire, sources said. [Al-Arabiya, AFP, 6/1/2015]

Human rights group condemns Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen
Human Rights Watch released a report on Tuesday which accused the Saudi-led Arab coalition of violating the rules of war in Yemen. The airstrikes by the Arab coalition on the northern Yemeni city of Saada, a Houthi rebel stronghold, have killed dozens of civilians. Human Rights Watch documented a dozen airstrikes on Saada that destroyed or damaged civilian homes, five markets, a school, and a petrol station although there was no evidence they were being used for military purposes. Due to border clashes and knocked-out communication networks, little information from Saada and other northern areas has reached the outside world. A new UNICEF report also notes the millions of Yemeni children at risk from malnutrition or a lack of vaccinations. [Reuters, 6/30/2015]

Hashtag campaign launches in Yemen calling for release of Houthi-held prisoners
Activists launched a twitter campaign on Tuesday night calling for the release of Houthi-held captives in Yemen. Those in support of the campaign demanded that the rebels speed up the process by which they release prisoners. The Houthi group has abducted large numbers of journalists, activists, and politicians since the civil war began, often placing them in prisons and military camps that are targeted in the Saudi-led bombing campaign. [Mareb Press (Arabic), 6/30/2015]


Egypt revises draft 2015/16 budget to cut deficit to 8.9 percent of GDP
Egypt has amended the draft budget for fiscal year 2015/2016 and cut the projected deficit to 8.9 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) from last month’s projection of 9.9 percent of GDP. The new draft, the second revision of the draft budget published on the finance ministry’s website, projected public expenditure at 864 billion Egyptian pounds ($113 billion), from 885 billion pounds in the previous draft. Projected revenues were also raised to 622.2 billion pounds from 612 billion pounds in the previous draft. However, projected growth for the fiscal year remained unchanged at 5 percent. Wednesday’s draft also cut projected spending on social programs to 429 billion pounds from 431 billion pounds and trimmed a projected subsidy on bread and food commodities to 38 billion pounds from 38.4 billion. The draft budget has not yet been approved by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. [Reuters, 7/1/2015]

World Bank cuts Turkey growth outlook for 2016 and 2017
The World Bank on Wednesday lowered its 2016 and 2017 growth outlook for Turkey while maintaining its forecast for the current year at 3 percent. The growth forecast for 2016 was cut to 3.5 percent from the 3.9 percent forecast in April, while the 2017 forecast was cut to 3.5 percent from 3.7 percent. “We expect private consumption to lose momentum and investment to remain depressed in the second half of the year, as households and corporates are likely to postpone key spending decisions until political uncertainty is resolved,” the World Bank said in the report. Since Turkey’s parliamentary elections, foreign investors’ bond portfolios have fallen $1.7 billion, based on central bank figures, as investors worry that an unstable government will be unable to deliver the structural reforms required to revive growth. [WSJ, Reuters, 7/1/2015]

Saudi Arabia to cut August medium, heavy crude oil prices
Top oil exporter Saudi Arabia is expected to cut monthly prices for sales of its medium and heavy grades to Asia in August while keeping the price for its flagship light crude more stable, traders said on Wednesday. The Arab Heavy crude price could fall as much as 70 cents a barrel in August, while Arab Light could post a small drop of up to 20 cents. The price cuts reflects lower crude demand in Asia as refining margins weakened. [Reuters, 7/1/2015]

Iraq oil exports hit record 3.187 million bpd in June
Iraq’s oil exports rose in June to a record average of 3.187 million barrels per day (bpd) from 3.145 million in May, the oil ministry said on Wednesday. Exports from Iraq’s southern terminals rose to an average 3.02 million bpd in June from 2.69 million bpd in May, marking the highest exports from the south in decades. Shipments also jumped after Iraq’s decision to split its crude stream into two grades, Basra Heavy and Basra Light, to resolve quality issues. Some companies working in Iraqi oilfields have increased production following the move. Revenue from Iraq’s June oil sales reached $5.318 billion, the ministry said. [Reuters, 7/1/2015]