Top News: Russia Says it Wants Syria Elections, Ready to Help Free Syrian Army

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the Kremlin wanted Syria to prepare for parliamentary and presidential elections. He also said that Russia’s air force, which has been reportedly bombing the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), would be ready to help Western-backed Free Syrian Army rebels if it knew where they were. The Kremlin has spoken broadly about the need for elections in Syria before. Lavrov’s comments were Russia’s most specific call for political renewal yet and came just days after a surprise visit by Assad to Moscow. State news agency SANA’s initial report on the meeting made no mention of the proposal floated by Russia for the new presidential and parliamentary elections. President Bashar al-Assad said Sunday his country must “eradicate terrorism” to find a political solution to its civil war. [ReutersAl Arabiya, 10/25/2015]



Egypt, United States celebrate resumption of joint military tank production
The United States embassy in Egypt celebrated Sunday the resumption of the US-Egypt joint production of M1A1 tanks in the Egyptian Tank Plant 200, a military factory located in Helwan’s industrial zone south of Cairo. The US embassy’s statement about the event said, “The manufacturing of M1A1s in Egypt is a key part of ongoing US support for Egypt’s crucial role as a factor of security and stability in the region.” Egypt’s official military spokesman said in a statement that not only does this event clearly reflect the strong partnership between Egypt and the United States, it is of great importance to more than 9,000 engineers and technical workers who can now return to work at the plant. [Aswat Masriya, Cairo Post, 10/25/2015]

Egypt will be at forefront of international meetings on Syria, says Russia’s Foreign Minister
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told to his Egyptian counterpart, Sameh Shoukry, that Egypt will be at the forefront of international meetings over the Syrian crisis, state owned MENA news agency reported Saturday. Lavrov informed Shoukry in a phone call Saturday of the outcome of a quadrilateral meeting that took place Friday in Vienna between the foreign ministers of the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Russia to discuss the Syrian crisis. Lavrov had also said Friday during the meeting that he wanted Iran and Egypt to take part in any future talks on Syria. Meanwhile, Shoukry reaffirmed the compatibility between Egyptian and Saudi visions concerning both Syria and Yemen during a visit by Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir to Cairo. Also during the visit, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called for a boost in cooperation between the two countries in overcoming regional threats and planned to begin quarterly consultations between the two countries to discuss ongoing regional issues. [Ahram Online, Reuters, 10/26/2015]

Alexandria flash floods leads to governor’s resignation
Torrential rains lashed Egypt’s Mediterranean city of Alexandria Sunday, killing five people, including two children and the captain of a ship who was trapped in his car by floodwaters, officials said. A man and two children were electrocuted to death when a cable from a tramway fell into a street flooded with water, the health ministry said in a statement. The captain of the ship drowned as he was unable to get out of his car which filled with floodwaters. A 25-year-old man was also electrocuted after he fell into a pit full of electric cables. According to other reports, a sixth victim was killed, also the result of electrocution. In response, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ordered the cabinet to take control of the situation with the help of state institutions and the Armed Forces, and to provide compensation to those affected by the flooding and to the families of the victims. The Ministry of Social Solidarity has said it will give 10,000 Egyptian pounds to the families of each of those killed in the floods. Prime Minister Sherif Ismail also announced on Sunday the appropriation of 75 million Egyptian pounds ($9.7 million) to repair the ailing rain drainage system in Alexandria. Administrative Prosecutors opened an investigation to determine whether public officials in Alexandria were guilty of neglect and endangerment of residents’ welfare. Alexandria Governor Hani al-Messiri resigned over the poor response to the flooding. Nadia Abdo, an engineer who headed a drinking water company in Alexandria for twelve years, is reportedly a favorite to replace him. [Ahram Online, DNE, AFP, AP, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, 10/26/2015]

Witnesses in activist Shaimaa al-Sabbagh’s murder acquitted
An appeals court acquitted seventeen Socialist Popular Alliance Party members on Saturday, accused of violating the protest law and threatening national security, according to the party’s Facebook page. The seventeen defendants in the case had been acquitted and underwent a second trial following an appeal by the prosecution in May. Thirteen of the defendants attended the court session and were taken into custody before the court announced their acquittal. The seventeen individuals witnessed Shaima al-Sabbagh’s killing in January during a violent dispersal of a small January 25 commemoration march by the party. They came forward to testify in investigations of Sabbagh’s killing, but were later charged by the general prosecution. [Ahram Online, DNE, Mada Masr, 10/24/2015]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


Twelve killed after mortars hit protest in Libya’s Benghazi
At least twelve people were killed and thirty-nine injured in Benghazi on Friday when mortar shells hit protesters gathered against the United Nations proposal for a unity government. More than 2,000 people had taken to Benghazi’s al-Kish square when at least seven mortar shells hit the crowd, hospital sources said. House of Representatives (HOR) President Ageela Saleh Gwaider declared three days of mourning for those killed. In Benghazi, the attack is widely attributed to militants from Ansar al-Sharia and the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). In a statement likely to further drive apart the parties of the political dialogue, the General National Congress (GNC) appointed government led by Khalifa Ghwell has accused General Khalifa Haftar’s Operation Dignity of responsibility for the shelling. The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) released a statement strongly condemning the attack. [AFP, Reuters, Libya Herald, UNSMIL, 10/25/2015]

Widespread opposition to political accord in Benghazi following massacre
Friday’s missile attack in Benghazi appears to have hardened local opinion against the final draft of the peace deal produced by the UN-brokered political dialogue. Most of Cyrenaica’s municipal councils have announced in a joint statement that they are pulling out of the dialogue in response to the massacre. The National Movement for the Tuaregs, however, announced its support for the Government of National Accord (GNA) on Monday. UN Special Envoy Bernardino Leon has announced that the dialogue will continue and negotiations are due to reconvene in Skhirat on Tuesday. Leon is in Cairo now for talks with head of the Arab League Nabil al-Araby, and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry to encourage them to put pressure on the HOR to sign the deal. [Libya Herald, 10/26/2015]

Number of migrants drowned off Zliten now put at forty-five
Libya’s Red Crescent said the bodies of forty-five migrants washed ashore at Zliten, 160 kilometers east of Tripoli, in the latest migrant drowning tragedy. All were said to be from sub-Saharan Africa. On Friday evening, the Red Crescent recovered ten dead at Khoms, forty kilometers further west. Three more bodies were recovered the same day at Garabulli, thirty-five kilometers east of Tripoli. It is suspected that all of them came from the same vessel and it is feared that there are other bodies still to be recovered. [Libya Herald, AP, 10/25/2015]

HRW demands impartial probe into Tunisia detainee deaths
On Sunday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) called for a thorough and impartial investigation into the deaths of Tunisian detainees Sofien Dridi and Qais Berrhouma. Relatives of both men provided photographs showing marks and bruises on their faces and bodies and said that authorities had failed to inform them promptly about the deaths. A Tunis court launched preliminary inquiries into the deaths of the two men. Dridi’s family found him dead in a Tunis hospital morgue on September 18, seven days after police arrested him at the airport, following his deportation from Switzerland. A spokesperson for the prison to which Dridi was transferred said in a televised interview that he suffered from diabetes, which caused a fatal heart attack. The National Guard anti-drug brigade arrested Berrhouma on October 5 when witnesses saw plainclothed men violently beat him in the street. [AFP, HRW, 10/25/2015]

Wife of hunger-striking Moroccan appeals to Hollande
On Saturday, the wife of prominent Moroccan academic and rights activist Maati Monjib called on French President Francois Hollande to save the life of her husband, who has been on hunger strike for eighteen days. Monjib, age fifty-five, was taken to the hospital for emergency treatment in Rabat last week, eight days into his protest. Monjib “is being targeted for his critical positions, especially since he was elected to head the Freedom Now association for the defense of press freedom,” Christiane Darde-Monjib wrote in a letter to Hollande. Monjib began his hunger strike on October 7 after airport authorities prevented him from travelling to Norway. After first denying it, the Interior Ministry later confirmed the ban, saying it was due to “financial violations.” More than fifty Moroccan rights organizations and some 1,000 journalists, academics, and activists have signed a petition in support of Monjib. [AFP, 10/24/2015]


France to present UN resolution banning use of Syrian barrel bombs
France will present a draft UN Security Council resolution in the next few days seeking to ban the use of barrel bombs by the Syrian regime, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius confirmed Friday. “We have to ensure that the regime stops bombing the civilian population,” Fabius said after talks with UN Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura. It remains highly unlikely that Russia would support such a measure. Fabius also announced that he would hold talks on Syria with his counterparts from the United States, Britain, Germany, and Saudi Arabia in Paris at an unspecified time next week. [AFP, 10/24/2015]

New FSA alliance formed in southern Syria; Syrian regime battles ISIS for Aleppo supply line
A new Free Syrian Army coalition has been formed in southern Syria, where the FSA-affiliated Southern Front and Islamist rebels have been battling the regime. “The new military formation raises the FSA flag and [shares] its goals of toppling the regime and confronting the Russian occupation as well as all forms of terrorism,” the pro-rebel Baladi News announced Monday morning, days after two dozen factions formed the coalition. In a video statement on October 23, representatives of the FSA-affiliated fighting groups said they had created Jaysh al-Janoub (The Army of the South), which will operate in the Damascus, Rif Dimashq, Quneitra, Deraa, and Sweida provinces. At the same time, Syrian troops backed by Russian air strikes battled ISIS fighters on Saturday in a bid to restore a key supply line to second city Aleppo, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. [NOW, 10/26/2015]

United States, Saudi Arabia to bolster support for moderate Syrian opposition
The United States and Saudi Arabia agreed to increase support to Syria’s moderate opposition while seeking a political resolution of the four-year conflict, the US State Department said after Secretary of State John Kerry met King Salman on Saturday. Kerry was in Riyadh for meetings with the Saudi Monarch, Crown Prince, Deputy Crown Prince and Foreign Minister. “They pledged to continue and intensify support to the moderate Syrian opposition while the political track is being pursued,” the State Department statement said after Kerry’s meetings in Saudi Arabia. It did not spell out what kind of support would be offered. Rebels have appealed for more military support from foreign backers, including Saudi Arabia, to confront major Syrian army offensives. Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir insisted on Sunday that Bashar al-Assad should have no role in Syria’s future, adding there had been some progress in international talks on resolving the conflict. [Reuters, 10/25/2015]

Nine killed in raid on ISIS cell in Turkey
Turkey claimed it struck a major blow against an ISIS cell in a raid Monday in which seven militants reportedly were killed. Two police officers also died in the clash in southeastern Turkey, police said. The police officers were killed by booby-trap bombs as they broke down a door during a pre-dawn operation launched on “three or four houses” used by an ISIS cell in the city of Diyarbakir, Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said. A dozen suspected militants were detained. Five other police officers were wounded during the raid. [AP, 10/26/2015]

Suicide bomber targets Shia pilgrims, killing seven in Baghdad
An Iraqi police official reported a man wearing a suicide belt attacked a tent serving refreshments to pilgrims in Baghdad observing an annual Shia ritual, killing at least seven people. The attack happened in Baghdad’s eastern al-Shaab neighborhood. The police official said at least two police officers were among the dead. At least nineteen people were wounded in the attack. ISIS has already claimed a number of attacks on pilgrims and other Shia gatherings since the start of the holy period of Muharrem, commemorating the death of the Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammed and an iconic Shia martyr. [AP, 10/26/2015]

Tony Blair says Iraq war contributed to rise of ISIS; new envoy for Anti-ISIS Coalition
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said the US-led invasion of Iraq was partly responsible for the emergence of ISIS in the Middle East, but insisted that toppling dictator Saddam Hussein had been the right thing to do. “I apologize for the fact that the intelligence we received was wrong,” he said in clips released by CNN before the broadcast on Sunday. “I also apologize for some of the mistakes in planning and, certainly, our mistake in our understanding of what would happen once you removed the regime.” On Friday, Secretary of State John Kerry announced Brett McGurk to replace General John Allen as the Special Presidential Envoy to the Anti-ISIL Coalition. [CNN, WSJ, Reuters, 10/26/2015]

For more in-depth Syria news and analysis, please visit SyriaSource


Locals say Yemen pro-government forces make gains in southwest city Taiz
Yemeni forces loyal to President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi, backed by Saudi-coalition air strikes, made gains on Sunday in the southwestern city of Taiz after days of battles with Houthi fighters, a local official and residents said. Government troops and resistance fighters launched on an assault Sunday morning on the Houthis positions in the city, killing thirteen and capturing eight. The troops also regained control of several of Taiz’s districts. The Saudi-led coalition is trying to restore President Hadi’s government and fend off what it considers expanding Iranian influence in the region. At least 5,600 people have been killed in Yemen and the United Nations says the humanitarian situation, exacerbated by the Arab coalition’s blockade of Yemeni ports, grows worse every day. Houthi rebels have also prevented medicine and food supplies from entering Taiz, making the city’s residents desperate for humanitarian aid. [Reuters, Gulf News, UN News Centre, 10/25/2015]

Militants storm supermarket in Yemen’s Aden
About thirty Islamist militants stormed a supermarket in Yemen’s southern city of Aden on Sunday, firing into the air and briefly taking hostages. Shoppers fled when the militants fired in the air, but an unknown number were trapped inside when the gunmen locked the doors. The militants freed the hostages after less than an hour and left the scene. The witnesses said the militants shouted that they were protesting the mingling of men and women in the supermarket and demanded that female employees cover their faces, in keeping with a strict interpretation of sharia. After the Saudi-led coalition and pro-government forces expelled the Houthis from Aden in July, al-Qaeda has reportedly taken advantage of the security vacuum as pro-government forces moved on to challenge the Houthis elsewhere in southern Yemen. There have been increasing concerns over the security situation in Yemen, as armed tribesmen raided the central prison in Aden also on Sunday, killing a guard and wounding another, to free a prisoner being held for an earlier attack in the city. [AP, 10/25/2015]

UN plans Yemen peace talks amid increasing concerns over humanitarian situation
The United Nations Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed told the UN Security Council that he would immediately arrange face-to-face negotiations between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels, but also warned that a “disastrous humanitarian situation” has left most of the country in dire need. Ahmed said both sides accepted a Security Council resolution approved in April that requires the rebels to withdraw from all areas they control and lay down arms captured in months of fighting, though he added that the Houthis are committed to “a negotiated withdrawal from Yemen’s key cities.” He also cautioned that “the positions of the different sides to this conflict remain very divergent,” but expressed hope that these first talks will rapidly lead to an end to fighting and resumption of political dialogue. A location and date for the peace talks has yet to be announced. [AP, Reuters, 10/23/2015]

Saudi court upholds death sentence of prominent Shia cleric
A high court in Saudi Arabia has upheld on appeal a guilty verdict and death sentence against a widely revered Shia Muslim cleric who galvanized young Shia activists with his outspoken criticism of the Sunni monarchy, his brother said Sunday. Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr was a central figure in Shia protests that erupted in 2011 as part of the Arab Spring. His execution will likely spark new unrest among the OPEC powerhouse’s Shia minority. He was found guilty of sedition and other charges in October last year in a case that drew criticism, as it highlighted the limits of free speech in Saudi Arabia. Al-Nimr’s case attracted international attention after the prosecution unsuccessfully urged the court to have the cleric’s body and severed head put on public display. Al-Nimr has not denied political charges leveled against him, but says he has never advocated violence. Al-Nimr’s nephew, Ali al-Nimr, also remains on death row for charges filed when he was a minor. [AP, 10/25/2015]

Saudi relationship with UK at risk, warns ambassador
An “alarming change” in Britain’s attitude towards Saudi Arabia could lead to serious repercussions, Saudi Ambassador Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz warned. Saudi Arabia has long been accused of human rights abuses and has come under pressure from the United Kingdom over its treatment of people who have violated sharia. Prince Mohammed said Saudi Arabia would “not be lectured to by anyone” in response to Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn’s remarks that the cancellation of a deal for the United Kingdom Saudi prison staff was in response to the Saudi Kingdom’s domestic issues. [BBC, The Daily Telegraph, 10/25/2015]


Cheap oil weans Gulf state firms off public purse, pushes them to market
Gulf state-linked firms are being forced to wean themselves off direct government funding and focus more on capital markets and private investment as they push ahead with projects in an era of cheap oil. Prior to the global drop in oil prices, building projects were funded entirely by the government. However, Gulf governments are scaling back nonessential plans and looking to markets to share the financial burden. “The future, as we see it, are projects that connect to private investment,” said United Arab Emirates’ Minister of Public Works Abdullah bin Mohammed al-Nuaim. This could be a boon for bankers, who have long wanted to play a bigger role in arranging financing packages for Gulf governments. So far, the shift is most evident in the smaller Gulf countries that lack huge cash reserves but have large projects in the pipeline, namely Oman and Bahrain. However, state firms are approaching alternative funding solutions at a time when the market is changing. As governments’ oil income shrinks, local banks are receiving fewer new deposits, which reduces the cash available for projects. Money markets reflect this trend as rates rise, which may drive borrowers towards bonds rather than loans. [Reuters, 10/25/2015]

Minister says UAE is open to imposing taxes
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is open to imposing taxes, Economy Minister Sultan Bin Saeed al-Mansouri said on Saturday. He emphasized that any decision will be evaluated thoroughly by the government before being implemented. “Any decision on any issue, there is a process in the government. We will discuss it, evaluate it how it affects our competitiveness. We are part of the [Gulf Cooperation Council] and there should be a common policy. So in the future, if this serves the government and the people it, could open to taxes just as other nations have,” al-Mansouri said. He did not elaborate on what kind of taxes the government is considering or what the timeline for implementation could be. The UAE’s Ministry of Finance said it has conducted several feasibility studies on taxation and its social and economic implications. [Gulf News, 10/25/2015]

Egypt plans to rent third regasification unit by early 2017
Egypt is looking to rent a third floating storage and regasification unit (FSRU) late next year or early in 2017 as it works to plug acute energy shortages, EGAS head Khaled Abdel Badie said on Saturday. The FSRUs allow Egypt to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) and convert it to natural gas to feed its power grid, which is often affected by blackouts. More recently, the gas shortfall has led to rationing among energy-intensive industries, sometimes halting output. Badie said the third FSRU would be used to meet the natural gas needs of industry and boost electricity generation. Egypt received its first FSRU from Norway’s Hoegh in April and its second FSRU from Singapore-based Norwegian group BW Gas in September. Petroleum Minister Tarek al-Molla said that British Petroleum would begin production at its north Alexandria concession in early 2017 rather than mid-2017. He said that output could reach 1.2 billion cubic feet per day by the end of 2019. [Reuters, 10/24/2015]

Central Bank of Libya says budget deficit if half of last year’s level
A report issued last month by the Central Bank of Libya (CBL) suggests spending on wages and subsidies has fallen in the first three quarters of 2015. However, the country is still running a major budget deficit. The CBL said it continues to operate “responsibly and independently,” but that the country is facing a “grueling financial crisis” caused by a lack of security that has greatly reduced oil exports. The CBL said that the budget deficit so far in 2015 is about half of that in the same period of 2014. Still, the report warned that Libya’s financial situation would worsen if a political agreement is not reached. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 10/26/2015]

TAP holds roundtable meeting on draft finance law 2016
Tunis Afrique Presse (TAP) held a roundtable meeting on Saturday to discuss Tunisia’s draft 2016 finance bill. Representatives from the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT), the Tunisian Confederation for Industry, Trade and Handicrafts, the Tunisian Union of Agriculture and Fisheries (UTAP), and the Association of Chartered Accountants, among others, were present. UGTT representative Mongi Smaali said that while the finance bill contains “early signs of reform,” the Tunisian government lacks a clear vision. UTAP representative Sassi Azzouz criticized the bill for its lack of measures in support of the debt-burdened agricultural sector. Experts present at the meeting said that while the draft law contains “bold and reforming” measures, they are insufficient to meet the challenges of the Tunisian economy. The Finance Ministry’s Director of Studies and Tax Legislation Imed Zaier pushed back against criticism of the bill, calling it a milestone in Tunisia’s tax reform process. The Finance Committee at the House of People’s Representatives is scheduled to examine the bill on Monday before it is brought to the floor. [TAP, 10/24/2015]