Top News: Obama and Putin Meet on Syria, Remain Divided on Assad’s Fate

President Barack Obama and President Vladimir Putin met on Monday at the United Nations. Their speeches earlier in the day presented starkly different views on the Syrian crisis and how to bring stability to the Middle East. President Obama made a defense of diplomacy and in reference to Putin warned that “dangerous currents risk pulling us back into a darker, more disordered world.” Even so, both leaders appeared interested in whether their meeting on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) could yield progress toward ending Syria’s conflict. Both leaders agreed there should be a process of political transition in Syria but, a US official added, they “fundamentally disagreed” on the role of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. [NYTAFPAP, 9/29/2015]



Sisi addresses UNGA, calls for strategy to fight extremism
In his speech before the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on Monday, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called on world leaders to unite in the fight against terrorism. “How many Muslims must fall victim to this abominable extremism and odious terrorism to convince the world that all of us, Muslims and non-Muslims alike are fighting the same enemy, facing the same threat,” asked Sisi, calling Egypt the world’s “first line of defense.” He also emphasized the need to focus on youth in order to combat extremism to “keep them from drifting towards radical interpretations of Islam,” and announced an initiative entitled “Hope and Action for a New Direction” in coordination with the UN to fight extremism among youths. Sisi also reviewed Egypt’s role in several regional conflicts, including Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Palestine. He called for the building of a new “democratic Syria,” but said that Syria’s state structure must remain intact. He also highlighted the fact that “Egypt is hosting an increasing number of refugees.” Dozens of Egyptians protested in front of the United Nations headquarters in New York ahead of the speech, both in support of and in opposition to Sisi. Sisi also held separate meetings with Jordan’s King Abdullah, Iraqi Prime Minister Hayder al-Abadi, French President Francois Hollande, and Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on the sidelines of UNGA to discuss bilateral relations with the respective heads of state. Meanwhile, prior to his UNGA speech, in an interview with CNN on Monday, Sisi said that Egypt enjoys more extensive freedom of expression than ever before, saying that no one in Egypt under his presidency has been prosecuted for expressing their views. [Mada Masr, Ahram Online, DNE, SIS, 9/29/2015]

Campaigning begins for parliamentary elections
Campaigning kicked off on Tuesday for Egypt’s parliamentary elections and will continue for seventeen days, according to High Elections Committee (HEC) Spokesperson Omar Marawan. He added that there will be a “silent day” on October 16 prior to the first phase of elections on October 17 and 18. In the case of a runoff, he said voting abroad would take place on October 26 and 27 and voting in Egypt would take place on October 27 and 28. Marawan said a specialized HEC subcommittee has been ‎formed to oversee the campaigns and ensure that they comply with the rules. ‎“Offenders will face financial penalties ranging from ‎EGP 10,000 to EGP 100,000,” and could be eliminated from the candidate list, he said. Each candidate is permitted to spend a maximum of EGP 500,000 on campaigning and an additional EGP 200,000 if they qualify for runoff elections. Candidates are obligated to open accounts in one of two state owned banks – the National Bank of Egypt or Banque Misr – and with Egypt Post Office to deposit campaign funds and donations to which the HEC will have access. Meanwhile, on Monday, Egypt’s Administrative Court rejected a lawsuit filed by steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz challenging his exclusion from running in the upcoming parliamentary elections. The Administrative Court’s rulings are binding and cannot be reversed. [Ahram Online, AMAY, Aswat Masriya, SIS, 9/29/2015]

Academic year postponed in Sheikh Zuweid, Rafah amid security concerns
The upcoming academic year has been postponed until October 10 in the North Sinai towns of Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid, according to a report issued by the North Sinai governorate. While the stated reason for the postponement is ongoing maintenance work in the schools, the decision comes after Sheikhs from local Bedouin tribes in Sheikh Zuweid met with governorate officials, asking them to postpone the academic year’s commencement due to the lack of security in the region. The military recently concluded the first stage of a wide-scale military operation targeting areas in North Sinai, particularly around the areas of Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid. [DNE, 9/28/2015]

Verbal, physical sexual harassment incidents number 447 during Eid, says report
In a final report by the anti-sexual harassment initiative I Saw Harassment, 447 cases of sexual harassment were documented during Eid Al-Adha celebrations. The report includes two incidents involving security personnel sexually harassing women during the celebrations. “In both cases, the security men committed verbal harassment, and our team members spoke to them regarding their behavior in an attempt to increase their awareness,” said the official coordinator for the group Fathi Farid. Farid explained that it was not within the initiative’s tasks to take further measures against harassers, except for providing assistance to victims who wish to report incidents. [DNE, Egypt Independent, 9/28/2015]

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Obama admits mistakes in Libya
US President Barack Obama said on Monday that the international community should have done more to avoid a leadership vacuum in Libya after the fall of Muammar Qaddafi four years ago. Obama told the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) that the international community must work harder in the future to ensure states do not implode. His rare acknowledgement of mistakes in Libya’s transition came as the United Nations tries to negotiate a political agreement between two rival governments and their armed backers. Russian President Vladimir Putin blamed the chaos in the region, including in Libya, on the sudden removal of the old leaders, and said this was creating many recruits for the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). Many ISIS recruits came from Libya, Putin said, “a country whose statehood was destroyed as a result of a gross violation” of a UN Security Council resolution under which the NATO action was carried out. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 9/28/2015]

HOR political roadmap to be announced before October 20
Libya’s House of Representatives (HOR) says it will outline a political roadmap for the country before its mandate officially expires on October 20. The media office of the HOR said the parliament “does not intend to extend its term,” but will ensure that there is no political vacuum in the country. Libya will be run by the “people’s will,” the HOR said, without providing details on what that would entail. In July, the internationally recognized Tobruk-based parliament said it formed a committee to outline plans for a post October period, in the case that the United Nations backed peace talks failed to form a new government by that time. The committee is headed by Ibrahim Amish and includes thirty-three members of parliament. [Libya Monitor, 9/29/2015]

Ansar al-Sharia in Libya denies links to either ISIS or Libya Dawn
Ansar al-Sharia has denied a claim by ISIS that it has sworn allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In a statement on its social media site, Ansar al-Sharia blamed members in Sirte for the error, adding, “if you mean the brothers in Sirte [who allied with ISIS], you should know that they were not from the Ansar al-Sharia leadership.” The statement also denied that the group had any kind of relationship with Libya’s Tripoli-based government. It insisted that it had never received assistance from Libya Dawn and that there was no alliance between the two groups. [Libya Herald, 9/28/2015]

Turkish consulate in Misrata closed after reported grenade attack
One of the last remaining diplomatic missions in Libya has been forced to close its doors following a reported grenade attack. The attack on the Turkish consulate in Misrata took place early on September 28. “A man wearing civilian clothes was monitored by the consulate’s surveillance cameras in central Misrata. He…threw a hand grenade inside the consulate’s courtyard,” said an unnamed security source. No causalities were reported. The attack comes a day after Tripoli’s Foreign Minister Mohamed al-Girani met Turkish General Consul Senol Sevim to discuss recently introduced Turkish visa restrictions. [Libya Monitor, 9/29/2015]

Ban Ki-moon applauds Tunisian counterterrorism efforts
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon congratulated Tunisia for its efforts in the fight against terrorism. Ban Ki-moon said he will present a new counterterrorism strategy to the UNGA in January 2016. He was speaking at a meeting with Prime Minister Habib Essid on the sidelines of the UN Sustainable Development Summit and the UNGA. Ban Ki-moon also welcomed Tunisia’s contribution to the efforts of the Libyan political dialogue. He expressed hope that the Tunisian government and the United Nations will sign an agreement for the provisional transfer of the offices of the United Nations Mission in Libya to Tunis. Essid emphasized Tunisia’s willingness to further strengthen its cooperation with the United Nations. [TAP/All Africa, ANSAmed, 9/28/2015]

Essebsi to visit Sisi in Egypt
Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi will travel to Egypt on October 4 for an official visit following an invitation from his Egyptian counterpart Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Moez Sinaoui, the spokesperson for the Tunisian presidency, explained that the visit comes within the framework of strengthening economic and diplomatic ties between the two countries. [ANSAmed, 9/29/2015]


Syria opposition urges to avoid “another Rwanda”
The President of Syria’s main opposition National Coalition Khaled Khoja went to the United Nations late on Monday to urge the international community to prevent his war-torn country from turning into another Rwanda. “What is happening in Syria is an extermination,” Khoja told a news conference, in reference to barrel bombs dropped by the Syrian regime. “Two-thirds of civilian deaths are now caused by Assad’s aerial bombardment and 95 percent of everyone killed by Assad’s air strikes are civilians…It does not need to be this way. There is still time to avoid another Rwanda,” said Khoja, speaking on the sidelines of the UNGA in New York. He said the first step was to impose a no-fly zone in Syria to protect civilians from air strikes. [AFP, 9/29/2015]

ISIS withdrawing from east Hama front
The Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) has reportedly been withdrawing its fighters from its frontlines with regime troops east of Hama, where it launched an offensive in the spring of 2015. Both pro- and anti-regime outlets covered the repositioning of the ISIS troops, which had threatened the Ismaili community in central Syria. Considerable fears had grown in the area after the extremist group massacred dozens of civilians in the east Hama village of Mabuja in March. The regime’s Al-Watan newspaper reported Tuesday that ISIS had withdrawn from the front after the Syrian air force conducted a number of air strikes in the area. [NOW, 9/29/2015]

Syria rebels target airport used by Russia
Syrian rebels have fired rockets at the Latakia airport where Russia has reportedly been setting up a forward air operating base amid its military buildup in the country. “Two projectiles struck an area in agricultural land close to the Hmeimim airbase,” the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Monday evening, in reference to the military facility located adjacent to Latakia’s civilian international airport. “No information about human losses has emerged,” the organization added. Ahrar al-Sham claimed credit for the attack, releasing a video Monday claiming to show its militants firing Grad rockets at the base. [NOW, 9/29/2015]

Erdogan criticizes PKK, HDP ahead of elections
Addressing a group of community representatives at the Presidential Palace in Ankara on Tuesday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), saying that the group is “not only the enemy of the country, but is also the enemy of all members of our nation along with our Kurdish siblings.” He categorically denied the PKK’s inclusion in the nation and in a pointed attack at the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), which has close ties to the PKK, added “those who aim at our country’s gains do not belong to this country, even if they are in parliament.” With the elections coming up in just over one month, the final candidate lists have been announced, and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) has committed to monitor ballot boxes in the southeast. [Hurriyet, Anadolu Agency, 9/29/2015]

Turkish military kills thirty Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq
The Turkish government reported that more than thirty Kurdish rebels were killed overnight on Monday in northern Iraq. On Tuesday, officials said clashes between Turkish security forces and Kurdish rebels have claimed nearly sixty lives in the southeast and across the border in northern Iraq. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that his government has killed 2,000 rebels in military operations since the conflict between the state and the PKK was reignited in July. [AP, 9/29/2015]


United Nations condemns air strike on wedding party
The death toll from an air strike on a wedding party in Yemen has jumped to 131 in one of the deadliest attacks on civilians in Yemen’s war that drew strong condemnation from the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. A Saudi-led Arab coalition that has air supremacy over Yemen has strongly denied any role in the wedding party carnage, and a coalition spokesman suggested that local militias may have fired the projectiles. UN Human Rights Council Spokesman Rupert Colville said almost two-thirds of the civilian deaths reported in Yemen over the past twelve months had allegedly been caused by coalition air strikes. Ban Ki-moon condemned the high death toll at the wedding event and warned that any intentional attack on civilians violates international law and must be investigated. The increasing civilian death toll from the conflict has led the International Committee of the Red Cross to announce, during a meeting with Yemen Human Rights Minister Ezzaddin al-Asbahi on Monday, that it will raise its budget for Yemen from $35 million to $55 million. [Reuters, BBC, 9/29/2015]

Yemen President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi to address UNGA today
President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi will reportedly speak to the UN General Assembly today about the crisis in Yemen that began over a year ago when Houthi militias supporting former President Ali Abdullah Saleh overran the capital Sana’a. President Hadi’s address comes shortly after Yemeni Foreign Minister Riyadh Yassin called on the international community on Sunday to pressure the Houthis to withdraw from areas they have occupied in Yemen. Foreign Minister Yassin has been critical of the way the United Nations and the international community have handled the crisis, in particular the United Nations’ calls for the Yemeni government to hold direct talks with the Houthis’ despite the rebels’ refusal to abide by a UN Security Council resolution 2216 stipulating that they withdraw from areas under their control and end violence against civilians. [Asharq Al-Aswat, Al Bawaba, 9/29/2015]

Houthis accuse Saudi-coalition of threatening international security and peace
Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdel Salam has criticized the “silence” over crimes committed by the Saudi-led coalition on civilians in Yemen. He said that the Saudi government has committed daily massacres over the past seven months, threatening not only regional security but also international security and peace. He called for an economic embargo to be placed on the Saudi government as long as their intervention persists. Some 5,000 people, including 2,355 civilians, have been killed in airstrikes and fighting on the ground since March 26. [Sahafah (Arabic), 9/29/2015]


Yemen’s Aden oil refinery resumes operations
Yemen’s 150,000 barrel per day Aden refinery resumed operations on Tuesday after being shut down for more than five months, according to an industry source at the refinery. “The refinery is back online and is refining crude it had in storage from before,” the source said, adding that the refinery is now operating at half of its processing capacity. The plant, in the southern port city of Aden, was closed in April. That month, the Aden Refinery Company declared force majeure on its oil imports and exports. [Reuters, 9/29/2015]

Iraq’s southern oil exports to see modest rise in 2016
Iraq’s southern oil exports will rise modestly to around 3.25 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2016, the head of the state owned South Oil Company (SOC) said, as the country struggles to boost production in the face of slumping crude prices. Shipments at the southern port of Basra were at 3.021 million bpd in August. SOC head Hayan Abdulghani Abdulzahra said export growth in 2016 would rely on production increases in fields operated by foreign firms and state owned companies. “This increase will be in stages,” Abdulzahra said, without providing more details. International firms such as BP, Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil, Eni, and Lukoil operate in the southern oilfields under service contracts. Abdulzahra said the SOC had not yet received the firms’ budgets for 2016 but that it expects to during the fourth quarter of this year. Meanwhile, foreign oil companies have said they see little chance of a rise in Iraqi production after a request from Baghdad to slash development spending. The government has less money to pay oil companies due to lower oil revenues. [Reuters, 9/28/2015]

Currency woes hinder Egypt’s economy
Egypt’s war against its foreign currency black market may have successfully dampened the illicit trade in dollars, but it has left many businesses struggling and is being blamed for contributing to the country’s economic slowdown. Small and medium-sized business owners complain that they are being strangled by a shortage of dollars and are unable to fund imports, while analysts say big companies are deferring expansion plans because of difficulties accessing foreign currency. Egypt’s central bank (CBE) has since been battling to slow the currency’s slide, and its measures have been partially effective. Although there is still a parallel market, it has been greatly reduced. Mohamed Abu Basha, an economist at EFG Hermes, acknowledged that “most big and priority list companies” were still able to access currency through the banks. But he added that the policy is “a constraint on new investment and businesses outside the priority list” and is one of the reasons behind a slowdown in growth. CBE Governor Hisham Ramez has said that the foreign currency crunch is mainly the result of one-off commitments and that there will be less pressure in 2016. [FT, 9/29/2015]

Eni could double Libya production, says CEO
Claudio Descalzi, CEO of Italian energy company Eni, said that the company remains committed to Libya despite political turmoil in the country and that new finds could potentially double its output in the country. “We have made many finds [in Libya] and could more than double our production. This would be good news for all of Europe,” Descalzi said at the Italian Energy Summit on Monday in Milan. He did not provide any details about potential new discoveries. “Our strategy for Libya won’t change: we have remained there and we’re still there producing gas for the domestic market,” he said. Descalzi also said he expects the price of crude oil to rise over the next two or three years, potentially reaching $90 per barrel. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 9/29/2015]