Top News: Rebels Launch Offensive in Southern Syria

An alliance of rebels in southern Syria announced a major offensive Wednesday to capture remaining positions held by the Syrian military in Quneitera province, near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. A spokesman for the Southern Front said groups fighting in the operation had signed a pact, which did not include the Nusra Front, as the group does “not share the vision for a free Syria.” One of the rebel alliance’s targets will be Brigade 90, the Syrian government’s main base in the area. Allied rebel forces surrounded the Druze village of Hader after clashes with pro-government forces on Wednesday, a day after Israel said it was preparing to protect refugees who may flee fighting in the area cross to the Israeli-occupied side of the Golan. The rebel offensive comes after shelling in and around Damascus left at least thirty-three people dead. [ReutersBBC, 6/17/2015]



International condemnations of Brotherhood death sentences
The death sentences served to Egypt’s ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi and five others for escaping prison in 2011 is a “worrying development,” the European Union (EU) said late Tuesday. The White House echoed these concerns saying it was “deeply troubled by the politically motivated sentences.” Human Rights Watch called on the Egyptian government to stop executions. Death sentences served to political opponents in Egypt harm the state’s “security and stability” and block the road to reconciliation, Qatar said in a statement, while expressing its “deep concern” regarding the Cairo Criminal Court’s decision. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also called for a repeal of the sentence. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said the court’s decision has no basis in law and is politicized. Meanwhile, the Egyptian UN delegate Ambassador Amr Ramadan stressed Egypt’s respect for human rights and defended its death penalty. However, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon expressed concern that “such verdicts, handed down after mass trials, may well have a negative impact on the prospects for long-term stability in Egypt.” [Ahram Online, AFP, Reuters, Egypt Independent, Aswat Masriya, 6/17/2015]

Egypt’s Sisi pardons 165 detained youth on occasion of Ramadan
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has pardoned 165 prisoners, including minors, convicted of breaching the 2013 protest law, according to a presidential statement. The pardons came on the occasion of the month of Ramadan, due to begin tomorrow, state television reported. Sisi signed the pardon decree Wednesday morning, in order for the prisoners to join their families on the first day of Ramadan. The issuance of the decree coincides with a call from relatives of some imprisoned youth to stage a protest outside the Ittihadiya presidential palace on June 12. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, Cairo Post, 6/17/2015]

Disappeared detainee allegedly found in Al-Qanater Prison
Sixteen days after her disappearance, photojournalist Esraa El-Taweel was seen in an Al-Qanater Prison detention cell by Zeinab Mohamed, Freedom for the Brave campaign said Tuesday. Tawil was reported missing on June 1, along with her two friends, Sohaib Saad and Omar Mohamed, all of whom were having dinner in the neighborhood of Maadi. According to Mohamed’s story, Taweel was wearing the same outfit as the day she disappeared when she was sighted at the prison. “She seemed to be doing well, but when I tried to approach her, the policewomen surrounding her refused to let us talk,” Mohamed said. She alleged that the prosecution had not yet questioned Taweel, nor had any official charges been filed against her. The Interior Ministry has yet to announce officially the reason behind Taweel’s arrest, and according to her family, and has refused officially to disclose her location. [DNE, Egypt Independent, Mada Masr, 6/17/2015]

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Tripoli to suggest “amendments” to UN draft agreement
The Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC) says it will deliver a series of “amendments” to the UN in response to a draft peace plan recently put forward by the international body. Speaking on June 16, GNC spokesman Omar Hmeidan said that the draft had some “positive points”, and was the “best way” to resolve the current crisis, but said the document required some changes. Bernardino Leon, the head of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), delivered the proposal to both the Tripoli and Tobruk authorities earlier this week. The House of Representatives in Tobruk is also said to be reviewing the document. [Libya monitor (subscription), 6/17/2015]

New Libyan political group calls for restoration of 1951 constitution and for new head of state
A group of Libyan lawyers, diplomats, political activists, doctors and businessmen from towns across the country have called for the restoration of the 1951 constitution and on Prince Idris al-Senussi to become interim head of state. At a meeting on Tuesday in Barcelona hosted by the European Institute of the Mediterranean (IEMed) and the Toledo International Centre for Peace (CITPax), the group said that Libya was dangerously split and that too many post-revolution figures were unable to put its interests above those of their community or themselves. In the situation, they declared, the country urgently needed an interim head of state who was not linked to any of its present divisions and disputes and who could act as a focus of unity and loyalty for all Libyans. [Libya Herald, 6/17/2015]

Three kidnapped Tunisian diplomats freed in Libya
Three of ten Tunisian consular staff kidnapped in Libya have been freed and negotiations over the other hostages are continuing. Gunmen stormed the Tunisian consulate on Friday in Tripoli, where armed factions have in the past seized diplomats and foreigners to exert pressure on their governments to free Libyan militants held in jails abroad. A Tunisian government source confirmed the release, but did not give any details about negotiations or conditions set by the captors. [Reuters, 6/16/2015]

Repetitive strikes in Tunisia hinder army efforts and encourage terrorism
Prime Minister Habib Essid said that repeated strikes hinder army efforts and incite terrorists to commit misdeeds. In a televised interview, he noted that terrorism is a complex and long-fought struggle that requires cooperation between the army and security forces on the one hand, and citizens on the other, particularly in mountainous areas. He also emphasized that the government has prepared itself for possible terrorist attacks during Ramadan. He asserted that Tunisia and Algeria have been cooperating on counterterrorism but that it is difficult to deal with Libya in the absence of a government and state failure. Regarding the strikes observed in several economic sectors recently, Habib Essid suspected provocation by some parties, but affirmed that his government is open for dialogue to deal with social issues. [AllAfrica/TAP, 6/17/2015]


Rebels launch offensive in southern Syria
An alliance of rebels in southern Syria announced a major offensive Wednesday to capture remaining positions held by the Syrian military in Quneitera province, near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. A spokesman for the Southern Front said groups fighting in the operation had signed a pact, which did not include the Nusra Front, as the group does “not share the vision for a free Syria.” One of the rebel alliance’s targets will be Brigade 90, the Syrian government’s main base in the area. Allied rebel forces surrounded the Druze village of Hader after clashes with pro-government forces on Wednesday, a day after Israel said it was preparing to protect refugees who may flee fighting in the area cross to the Israeli-occupied side of the Golan. The rebel offensive comes after shelling in and around Damascus left at least thirty-three people dead. [Reuters, BBC, 6/17/2015]

Kerry ‘certain’ Assad waged chemical attacks
US Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday his government is “absolutely certain” the overwhelming majority of chemical attacks in Syria had been carried out by the regime, and was currently compiling evidence to back the claims. Kerry has spoken with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and says the United States is “engaged in a number of efforts, diplomatically and otherwise” on the matter. He added that some opposition groups might have had access to chemical materials and used them during the war, but stressed the alleged use of them by government forces. [Daily Star, Reuters, 6/17/2015]

Syrian Kurds seek bigger role after victories
Yesterday’s Kurdish-led seizure of Tal Abyad from ISIS may have dealt ISIS its worst defeat to date in Syria, cutting a supply route to ISIS’s de facto capital of Raqqa city. Now controlling an uninterrupted 400 km stretch of the Syrian-Turkish border, the Kurds are positioned to help secure an area where the United States says more needs to be done to stop the flow of fighters joining ISIS. Turkey accused Kurdish militia of persecuting civilians on Tuesday, claiming it saw signs of “ethnic cleansing,” and drawing a parallel between recent Kurdish actions and those of both ISIS and the Assad government. The YPG Tuesday apologized for the displacement of people from the villages of Sabaa and al-Mankala during the group’s recent clashes with ISIS in Raqqa, and urged residents of the villages to return to their homes, promising that fighters involved in the incidents would be “held accountable.” The first group of Syrian refugees returned to Tal Abyad from Turkey Wednesday. [Reuters, 6/17/2015]

Iraqi Prime Minister to visit Iran for talks on anti-ISIS war
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi will travel to Iran on Wednesday for talks on the war against ISIS. He will meet with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other Iranian officials to discuss issues including “international efforts to confront [ISIS] terrorist gangs.” ISIS killed five policemen in Baiji, a town near Iraq’s largest oil refinery, on Wednesday. A local official said ISIS mounted the operation at Tal Albu Jarad village, and after receiving reinforcements, its fighters recaptured three neighborhoods in Baiji, prompting another wave of clashes with Iraqi forces. [AFP, 6/16/2015]

Senate blocks direct aid to Kurdish forces
The US Senate blocked an amendment Tuesday that would have allowed the Obama administration to give weapons and training directly to Kurdish peshmerga forces in Iraq, rather than having to work through the Iraqi government in Baghdad. The bill came six votes short of the sixty-vote threshold it needed to pass, and is opposed by members of the Obama administration such as Defense Secretary Ashton Carter. [The Hill, 6/16/2015]


Geneva talks continue with hope for a ceasefire
A Yemeni delegate to the UN peace talks said Tuesday that all sides agree there must be a ceasefire to halt nearly three months of bloodshed, but that no deal has been reached yet. Ghaleb al-Mutlak, from the southern separatist movement, said that the proposed cease-fire would be for a one-month halt to all fighting, including airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition. At the same time, there is still uncertainty in Geneva as the Houthi leader, Abdul Malik al-Houthi, accused the ousted government of using UN Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed as a tool and hindering the UN’s neutrality. President Abdorabbo Mansour Hadi remains firm on his position, refusing to discuss anything other than the implementation of UN resolution 2216. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, in addition to a host of foreign leaders, are pushing for a ceasefire in order to distribute desperately needed aid to the war torn country.
[Daily Star, Reuters, 6/17/2015]

AQAP executes two Saudi nationals for spying
Al-Qaeda militants killed two Saudi men accused of spying for the United States in southeast Yemen on Wednesday, residents said. The executions come a day after al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) confirmed the death of its chief Nasser al-Wuhayshi, a former aide of Osama bin Laden and deputy leader of al-Qaeda’s global organisation. Images posted on social media by al-Qaeda supporters showed armed militants on a beach carrying banners and surrounding two blindfolded men kneeling on the sand. “They executed two Saudis, named al-Mutairi and al-Khaledi. They put the two men on the corniche in the city of Mukalla … they opened fire at them in front of a big group of residents,” one resident, who was present on the beach, said. [Reuters, Al Arabiya, AP, 6/17/2015]

Saudi-led airstrikes continue, expand into Western Yemen
Coalition airstrikes hit military targets throughout Yemen on Wednesday and expanded into one western province for the first time, despite peace talks in Geneva aimed at ending almost three months of fighting. The bombings hit army bases in the capital, Sanaa, and Houthi militia targets in Yemen’s central desert and the mountainous province of Mahweet, one of the last provinces in Yemen not to be bombed since the airstrike campaign began on March 26. Further strikes in Aden resulted in the death of over thirty civilians, according to medical officials. [Reuters, AP, 6/17/2015]

Qatar urges for release of Mohamed Morsi
Qatar expressed “deep concern” Wednesday over a death sentence handed down by an Egyptian court against ousted President Mohamed Morsi and called for his release. “Doha adds its voice to the countries calling for the verdict to be quashed and Morsi released,” said the statement on the official Qatar News Agency. “The death sentences against political dissidents in Egypt harm security and stability, and close the door to reconciliation and harmony,” the Qatari statement said. [Daily Star, 6/17/2015]


Libya aims to increase oil output, reopen key ports
As a battle for market share rages in the oil industry, Libya is struggling to stand its ground. According to Mustafa Sanallah, chairman of Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC), more than half of the 432,000 barrels per day (bpd) is being exported. Libya may double crude output to 800,000 bpd by next month amid mediations to reopen oil and gas pipelines feeding export terminals. Sanallah said he is optimistic that the Es Sider and Ras Lanuf oil ports will open in four to five weeks. The two export terminal have a “good quantity” of crude in storage, Sanalla said. Should they reopen, NOC would only release them to the world market “gradually” so as not to drive the price of its crude lower, he said. Sanallah added that Libya aims to boost oil production to 1 million bpd by the end of the year; however, analysts are not so optimistic. [Financial Times, Bloomberg, 6/16/2015]

No rush as foreigners gain Saudi stock access
On Monday, when Saudi Arabia allowed foreign investors direct access to its stock market, investors bought shares in less than 5 percent of equities. By the end of the trading day on Monday, qualified foreign investors held seven out of 170 stocks directly, owning less than a tenth of a percentage point of each company. Saudi International Petrochemical Co. was the biggest winner after Qualified Foreign Intermediaries (QFI) bought 0.02 percent of the stock. However, analysts say there has been no rush to acquire QFI status and that many global investors have decided to “wait and see.” [Bloomberg, 6/17/2015]

Egypt to adopt law regulating Suez Canal investment this week
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will decide legislation organizing and governing investment in the Suez Canal zone this week, said Hani Sarie Eldin, head of Sarie Eldin & Partners’ advisory law firm. Sarie Eldin said the Law of Economic Zones of a Special Nature, which will organize investments in the zone, would exempt projects that direct their production to exports from customs. It will also affect other projects’ exemptions from tax on sales. Sarie Eldin explained that the law will convert the Suez Canal Axis into an economic zone with a single-window system that has the authority to grant investors licenses. Investment projects in the Suez Canal area will be subject to an income tax of approximately 22.5 percent. [DNE, 6/16/2015]

Oil slump to cost GCC states $240 billion in assets
Countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), including the UAE and Saudi Arabia, stand to lose $240 billion in hard-earned assets in 2015 if oil prices will remain at low levels for the rest of the year. GCC governments have been urged to find other sources of revenue amid low oil prices, cut subsidies and budgets, and curtail government spending to avoid job losses, project cancellations, low bank liquidity, and other economic challenges. Alp Eke, director and senior economist at the National Bank of Abu Dhabi’s (NBAD), said the biggest loss will be incurred by Saudi Arabia, estimated at around $160 billion, while the UAE will lose around $55 billion. [Gulf News, 6/16/2015]