Top News: Red Cross Temporarily Suspends Activity In Aden After Attack on Headquarters

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Tuesday it had temporarily suspended its activities in the southern Yemeni port city of Aden after its office was raided by unidentified gunmen a day earlier. The attackers held staff at gunpoint and stole cars, cash and equipment, ICRC spokeswoman Dibeh Fakhr said in an emailed comment. The aid agency had relocated fourteen international staff, Fakhr told reporters in Geneva. One of the few aid agencies still operating in Aden and Yemen as a whole, the ICRC played a key role in providing medical supplies and treatment to stricken residents. Adnan Hizam, the organization’s spokesman in Yemen, said the move would “affect the Red Cross’ activities in Aden and other southern provinces.” [ReutersAFP, 8/25/2015]



Egyptian court issues preliminary death sentences to two Morsi supporters
A Giza criminal court, presided over by Judge Mohamed Nagy Shehata, issued a preliminary death sentence to two activists supporting Egypt’s ousted president Mohamed Morsi in the “Ultras Rabaawy trial” on Monday. Ultras Rabaawy is a pro-Morsi youth group which employs the tactics of hardcore Egyptian football fan groups known as Ultras in their protests. The court referred its decision to the country’s Grand Mufti for a consultative review as required by Egyptian law. Although the Grand Mufti’s opinion is non-binding, Egyptian judges have traditionally aligned their final rulings to the Mufti’s recommendations. The court’s final verdict is scheduled for October 3. The defendants, along with three others, are accused of torching the administrative prosecution building in Cairo and a mobile phone network communication tower in October 6 City. [Ahram Online, 8/24/2015]

Egypt’s Sisi to visit with Russia’s Putin for third time on Tuesday
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will start his third visit to Russia on Tuesday. His three-day visit will begin with a visit to the Russian Parliament and a meeting with its chairman Sergey Naryshkin. Sisi will meet his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Wednesday, according to the Kremlin’s official website, where they will discuss “all aspects of bilateral relations, including prospects of further strengthening trade and economic cooperation.” The visit will include the announcement of new political, economic and military agreements between the two countries, including an agreement over the construction of at least two nuclear power stations in Dabaa. Russian Tomsk State University (TSU) and the Russian University in Cairo also signed Monday a joint training program in atomic energy. Students will be trained in Egyptian universities during the first three years, then in Tomsk for two and a half years. The Ministry of Trade and Industry said Monday that Egyptian-Russian trade exchange rose by 86 percent reaching $5.4 billion in 2014. Russian exports to Egypt increased by 22.3 percent last year, according, with wheat and petroleum topping imported products from Russia. [Ahram Online, 8/25/2015]

Detainee dies in Fayoum police station
An alleged member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Ahmed Hamed died Sunday morning at the Fayoum police station’s detention facility. His family claims he was tortured, a claim that security officers deny. Hamed’s family said that upon hearing the news of the death, they headed to the police station, but officers did not grant them access. They accused the police of torturing him due to his affiliation with the Brotherhood and said that he was being tortured since he was “kidnapped” last week. The family received the body only after they signed permission for burial. The Ministry of Interior, however, said Hamed died due to high body temperature inside the detention room at the police station. It added that Hamed was arrested for “making bombs to use in terrorist operations.” The ministry also said that he suffered from a number of diseases and his health deteriorated in the detention center, claiming that he died upon reaching the hospital. [DNE, 8/25/2015]

Egyptian religious authority says Brotherhood seeks to legitimize violence
Dar al-Ifta, Egypt’s major authority on religious edicts, said the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood group has sought to “legitimize violence” after a document affiliated to the group urged what Dar al-Ifta called “terrorist acts” and the killing of police and military personnel. A monitoring unit of Dar al-Ifta made the comments on Monday two days after a document was released online, allegedly by the Brotherhood’s legislative committee. The document claims to summarize a months-long study into “revolutionary work” endorsed by the Brotherhood’s leadership. The document asserts it is a “religious duty” to put up “all forms of resistance” against the authorities, to fight against the “coup-organizers”—the military-backed regime that ousted Mohamed Morsi in 2013. [Ahram Online, 8/24/2015]

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Libyan General Haftar says forces fighting ISIS in Libya lack weapons

The military chief of Libya’s internationally recognized government General Khalifa Haftar said on Monday that a lack of weapons prevented his forces from attacking Islamic State (ISIS or ISIS) extremists in the city of Sirte. He claims, however, that the Arab League has promised to help. Haftar spoke to reporters after meeting with Jordan’s army chief. The two discussed the training of Libyan troops by Jordan and medical treatment for Libyans wounded in conflict, Haftar said. ISIS fighters consolidated their hold over Sirte earlier this month after putting down a local rebellion. [AP, 8/24/2015]

Women’s track of the Libyan political dialogue meets in Tunis
Some forty representatives of women’s groups met on Monday in Tunis to review the draft political accord hammered out last month. The three-day meeting, facilitated by the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) in partnership with UN Women, will discuss the role of Libyan women in promoting and sustaining a peaceful resolution to the conflict in their country. The gathering comes at a delicate time for the political accord, as it has not yet been fully accepted by the General National Congress, the Tripoli-based opposition parliament to the internationally recognized Tobruk government. At their last Tunis meeting in April, it was evident that divisions still ran deep among the women. However, all delegates endorsed the principle that peace could only come through dialogue and that women have a key role in making this happen. [Libya Herald (Sub.), UNSMIL, 8/24/2015]

Libya’s eastern Tobruk government approves 300 million LD for Tawergha reconstruction
The eastern House of Representatives (HoR) has approved a bill to provide 300 million LD (240 million USD) for reconstruction efforts in Tawergha in western Libya, although it is unclear how it will secure the funds. Jaballah al-Shaybani, a member of the HoR, said the initial request was made by the interim government and has now been approved by the parliament. Al-Shaybani said the funds will be invested in infrastructure and new hospitals in the town, as well as support for displaced families. As with other financial decisions taken by the eastern government, it is unclear where large-scale funds for projects will be obtained. [Libya Monitor (Sub.), 8/25/2015]

Tunisian government negotiating to free forty-five Tunisians held in Syria
The Tunisian government has opened negotiations with the Assad regime in Syria with the goal of repatriating prisoners currently held in the war-torn state, according a source from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Previous reports that foreign fighters with the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) or other violent groups would be among those repatriated have since been denied. The news comes after Tunisian Minister of Foreign Affairs Taieb Baccouche announced that the Syrian government had agreed to receive a General Consul for Tunisia in its territory. [MosaiqueFM (FR), Tunisia Live, 8/25/2015]

Tunisian army units take part in naval exercises with NATO
On Monday, Tunisian army units took part in naval maneuvers with NATO frigates as part of a military exchange experience, Spokesman of the National Defense Ministry Lieutenant-Colonel Belhassen Oueslati said. He specified that NATO ships dock every year in the Goulette port before heading to Sicily as part of a cooperation with the Tunisian army. [All Africa/TAP, 8/25/2015]


UNSC holds first meeting on LGBT rights, discuss ISIS attacks on sexual minorities
The UN Security Council discussed attacks by the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) on sexual minorities, in the organization’s first meeting on gay rights. ISIS claimed responsibility for killing at least thirty people for sodomy with stoning, firing squads, beheadings, and by pushing men from tall buildings, the head of an international gay rights organization said at the meeting. US State Department spokesman John Kirby said the United States expects to accept between 5,000 and 8,000 Syrian refugees in 2016, up from 1,000 to 2,000 refugees planned for 2015. Kirby said, “What we’re really committed to is helping to foster the kind of political transition inside Syria, so that it is a safe environment for Syrian people to return.” [Al Jazeera, AP, Reuters, 8/24/2015]

Middle Eastern leaders meet in Moscow for Syria talks during aerospace salon
Russian President Vladimir Putin is to host the Jordanian King and the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi in Moscow on Tuesday to discuss the Syrian crisis. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will arrive on Wednesday. Though the purpose of the Maks-2015 military salon is to display Russia’s military industry, no international contracts are expected to be signed during the salon. Moscow has hosted several Middle Eastern delegations in recent weeks, including a Syrian opposition delegation tolerated by President Bashar al-Assad arriving Sunday for talks on the crisis. [Daily Star, 8/25/2015]

UNESCO calls destruction of Palmyra temple a war crime
UNESCO Chief Irina Bokova Monday branded the destruction of an ancient temple in Syria’s Palmyra ruins by ISIS a war crime. “This destruction is a new war crime and an immense loss for the Syrian people and for humanity,” Bokova said in a statement, adding that the “perpetrators must be held accountable for their actions.” On Tuesday, ISIS published propaganda photos of what appears to be the destruction of the Temple of Baalshamin with images showing militants rigging the temple with explosives and a large explosion. [AFP, Reuters, 8/25/2015]

ISIS suicide attacks targeting Iraqi outpost kill eight soldiers
A series of ISIS suicide car bombings targeting a military outpost in Anbar province killed eight soldiers and wounded six Monday, military and security officials said. The assault west of the provincial capital of Ramadi involved three vehicles including two fuel trucks. The outpost housed a joint contingent of army soldiers, policemen, and allied Sunni militiamen. Since Friday, at least seventy-five soldiers and allied Sunni militiamen have been killed in the area. Amid efforts to retake Anbar province, Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Monday urged his followers to hold anti-corruption protests in Baghdad this week, the first major political figure to issue such a call. Thousands of people have for weeks taken to the streets of Baghdad and Shia cities in the south on Fridays to protest rampant corruption and abysmal services that plague Iraq. [AP, 8/24/2015]

Lebanon interrogates security members and civilians over weekend demonstrations
Military Prosecutor Judge Dani al-Zaani initiated interrogations with security members and civilians who were arrested during the demonstrations in downtown Beirut that left several injured. “Investigations were kicked off with scores of security members, mainly the anti-riot police, who engaged in a confrontation with undisciplined demonstrators from behind both sides of the barbed wire,” sources said. British Minister for the Middle East Tobias Ellwood said Monday that he was deeply concerned by the scenes of violence and destruction during the weekend demonstrations. Ellwood backed Lebanese Prime Minister Salam’s support of the right to peaceful protest and said, “Lebanon’s citizens deserve to have basic services they can count on and functioning state institutions.” [AFP, 8/25/2015]


Red Cross temporarily suspends activity in Aden after attack on headquarters
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said Tuesday it had temporarily suspended its activities in the southern Yemeni port city of Aden after its office was raided by unidentified gunmen a day earlier. The attackers held staff at gunpoint and stole cars, cash and equipment, ICRC spokeswoman Dibeh Fakhr said in an emailed comment. The aid agency had relocated fourteen international staff, Fakhr told reporters in Geneva. One of the few aid agencies still operating in Aden and Yemen as a whole, the ICRC played a key role in providing medical supplies and treatment to stricken residents. Adnan Hizam, the organization’s spokesman in Yemen, said the move would “affect the Red Cross’ activities in Aden and other southern provinces.” [Reuters, AFP, 8/25/2015]

Saudi-led campaign doubles efforts in Yemen
The Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen doubled its airstrikes Monday in the central province of Marib and the adjacent border area of Jawf, in order to allow allies on the ground to push north toward insurgent strongholds, authorities said. Marib’s pro-government forces also received major reinforcements, including hundreds of Saudi-trained troops, ambulances and armored personnel carriers manned by Saudi and Emirati soldiers. The forces aim to take Saada, the main northern stronghold of the Houthi rebels. In Taiz, pro-government forces claim to control 75 percent of the city. This claim has not been independently verified. [The Daily Star, 8/25/2015]

Mass terror trial begins in United Arab Emirates
A rare mass trial of forty-one radical Islamists accused of seeking to overthrow the government and links with “terrorists” began Monday in the United Arab Emirates, official media reported. Earlier this month, the prosecutor general accused the defendants, who include both Emiratis and foreigners, of plotting attacks aimed at trying to “seize power and establish a caliphate.” He also accused them of creating a group “with a terrorist, takfiri [Sunni Muslim extremist] ideology.” It was not immediately clear if the suspects were accused of links to either group, however the prosecutor has said they were in touch with “foreign terrorist organizations … to help them achieve their goal.” The defendants could face the death penalty if found guilty. [AFP, 8/24/2015]


Iraq oil minister says $9 billion in arrears paid to oil firms
Iraq has paid foreign oil companies $9 billion in remaining arrears for 2014 and will pay outstanding fees for 2015 in stages until the beginning of next year, Oil Minister Adel Abel Mehdi said. He added that the ministry will work with foreign oil companies to find ways to reduce and link costs to oil prices. International firms including British Petroleum, Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil, Eni, and Lukoil operate in Iraq’s southern oilfields under service contracts through which they are paid a fixed dollar fee for production. That means that with the drop in oil prices, the amount of crude oil needed to pay foreign firms has roughly doubled. Oil companies have already proposed millions of dollars of budget cuts in response to the price drop. [Reuters, 8/25/2015]

Lebanon planning stimulus package, bond sale
Lebanon’s central bank is planning a stimulus package of at least $1 billion in 2016 to revive the country’s economy, Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh said. Lebanon’s economic growth will likely range between zero and 1 percent this year, the slowest pace since at least 2011, Salameh told Bloomberg on Monday. The planned stimulus could reach $1.5 billion and the central bank will provide the funds to commercial lenders at an interest rate of 1 percent. Banks will then lend the money to small and medium enterprises and environmental and renewable energy projects for as much as 6 percent. Salameh also said the finance ministry has started plans to raise $1.3 billion in bonds in September or October. Lebanon is also considering an early exchange offer on its $750 million January 2016 Eurobonds, depending on market conditions. [Bloomberg, Reuters, 8/24/2015]

Egypt’s central bank approves CIB-Citigroup deal
Egypt’s Commercial International Bank (CIB) said on Tuesday it had received central bank approval to buy Citigroup’s retail business in the country. The purchase includes about $140 million of Citigroup’s assets, $190 million worth of deposits, and nearly 100,000 accounts, CIB said in June when the deal was announced. The deal will add 80,000 credit card holders to CIB’s existing 240,000 and will expand the bank’s consumer lending business by 10 percent. Citigroup said last October that it was pulling out of consumer banking in eleven markets, including Egypt, to cut costs. CIB Chairman Hisham Ezz Al-Arab said in June that he expects that the “integration of Citi’s staff into the CIB family will be seamless and add significant value to our clients and shareholders.” [Reuters, Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, 8/25/2015]

Saudi Arabia seeking advice on cutting the budget in wake of oil crash
Saudi Arabia is seeking advice on how to cut billions of dollars from its 2016 budget as a result of a global slump in crude oil prices. The government is working with advisers on a review of capital spending plans and may delay or shrink some infrastructure projects to save money. The government review is in its early stages, at the end of which it could consider cutting investment spending (estimated to be about 382 billion riyals or $102 billion) by about 10 percent or more. Current spending on areas such as public sector salaries would not change. [Bloomberg, 8/25/2015]

Swiss advance bid to return $40 million stolen from Tunisia
A Swiss official says his country has made headway toward returning some $40 million that was stolen from Tunisia and has been sitting in Swiss banks since 2011. Valentin Zellweger, a legal adviser to the Swiss government, said Monday that the federal prosecutor and highest court still have to take steps in the restitution case, but that the process has come a long way. Zellweger declined to specify who had deposited the money in Switzerland, but said it was not former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. [AP, 8/24/2015]