Top News: Regime Forces, ISIS, Rebels Square off in Aleppo

ISIS militants battled rival insurgent groups on Wednesday north of the city of Aleppo, where officials say the Syrian army is preparing an offensive of its own backed by Iranian soldiers and Russian jets. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the road used by Aleppo residents heading north to the Turkish border remained closed on Wednesday. “There are mobilizations by the regime in most parts of Aleppo, particularly in Bashkoy,” said Hassan Haj Ali, head of the Liwa Suqour al-Jabal rebel group. Iran has sent thousands of additional troops into Syria in recent days to bolster one offensive currently underway in Hama province and in preparation for another in the Aleppo area, two senior regional officials said. Supported by two weeks of airstrikes, the Syrian army and its allies have been fighting insurgents in northern Hama province and neighboring Idlib and Latakia provinces, trying to reverse rebel gains over the summer that threatened the coastal heartlands of President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite minority. [Reuters, 10/14/2015]



Violations mark parliamentary electoral campaigns
The High Elections Committee (HEC), observatory organizations, and the media have reported on several violations committed in the past weeks in advertisements for parliamentary candidates. Maat’s international observation mission said Monday that a candidate from Beheira took advantage of the Muslim prayer time at a mosque by speaking to worshippers about his electoral platform. An incident circulated on social media showed a candidate in Luxor place his picture on the Quran and used his position as an official at the Ministry Religious Endowments to promote himself in mosques. A weekly magazine distributed in churches also published full ads with pictures of certain candidates of different political and religious backgrounds. The Nour Party submitted complaints to the Higher Committee on Media Monitoring on Tuesday, accusing the For the Love of Egypt list of attacking the party and for a breach in electoral advertising regulations in several governorates. Meanwhile, the Administrative Prosecution Authority Club said Tuesday it would form a central operations room in order to monitor the parliamentary election process. The operations room will receive comments and complaints from the judges responsible for supervising the electoral process, and will serve as a link between the Administrative Prosecution Club and the HEC. [DNE, 10/13/2015]

Police arrest fourteen ‘central leaders’ of Brotherhood
The Ministry of Interior announced in a statement on Tuesday the arrest of fourteen individuals accused of planning various attacks on public and private properties across the country. The statement described the fourteen individuals as “central leaders of the terrorist Muslim Brotherhood,” but gave little information about where they are from, or what attacks they are accused of orchestrating. In another statement, the Ministry detailed the recovery of a large amount of weapons and ammunition. Nearly 1,000 weapons were seized, including 165 AK 47 assault rifles and over 4,000 pieces of ammunition. [DNE, 10/14/2015]

Report says 215 cases of forced disappearances in August, September
There have been 215 cases of forced disappearances across Egypt in August and September, according to a report issued by the Stop Forced Disappearances Campaign. The report, issued Tuesday, stated that only sixty-three individuals have been located, with the whereabouts of the other 152 cases remaining unknown. According to the report, the sixty-three cases have appeared in various police stations and Central Security Forces camps. The individuals located include defendants in cases related to protesting or belonging to a terrorist organization. Others were identified by their families in Interior Ministry videos. The report was prepared under the auspices of the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, and the campaign launched on August 30, to coincide with the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, amid a wave of forced disappearances in the country. [Mada Masr, 10/13/2015]

Egypt’s Defense Minister heads to Spain for military cooperation talks
Egypt’s Defense Minister Sedki Sobhi arrived with a military delegation Tuesday in Madrid, Spain for an official visit following an invitation by Spanish Defense Minister Pedro de Morenés, state owned agency MENA reported. The ministers are expected to conduct talks about increased military and security cooperation between the countries’ armed forces, in addition to efforts to combat terrorism and restore security and stability in the Middle East. In May, Sobhi and his Spanish counterpart signed a memorandum of understanding on military cooperation. The memorandum included agreements on the exchange of experience and joint military training between both countries. [Ahram Online, SIS, 10/14/2015]

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HOR delays vote on new government until Monday
The House of Representatives (HOR) has postponed a vote on the UNSMIL National Accord deal and the new government it proposes until next Monday. The vote is now set to take place on Monday, October 19, while Tuesday, October 20 is the deadline for signing the agreement. On Tuesday, the more than 130 HOR members present for a session to discuss the agreement appeared split in their opinion on the deal. A minority of parliamentarians expressed clear opposition to the agreement; another group was willing to support the agreement and a third group expressed doubts over the composition of the presidential cabinet. Reportedly, there were problems with the selection of Ahmed Maitiq, the short-lived former prime minister chosen by the General National Congress. [Libya Herald, ANSAmed, 10/13/2015]

Libyan experts prepare policy proposals for future unity government
Libyan experts met in Tunis on October 11 and 12 to explore policy options that might aid the future unity Libyan government in its post-conflict recovery efforts. The forum, jointly organized and supported by the United Nations, International Monetary Fund, and World Bank, discussed topics including emergency measures and challenges, humanitarian matters, and how to assist the most vulnerable in Libyan society. Policies for early recovery and “quick wins”’ were also discussed. It was agreed that safety and security would be the foundation for any progress or recovery. Experts also deemed imperative that the new government consider policies of public sector reform. [Libya Herald, 10/13/2015]

Dozens of Tunisians freed in Libya a day after being kidnapped
Dozens of Tunisians held in Sabratha in Libya in retaliation for the arrest of a Libyan official in Tunisia this week have been released, the Tunisian Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday. The ministry gave few details, though security sources said fifty-five Tunisians had returned home. Gunmen kidnapped the Tunisians in northwestern Libya on Monday to demand the release of the Libyan official arrested on Saturday along with another Libyan at Tunis airport while on a visit organized by the United Nations. The reasons for the arrest are unclear and Tunisian officials were not immediately available to confirm the release of the two Libyans. [Reuters, Libya Monitor (subscription), 10/13/2015]

Tunisia struggles to reform in face of protests
Tunisia is under pressure to speed up economic reforms after two deadly attacks this year on its tourism industry, but the government is struggling with internal splits and resistance from trade unions and political opponents. International lenders want more economic reforms to curb high public spending. Tunisia has taken some modest reform steps; last month it injected $440 million into state-owned banks Société Tunisienne de Banque and Banque de l’Habitat. After negotiations with the powerful labor union UGTT, however, the government raised the wages of 800,000 public sector employees for the second time this year. Officials say this will cost the treasury about $1.2 billion. Prime Minister Habib Essid said that these steps were essential to calm tensions, stop strikes, and raise foreign investor confidence. [Reuters, 10/13/2015]


Turkish PM says will not accept US cooperation with Syrian Kurds
Turkey’s Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu complained to the US Ambassador John Bass about reports of possible weapons aid to Syrian Kurdish forces affiliated with Turkey’s Kurdish rebels. Davutoglu said Wednesday there was a risk of such weapons falling into the hands of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and being used against Turkey. A local Kurdish official said the United States had provided 120 tons of weapons and ammunition to the Kurdish militia in Syria fighting the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). The US military did not confirm delivery of weapons or ammunition to Syrian Kurds in the last week. [AP, 10/14/2015]

Washington declines deeper military talks with Russia on Syria
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the United States declined to send a high-level military delegation to Moscow to discuss deeper coordination in fighting in Syria. Lavrov said Russian President Vladimir Putin made the proposal during his visit to New York in late September. He said the idea also included sending a Russian delegation headed by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev to the United States as a second step. He said on Tuesday Washington told Moscow it will not be receiving the Russian delegation. [AFP, 10/14/2015]

Russian forces target ISIS
Russian military airplanes made forty-one sorties in Syria in the past twenty-four hours and attacked forty ISIS targets, a defense ministry official told Russian news agencies on Wednesday. In the attacks, Russia’s air force destroyed workshops near Aleppo used by terrorists to make explosive devices for suicide bombers, Defense Ministry’s Igor Konashenkov said. [Reuters, 10/14/2015]

Syrian air raids pound rebel areas around Damascus
Syrian bombing raids struck rebel positions around Damascus on Wednesday in a bid to dislodge insurgents entrenched on the outskirts of the capital, a military source said. “The army began a military operation this morning with the aim of expanding a security zone around areas controlled [by the government],” the source said. Jobar neighborhood, in eastern Damascus, is highly strategic as it sits near the Abbasid Square roundabout that leads directly to the heart of Damascus and provides access to Eastern Ghouta, a rebel-controlled region east of the capital. [Daily Star, 10/14/2015]

Turkish ISIS cell main suspect in Ankara bombings; ministers fired for security failures
Turkish investigators believe an ISIS cell from the southeastern town of Adiyaman, thought to have been behind previous attacks in the country, may have carried out a double suicide bombing that killed ninety-seven people in the capital Ankara. Turkey’s Human Rights Association said several families from the town had approached authorities in recent years expressing concern that their sons could have left to join ISIS in Syria. The Turkish Interior Ministry said it had removed Ankara’s police, intelligence, and security chiefs from their posts in an effort to help the investigation into Saturday’s bombings. [AP, 10/13/2015]


Houthi leader urges followers to join fight against Saudi-led coalition
The leader of Yemen’s Houthi rebels Abdel-Malek al-Houthi, urged all followers on Tuesday to battle what he called the “invaders,” referring to the Saudi-led coalition that intervened on behalf of Yemeni President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi to retake control of the country. His televised remarks were his first public appearance since Yemen’s government last week dismissed the Houthis’ acceptance of the UN-sponsored plan to end Yemen’s civil war, as a maneuver. “Everyone must move to the front lines,” al-Houthi said. “We cannot sacrifice our dignity and freedom and independence. We will defend our land and our honor.” Al-Houthi also made no mention of peace efforts in his remarks. [Reuters, Al-Masdar (Arabic), 10/14/2015]

Yemeni party urges probe into Saleh’s ‘crimes
Riyadh-based members of Yemen’s General People’s Congress Party (GPC) have called for ousted ex-president Ali Abdullah Saleh and his supporters to be “held accountable for crimes against the people of Yemen.” The calls came during a consultative meeting where the party reiterated its support for the legitimacy of President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi and denounced the Houthi militia coup. The party members also reaffirmed their commitment to the UN resolution 2216 and urged all parties to abide by it to restore legitimacy to the government. [Al Arabiya, Al Arabiya (Arabic), 10/14/2015]

Yemen’s al-Qaeda detains four after rare protest
Yemen’s al-Qaeda affiliate detained three journalists and an NGO worker who took part in a rare protest against the militants’ rule over the eastern city of Mukalla in Yemen on Tuesday. The four were among more than 500 protesters who took to the streets of the coastal city, which was seized by al-Qaeda earlier this year. Activists on Twitter and Facebook organized the demonstration to protest the extremists’ treatment of residents. In the past five months, al-Qaeda has publicly killed ten people in Mukalla, including on charges of “witchcraft.” Witnesses say the militants have enforced gender segregation in public areas, banned music at wedding parties, and forbid non-al-Qaeda clerics from preaching in mosques. These protests against al-Qaeda coincide with reports that Yemen Foreign Minister Riyad Yassin accused ex-Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh of working with al-Qaeda to carry out terrorist operations in Aden. [AP, Gulf News, Al-Masdar (Arabic), 10/13/2015]

Saudi Foreign Minister sees no future for Assad in Syria
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Tuesday that Riyadh’s position on Syria had not changed, insisting that President Bashar al-Assad has no future in Syria. Mr. Jubeir said, “There is no change, from the beginning of the crisis, the position of the kingdom is that Bashar is the problem in the Syria crisis. He killed hundreds of thousands of his people, displaced millions and destroyed the country as a whole … He has no future in Syria.” [Reuters, 10/13/2015]


Tunisia, EU launch talks on free trade agreement
Tunisia and the European Union (EU) launched negotiations Tuesday for a comprehensive free trade agreement, a deal some Tunisian experts fear could undermine their economy. The European Commission (EC) says the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (DCFTA) would help support economic reforms in Tunisia. “The aim of the agreement is to improve market access opportunities and the investment climate and support ongoing economic reforms in Tunisia,” the EC said. EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom announced the launch of the negotiations during a visit to Tunis and talks with Tunisian Trade Minister Ridha Lahouel and Prime Minister Habib Essid. “We are conscious that there are some concerns [about the agreement] and that is why we must work with the government and have a constant dialogue with businesses and civil society,” Malmstrom said. Lahouel said discussions could last years before a deal is clinched, adding that Tunis will reject anything that undermines its interests. Tunisian economists fear it could force an opening of Tunisian markets and risk unfair European competition. The EC said the first round of talks would begin in Tunis on Monday and last for a week. Meanwhile, Tunisia agreed on Monday to join the EU’s research and innovation program, “Horizon 2020.” [AFP, TAP, 10/13/2015]

Egypt to receive $3 billion loan from World Bank
Egypt will receive a $3 billion loan from the World Bank in installments over the next three years to support the state’s budget, Finance Minister Hany Dimian said on the sidelines of an economic conference on Wednesday. “The advantage of this loan is that it comes with very soft terms with regards to financing and tenor, and has a grace period,” Dimian said. He did not provide details on the sectors in which the loan will be used or the time frame of the disbursements. “The government is aware of the economic conditions which we’re passing through, and there is a deficit in the budget and we have to handle it gradually,” Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said in separate remarks at the conference. Egypt’s fiscal year 2015/2016 budget projects a deficit of 8.9 percent a 5 percent growth rate. Ismail said the government is looking to decrease the budget deficit by 1.5 percent annually. On Tuesday, Investment Minister Ashraf Salman said Egypt’s economy grew by 4.1 percent in the fiscal year that ended in June. He projected a growth rate of about 5 percent in the current fiscal year. [Reuters, Bloomberg, Aswat Masriya, 10/14/2015]

Saudi brings forward state spending deadline in budget clampdown
Saudi Arabia’s Finance Ministry is closing its national accounts one month earlier than usual this year, suggesting it is tightening control over spending as low oil prices create a record state budget deficit. Economists estimate Saudi Arabia’s budget deficit could total $120 billion or more this year. A document sent by the ministry to government bodies this week instructs them to “bring forward the final date to make payments from budget allocations and other accounts for the current fiscal year.” According to the document, the new deadline to make payments is November 15. In past years, the deadline fell in mid-December. Earlier this month, the ministry told government bodies that if budget allocations were not fully spent on the projects for which they were originally earmarked, the remaining money must return to the Treasury. [Reuters, 10/13/2015]

Libyan oil production over 500,000 bpd, says Tripoli Oil Minister
Libya’s national oil production is currently at 504,000 barrels per day (bpd), according to Tripoli Oil Minister Mashallah al-Zwai. Last week, National Oil Corporation Spokesman Mohammed al-Harari said oil output was over 400,000 bpd. Zwai did not elaborate on the increase in output, but the Arabian Gulf Oil Company (AGOCO) recently resumed production at several fields. Current production remains far below Libya’s overall output capacity of around 1.6 million bpd. Al-Zwai has also met with local groups that have blocked a key pipeline to the Sharara oil field. Reports suggest that an agreement may have been reached. The oil field in southwest Libya has a nominal capacity of 340,000 bpd and has been closed since the beginning of the year. [Reuters, Libya Monitor (subscription), 10/13/2015]