Top News: Russia Approves Airstrikes in Syria, Begins Attacks in Homs

On Wednesday, members of the Federation Council, the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, voted unanimously to approve conduct of air strikes in Syria. The closed-door session angered Russian opposition parties, and a poll by Levada polling agency reported just fourteen percent of the Russian public support military engagement in Syria. The office of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reportedly asked Russia for the military support, according to a statement made Wednesday by the Syrian government. Attacks began on Wednesday, with Russian air strikes targeting the western city of Homs. [APReutersBBC, 9/30/2015]



Egypt-US ties have “become stronger” says Sisi
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said the last two years have been “a real test that showed the strength of the strategic relations between Egypt and the US.” Speaking late on Tuesday to the American Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in New York, Sisi stressed the importance of the United States not abandoning Egypt during what Sisi called turbulent times. Egypt’s president also highlighted that relations between Cairo and Washington have become stronger. Sisi left New York on Tuesday, following meetings with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, and Lebanese Prime Minister Tammam Salam. [Ahram Online, SIS, 9/30/2015]

Egypt officially complains against Brotherhood assault on Sisi’s media team in NY
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry announced that an official complaint was made on Tuesday against offenses made by Muslim Brotherhood members’ in New York to the media team accompanying Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Videos circulated on social media on Monday showing a group of Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers organizing a protest wearing yellow Raba’a signs while verbally and physically assaulting a group of media persons from Egypt. The Egyptian consulate in New York sent an official complaint to the US State Department demanding an urgent arrest of all those who insulted the media team accompanying the president. Among the media personnel were well-known TV anchor Youssef al-Housseiny, Mostafa Sherdy, and Ramy Radwan. “The memo sent to the state department explained that the protest organized by the Muslim Brotherhood group violated all laws defining peaceful protests in the US,” a statement from the Foreign Ministry said. [Ahram Online, 9/29/2015]

Convicted Al Jazeera journalists appeal to Egypt for pardons
Seven journalists convicted of aiding a terrorist organization while covering Egyptian unrest for Al Jazeera publicly appealed to Egypt’s president on Tuesday to pardon them. All seven defendants are part of the same case, in which Canadian Egyptian journalist Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian producer Baher Mohamed were recently pardoned. Australian Peter Greste said they also were seeking support from world leaders attending the UN General Assembly. He said the remaining conviction had placed him under a “form of glorified house arrest” by limiting his ability to travel. Greste was sentenced in absentia, along with Dominic Kane, an Al Jazeera producer, Sue Turton, a former Al Jazeera correspondent, and four Egyptians Mohamed Fawzy, Alaa Bayoumy, Khalil Bahnasy, and Anas Abdel Wahab. [AP, Mada Masr, The Guardian, 9/29/2015]

Political coalition questions election committee’s neutrality towards candidates
The Egyptian Front Coalition has reiterated its accusations that the High Elections Committee (HEC) is biased against them. The coalition accused the HEC of favoring the For the Love of Egypt electoral list, operated by Sameh Seif al-Yazal. In a Tuesday statement, the coalition said the HEC was “intentionally abstaining” from executing court orders which allow the coalition’s members to run for parliamentary seats elected through closed-list systems. Egypt’s Wafd Party also said Tuesday that the HEC lost its credibility after failing to deal with violations by some parliamentary candidates against electoral campaign regulations, according to a statement by deputy chairman Hussein Mansour released on Tuesday. [DNE, Ahram Online, 9/29/2015]

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Libya dialogue delegates to meet in New York
Delegates to the UN-brokered Libyan political dialogue will meet in New York at the end of this week. There will be a meeting on Thursday to approve the definitive text of the peace plan, then the delegates will choose names for the prime minister, the two deputy prime ministers, and the other two members of the Presidential Council of the Government of National Accord. A Western diplomatic source has said it is unlikely that a prime minister and the other ministers will be decided in New York. The decision would likely take place when the delegates reconvened at Skhirat, possibly next Sunday, he said. [Libya Herald, 9/29/2015]

Libyan army makes first advance in two months in Benghazi’s Leithi
The army appears to have made progress today in Benghazi’s Leithi district for the first time in two months. The air assault, which in recent days has focused on the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) and Ansar al-Sharia fighters in Sabri, shifted Monday night to Leithi and continued for much of Tuesday. There are, as yet, no details of casualties in Leithi. [Libya Herald, 9/29/2015]

Benghazi accuses Misrata of sending terrorists
In a letter sent on Tuesday, the Benghazi Municipal Council has accused Misrata of sending terrorists and weapons to Benghazi and demanded that it stop the flow immediately. The council said it has evidence in the form of confessions from prisoners that the authorities in Misrata have actively dispatched terrorists and weapons by sea to Benghazi. Persistent reports claim that boats moving between Misrata and Mreisa harbor in south Benghazi deliver fighters and weapons for Ansar al-Sharia (and more recently for ISIS) and transport the wounded for treatment in Misrata or Turkey. [Libya Herald, 9/30/2015]

Tunisia joins international coalition to defeat ISIS
Tuesday evening, Tunisia announced its membership in the international coalition to defeat ISIS. Prime Minister Habib Essid made the announcement in New York in remarks delivered on the behalf of President Beji Caid Essebsi. “[The international coalition constitutes] the appropriate framework for joint action and collective commitment against violent extremism,” he said. A call was sent to the international community to bolster the security and military services of countries in the war against terrorism and to intensify coordination and exchange of intelligence expertise between all the countries. On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Tunisian high officials also met with representatives of Germany, Algeria, Mauritania, Hungary, and others to discuss security coordination and support. [TAP, AP, 9/29/2015]

ICTJ paper reviews Tunisia’s transitional justice process
Tunisia continues to take steps to fulfill its commitments under its Transitional Justice Law and realize the goals of the 2011 revolution. But a rocky start to the country’s new truth commission and a proposed economic reconciliation law could undermine these efforts, according to a new paper by the International Center for Transitional Justice. The ICTJ paper examines the work carried out so far to pursue acknowledgment, accountability, and reform in Tunisia under the 2013 Transitional Justice Law, with a particular focus on the work of the Truth and Dignity Commission during its first year. [ICTJ, 9/29/2015]


UN summit addresses barrel bombs, refugee crisis in Syria
The UN General Assembly is bringing international voices together to address the deteriorating humanitarian crisis in Syria. A UN report published on Wednesday outlined how the policy of using barrel bombs by regime forces is a main contributor to the more than 200,000 civilians killed in Syria’s conflict since 2011. The report also showed that a quarter of these casualties have been women and children, a reality on the ground that has likely fueled the refugee crisis. On Tuesday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe committed $1.5 billion to help refugees from Syria and Iraq, and to support peacekeeping efforts in the Middle East. United States Secretary of State John Kerry further suggested on Tuesday that a Russian-Iranian sponsored deal with the Syrian regime could convince Assad to pull back on barrel bombing campaigns. [AFP, 9/30/2015]

France to probe alleged crimes against humanity by Assad
French launched an investigation this week into alleged crimes against humanity by President Bashar al-Assad, based on photos of mutilated corpses taken by a former Syrian officer who fled in 2013. On Wednesday, the Paris Prosecutor’s Office detailed that the investigation will focus on atrocities allegedly committed between 2011 and 2013. The French Foreign Ministry requested the probe, intent on keeping international pressure focused on Assad. [AP, 9/30/2015]

Turkish hostages released near Baghdad
Sixteen Turkish construction workers who had been kidnapped and taken hostage on September 2nd were released on Wednesday in a village 40 miles south of Baghdad, according to Turkish and Iraqi government sources. The group that captured them had demanded Turkey halt the flow of fighters into Iraq, lift what it called a “siege” on Syrian Shia cities, and stop the passage of oil from Iraq’s northern Kurdish region via Turkey in defiance of Baghdad. [AP, Al Jazeera, 9/30/2015]

Cities in southeastern Turkey will not have ballot boxes; decisions spark political outcry
The District Election Council’s decision to not have ballot boxes in Cizre, specifically in the Cudi, Nur, and Sur neighborhoods and neighboring villages on September 18 sparked a national debate about democracy in the deteriorating security situation in Turkey’s southeast. Electoral Councils in Diyarbakir, Bitlis, Batman, and Hakkari provinces have taken similar decisions this week. “A practice such as moving ballot boxes or voters is very dangerous…it means: ‘There is no state there’… You will create an environment where the state doesn’t exist and this is very dangerous,” Republican People’s Party (CHP) head Kemal Kilicdaroglu said on Wednesday. These comments followed Ambassador John Bass’s statements made in Washington, DC on Tuesday that all voters in Turkey need to feel safe enough to go to the ballot boxes. “We reject attempts by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party or anyone else in Turkey to prevent a secure environment for voters,” he added. [Hurriyet, 9/30/2015]


Saudi-led coalition seizes Iranian weapon boat bound for Yemen
Arab coalition forces waging a military campaign against Houthi fighters in Yemen seized an Iranian boat carrying weapons in the Arabian Sea on its way to deliver supplies to the Houthis, the Saudi-led alliance announced on Wednesday. The Arab coalition has been battling the Houthi militias for more than six months and Saudi-led naval forces have imposed a blockade to prevent weapons supplies from reaching the Houthis. A coalition statement said fourteen Iranian sailors were detained on the boat, which was carrying eighteen anti-armored Concourse shells, fifty-four anti-tank shells, shell-battery kits, firing guidance systems, launchers and binoculars’ batteries. There has been no immediate comment from Iran. The Saudi-led coalition used the statement to once again deny responsibility for an airstrike on a wedding party in Taiz province two days earlier which medics said killed 131 people. The announcement was also made a day after tribal fighters backed by the coalition won control of a strategic dam in Marib from Houthi forces following weeks of fighting in the area east of the capital Sana’a. The seizure of the Marib dam is the biggest success of Yemeni militiamen fighting alongside Gulf troops in several weeks. [Reuters, Gulf News, Al Masdar (Arabic), 9/30/2015]

President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi addresses the UN General Assembly
President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi addressed the UN General Assembly on Tuesday saying that he had recently returned from the war-ravaged coastal city of Aden, which experienced “great joy as it has been liberated from the Houthis militia.” However, he also voiced concern at the destruction left by the Houthi militias in the city. President Hadi thanked the “courageous” response from the Saudi government, which he said acted with “utter determination.” While the United Nations has appealed for humanitarian assistance for Yemen, President Hadi said that only a portion of the aid had been contributed and wanted to ensure that the crisis in Yemen was not forgotten. Meanwhile, the effects of war on Aden have decimated the city as the government tries to resume basic services since the Saudi-led coalition evicted the Houthi fighters in July. Aden lacks a functional police force and suffers from excessive damage to hospitals, electricity stations, and schools. Gulf countries are financing projects to rebuild the city’s infrastructure. [UN News Centre, Reuters, 9/30/2015]

“No future” for President Assad says Saudi Foreign Ministry
Saudi Arabia has called on President Bashar al-Assad to give up power or be removed by force, raising the global stakes at a time when the Russians are shipping troops and military hardware to Syria in an effort to support its leader. Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir gave two options for settlement in Syria, saying, “One option is a political process where there would be a transitional council. The other option is a military option, which also would end with the removal of President Assad from power.” He admitted that the military option would be a more lengthy and destructive process, but indicated that Saudi backing of Syrian rebels could help remove Assad from power. Saudi Arabia’s statement fuelled an already heated row at the United Nations over Syria’s future, where the Russian President Vladimir Putin defended of the Syrian regime. [The Guardian, Gulf News, 9/30/2015]

Kuwait restates commitment of aid to help humanitarian crises in Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Iraq
Addressing the United Nations General Assembly today, Sheikh Jaber al-Mubarak al-Hamad Al Sabah, the Prime Minister of Kuwait, affirmed his country’s commitment to promoting the existence of peaceful societies and highlighted the “serious challenges” facing Yemen, Syria, Libya and Iraq. He noted the high level of humanitarian assistance offered by Kuwait and said that the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development “continues its leading role in providing development assistance to developing countries, without regard to geographical locations, religious beliefs or nationality.” He added that it has also allocated “the amount of $15 billion to meet the entitlements and requirements of sustainable development.” He said that Kuwait has also contributed $100 million to help the humanitarian needs of the Yemeni people. [UN News Centre, Kuwait Times, 9/29/2015]


Iraq plans to borrow more from IMF to plug its budget shortfall
Iraq plans to borrow more from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Mudher Saleh, an economic adviser to Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said. Iraqi officials will hold talks with the IMF during the fund’s annual meetings next month in Lima, Saleh said in a phone interview. He declined to say how much the government may borrow or what type of IMF program it will seek. The IMF has already extended $1.25 billion in emergency assistance to Iraq. Saleh said the government’s economic plans might go a long way in satisfying measures that would be required under an IMF loan accord. “Some IMF programs adopt Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi’s reforms and consider them enough,” Saleh said. Government reform efforts are “in harmony with what the IMF typically seeks,” he said. [Bloomberg, 9/30/2015]

Tunisia sees 2016 economic growth rising to 2.5 percent
Tunisia expects economic growth to rise to 2.5 percent in 2016, compared with an expected 0.5 percent in 2015, Finance Minister Slim Chaker said on Tuesday. Chaker said Tunisia will adopt economic reforms next year in the banking and fiscal sectors that will strengthen the economy and raise foreign investment. He said a draft finance law would be submitted to the House of People’s Representatives on October 15. The legislation fixes the reference price of oil at $60 per barrel and the average exchange rate of the dinar to the dollar at TD 1.970 TD. Tunisia had cut its 2015 growth forecast from a previously expected 3 percent. The government expects the budget deficit to narrow to 5 percent of gross domestic product in 2015 from 5.8 percent last year. [Reuters, 9/29/2015]

Egypt to search for oil in Iraq in first foreign venture
Egypt will search for oil outside its own borders for the first time after signing an agreement with Kuwait Energy for part of a concession in Iraq, Oil Minister Tarek al-Mullah said on Wednesday. Kuwait Energy will give up 10 percent of a concession in Basra, southern Iraq, for exploration by Egypt’s state oil company. “The agreement opens up the space for the oil sector to find sources of oil outside Egypt for the first time, following the example of many other countries,” Mullah said. “This is an important step for securing energy supplies from outside Egypt in order to partially meet the demands of the local market,” he added. Production in the concession area’s first well is expected to begin in October with an initial return of 5,000 barrels per day (bpd) with the number expected to reach 150,000 bpd by 2020-2021. [Reuters, 9/30/2015]

Saudi Arabia’s new oil policy works in reclaiming market share
Top oil exporter Saudi Arabia is slowly regaining market share following its 2014 decision to no longer support prices, data shows, but has a long way to go if it wants to return to the larger levels it has seen in the past. Saudi Arabia led a shift by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in November 2014 to defend market share against competing supplies, rather than cut output to prop up prices. Oil is trading below $50 a barrel, less than half its level of June 2014. But Riyadh says the strategy is working and OPEC officials point to stronger growth in world oil demand since the policy shift and to slower growth in non-OPEC supply. Crude exports from Saudi are on the rise from a 2014 low. Figures from the US Energy Information Administration and the International Energy Agency point to Saudi exports to major consumers in Asia and Europe reaching multi-year highs in the first half of the year. The comparison of crude exports with estimated global product demand is not perfect, but it provides a rough indication of the changes in Saudi market share. [Reuters, 9/30/2015]