Top News: Saudi Troops Cross Border into Yemen

Yemen’s Foreign Minister Riad Yassin told reporters that the battle to retake the capital from Houthi rebels will begin within eight weeks. Yassin declined to comment on the number Saudi and UAE troops currently in Yemen. In addition to special forces in Aden, Saudi troops reportedly crossed the border into northern Yemen “temporarily” to combat Houthi shelling attacks into their territory. The Saudi-led coalition also launched numerous aerial raids on Houthi positions in Sa’ada and Marib provinces on Thursday. [Reuters, 8/28/2015]



Egyptian court issues preliminary death sentence to twelve ISIS supporters
The Zagazig Criminal Court sentenced twelve alleged Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) sympathizers to death on Thursday after convicting them of plotting attacks against police and troops in Egypt. The court also handed three-year sentences to two other defendants in the same case for promoting extremist ideologies. A key defendant in the case, Khaled Maghawry, is accused of “recruiting youths and sending them to Syria and Iraq to receive training [on jihadism] and how to use weapons.” The defendants were also charged with forming a “terrorist” group and an armed “gang,” possessing “extremist” publications, calling for toppling state institutions and stalling the constitution, committing violent acts, receiving foreign funding for “terrorism,” and harming “national unity and social peace.” Six of the defendants are being tried in absentia while the rest are in custody. The court convicted them of “carrying out attacks on police and the military in Egypt” and joining the Islamic State group, which has seized large parts of Syria and Iraq and is expanding its presence in Libya. [Ahram online, DNE, AFP, Aswat Masriya, 8/27/2015]

Beni Suef Criminal Court, Suez Military Court sentences over eighty alleged Brotherhood supporters
The Beni Suef Criminal Court sentenced forty-one alleged supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi to one year in jail over staging unlicensed protests on Thursday. Out of forty-one defendants, twenty-nine are still at large, among them three local Muslim Brotherhood leaders. They were found guilty of assaulting police with fire bottles during a march in Nasr City. The Suez Military Court, meanwhile, sentenced forty defendants, among them Brotherhood member Saad Khalifa, to prison terms ranging from six to fifteen years for vandalism charges on Thursday. Eleven defendants were sentenced to six years in prison. The remaining twenty-nine defendants were sentenced in absentia to fifteen years in prison. All defendants were charged with vandalism, possession of explosives and inciting the torching of vehicles belonging to the Suez Oil Processing Company, a public sector firm. The events date back to an incident in February. [Egypt Independent, Aswat Masriya, 8/27/2015]

Egyptian, Libyan officials meet to discuss reopening of border
The Governor of Egypt’s Marsa Matrouh governorate met with Libya’s Interior Minister on Wednesday to discuss the final proceedings for reopening the border between the two countries. The border was closed following the disappearance of Libyan security forces on August 15. The reason for their disappearance is still unknown. Marsa Matrouh’s Governor Alaa Abou Zeid met with Libya’s Interior Minister, Mustafa al-Dabbash, as well as other Libyan authorities responsible for the Musaid border crossing, to discuss the concerns of both sides regarding reopening the crossing. The discussion also included assurances from both sides to facilitate safe passage across the borders for citizens from the two countries. [Ahram Online, 8/27/2015]

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UN plans new Libya talks next week in Geneva, Leon says talks must end in two weeks
The United Nations plans for a new round of talks between Libya’s factions next week in Geneva to form a unity government and end the country’s crisis, a UN spokesman said today. Leon said the hope is to wrap up final negotiations over the agreement and sign it within two weeks. Delegates from Tripoli’s General National Congress (GNC) government dropped out of talks organized in Skhirat yesterday, saying they needed time to form a new negotiating team after a chief member resigned. “This is not because we want to leave the UN dialogue,” Mowafaq Hawas, a representative of the GNC, said about the delay. The UN formally opened the session with the internationally recognized House of Representatives in Skhirat yesterday, but there was little prospect of any progress without the GNC. [Reuters, Reuters Africa, AP, 8/28/2015]

New mayor of Central Tripoli elected
Abdul Rauf Beitelmal was elected as Central Tripoli’s new mayor yesterday, replacing Mahdi al-Harati, who was sacked by municipal councilors last week. The Tripoli-based Local Government Ministry ordered the vote, despite Harati having obtained a court order blocking a reelection. Beitelmal, an engineer by training, is said to be a moderate. It is unlikely that he will have greater success than Harati in dealing with Central Tripoli’s many problems due to a lack of resources at his disposal. He reportedly has good relations with other Libyan mayors, acting as coordinator for the working group of Libyan municipalities set up following a meeting in Brussels in March that was part of the national dialogue. [Libya Herald, 8/27/2015]

Libya’s state oil firm NOC denies signing crude-gasoil swap deal
Libya’s state oil firm said on Thursday it would keep buying fuel products from refineries in the Mediterranean region to satisfy local demand. The National Oil Corporation (NOC) denied that it had signed a deal to swap crude for gasoil. Traders had said the NOC reached an agreement with Glencore under which the Swiss-based trader would supply Libya with gasoil as a swap for its monthly exports of Sarir and Messla crude oil grades, beginning in September. The Tripoli-based NOC said in a statement on its website there was no truth to reports it had signed such a swap deal. [Reuters, 8/27/2015]

German Federal Police open an office in Tunisia
The German federal police opened a permanent office in the German Embassy in Tunis to coordinate with the security body to lead the National Guard and the border police. This office will also contribute to the fight against terrorism and illegal migration to Europe. [Mosaique FM, 8/28/2015]

Tunisian municipal elections to be held before the end of 2016
New draft laws relating to local and municipal elections and a draft code for local authorities were debated at a cabinet meeting on Thursday evening. The minister responsible for relations with the constitutional institutions and civil society, Kamel Jendoubi, said that the council would adopt these two bills after a national consultation with political parties, national organizations and civil society representatives over a period of two months. He also mentioned that municipal elections would be scheduled to take place before the end of 2016. [l’Economiste Maghrebin (FR), All Africa/TAP, 8/28/2015]

Spain accuses suspect of running ISIS network in Morocco
A Moroccan man arrested in Spain this week is accused of coordinating a network of Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) supporters who spread the group’s message and recruit militants to fight in Iraq and Syria in Moroccan cities, a court document said on Thursday. Abdeladim Achriaa was detained on Tuesday in a small town near Madrid as part of a joint Moroccan-Spanish police operation against alleged ISIS sympathizers. Thirteen others were arrested in Morocco. Citing a high risk of flight, examining magistrate Juan Pablo Gonzalez of Spain’s High Court denied bail to Achriaa and ordered him held on terrorism charges pending further investigation. [Reuters, 8/27/2015]


UN calls for panel to identify Syria chemical weapons users
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the UN Security Council (UNSC) on Thursday that he is planning to set up a three-person team to investigate alleged chemical weapons attacks in Syria. It follows the UNSC’s unanimous approval earlier this month to allow the establishment of an international investigative body to determine responsibility for chemical attacks that have killed and injured a growing number of civilians over the past two years–and to go to suspect sites in government and opposition controlled areas. The move came amid new reports of a mustard gas attack in Syria that local activists said could have been carried out by the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). Also on Thursday, Syria agreed to grant visas for forty-seven UN staff members after months of haggling that have undermined UN relief efforts in Syria. The Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien also said that Damascus was taking less time to approve deliveries of humanitarian supplies after repeated complaints from the United Nations over the lack of cooperation. [AP, AFP, Reuters, 8/27/2015]

British ISIS recruiter reported killed in air strike
Defense officials say the US military believes a recent airstrike killed Junaid Hussain, a British hacker for ISIS. Two officials said the airstrike was conducted in recent days in or near the self-proclaimed ISIS capital Raqqa. The twenty-one-year-old hacker was reportedly high on the wanted list for ISIS leaders for involvement in plots in the United States and United Kingdom, breaking into US military cyber networks, and ISIS’s online recruitment campaign. [AP, NYT, Guardian, 8/27/2015]

Syria pursuing corruption cases against officials
Syrian courts are hearing a series of cases against officials accused of corruption and mismanagement, a high-ranking Damascus judge Yassin Kahal said on Thursday. Kahal said, “Numerous cases are currently underway against officials from government institutions accused of embezzling public funds, theft, and mismanagement … There are no exceptions made. The law is applied equally whether to high-ranking officials or ordinary bureaucrats, if the crime is proven.” Kahal said more than fifteen cases concerning misuse of public funds were presented each month to the courts in Damascus. [AFP, 8/27/2015]

Iraq PM orders forces to prepare to open Green Zone in Baghdad
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has ordered security forces to prepare to open Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone government and embassy area to the public, his office said Friday. The order comes in the third week of a reform drive by Abadi aimed at combating corruption and streamlining the government, in response to weeks of protests and calls from top Shia cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani. If the move actually goes ahead, it is likely to face significant opposition from embassies in the Green Zone–including those of the United States and Britain–due to security concerns. [AFP, Reuters, 8/28/2015]

Jordan will host hospital to treat region’s war victims
The international charity Doctors Without Borders (MSF) will inaugurate a new reconstructive surgery hospital next month in Jordan to treat casualties from the region. The Amman hospital gathers surgeons, counselors, and physiotherapists specialized in war victims. It will eventually offer 3D printing for hand and face prostheses, and is also envisioned as a learning center where surgeons from the region and the West can teach each other new skills. “It’s a very new approach of war surgery,” says Marc Schakal, head of MSF in Jordan. The need for the facility is also testimony to how the region’s conflicts become more horrific. In related news, seventy-one migrants to include eight women and four children were found dead in a truck in Austria on Friday. Based on one Syrian travel document that has been found, police assume that most if not all the individuals were refugees from Syria. [AP, 8/28/2015]


Yemen army recruits 4,800 Southern soldiers
Following a decree from President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi, members of popular committees are being offered positions in Yemen’s army. According to an officer in Aden, more than 4,800 Southern soldiers have been recruited into a Yemeni army cadre called the Salman Decisiveness Brigade. The officer says that fighters are being recruited into the army “without any exemptions.” [AFP, 8/28/2015]

Yemen VP meets with Islah leaders
Vice President Khaled Baha met with leaders of the Islamist Islah party in Riyadh. The party’s Secretary General Abd al-Wahhab al-Ansi and Chairman Mohammed al-Yadoumi met with Baha to discuss the conflict in Yemen and the future of the Islah party. The Vice President noted the party’s influence in Yemeni politics since its founding in 1990. All representatives voiced their support for the implementation of the National Dialogue Conference outcomes. Islah’s leadership affirmed their determination to strengthen the Yemeni state and play a positive role in the stabilizing areas that the Coalition liberates. Islah linked fighters have played a significant role in Yemen’s anti-Houthi fighters. [Al-Masdar Online (Arabic), 8/28/2015]

Kuwaiti MP calls for deportation of “immodest” women
Lawmaker Abd al-Rahman al-Jiran has called for deporting Asian women who go out in the evening wearing “scandalous clothes,” stressing there should be a zero tolerance towards anyone attempting to lure young people and corrupt society. Al-Jiran further called for the Interior Ministry to intensify monitoring mechanisms and crackdown on prostitution in the country. “The focus should be on suspicious places and in areas where residents have been angrily complaining about the presence of Asian women with outrageously shocking clothes in the late hours of the evening,” he said. [Gulf News, 8/27/2015]

Saudi women get right to vote, but few register
For the first time in its history, Saudi Arabia will allow women to vote and run for office in municipal elections scheduled for December 12. However, human rights activists point to persistent disadvantages that continue to block their registration, in particular the lack of personal documents and a continued ban on driving. During the municipal elections, 2,100 members will be elected to 284 councils nationwide; only seventy women are expected to run for office. Authorities have reserved a third of the kingdom’s registration centers specifically for women. Despite difficulties, Saudi women are viewing the vote as an important victory, no matter the turnout. [Christian Science Monitor, 8/28/2015]


Russia’s Rosneft signs LNG deal with Egypt’s EGAS
Russia’s state-owned oil company Rosneft signed a deal with Egypt’s state-owned Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company (EGAS) on Thursday to supply Egypt with liquefied natural gas (LNG). The deal came during President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s visit to Russia. EGAS announced that Rosneft would supply Egypt with twenty-four shipments of LNG over a two-year period beginning October 2015. Rosneft and Egypt’s Petroleum Ministry also signed a declaration to create scholarships for Egyptian nationals to study at Russian universities. A statement from the Russian company said the deals “will allow Rosneft to access the high growth potential Egyptian gas market and deepen broader cooperation between the two companies.” [Mada Masr, Cairo Post, 8/27/2015]

Egypt’s power choices appease public, squeeze industry
Government energy policies focused on appeasing the public are dealing a blow to vital industries in Egypt. Companies say production will continue to suffer unless the government starts diverting some of the gas supplied to electricity plants powering homes to factories. Research group Capital Economics estimates manufacturing output contracted by almost 30 percent year-on-year in June due to foreign exchange restrictions and gas shortages. Ezz Steel, Egypt’s largest steelmaker, last week reported a sevenfold year-on-year increase in its net loss for the first quarter of the year. Losses were “principally due to constant disruption of utilities and lack of natural gas,” the company said. The head of Egypt’s Cement Producers Association, Madhat Stefanos, said the sector had lost about 40 percent of its capacity due to energy shortages last year. [Reuters, 8/27/2015]

Saudi foreign reserves fall slows in July after bond sale
The decline in Saudi Arabia’s foreign reserves slowed in July after the government began issuing domestic debt to cover part of a budget deficit caused by low oil prices. Net foreign assets at the central bank have been sliding since they reached a $737 billion peak last August. The latest data showed net foreign assets shrank only 0.5 percent from the previous month to $661 billion in July, their lowest level since early 2013. They had dropped 1.2 percent month-on-month in June and at faster rates earlier this year. Early this year, the central bank drew down its foreign bank deposits, but July data showed that the bank changed its strategy in the last two months, rebuilding its foreign deposits while selling foreign securities more actively. [Reuters, 8/27/2015]

Central bank says Tunisia’s economy in technical recession
Tunisia’s economic growth was limited to 0.7 percent in the second quarter of 2015, against 1.7 percent in the previous quarter and 2 percent in the same period last year. Tunisia’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) dropped 0.7 percent in the second quarter of 2015 after a 0.2 percent decrease in the first quarter. According to the Central Bank of Tunisia, this confirms the Tunisian economy’s entry into a technical recession. This slowdown is mainly due to the decline in value added in industry, particularly manufacturing industries and market services. At the sector level, the general index of industrial production posted a decline of 1.4 percent at the end of May 2015. The latest indicators available on activity in the industrial sector in July 2015 show a fall in the import of raw materials, semi-finished products, and capital goods. [All Africa/TAP, 8/27/2015]

Middle East faces water shortages for the next twenty-five years, study says
Water supplies across the Middle East will deteriorate over twenty-five years, threatening economic growth and national security and forcing more people to move to already overcrowded cities, a new study by the World Resources Institute (WRI) finds. New WRI rankings place fourteen of the world’s thirty-three most water-stressed countries in the Middle East and North Africa region. Companies, farms, and residents in these countries are all highly vulnerable to the slightest change in supplies, according to the study. “Rapidly growing populations will drive increased consumption by people, farms, and companies. More people will move to cities, further straining supplies. An emerging middle class could clamor for more water-intensive food production and electricity generation,” the study says. [The Guardian, 8/27/2015]