Top News: SOHR Documents 36,000 Civilian Deaths in Syria Over Past Ten Months

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) monitoring group reported on Thursday that it has documented 33,376 air strikes carried out by Syrian regime forces in the past ten months since October 20, 2014, including 18,038 barrel bombs and 15,338 air raids. The group also documented the death of 5,499 civilians, including 775 women and 1,122 children, as well as 30,000 additional civilians wounded within that timeframe. SOHR urges the UNSC to issue a binding resolution to stop the military operations in Syria and bring the Syrian government to the International Criminal Court. [SOHR, 8/20/2015]



ISIS claims Shubra al-Kheima bomb, wounding twenty-nine
The Islamic State’s (ISIS or ISIL) Egypt affiliate said it was behind a car bombing that wounded twenty-nine people near a state security building and courthouse in Qalyubiya’s Shubra al-Kheima district early on Thursday. “A car exploded after the driver suddenly stopped in front of the state security building, exited the vehicle, and fled on a motorbike that was following the car,” the interior ministry said in a statement. Of those hurt, eleven were police and soldiers. The health ministry also reported that most of the wounded sustained only minor injuries. No deaths were reported. The claim for the attack came in a message circulated on social media stamped with a logo reading “Islamic State, Egypt,” similar to the statement issued after a similar blast at the Italian Consulate in early July. The statement said that the operation was in retribution for the “martyrs of Arab Sharkas,” referring to the execution of six alleged members of ISIS’ Sinai affiliate, formerly known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis. Authorities said high-powered explosives were used in the blast, which was heard and felt across the city. Several parts of the historical Mohamed Ali Palace were damaged by the blast. [Ahram Online, Reuters, AP, Aswat Masriya, The Guardian, SIS, 8/20/2015]

Egypt hits back at Western criticism of its new counterterrorism law
Egypt responded to Western criticism of its newly ratified counter-terrorism law, saying that foreign critics have misunderstood the law, and calling for Egypt’s right to self-determination to be respected. “Foreign criticism and remarks on the law stem from a lack of accurate analysis of its provisions as well as the failure to see its objective,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ahmed Abou Zeid said in a statement on Wednesday. The ministry also issued a statement, in both Arabic and English, defending some of the provisions that have stirred controversy, while reaffirming that Egypt is “committed to its human rights obligations under the Egyptian constitution and international human rights treaties and conventions.” The ministry said the law’s definition of terrorism—denounced for being extremely broad—has been developed to “match the evolving nature of terrorist crimes.” The ministry said the law was drawn up with reference to the US Patriot Act and the British Terrorism Act, highlighting that it could still be reviewed by the country’s parliament—expected to be elected later this year. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, Cairo Post, 8/19/2015]

We cannot stop Brotherhood from participating in elections, says Prime Minister’s advisor
Major General Refaat Komsan, Election Affairs Advisor to Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab, said in an interview with al-Shorouk that his committee cannot prevent certain factions, presumably including the Muslim Brotherhood, from joining this year’s parliamentary elections. Komsan is a member of the committee charged with the preparation of the electoral process laws. “We can’t tailor the laws to stop a certain faction from participating in the elections. However, the community will sort out who it wants to be represented by. Now it’s all about awareness and the electoral culture,” said Komsan. Although there is currently no law that bans certain groups from participating in the next parliamentary election, Komsan said that the public will only accept the Brotherhood if the group abandons their “extremist beliefs.” [Ahram Online, 8/20/2015]

Egypt and Libya, seek international aid against ISIS
Libya’s internationally recognized government, with strong backing from neighboring Egypt, on Tuesday urged fellow Arab countries to provide arms to help it defeat a local Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) affiliate and criticized the US led coalition for confining its efforts to Syria and Iraq. Egypt criticized what it called international “double standards” and “lethargy” in dealing with the spread of the ISIS group in Libya. Cairo’s representative to the Arab League, Tarek Adel, said his country would keep pressuring the international community to lift an arms embargo and provide assistance to Libya’s military. [AP, 8/20/2015]

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Libya wants allied airstrikes against ISIS, but not foreign intervention
Libya’s internationally recognized Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni wants allied countries to carry out airstrikes against local Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) affiliates but does not want foreign ground troops, Arab or otherwise. Al-Thinni said in an interview yesterday that his government urgently needs weapons and other support to battle ISIS in Libya and that Libya has been let down by the international community. Al-Thinni wants his own ground forces to direct strikes “from an Arab coalition—either nations on their own or in clusters—to eliminate these groups.” [AP, 8/20/2015]

Guards withdraw from Libyan side of Egypt border
Libya’s regular border security guards stopped working at the main border crossing to Egypt. A spokesman for the interior ministry of Libya’s internationally recognized government Tariq Kharaz said, “The force protecting the Musaid border crossing between Egypt and Libya withdrew due to some problems.” He also said another force was now operating the border, declining to say why the regular troops left. An Egyptian security source said the regular Libyan border guards had stopped working five days ago, adding that civilians now appeared to be working on the Libyan side of the border. [Reuters, Libya Monitor (Subscription), 8/20/2015]

One Tunisian policeman killed and two wounded in a terrorist attack
One police officer was killed and two wounded in a terrorist gun attack in Sousse yesterday. The shooting happened as three security officers were waiting for transport at the Msaken Highway intersection outside Sousse. Two individuals approached the men on a scooter and opened fire. The two other officers were unharmed. Police are currently mounting a search operation to find the suspects. [Tunisia Live, AP, ANSAmed, All Africa, Al Arabiya, 8/19/2015]


UN political chief calls Syria’s attack on Douma a war crime; HRW urges arms embargo
UN Under-Secretary General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman said Wednesday at a briefing to the UN Security Council (UNSC) that the Syrian government committed a war crime with its air strikes on the Damascus suburb of Douma. The strike killed about 100 people on Sunday. He said the attack, one of the deadliest in Syria’s four-year-old war, is “yet one more war crime for which those responsible must be held accountable.” Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday urged the United Nations to impose an arms embargo on the Syrian government in response to Sunday’s air strikes. [AP, 8/19/2015]

SOHR documents 36,000 civilian deaths in Syria over past ten months
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) monitoring group reported on Thursday that it has documented 33,376 air strikes carried out by Syrian regime forces in the past ten months since October 20, 2014, including 18,038 barrel bombs and 15,338 air raids. The group also documented the death of 5,499 civilians, including 775 women and 1,122 children, as well as 30,000 additional civilians wounded within that timeframe. SOHR urges the UNSC to issue a binding resolution to stop the military operations in Syria and bring the Syrian government to the International Criminal Court. [SOHR, 8/20/2015]

Turkey detains about forty leftists after Istanbul shooting
Turkish authorities Thursday launched early morning raids in Istanbul and the southern city of Mersin to arrest forty suspected members of the ultra-left Marxist Revolutionary People’s Liberation Party Front (DHKP-C). The raids came a day after two DHKP-C militants attacked the Dolmabahce Palace in Istanbul, one of Turkey’s main tourist attractions, which also houses offices of Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. The two militants were reportedly armed with hand grenades and an automatic rifle when they opened fire on police guarding the entrance. They were soon after caught, and the attack saw no casualties. DHKP-C on Thursday claimed responsibility for the attack, saying in a statement on their website, “we will break the hands raised against the peoples’ fighters who ensured justice by attacking the Dolmabahce Palace.” [AFP, Reuters, 8/20/2015]

Syrian President replaces two cabinet ministers
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad conducted a minor government reshuffle on Thursday, replacing two cabinet ministers. Syrian state television (SANA) reported that Assad named Rima Qadiri to replace Kinda Shammat as Minister of Social Affairs and Jamal Chahine will replace Hassane Safieh as Minister of Internal Trade and Consumer Protected. SANA did not give a reason for the moves but it came at a time when consumer prices have been on the rise in the country. [AP, 8/20/2015]

Legal vacuum as Iraqi Kurd leader’s term expires
President of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) Massud Barzani’s extended term expired Thursday, leaving the region in a “legal vacuum” that Kurdish political parties are still trying to resolve. The Kurdish leadership dispute comes as Kurdistan faces a multitude of crises, including the war against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), major financial problems, and a Turkish bombing campaign targeting the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) rebel group in the region. Reports have also emerged that Turkish Kurds have fled from Turkey to Iraq’s KRG amid escalating conflict between the PKK and the Turkish army. Chief of the northern Iraqi Kurdish district of Sorran told reporters Thursday that “thirty-eight families consisting of 141 people” have crossed into Iraq so far. [AFP, 8/20/2015]


Bomb hits governor’s office in Aden, four dead
A bomb attack on the governor’s temporary headquarters in Aden Thursday killed four people and wounded ten others, security officials and medics said. Governor Nayef al-Bakri was unharmed in the blast at the headquarters of the Aden Faculty of Administrative Sciences, which is housing the governor’s offices, the sources said. It was the first such attack in Aden since pro-government forces retook the city from Houthi forces in mid-July. The authorities could not immediately identify the perpetrators of the attack. [AFP, 8/20/2015]

Houthi militants fight for control of government-held areas
Houthi rebels in Yemen attacked pro-government forces for the second consecutive day Wednesday after weeks of retreating, security officials said. Five pro-government fighters were killed in the rebel attack on the Labouza military base, said Qayed Nasser, a spokesman for the anti-rebel forces in Lahj province. The attack was repelled with support from airstrikes by a Saudi-led coalition that is also fighting the rebels, Nasser said. Anti-Houthi fighters have failed to push the rebels and their allies out of the Aqaba Tharaa area, which they took control of a day earlier in a similar attack, according to independent security officials and witnesses. Shelling killed five civilians south of the city of Taiz, Yemen’s third largest, as clashes continued, police and medical officials said. In Hadramawt, suspected al-Qaeda militants attacked a police checkpoint, killing a soldier and wounding others, security and tribal officials said. In Saudi Arabia, a Yemeni man was executed for attempting to fire at a Saudi officer. [The Daily Star, 8/20/2015]

United Nations warns of impending famine in Yemen
The United Nations warned Wednesday of a “developing famine” in Yemen, where more than half a million children are severely malnourished, and pressed for access to its war-torn regions. The UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) said the conflict has left Yemen on the brink of a famine in the areas of fighting. “All the signs that will lead us to the qualifiable definition of famine are in fact developing in front of our eyes,” WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin told reporters in Cairo following a three-day mission to Yemen. Cousin called for immediate and regular access for WFP aid workers to areas of conflict. WFP estimates that the number of food insecure people in Yemen is now almost 13 million, including six million deemed “severely food insecure and in urgent need of external assistance.” [AFP, 8/19/2015]

Exiled President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi expected to return to Yemen in September
Yemen’s President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi will return to his country in September, according to Yemeni sources. Hadi is expected to travel to Aden from Riyadh to celebrate the Eid holiday on September 23. The presidential palace in Aden is being prepared for the president’s return. Hadi’s government officials have been returning slowly to Aden and other southern cities since the government forces, supported by troops from Saudi-led Arab coalition recaptured the port city last month. [Gulf News, 8/19/2015]


ISIS made $11 million per month in Iraq province
The Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) made $11 million per month from “organized crime” in Iraq’s Nineveh province before seizing Mosul in June of last year, a parliamentary report obtained by AFP says. ISIS members acted like “mafias managing organized crime” and controlled “all the economic resources of the province,” said the report. ISIS had “a specific system for collecting money” and imposed “specific rates” on different social groups as part of its highly successful racketeering. The report cited various examples of “taxes” levied by ISIS, including on petroleum products being transferred from a major refinery in neighboring Salaheddin province, which brought in about $1 million per month. “Everyone was paying Daesh [ISIS], even the vegetable sellers,” the report said, adding that the funding was “a major economic resource that helped in a fast and efficient way to entrench this terrorist organization and double its human and logistical capabilities.” [AFP, 8/19/2015]

Egypt to lower top tax rate and threshold, freeze capital gains tax within two weeks
Egypt will lower the top tax rate and threshold for companies and individuals in high-income brackets and freeze a 10 percent tax on capital gains within two weeks, Finance Minister Hany Dimian said. The moves are aimed at attracting investors and boosting the country’s economy. “We await the issuing of amendments lowering the income tax ceiling to 22.5 percent as well as amendments to the capital gains tax within a few days; one or two weeks at the most,” Dimian said. The government announced the decision to lower the top tax rates in March, but it has yet to be signed into law by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. In May, the government said it would freeze the capital gains tax, reversing part of its economic reform agenda, but the freeze has also not been signed into law. [Reuters, 8/20/2015]

Egypt, Saudi Aramco sign $1.4 billion oil products deal
Egypt has agreed to a three-month oil products deal worth $1.4 billion with Saudi Arabia’s state-owned Aramco. The deal will begin in September and stipulates that Egypt pay Aramco within a year, Oil Minister Sherif Ismail said. Financial support from Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia has helped Cairo keep its economy afloat and ease an energy crisis. [Reuters, 8/20/2015]

Tunisia’s economic growth slows sharply in Q2 after militant attacks
Tunisia’s economic growth slowed sharply in the second quarter of 2015 to 0.7 percent year-on-year, official data showed on Wednesday, after two militant attacks crippled the country’s tourism industry. The economy had expanded 1.7 percent in the first quarter of 2015 compared to the same period a year earlier. Strikes and protests have also disrupted the country’s phosphate exports. Tunisia cut its gross domestic product growth forecast to 0.5 percent this year, down from an initially 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, 8/20/2015]

Libya’s GNC outlines subsidies reform plan
Deputy Speaker of the Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC) Awad Abdulsadiq said that the western government has agreed to reduce fuel subsidies and provide cash payments in place of subsidies on basic goods. “The GNC has voted to remove subsidies from all types of fuel, including petrol, diesel and [refined] oil, with the exception of [bottled] natural gas,” he said. Each citizen will receive LD50 ($40) per month in place of subsidies on staple foods and fuel. The GNC added that citizens must first receive two months worth of support (LD100) before any subsidies are removed. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 8/20/2015]