Top News: Syrian Opposition Backs Safe Zone Calls; NATO Warns Turkey Against Excessive Force

Head of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) Khaled Khoja urged NATO partners meeting in Brussels today to support the establishment of a “safe zone” in northern Syria. Khoja said that it would protect civilians from the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) and President Bashar al-Assad’s indiscriminate aerial bombardment. NATO declared its “strong solidarity” with Turkey on Tuesday as ambassadors gathered for the fifth emergency meeting in NATO’s sixty-six year history to gauge the threat that ISIS poses to Turkey. Ambassadors from the twenty-eight member states also called on Turkey to refrain from using excessive force. Saudi Arabian King Salman told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Monday that he “supports Turkey’s right to defend itself and protect its citizens from terrorist attacks.” [AP, 7/28/2015]



Egypt’s ranking in State Department trafficking report drops
According to the latest annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report from the US State Department, Egypt dropped from Tier 2 to the Tier 2 Watch List due to its poor record of addressing the sexual exploitation of women and children. The report said that while Egypt had set up a national anti-trafficking hotline, its efforts to address the problem focused on Egyptian nationals, not foreign trafficking victims. Secretary of State John Kerry says the TIP report aims to enlighten, energize, and empower activists fighting the “human trafficking industry” across every continent. The Tier 2 Watch List designation applies to countries that contain a significant or increasing number of trafficking victims which fail to provide evidence of increasing efforts to combat severe forms of trafficking in persons from the previous year. Egyptian authorities arrested 339 people, including four human traffickers, on Monday while attempting to cross into Libya illegally. [Egypt Independent, 7/28/2015]

Senators urge focus on political reform, human rights in US-Egypt Strategic Dialogue
Ranking Member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD), Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Chris Coons (D-DE), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Bob Casey (D-PA) wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday, ahead of the upcoming US-Egypt Strategic Dialogue on August 2. They urged Kerry to include “political reform, human rights, and fundamental freedoms” on the agenda. In the letter, the Senators wrote, “We are troubled by recent developments in Egypt that suggest the country is not on a path to long-term sustainable security or political inclusion. We are also concerned that recent US policy and assistance decisions have been interpreted by the Egyptian government as endorsement of the current political climate.” The letter also added that the United States “will remain committed to a security partnership with Egypt,” commending its “adherence to the Peace Treaty with Israel, its role in brokering ceasefires between Israel and Hamas, its provision of military privileges to the United States, and its participation in peacekeeping missions and support for the anti-ISIL Coalition.” [SFRC, 7/27/2015]

Fresh detainee torture claims emerge from Tora Prison
Rights advocates have recounted further alleged cases of detainee torture, with violations amounting to denial of medication. Several allegations of prison torture have been reported since the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, with a number of them leading to death. The Interior Ministry systematically rejects claims of torture, but has referred some of its workers to interrogators in a few cases. Mohamed Abdel Aziz, a lawyer and the head of Haqanya law firm, said that a convict serving a five-year sentence over protests in 2013 has endured “moral and physical torture” in prison. An NGO called the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms said on Sunday that authorities at Tora Prison have denied epilepsy medication for Hany Halim, a suspect arrested in April 2014 over charges of affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood and financing its protests. He has not yet been referred to trial. The organization has also said that it has recorded 143 prison deaths between June 2013 and June 2015 due poor medical care. [Egypt Independent, 7/28/2015]

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Qaddafi’s son sentenced to death
A court in Libya sentenced on Tuesday Seif al-Islam Qaddafi, Muammar Qaddafi’s son, to death by firing squad after convicting him of murder and inciting genocide during the 2011 uprising. The Tripoli court that sentenced Seif al-Islam, who is being held by a militia that refuses to hand him over, also sentenced to death eight others, including former Libyan spy chief Abdullah al-Senoussi. It was unclear whether the sentences in the mass trial of thirty-eight Qaddafi-era figures, only twenty-nine of whom were present, would be carried out. Six others were sentenced to life in prison and four were cleared of charges. Human Rights Watch said the trial was “undermined by serious due process violations,” and called on the Supreme Court to independently review the verdict. Justice Minister Al-Mabrouk Ghraira Omran condemned the Tripoli trial as illegal and claimed that the judges in the case were acting under duress. [AP, Libya Herald, All Africa, Al Arabiya, 7/28/2015]

House members in Washington for talks
Two senior members of the House of Representatives (House) are in Washington for talks with the US government and Congress about security, the political situation in Libya, and potential support from the United States. Ali al-Saedi who heads of the House’s Interior Committee and Salhin Saad Abdulnabi, a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, arrived on Friday. Over the weekend they spoke with embassy staff on issues such as financial problems facing Libyans students and the wounded Libyans being treated in the United States. The two House members plan to meet Senator John McCain’s Chief of Staff today. They will also meet Congressman Ed Royce’s Chief of Staff and with State Department officials on Wednesday and Thursday. [Libya Herald, 7/27/2015]

Deadly fighting in Kufra despite ceasefire; Clashes in west Tripoli between Libya Dawn forces
Despite reports of a ceasefire agreed upon on Saturday in Kufra between Zwai and Tebu fighters, heavy fighting erupted in the town yesterday, for the third day in succession. Fourteen people were killed on Friday and two dozen wounded. Tebu fighters fired mortars at the Kufra airport, forcing its closure. Meanwhile, heavy clashes took place in the west Tripoli suburb of Siyahiya yesterday between members of the Mobile Forces, based in Janzour, and the Islamist-leaning Abu Obeida militia from Zawia. The clashes killed two fighters and wounded six. Benghazi and much of eastern Libya face severe power cuts as clashes reportedly caused damage to three of five power stations that serve the city. [Libya Herald, 7/27/2015]

Rescuers find thirteen dead migrants off Libyan coast
Rescuers found thirteen dead migrants on a boat off the coast of Libya with more than 500 others aboard. An Irish naval ship, mobilized as part of the European Union’s Triton mission, and a boat operated by the Doctors Without Borders charity went to the rescue late on Monday. The bodies were taken onto the Irish ship. Authorities are yet to decide where to take the survivors. [Al Arabiya/ Reuters, 7/28/2015]


Syrian opposition backs safe zone calls; NATO warns Turkey against excessive force
Head of the Syrian National Coalition (SNC) Khaled Khoja urged NATO partners meeting in Brussels today to support the establishment of a “safe zone” in northern Syria. Khoja said that it would protect civilians from the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) and President Bashar al-Assad’s indiscriminate aerial bombardment. NATO declared its “strong solidarity” with Turkey on Tuesday as ambassadors gathered for the fifth emergency meeting in NATO’s sixty-six year history to gauge the threat that ISIS poses to Turkey. Ambassadors from the twenty-eight member states also called on Turkey to refrain from using excessive force. Saudi Arabian King Salman told Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Monday that he “supports Turkey’s right to defend itself and protect its citizens from terrorist attacks.” [AP, 7/28/2015]

Syrian army and Kurds push ISIS out of Hasaka
Syrian troops and Kurdish fighters ousted the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) from the northeastern city of Hasaka on Tuesday after more than a month of fighting. A monitoring group reported that ISIS “was expelled by the army from Zuhur, the last district in which it was present in Hasaka, and its fighters have been pushed to the southern outskirts of the city.” He added that at least 287 ISIS fighters were killed in the fight and another 120 regime soldiers and pro-regime militiamen as well as several dozen Kurdish forces were also killed in the fighting. [AFP, 7/28/2015]

Erdogan says Kurdish peace process can resume
Spokesman for Turkey’s Justice and Development party (AKP) Besir Atalay said at an emergency NATO meeting in Brussels Tuesday that Turkey’s peace process with the Kurds is not over but has been placed on hold. He indicated that peace negotiations could restart when Kurdish rebel fighters withdraw from Turkish territory and lay down arms. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told a news conference in Ankara earlier on Tuesday that it is “not possible to continue the peace process with those who threaten our national unity and brotherhood,” and that Turkey draws no distinction between the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and ISIS, considering both of them terrorist organizations. The PKK said Turkey’s airstrikes on its positions over the past few days have rendered the Turkish-Kurdish peace process meaningless, but the group stopped short of formally pulling out.[AP, 7/28/2015]

Major rebel offensive in Syria targets Assad’s coastal area
The Syrian opposition Army of Conquest coalition launched a major offensive Tuesday on government-held areas in northwestern Syria in a bid to advance towards the coastal Latakia province that is vital to President Bashar al-Assad’s control of the coast. The insurgent coalition, which includes groups such as the Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham, is reportedly trying to drive into the Sahl al-Ghab plain towards the coastal mountain range, which acts as a buffer for government-held cities on the coast. They claim to have so far seized a power station in the area and captured sixteen places from government forces. [Reuters, 7/28/2015]

UN closes Iraq health programs for lack of funding
On Monday, the United Nations said in a statement, “184 front line health services have been suspended because of the paralyzing funding shortfall for humanitarian activities in Iraq.” The statement said the lack of funding means that half a million children will not be immunized and has already led to a sharp reduction in food rations for one million people. It added that it would also cut back programs assisting women and girls who have survived sexual violence. [Al Arabiya, 7/28/2015]


Civilian death toll now 1,900 in Yemen conflict
The United Nations says the civilian death toll from four months of fighting in Yemen has risen to nearly 1,900, with at least 202 people killed over the past twelve days. The UN Office of the Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva said Tuesday that another 353 civilians were wounded from July 16-27. That brings its total count to 1,895 dead and 4,182 wounded since March 26. International relief agency Oxfam said on Tuesday that the number of Yemenis at risk for starvation is 6 million, with an additional 25,000 at risk each day. [AP, 7/28/2015]

EU Foreign Minister in the Middle East to discuss Iran deal, Yemen
The Foreign Affairs Chief for the European Union Federica Mogherini was in Riyadh on Monday for joint talks with Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. The officials discussed the Iran deal and the worsening crisis in Yemen. A press conference with Mogherini and al-Jubeir saw the Saudi Minister denounce “aggressive statements” by Tehran while his Italian counterpart lauded the historic nuclear deal. Mogherini will be in Tehran on Tuesday for talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in which they will discuss “different issues, including energy cooperation … human rights, confronting terrorism and regional issues.” US Secretary of State John Kerry will also travel to the region and will hold a meeting with GCC officials in Doha on August 3. [AFP, 7/27/2015]

Two Bahraini police officers killed in bombing
Two Bahraini policemen were killed and six were severely wounded in a bomb attack in the predominantly Shia village of Sitra. The Interior Ministry in Bahrain has already called the attack an act of terrorism, according to statements on its official twitter account. The Ministry said that the explosives used in the bombing match those seized after an alleged bomb-smuggling plot was foiled on Saturday. [Reuters, 7/28/2015]

UAE files first case under new anti-discrimination law
Dubai police filed the first case to fall under a recently passed law criminalizing discrimination in any form on the foundation of religion, class, race, or ethnicity. The case was filed against a Saudi national who had tweeted “continuous insults against the UAE and for instigating hatred against the country.” A UAE official said, “This Saudi tweeter has been publishing remarks that instigate hatred against the UAE by spreading baseless rumors and lies,” and noted that despite his location, the Saudi man would be pursued. The law bans any form of hate crimes that attack religions through any form, speech, written word, or via online media. [Al-Arabiya, 7/27/2015]


Explosion shuts down Iran-Turkey natural gas pipeline
Turkey’s Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said an explosion on a natural gas pipeline late on Monday between Iran and Turkey caused a large fire and shut down the flow of gas. He said the explosion was in Agri province, some fifteen kilometers from the Iranian border, and suggested that Kurdish rebels were to blame. He said the fire was quickly brought under control. The pipeline, which carries around 10 billion cubic metres of Iranian gas to Turkey annually, has frequently come under attack by Kurdish militants. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. An official from state gas company Botas said repairs were under way but it was not clear when the gas flow would resume. [AP, Reuters, 7/28/2015]

UAE to cut state spending by 4.2 percent this year
The government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is expected to cut spending by 4.2 percent this year as it responds to low oil prices that are slashing its energy export revenues, a central bank report said on Monday. The UAE does not regularly reveal consolidated state budget data and figures released in the quarterly report were the first detailed picture of how authorities are responding to cheap oil. The figures suggest that the UAE is retrenching faster than the majority of wealthy Arab oil exporters in the Gulf. Consolidated government spending is expected to drop to 460.6 billion dirhams ($125.5 billion) in 2015 from 480.8 billion dirhams in 2014. The UAE also said it would raise domestic prices for gasoline and cut them for diesel in a politically sensitive reform designed to save the government money and encourage motorists to use fuel more efficiently. The price of gasoline will climb 24 percent at the start of August, while the price of diesel will fall 29 percent. [Reuters, 7/28/2015]

Kuwait preparing Islamic bond legislation to help finance budget
Kuwait is preparing legislation to facilitate issues of Islamic bonds by the government as it assesses options to finance a budget deficit caused by low oil prices, Finance Minister Anas al-Saleh said on Tuesday. “It is among the priorities of the government,” Saleh said of the legislation. Earlier this month Kuwait’s parliament approved a budget for the current fiscal year that envisages a deficit of $27 billion. Saleh had previously said that Kuwait was considering various options to cover the deficit, including bond issues. Saleh did not comment in any detail on possible government spending cuts, beyond saying a study was underway that would be presented to the cabinet once completed. [Reuters, 7/28/2015]

Yemen’s Houthis to let fuel prices rise as financial pressure mounts
The Houthi authorities who control much of Yemen, including the capital Sana’a, plan to let fuel prices rise in a sign of growing financial pressure on their administration since war broke out in March. Prices of oil products will be allowed to move freely and will be linked to international levels, state news agency SABA reported late on Monday. It quoted a statement by the Higher Revolutionary Committee, a body set up by the Houthis to run the country. The statement did not say when the change would take place. [Reuters, 7/28/2015]