Top News: Thirty-Five Killed in Two Days of Regime Air Raids Near Damascus

At least fifteen civilians, including three minors, were killed in eight regime air raids on Douma, a rebel-held town near the capital on Friday. On Thursday, regime air strikes killed twenty people, including two children and two women, in Jisrin to the east of Damascus, and two others in nearby Saqba.

Closing in on Douma, a town of 200,000 residents, the army has seized control of Mleiha and Adra and has set its sights on Jobar and Ain Tarma, all towns to the east of the capital.



June 30 fact-finding committee uncovers new information on August 14 dispersals
The June 30 fact-finding commission announced that it has completed a draft report on several issues. Commission spokesperson, Omar Marwan, said that the commission has discussed the attacks on churches in the wake of the dispersal of the pro-Morsi protests at Raba’a al-Adaweya and Nahda squares. He added that the committee has uncovered new information pertaining to the dispersals themselves, but did not give further details. He also announced plans to visit Sinai in the near future. He said the purpose of the visit is to meet with a public figure to hear his personal account of violence that occurred in the peninsula. [SIS, 10/17/2014]

Three policemen die after Sinai RPG attack
Militants killed three policemen and injured seven others in Egypt’s North Sinai on Thursday night when they hit a patrol car with RPG fire. Local officials said that unidentified assailants targeted the police vehicle in al-Masaeed district on a main road near al-Arish city. None of the militant groups currently active in Sinai have yet claimed responsibility for the attack. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, Reuters, 10/17/2014]

Egypt central bank keeps rates on hold, monitoring risks from global growth jitters
Egypt’s central bank decided to keep its main interest rates unchanged at a policy meeting on Thursday while keeping an eye on the risks to recovery posed by the rising concerns regarding the global economy and fear of a renewed European debt crisis. Overall, the economy is showing signs of a strengthening recovery with inflationary pressures starting to ease after a spike followed the July cuts in energy subsidies. [Reuters, 10/17/2014]

Egypt’s foray into Libya underlines its concerns
Egypt’s military involvement in Libya underlines Cairo’s concerns about the threat posed by Islamic militant groups operating near the two nations’ porous border, as well as home-grown jihadists who rely on their Libyan comrades for weapons. Above all, Egypt aims to prevent these groups from linking up. As fighting continued for a second day Thursday in Benghazi, where residents reported Egyptian warplanes have been pounding Islamist militia positions, analysts warned that Cairo’s foray into the ongoing fighting in Libya could deepen the turmoil there. Egyptian and Libyan officials have denied Egypt was carrying out airstrikes, while the United States, which maintains a naval force in the Mediterranean that includes surveillance aircraft, has not confirmed the aerial campaign. [AP, 10/16/2014]


Tobruk government warns against signing contract with Tripoli authorities
The government of Abdullah al-Thinni cannot be held responsible for any dealings with the self-declared government in Tripoli, according to a statement, which warned against interacting or signing contracts with the rival authorities in the capital. It called on regulatory bodies, including the Audit Bureau and the Central Bank of Libya, to abide by this declaration. Although most foreign governments do not officially recognize the Tripoli-based administration, theoretically there are no sanctions preventing foreign companies from signing contracts with it. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 10/17/2014]

Libyan Red Crescent calls for Benghazi ceasefire as fighting rages
Libya’s Red Crescent has called for a ceasefire in Benghazi to allow the evacuation of families trapped by street fighting between Islamist militants and pro-government forces. Banks, government offices, supermarkets, and some hospitals were closed in the violence-ridden eastern city on the second day of clashes. According to medics, the death toll from two days of fighting is up to at least seventeen. [Reuters, 10/16/2014]

Transitional council made mistakes following revolution, says Tarek Mitri
Libya’s current crisis is the result of a basic miscalculation immediately following the 2011 revolution, said former UN Support Mission in Libya chief Tarek Mitri in an interview. The National Transitional Council should have begun rebuilding state institutions rather than holding elections in 2012 and transferring power to the parliament, which gave rise to a power struggle. He was particularly critical of the Political Isolation Law. Mitri expressed reservations about Khalifa Haftar’s Operation Dignity, as Haftar expanded the circle of his opponents beyond Ansar al-Sharia and confronted Islamists in general. [Libya Herald, 10/16/2014]


Thirty-five killed in two days of regime air raids near Damascus
At least fifteen civilians, including three minors, were killed in eight regime air raids on Douma, a rebel-held town near the capital on Friday. On Thursday, regime air strikes killed twenty people, including two children and two women, in Jisrin to the east of Damascus, and two others in nearby Saqba. Closing in on Douma, a town of 200,000 residents, the army has seized control of Mleiha and Adra and has set its sights on Jobar and Ain Tarma, all towns to the east of the capital. [AFP, 10/17/2014]

Turkey outlines the borders a protection zone with Syria
Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Friday released the outlines of a possible protection zone in Syria, calling it a humanitarian measure rather than a military buffer zone. The prime minister suggested that the protection zone would include regions in Idlib northern Latakia, Hasakah, Jarablus and Kobani. Turkey has been drawing criticism for its inaction against the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) but officials in Ankara have consistently noted that Turkish intervention in the conflict without a robust safe zone would endanger Turkish citizens and endanger the country’s interests. [Hurriyet Daily News, Today’s Zaman, 10/16/2014]

United States pounds ISIS in Kobani after first talks with Syria Kurds
Six US airstrikes on Friday pummeled ISIS positions close to the front line east of Kobani, taking advantage of new coordination with the town’s Kurdish defenders. The dawn strikes in Kobani came after US Central Command said US warplanes struck fourteen times around the town on Wednesday and Thursday, including “successful” raids on nineteen ISIS-held buildings. “There is coordination between the Kurdish forces and the Americans,” said the director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. “The Kurds are giving them the exact coordinates of where the fighting is.” Washington revealed it held its first direct talks with the PYD, the main Syrian Kurdish group whose forces have been battling ISIS. The meeting, which took place last weekend, was held in Paris. [AFP, 10/17/2014]

ISIS might be flying three captured jets
Iraqi pilots who have joined ISIS in Syria are training members of the group to fly in three captured fighter jets, a group monitoring the war said on Friday, saying it was the first time that the militant group—which regularly uses weaponry captured in battle—had taken to the air. Rami Abdulrahman, who runs the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said ISIS has been flying the planes over the captured al-Jarrah military airport east of Aleppo. Reuters was not immediately able to verify the report and US Central Command said it was not aware of Islamic State flying jets in Syria. [Reuters, 10/17/2014]


Government working group to monitor elections meets with PM Jomaa
Government officials and representatives from the Tunisian General Labour Union (UGTT) and the Independent Election Authority for Elections (ISIE) met with Interim Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa later Thursday to discuss the monitoring of campaign finances ahead of parliamentary elections later this month. A statement released after the meeting noted that the government had requisitioned at least 170 judges to monitor and audit the financial statements of the all parties and candidates participating in the elections. [All Africa, TAP, 10/16/2014]

Human rights group alleges torture and abuse in the death of a prisoner in Tunis
The human rights advocacy group, Human Rights Watch (HRW), on Wednesday urged authorities to investigate the death of Mohamed Ali Snoussi who died in police custody after his arrest in Mallasine, a suburb of Tunis. An HRW report released earlier this week indicated that Snoussi was substantially beaten by police officers resulting in extensive bruising to his head, back and legs. Snoussi was arrested on September 24 and spent six days in police custody before being transferred to a hospital where he died two days later. [Tunisia Live, All Africa, 10/17/2014]

Authorities arrest three men suspected of sponsoring foreign fighters
The Ministry of the Interior on Thursday announced the arrest of three members of a network responsible for sending Tunisians to fight in conflicts abroad. According to a statement released by ministry officials, authorities also confiscated computers, mobile devices, and falsified identification documents allegedly used to fabricate identities and falsify information required to leave the country. [All Africa, 10/16/2014]


Clashes between Houthis and al-Qaeda in Bayda leave ten dead
Clashes between Houthi and al-Qaeda militants in Bayda continued on Thursday, as violence in Rida left ten people dead. Witnesses said that a convoy carrying Houthi fighters was waylaid by al-Qaeda near the city of Rida. In the heavy clashes that ensued, a resident said that ten Houthis were killed. The resident said that rocket-propelled grenades were employed in the fighting. This is the second major skirmish between al-Qaeda and the Houthis in Rida this week, after twelve people were killed in fighting on Wednesday. [Reuters, 10/16/2014]

Houthis seize control of port near Saudi border
Various sources are reporting that the Houthis have taken control of another town, this time in the province of Hajah. The militants seized control of the Harad checkpoint that is adjacent to the Saudi province of Jazan, where the kingdom’s troops fought with the Houthis in 2009 after they killed a Saudi soldier in a cross-border incursion. Reports Thursday also alleged that the Houthis took control of the small Red Sea port of Medi and al-Dawaymeh island, both near the Saudi border. [Bloomberg Businessweek, 10/16/2014]

Tribesmen engage Houthis in Ibb
Reports Friday alleged that Houthi militants clashed with armed tribesman in the city of Ibb, on the border with Bayda province. The Houthis apparently took control of Ibb without resistance on Wednesday, amassing forces in the local sports arena. However, tribal gunmen allegedly flocked to Ibb and roamed the streets on Thursday, demanding the removal of the Houthi presence. The tribal militants then engaged the Houthis on Friday, using automatic weapons in skirmishes throughout Ibb. [Aden al-Ghad, 10/17/2014]


ISIS car bomb attacks kills at least fifty outside Baghdad
Islamic state in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS and Islamic State) militants launched a series of car bomb attacks in predominantly Shia neighborhoods outside Baghdad that killed at least fifty civilians and wounded dozens others. A separate attack in a commercial area to the north of Baghdad killed at least fourteen people and wounded at least thirty-four civilians. ISIS militants have increased the use of car bombings, suicide attacks, and roadside bombings in recent weeks as they expand control outside of Anbar province and into the outskirts of Baghdad. [The New York Times, 10/17/2014]

GCC to set up joint naval force
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is mulling the establishment of a joint naval force as a precautionary step to protect the waters of the Gulf from potential terror threats. An advisor from the Kuwaiti Ministry of Defense explained that the new maritime force is intended to combat terror and protect the Gulf commercial routes in coordination with foreign navies, such as those from NATO. The new force will be named Marine Security Group 81 and act as a maritime equivalent to the Peninsula Shield Force, a 40,000-strong force based in Saudi Arabia and tasked with the protection of GCC member states against military aggression. [Asharq al-Awsat, 10/17/2014]

Iraqi forces take the offensive in northern Iraq
Iraqi security forces backed by coalition airstrikes launched operations early Friday aimed at regaining ground from the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS or Islamic State) north of the militant held city of Tikrit. Military officials indicated that Iraqi forces had assaulted the northern city of Baiji and were also advancing through several towns west of Tikrit. While the sources were positive about the operation, its scale was not immediately clear, and other efforts to regain ground in Salaheddin province have ended in failure after initial reports of success. [Naharnet, 10/17/2014]