Top News: Turkey Deploys Special Forces Along Syria Border; Turkish Soldier Killed by Fire From Syria

The Turkish military deployed dozens of troops from the Special Forces Command “Maroon Berets” along the Syrian border on Wednesday evening. The troops were deployed along the Turkish-Syrian border in Kilis as well as the provinces of Hatay, Gaziantep, Sanlirfa, and Mardin, all of which are close to areas of Syria under Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) control. One Turkish soldier was killed and at least one more wounded Thursday in Kilis by fire from an ISIS-controlled area on the Syrian side of the border. Separately, a Turkish police officer was shot and killed and another wounded in the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir on Thursday. Turkish security forces detained three suspects on Thursday over the killing of two police on Wednesday. The Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK)-affiliated Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement (YDG-H) also claimed responsibility for the killing of an alleged member of ISIS in Istanbul on Thursday. [Today’s ZamanNOW, 7/23/2015]



Egypt court sentences Mubarak-era PM to five years over graft
An Egyptian criminal court has sentenced former prime minister under ousted president Hosni Mubarak, Ahmed Nazif, to five years jail over graft charges, toughening an earlier three-year sentence in a retrial. Nazif was also given a EGP 53.3 million fine in the corruption case dating to his tenure under Mubarak. In addition to the fine, Nazif was ordered to pay back EGP 48.6 million to the Egyptian government for the charges of illegal profiteering in his official roles. Nazif was charged with exploiting his position to make “illicit gains” worth 64 million Egyptian pounds ($8.17 million), as per investigations by Egypt’s Illicit Gains Authority. He was also accused of accepting gifts from national press associations. Two of Nazif’s sons, also facing re-trial on graft charges on Wednesday, were ordered to pay fines, the sources said. [Ahram Online, DNE, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, Cairo Post, 7/23/2015]

Forty-five officials promoted in Ministry of Interior reshuffle
Minister of Interior Magdy Abdel Ghaffar promoted Wednesday forty-five officials in a ministry reshuffle, state-run media reported. The restructuring included twenty-one deputy ministers and twenty-four security chiefs. Maj. Abu Bakr Abdel Karim, who used to head the human rights department, is currently the official spokesperson for the Interior Ministry. His position is to be filled by Maj. Mohamed Salah al-Din Kamel, former director of the information and documentation authority. Security chiefs were appointed for the directorates of Ismailia, Alexandria, Marsa Matruh, Qena and Qaliubiya. The changes will go into effect on August 22. [DNE, 7/23/2015]

 Egypt’s state television and radio to be restructured: Transitional Justice Minister
Egypt’s state-owned Television and Radio Union— popularly known as Maspero—will be restructured to be part of a national media authority mandated with supervising all forms of government-affiliated media. According to Minister of Transitional Justice and Parliamentary Affairs Ibrahim al-Heneidy, a new law is being drafted to bring Maspero under the supervision of one authority. “This goes in line with Article 213 of the new constitution and aims at promoting the competitive capacity of Maspero in a market increasingly dominated by the private sector,” Heneidy told parliamentary reporters in a press conference Tuesday. Heneidy said Article 213 of the 2014 Constitution mandates the establishment of a national media authority to take charge of supervising all government- owned audiovisual and digital media outlets, developing their financial assets and reinforcing their independence and impartiality. “As a result, a legislative reform committee is currently in the process of drafting a new law aimed at achieving the philosophy of Article 213 and turning the anticipated national media authority into a reality,” said Heneidy. [Ahram Online, 7/22/2015]

Egypt to receive German submarines soon, a new French multipurpose frigate
Egypt is expected to receive two German submarines and a French global combat ship as part of comprehensive armament plans for the armed forces, the Commander of the Naval Forces Osama Rabie said on Wednesday. The announcement came during the graduation ceremony of the 66th class of the maritime college. Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and other state officials attended the ceremony. Egypt had signed a deal with Berlin to buy two German-made submarines in 2011, then ordered two more in 2014. The navy commander did not specify the period in which Egypt is expected to receive the submarines or the ship. “The navy will witness a new qualitative shift and will receive the arms and weapons from a variety of sources, from both eastern and western states,” Rabie said. The navy commander also revealed that Egypt would be receiving a new French warship, the FREMM naval frigate, as part of a one-billion-euro deal signed in 2014 to purchase four warships. Rabie also said that the Egyptian-French deal would include joint manufacturing between the two countries of three other warships in the Egyptian shipbuilding arsenal. [Ahram Online, 7/22/2015]

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Tunisia lawmakers debate new anti-terror bill
Thursday morning, Tunisia’s House of Representatives resumed examination of the draft law on the fight against terrorism and money laundering, after looking at the first fifteen articles during Wednesday’s session. Tunisia has come up with several drafts of legislation to address terrorism and money laundering since the 2011 revolution, but this is the first to go before parliament with a consensus backing of the parliament’s largest factions, including Ennahda party and Nidaa Tounes. But advocacy groups Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have described the latest bill as draconian, saying its definition of terrorist crimes is too vague and that it fails to adequately safeguard the rights of defendants and could undermine freedoms. [All Africa/TAP, 7/23/2015; Ahram Online/AFP, l’Economiste Maghrébin, 7/22/2015]

Forty dead in ethnic clashes in southern Libya
At least forty people have been killed in a week of ethnic clashes between rival gunmen from the Toubou and Tuareg minorities in southern Libya, a local official said. The latest fighting centered on the oasis city of Sabha. Hundreds of families have been displaced. There have been repeated deadly clashes between the two ethnic groups since February. The chaos that has followed the 2011 uprising has seen mounting competition for scant resources in the desert south, with Tuareg, Toubou, and Arabs all setting up rival militia. [Al Arabiya/AFP, 7/22/2015]

Two car bombs explode in eastern Libyan city of Derna
Two car bombs exploded on Wednesday in Libya’s eastern city of Derna. There are no reports on casualties. The area around Derna, located east of Benghazi, has seen heavy fighting in recent weeks between Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants and a rival Islamist group. ISIS fighters left the city last month but had taken up new positions outside Derna. [Al Arabiya, 7/22/2015]

Tunisia arrests sixteen fuel smugglers in border with Libya
Tunisian troops arrested on Tuesday sixteen fuel smugglers after a brief gunfight in the military buffer zone near the border town of Ben Guerdane. The men, Libyans and Tunisians, were seized along with nine vehicles, which reportedly carried heavily subsidized Libyan petrol for sale on the Tunisian black market. When their convoy was challenged, the smugglers called up armed support from the Libyan side of the frontier. No one appears to have been injured in the exchanges of fire. It is unclear if any of the gunmen managed to escape back into Libya. [Libya Herald, 7/22/2015]


Turkey deploys special forces along Syria border; Turkish soldier killed by fire from Syria
The Turkish military deployed dozens of troops from the Special Forces Command “Maroon Berets” along the Syrian border on Wednesday evening. The troops were deployed along the Turkish-Syrian border in Kilis as well as the provinces of Hatay, Gaziantep, Sanlirfa, and Mardin, all of which are close to areas of Syria under Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) control. One Turkish soldier was killed and at least one more wounded Thursday in Kilis by fire from an ISIS-controlled area on the Syrian side of the border. Separately, a Turkish police officer was shot and killed and another wounded in the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir on Thursday. Turkish security forces detained three suspects on Thursday over the killing of two police on Wednesday. The Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK)-affiliated Patriotic Revolutionary Youth Movement (YDG-H) also claimed responsibility for the killing of an alleged member of ISIS in Istanbul on Thursday. [Today’s Zaman, NOW, 7/23/2015]

US Defense Secretary arrives in Baghdad on unannounced visit
US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter arrived unannounced in Baghdad on Thursday to assess the government’s progress in healing the country’s sectarian divisions and hear the latest on support for the Iraqi army’s attempt to recapture Ramadi from ISIS. The trip marked Carter’s first visit to Iraq since taking office in February, where he met with the Iraqi Counterterrorism Service Academy to observe training sessions. Carter also met with Jordanian officials in Amman on Wednesday to discuss the ongoing cooperation and coordination between Jordan and the United States on issues of joint concern such as the exchange of expertise between the two countries’ armed forces. [AP, NYT, Al Jazeera, 7/23/2015]

UN warns lack of aid may drive Iraqis to ISIS
UN Special Envoy for Iraq Jan Kubis told the UN Security Council on Wednesday that a lack of funds for desperately needed humanitarian aid has already cut food rations and may force Iraqi communities and families to look to ISIS for assistance. Kubis also expressed concern that the Iraqi army offensive backed by US-led coalition airstrikes has “yet to significantly change the situation on the ground.” A pair of car bombs exploded Wednesday in crowded markets in predominantly Shia neighborhoods of Baghdad, killing at least twenty-six and wounding over fifty people. FBI director James Comey said at the Aspen Security Forum on Wednesday that ISIS has become more of a terror threat to the United States than an external attack by al-Qaeda. [AP, 7/23/2015]

Syrian air raid on ISIS-held village kills twelve civilians; regime sentences famed opponents to death
At least twelve civilians were killed and dozens other wounded Wednesday in Syrian regime air raids on the ISIS-held village of Qasr al-Breij in Aleppo. The regime is reportedly “trying to distance the jihadist threat from sectors of Aleppo province held by the army” but is killing scores of civilians in the process by dropping barrel bombs. The Syrian government has reportedly sentenced five leading opponents of the regime to death in absentia. Those sentenced include intellectual dissident Michel Kilo and Al Jazeera journalist Faisal al-Qassem. The five dissidents were supposedly proven to have “supported the striking of the nation’s structure by spreading diversion through messages of incitement and sectarian conflict.” [AFP, 7/23/2015]

Obama and Erdogan seek stronger ties against ISIS
US President Barack Obama and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke on the phone Wednesday about “deepening [the two countries’] ongoing cooperation in the fight against ISIS and common efforts to bring security and stability to Iraq and a political settlement to the conflict in Syria.” The White House said that regional security remains a top priority and pledged to work closely with Turkey on a number of fronts. Obama also offered condolences and condemned the suicide bombing in Suruc on Monday that killed thirty-two people as well as the attack that killed two police officers on Wednesday. A prominent Turkish journalist was fired by his newspaper on Wednesday over a tweet which suggested that Erdogan was responsible for Monday’s suicide bombing and claimed it was “shameful” that world leaders were offering condolences to the “number one cause of ISIS terrorism.” [Al Arabiya, AP, 7/23/2015]


Anti-Houthi forces reclaim presidential palace in Aden as aid delivery from GCC countries begins
Anti-Houthi forces recaptured the presidential palace in Aden Wednesday as the airport in the coastal city reopened. Thirty rebels were killed in the battle for the al-Maashiq hilltop palace, where President Hadi had taken refuge before fleeing to Saudi Arabia in March, a source in the pro-government Popular Resistance militia said. Others will follow the Saudi plane that landed on Wednesday in the coming days, according to transport minister Badr Basalma, one of two ministers who returned to the city after it was declared “liberated” by the exiled government Friday. Aid shipments have also begun to arrive from the United Nations and a ship sent by the United Arab Emirates delivered medical supplies last week. The UAE provided further aid, sending a technical team to repair the damaged infrastructure at Aden international airport. Saudi Defense Minister Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman issued a call for further aid to be sent to Aden. [AFP, 7/23/2015]

Former President Ali Abdullah Saleh in talks to resolve war in Yemen
Representatives of Yemen’s ex-leader Ali Abdullah Saleh are in talks with diplomats from the United States, Britain, and the United Arab Emirates to help end four months of war in the impoverished country, a member of his party said. “There are negotiations in Cairo between the leaders of the Congress party and diplomats in order to find a peaceful solution to the crisis in Yemen and to lift the siege on the grounds that the continuation of the war and the siege serve extremist groups,” Adel Shuja, a leader of Saleh’s General People’s Congress party, said. Saleh’s loyalists in Yemen’s army are a key force in the country’s civil war and the talks are the first between the strongman and the key member of the Arab coalition opposing him. [Reuters, 7/23/2015]

Bahrain considers Emirati style anti-discrimination law
Bahrain has called for a new law to punish hate crimes and discrimination in the wake of a similar piece of legislation introduced in the United Arab Emirates this week. Some parliamentarians claim the Kingdom already has such laws in place, but they are not effectively enforced. Under current legislation in Bahrain, anyone convicted of discrimination on the grounds of religion, ethnicity, doctrine, or color faces a maximum of two years in jail and a fine of up to BD200 ($1,900). Shura Council member Darwish al-Mannai believes current rules are not tough enough and has called for new punishments for those found guilty of hate crimes. He said that Bahrain was known for its social, cultural and religious tolerance, but that such a new law “will add value to our country’s image.” [Arabian Business, 7/23/2015]


Algeria cuts spending, sees energy revenues falling 50 percent this year
Algeria will cut spending in its 2015 budget by 1.35 percent, the government announced, as it expects a slump in oil prices to reduce its energy earnings by 50 percent. The government expects economic growth outside oil and gas to reach 5.1 percent, unchanged from an initial forecast early this year. Inflation is now expected to be 4 percent, rather than 3 percent, while the budget is based on a $60 per barrel oil price, much lower than the anticipated $90. Imports are projected at $57.3 billion for this year, exceeding exports for the first time. Algeria posted a trade deficit of $7.78 billion for the first half of 2015, compared with a $3.2 billion surplus a year earlier. [Reuters, 7/23/2015]

Syria wheat deficit seen at 800,000 tonnes in 2015
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) estimated Syria’s wheat production at 2.445 million tonnes in 2015, leaving a deficit of 800,000 tonnes. A joint report released by the two agencies said that despite ample rain, wheat production remains 40 percent lower than pre-conflict levels. The FAO and WFP estimate is around 600,000 tonnes lower than government expectations. Agricultural production is hampered by shortages of fuel, farm labor, and agricultural inputs, in addition to damaged irrigation systems and farming equipment. [Reuters, 7/23/2015]

Turkey holds rates steady as political risks pressure lira
Turkey’s central bank on Thursday kept all interest rates unchanged for a fifth consecutive month as political uncertainties and national security threats continued to pressure the country’s weak currency and high inflation. The bank kept its benchmark one-week repo rate at 7.5 percent and its overnight lending and borrowing rates at 10.75 percent and 7.25 percent, respectively. The central bank has been grappling with a persistently weak lira and high inflation that has remained stubbornly above the 5 percent official target. Although recent drops in food and oil prices have helped consumer inflation slow, their volatility merits a cautious policy, the bank said. [WSJ, Bloomberg, 7/23/2015]

Kuwait’s Al-Salam to list on Egypt exchange
Kuwait’s Al-Salam Holding received approval to list on the Egyptian stock exchange and offer depository receipts, exchange chairman Mohamed Omran said. Al-Salam Holding, an investment company listed on the Kuwait and Dubai exchanges, has tried unsuccessfully to offer depository receipts on the Egyptian bourse since 2013. The Egyptian bourse listing committee also approved Beltone Capital’s request to offer shares later this year. The private equity firm plans to offer 1 billion Egyptian pounds ($128 million) of shares during the fourth quarter. The listing of Al-Salam and Beltone Capital brings the number of new companies listed on the Egyptian bourse since the beginning of the year to twelve, Omran added. [Reuters, 7/22/2015]