Top News: Turkey PM Forms Interim Government

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Friday approved the makeup of the provisional government that will run the country until November 1 elections, including for the first time pro-Kurdish parliamentary members. “Our president … approved the interim cabinet, formed under the leadership of Prime Minister Mr. Davutoglu,” the presidency said in a statement after a nearly one-hour meeting between Erdogan and PM Ahmet Davutoglu. The two pro-Kurdish lawmakers are from the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), marking the first time a Kurdish party has been represented in the government. Also on Friday Turkish warplanes joined raids by the US-led coalition against ISIS for the first time in Syria. [AFP, 8/29/2015]



Egypt parliamentary elections to start October 17
Egyptian voters will elect members of the House of Representatives over two phases, to be held in late October and late November, the High Elections Commission (HEC) said on Sunday. The first phase will run from October 18 to 19, HEC Head Judge Mahmoud Kamel Abbas said during a press conference aired live on state television. If need be, electoral run-offs would be held on October 27 and 28. The second phase of the elections will run on November 22 and 23. Run offs will be held on November December 1 and 2. The first phase of elections will include fourteen governorates: Giza, Fayoum, Beni Suef, Minya, Assiut, Wadi al-Gadeed, Sohag, Qena, Luxor, Aswan, Red Sea, Alexandria, Beheira and Matrouh. The second phase of elections will include thirteen governorates: Cairo, Qalyubiya, Daqahliya, Damietta, Menoufiya, Gharbiya, Sharqiya, Kafr al-Sheikh, Ismailia, Port Said, Suez, North Sinai, and South Sinai. The door for candidates to apply will open on September 1 and will remain open for twelve days. [Ahram Online, DNE, AP, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, SIS, Mada Masr, 8/30/2015]

Al Jazeera journalists sentenced to three years in prison
Cairo Criminal Court sentenced Al Jazeera journalists Mohamed Fahmy, Peter Greste, and Baher Mohamed to three years in a maximum security prison. Mohamed was sentenced to an additional six months in prison and fined EGP5,000. Students Sohaib Said, Khaled Abdel Raouf, and Shadi Abdel Hamid were also sentenced to three years in prison. Two others, Khaled Abdel Rahman and Nora al-Banna, were acquitted of all charges. The journalists were sentenced on charges of operating without a press license, broadcasting false news harmful to Egypt, and aiding a terrorist organization. International human rights lawyer and Fahmy’s representative, Amal Clooney, called on President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to pardon the accused journalists, adding that the Canadian government submitted requests Saturday for Fahmy’s pardon and deportation. Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab met with Clooney to discuss the possibility of a pardon. According to Sherif Fadel Fahmy, Fahmy’s brother, the Canadian ambassador to Egypt Troy Lulashnyk, along with Clooney, also met Egypt’s Justice Minister Ahmed al-Zend. Greste also called Sunday for Sisi to pardon him, Fahmy, and Mohamed. He added that the implications of the sentence on his own career were unclear since many countries had extradition treaties with Egypt. But he also expressed concern for his Egyptian colleagues. “We are going to pursue every legal, diplomatic and social means,” Greste said. The Al Jazeera prison sentences are not final given the possibility for appeal, preventing Sisi from issuing a pardon under Egyptian law. Al Jazeera’s head of litigation, Farah Muftah, said the ruling would be appealed once the judge publishes the basis for his sentencings. The verdict was met with harsh domestic and international criticism. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry said in a statement Sunday that it completely rejects foreign objections criticizing the verdict, describing it as “unacceptable intervention.” [European Union, US State Department, Ahram Online, DNE, AP, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, The Guardian, AFP, 8/30/2015]

Sixteen, including former police officer, accused of forming ISIS linked terrorist cell
Sixteen, including a discharged police officer Helmi Mohamed Hashem, were referred to court Saturday on charges of forming a terrorist cell in connection with the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) group, according to judicial sources. The sixteen, all from Egypt’s Sharqiya governorate, are accused of forming a terrorist cell linked to ISIS headed by Hashem, attempting to overthrow the regime, and recruiting Egyptian youth to the militant group. The case was referred to one of the court’s terrorism districts, created by Egypt’s new terrorism law to give priority to terrorism-related cases over others. [Ahram Online, 8/29/2015]

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UN plans new Libya talks next week in Geneva
The United Nations plans for a new round of talks between Libya’s warring factions later this week in Geneva in an effort to form a unity government and end the country’s crisis, a UN spokesman said on Friday. In the latest delay, delegates from Tripoli’s General National Congress dropped out of talks in Morocco last week, saying they needed a new negotiating team after a chief member resigned. But they said they would attend the next round with the rival internationally recognized House of Representatives (HOR). Speaking in Morocco, UN Libya Envoy Bernardino Leon said he expected both sides to return to the next round with names for the new unity government. [Reuters, 8/28/2015]

Four Libyan soldiers killed in new battle with Islamist fighters in Benghazi
Four Libyan soldiers aligned with the internationally recognized HOR were killed and six wounded in fresh fighting with Islamist groups in the eastern city of Benghazi on Sunday, medics and military officials said. A tank battalion fought with Islamist brigades, which had been trying to advance in the west of Benghazi. Critics say the army’s outdated war planes and helicopters lacking precision guns have damaged parts of the city without gaining much on the ground. Forces loyal to the HOR have been fighting Islamist groups in Benghazi since last year. There was also fighting on Sunday between army units loyal to the Tobruk government and the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) outside the city of Derna to the east of Benghazi. The air force flew a strike against Islamic State positions outside Derna, said a military spokesman. Islamic State started an offensive to try retake Derna this month after a rival Islamist group had expelled it in June. Army forces are based outside Derna but have not tried to take the city, a jihadi hotspot. [Reuters, 8/31/2015]

Libya arrests three suspected smugglers over migrant boat disaster
Libyan authorities have arrested three people on suspicion of launching vessels to take migrants to Italy, said a security official, asking not to be named. These suspects are connected to the boat packed with migrants that sank off the country’s Mediterranean coast last week, killing up to 200 people. The vessel, which help up to 400 sub-Saharan, Syrian, and Asian migrants on board, capsized on Thursday after setting off from the town of Zuwara, a center of operations for people smugglers. By Saturday, 115 bodies had been recovered and about 200 migrants rescued, officials said. Arrests of smugglers are rare in Libya, where the judiciary has little power since the country is effectively controlled by former rebel groups which helped to oust Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. On Thursday, Zuwara residents staged a protest to demand authorities clamp down on smugglers who use the town to launch boats due to its proximity to the Italian island of Lampedusa. [Reuters, AP, 8/29/2015]

Tunisia prepares new protest deterrence methods
Tunisia is preparing to introduce new protest deterrence mechanisms respectful of human rights and considering a use of force continuum. Security officers have been trained and will initiate policemen and the national guard to the new techniques. The graduating ceremony of a first class of experts and trainers in law-enforcement and policing took place on Thursday in Bardo. Launched in January 2014 through funding from the US Embassy in Tunis, this program aims to streamline the use of force in policing protests in accordance with the principles of human rights. These new mechanisms should come into force at the beginning of 2017 pending the completion of training for policemen and national guards, said Commander Hassan Jouini from the specialized training center under the Directorate General of Intervention Units. [All Africa/TAP, 8/28/2015]

United States and Tunisia discuss judicial and prison reform
US-Tunisian cooperation in the judicial field was discussed at a meeting Friday in Tunis between Justice Minister Mohamed Salah Ben Issa and US Deputy Assistant Secretary Alexander Arvizu. Arvizu reaffirmed US willingness to support the Tunisian democratic transition and emphasized the US commitment to supporting the efforts of the Justice Ministry in developing the judiciary and improving the prison system. Ben Issa stressed the importance for establishing broad areas of cooperation at different levels, in light of the terrorist threat to all countries. He also underlined the need to combine all efforts to fight terrorism through strengthening logistics cooperation and training operations. [All Africa/TAP, 8/28/2015]

French journalists probed on suspicion of blackmailing Moroccan king
Two French journalists have been placed under formal investigation after Morocco’s King Mohammed filed a complaint accusing them of attempting blackmail by threatening to publish a book about him, a French judicial source said. The king’s lawyer, Eric Dupont-Moretti, said that Eric Laurent and Catherine Graciet were arrested on Thursday after a police sting in which the journalists received a payment and signed a contract for not publishing the book. The source said the two freelance journalists, who had previously published a book criticizing the monarch, were placed under investigation on Friday evening and released from custody overnight. Dupont-Moretti did not say what information the new book contained. The pair’s first book published three years ago was entitled “The Predator King” and focused on corruption in Morocco. [Reuters, 8/29/2015]


ISIS fighters advance closer to Damascus
The Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants Sunday pushed into a large district in southern Damascus, clashing with rival militants just a few kilometers from the center of the Syrian capital. A monitoring group said more than two dozen ISIS fighters were killed in the clashes on the edges of the Qadam neighborhood. ISIS had advanced from the adjacent al-Hajar al-Aswad neighborhood, where they have been based since July 2014. A Syrian military official confirmed the clashes and said he was “very happy that they are fighting … But we are ready to react if they try to advance into government-held territory.” [AFP, 8/31/2015]

ISIS blows up Temple of Baal in Palmyra
Activists and a monitoring group said Sunday ISIS has partially destroyed Palmyra’s 2,000-year-old Temple of Baal in a massive explosion, the latest in a series of attacks by the militants on the Syrian city’s famed historic sites. Syrian Department of Antiquities and Museums Maamoun Abdulkarim said there was a large explosion within the temple’s perimeter, but that the “structure of the temple, its columns and sanctum” are still intact. Earlier this month, ISIS released pictures purporting the destruction of the neighboring Baalshamin temple, which also dates back almost 2,000 years and was one of the best preserved buildings in Palmyra, according to UNESCO. [AFP, WSJ, National, NYT, Guardian, Reuters, 8/31/2015]

Local ceasefire between Syrian regime and rebels ends; Nusra advances against regime in Idlib
A brief truce between Syrian regime forces and rebel groups in three key towns ended early Saturday as the warring parties resumed clashes and shelling, a monitoring group and a mediator said. Pro-regime forces including Hezbollah had agreed on a forty-eight-hour ceasefire until dawn on Saturday, in the rebel held-town of Zabadani and the government-held villages of Fuaa and Kafraya. A Kafraya resident said “dozens of shells have fallen on the town since early morning.” According to Syrian Observatory Head Rami Abdel Rahman, “There are clashes and shelling in Zabadani and opposition fighters are shelling Fuaa and Kafraya.” But he had no details on who initially began firing and whether there were any casualties. In the northern Syrian province of Idlib on Friday, the Nusra Front advanced towards Abu Duhur airport after carrying out several suicide bombings on motorbikes. The military airport is the last government-held facility in Idlib province. [AFP, 8/30/2015]

ISIS detains residents after rare protest in western Anbar; ISIS executed more than 90 in Syria
ISIS militants moved Saturday to stamp out dissent in a remote Iraqi town near the Jordanian border, detaining at least seventy and tying dozens of residents, including tribal leaders, to streetlight poles as punishment, security officials said. The crackdown followed a rare street demonstration Saturday to protest the extremist group’s execution of a local resident, they said. The protest by hundreds of residents in al-Rutbah, in Anbar province, was triggered by the execution earlier Saturday of civil servant Munir al-Kobeisi for killing an ISIS member. The killing was part of a long-running blood feud between two local clans. In related news, a recently released video showed ISIS string up Iraqi Shia fighters with chains and burn them alive, with a masked militant saying, “Now retribution has come, for today, we will attack them as they attacked us and punish them as they punished us.” In neighboring Syria, a monitoring group reported that ISIS executed more than ninety people in the past month, a third of them civilians. [AP, 8/31/2015]

US Envoy to Syria visits Moscow to discuss conflict in Syria
Russia on Friday hosted the newly appointed US Special Envoy for Syria Michael Ratney as world powers intensify efforts to end the four-year civil war raging in the country. In Moscow, Ratney met with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov and other senior officials, but no details about their meeting were immediately released. The US State Department on Friday repeated its commitment to a political transition “away from” President Bashar al-Assad. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Chief Antonio Guterres said at least 7.6 million people are displaced within Syria after a surge of 1 million in ten months. The UNHCR forecasts the total to reach 4.27 million by the year end. [AFP, 8/29/2015]


Bombing at mosque; intelligence official assassinated; Yemenis flogged
A car bomb was detonated in northeastern Sana’a on Saturday, targeting a mosque believed to be used by Houthi rebels. While no group has claimed responsibility, similar attacks have been claimed by the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in recent months. In Aden, militants associated with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) are believed to be behind the assassination of Colonel Abdulhakim al-Sanidi, Director of Security Operations in the city. Gunmen on a motorbike carried out the assassination as other AQAP fighters set up checkpoints and seized government buildings, including an intelligence service facility. In the coastal town of al-Shihr in Hadramawt, AQAP members carried out public floggings on ten men for insulting God and consuming alcohol. Witnesses say that the men were whipped between eighty and a hundred times. [AFP, 8/28/2015]

UAE takes lead in leaderless South Yemen
Emirati troops and their armored vehicles were critical in turning the tide against Houthi militias in July, allowing the Southern popular committees force the rebels out. In Aden, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) flag can be seen draped at checkpoints run by local fighters, some of whom wore soccer jerseys with the Emirates Airline logo instead of uniforms. Emirati officials argue that allowing Houthis to conquer Yemen would create a hostile Iranian proxy state that could threaten Gulf monarchies. Yemen President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi recently made similar comments. With Hadi’s government exiled in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, UAE forces in Aden now find themselves in the business of nation building. In contrast to often insufficiently trained Saudi ground forces, the UAE’s military is considered second only to Israel in the region. [Wall Street Journal, 8/31/2015]

Saudis confirms cross border activity, bombs bottling plant
Coalition spokesperson General Ahmed Asiri confirmed that there have been several incursions across the Saudi border into Yemen since March. “We don’t have the intention to go deep across the Yemeni border, but sometimes because of difficult terrain, mountains or caves where they [Houthi rebels] can hide, we have to find their positions, clear them and then get back to our positions,” said Asiri. He confirmed that raids have been as deep as one to two kilometers. Also on Sunday, a Saudi strike hit a water bottling plant in Yemen’s northern Hajja province, killing thirty-six civilians. Asiri denied that a civilian target was struck, claiming that the location had been used for making improvised explosives and training fighters. [Reuters, 8/30/2015]

Critical Sana’a hospital nearing closure
A hospital serving 3 million people is approximately forty-eight hours away from shutdown, warns Save the Children. Due to a lack of medical supplies and fuel, the hospital–which focuses on care for children and pregnant women–is nearly unable to maintain operations. The hospital’s director said that the facility “has entirely run out of IV fluid, anesthetic, blood transfusion tests, Valium to treat seizures, and ready-prepared therapeutic food for severely malnourished children.” The hospital relied on Hodeidah port, destroyed on August 18 in a coalition strike, for supplies. [AFP, 8/31/2015]


Italy’s Eni makes mega gas discovery off Egyptian coast
Italian energy group Eni said on Sunday that it discovered the largest known gas field in the Mediterranean off the Egyptian coast, predicting the find could help meet Egypt’s gas needs for decades to come. The Italian major said in a statement the offshore “Zohr” field could hold 30 trillion cubic feet of gas, covering an area of about 100 square kilometres. Eni said it plans to fast track development of the site using existing infrastructure and that more gas could be uncovered in future drilling. Eni CEO Claudio Descalzi said it would take several months to sort out the development and production leases and expects to begin drilling early next year. If drilling starts in early 2016, production would likely kick off about a year later, based on similar projects. Descalzi said that Eni has not ruled out selling a stake in the Zohr field. Descalzi met with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Saturday to discuss the find. [Reuters, Ahram Online, FT, AFP, WSJ, BBC, 8/30/3025]

Saudi Arabia to provide $2.9 billion to Egypt; Sisi to sign business deals with China
Egypt will receive financial assistance and soft loans from Saudi Arabia worth $2.9 billion, according to unnamed sources. The agreements will be signed on September 7 and Saudi King Salman will attend the meetings. The financial packages include $750 million for development projects in Egypt, $750 million for a program to support exports, and $1.4 billion to buy petroleum products. An Egyptian delegation headed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is scheduled to sign several business agreements with China during his visit to the country on Tuesday. Minister of Industry and Foreign Trade Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour said the China Development Bank will provide the National Bank of Egypt with a loan of $100 million to finance small and medium sized enterprises. In addition, China’s Ministry of Commerce will provide Egypt a grant of $30 million for remote satellite sensing equipment. [Egypt Independent, Al Mal (Arabic), 8/30/2015]

Libya posts deficit of $3.3 billion in 2015
Libya posted a budget deficit of 4.5 billion dinars ($3.3 billion) in the first seven months of 2015, as oil production fell and oil prices weakened, the Tripoli-based central bank said. Libya is producing less than 400,000 barrels per day of oil, a quarter of what it pumped before 2011. State income, generated by oil and gas exports, was 12.4 billion Libyan dinars until the end of July, leaving a deficit of 4.5 billion dinars to cover expenditures of 16.9 billion dinars. The bank froze development projects and brought down the public wage bill to 9.7 billion dinars in the first seven months of 2015. The head of the Tripoli-based National Oil Company (NOC) and Central Bank chairmen are meeting with oil majors in London in an effort to prevent the rival eastern-based NOC from attracting clients. [Reuters, 8/30/2015]

Algeria to cut spending by 9 percent next year over oil price slump
Algeria said on Saturday that it will cut spending by 9 percent next year due to the fall in global oil prices and a drop in energy revenues. The government had already announced a 1.3 percent cut in this year’s budget after it said the fall in world crude prices would slash its energy earnings by 50 percent. “We need courageous decisions for 2016, so we have decided on a 9 percent cut in the budget,” Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal told a meeting of local government officials. “We need to reduce the number of big infrastructure projects, but we need to continue with those we have already launched,” he added. Sellal said the 2016 cutbacks would not impact housing, health, or education and that the government still expects economy to grow 4.6 percent in 2016. [Reuters, 8/29/2015]

Turkey’s central bank unveils measures to boost liquidity
Turkey’s central bank on Saturday unveiled measures to bolster liquidity and help the country’s commercial banks meet debt repayments. The bank said it would raise interest rates paid on mandatory lira reserves that commercial lenders park at the national bank by a total 1.5 percentage points in three installments on September 1, October 1, and December 1 to help support core financial obligations. The bank also more than doubled the cap on its foreign-exchange transactions with Turkish banks to $50 billion to boost liquidity and help local lenders repay international borrowings. In addition, the bank said it increased mandatory reserve requirements on short-term Islamic-law compliant participation funds and foreign-exchange liabilities other than deposits. [WSJ, 8/29/2015]