Top News: Turkish President Confirms US Use of Incirlik Air Base; Turkish Warplanes Pound ISIS positions

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed Friday that Turkey has agreed to let the US military carry out air strikes against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) from the Incirlik air base in eastern Turkey. The use of Incirlik air base, which is 250 miles from Raqqa, will put anti-ISIS aircraft much closer to ISIS battlegrounds than their current base roughly 1,200 miles away. A Turkish newspaper issued a report on Friday speculating that the Incirlik agreement may also allow for a no-fly zone and a safe zone within Syria aimed at preventing ISIS infiltration into Turkey and ebbing the flow of refugees. Turkish warplanes pounded ISIS positions in Syria Friday, reportedly striking three ISIS targets, while police detained hundreds of suspected militants across Turkey. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu vowed Friday that Turkey will continue operations against ISIS fighters and Kurdish militants and stated, “The operations that were started today are not a single event but a process.” [APWSJReutersHurriyet Daily NewsDefense One, 7/24/2015]



Four military personnel killed in Sinai explosion; Sinai State claims responsibility
A military officer and three soldiers were killed Thursday morning in an explosion which targeted a military vehicle, Armed Forces Spokesperson Mohamed Samir said. The men were killed when a roadside bomb targeted the military vehicle in North Sinai’s Rafah, as forces were combing the borderline between the two Rafah districts of al-Mahdiya and al-Masora. Egypt’s Islamic State affiliate, the Sinai State, previously known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, claimed responsibility for the attack. [SIS, Cairo Post, Ahram Online, DNE, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, 7/24/2015]  

Croatian citizen kidnapped in Egypt by armed men
A group of armed men abducted a Croatian citizen in Egypt on Wednesday, Croatia’s foreign ministry reported on Friday. It said the man, identified only as thirty-one-year-old T.S., was stopped in the Cairo area on Wednesday morning while travelling to work for a French company. It did not disclose the name of the company, but news portal reported that the company was CGG (General Geoscience), which specializes in oil and gas geology. “His car was stopped by an armed group who forced the driver to leave the car and then took off in an unknown direction,” the ministry said on its website. It said it was in contact with the Croatian embassy in Cairo, the French company, and the man’s family. [Reuters, 7/24/2015]

Italian Defense Minister pledges support for Egypt’s fight against terrorism
The Italian Defense Minister told visiting Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab on Friday that her country would support Cairo in its battle with terrorism. “We have ties with the Egyptian armed forces, and we are ready to offer our expertise in the area of fighting terrorists,” Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti was quoted as saying by Egypt’s official news agency MENA. “Egypt is our partner and ally.” Pinotti also told Mahlab, who is currently on a three-day visit to Italy, that Rome values Cairo’s efforts to combat terrorism and other cultural attempts to prove that Islam is “not a religion of extremism and terrorism.” The Italian minister said a deadly bombing that hit the Italian consulate in central Cairo earlier this month did not only aim to target Italy but “friendly ties between the Egyptian and Italian people.” Mahlab arrived in Rome Thursday, arriving from Milan as part of a three-day official visit to Italy. [Ahram Online, DNE, 7/24/2015]

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Forty migrants drown off Libyan coast
Forty migrants including at least seven children drowned when their rubber raft sank off Libyan coast on Wednesday.The number of deaths has not been confirmed. The charity Save the Children said that the doomed inflatable was carrying around 120 people when it began to ship water. A German frigate, the Schleswig-Holstein, which is part of the EU Mediterranean rescue mission, was directed to the area by a passing cargo vessel. It picked up around eighty survivors and took them to Augusta in Sicily. Maltese, Swedish, and Italian vessels are among the EU naval units currently patrolling off Libyan territorial waters. [Libya Herald, 7/23/2015]

UNSMIL deeply concerned over Sebha, Kufra, and Obari fighting
The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) warned combatants that international humanitarian law bans attacks on civilians, which can be treated as war crimes. The UNSMIL said that it was deeply concerned at renewed clashes in Sebha, Kufra, and Obari, which resulted in scores dead, including three women and four children. UNSMIL also condemned the sharp rise in crime in Sebha, which it claimed had cost more than sixty lives. The UNSMIL said that it supported all local and national efforts to end the fighting and it called on all sides to “exercise maximum restraint, listen to the voice of reason, and engage in talks to address their differences by political means.” UNSMIL added that the chaos engulfing all of the country demonstrated the need for the main actors to reach a political settlement quickly that would restore the authority of the state. [Libya Herald, 7/23/2014]

Geroushi denies opposition to UN Dialogue
The Head of the Libyan Air Force Major-General Saqr Adam Geroushi denied claims that he is opposed to the UN-brokered Dialogue or the Draft Peace Plan endorsed earlier this month by most of the Dialogue delegates apart from those representing the Continuing General National Congress in Tripoli. He said that he was not interested in what the political leaders were doing. “We don’t follow political events,” he added. “We’re fighting terrorism and we will continue to do so until all Libya is safe … It’s not our business if they choose a good government or a bad government. Our business is to fight the terrorists.” He added, however, that if the wrong people were chosen for the government, the public would almost certainly take to the streets to protest. [Libya Herald, 7/24/2015]

Tunisia may open airspace for Libyan carriers
Tunisian Transport Minister Mohammed Ben Ramadan said that his government is looking into allowing access for Libyan carriers to enter Tunisian airspace, which has been closed for Libyan aircraft since last year. Ben Ramadan said his ministry would take into account a report prepared by Tunisian transport officials, who recently visited and inspected certain airports in Libya. However, there has not been any official confirmation from Tunisia of the possibility of reopening airspace. Tripoli’s Matiga airport and Misrata airport, both under control by pro-Tripoli groups, do not currently run services to Tunisia. [Libya Monitor, 7/23/2015]

Tunisia discusses possibility of death penalty for some acts of terrorism
The Tunisian parliament is currently approving a new counterterrorism law and has voted on articles for crimes carrying a possible death penalty. Human rights associations oppose the death penalty that runs counter to a moratorium that has blocked executions for the past twenty-five years. Since its independence in 1956, Tunisia has executed 135 people, including 129 in under the administration of Habib Bourguiba. It has not carried out any death sentences since 1991. [ANSAmed, 7/24/2015]

70,000 Moroccan citizens repatriated from Libya since 2011
A Moroccan official said that more than 70,000 Moroccan nationals have been sent home from Libya since 2011. Mbarka Bouaida, the Morocco Delegate to the Minister of Foreign Affairs and Cooperation, told the Moroccan parliament on July 21 that Moroccans in Libya were given support to return home following security concerns. “Out of 120,000 Moroccans living in Libya, less than 50,000 remained there,” she said. In order to help manage the repatriation program, Morocco opened two offices near the Tunisian border following the closure of its Tripoli embassy and its consulate in Benghazi. However, an opposition member of parliament from the Socialist Union Party claimed that there were “nearly 5,000 Moroccans trapped at the Ras Jedir border crossing in Tunisia.” [Libya Monitor, 7/23/2015]


Turkish President confirms US use of Incirlik air base; Turkish warplanes pound ISIS positions
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan confirmed Friday that Turkey has agreed to let the US military carry out air strikes against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) from the Incirlik air base in eastern Turkey. The use of Incirlik air base, which is 250 miles from Raqqa, will put anti-ISIS aircraft much closer to ISIS battlegrounds than their current base roughly 1,200 miles away. A Turkish newspaper issued a report on Friday speculating that the Incirlik agreement may also allow for a no-fly zone and a safe zone within Syria aimed at preventing ISIS infiltration into Turkey and ebbing the flow of refugees. Turkish warplanes pounded ISIS positions in Syria Friday, reportedly striking three ISIS targets, while police detained hundreds of suspected militants across Turkey. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu vowed Friday that Turkey will continue operations against ISIS fighters and Kurdish militants and stated, “The operations that were started today are not a single event but a process.” [AP, WSJ, Reuters, Hurriyet Daily News, Defense One, 7/24/2015]

Syria’s two main opposition groups agree on ‘roadmap,’ UN envoy meets with officials in Damascus
The Syrian National Council (SNC) and the National Coordination Body (NCB), Syria’s two main political opposition groups, agreed Thursday on a unified “roadmap” for a political solution to the country’s long-running civil war. Both groups have been accused of being out of touch with the realities in Syria and have little rebel following on the ground, but a unified political front could strengthen the opposition’s hand in any future peace talks with the Assad government. Their agreement came as UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura met in Damascus with Syrian politicians and regional stakeholders. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem told de Mistura his country supports a regional effort to eliminate “terrorism” and said at a conference in Damascus that the Iran nuclear deal will not alter Tehran’s staunch support for the Syrian government. [AP, 7/23/2015]

Rebel coalition launches assault on Syrian city of Deraa
A rebel coalition including the Nusra Front announced Thursday a new offensive labeled Operation “Storm of Righteousness” aimed at “purify[ing] the province of Deraa from the filth of the gangs of Assad.” The new offensive appears to be a continuation of rebel operations launched in Deraa province in June. Clashes began Thursday morning in regime-held parts of the city, with both sides exchanging gunfire. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the groups are attacking government positions in northern parts of the city, but they have not seized buildings yet. He further indicated that five rebels, including two commanders, have been killed in the fighting so far. [Al Arabiya, 7/23/2015]

Pentagon chief meets with Barzani in Iraqi Kurdistan, discusses Ramadi
US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter arrived in Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital city of Erbil on Friday for an unannounced visit with the Kurdistan region’s President Massoud Barzani and with US soldiers who are advising and training Kurdish peshmerga security forces. Carter and Barzani are expected to discuss Kurdish requests for arms and equipment. Iraq for the first time on Thursday deployed troops trained by the US-led coalition for the campaign to retake Ramadi from ISIS militants. Pentagon Spokesman Col. Steve Warren said that 3,000 Iraqi troops as well as 500 Sunni tribesmen have been sent over the past few days. [Reuters, 7/24/2015]

UN agencies say Syria food crisis worsening
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) as well as the World Food Program (WFP) stated in a report Thursday that the war in Syria is worsening the country’s food insecurity. The report indicated that food production “remains way below it pre-crisis levels as the ongoing conflict continues to push more people into hunger and poverty.” It estimates that almost ten million people in Syria are “food insecure,” with almost seven million of those being “severely food insecure,” meaning they require external food aid. [AFP, 7/24/2015]


Rockets strike Aden airport as aid arrives from Gulf countries
Aden’s international airport came under rocket fire Thursday, only one day after it was officially reopened. Katyusha rockets were fired at the facility as a Saudi military plane was delivering 20 tons of humanitarian aid, officials said. Three rockets fell close to the landing strip as the cargo plane was still on the tarmac, airport security chief Abdallah Qaed said. Qaed accused Houthi rebels of attacking the plane, adding that a further volley of seven rockets struck around the airport once the aircraft had taken off again. Most of the rockets struck ground around the airport, causing minimal damage, and two landed on a nearby road, officials and residents said. An Emirati plane also arrived at Aden airport this week, carrying medical supplies. [AFP, 7/23/2015]

Saudi Foreign Minister cautiously approves of Iran nuclear deal
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Thursday the Iran nuclear deal appears to have the provisions needed to curtail Iran’s ability to obtain a nuclear weapon in what were the most favorable remarks yet from the Kingdom on the recent agreement. Despite initial skepticism on behalf of the Kingdom, al-Jubeir told reporters that Washington has reassured Saudi Arabia while consultations continue about the deal, which he said stipulates effective inspections, including of military sites and the possibility of snap-back sanctions if Iran violates the agreement. US Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter visited with Saudi King Salman and his Defense Minister on Wednesday in order to discuss the nuclear deal and the worsening crisis in Yemen. Carter described the meeting as positive, noting support from the Kingdom for the nuclear deal and for a political solution in neighboring Yemen. [AP, TDS, 7/23/2015]

Egypt and Saudi Arabia committed to Yemen stability, say Foreign Ministers
Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said Thursday Cairo and Riyadh are committed to stabilizing the situation in Yemen and consolidating its independence. Shoukry, at a press conference in Riyadh with his Saudi counterpart, Adel al-Jubair, said that talks are ongoing regarding the roles of members in the Saudi-led Arab coalition against Houthi rebels in Yemen, adding that this is “normal.” Al-Ahram had reported Wednesday that the meeting came in the light of “rumors” of disagreements between Saudi Arabia and its historical ally Egypt over certain key regional issues. Shoukry and Al-Jubair also spoke of “terrorism threats” in the region, highlighting coordinated “political, security and intelligence” efforts against extremist militants that have recently gained a foothold in the region. Al-Jubair said Saudi-Egyptian cooperation in combating terrorism is to the benefit of their peoples. The talks on Thursday, attended by other top government officials from both countries, addressed the conflicts in Libya, Syria, and Yemen, and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman, Badr Abdel Atty, said in a statement. [Ahram Online, SIS, 7/23/2015]

OIC and GCC condemn comments made by Iraq’s Vice President
Officials from both the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have issued statements against a comment made by Iraqi Vice President Nuri al-Maliki. The comment made by al-Maliki during a television interview earlier this month incensed Saudi powers after he called the kingdom a “sponsor and supporter of terrorism.” The Iraqi government has attempted to distance itself from the comment and a spokesman for Iraq’s President Khaled Shuwani noted that al-Maliki’s comments were “his own and do not represent the opinions and official position of the Iraqi presidency.” [Al-Arabiya, 7/23/2015]


Egypt to sign four agreements with Italy
During his visit to Italy for the Expo Milano 2015, Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab announced that Egypt would sign four agreements with Italy in the electricity, oil and petroleum, and industrial sectors. The commercial exchange between Egypt and Italy is expected to witness “remarkable growth” in the coming few years, Basil Rahmy, a member of the Italian-Egyptian Business (IEB) Council, said. He said the agreements help to boost Italian confidence in Egypt’s investment climate. The head of the council’s Italian side, Marcello Sala, said that it seeks to establish a number of projects in Egypt, including the construction of a new integrated railway network and a waterway between Egypt and Italy. Meanwhile, Italian export credit agency SACE is currently assessing projects worth EUR 4.9 billion euros for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and large businesses in Egypt. [Cairo Post, 7/24/2015]

Egypt negotiates $25.5 million grant with World Bank
Egypt’s Social Fund for Development (SFD) is negotiating with the World Bank Group for a fund worth $25.5 million (EGP 200 million) to finance micro enterprises. SFD Head of Micro Enterprises Sector Nevine Badreldin said that SFD used EGP 670 million during the first half of 2015 to finance micro-sized projects. SFD seeks to raise EGP 1.2 billion pounds worth of total finances for the micro enterprises sector by the end of 2015, Badreldin added. [Amwal Al Ghad, 7/23/2015]

Iraq announces the export of more than 3 million bpd of oil
Iraq’s oil ministry has announced the quantity of crude oil exported and revenue generated for the month of June. Total oil exports reached 95.6 barrels, while total revenue earned was over $5 billion. Ministry Spokesman Assem Jihad said the rate of daily exports of crude rose, reaching approximately three million barrels per day (bpd). He added that the ministry has made an effort to increase its exports of crude oil to achieve additional revenues for the federal budget. [Shafaq News, 7/24/2015]

UAE petrol price rise fuels debate over living costs
After the United Arab Emirates (UAE) said Wednesday it would end years of fuel subsidies, experts and residents expressed mixed views on how the increase in petrol prices will affect living costs. Analysts expect the petrol prices to shoot up from 0.47 cents a liter to a little under 80 cents. The first round of unsubsidized prices will be published next Tuesday. While many business leaders have lauded the increase, civilians have exhibited a mixed response to the deregulation due to the prospect of rising living costs. A benefit to the deregulation will mean cheaper diesel, resulting in “lower operating costs for a wide number of vital sectors like industry, shipping and cargo among many others,” said the UAE energy minister Suhail bin Mohammed Faraj al-Mazroui. [Al Arabiya, 7/23/2015]