Top News: UN Investigators Denounce International Failure to Protect Refugees

UN investigators on Thursday denounced the international community’s failure to protect refugees fleeing Syria, saying the neglect of those forced to flee the conflict had fueled Europe’s migrant crisis. In its latest report, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria said the responsibility to protect Syrian refugees “is not being adequately shared or shouldered.” To control the incoming flow of migrants and refugees, a number of European governments have increasingly relied on tougher measures, including border closures and the use of riot police and armed forces. Refugees poured into the main train station in Budapest on Thursday after police stopped blocking its main entrance, with people piling on to carriages despite confusion over whether any would leave the terminal. A photograph of the body of three-year old Aylan Kurdi washed up in the Aegean resort of Bodrum swept social media Wednesday, spawning sympathy and outrage at the perceived inaction of developed nations in helping refugees. The family of toddler Aylan whose body washed ashore on a Turkish beach had been repeatedly displaced by Syria’s four-year war. [AFPNational, 9/3/2015]



Seventy-seven detainees released on medical grounds; MB members remain on terror list
Egypt’s acting Prosecutor General Ali Omran ordered on Wednesday the release of seventy-seven detainees who suffer critical medical conditions. The released had been jailed pending investigations into accusations they were involved in illegal protesting. The prosecution has not provided the names of the released prisoners. The order for the release came following recommendations made to the Prosecutor General’s office by aides. Meanwhile, Egypt’s Cassation Court rejected on Wednesday an appeal submitted by top Muslim Brotherhood members, including the group’s supreme guide, to be removed from the countries “terrorism list” on Wednesday. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, along with seventeen other high-profile members from the organization (including Khairat al-Shater, Mohamed al-Beltagy and Essam al-Erian), were all placed on the “terrorism list” earlier in 2015 by the late Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat. A criminal court in Upper Egypt’s Sohag also sentenced on Thursday nineteen alleged supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood to three years in prison on charges of inciting violence, protesting, and promoting the ideas of the banned group. Only seven of the defendants were present for the verdict. [Ahram Online, 9/3/2015]

New ISIS in Sinai video documents use of advanced weaponry
A new video released by Sinai State, the peninsula’s Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) affiliated militant group, allegedly documents a number of sophisticated operations on Egyptian army targets and appears to show the group’s capacity to move with alarming freedom through areas of North Sinai. The well-produced 37-minute video, published Tuesday, shows the group targeting military bases, patrols, supplies convoys, as well as the capturing of weaponry. The video documents numerous instances of roadside explosives to attack military patrols through the area. In certain scenes of the new video, convoys of around twelve pickup trucks converted to carry heavy machine guns parade through what seems to be rural and semi-urban areas of North Sinai. The video shows an attack using explosives on a police station in the town of Sheikh Zuweid, as well as the launching of a missile that struck a naval vessel in the Mediterranean in July. It also shows the group using highly advanced Kornet anti-tank missile launchers. [DNE, 9/2/2015]

Higher Education Ministry exempts children of officers, judges from universities zoning rules
The Supreme Council of Universities (SCU) announced Wednesday a decision that grants children of judges, police, and army officers exemption from zoning university admissions restrictions. Zoning restrictions limit high school graduates to applying to state universities in their immediate geographical districts. The SCU said the decision was made due to the “national significance” of the nature of their parent’s work. Higher Education Minister Ahmed Abdel Khalek said Wednesday the decision was made to help parents who work in “nationally sensitive jobs” focus on their work. He denied that the decision was discriminatory. The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) expressed its concern about the decision arguing that it is a violation of the constitution. The semi-governmental National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) also expressed concern over the decision, saying it violates the rights of equality, equal opportunity, and citizenship. Cairo University President Gaber Nassar has said he will refuse any exceptions. Vice President of Ain Shams University Mohamed al-Toukhi said many university presidents condemned the authorization, but that he would have to respect it. “We are only talking about four or five cases,” he added. [Ahram Online, AMAY, 9/2/2015]

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Libya’s Tripoli GNC to join Geneva peace talks
Libya’s Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC) representatives said Wednesday they will take part in peace talks, due to take place in Geneva on Thursday and Friday. Envoys from both the GNC and the rival House of Representatives are arriving now in Geneva for talks aimed at forming a unity government. The GNC dialogue team “is going in order to include the changes we are asking for in the draft deal,” said GNC member Mahmoud Abdelaziz. He also described talks held Tuesday in Istanbul with the UN’s Libya envoy Bernardino Leon as “positive,” saying Leon “promised to discuss, in a serious way, including the changes in the draft deal.” Tripoli’s involvement raises hopes for an agreement, which the UN hopes the talks will be signed by September 20, with implementation to begin around October 20. [AFP, Libya Herald, AP, 9/2/2015]

Greek authorities find shotguns, ammunition on freighter headed to Libya
Greek authorities say a partial inventory of unregistered weapons found on a Libya-bound freighter stopped yesterday near Crete includes nearly 500,000 rounds of ammunition and 5,000 “police-style” shotguns. A coast guard statement Wednesday said that so far two of the fourteen containers found on the Bolivian-flagged Haddad 1 have been searched. The coast guard said the weaponry had been concealed at the bottom of the two containers, under furniture and exercise mats. The Haddad 1 sailed from the Turkish port of Iskenderun on August 29 and was headed for Libya, in apparent violation of a United Nations-imposed arms embargo. Turkey has denied that the shipments travelling from Turkey were illegal. [AP, Libya Herald, 9/2/2015]

Tunisia economic reconciliation bill causes friction
A proposed law in Tunisia that would clear businessmen accused of corruption under former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in exchange for their ill-gotten wealth is causing friction, but the government says it will boost a flagging economy. The bill would halt prosecutions of former officials and businessmen accused of corruption during the era of former President Ben Ali, if they reveal their stolen wealth to a new committee. Their frozen funds would then be injected into Tunisia’s ailing economy. One minister has said the government hopes to recover at least 5 billion dollars this way. But when President Beji Caid Essebsi sent the new economic reconciliation bill to parliament last week, it came under fire immediately. Critics say the proposal whitewashes the corruption of the past and will allow the return of elites who benefited from Ben Ali’s autocratic rule. On Tuesday, dozens protested against the bill in Tunis under the slogan, “We will not forgive.” Police forcibly prevented the march from going to the central Habib Bourguiba Avenue, a symbolic protest site, and briefly detained a number of protesters. [Reuters, 9/2/2015]

Petition to form committee to investigate claims of corruption against Sihem Bensedrine
A petition has been submitted by deputies to the Assembly of the Representatives of the People (ARP) calling for an investigation into alleged corruption on the part of the Truth and Dignity Authority (IVD) President Sihem Bensedrine. Nidaa Tounes MP Mohamed Troudi said that this petition collected more than seventy signatures, which represents the required quorum for an investigation committee. Bensedrine has denied the accusations, reminding that the IVD submitted its report for 2014 last April without receiving remarks or opposition. The accusations come after Zouheir Makhlouf, recently dismissed from the IVD on charges of violating the Transitional Justice law, sent a letter to the ARP accusing Bensedrine and other IVD members of administrative and financial corruption. [All Africa/TAP, Mosaique FM (French), 9/2/2015]


Russia delays start of UN probe of Syria gas attacks
Russia has delayed the launch of an international investigation surrounding chemical weapon attacks in Syria for technical reasons, UN Security Council (UNSC) diplomats said on Wednesday. Last month, Russia joined the fourteen other council members in adopting a resolution setting up the investigative team, in a rare display of unity over how to address the conflict. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon last week informed the council of the specifics of his proposal to set up the three-person panel. The panel will work with Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons to identify those behind the use of the banned deadly agents. Once the proposal is approved, Ban will appoint experts to the panel, which would then begin its one-year mission. The council was given five days to respond to the proposal, but that deadline passed Tuesday without action after Russia refused to sign off on Ban’s blueprint for the mission. [Reuters, AFP, 9/3/2015]

UN urges Lebanon to elect new president
The UNSC on Wednesday called on Lebanon’s parliament to elect a new president to help ease a political crisis that has fueled mass street protests. The appeal comes after Lebanese lawmakers again failed in their twenty-eighth bid to elect a new president and fill the post left vacant since May 2014. The deadlock in parliament took place against the backdrop of street protests first sparked by frustration over rubbish collection but that have since mushroomed into anger at Lebanon’s political class under the umbrella slogan of “You Stink” protests. The members of the Security Council expressed their support for the government of Lebanon and Prime Minister Tammam Salam. Activists, human rights organizations, and some politicians, including Prime Minister Tammam Salam, accused security agencies of using excessive force. Lebanon’s Interior Minister admitted to excessive force against the August 22 protest, adding that Internal Security Force personnel would face punishment for their conduct. [Al Arabiya, Daily Star, 9/3/2015]

CIA launches secret drone campaign in Syria
The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and US Special Operations forces have launched a secret campaign to hunt terrorist suspects in Syria as part of a targeted killing program run separately from the broader US military air strikes against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), US officials said. The clandestine program represents an escalation of the CIA’s involvement in the war in Syria, enlisting the agency’s Counterterrorism Center (CTC) against ISIS that many officials believe has eclipsed al-Qaeda as a threat. National Security Council (NSC) Spokesman Peter Boogaard said that President Barack Obama remains committed to increasing the transparency of counterterrorism operations by “turning to the US military to take the lead and to provide information to the public.” He declined to comment on operations in Syria. [Washington Post, Telegraph, 9/3/2015]

Iran says Assad has pivotal role in any Syria solution
President Bashar al-Assad has a pivotal role to play in the war on terrorism and in any political settlement to Syria’s civil war, a senior Iranian official said Thursday. Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said after meeting with Assad that any successful attempt to find a solution should take into consideration the right of the Syrian people to shape their future. Abdollahian said, “[Iran] highly appreciates the pivotal and central role of Syrian President Bashar Assad in preserving the national unity of Syria and in combating terrorism.” Abdollahian met earlier in the week with UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura while on a trip to neighboring Beirut. [AP, 9/3/2015]

ICRC says water used as weapon of war in Syria
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has said that civilians in the city of Aleppo suffer from deliberate cuts to water and electricity supplies. “Vital services for the people, such as the water supply, must be kept away from the politics of the Syrian conflict,” said head of the ICRC delegation in Syria Marianne Gasser. Syria’s water network, heavily damaged by bombs and shelling, risks collapse as civil war drags on, increasing the threat of deadly typhoid or cholera outbreaks. Millions in Aleppo and Damascus have no access to water supplies for days at a time, a tactic used by all warring sides to exert control in divided cities. ICRC Operations Coordinator for the Near and Middle East Patrick Hamilton said, “But now with the problems of electricity and with the damage being sustained by them as a result of the conflict, there is the risk from here on that these big networks do begin to fail on a permanent basis, on an irreparable basis … And over the next two years we will begin to see in cities like Aleppo potentially the rise of these big health epidemics that we haven’t seen in this context until now—typhoid, cholera and so on.” [Al Jazeera, Reuters, 9/3/2015]


Divisions emerge over application of UN Resolution 2216 in Yemen
Yemen’s President Adviser Dr. Hadi al-Amiri has announced that there are differences and splits in the coalition in the Muscat negotiations over the application of UN resolution 2216. He stresses that the rebels refuse to implement the resolution that demands that the Houthis withdraw from all areas seized during the latest conflict, relinquish arms seized from military and security institutions, cease all actions falling exclusively within the authority of the legitimate Government of Yemen, and fully implement previous Council resolution. The failure to implement this resolution coincides with the release of a UNICEF report stating that violence in the region has forced 2.9 million children out of school. Dr. Amiri stated that the Houthis do not believe in political resolution but only violence. However, if the Yemeni government continues to uphold the resolution, then there is room for a political solution in Yemen. [AP, Al-Masdar (Arabic), 9/3/2015]

King Salman’s visit to Washington crucial to the situation in Yemen
The Saudi Royal Court issued a statement announcing that the meeting between the United States and Saudi Arabia, scheduled for Friday September 4, will seek better bilateral relations. King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s visit will reportedly include talks on the situation in Yemen, particularly given Saudi Arabia’s leadership of Arab coalition forces operating in Yemen. His trip coincides with a report from a Yemeni presidential source who said that President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi has faced increased pressure from the US administration to regain control of Sana’a from Houthi rebels without a foreign ground operation. King Salman and President Barack Obama are also expected to discuss the humanitarian situation. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), Sahafah (Arabic), 9/3/2015]

ISIS claim responsibility for bombing Al-Moayed Mosque
The Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) claimed responsibility for two bombings at a mosque in a northern district of the Yemeni capital Sana’a on Wednesday. Thirty-two people were killed and at least ninety-eight others were injured in a suicide bomb attack on Al-Moayed Mosque under Houthi control in al-Jiraf area. According to the Ministry of Health, more than twenty people have died and the numbers are rising quickly. The attack was to “avenge Muslims against the Rafidah (Shia),” said the ISIS statement on Twitter. [Al-Arabiya, Naharnet, 9/3/2015]


S&P says Saudi banks can fund up to $100 billion of state debt
Saudi Arabia’s banks have enough assets to absorb $75 billion to $100 billion of government securities as the Kingdom begins selling bonds for the first time in seven year, Standard & Poor’s (S&P) said. The country’s lenders held about $106 billion in cash, central bank deposits and treasury bills and another $13 billion in non-statutory deposits at the end of June, analysts said. “They have adequate liquidity to comfortably fund $75 billion to $100 billion or more in sovereign issuance in 2015-16 without much effect on their overall balance sheet,” they said. “The banks will accommodate government issuance through a gradual shift from low-yielding, short-term liquid assets and private sector credits to higher-yielding, longer-term government exposures,” S&P said. This will improve banks’ net interest margin and revenue and benefit their capital profiles. [Bloomberg, 9/3/2015]

Iraq oil output will decline starting 2018, says Morgan Stanley
Iraq’s crude production will start to decline in 2018 due to a slowdown in investment resulting from lower oil prices and a costly war with Islamist militants, according to Morgan Stanley. Iraq will pump 4.18 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2017, with output then falling to 4.132 million bpd in 2018 and to 4.127 million bpd by 2020, London’s Morgan Stanley analyst Haythem Rashed said in a report. The bank had previously forecast rising output every year to 4.6 million bpd by 2020. Iraq’s production climbed 1 million bpd in July from a year earlier, becoming the strongest contributor to global supply, Morgan Stanley said. The removal of export constraints in the south, increased pipeline capacity in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region, and the separation of heavy and light crude streams all contributed to growth. “With these infrastructure and crude marketing tailwinds now largely played out, we see limited prospects for further production growth,” Rashed said in the report. [Bloomberg, 9/3/2015]

IMF delegation to visit Egypt in two weeks
A delegation from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is set to visit Cairo in mid-September to hold talks with Egyptian officials on recent economic developments, IMF mission chief for Egypt Christopher Jarvis told state-owned news agency MENA. Jarvis said that the visit would aim to hold talks with senior government officials regarding the country’s latest economic developments. “Egypt has adopted a good economic and reform program, which includes the first phase of rationalizing the energy subsidy system,” Jarvis said, stressing the need to implement the reform program in order to improve Egypt’s economy. Egypt has set five-year macroeconomic targets with real gross domestic product growth reaching at least 6 percent by the end of 2018/19. [Aswat Masriya, Ahram Online, 9/3/2015]

Conflict over Libyan sovereign fund reaches UK court
A conflict between Libya’s two rival governments over control of the $67 billion Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), the country’s sovereign wealth fund, has escalated with one of the would-be chairmen asking a London court to settle the dispute. Hassan Bouhadi, LIA chairman from the internationally recognized government in Tobruk, said he had initiated proceedings in the London Commercial Court to determine who has the authority to appoint a board of directors to manage the fund’s UK-based assets. Bouhadi said in a statement that clarity over control of the fund “must be laid to rest as soon as is practically possible” and that an application is likely to be heard in the British courts early next year. Bouhadi’s Tripoli-based rival, AbdulMagid Breish, said he was “disappointed” by the move. [Reuters, 9/3/2015]

Abu Dhabi’s First Gulf Bank raising $1 billion loan
First Gulf Bank, the United Arab Emirates’ third-largest bank by assets, is seeking to raise about $1 billion from a syndicated loan to boost lending as liquidity in the economy tightens. About ten banks are expected to sign up for the loan, which is currently in the documentation stage. The size may be raised on demand, sources say. Banks in the Gulf Cooperation Council are turning to the loan market to raise funds in addition to selling bonds as a drop in crude oil prices threatens economic growth. Bank liquidity in the UAE, the second-biggest Arab economy, is tightening as an increase in lending outpaces deposit growth. First Gulf Bank last raised a syndicated loan in November 2012, when it borrowed $900 million from a three-year loan. [Bloomberg, 9/3/2015]