Top News: UN’s Ban Ki-moon Discusses Yemen with World Leaders

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon met with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir to discuss the ongoing situation in Yemen, Syria, the Middle East Peace Process, and common objectives in the fight against terrorism. On Yemen, the Secretary-General underlined his strong view that there was no military solution to the Yemeni conflict. He called for an immediate ceasefire and increased humanitarian access, and resolving all differences peacefully through inclusive dialogue and negotiations. He also met with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, encouraging Iran to contribute to a political settlement of the crises in the region, particularly with regard to Syria and Yemen. US Secretary of State John Kerry also met with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in steps taken to open a dialogue with Iran and others about the crises in Syria and Yemen. Yemeni President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi arrived from Aden on Monday in New York to participate in the UN General Assembly. He was received by Yemen’s UN Permanent Representative Khaled Yamani and Yemeni Ambassador to the United States Dr. Ahmed Awad bin Mubarak. [UN ReadoutSABAAPAl Masdar (Arabic), 9/27/2015]



Sisi to address UN General Assembly Monday evening
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will be addressing world leaders in the 70th Session of the UN General Assembly on Monday evening. According to state news, Sisi’s speech will tackle youth and development, combating extremism, and the need for a coordinated international effort to fight it. Sisi will hold talks with world leaders including the French President Francois Hollande, Yemeni President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, and Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko. Sisi met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel Friday, where according to Presidential Spokesman Alaa Youssef, he praised the role of German companies in Egypt’s economic development. Youssef added that Merkel praised the cooperation and coordination between Egypt and Germany in politics and the economy. Sisi also spoke at the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) summit on Friday. He met on Saturday with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and attended a high-level roundtable on South-South cooperation cochaired by China and the United Nations. He said that developing countries must increase their focus on international economic cooperation. Later on Saturday, during an interview with AP, Sisi said that the Middle East needs to defeat a worsening terrorist threat that has led to a “ferocious war” in Egypt and warned that some countries are “sliding into failure.” Sisi met on Sunday with a number of world leaders, including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Senegalese President Macky Sall, and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry met with his Mexican counterpart Claudia Ruiz Massieu on Sunday on the sidelines of the conference. Shoukry assured Ruiz Massieu that the investigation into the accidental killing of Mexican tourists earlier this month is still ongoing. [Aswat Masriya, SIS, 9/28/2015]

Parliamentary candidates violate law, campaign during Eid says observation mission
According to a report issued Monday by the International-Local Mission of the NGO Maat for Peace, Development and Human Rights to observe elections, many parliamentary candidates took the opportunity to distribute “meat and other presents to residents in their electoral constituencies.” The move by the candidates was in violation of the laws set by the High Elections Committee (HEC), which scheduled the official start date for campaigning for September 29. The final list of eligible candidates is due to be announced on Monday. The HEC also denied reports that it plans to resort to the Supreme Administrative Court to challenge rulings issued by some administrative courts over the parliamentary elections. [DNE, 9/28/2015]

Egypt does not receive directives on NGOs work says Wali
Minister of Social Solidarity Ghada Wali denied Saturday that Egypt receives directives from “anyone” on the work of NGOs in the country. Minister of Social Solidarity Ghada Wali denied Saturday that Egypt receives directives from any international, regional or local bodies on the work of NGOs in Egypt. She further stated that Egypt does not consult on the issue, state media reported. The minister also defended the disputed NGO law, denying accusations that the law cripples the work of the organizations, adding that since its issuance in 2002 some organizations “that work under its umbrella achieved large successes.” She also stated that the ministry drafted a new law that is under revision, to be applied with the assembly of the new parliament. [DNE, MENA, 9/27/2015]

Sinai State claims killing of two Egyptian policemen in North Sinai
Two police conscripts were killed and sixteen others were injured on Saturday when an IED detonated in North Sinai, according to an Interior Ministry announcement. Sixteen other soldiers were injured in the explosion. The Sinai State, the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) affiliate in the peninsula, claimed it placed the IED inside of a parked car and detonated it when an armored security vehicle passed by while on patrol in Arish. [Ahram Online, AP, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, DNE, 9/26/2015]

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Aguila Saleh says HOR will go past deadline
Libya’s House of Representatives (HOR) leader Aguila Saleh says members of the parliament would continue the UN-led political dialogue past the October 20 deadline, the date the HOR’s mandate is due to expire, if a peace deal with the General National Congress (GNC) is not reached by then. Saleh gave no sign that an agreement was near, although the UN says the final draft of a peace deal was handed to both sides in recent days. Differences remain between the two sides and Saleh said his government wants the talks to “move a step forward.” He blamed the GNC for “delaying democracy.” Saleh made clear that the parliament would continue past that October 20 deadline if needed. But if a national unity government is reached, “that will end the problem,” he said. If not, “the world has to help.” [AP, Libya Monitor, 9/28/2015]

Ten dead in Benghazi clashes between Libya army, jihadists
Seven jihadists of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) and three soldiers of the Libyan National Army died in weekend clashes in the eastern city of Benghazi, military and medical sources said Sunday. A source at the city’s al-Jalaa hospital said three soldiers were killed and twenty-one wounded during clashes in the Saberi district of central Benghazi. Seven members of the Libyan branches of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) were killed and seven others captured, according to the army’s central command. The casualties come as part of the current military offensive against anti-government forces in Benghazi announced by controversial army chief Khalifa Haftar on September 19. It has been reported that Benghazi was under a citywide curfew on Saturday. [AFP, 9/27/2015]

Conflicting reports over Misrata and Zintan moves
Misratan units are said to have reinforced positions southwest of Tripoli, sparking fears that its military rapprochement with Zintan and the Warshafana has broken down. Social media showed photos of armored vehicles supposedly from Zintan approaching Zahra bridge, still guarded by Misratan forces, while military sources in Misrata said they feared an imminent attack on Tripoli. However, Janzur Municipal Council has announced that the arrival of Zintani forces in nearby Azziziya posed no threat and that they were there as part of an agreement to protect the new national unity government. For the past few weeks, there have been reports from reliable sources of plans for such a joint force to secure Tripoli. Misrata has pulled its forces out of the area west of the city, doing peace deals with Warshefana and others in the area. Zintan, reciprocally, has pulled back its forces. [Libya Herald, 9/27/2015]

Human Rights Watch condemns one-year sentence for homosexuality for Tunisian man
A twenty-two year old Tunisian man accused of engaging in homosexual acts was sentenced to a year in prison on September 22, in violation of Tunisia’s constitution and international law, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said today. Tunisian authorities should immediately revoke the man’s prison term and release him, HRW said. The group also called for police to cease forensic anal examinations of people suspected of homosexual acts; such examinations violate medical ethics and have been recognized as torture by the United Nations Committee Against Torture. Conseil National de l’Ordre des Médecins de Tunisie, in a recent statement, has said it will be conducting an investigation into possible infringement of the medical code of ethics. [HRW, 9/28/2015]


Putin says no Russian ground operations in Syria “right now”
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin said in an interview broadcast Sunday that Moscow does not plan on ground operations in Syria “right now,” but does plan to intensify its support for President Bashar al-Assad. The Russian leader, speaking in an interview broadcast Sunday on the eve of his meeting with President Barack Obama, also sharply criticized US military support for Syrian rebels, describing it as not only illegal but counterproductive. “In my view, providing military aid to illegitimate organizations contravenes the principles of international law and the UN Charter,” he said. “We back only legal government entities.” [AP, AFP, 9/27/2015]

Syria contact group to meet in October
Russia and the United States are expected to take part in Syria peace talks in October, along with Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov said Monday. A meeting of an international contact group of the “most influential outside players” will “be pushed forward to October after the UN General Assembly,” Bogdanov said. The idea of a Syria contact group has been discussed by the United Nations and in diplomatic circles for the past few weeks, but this was thought to be the first time it has been mentioned in public by any major power. It fits a pattern of Russia taking the initiative on the Syria crisis at a time when western policy is in disarray. [The Guardian, AFP, 9/28/2015]

Rouhani says Assad must remain in power
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Sunday that he sees widespread acceptance among major powers that President Bashar al-Assad should stay in office. “I think today everyone has accepted that President Assad must remain so that we can combat the terrorists,” Rouhani said. Rouhani spoke at a meeting with scholars and think tank experts and said that Iran will cooperate with any country that puts fighting and defeating “terrorism” as its top priority, but he said it cannot work with any government that makes a change in Syria’s regime its top priority. He said the Syrian government does need reform. However, he warned that if Assad is overthrown, “the terrorists will enter Damascus immediately” and other cities controlled by the government. He warned that they would fall to the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). [AP, AFP, 9/28/2015]

Israel strikes Syria after rocket fire
A rocket fired from Syria strayed into the Israeli-occupied sector of the Golan Heights Sunday, prompting the Israeli army to respond after the second such incident in days. The Israeli military said the two rockets, which landed over the last two days, were errant fire from the Syrian conflict. They caused no damage or injuries. Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said in a statement that Israel holds the Syrian military “responsible and accountable for any aggression emanating from Syria.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Israeli fire targeted army positions in a town in southwest Quneitra province in the Golan Heights. [AFP, AP, 9/27/2015]

Violence in Turkey’s southeast continues; Ankara divided on political solution
Attacks carried out by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) continued to target Turkish security forces over the weekend in Turkey’s southeastern provinces. Five children were wounded on Monday when a bomb detonated in Diyarbakir, the largest city in the region. In Tatvan, a roadside bomb attack wounded five soldiers. Sources from the Turkish government reported that security forces also continued attacks on PKK shelters and depots in northern Iraq on Saturday. Deputy Prime Minister Yalçın Akdoğan said on Monday that due to security concerns in the region, the resolution peace process cannot start as if “nothing happened.” Calls from opposition parties, including the Republican People’s Party (CHP) and the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), maintain that the solution to the conflict is political, not military. [Reuters, AP, Al Jazeera, Hurriyet, 09/28/2015]


Media reports of civilian casualties from Saudi-led air strikes in Yemen
Residents and medics said air strikes by helicopters flying from Saudi Arabia killed thirty civilians in a Yemeni village on Sunday, but Saudi authorities dismissed the accounts as “totally false.” Apache helicopters fired rockets at the village of Bani Zela in Hajja province near the Saudi border, killing at least twenty-five civilians, including women and children, the residents and medics said. The helicopters returned for a second strike as residents and medical teams were trying to evacuate casualties, killing three medics and two more civilians, they said. The Houthi-controlled SABA news agency put the death toll at twenty-eight and said seventeen others were injured, some seriously. It also reported on September 27 that Arab coalition air strikes in Saada damaged homes and property while air strikes in Ibb killed five and wounded thirteen others. Reports of a second attack on Monday claimed that two airstrikes in al-Wahga village near Bab al-Mandab mistakenly struck a wedding party on Monday, killing twenty-eight people and wounding dozens, Yemeni security officials said. [AP, Reuters, Al Masdar (Arabic), 9/28/2015]

Saudi ministry says Saudi border officers killed in attack from Yemen
A district commander and a sergeant in Saudi Arabia’s border guard were killed on Friday in an attack launched from across the frontier with Yemen. Colonel Hassan Ghashoum Aqili and Deputy Sergeant Abdulrahman Mohammed al-Hazazi were killed by heavy gunfire in the Jazan district while four other guards were lightly wounded after the border officers’ patrol vehicle was hit by a mine explosion. Several dozen Saudi soldiers have been killed in clashes along the country’s long border with Yemen, including a general last month. Further clashes between Houthi forces and the Saudi coalition in the central desert province of Marib and the southwestern city of Taiz this weekend escalated tensions. Meanwhile, the Saudi-led alliance launched air attacks on suspected Houthi positions on at least five provinces throughout the country and on Sana’a over the weekend. [Reuters, Al Arabiya, 9/26/2015]

Yemen Times interviews Saudi-led coalition spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed Asiri
In an interview with Yemen Times, Brigadier General Ahmed Asiri discussed the difficulty of the Saudi-led coalition’s attempts to liberate Taiz from Houthi control, saying that because of Taiz’s high population density, Saudi Arabia abandoned the assault in the interest of protecting civilian lives. Coalition air strikes and ground fighting have killed over 4,500 people in Yemen since the foreign intervention began on March 26. General Asiri also said that the Saudi coalition has had difficulty coordinating with the Popular Resistance fighters given their lack of training and military experience. However, he is adamant that al-Qaeda will not be able to take control of any territories from Yemen security forces once the Houthis have been defeated. [Yemen Times, 9/25/2015]


Sisi announces planned shift to VAT regime, meets with World Bank and UN heads
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced Egypt’s plan to introduce a value-added tax (VAT) regime as part of major economic reforms. In an opinion piece published in The Wall Street Journal on Sunday, Sisi said the VAT regime, along with a simplified tax system for small and medium-sized enterprises will “raise revenues and bolster investment incentives by boosting growth, creating jobs and improving firms’ cash flow.” Sisi said Egypt is aiming for 5 percent growth during the current fiscal year, “driven by rising foreign direct investment, and the implementation of various new energy, infrastructure and agricultural reclamation projects.” He stated that Egypt’s chief economic objective are “to ensure long-term sustainability by correcting the country’s previous fiscal imbalances…to create a dynamic, competitive and private-sector-led platform for growth, and to restore confidence in the investment climate.” Meanwhile, Sisi met with World Bank Head Jim Yong Kim in New York on Sunday, who expressed his support for Egypt’s efforts to strengthen the economy. Sisi also met with United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on Sunday to discuss Egypt’s development plan. Sisi also held meetings with the US Chamber of Commerce and the US Egypt Business Council and discussed bilateral relations with several world leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel. [AP, 9/28/2015]

Saudi Arabia withdraws overseas funds
Saudi Arabia has withdrawn tens of billions of dollars from global asset managers as the kingdom seeks to cut its widening deficit and reduce exposure to volatile equities markets amid a sustained slump in oil prices. The Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency’s (SAMA) foreign reserves have slumped by nearly $73 billion since oil prices started to decline last year. Nigel Sillitoe, chief executive of financial services market intelligence company Insight Discovery, said fund managers estimate that SAMA has pulled out $50 billion to $70 billion over the past six months. Since the third quarter of 2014, SAMA’s reserves held in foreign securities have declined by $71 billion, accounting for almost all of the $72.8 billion reduction in overall overseas assets. Other industry executives estimate that SAMA has withdrawn even more $70 billion. While some of this cash has been used to fund the deficit, these executives say the central bank is also seeking to reinvest into less risky, more liquid products. [FT, Bloomberg, 9/27/2015]

Qatar commits to invest $35 billion in United States
Qatar has committed to spend $35 billion in the United States over the next five years, continuing the country’s diversification of investments traditionally focused on Europe. Qatar’s acquisitive sovereign wealth fund, the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), provided the figure on Monday in a statement announcing the opening of an office in New York. “It is the perfect location to help strengthen our existing relationships and promote new partnerships as we continue to expand geographically, diversify our assets and seek long-term growth,” said QIA Chief Executive Sheikh Abdullah bin Mohamed bin Saud al-Thani about the new office. The QIA has about $334 billion of assets according to industry tracker Sovereign Wealth Center. [Reuters, 9/28/2015]

Oil exports from northern Iraq to Turkey restart
Oil exports from northern Iraq have restarted after “thieves” sabotaged the main pipeline to Turkey, Kurdistan’s Ministry of Natural Resources said in a statement on Saturday. The flow of crude oil resumed on Friday following an outage of about nine hours, the ministry said. The pipeline, which pumps oil to the Mediterranean port of Ceyhan from fields in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region and Kirkuk, has been repeatedly targeted inside Turkey since a ceasefire between Ankara and Kurdish militants broke down in late July. “Without [revenues from the pipeline], salaries of peshmerga forces, the security forces and other key government workers cannot get paid,” the ministry said, underlining the negative impact that attacks on the pipeline have on the Kurdish ability to fight the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). [Reuters, 9/26/2015]

Fitch affirms Tunisia at ‘BB-‘, outlook stable
Fitch Ratings has affirmed Tunisia’s long-term foreign and local currency Issuer Default Ratings (IDR) at ‘BB-‘ and ‘BB’, respectively, with stable outlooks. Fitch said Tunisia ranks well within the ‘BB’ rating category on structural features such as development and governance indicators. However, the ratings agency noted that political risk remains high in Tunisia. Fitch said that while inflation is progressively decreasing, economic growth would slow down to below 1 percent as recent terrorist attacks affect tourism and transport. Beyond 2015, the persistence of the negative growth shock induced by terrorism remains uncertain, Fitch said, adding that unless the growth rate increases, the government will find it difficult to address social pressures. Fitch also forecast Tunisia’s budget deficit at below 5 percent of GDP in 2015. [Reuters, 9/25/2015]