Top News: UN Says Both Syrian Rebels and Government Are Targeting Civilians

UN investigators said in a report released Tuesday that both Syrian government forces and opposition fighters are targeting civilians and that with “each passing day there are fewer safe places in Syria.” The report says government forces have consistently used barrel bombs rather than precision weapons when targeting densely populated urban areas, which “is in violation of international humanitarian law” and is a war crime. The UN also said both the government and rebel groups, specifically naming ISIS, the Nusra Front, and Jaysh al-Islam, have imposed devastating sieges that deprive residents of food and medicine. [APReuters, 6/23/2015]



FM Shoukry and Kerry prepare for strategic dialogue
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and US Secretary of State John Kerry on Monday discussed by phone the two countries’ upcoming strategic dialogue talks. In a statement, Shoukry said the strategic dialogue, scheduled for July 28 and 29, will tackle political, economic, security issues, and the importance of developing the US-Egypt relationship. The statement added that the two officials discussed a number of regional issues, including terrorism and cooperation on regional conflicts such as those in Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Palestine. [Ahram Online, Cairo Post, DNE, 6/23/2015]

Egyptian journalist detained over charges of ‘belonging to illegal group’
A journalist with state-owned newspaper Akhbar al-Youm has been detained at Tora prison over charges of “belonging to an illegal group,” according to the head of Journalists’ Syndicate Yahia al-Qalash. Qalash was informed Monday by the Ministry of Interior of the detention of journalist Mohamed Saber al-Batawy after the Syndicate filed a complaint against the police about the journalist’s disappearance. On Wednesday, Batawy’s family said that a force from Homeland Security stormed his house in Toukh city, Qalyubia, and that he was held incommunicado. [Cairo Post, DNE, Egypt Independent, 6/23/2015]

Egypt’s endowments ministry to remove ‘extremist books’ from mosques
Egypt’s Minister of Religious Endowments Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa on Monday issued orders to remove any books, cassettes or CDs that incite violence and radicalism from mosque libraries around the country. Mosques must provide a list of their library’s contents for inspection, in order for the ministry to ensure it complies with its list of approved books, said Gomaa. No new books can be included without the approval of the ministry. Meanwhile, the Ministry denied reports that the decision included directives to burn books written by Muslim Brotherhood figures. The statement previous remarks made by its religious affairs official, Mohamed Abdel Razeq, who had told Al-Masry Al-Youm that the ministry had ordered to “burn” the books authored by Muslim Brotherhood figures and other texts not included in its list of authorized literature. [Ahram Online, 6/22/2015]

Egyptian human rights delegation visits new prison
A delegation of Egyptian human rights workers visited the newly established May 15 prison on Sunday saying it guarantees the “minimum levels of decent living.” The May 15 establishment is intended to be the central prison for Cairo Security Directorate made only for housing those in preventative detention pending investigations. The prison’s capacity can hold up to 4,000 people and currently 3,020 people are detained there. The delegation included Hafez Abu Saeda, head of Cairo-based Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), and Alaa Shalaby, Dalia Ziada, Hazem Mounir, and Mahmoud Badawi. In its statement, the delegation said the May 15 prison “is designed in a modern style to ensure a minimum level of decent living and health care.” It also said the prison included an “administrative section and rooms for advice, as well as prosecutors and lawyers” to renew detentions and facilitate paperwork. Meanwhile, a pregnant woman was allegedly assaulted at Damanhour Police Station, resulting in her miscarriage on the same day as the visit. Suzan Salah, a pregnant woman in her second trimester, went to the police station on Sunday to file a report of theft when policemen, refusing to file the report, assaulted her, according to her sister. [Ahram Online, 6/22/2015]

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Car bomb kills four troops near Benghazi
A car bomb exploded at a checkpoint south of Benghazi on Monday afternoon, killing at least three Libyan National Army (LNA) soldiers and wounding twenty more. The attack is blamed on the Benghazi Revolutionaries’ Shura Council. Officials do not think it is a suicide bomb. However, it is still unknown how the vehicle arrived at the checkpoint and what happened to the driver. The bodies of the dead soldiers were taken to the hospital in Ajdabiya. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 6/22/2015]

Benghazi suspect killed in US airstrike 
The Pentagon stated yesterday that an Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) operative, Ali Awni al-Harzi, was killed in a US airstrike in Iraq. Al-Harzi is suspected of involvement in the 2012 attack on the US diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, which killed four Americans, including US ambassador Chris Stevens. Defense Department spokesman Colonel Steve Warren said in a statement that al-Harzi’s death “degrades ISIL’s ability to integrate North African jihadists into the Syrian and Iraqi fight and removes a jihadist with long ties to international terrorism.” [AP, 6/23/2015]

Ben Ali sentenced to ten years in prison
Former Tunisian President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali and his son-in-law Sakhr al-Materi were sentenced to ten years behind bars for corruption. The case also included former Minister of State Properties Ridha Grira and three executives including Fathi Sokri. All of the accused were sentenced to ten years in prison and fined 14 million dinars over the illegal transfer of property. Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali fled Tunisia during the 2011 revolution and currently lives with his family in Saudi Arabia. Al-Materi was also tried in absentia. [Tunisia Live, 6/23/2015]

Tunisians allegedly linked to diplomats’ abduction
Tunisia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Taieb Baccouche declared yesterday at a press conference that there was “compelling proof” of “Tunisian parties” being implicated in the abduction of ten Tunisian consular staff in Tripoli two weeks ago. He also added that a judicial investigation was opened into the matter. An international investigation would also be carried out regarding the attack, which Baccouche described as “a crime under international standards and a blatant assault on Tunisian sovereignty.” Baccouche said that the Tunisians linked to the kidnapping had been in touch with the kidnappers, supporting the demand to release Ghleib. [Libya Herald, 6/23/2015]

Tunisia to open consular office in Ras Jedir; border crossing between Tunisia and Libya reopens
Tunisia is to establish a consular office at the Ras Jedir border crossing with Libya, Tunisian Minister of Foreign Affairs Taieb Baccouche declared. This announcement follows the closure of Tunisia’s consulate general in Tripoli after the abduction of ten of its consular staff earlier this month. The new border consular staff will try to oversee the affairs of Tunisians in Libya, which make up around 150,000 individuals. “There are Tunisians who continue to live in Libya because of strong family ties there,” Baccouche said and that the representation would be looking after their interests. The main border crossing between Libya and Tunisia will open in both directions, following protests in Tunisia after authorities placed a temporary ban on its citizens entering into Libya. Problems at the border started on June 21, after Tunisians from the city of Ben Guerdane, which relies heavily on trade with Libya, began protesting against new restrictions for Tunisians seeking to cross into Libya. [Libya Herald, Libya Monitor (subscription), 6/23/2015]


ISIS destroys ancient Islamic mausoleums in Palmyra
Syria’s Director of Antiquities said Tuesday that Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) fighters destroyed two ancient Muslim mausoleums three miles north of Palmyra over the weekend, including the tombs of Mohammad bin Ali, a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed’s cousin, and Nizar Abu Bahaaeddine, a religious figure from Palmyra. ISIS’s media account published a report Monday evening titled “The Elimination of Polytheist Landmarks” as well as photos depicting two armed men carrying canisters, apparently filled with explosives, walking up the hill to the site.[AFP, 6/23/2015]

Syrian Kurds seize town from ISIS near Raqqa
Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) seized the ISIS-held town of Ayn Issa on Tuesday after capturing the Brigade 93 military base Monday night. This latest move, aided by US-led coalition air strikes, brings Kurdish forces within thirty miles of ISIS’s self-proclaimed capital city in Raqqa. ISIS fighters have reportedly completely withdrawn from the town of Ayn Issa, but it is not yet clear whether the Kurds will push further towards Raqqa. [Reuters, AP, 6/23/2015]

Kurds find ISIS tunnel near Turkish border
Kurdish forces discovered a 400-meter long tunnel dug by ISIS militants near the Turkish border with Syria on Monday. YPG forces discovered the half-completed tunnel after capturing Tal Abyad last week. The tunnel linking Turkey to ISIS-held territory may offer insight into how foreign fighters have slipped across the Turkish border to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria. [AP, 6/22/2015]

Iran, Iraq, Syria to strengthen cooperation against ISIS
Officials from Iran, Iraq, and Syria will meet next week in Baghdad to strengthen their joint fight against ISIS. The meeting aims “to discuss the mechanisms of strategic cooperation and coordination to combat terrorism,” and will include signing a joint protocol on fighting “terrorism, violence, and extremism.” [AFP, 6/23/2015]

UN says both Syrian rebels and government are targeting civilians
UN investigators said in a report released Tuesday that both Syrian government forces and opposition fighters are targeting civilians and that with “each passing day there are fewer safe places in Syria.” The report says government forces have consistently used barrel bombs rather than precision weapons when targeting densely populated urban areas, which “is in violation of international humanitarian law” and is a war crime. The UN also said both the government and rebel groups, specifically naming ISIS, the Nusra Front, and Jaysh al-Islam, have imposed devastating sieges that deprive residents of food and medicine. [AP, Reuters, 6/23/2015]

Syrian state media praises Druze attack on Israeli ambulance
Syrian state media praised Druze villagers in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights Tuesday for attacking an Israeli military ambulance they said was carrying two insurgents from a group fighting President Bashar al-Assad. At least one of the men in the ambulance was killed. The SANA report described the Druze villagers as “heroic Syrian young men” and identifies the insurgents as members of the Nusra Front. The Israeli army described the ambulance attack as a lynching. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu pledged Tuesday to track down those responsible. [Reuters, 6/23/2015]


Houthi delegation in Muscat
The Houthi delegation which attended last week’s peace conference in Geneva has now headed to Muscat, according to Yemen’s Human Rights Minister Ezz al-Din Asbahi. It is unclear what kind of talks the Houthis will be holding in Muscat, though the group did send a delegation to the Omani capital prior to attending the talks in Geneva. Asbahi said the Houthi delegation had initially wanted to remain in Geneva after the end of the consultations on Friday in order to hold talks with other Yemeni political factions, but this was not possible since the UN had only agreed to host them during the period allotted for consultations with the government. [Asharq al-Awsat, 6/22/2015]

New strikes on Houthi strongholds
Saudi-led strikes targeted more than twenty Houthi militia positions across Yemen late on Sunday, according to residents. Three raids on the Houthi-controlled international airport in Aden were reported, as well as strikes in Hajja province along Yemen’s border with Saudi Arabia. Houthi militias have repeatedly clashed with Saudi forces on the border in recent weeks. [Al Arabiya, Reuters, 6/22/2015]

Leaked Houthi document reveals ulterior motive of Geneva peace talks
A leaked document from Abdelmalik al-Houthi to members of the Houthi Revolutionary Committee has appeared on Yemeni news sources online. In the document leaked shortly after the conclusion of the Geneva peace talks, al-Houthi sets out guidelines for leaders of the militant cells throughout Yemen. The document advises against fasting and makes plain that the Geneva talks were intended to waste time and distract the Arab coalition so that gains could be made in southern Yemen. [Marib Press (Arabic), Akhbar al-Yemen (Arabic), 6/23/2015]


Chatham House says war has left Syria ‘on brink of economic collapse’
Syria is headed towards economic collapse after four years of war, which could serve as a catalyst for the fall of the Syrian regime, a report published today by Chatham House says. The report found that Syria’s economy has retracted by over 50 percent in real terms, the Syrian pound has lost 80 percent of its value, and inflation has averaged 51 percent. Meanwhile, outward migration and an estimated 250,000 deaths have caused Syria’s population to fall by more than 15 percent. In addition, agriculture now accounts for a greater percentage of the nation’s overall output as the energy and manufacturing sectors declined sharply. Overall food production has also declined. Ultimately, a “war economy” has developed in which actors have established independent economic spheres. Reliance on international aid has also increased. [The Independent, 6/23/2015]

Iraq aims to meet with investors by end of July for $5 billion bond issue
Iraq hopes to meet investors by the end of July to present plans for a $5 billion bond issue, the country’s Finance Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said on Monday. The government has hired JP Morgan, Citibank, and Deutsche Bank to arrange its first debt sale in nine years to cover its budget deficit. Iraqi officials met with the banks and credit rating agencies on June 16, Zebari said. Analysts believe it might be difficult for the market to absorb $5 billion of debt from Iraq in a short space of time. Obtaining a credit rating from a major agency would be one step towards market acceptance. [Reuters, 6/22/2015]

National Bank of Egypt picks banks for potential benchmark bond
The National Bank of Egypt (NBE), the oldest commercial lender in the country, has chosen five banks to arrange fixed income meetings starting on Wednesday for a potential benchmark US dollar-denominated bond issue (benchmark size is usually taken to mean at least $500 million). NBE, which expects to be rated B-/B by Standard & Poor’s and Fitch, chose Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, HSBC, National Bank of Abu Dhabi, and Standard Chartered Bank as joint lead arrangers for the meetings. The meetings will be held in the Middle East and Europe and the bond may be issued in 2015, depending on market conditions. [Reuters, 6/23/2015]

Moody’s says Tunisia benefits from successful democratic transition
Tunisia’s Ba3 stable credit profile continues to benefit from the country’s democratic transition and improved funding environment, Moody’s Investors Service said in its annual Credit Analysis for the Government of Tunisia. The agency said that while Tunisia’s fiscal and external imbalances are expected to decrease over the next two years, its rating is constrained by investment and growth challenges stemming from regional disparities and labor market inefficiencies. Implementation of structural reforms recommended by the International Monetary Fund could contribute to a more positive rating. [CPI Financial, 6/23/2015]