Top News: UN Says More Than Four Million Refugees Have Now Fled Syria

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported on Thursday that more than four million Syrians have fled abroad since the civil war began in 2011 and an additional 7.6 million people have been displaced from their homes within Syria. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said, “This is the biggest refugee population from a single conflict in a generation,” and that the number of Syrian refugees is on track to reach 4.27 million by the end of 2015. [AP, Reuters, NYT, WSJ, 7/9/2015]



Egypt to buy border surveillance system from Pentagon for $100 million
Egyptian officials want to buy high-tech American border surveillance equipment, the Pentagon said Wednesday, citing Cairo’s desire to better monitor its borders with Libya and other countries. The State Department has entered an agreement with Cairo to sell the equipment for an estimated $100 million, the Defense Department said in a statement. The deal, which must be approved by Congress, calls for the United States to supply mobile surveillance sensor towers, communications equipment and defense contractors who will travel to train Egyptians on how to use the equipment. “This mobile surveillance sensor security system will provide Egypt with advanced capabilities intended to bolster its border surveillance capabilities along its border with Libya and elsewhere,” the Pentagon statement said. “This procurement is intended for Egyptian Border Guard Forces, which currently lack any remote detection capability along unpatrolled areas of Egypt’s borders. This system would provide an early warning capability to allow for faster response times to mitigate threats to the border guards and the civilian population.” [Washington Post, Cairo Post, 7/8/2015]

Press Syndicate to send amendments to draft anti-terror law to cabinet
Egypt’s press syndicate agreed to send amendments of the draft anti-terrorism law to the cabinet, after a meeting on Wednesday between the head of the syndicate and the premier. When the draft law was approved, “no one had the intention to restrict freedom of the press and the media,” Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab told the head of the press syndicate, Yehia Qallash, state news agency MENA reported. The meeting was attended by the chief editors of several newspapers, who requested that Article 33 of the proposed law is removed so as to not “equate journalists with people accused of terrorism.” The controversial proposed law has recently come under much criticism, most recently by seventeen local civil society organizations in a joint statement, as well as by the semi-governmental National Council for Human Rights. [Aswat Masriya, DNE, 7/8/2015]

Police officer shot dead in Egypt’s Beni Suef; Twenty injured in Sinai roadside bomb attack
A police officer in the Upper Egyptian governorate of Beni Suef was shot dead by unidentified assailants early Thursday, the Interior Ministry said. A security source said the assailants killed policeman, Mohamed Seroor, on his way home and set his vehicle on fire. Additionally, security officials say up to twenty policemen were injured when their bus and armored personnel carrier were hit by a roadside bomb in the Sinai Peninsula. The officials say the bus carried policemen in civilian clothes as they left the town of al-Arish at the start of their leave. Most of the injured policemen were lightly wounded, according to the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, Aswat Masriya,AFP, AP, Cairo Post, 7/9/2015]    

Editor-in-chief of Egyptian private newspaper Youm7 released on 10,000EGP bail
A Cairo court ordered the release of editor-in-chief of private newspaper Youm7 Khaled Salah and staff writer Mohamed Roshdy on 10,000 Egyptian pounds bail each pending an inquiry in charges they insulted former presidential candidate Ahmed Shafiq. Shafiq accused Salah and Roshdy of libel and defamation in relation to an article the paper published in April 2015 that claimed that Mubarak’s last prime minister, who has been residing in the UAE since 2013, was scared of returning to Egypt and described him as a “failed student.” In a separate case in June, the interior ministry filed a complaint against Salah and editor of Youm7 El-Sayed Falah for publishing false news, inciting fear and causing threats to public security. Both editors were released on 10,000 Egyptian pounds bail each. [Ahram Online, 7/9/2015]  

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Twenty-two dead in Arab Berber unrest in Algeria
At least twenty-two people were killed and nineteen wounded in clashes between Berber and Arab communities in southern Algeria. This marks the bloodiest toll in two years of frequent clashes between the communities, prompting President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to convene an emergency meeting of top leaders including the Army Chief of Staff, General Ahmed Gaid Salah. Homes, shops, public buildings, cars, and palm groves were set on fire in the area of Guerrara and the region’s main town of Ghardaia, 600 kilometres (370 miles) south of Algiers. Dozens of people from the Mozabite community gathered Wednesday in Algiers for several hours to denounce acts of violence committed in Ghardaia and call for the return of peace and security in the region. Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal is going to the province of Ghardaia today at the head of a large ministerial delegation to inquire about the situation. [Al Alrabiya, AP, 7/8/2015]

Algeria upset by ‘simplistic’ US report on human rights
Algeria is upset over critical remarks about its human rights record made in the State Department’s Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014. The Algerian Foreign Ministry issued a harsh statement this week saying the report amounts to a “mechanical reproduction of stereotypes, partial judgments, and simplistic conclusions.” The ministry summoned US Ambassador Joan Polaschik on Tuesday. Monday’s statement said the State Department had put “legitimate action of the state” on equal footing with the “murderous folly of terrorist groups.” The report criticizes Algeria for human rights abuses in multiple areas, including restricted freedom of speech and impunity for security forces. [Al Arabiya, 7/8/2015]

Algeria plays ‘key’ role for settlement of Libyan crisis
The United Nations (UN) Under Secretary General and Head of the Department of Political Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, underlined on Wednesday Algeria’s key role in the settlement of the Libyan crisis. Feltman stated that the rounds of the inter-Libyan dialogue that took place in Algeria were an “important stage” of the negotiation process. “I examined with [Minister of Maghreb Affairs for the African Union and Arab League Abdelkader] Messahel various regional issues and I expressed to him the congratulations of the United States and the support of the United Nations for the key role played by Algeria for the settlement of the crisis in Libya,” Feltman said.  He also official expressed satisfaction at the support provided by Libya to all UN representatives, especially the UN Special Envoy for Libya, Bernardino Leon. [All Africa, 7/8/2015]


UN says more than four million refugees have now fled Syria
The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reported on Thursday that more than four million Syrians have fled abroad since the civil war began in 2011 and an additional 7.6 million people have been displaced from their homes within Syria. UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said, “This is the biggest refugee population from a single conflict in a generation,” and that the number of Syrian refugees is on track to reach 4.27 million by the end of 2015. [AP, Reuters, NYT, WSJ, 7/9/2015]

Kurds reclaim Ayn Issa in Syria
Kurdish People’s Protection Unit (YPG) fighters say they reclaimed the northern Syrian town of Ayn Issa from the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) on Wednesday, two days after the militant group attempted to seize it. They were supported by a Women’s Protection Unit (YPJ) brigade as well as US airstrikes. [BBC, AFP, Reuters, 7/8/2015]

US and Turkey discuss border security and role of Kurds
Senior US officials urged Turkey during talks in Ankara on Tuesday and Wednesday to do more to prevent militants from crossing its border with Syria. The two NATO allies are also divided on the role of Kurdish militias in fighting ISIS. Turkey argues that more needs to be done to push President Bashar al-Assad out of power and fears that territorial gains by Kurdish militias will fuel separatist sentiment among its own Kurds. [Daily Star, 7/9/2015]

Bomb and rockets kill nineteen civilians in Syria’s Aleppo
A Syrian regime barrel bomb and rocket fire in Aleppo Wednesday night killed at least nineteen civilians, including five children. The explosives-filled container hit a building in the northeastern neighborhood of Karam al-Beik as residents were sitting down to break the daytime Ramadan fast. [AFP, 7/9/2015]

Jordan reinforces defenses at northern, eastern borders
Jordan has intensified security measures along its northern border with Syria and its eastern border with Iraq. It sent reinforcements from the Jordanian Armed Forces (JAF) to the sites Tuesday night in an attempt to keep full control over the Kingdom’s borders and prevent any potential attack. A Jordanian official said the measures are “a message to all Jordanians that [the] country is able to maintain its safety and security.” The Lebanese army arrested two Syrian nationals Thursday morning in the coastal city of Tripoli after confiscating weapons and ammunition that they had stored in a warehouse. [AFP, 7/9/2015]


Warring parties in Yemen close to ceasefire agreement
Yemen’s government told the United Nations on Wednesday it would agree to a truce to end more than three months of fighting provided key “guarantees” were met, a spokesman said. “The Yemeni authorities have informed the Secretary General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon of its agreement to implement a truce in the coming days,” spokesman Rajeh Badi said in a phone interview from the government’s seat of exile in Saudi Arabia. Badi added that the Yemen’s President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi had “set guarantees for the success of the truce.” These included the release of prisoners by Yemen’s Houthi movement, including the loyalist defense minister, as well as the Houthis’ withdrawal from four southern and eastern provinces where they are fighting local militias. There was no immediate comment from the Houthis. [Reuters, 7/8/2015]

Misdirected airstrikes kill dozens of pro-government forces in Yemen
More than eighty soldiers, including high ranking military commanders, were killed and at least 100 others injured in raids carried out by the Saudi-led coalition in the Alabr district of Hadramawt on Tuesday. The attacks targeted the 23rd Brigade Camp, which is known to be a base for military personnel allied with ousted President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi. One source, who preferred to stay anonymous for security reasons, expressed surprise and shock by the coalition’s mistake. The source pointed out that this could lead Houthi militants and forces loyal to the former president to attack Hadramawt. Also on Tuesday, confrontations between the pro-government and pro-Houthi forces continued in Aden, Taiz, Dhali, Lahj, Marib, Shabwa, Baidha and Abyan. Many were killed and injured from both sides.  [Yemen Post, Yemen Times, 7/8/2015]

Kuwaiti Emir speaks out against sectarianism
The emir of Kuwait said Thursday his country had thwarted attempts to sow sectarian divisions after last month’s suicide bombing but warned that the world needs to do more to confront the “satanic” behavior of Islamist militants. Kuwaiti officials say the bombing appeared aimed at stoking sectarian hatred between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the country. “We believe that Kuwait is for all its citizens and not for one party or sect,” Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah said. “All live on its earth and ally themselves to its identity. Everybody has the right of speech and we are proud of our legislation that we agreed on. It’s our pride,” he added. [Reuters, 7/9/2015]


World Bank approves $350 million aid package for Iraq
The World Bank (WB) approved a $350 million financial assistance package earlier this week to help rebuild infrastructure in Iraq that has been damaged by war and restore public services in local areas. “The $350 million financial assistance package, approved by the World Bank Board of Directors, will contribute to Iraq’s efforts to rebuild state institutions and put the economy on the path to recovery in areas where conflict has subsided,” the Bank said in a statement. The statement said the Iraq Emergency Operation for Development is part of a larger program that will be carried out over a five-year period in seven cities in two conflict-affected governorates, Salah al-Din and Diyala. The program’s activities are also aimed at financially benefitting areas to which internally displaced people are expected to return. [The Daily Star, 7/9/2015]

Egypt’s Banque Misr to raise $500 million via bond sale
Banque Misr, Egypt’s second-largest state bank, plans to raise $500 million via a dollar-denominated bond on international markets within three months, three banking sources said Thursday. Two of the sources said the bank was currently negotiating with international institutions to promote the bond sale. The Egyptian government paved the way for the country’s banks to tap financial markets for cash when it returned to the international debt market last month after a five-year hiatus. Banque Misr has held informal talks with potential arrangers for the bond, a third source said, adding that the bond will be a five-year deal and will follow an expected syndicated loan by Banque Misr. [Reuters, 7/9/2015]

Saudi bank NCB posts 2.6 percent drop in net profit, misses forecasts
Saudi Arabia’s National Commercial Bank (NCB), the kingdom’s largest lender, posted a 2.6 percent fall in second-quarter net profit on Thursday, missing analysts’ forecasts as fee income weakened and operating expenses rose. NCB is the fifth Saudi bank to report earnings for the second-quarter. The sector’s performance is more mixed than in the first quarter, when all but one of the top seven lenders reported higher profits. NCB reported a net profit of 2.36 billion riyals ($629 million) in the second quarter, down from 2.43 billion riyals in the same period of 2014. Analysts surveyed by Reuters had forecast a net profit of 2.47 billion riyals for the second quarter. [Reuters, 7/9/2015]