Top News: UN Withdraws Staff From Libya Over Security Concerns

The UN Special Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) is in the process of withdrawing several staff members from their posts due to security concerns. According to a spokesman, adequate numbers of personnel would remain in place to run UNSMIL’s operations, which had already been reduced to the capital Tripoli over security issues.


UN chief discusses Gaza crisis with Sisi; Egypt opens Rafah border crossing
President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi discussed the situation in Gaza with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Wednesday. Sisi and Ban Ki-moon agreed to work to prevent the situation from escalating, a statement from the Egyptian presidency said. The UN chief also said he urged the Egyptian president, the rulers of Qatar and Saudi Arabia, US Secretary of State John Kerry, and others to press the Israelis and Palestinians to return to their November 2012 ceasefire agreement and resume peace negotiations. The UN chief called on the government of Egypt to urgently open its Rafah crossing for humanitarian purposes. On Thursday, Egyptian authorities announced they would open the crossing to allow Egyptian hospitals to treat casualties from Gaza. [Ahram Online, DNE, AP, Aswat Masriya, EGYNews (Arabic), 7/10/2014]

Twenty-nine NGOs protest new civil society draft law
Twenty-nine NGOs have rejected a new bill that allows government interference in their affairs and poses “unconstitutional” restrictions. The NGOs signed and issued a statement on Wednesday, listing the reasons for refusing the bill put forth by the ministry of social solidarity. Among the NGOs that signed the statement are the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, and the Cairo Institute for Human Rights. “The bill is a [blatant] violation of the constitution and Egypt’s international commitments,” said the statement. In their statement, the NGOs said they reject the law because it “allows the administrative authority to severely interfere with the NGOs’ affairs, objecting and cancelling their decisions, and ignoring their independence”. The law also expands potential grounds for the legal dissolution of NGOs, such as failure to achieve their goals, they added. [DNE, Egypt Independent, 7/9/2014]

Justice ministry preparing new laws to control price hikes
Justice Minister Mahfouz Saber said the ministry is preparing new draft laws to control price hikes. “The laws would soon be enacted once approved by cabinet and by the president,” he said, declining to comment on the nature of those draft laws. Sources said the Ministers of Planning, Supply, Industry, Trade and Solidarity are formulating proposals in this regard. [Egypt Independent, 7/9/2014]

Egypt’s domestic debt up to EGP 1.7 trillion
Egypt’s gross domestic debt reached 83 percent of the country’s GDP in March, according to the Central Bank of Egypt’s (CBE) June statistical bulletin. Public debt climbed to EGP 1.7 trillion at the end of last March, up from EGP 1.65 trillion in December 2013 and EGP 1.46 trillion in March 2013. [Ahram Online, 7/9/2014]


UN withdraws staff over security concerns
The UN Special Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) is in the process of withdrawing several staff members from their posts due to security concerns. According to a spokesman, adequate numbers of personnel would remain in place to run UNSMIL’s operations, which had already been reduced to the capital Tripoli over security issues. The spokesman added that additional UN security members were expected to arrive in Libya following the deployment of a security force earlier this year and that “the situation will be reviewed very regularly.” [Libya Herald, 7/9/2014]

Libya’s oil industry remains vulnerable to protests
With rebels having released two major eastern oil ports and a separate group ending its blockade of the southern El Sharara oilfield, Libya’s oil industry hopes life will return to normal. It will take months to ramp up production, however, and more unrest is possible as political chaos spreads. The deal to reopen the eastern ports means the rebels will now be paid state salaries, which could tempt other militias to seize oil infrastructure for similar rewards. A potential blackmail opportunity is a 70 percent salary increase for oil workers, which the government approved last fall in a failed attempt to discourage protests. The central bank has warned it would ruin public finances. Nevertheless, the government has indicated it may bow to pressure. [Reuters, 7/9/2014]

Benghazi violence continues with more politically-motivated killings
As insecurity and lawlessness continue to take hold in Benghazi, two more Libyans have fallen victim to politically-motivated murders. One was a well-respected former revolutionary who was engaged in political activism and spoke out about Benghazi’s challenges. Another was a policeman. In addition, a missile hit Benghazi TV offices, causing some damage but no injuries. Local residents are blaming Ansar al-Sharia for the attacks. Meanwhile, according to retired general Khalifa Haftar’s spokesman, four Yemenis and a Libyan have been arrested on suspicion of belonging to al-Qaeda. [Libya Herald, 7/9/2014]


War toll tops 170,000, one-third civilians; Official refugee tally reaches 2.9m
The death toll in Syria’s three-year conflict has eclipsed 171,500 people, one-third of them civilians, a monitoring group said in a new toll released on Thursday that includes casualties documented up to July 8. Among the dead were 56,495 civilians, including 9,092 children. Another 65,803 were regime troops and pro-regime militiamen, including 509 fighters from Hezbollah and 1,603 other non-Syrians fighting on Assad’s side; while 46,301 were rebels and jihadists. The rebel toll includes 15,422 non-Syrians who traveled to the war-torn country to join the ranks of jihadists or local Islamist opposition groups. UNHCR announced Thursday that the refugee tally has reached 2.9 million with 100,000 new refugees every month. [AFP, 7/10/2014]

Veteran diplomat Staffan de Mistura is new UN-Arab League Syria envoy
A veteran Italian-Swedish diplomat, Staffan de Mistura, has been tapped to try to achieve what two seasoned envoys could not: craft a peace deal for Syria. The United Nations secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, chose Mr. de Mistura, a dual citizen of Italy and Sweden and a colloquial Arabic speaker, diplomats reported Wednesday. Mr. de Mistura has an extensive history with the United Nations, having previously served as the secretary general’s envoy to both Afghanistan and Iraq. He was also a deputy executive director of the World Food Programme. [NYT, WSJ, 7/10/2014]

Thousands in Assad’s jails belie June amnesty announcement
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad decreed an amnesty last month but for tens of thousands of prisoners, among them high-profile dissidents, the promise of freedom is a fraud. Yara Bader, 29, has been desperately waiting for word on her husband Mazen Darwish, a journalist and activist detained since February 2012. “The amnesty gave me real hope they would be freed within hours, but they are still in jail a month on, and it is impossible to know what will happen next.” Human rights groups say some 100,000 people have been detained since the uprising against Assad’s rule erupted in March 2011. [Daily Star, 7/10/2014]


Tunisia raises terrorism alert level, army shells several areas in Mount Ouergha
Tunisia raised its security alert level inside cities and at sensitive sites, especially during iftar. Security forces will storm terrorist hideouts in the mountains along the Algerian border, between Jendouba and El Kef provinces, as they did last April in Jebel Chaambi, the defense ministry declared on July 3. The National Army began conducting military operations in Mount Ouergha, governorate of El Kef on July 8. The move came in response to a landmine blast that killed four soldiers July 2nd on Jebel Ouergha, El Kef province. A mine blast in the same area wounded six troops a day earlier. [Magharebia, TAP, 7/9/2014]

Activist Ahmed Kaaniche accuses police of abuse during arrest
Tunisian human rights activist and former Human Rights Watch member Ahmed Kaaniche accused police of assaulting him during his arrest Tuesday evening in Sfax. Authorities charged him with “insulting a central government employee and assaulting a police officer in the course of his duties,” said Maki Jaziri, Kaaniche’s lawyer. Kaaniche was in a motor accident with a police truck, and after leaving his vehicle, Kaaniche argued with one of the officers, who then punched him in the face, Jaziri said. One of the officers confiscated Kaaniche’s fiancee’s mobile phone and erased video footage she recorded during the encounter, according to Astrolabe TV. [Tunisia Live, 7/9/2014]

Online voter registration system hacked
The online registration system for the forthcoming elections was the target of an attack by computer hackers aimed “to undermine the citizens’ right to register on electoral lists,” a statement of the Independent Higher Authority for the Elections (ISIE) said, Thursday. The authority’s technical team is working on the system to repair it as soon as possible, the same source specifies. ISIE calls citizens, the civil society, political parties and the media to stand up to spoilers by using “all the available means” to continue to register. [TAP, 7/10/2014]


Refugee agency says more than 35,000 people displaced by fighting in Yemen
More than 35,000 people have been displaced in Amran. The head of the Yemeni government refugee agency in Amran reported mass flight of Yemenis from Amran and surrounding areas after the city’s fall on Tuesday. Most of these families are now staying in the open with no shelter and are in desperate need of humanitarian aid. Many were still stuck in areas of confrontation unable to leave due to the clashes or because they cannot afford to leave their homes. [Reuters, 7/9/2014]

President Hadi implements austerity measures as economy falters
In a press statement issued on Wednesday, President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi ordered austerity measures to address the country’s financial problems. These measures aim to cut government spending and include restricting international travel for senior officials, stopping new hiring of staff or office rental, and cutting down on office expenses. President Hadi also ordered a review of oil production costs and a review of the tax collection process to resolve outstanding and accumulating tax debts. [Saba (Arabic), Yemen Post, 7/9/2014]

Oil Minister meets President of Total Group
Yemen’s Minister of Oil and Minerals Hussein al-Kaf met with the President of Middle East Exploration and Production at Total Group Stéphane Michel to discuss the company’s activities in Yemen. The meeting took place after Total suffered from repeated disruptions to its operations in Hadhramawt. In a statement issued by Total, the company clarified that these disruptions were a result of repeated power cuts to a power plant belonging to Yemen’s Public Electricity Corporation, and is not related to the company’s natural gas availability in Yemen. [Saba, 7/9/2014]


Jihadists in Iraq pose an imminent threat says Hagel
US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said Wednesday that the Islamist militants that have swept across Iraq pose a clear and imminent danger to the Middle East, Europe and the United States. The statements comes only days after the Pentagon suggested that Washington was not on the verge of any military action to help the Iraqi government in its fight with the extremists. Separately, the United Nations declared on Thursday that it believes the nuclear material, which Iraq said had fallen into the hands of insurgents, is low grade and does not pose a significant security risk. [Naharnet, 7/10/2014]

Biden calls Iraqi Kurdish leader
US Vice President Joe Biden called Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani on Wednesday, on a day when Iraq’s leader accused the autonomous region of harboring jihadists. The White House said Biden and Barzani agreed on the need to “accelerate the government formation process pursuant to the time-lines set forth in the Iraqi constitution.” Biden also expressed condolences for the loss of Iraqis in fighting with Islamic State (IS) extremists who have captured large parts of the country. [Naharnet, 7/10/2014]

Qatar confirms that two citizens have been held in the UAE
Qatar has confirmed the arrest in the United Arab Emirates of two of its citizens, described as spies by Emirati media, adding to tension between the Gulf neighbors. Hamad Ali al-Hamadi and Yousef Abdelsamad al-Mulla were arrested on June 27 at the Ghweifat border crossing between Saudi Arabia and the UAE, a Qatari foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement. Qatar’s ambassador to the UAE has been tasked with investigating the fate of the pair, the spokesman said, without giving further information. [Naharnet, 7/10/2014]