Top News: United Nations Warns of Dire Food Situation in Taiz

The UN World Food Programme on Friday appealed for safe access to the Yemeni city of Taiz, saying that fighting between warring factions had blocked food supplies and left thousands of people in extreme hunger. The last UN food aid to reach Taiz, Yemen’s third largest city, was more than five weeks ago when food was distributed to nearly 240,000 people. Houthi rebels reportedly seized a convoy of humanitarian aid entering the city on the pretext that it contained hidden weapons. About a third of the country’s population, or 7.6 million people urgently require food aid. The ongoing battle for Taiz saw fifteen Houthi rebels killed on Thursday by pro-government forces, backed by Saudi air strikes. [ReutersAl Masdar (Arabic), 10/30/2015]



Egypt receives last batch of F-16 fighter jets from 2009 US military deal
Egypt received on Wednesday the last batch of F-16 fighter jets, part of a $3.2 billion military deal that Egypt signed with the US in 2009 for twenty aircraft. The US Embassy in Cairo highlighted in a statement that Ambassador Stephen Beecroft and senior defense official Charles Hooper joined Air Marshal Younes al-Masri and other senior Egyptian military officials in a ceremony at the Cairo West Air Force Base to receive the last four F-16 Block 52 “Fighting Falcon” fighter jets delivered by the United States to the Egyptian Air Force. Major General Hooper described the advanced F-16 fighter jet as a “vital multi-role aircraft that will provide the Egyptian people greater security and a powerful asset in the fight against terrorism.” The original military deal stipulated that Egypt would receive a total of twenty F-16 Block 52 aircraft, eight of which the United States had delivered in 2013, but aid was suspended after the delivery of the aircraft. The US resumed military aid to Egypt in March 2015, declaring that it would send the remaining fighters before the end of the year. Egypt received eight F-16 fighter jets in July 2015. [Ahram Online, DNE, Aswat Masriya, SIS, Cairo Post, 10/29/2015]

Initial results of Egypt’s run-off vote show parties gain firm footing
Egyptian political parties appear to have secured a large number of individual seats contested in the country’s parliamentary election runoff. Preliminary results show that parties gained over half of the 226 seats contested by individual candidates in the vote. The Free Egyptians Party said it won thirty-six seats, the most out of the political parties contesting the individual seats. Mostaqbal Watan came in second with thirty seats. The Wafd Party won seventeen, according to its Media Advisor Yasser Hassan. The liberal Egyptian Social Democratic Party secured three seats and the Nour Party won ten seats, mostly in the governorates of Beheira and Alexandria. Nour Party chairman Younis Makhyoun said he expects the party to win more seats in the second round of the elections. Al Masry Al Youm reported that individuals who served as members of parliament under former President Hosni Mubarak won nearly 30 percent of individual seats in the first round of the elections. Secretary General of Egypt’s House of Representatives Khaled al-Sadr said on Thursday that candidates who won seats will be able to obtain their parliament membership cards beginning on November 3. Meanwhile, High Elections Committee Chairman Ayaan Abbas said that voter turnout abroad in the runoffs was 2.9 percent, with 19,835 Egyptians casting votes in the runoffs. [Ahram Online, DNE, 10/29/2015]

Conference on violence against women to be held in Cairo
Cairo University’s Faculty of Medicine will hold its sixth annual “Violence Against Women” conference on November 1 in collaboration with the Forensic Institute of the University of Hamburg, Germany. A number of representatives from international rights organizations, Arab and foreign governments, and aid organizations will attend the conference alongside medical students. Representatives from the International Criminal Court, the International Red Cross Committee, Doctors Without Borders, Egypt’s National Council for Women, and Egypt’s Interior Ministry, among others, are scheduled to attend. “Violence against women is a serious societal issue that has a negative impact on the individuals and the society which hampers development movement. The aim of the conference is to develop a clear strategy to overcome this phenomenon,” head of the conference Dr. Dina Shoukry said. Meanwhile, Egyptian television program Sabaya al-Kheir was suspended on Friday after advertisers began to pull their support in response to anchor Reham Saeed’s criticisms of a woman who was sexually harassed. [AMAY, Cairo Post, 10/30/2015]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


Warplanes bomb Libya’s Sirte, target ISIS
Unidentified warplanes carried out air strikes on Sirte Wednesday night, targeting areas controlled by Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants, a witness said on Thursday. The strikes were the second made on ISIS-controlled territory in the city this month. Neither of Libya’s rival governments nor any other factions have claimed responsibility. There were no immediate official reports of any casualties. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 10/29/2015]

Maltese man free in Libya after kidnapping
Malta’s Foreign Ministry says a Maltese businessman who was kidnapped in Libya six weeks ago has been freed, along with an unspecified number of additional hostages. The man was identified as Noel Sciberras, the General Manager of a Maltese-owned company which runs the only public car park in Tripoli. The ministry said Thursday that Sciberras, who was abducted by a gang in Tajoura, was freed by his Libyan captors on Wednesday. The ministry did not give any details about the captor nor did it say if a demand for $5 million had been met. [AP, Libya Herald, 10/29/2015]

Tunisian customs officer dies after setting self on fire
A Tunisian customs officer has died after setting himself on fire, officials said Thursday, in an apparent protest mirroring that of Mohamed Bouazizi, whose self-immolation is seen as having sparked the Tunisian revolution. The fifty-four year old died in Monastir on Wednesday night after suffering third-degree burns all over his body, according to a hospital source. Mongi Belkadhi, spokesman for civil protection, said that on Tuesday the man had sprayed his uniform with petrol and set himself alight outside a hotel in the touristic area of the eastern coastal city. A customs official told private television channel Nessma that the man had been on sick leave and had said he wanted to return to work. The government department that employed the man was not immediately available for comment. [AFP, 10/29/2015]

Tunisia’s National Security Council considers national security and intelligence agency
On Thursday, the Tunisian National Security Council convened under the chairmanship of President Beji Caid Essebsi. The meeting considered the creation of a national security and intelligence agency and looked at the security situation in the country at the national and regional levels. The meeting was attended by Speaker of the Assembly of People’s Representatives Mohamed Ennaceur, Prime Minister Habib Essid, several members of the Higher Council of the Army, and senior security officials. [TAP, 10/29/2015]

Moroccan intellectual suspends hunger strike, faces charges
Prominent Moroccan intellectual Maati Monjib has suspended his hunger strike after authorities ended a travel ban. But he has since been charged with receiving foreign funds with the intent to undermine Moroccan institutions, his lawyers said. Monjib, a professor of political history and a writer, went on a hunger strike three weeks ago in protest against the travel ban and what he said was police harassment. Authorities said they imposed the ban because of their investigation into suspected financial wrongdoing. The trial will start on November 19, and he faces up to five years in prison if sentenced, according to his lawyers. [Reuters, 10/29/2015]


Forty dead as Syrian government rockets hit Damascus suburb
Dozens of civilians have been killed by a purported regime surface-to-surface missile attack on Douma. Forty people were killed on Friday when rockets fired by Syrian government forces crashed into a market in a rebel-held area outside Damascus, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said. “There were forty people killed and at least 100 wounded in the center of Douma,” a town on the eastern edges of the Syrian capital, according to SOHR. “There is still heavy fire now, with both rockets and mortars,” he said, adding that the toll was expected to rise as people were still being pulled out of damaged buildings. Rebel-held Douma lies in Eastern Ghouta, the largest opposition stronghold in Damascus province. [NOW, AFP, 10/30/2015]

United States backs off hard line on Assad’s future; Iran backs Syria ‘transition’ period
The Obama administration entered a crucial round of international talks on Syria’s war prepared to accept a deal that leaves President Bashar al-Assad in place for several months or more during the transition to a new government. In advance of negotiations, administration officials discussed a resolution with US allies that would allow Assad to remain in place after a ceasefire. The resolution the United States is seeking would include a ceasefire and “not prejudge the Assad question,” a senior administration official said. Additionally, Iran also favored a six-month transition period in Syria followed by elections to decide the fate of Assad. “Iran does not insist on keeping Assad in power forever,” said Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Amir Abdollahian. [WSJ, 10/30/2015]

Residents stranded in Syria’s Aleppo cut off by ISIS advance
Hundreds of thousands of Aleppo residents are stranded and prices for basic goods are soaring after an Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) advance cut the sole route to regime-held areas. The extremist group last week severed a road south of the city that formed part of the only remaining way out for residents of the government-held territory west of Aleppo. With the route cut, the cost of everything from tomatoes to petrol has skyrocketed before the eyes of residents. “There are hardly any fruits and vegetables in the city and there are no cars in the streets because the petrol stations are closed,” said Salaheddin, a real estate agent from the Saif al-Dawla neighborhood. [The National, 10/29/2015]

Anti-ISIS Syrian activists killed in southeastern Turkey
The Raqqa-based activist collective “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently” blamed ISIS for the killing of two of its activists in the city of Sanliurfa. Syrian Ayn Vatan newspaper’s managing editor İbrahim Abdulkadir and reporter Firaz Hamadi had fled the conflict in Syria for Sanliurfa, where they shared a flat. [AP, Hurriyet, 10/30/2015]

Turkey coordinating to address refugee crisis and security concerns
The Turkish Coast Guard rescued 340 refugees over a twenty-four hour period, the military said Thursday. The refugees were found on boats off the Turkey’s western coast of Izmir, Aydin, Izmir, Mersin, and Mugla provinces. Also on Thursday, the US State Department approved a $70 million sale of defense equipment to Turkey. The sale of Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) guidance kits converts unguided bombs into all-weather “smart” munitions and uses a GPS system to find targets if bombs are unguided, which will be used by Turkey to support military operations. [Anadolu Agency, Daily Sabah, 10/29/2015]

Turkey’s Erdogan says he will respect November 1 result
Days ahead of the November 1 snap elections, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan voiced his preference for having a “single-party government” elected to rule the country. “We will all together respect the result that emerges from the ballot boxes. But when we look at societies in the world where stability and confidence exist, we don’t tend to see coalition governments; rather, we see single-party governments, whether it is one party or another,” Erdoğan said on October 29. When asked whether he would feel offended if the results of the election necessitate the formation of a coalition government, he replied, “No, there is no place for disappointment and resentment in politics.” [Hurriyet, 10/30/2015]

Kerry responds to attack on refugee camp in Iraq
In a press statement delivered on Thursday, Secretary of State John Kerry expressed US condemnation of the terrorist attack on Camp Hurriya that killed and injured camp residents. He said, “No matter the circumstances, on this point we remain absolute: the United States remains committed to assisting the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in the relocation of all Camp Hurriya residents to a permanent and safe location outside of Iraq.” On Thursday, a barrage of rockets slammed into a former military base near the Baghdad International Airport that houses an Iranian refugee group, killing three Iraqi soldiers, officials said. The Iranian exiles said at least twenty of their people died in the attack. Iraqi police said at least sixteen soldiers guarding the camp were also wounded while the Iranian group, known as MEK, said dozens of Iranian refugees were also wounded. [US Department of State, US News, 10/29/2015]

For more in-depth Syria news and analysis, please visit SyriaSource.


Houthi rebels reportedly announce failure of political negotiations with President Hadi
According to a member of the Houthi political council, political negotiations between President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi and the Houthi rebels have failed to stop violence within the country. The statement criticized UN Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh and accused him of covering up Saudi crimes. The Houthi official also called for the redoubling of the rebels’ military efforts despite international criticism, as he said that media outlets were controlled by Washington politicians. Both the pro-government forces and Houthi rebels have refused to stop military operations in Yemen despite agreeing to UN negotiated peace talks. [Al Masdar (Arabic), Aden al-Ghad (Arabic), 10/30/2015]

Saudi blogger wins EU human rights prize
A Saudi blogger sentenced to ten years in prison and 1,000 lashes for insulting Muslim clerics won the European Union’s prestigious Sakharov Prize for human rights on Thursday. Raif Badawi is serving a ten-year sentence after being convicted of insulting Islam and breaking Saudi Arabia’s technology laws with his liberal blog, Free Saudi Liberals. He also was sentenced to 1,000 lashes, spread over twenty installments, and fined $266,000. The flogging has been suspended since he received fifty lashes in January, a punishment that sparked international outrage. In February, the EU parliament voted a resolution calling for Badawi’s immediate and unconditional release from jail. They called his flogging a “cruel and shocking act.” European Parliament president urged the Saudi king to free Badawi so he can accept his prize. [BBC, AP, 10/29/2015]

British Foreign Secretary visits Saudi Arabia, amid growing human rights concerns
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond visited Saudi Arabia on Wednesday amid recent disputes with the kingdom while on a trip across the greater Middle East. Hammond met with King Salman before speaking at a news conference with his Saudi counterpart, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. While the official Saudi Press Agency said discussions involved reviewing “bilateral relations between the two friendly countries,” the Saudi-UK relationship has experienced some recent problems, including the British government’s decision to cancel a $9 million government contract to train Saudi prison staff. Prime Minister David Cameron also raised concerns over the case of oil-industry worker Karl Andree, a seventy-four year-old Briton who faced 350 lashes in Saudi Arabia after being caught with homemade wine. Saudi Ambassador to the UK, Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf bin Abdulaziz, wrote in the Daily Telegraph earlier this week that his country “will not be lectured to by anyone” and that Britain may face “potentially serious repercussions.”[AP, 10/30/2015]


Iraq plans pay cuts as economy crisis deepens
Iraq is planning unprecedented salary cuts for senior civil servants amid a financial crisis caused by a plunge in oil prices and the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). “The drop in oil prices and the country’s involvement in a war [against ISIS] that’s exhausting large amounts of money from the budget have put the government in financial difficulty,” Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said. “Reforms have hurt some but we’ll reach a dead end if we don’t take such measures.” He promised to look for ways to soften the impact, such as reducing interest rates for those who have taken out loans. It is not yet clear if the salary changes require a vote in parliament, where Abadi could face opposition. Abadi’s Economic Advisor Mudher Saleh said that because the broader reform package has already been approved, a new vote might not be necessary. “It’s the first time since 2003 that we will carry out such deep, sweeping cuts to salaries,” Saleh said. [Bloomberg, 10/30/2015]

Kuwait economy shrinks on falling oil prices
Kuwait’s central bank said the country’s economy contracted last year for the first time since 2010 as a result of the global drop in oil prices. The country’s total gross domestic product (GDP) shrank 1.6 percent in 2014 and oil-generated GDP contracted 1.7 percent. The central bank said non-oil GDP grew 2.1 percent. Like other Gulf nations, Kuwait has been struggling to diversify its economy to compensate for oil price fluctuations. Kuwait has managed to weather past economic contractions, having built up about $600 billion in fiscal reserves. [AFP, 10/29/2015]

Egypt Central Bank leaves main interest rates unchanged
The Egyptian Central Bank (CBE) kept its benchmark interest rates on hold at a meeting of its Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) on Thursday as it balanced the need to keep inflation in check and the need to stimulate the economy. “The MPC judges that the key central bank of Egypt rates are currently appropriate give the balance of risks surrounding inflation and gross domestic product outlooks,” the CBE said. Thursday also marked the last MPC meeting that will be held under CBE Governor Hisham Ramez, whom Tarek Amer will replace on November 26. [Reuters, Ahram Online, DNE, 10/29/2015]

Tunisia PM calls for new methods of budget formulation and implementation
Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid said on Thursday that the new state budget law should contain measures for preparing, implementing, and controlling the budget. At an inner cabinet meeting, Essid said these measures should take into considering deadlines for implementation and transitional provisions. The meeting reviewed the failures of the current budget law, in particular the lack of flexibility in the management of funds, a statement by Essid’s office said. In related news, Development, Investment, and International Cooperation Minister Yassine Brahim said that Tunisia’s new draft investment code will be submitted to a cabinet meeting for adoption today. [TAP, 10/29/2015]