Top News: United States Accuses Syria of Backing ISIS’s Aleppo Advance

The United States has accused the Syrian military of carrying out airstrikes to help the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) fighters advance around Aleppo. ISIS pushed back rival insurgents north of Aleppo on Sunday near the Turkish border, threatening their supply route to the city. In related news, the Syrian Islamic Council (SIC) and Aleppo-based rebel groups accuse ISIS of being in league with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Syrian rebel groups rushed reinforcements to their battle with the ISIS in rural Aleppo on Monday, and claimed to be turning the tide against the surprise assault by the extremist group. May was Syria’s bloodiest month so far in 2015, with at least 6,657 people killed throughout the country, including at least 1,285 civilians, more than half of whom were killed in regime air raids. [Reuters, 6/2/15]



Rights groups urge Merkel to press Egypt over violations
Five prominent rights groups on Monday urged German Chancellor Angela Merkel to press for an end to human rights abuses in Egypt when she meets President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Tuesday. In a joint letter to the Chancellor, the organizations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW), urged Merkel to “make clear” to Sisi that close Egyptian-German relations depend on amending the controversial 2013 protest law, holding civilian and fair retrials for jailed Muslim Brotherhood supporters, abolishing the death penalty, setting measures to end sexual abuse, and ensuring that all detention places comply with international standards. [AFP, Cairo Post, 6/2/2015]

Egypt court postpones decision on Morsi death sentence ruling
An Egyptian court postponed on Tuesday issuing a final ruling over a death sentence recommendation for former Islamist President Mohamed Morsi and other top Muslim Brotherhood leaders in a case related to a 2011 mass jail break. The judge said the case was postponed to June 16. Judge Shaaban al-Shami said the court received the mufti’s opinion on Tuesday morning and needed time to discuss it. The court also postponed to June 16 issuing a final ruling in a separate case for Brotherhood leader Khairat al-Shater and fifteen others for conspiring with foreign militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah against Egypt. [Ahram Online, DNE, Egypt Independent, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, 6/2/2015]

Egypt says uncovers Brotherhood plot, arrests two leading members
Egyptian security services arrested two Muslim Brotherhood leaders Mahmoud Ghozlan and Abdel Rahman al-Barr late on Monday, security sources said. They were referred to State Security prosecution shortly after their arrests, a security source said, adding that they will be investigated for involvement in inciting violence, rioting, and protesting. Their arrests followed an announcement that security forces had disrupted a Brotherhood cell which authorities said was gathering intelligence about state institutions and sending it abroad to foreign parties. Ghozlan was a Brotherhood spokesman and a member of the group’s highest office, the Guidance Bureau, while Barr, also a member of the Guidance Bureau, was seen as the Brotherhood’s top religious authority. A Brotherhood spokesman, Mohamed Montassir, described the latest arrests on his Facebook page as a “failed attempt … to disrupt the revolutionaries across the nation.” [DNE, Reuters, AP, Aswat Masriya, 6/1/2015]

April 6 says several members arrested in dawn raids
Security forces arrested several students involved in political activities, including members of the April 6 Youth Movement and Students Against the Coup (SAC), on Sunday, both groups said. According to April 6, Sunday marked an “arrest campaign,” as security forces arrested a handful of the movement’s members in Cairo and Alexandria. Most were arrested from their homes at dawn, the movement said. At least two students, Abdallah al-Mahdi and Ahmed Khatab, from SAC and April 6, are said to have been forcibly disappeared. A Ministry of Interior spokesperson denied news of the arrests, adding that the security apparatus only arrests people when they have an order from the prosecution or from a judiciary force to do so. The April 6 Movement said it expected the arrests ahead of the group’s announced June 6 strikes. [DNE, 6/2/2015]

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Russia wants precise wording for UN resolution on Libya human smugglers
Russia said on Monday any UN Security Council resolution allowing for the use of force in the Mediterranean to stop gangs smuggling migrants must define the powers of an EU naval mission precisely to win Moscow’s backing. Speaking alongside Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni, whose country is one of the migrants’ most popular destinations, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was cautious about any resolution proposed under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which allows the use of force to restore international peace and security. “We don’t want a repeat of the ambiguity that was used for gross abuse of the Libya resolution adopted in 2011,” he said. [Reuters, 6/1/2015]

PM Thinni calls on international community to help in eradicating terrorism in Libya
Libya’s internationally recognized Prime Minister Abdullah Thinni accused Libya Dawn militias of handing Sirte over to Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants. Thinni, speaking at a press conference on Sunday from the government’s base in al-Beida, said that even the attempt by Libya Dawn militias over a month ago to reach the oil crescent was in cooperation with ISIS, given that the militias to pass and return through ISIS-controlled territory. However, striking a conciliatory note, Thinni called “on all to stand as one and leave behind our sectarian struggle in order to overcome our joint enemy which is terrorism in all the meaning of the word.” He criticized the international community for allowing the spread of ISIS and called on lifting the arms embargo to protect Libyan citizens. [Libya Herald, 6/1/2015]

Awlad Sulaiman calls for end to violence, proposes pan-tribal council for Libya’s Fezzan
One of Libya’s more prominent tribes, particularly in Fezzan, the Awlad Sulaiman has called for an end to the violence and for reconciliation between competing tribes and communities. Condemning the recent killings and robberies that have been taking place recently in Sebha, the tribe’s Shoura Council, meeting in the town, called for the creation of a supreme tribal council in the south, at which tribal differences could be resolved. According to shoura council spokesman Badad Gansu, the Awlad Sulaiman wants to extend a hand of friendship and heal divisions with other tribes and seek reconciliation throughout the country. [Libya Herald, 6/1/2015]

Tunisia’s Foreign Minister advocates for National Unity Government in Libya
Tunisian Foreign Minister Taieb Baccouche said, “Tunisia advocates a national unity government in Libya, one that would pave the way for a real democratic transition through the promulgation of a constitution and the holding of elections which guarantee the unity and interests of the Libyan people.” Tunisia, which is categorically opposed to a military intervention in Libya, continues to support the efforts made by neighboring countries and the United Nations to reach a peaceful settlement to the crisis in the country. A unified authority in Libya would be the best response to terrorism while internal conflicts would only nurture it, Baccouche argued. A coordination meeting between neighbour countries will be held on June 5 in Algeria to debate the Libyan issue, he announced. [AllAfrica, 6/1/2015]

Tunisian Communications Minister attends Africa Internet Summit
Tunisia will not impose an internet censorship policy, the Minister of Communication Technologies and Digital Economy Noomane Fehri said yesterday. During the Africa Internet Summit in Tunis, Fehri said, “I confirm that Tunisia will not adopt a policy of blocking websites whatever their danger to us because we believe this solution is technologically useless.” He added, however, that Tunisia “will not tolerate those who threaten our security and we will rely on the latest tools in the prevention of cyber-crimes and crimes of terrorism.” The Africa Internet Summit is a weeklong program attended by more than 350 experts who will address issues relating to internet governance in Africa. [Middle East Monitor, 6/2/2015]


United States accuses Syria of backing ISIS’s Aleppo advance; May is bloodiest month in 2015
The United States has accused the Syrian military of carrying out airstrikes to help the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) fighters advance around Aleppo. ISIS pushed back rival insurgents north of Aleppo on Sunday near the Turkish border, threatening their supply route to the city. In related news, the Syrian Islamic Council (SIC) and Aleppo-based rebel groups accuse ISIS of being in league with the regime of President Bashar al-Assad. Syrian rebel groups rushed reinforcements to their battle with the ISIS in rural Aleppo on Monday, and claimed to be turning the tide against the surprise assault by the extremist group. May was Syria’s bloodiest month so far in 2015, with at least 6,657 people killed throughout the country, including at least 1,285 civilians, more than half of whom were killed in regime air raids. [Reuters, 6/2/15]

Iraq calls for more intelligence from allies against ISIS
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, meeting with top Iraqi officials and international allies in Paris on Tuesday, called for increased intelligence and military assistance in its fight against ISIS. The meeting, which included officials from the United States and France, but not Russia, Iran or Syria, came after ISIS conquered both the Iraqi city of Ramadi and the Syrian city of Palmyra. According to al-Abadi, more than 4,100 airstrikes by the US-led coalition have failed to stem the gains by ISIS radicals, the flow of foreign fighters across the border into Iraq has not slowed, and the majority of ISIS fighters are now foreign recruits. In related news, the anti-ISIS coalition in Paris pledged their support for an emergency plan adopted by Baghdad and a senior US diplomat reassured the Iraqi Prime Minister that the coalition will make it easier to get weapons to Iraqi soldiers. Although Russian officials were not present at the Paris meetings, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov contributed to the conversation by urging the US-led coalition fighting against ISIS to coordinate its air raids with the Syrian government. [AP, 6/2/15]

ISIS attack on Iraqi police base in Anbar
Three ISIS suicide bombers targeted a police base in Iraq’s western Anbar province with explosives-laden Humvees Monday, killing approximately forty police and Shiite militiamen. The attack, which occurred in the Tharthar area, north of the ISIS-held provincial capital, Ramadi, caused a large secondary explosion in an ammunition depot. Another sixty-three security forces members were wounded in the attack. Monday’s attack resembled the massive, coordinated assault launched on Ramadi last month that allowed ISIS militants to capture the city, marking their biggest gain since a US-led coalition began launching airstrikes against the extremist group last August. [Daily Star, Al-Arabiya, 6/2/2015]

Turkey surpasses the EU countries in number of Syrian refugees
Turkey now hosts more Syrian refugees than the entire European Union’s twenty-eight states combined. Two million Syrian refugees reside in Turkey while 120,000 Syrian refugees have settled in EU states. More than 4 million Syrians have escaped the war and the number of refugees that EU countries have accepted is only equivalent to 4 percent of the total. In contrast, Turkey has employed an open-door policy for the Syrian refugees and has spent over $6 million in humanitarian aid. [Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 6/2/2015]


President Hadi and Houthi rebels agree to new Geneva talks
The Yemeni government is expected to set the date for Geneva talks on the crisis in the coming days, agencies reported on Monday. The talks will be held under UN sponsorship in line with the 2011 Gulf Initiative for power transition. The breakthrough came after talks between the UN Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh and President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi in Riyadh on Monday. Cheikh also held talks with the Houthis in Sana’a days ago during which the Houthi group demonstrated flexibility accepting to adhere to all UN resolutions, including UNSC Resolution 2216 on Yemen, the reports said. The Geneva talks were scheduled for May 28. They were postponed after the government declined to attend them until after the Houthis implemented the UN resolutions. [Yemen Post, 6/2/2015]

Houthis release two prisoners, American and Singaporean nationals
The Houthi militants who toppled the transition government in Yemen in late 2014 released a US journalist and a Singaporean citizen to Omani officials on Monday. The pair travelled to the capital of Muscat after coordination with the “relevant authorities in Yemen,” Oman News Agency reported, citing an official statement. Oman is brokering talks between the Houthis and the United States to help find an end to Yemen’s civil war. The news of the release comes after the announcement by the US State Department on Sunday, confirming the detainment of several US nationals by the Houthis. [Yemen Post, Al Arabiya, NY Times, 6/2/2015]

Qatar sues French politician
Qatar is suing a right-wing French politician for defaming the country “and all its citizens” after he linked the country to “terrorism” following the deadly Charlie Hebdo attack. In a rare legal action of a state suing an individual, Qatar has filed papers against Vice President of the National Front Florian Philippot in a French court for defamation. The legal action was confirmed in a statement released by Doha. “Mr. Philippot has repeatedly and publicly implied a link between these terrorist acts and the State of Qatar, affecting the reputation of Qatar and all its citizens. The State of Qatar therefore has no choice but to defend its name in the French courts,” said in the statement. [Arab News, Reuters, 6/2/2015]

Saudi Arabia to boost defense spending by 20 percent over five years
Saudi Arabia is on track to become the world’s fifth-largest military spender by 2020 as it boosts its defense budget by 27 percent over the next five years despite lower oil prices. With regional conflicts worsening the oil-rich kingdom‘s neighbors, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, are also planning to increase spending on their militaries, said consultancy IHS Jane’s Aerospace, Defense & Security. By contrast, smaller Gulf states are reacting to the lower oil-price by making deeper cuts to defense plans. The IHS forecasts assume oil prices will recover to $80 a barrel by 2017, rising to $100 a barrel by the end of the decade. [FT, 6/2/2015]

Houthis, members of al-Qaeda Killed in Yemen
Armed tribesmen killed eighteen Houthi fighters in an ambush in Yemen’s central province of Ibb on Tuesday, residents said. The attack hit a convoy of militiamen and allied army troops while they were en route to Taiz, a flashpoint of clashes between Yemen’s Houthis and armed backers of exiled president Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi. Farther south in Dhalea province, around fifteen Houthi fighters were killed in clashes with pro-Hadi fighters on Monday night. Saudi-led air strikes hit Houthi positions along Yemen’s far northern border with the kingdom and struck military bases aligned with the group in the capital Sana’a on Tuesday. Residents of Yemen’s northern province of al-Jawf said five suspected al-Qaeda members were killed in a suspected US drone strike on two cars in a battle front between the Houthis and Sunni tribesmen. [Reuters, Al Masdar (Arabic), 6/2/2015]


IMF lifts outlook for Saudi GDP, sees bigger budget gap this year
Saudi Arabia’s economy will keep expanding this year, showing little effect from the oil price drop, but growth will slow in 2016 as lower oil revenues hit state spending, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said after talks with Saudi officials. Gross domestic product (GDP) is projected to grow 3.5 percent in 2015, unchanged from 2014, but slow to 2.7 percent growth in 2016. The IMF also predicted that the government will run a fiscal deficit of around 20 percent of GDP in 2015, the biggest deficit since 1999. Government deposits with the Saudi central bank have dropped in recent months to finance the deficit. The IMF said this was an appropriate policy for the moment, but the government will eventually need to restrain spending and issue debt. [Reuters, AFP, 6/2/2015]

Libya edges closer to economic collapse as currency dives
Libya’s public finances, wracked by a dramatic loss in oil revenue that has been exacerbated by a power struggle between rival governments, are foundering. The crisis has prompted the authorities in the western Tripoli government to plan cuts to petrol subsidies, delay public salary payments, and ban certain imports. The Tripoli government has also been forcing the central bank to burn through its foreign reserves. Civil servants say they have not been paid for at least two months and accuse the central bank, which has frozen infrastructure projects and limited spending, of not providing local lenders with liquidity to issue paychecks. [Reuters, 6/1/2015]

HSBC: Egypt’s GDP to grow 5.6 percent annually between 2020 and 2030
Egypt’s gross domestic product (GDP) and exports are projected to grow, boosted by increasing foreign investment, HSBC Bank Egypt said in a report. HSBC said Egypt’s GDP is expected to grow at a rate of 5.6 percent annually from 2020 to 2030. The figure is lower than the government’s projections, which estimate annual GDP growth at 6 percent. In its Trade Forecast Report, HSBC said Egypt’s growth forecasts have improved significantly over the last year due to economic reforms. HSBC said, “If this commitment [to reform] is sustained and political stability continues, then growth should continue to accelerate, helped by continued GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] and Western support.” HSBC also said it is considering financing Egyptian projects in the energy, infrastructure, petrochemicals, and construction investments sectors. [DNE, Cairo Post, 6/1/2015]

New Iraqi crude meets cool reception in Asia
Asia has given Iraq’s launch of its new Basra Heavy crude oil grade a poor reception after the second largest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) seems to have misjudged demand by supplying too much, too soon. Sellers of the new grade have struggled to find buyers, while others have complained about a lack of pre-marketing and slow delivery of technical details to refineries. The problems, which have increased shipping and marketing costs for term buyers and Iraq’s equity partners in its southern oilfields, may hamper the country’s efforts to ramp up exports and could lead Asian buyers to look closely at Iranian oil if sanctions are lifted. [Reuters, 6/1/2015]