Top News: US Airstrike on Nusra Front After Attacks on Rebels in Northern Syria

The Nusra Front launched an offensive on the headquarters of the US-formed “Division 30” rebel group in Aleppo on Friday. Monitoring groups reported that the Nusra Front launched the attack to seize weapons “given by Washington to the rebels,” but they were unable to enter the base. The ongoing clashes have reportedly left at least eleven dead, including five Nusra Front fighters and six Divison 30 rebels. Reports emerged Friday that warplanes believed to be part of the US-led coalition struck Nusra Front positions in the northern Syrian town of Azaz. Some sources reported yesterday that the US Department of Defense and Central Command (CENTCOM) denied that the Nusra Front targeted US-trained rebels earlier this week. [AFPAPReuters, 7/31/2015]



Egypt, Saudi Arabia issue “Cairo Declaration” to strengthen cooperation
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Saudi Defense Minister Mohammed Bin Salman issued what they name the “Cairo Declaration,” outlining six facets of cooperation between Egypt and Saudi Arabia, notably enhancing cooperation in the military, investment, trade, politics, culture, and media sectors. The document is meant to reinforce the strategic alliance between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. “The two sides stressed the need to exert all efforts to boost security and stability in the region, and to work together to protect Arab national security,” Sisi’s office said after the signing. [AFP, DNE, AP, SIS, 7/31/2015]

Al-Azhar condemns calls for protests on Raba’a al-Adaweya anniversary
Al-Azhar, Egypt’s primary religious institution, condemned, in a Friday statement, calls for protests by a group called the Al-Azhar Scholars Front on the anniversary of the dispersal of the pro-Mohamed Morsi Raba’a al-Adaweya sit-in. Last Wednesday, the Al-Azhar Scholars Front called for people to protest on the second anniversary of the dispersals. Al-Azhar noted in its statement that the Front was dissolved in 1999, and warned against the group’s schemes, as it aims “to destabilize security” in the country. The statement added that the Front has no relation with Al-Azhar itself, noting legal action will be taken against anyone belonging to the Front. Al-Azhar stressed that such calls seek “to spoil the joy of the Egyptians in the celebration of the completion of the new Suez Canal project,” which is set to open on 6 August. [DNE, 7/31/2015]

Thirty-eight alleged Brotherhood members referred to military trial
The Suez prosecution referred thirty-eight alleged Muslim Brotherhood members to military trial over charges of setting fire to cars belonging to the Suez Oil company in February, a security source said on Friday. The defendants were accused of committing crimes of “vandalism and setting eight cars ablaze in order to carry out a terrorist act,” the source added. Earlier this week, twenty-two defendants, also allegedly belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood group, were reportedly sentenced to life in absentia by a military court on charges of attacking a police station in Upper Egypt’s governorate of Assiut. Another seven defendants in the same case, who were present during the court session, were sentenced to seven years in prison. [Aswat Masriya, Cairo Post, 7/31/2015]

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Libyan jihadists driving ISIS from eastern stronghold
A rival Libyan jihadi group drove an Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) affiliate from most of its eastern stronghold of Derna, in fighting that killed forty militants on both sides. Officials said that at least twenty-seven ISIS fighters were killed Wednesday night when the Shura Council for Islamic Youth attacked the group in the coastal city, where ISIS gained its first foothold in Libya last year. Medical officials said thirteen Council fighters were killed and twenty wounded. The Council said in a statement that the push Wednesday night had driven the last ISIS remnants from the city center. The Council also plans to pursue the remaining ISIS fighters, who have fled to the nearby mountain suburb of al-Fatayah. [AP, 7/30/2015]

Four Indians detained in ISIS stronghold in Libya
Four Indian nationals were detained in Sirte, an area under the control of Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants. The Indian men, who have been in Libya for more than a year and were working at Sirte University, were detained at a checkpoint outside Sirte late on Wednesday while on their way back to India, Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Vikas Swarup said in a statement. The government said the men had been taken back to Sirte. Swarup said, “We are in regular touch with the families concerned and all efforts are being made to ensure the well-being and early release of the four Indian nationals.” [Reuters, AP, Al Arabiya, 7/31/2015]

Tunisia’s counterterror law endangers rights, say NGOs
Eight nongovernmental organizations—Amnesty International, Article 19, Avocats Sans Frontières (Lawyers without Borders), Euro Med Rights, Fédération Internationale des Droits de l’Homme (International Federation of Human Rights), Human Rights Watch (HRW), Organisation Mondiale Contre la Torture (World Organization Against Torture), and The Carter Center—said today that Tunisia’s new counterterrorism law imperils human rights and lacks the necessary safeguards against abuse. The organizations said that Tunisia’s parliament should reduce the risk of abuse that the new law has created, including by amending the Code of Criminal Procedures to ensure that all detainees have the right to see a lawyer as soon as they are detained and prior to and during interrogation. HRW Deputy Director Eric Goldstein said, “Terrorism endangers everyone in Tunisia, but so does a law that allows the police to interrogate suspects without a lawyer for fifteen days.” [HRW, 7/31/2015]

Tunisia’s president extends state of emergency; Police jail Gafsa protesters
Tunisia’s presidency issued a statement announcing the extension of the country’s state of emergency for an additional two months starting on August 3. The brief statement on the presidency’s Facebook page said they made the decision following consultations with the speaker of parliament and the prime minister. President Beji Caid Essebsi had declared a state of emergency on July 4 after it had been lifted in March 2014. Meanwhile, thirteen activists who took part in protests against the Société d’Environnement de la Région earlier this year in Gafsa were jailed for two weeks. The men had protested against unemployment in the Gafsa region. Security forces used powers banning protests under the newly declared State of Emergency to imprison the men. Gafsa is among the country’s poorest regions as poverty and unemployment remain high despite the wealth of natural resources exported from the area. [AP, 7/31/2015]


US airstrike on Nusra Front after attacks on rebels in northern Syria
The Nusra Front launched an offensive on the headquarters of the US-formed “Division 30” rebel group in Aleppo on Friday. Monitoring groups reported that the Nusra Front launched the attack to seize weapons “given by Washington to the rebels,” but they were unable to enter the base. The ongoing clashes have reportedly left at least eleven dead, including five Nusra Front fighters and six Divison 30 rebels. Reports emerged Friday that warplanes believed to be part of the US-led coalition struck Nusra Front positions in the northern Syrian town of Azaz. Some sources reported yesterday that the US Department of Defense and Central Command (CENTCOM) denied that the Nusra Front targeted US-trained rebels earlier this week. [AFP, AP, Reuters, 7/31/2015]

US-led raids destroy two ISIS bridges on Syria-Iraq border
US-led coalition air strikes destroyed two key bridges Thursday night used by the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in the town of Albu Kamal on Syria’s side of its border with Iraq. A monitoring group stated that the bridges are strategically important for ISIS’s movements between Syria and Iraq. [AFP, 7/31/2015]

Five killed in clashes between Turkish authorities and PKK
Officials said Friday that Kurdish rebels raided a Turkish police station and fired on railway workers in two separate attacks that left five dead. Militants from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) reportedly raided the police station in the southern Turkish town of Pozanti late on Thursday, killing two policemen and engaging in a gunfight that also killed two PKK fighters. Later, PKK militants reportedly detonated a bomb they placed on rail tracks in the eastern Turkish province of Kars and shot one railway worker. [AP, 7/31/2015]

Eighteen dead in ISIS attack on Kurdish-held Syrian town
At least eighteen people were killed Thursday when ISIS militants attacked the town of Sarrin in Syria’s Aleppo province. Several ISIS fighters infiltrated Sarrin and attacked a school being used as a Kurdish base. The first attacker blew himself up and the rest opened fire shortly after, leaving ten Kurdish fighters dead as well as eight ISIS militants including the bomber. Kurdish troops had captured Sarrin from ISIS earlier this week, effectively cutting off ISIS’s main access route to parts of Aleppo and Raqqa. [AFP, 7/30/2015]

World Food Program cuts aid to Syrian refugees in Jordan
The World Food Program (WFP) announced on Friday new cuts in food aid for Syrian refugees in Jordan, highlighting a growing funding crisis of international agencies helping millions displaced by the Syrian civil war. While a last minute US donation of $65 million had kept food aid going, funding for Jordan is not secured beyond August, even at the reduced level. WFP Regional Director Muhannad Hadi said that while the US contribution will help avoid major cuts, “unless other donors step up to the plate, it will be only a matter of months before we face the same situation again.” [AP, 7/31/2015]


Saudi-led coalition aims to establish Yemeni government in Aden, before return to Sana’a
The Saudi led-coalition fighting to reinstate Yemen’s exiled government aims first to set it up in the mostly recaptured port city of Aden and then return it to Sana’a if possible via peace talks with Houthi foes, a coalition spokesman said on Thursday. Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri said in a new interview that if the Houthis did not ultimately agree to leave Sana’a that the Yemeni government would have the right to remove them by force. He further said, “Aden was the first step. Now the government will start rebuilding their military capability, their security capability, and stability in cities.” [Reuters, 7/30/2015]

UN still waiting on millions in Yemen aid from Saudi Arabia
The $274 million that Saudi Arabia promised months ago to fund a UN emergency aid appeal for Yemen has not arrived. The UN humanitarian chief this week warned that the delay is causing significant pain as the world body and aid groups use their own stretched financial resources to make up for money they had expected Saudi Arabia to provide. “Much has already been spent by UN agencies and their partners advancing their own funds in expectations of the original Saudi pledge of $274 million being forthcoming,” Under-Secretary General for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien told the UN Security Council. O’Brien added that the United Nation’s overall humanitarian aid appeal of $1.6 billion is only 15 percent funded. [AP, 7/31/2015]

AQAP kills six Houthis
Six Houthi rebels have been publicly shot to death in a town north of Aden, according to Yemeni security forces. The deaths were were claimed by Yemen’s Al-Qaeda affiliate, Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Al-Qaeda fighters publicly executed the six Shia Houthi rebels in a town north of Aden, Yemeni security officials and witnesses said Thursday. AQAP fighters have been making small gains in Yemen while the Saudi coalition engages Houthi militias. Earlier this week, AQAP raided the office of humanitarian group CARE International in Aden. [AP, 7/30/2015]


IMF approves $1.24 billion Iraq emergency lifeline
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved a $1.24 billion emergency loan for Iraq on Thursday, saying the country needs extra support as it confronts the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) and depressed oil prices. The money, which will be disbursed immediately, will help the Iraqi government meet urgent budget and balance of payments shortfalls as it undertakes fiscal and structural reforms. “The twin shocks faced by Iraq from the ISIS insurgency and the drop in global oil prices have severely widened the government deficit and caused a decline in international reserves,” said IMF Deputy Managing Director Mitsuhiro Furusawa. He added internal reform measures are needed to balance government finances and address large fiscal and external financing gaps. [AFP, 7/31/2015]

Tunisia cuts 2015 growth forecast after militant attacks
Tunisia has cut its 2015 growth forecast to 0.5 percent this year, down from an expected 1 percent, Finance Minister Slim Chaker said on Thursday, citing the “difficult situation” in its tourism sector after two major Islamist militant attacks. Chaker also told reporters that Tunisia would not be able to create 40,000 promised jobs due to higher spending on combating terrorism, including boosting security forces. Extra defense spending would cut 20 percent off planned development expenditure, Chaker said. He added that total spending will fall in 2015, bringing the deficit down to 4.8 percent instead of the previously forecast 4.9 percent. [Reuters, 7/30/2015]

Libya food imports fall as turmoil disrupts deliveries
Imports of food to Libya, including wheat, are dropping sharply as foreign shippers are avoiding making direct deliveries due to worsening turmoil in the country. There no signs of food shortages so far, but some prices are rising due to higher insurance costs and more expensive overland deliveries via neighboring countries. Husni Bey, chairman of the HB Group, one of the biggest food importers, consumer articles, and commodities, said wheat imports have fallen by 30 percent this year. Libya’s annual wheat imports should average between 1.7 million and 2.1 million tonnes, but it is not clear whether import needs will be met. [Reuters, 7/31/2015]

Egypt raises electricity prices for mid to high household usage
Egypt raised electricity prices on Thursday for mid to high household usage by an average of 19 percent for the 2015/2016 fiscal year, the electricity ministry said on Thursday. The government began raising electricity prices last year as part of a five-year plan to reduce subsidies. Low-end household consumption is not affected by the latest rises. Mid-level household usage was the most affected by the latest price increases, with prices for consumption rising by just over 27 percent. [Reuters, 7/30/2015]