Top News: US-backed Syrian Rebel Group Says Nusra Front Abducted its Leader

The US-backed “Division 30” Syrian rebel group released a statement Wednesday accusing the Nusra Front of abducting its leader Nadim al-Hassan and a number of his companions in northern Aleppo, urging the group to release them. The men were reportedly abducted Tuesday night when returning from a meeting in Azaz to coordinate efforts with other rebel factions. Syrian activist sources said that most of the fifty-four fighters who have completed the US-led “train and equip” program are members of the “Division 30” group. [ReutersAFP, 7/30/2015]



US to deliver eight F-16 aircraft to Egypt
The United States will deliver eight F-16 Block 52 aircraft to Egypt within the next two days, the US embassy in Cairo said in a statement on Thursday, as part of a military package that had been unfrozen earlier this year. The F-16 Block 52 aircrafts will be immediately integrated into Egypt’s air force, the embassy said. The statement added that Washington would deliver four more F-16s to Egypt this autumn. “Extremists threaten regional security and these weapon systems provide a new tool to help Egypt fight terrorism,” said US Embassy Senior Defense Official in Cairo Major General Charles Hooper. Meanwhile, reportedly in response to a recent article published by a Washington DC-based analyst, Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Badr Abdel Atty said, “Criticism in US media outlets will not be taken into consideration as long as they are not official statements.” Atty’s statement came after an article, Where is Egypt Heading, by Elliott Abrams, criticized human rights violations in Egypt. Abdel Atty added that the importance of the Egyptian-US strategic dialogue is in discussing bilateral and global relations between the two countries. [Reuters, Aswat Masriya, Cairo Post, 7/30/2015]

Egypt says finishes work on New Suez Canal
Egypt has finished building its New Suez Canal, Head of the Canal Authority Mohab Mamish announced in a press conference Wednesday. The army began work on the $8-billion parallel canal eleven months ago to expand trade along the fastest shipping route between Europe and Asia. The waterway is now ready to receive ships of all kinds, Mamish said. Mamish described the completion of the new canal as history making and epic. “The successful passing of three ships through the Canal during Saturday’s trial was equivalent to the passing of the nation from darkness to light.” Mamish also said that during the August 6 inauguration ceremony, the Suez Canal Authority would announce the inauguration of a new fish farming project. “By 2023, revenues from the Suez Canal will reach $13.4 billion.” [Reuters, Mada Masr, Cairo Post, 7/30/2015]

Al-Jazeera journalists verdict postponed to August 2
An Egyptian court postponed on Thursday its verdict in the retrial of three Al-Jazeera journalists, dashing their hopes for a quick end to a legal ordeal that has sparked a global outcry. The ruling is now expected on August 2. The scheduled session did not take place due to the head of the court falling sick, judicial sources told Ahram Online. Canadian national Mohamed Fahmy, Egyptian national Baher Mohamed, and Australian national Peter Greste are being retried for defaming Egypt and spreading false news, after the Cassation Court dropped their seven to ten years in prison sentences in January. The Qatari network’s spokesman expressed Al Jazeera’s “extreme anger” due to the postponement of the verdict, in a statement posted on the network’s twitter account. “We, along with others, expected a swift end to the ordeal for our colleagues,” the spokesperson said. [AFP, AP, Aswat Masriya, DNE, The Guardian, Cairo Post, 7/30/2015]  

Hisham Mubarak Law Center threatened with judicial investigation
Leading human rights organization the Hisham Mubarak Law Center (HMLC) was notified of a potential investigation by a judicial committee tasked with investigating human rights organizations, lawyer Mostafa al-Hassan said Thursday. Hassan said he received a phone call from a committee representative, informing him they had visited HMLC’s office to find it closed. “This is not true. The office is open throughout the working week. The representative told me that the committee wants to investigate the center as part of the foreign funding case,” he explained. Hassan asked the committee representative to bring a formal letter from a judge, authorizing the investigation, but he refused to do so. “I was told that I could only see the letter, without having a copy of it, although it is my right to have the official letter to legally contest it,” Hassan asserted. [Mada Masr, 7/30/2015]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


Qaddafi loyalists protest in Cairo against Tripoli death sentences
Pro-Qaddafi demonstrators protested in Cairo yesterday at the death sentences given to Saif al-Islam Qaddafi and eight others. The demonstrators gathered outside the UN World Health Organization headquarters and swathed Qaddafi-era green flags in Nasr City. The demonstrators were addressed by Qaddafi’s spokesman Moussa Ibrahim, who described the 2011 revolution as a disaster and called for Saif al-Islam to be freed and run the country. He claimed that the verdicts would further destabilize Libya, grow hatred, and undermine the chances of the UN-brokered Dialogue negotiations in succeeding. [Libya Herald, 7/30/2015]

Libya’s House plans law to extend term of office
The House of Representatives plans to debate and vote on a bill to extend its life beyond October 21, when its mandate expires under the amendment to Constitutional Declaration passed last year by the General National Congress. A committee of thirty members was set up on Tuesday to look at the issue and will present a new amendment to the declaration for the upcoming meeting. The move was triggered by concerns within the parliament that the UN-brokered Dialogue is moving too slowly and there will be no resolution to Libya’s problem before the October 21 deadline. [Libya Herald, 7/29/2015]

ISIS not involved in kidnapping of Italians in Libya, says Gentiloni
Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said at a joint session of the foreign and defense committees in parliament on Wednesday that no indications hint at an involvement by the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in the kidnapping of four Italians in Libya earlier this month. ”It is believed to have possibly been the work merely of criminals for extortion purposes,” Gentiloni said. ”So far no terrorist or criminal group has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping,” he added, underscoring that investigations were continuing. [ANSAmed, 7/29/2015]

UN envoy proposes Syria working groups on roadmap to peace
UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura briefed the UN Security Council on Wednesday on his three months worth of consultations with Syrians and regional powers regarding the implementation of a roadmap to peace. He proposed inviting warring parties in Syria to take part in four UN-led working groups on how to implement a roadmap to peace as an alternative to formal peace talks. De Mistura told the council that the groups would address safety and protection for all, political and constitutional issues, military and security issues, and public institutions, reconstruction, and development. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he aims to set up the working groups as soon as possible and is ready to convene a high-level conference to endorse any framework agreement they may reach. [Reuters, AP, 7/30/2015]

US-backed Syrian rebel group says Nusra Front abducted its leader
The US-backed “Division 30” Syrian rebel group released a statement Wednesday accusing the Nusra Front of abducting its leader Nadim al-Hassan and a number of his companions in northern Aleppo, urging the group to release them. The men were reportedly abducted Tuesday night when returning from a meeting in Azaz to coordinate efforts with other rebel factions. Syrian activist sources said that most of the fifty-four fighters who have completed the US-led “train and equip” program are members of the “Division 30” group. [Reuters, AFP, 7/30/2015]

Suicide attacks kill at least eighteen Iraqi troops; militia leader says US not serious about ISIS
Iraqi officials said back-to-back suicide attacks targeting security forces near Ramadi killed at least twelve Iraqi troops on Wednesday. The suicide bombers supposedly rammed explosives-laden Humvees into forces deployed outside the University of Ramadi complex Wednesday morning. Iraqi government forces had recaptured the university from ISIS militants on Sunday. Later Wednesday, another suicide bomber drove an explosives-laden Humvee toward army and paramilitary forces near Fallujah, killing six troops and wounding four others. Head of Iraq’s Asaib Ahl al-Haqq paramilitary group Qais al-Khazali said Wednesday that the US-led coalition’s campaign against ISIS is ineffective and accused Washington of lacking the will to uproot Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants in Iraq and Syria. [AP, 7/29/2015]

Ankara says PKK must disarm for peace process
The Turkish government said Wednesday that strikes against Kurdish militants in northern Iraq and Syria will continue until the rebels lay down their arms. Ankara’s statement came even as pro-Kurdish politicians called Wednesday for an immediate end to violence and the resumption of peace efforts. Turkey’s most recent air strikes on the Kurds hit around six Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) positions in northern Iraq. PKK spokesman Bakhtyar Dogan said the air strikes lasted for three hours and caused “a lot of damage.” The Turkish army said three Turkish troops were killed Thursday when PKK militants opened fire on their convoy in the southeastern Turkish province of Sirnak. [Daily Star, 7/30/2015]

Syrian jets bombard plain after rebel advances; regime prevents loyalists from entering coastal region
The Syrian air force bombarded the Sahl al-Ghab plain in Syria’s northwest Hama province Tuesday night after the Army of Conquest rebel coalition launched an offensive to advance deeper into government-held areas along the coast. Syrian warplanes reportedly carried out more than 160 airstrikes on the plain and in the nearby Idlib countryside to try to disrupt the insurgents’ progress towards key Assad territory. Opposition sources reported that the Syrian regime closed access to the country’s coastal region to hundreds of families fleeing villages in the Hama and Idlib provinces. They reported seeing hundreds of cars carrying pro-regime families coming from al-Ghab plain lined up for more than five kilometers from the first checkpoint on the coastal mountains. According to activists, the regime’s decision may increase anxiety among Assad’s supporters that they will be abandoned. [Reuters, 7/29/2015]


Drone strike kills four AQAP in Yemen
Residents and local officials say an attack by an unmanned aircraft on a car in the southern Yemen Abyan province killed four suspected al-Qaeda militants Wednesday night. The occupants of the vehicle were suspected members of Ansar al-Sharia and one was mid-ranking local leader Ahmed al-Kazimi. Saudi-led warplanes bombed targets in northern Yemen’s Saada province Wednesday as well as in Houthi-held locations in the southern town of Dhalea and the al-Anad air base. There was no immediate word on casualties from the latest bombing raids. A UN official accused both sides in the conflict or failing to respect international law. [Reuters, Marib Press (Arabic), 7/30/2015]

Yemen’s Houthi rebels indiscriminately shelling civilians, says HRW
International rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report on Thursday targeting Houthi activity in Aden. In the report, HRW accuses Houthi forces of firing shells and rockets indiscriminately into civilian neighborhoods in the southern port city of Aden. The group said that the rebels had acted “in violation of the laws of war” and identified one attack, in Aden on July 19, that killed several dozen civilians including children. [AFP, 7/30/2015]

Kuwait says it uncovers ISIS network
Kuwait has uncovered a network of Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants who fought in Iraq and Syria and detained several of its members. A statement from the Interior Ministry said that the group included five Kuwaitis and that the individuals admitted receiving lessons in the “science of a terrorist organization” and military training. The Kuwaiti government has declared itself at war with ISIS militants following the June 26 bombing of a Shia mosque, although the Ministry has denied a link between the latest round of arrests and the perpetrators of the terrorist attack. [Reuters, 7/30/2015]

UAE official condemns European Foreign Minister for opening to Iran
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) criticized the European Union on Wednesday for seeking Iranian cooperation in stabilizing the region, saying that an “aggressive” Tehran was helping to polarize the countries there. UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said Mogherini had not grasped the divisiveness of Iranian policy and suggested her praise of the Iranian officials with whom she negotiated the deal was misplaced. Mogherini had previously written in a British newspaper, “Cooperation between Iran, its neighbors and the whole international community could open unprecedented possibilities of peace for the region, starting from Syria, Yemen and Iraq.” [Reuters, 7/29/2015]


Syrian PM says power crisis worsens as militants target plants
Electricity is being rationed more in government-controlled areas in Syria after an escalation in attacks on power plants by Islamist militants. In an address to parliament on Wednesday, Syrian Prime Minister Wael Halaki cited several major attacks on gas plants near Palmyra since the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) captured the ancient city in May. “In the last two months there has been a systematic targeting by these terror groups of gas fields and plants and gas pipelines towards power plants. This has reduced supplies to modest amounts,” Halaki said. He said that electricity generation has fallen to nearly a quarter of its pre-war 9,000-megawatt capacity. Electricity is being rationed for longer periods, ranging from 8 to 18 hours “from one province to the other depending on security circumstances,” Halaki added. [Reuters, 7/29/2015]

Turkish central bank ups 2015 inflation forecast, signals no sharp rate moves
Turkey’s central bank slightly raised its inflation forecast for the end of 2015 on Thursday, citing expected moderate economic growth and an improvement in the current account deficit. Central Bank Governor Erdem Basci said the bank’s mid-point year-end inflation forecast now stands at 6.9 percent, up from 6.8 percent in its last report. The bank left its 2016 mid-point forecast at 5.5 percent. Basci forecasts inflation below 7 percent this month, but said that keeping it there would require a joint effort by the bank and economic policymakers. Basci also hinted at possible moves to simplify monetary policy, which has been criticized by investors for being too complicated. [Reuters, 7/30/2015]

World Bank approves $550 million sanitation project for Egypt’s poor
The World Bank has approved a $550 million program for Egypt that aims to improve sanitation services for more than 800,000 poor rural Egyptians in the Nile Delta. “The Sustainable Rural Sanitation Services Program for Results” will improve local service delivery by connecting rural poor to sanitation systems in the Delta governorates of Daqahliya, Sharqiya, and Beheira in Lower Egypt. “One of our strategic areas for supporting Egypt is improving service delivery especially for the poor,” said Asad Alam, World Bank Country Director for Egypt, Yemen and Djibouti. A statement by the Bank announcing the program also highlighted accountability and transparency measures that will be put in place to monitor the performance of the program. [World Bank, 7/28/2015]

Saudi Arabia to pull back oil production after summer
Saudi Arabia is planning to pull back from record high levels of crude oil production at the end of the summer when domestic energy demand subsides. The reduction could begin as soon as September and would amount to about 200,000 to 300,000 barrels per day (bpd), bringing production to about 10.3 million bpd. Saudi Arabia told the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) that it produced 10.56 million bpd in June, a record high. The decision to reduce production “is purely based on the [domestic] demand situation,” one source said, adding that “production is likely to hover around” 10 million bpd until the end of the year. [Wall Street Journal, 7/29/2015]