Top News: US Officials Mull Expanded Campaign Against the Nusra Front

US officials are weighing whether to broaden the air campaign in Syria to strike the Nusra Front after militants from the al-Qaeda linked group swept through towns and villages controlled by the Free Syrian Army and other US-backed groups in Idlib province, west of Aleppo.

Sources indicated that Nusra Front militants are poised to attack the Bab al-Hawa crossing in northwestern Syria on the Turkish border, threatening one of only two openings through which the moderate Free Syrian Army receives military and humanitarian supplies provided by the United States and other backers



Egypt prepares for parliamentary polls; final legislation expected next week
The Higher Election Committee (HEC), a seven-‎member judicial body mandated with supervising ‎Egypt’s parliamentary elections, took new ‎measures Monday to pave the way for the long-‎awaited polls.‎ After a meeting led by chairperson of Cairo’s appeals ‎court, Ayman Abbas, sources within the HEC said that it ‎has finalized the guidelines which will be adopted by ‎‎affiliated judicial mini-committees formed to ‎represent it in each of Egypt’s twenty-seven governorates.‎ HEC sources on Monday also indicated that judges ‎in charge of mini-committees must instruct security ‎forces that campaigning outside the polling stations ‎is banned and that voters must be heavily inspected ‎to ensure that weapons will not find their way into ‎polling stations.‎ [Ahram Online, 11/3/2014]

Egyptian militant group denies pledging loyalty to Islamic State
Egypt’s most active militant group, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM), denied in a Twitter message on Tuesday that it had pledged allegiance to Islamic State and it distanced itself from a statement that appeared in its name online. “The statement spread in the media about our alleged allegiance to the Muslim caliphate is not ours, everyone should be careful and only take news from our main sources,” the tweet read. The account has been used to claim responsibility for several attacks, including an assassination attempt on interior minister Ahmed Ibrahim. It regularly publishes the group’s official statements and video clips. The veracity of either statement has not been confirmed. Meanwhile, two leading ABM members were killed in army raids, and twelve others were arrested, in North Sinai, on Monday. [Ahram Online, DNE, Aswat Masriya, Reuters, Mada Masr, 11/4/2014]

Egypt, Gulf Arab allies eye anti-militant alliance
Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait are discussing the creation of a military pact to take on Islamic militants, with the possibility of a joint force to intervene around the Middle East. The alliance would also serve as a show of strength to counterbalance their traditional rival, Shiite-dominated, Iran. Two countries are seen as potential theaters for the alliance to act, senior Egyptian military officials said: Libya, where Islamic militants have taken over several cities, and Yemen, where Shiite rebels suspected of links to Iran have seized control of the capital. Three Egyptian military officials discussed details of the talks and a fourth confirmed their comments. A Gulf official, who is aware of the discussions, also told The Associated Press that the governments were coordinating on how to deal with Libya, and the talks were “ongoing on wider cooperation on how to deal with extremists in the region.” [AP, 11/3/2014]

Kuwait to raise crude oil exports to Egypt
Kuwait plans to raise its crude oil exports to Egypt to up to 100,000 barrels per day from 65,000 bpd now and is ready to supply it with refined fuel too if needed, a Kuwaiti oil official said on Tuesday. Kuwait was studying Egypt’s need for petroleum products, said Nasser al-Mudhaf, managing director for international marketing at state owned Kuwait Petroleum Corp (KPC). “We are ready to provide it with diesel,” he told Reuters before travelling to Cairo. Kuwait has said it would ship around two million barrels of crude oil a month in early October to Egypt, giving it priority as a buyer ahead of sales from storage into the Mediterranean market. [Reuters, 11/4/2014]


Navy ship hit in heavy fighting near Benghazi seaport
A Libyan navy ship was hit amid heavy fighting with aircraft and tanks on Monday between the army and Islamist militants near the port of Benghazi. Thirteen people were killed, bringing the death toll to 243 since the army, backed by troops loyal to Khalifa Haftar, launched an offensive in the eastern city two weeks ago. The Red Crescent evacuated fifty-three foreign workers and fourteen sick people trapped inside a hospital next to the port, while the army moved more tanks and artillery into the city. Warplanes could be heard firing into the port area, and dozens of residents were evacuating. [Reuters, AP, Libya Herald, 11/3/2014]

Al-Hassi criticizes United Nations, calls for new elections
The foreign media department under the Omar al-Hassi government, based in Tripoli and challenging the internationally-recognized administration, has denounced UN Special Representative Bernadino Leon, claiming he “disrespected” the country’s laws and did not want dialogue with Operation Libya Dawn. It also said that if he continued with the policy, court action would be taken against him. The al-Hassi administration appears to have taken offense because the United Nations did not seek permission before Leon held a press conference in Tripoli last week. In an interview, al-Hassi called for new elections to pull Libya back from the brink, charging that the Tobruk-based government has “lost its legitimacy.” [Libya Herald, AFP, 11/3/2014]

Algeria and Libya call for inclusive Libyan dialogue
Algeria and Libya have agreed that dialogue between the conflicting Libyan parties needs to be inclusive, following a visit to Algiers by House of Representatives President Ageela Saleh, who returned to Tobruk after two days of talks with Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal and other Algerian officials. The specifics of the discussions have not been released, but an Algerian outlet reported that Algeria has accepted a Libyan request to join the Egyptians in training the Libyan army. Meanwhile, a House delegation will visit Jordan next week, where they will learn about the functions and operations of the Jordanian legislature, similar to an earlier visit to the French national assembly. [Libya Herald, 11/3/2014]

Central bank governor ensuring fund transfers despite kidnapping
Libya’s acting central bank governor is ensuring the transfer of funds to the country’s internationally recognized parliament, the bank has said in an effort to ameliorate concerns that money was falling into the hands of armed groups who control Tripoli. In a sign of growing lawlessness, bank governor Ali Salem al-Hibri’s office manager had been kidnapped. Traders have said some buyers of Libyan crude oil might halt their purchases if they believed their money was going to supporters of Misratan brigades that have seized control of some ministries in a direct challenge to the Tobruk-based government. [Reuters, 11/3/2014]


US officials mull expanded campaign against the Nusra Front
US officials are weighing whether to broaden the air campaign in Syria to strike the Nusra Front after militants from the al-Qaeda linked group swept through towns and villages controlled by the Free Syrian Army and other US-backed groups in Idlib province, west of Aleppo. Sources indicated that Nusra Front militants are poised to attack the Bab al-Hawa crossing in northwestern Syria on the Turkish border, threatening one of only two openings through which the moderate Free Syrian Army receives military and humanitarian supplies provided by the United States and other backers. [Washington Post, 11/3/2014]

France urges United States to help Aleppo rebels
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius called Tuesday for the US-led coalition against ISIS to help rebels in Syria’s second city Aleppo hold out against the Damascus regime and its attempt to encircle and strangle the city. Fabius said that the coalition should not battle ISIS to the exclusion of supporting rebels fighting President Bashar Assad’s regime, which he said had deliberately fueled the jihadists’ rise. “After Kobani, we must save Aleppo,” Fabius said. France is involved in strikes against ISIS militants in Iraq, but has so far kept out of the air campaign in neighboring Syria, where it has hoped to support moderate rebels without resorting to military action that could help the Assad regime. “The city is almost entirely encircled. Some 300,000 Aleppans are holding on, threatened with the same death and destruction that the regime has inflicted on Homs and the suburbs of Damascus.” [Naharnet, 11/4/2014]

Washington cuts funds for group investigating Assad regime war crimes
The US State Department plans to cut its entire $500,000 in annual funding next year to the Commission for International Justice and Accountability (CIJA). The organization is dedicated to sneaking into abandoned Syrian military bases, prisons, and government facilities to collect documents and other evidence linking Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime and its proxies to war crimes and other mass atrocities during the country’s brutal civil war, according to the recipient of the assistance and a senior US official. [Foreign Policy, 11/4/2014]


Nidaa Tounes leader launches presidential bid
Following the Nidaa Tounes party’s victory in last week’s parliamentary elections, party leader Beji Caid Essebsi launched his presidential campaign on Sunday in the coastal city of Monastir. The eighty-seven year old said that he was running for the presidency to return “the prestige of the state,” and to help form “a new generation capable carrying the flame from the older generation in order to lead Tunisia to safety”. The Nidaa Tounes party chief is expected to face stiff competition from both secularist and Islamist candidates and debates over potential coalitions between rivals have begun ahead of the elections scheduled for November 23. [Asharq Al-Awsat, All Africa, 11/4/2014]

Administrative court to consider legislative election appeals
The administrative court in Tunis announced on Monday that it had received forty-three appeals to invalidate the results of the legislative elections held last week. The president of the administrative court Mohamed Faouzi Ben Hamad said that appeals submitted on November 3 and 4 would be accepted despite the expiration of a previously established deadline. He, however, affirmed that the court would finalize and issue its decisions on all appeals by November 8. [TAP, 11/4/2014]

IMF commends Tunisia for containing energy subsidies
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) commended Tunisia’s management of energy subsidies in its latest economic outlook report on the region. The survey noted that Tunisia, Jordan, Morocco, and Egypt had taken substantive steps to limit expenditures on energy subsidies and taken aggressive measures to combat rising poverty levels through better-targeted safety-net programs and increased investments in infrastructure, healthcare and education. [TAP, 11/4/2014]


US drone strike, clashes kill more than thirty in Yemen
Tribal sources said that US drone strikes killed between ten and twenty people and fighting between Houthi and al-Qaeda killed at least twenty more in Bayda province’s Rida Tuesday. The casualty numbers from the reported twin drone attacks, regardless of differing accounts, represented the highest number since the Houthis moved into Bayda in October. Tribal sources also said that twenty-two Houthi fighters were killed in clashes at checkpoints on Monday, and that all injured had yet to be retrieved from the scene of the fighting. [Reuters, AFP, 11/4/2014]

Popular Committees gather in Aden to protect against Houthis, al-Qaeda
Popular Committees from the districts of Shabwah, Abyan, Lahj, and Aden were sent by the military authorities to Aden Monday night to protect against a potential Houthi or al-Qaeda attack on the south. The Popular Committees will work in step with southern military authorities to secure government and military buildings, refineries, and the northern and western entrances to the city. Herak leaders welcomed the move Tuesday, and asked the popular committees to help protect protesters in Khormaksar Square. A Herak official said that the movement was not consulted during the process of bringing in the Popular Committees, but that it believed they had the potential to help the independence movement. Herak leaders also said Tuesday that the formation of a new government in Sana’a is not of any interest to southerners, who will continue to seek freedom independence. The movement denied having any ties to Iran. [Aden al-Ghad (Arabic), 11/4/2014]

Source says current defense minister will not participate in new government
A source in the office of Prime Minister Khalid Bahah said that negotiations for the formation of a new government in Yemen have entered their final stages, and current defense minister Major General Mohammed Nasser Ahmed will not retain his post. The source said that Ahmed would be one of several officials turned over in cabinet reshuffling, and that the major general had been removed from the cabinet because he was a controversial figure. [Aden al-Ghad (Arabic), 11/4/2014]

HIV patients in Yemen face hospital evictions
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has reported that patients afflicted with HIV are being turned away from hospitals in Yemen. The NGO said that a woman in labor and in need of a cesarean section was turned away from a private hospital, and that a doctor ordered another woman suffering from seizures out of a large public hospital, accusing her of being infected with HIV. As of November 3, HRW had received no response to an October 16 letter addressed to the Yemeni health minister outlining these illegal acts. A doctor in a public hospital said that medical staff were trained to handle patients with HIV and any lack of treatment was due to “pure discrimination.” Patients also told HRW that when they could get care at private clinics, they were charged double or more the normal rates because the clinics knew that public hospitals would not treat them. [NYT, 11/4/2014]


Gunmen kill five, wound nine in Saudi village ahead of Ashoura festivals
Masked gunmen killed five people in a mostly Shia area of eastern Saudi Arabia late on Monday, as the minority community prepared to celebrate the festival of Ashura. Sources indicated that three assailants fired machine guns and pistols on a crowd leaving a building in the village of al-Dalwa in the al-Ihsa district of Eastern Province. A spokesman from the interior ministry noted that at least six suspects had been arrested in relation to the attacks but did not provide a motive. At least nine people were also wounded in the shooting, the latest in a spate of sporadic unrest in the Sunni-dominated country with a shia minority of at least two million. [Naharnet, Reuters, 11/4/2014]

Iraq’s security forces on high alert as Shia pilgrims gather for Ashoura
Iraq’s security forces boosted security Monday amid fears of the Islamic State in Iraq and al-sham (ISIS or Islamic State) launching major attacks on Shiite pilgrims flocking to the shrine city of Karbala. ISIS militants have in recent days killed scores of Sunni tribesmen in Anbar province, escalating fears that the militant group might successfully attack hundreds of thousands of Shia pilgrims commemorating the Ashoura religious holiday throughout the country. More than 26,000 members of the security forces have been deployed inside Karbala with thousands more positioned along the sixty mile route from Baghdad to Kerbala. [Reuters, The Daily Star, Jordan Times, 11/4/2014]

France, Saudi Arabia finalize arms deal for the Lebanese military
Saudi Arabia and France finalized a deal in Riyadh on Tuesday that will provide the Lebanese army with $3 billion worth of French weapons financed by Saudi Arabia. The deal, first announced in December, comes as the Lebanese army is battling the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS or Islamic State), in the north and along its northeastern border with Syria. [Naharnet, 11/4/2014]