Top News: Turkish Forces Enter Iraq as PKK Violence Escalates; Nationalists Attack HDP Headquarters

Turkish forces crossed into northern Iraq to pursue Kurdish militants Tuesday in response to deadly rebel attacks. Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militants on Tuesday killed at least fourteen Turkish police in a bomb attack and sixteen Turkish soldiers in a twin roadside bomb attack on Wednesday. Early Tuesday, the Turkish air force pounded PKK targets in northern Iraq and special ground forces crossed the border in a rare land incursion. “This is a short-term measure intended to prevent the terrorists’ escape,” a Turkish government source said, without saying when it began or how long it would last. Also on Tuesday nationalist protestors attacked the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Headquarters in Ankara and daily newspaper Hurriyet. In response, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu denounced the attacks on media, political parties, and civilian property, and called for calm on Twitter. [AFPAP, 9/9/2015]



High-profile figures register for Egypt’s parliamentary polls; Court upholds ban on Ezz candidacy
Over 4,100 parliamentary hopefuls submitted their papers to register as candidates in Egypt’s upcoming parliamentary elections within one week after the nomination period began Tuesday. The number is much larger than that of applications filed in the first six days of registration prior to the 2011 – 2012 elections. However, Omar Marawan, Spokesman for the High Election Committee (HEC), said the number of hopefuls is still small because most electoral coalitions formed in recent months to contest the polls have yet to submit their papers. High-profile candidates among those who have registered include film director Khaled Youssef, Hussein Megawer, the former head of the General Egyptian Federation of Trade Unions (GEFTU) and a former NDP leading official, Ragab Hilal Hemeida, a religious cleric and former independent MP. Mohamed al-Gindi, a lawyer for former interior minister Habib al-Adli, Ali al-Demerdash, Cairo’s former security chief, Hafez Abu Seada, chairman of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR), Esmat al-Merghani, a female political activist who is head of the Free Social Party, and Hamdi Bekhit, a renowned political and military expert. Meanwhile, Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court upheld a decision on Tuesday to disqualify steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz from running in the elections. This is a final decision, which Ezz cannot appeal. [Ahram Online, DNE, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, 9/8/2015]

CPJ, Canadians call on Canadian Prime Minister to work to free jailed journalist
Some 300 prominent Canadians, together with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), are calling on Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to take immediate action for the deportation of jailed Canadian former Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy to Canada. In a statement released Wednesday, the CPJ announced it sent a letter to Harper, signed by CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon, Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour, and over 300 other prominent public figures and human rights groups. “Direct and persistent requests from you personally to President al-Sisi are Mr. Fahmy’s only hope for release,” the letter said. Former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, Supreme Court of Canada justice Louise Arbour, and author Michael Ondaatje are among those who signed the letter. [DNE, AP, 9/8/2015]

Twenty-seven alleged ‘terrorists’ killed in second day of major North Sinai operation
The Egyptian army killed twenty-seven alleged ‘terrorists’ and arrested one hundred and fifty four suspects on Tuesday in the North Sinai towns of Rafah, al-Arish and Sheikh Zuweid, according to Egypt’s Military Spokesman. This brings the total number of individuals reportedly killed by the military in the past two days to fifty-six. The operation, titled ‘The Martyr’s Right,’ began on Monday and is the largest military action in North Sinai in months. [Ahram Online, AFP, Aswat Masriya, 9/9/2015]

Egypt reportedly sends up to 800 ground troops to Yemen
As many as 800 Egyptian soldiers arrived in Yemen late on Tuesday, Egyptian security sources reportedly said, swelling the ranks of a Gulf Arab military contingent which aims to rout the Iran-allied Houthi group after a five-month civil war. Four Egyptian units of between 150 to 200 troops along with tanks and transport vehicles arrived in Yemen late on Tuesday, two Egyptian security sources told Reuters. The newswire quoted a senior Egyptian military source as saying, “We have sent these forces as part of Egypt’s prominent role in this alliance … the alliance fights for the sake of our brotherly Arab states, and the death of any Egyptian soldier would be an honor and considered martyrdom for the sake of innocent people.” [Reuters, 8/9/2015]

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Car bomb outside maximum security prison holding Saadi Qaddafi
A car bomb exploded today outside the maximum security Hadba prison in south Tripoli where Saadi Qaddafi, Abdullah Senussi, and some three dozen other members of the former regime are held. No one is reported to have been hurt although two vehicles were destroyed in the blast. Hadba prison also houses the court where Senussi and eight key Qaddafi-era figures were sentenced to death in July. The prison has been at the center of torture allegations against Saadi. As of yet, there are no reports as to who is behind the attack. [Libya Herald, 9/9/2015]

Libya military says eight soldiers killed by militants
The military spokesman of Libya’s Tobruk government says eight soldiers have been killed during an attack by Islamic militants southwest of the city of Benghazi. Speaking Tuesday, Colonel Ahmed al-Mesmari said one soldier is missing and ten were wounded in the attack early Monday. Al-Mesmari says soldiers fighting for the Tobruk government chased the attackers, capturing many of their weapons and causing casualties. It is unclear whether these eight deaths come in addition to the three soldiers killed yesterday in the same region or are an updated report of the same incident. [AP, 9/8/2015]

Tunisian Prime Minister meets with Egyptian counterpart
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Habib Essid met Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab at the government palace in Kasbah.They emphasized a mutual keenness to give fresh impetus to the Tunisian-Egyptian cooperation, particularly in economic, trade, and cultural partnerships. Mehleb and Essid signed sixteen memoranda of understanding and protocols on Tuesday. Mehleb is scheduled to meet with Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi and a number of top officials over the course of his two-day visit. [All Africa/TAP, Aswat Masriya, 9/8/2015]

Tunisian Minister of Interior says peaceful demonstration contrary to the state of emergency
Any peaceful demonstration or protest “is contrary to the provisions imposed by the state of emergency,” Minister of the Interior Najem Gharsalli said on Tuesday.Habib Bourguiba Avenue, the main thoroughfare in Tunis city center, is closed until September 14 as a security measure.This decision “has no relation with the national march scheduled for September 12 to protest against the economic reconciliation bill,” stressed the Minister of the Interior.He said the closing of Habib Bourguiba Avenue aims to “guard against terrorist threat in this critical period.”Gharsalli said terrorist organizations had posted on social networks threats targeting rallies, sit-ins, or protests. [All Africa/TAP, 9/8/2015]


Islamist rebels seize last regime military base in Idlib province
The al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front and its allies seized the last regime-held military base in northwestern Idlib province on Wednesday. A monitoring group said the coalition of mostly Islamist groups captured the Abu Duhur military airport after a siege that lasted two years. The attacking force began to enter the base on Tuesday night. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights Chief Rami Abdel Rahman said the forces appeared to have taken advantage of the massive sandstorm that blanketed much of the Middle East and made it difficult for regime aircraft to carry out strikes. “The army is no longer present in Idlib province,” Abdel Rahman noted, saying that the soldiers who had been defending the base withdrew towards Aleppo province in the east. [AFP, Reuters, AP, Al Arabiya, BBC, 9/9/2015]

Russia confirms it has military advisers in Syria; concern about Russian build-up continues
The Russian Foreign Ministry confirmed on Wednesday that its military advisers were in Syria, but it said that their presence was part of a longstanding agreement to provide military aid to the country. “Russian military specialists help Syrians master Russian hardware, and we can’t understand the anti-Russian hysteria about this,” said spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry Maria V. Zakharova, adding that Russia had never made a secret about its cooperation with Syria over military technology. “We have been supplying Syria with arms and military equipment for a long time,” she said. “We are doing this in accordance with existing contracts and in full accordance with international law.” The United States continues to voice concerns about Russian build-up in Syria, a US military official stating that, “You see all the indications that [Russia is] getting ready to establish major air operations hub,” while large Russian military planes continued to land in Syria throughout the weekend. The NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg also voiced concerns Tuesday regarding reports of Russian build-up, saying that any support for President Bashar al-Assad would escalate the conflict. Syrian Information Minister Omran al-Zoubi said Tuesday Russian combat forces are not fighting alongside Syrian forces. [NYT, AP, 9/9/2015]

Australia increases refugee Intake, extends air strikes to Syria
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Wednesday announced that it will increase refugee numbers in the face of the Middle East crisis and confirmed it will also join US-led air strikes on the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in Syria. With his hardline against asylum-seekers under intense scrutiny given the refugee crisis in Europe, Abbott said the government was acting “with our head as well as with our heart” to help the thousands of migrants fleeing the conflict. Abbott said it was obvious that many Syrians would never be able to return to their homes as he announced Australia would take an additional 12,000 refugees from the Syria-Iraq conflict. The Prime Minister said both the humanitarian response and the stepping up of military measures against the Islamic State group into Syria were in the national interest. Also on Tuesday French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius warned that it would be a victory for ISIS if Europe were to take in all refugees persecuted by the militants in Syria, while France carried out its first surveillance flights over Syria to prepare for possible attacks on ISIS. [AFP, Reuters, AP, 9/8/2015]


Gulf States criticized for not letting refugees in
Human Rights Organizations have criticized the Arab states of the Gulf Cooperation Council – Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates – for so far having kept their borders closed to refugees in the wake of the growing migrant crisis. Amid the criticism, it is important to remember that the Gulf states have provided aid to Syrian refugees. Individual charitable collections have totaled hundreds of thousands of dollars and the Gulf states have provided in total around $900m (£600m) through charitable organizations, and individual donations. However, as Syria’s war has dragged on, providing resources for refugees living in camps has become inadequate. Syrians are tired of staying in camps and are now leaving the conflict zone in search of a more secure and prosperous future. In response to these criticisms on refugee policy, Saudi ambassador to Italy, Dr. Raed Bin Khalid Qurmla, said that Saudi Arabia has let in 500,000 Syrian nationals since 2011. However, there has been no explicit policy from any of the Gulf States to house refugees arriving en masse without sponsors or work permits. [Sahafah (Arabic), BBC, CNN, 9/9/2015]

Indian Fishermen bombed by coalition warplanes off the Yemen coast
Warplanes bombed two boats carrying twenty Indian crew members as the vessels traveled between Somalia and Yemen, India’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday September 9, a day after the Yemeni coast guard said a Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemeni Shiite rebels bombed boats off the war-torn country’s coast. These attacks coincide with reports of more Saudi-led alliance troops arriving in Yemen, as the number of soldiers deployed has reportedly reached 10,000. One of the boats was travelling across the Red Sea from the Somali port of Berbera to Mokha in Yemen when it came under fire on Tuesday September 8. Yemeni coast guard officials said a Saudi-led coalition attacked more than five boats off the Yemeni coast. Houthi rebels said the boats were carrying fishermen and were not connected to them. However, it was not immediately clear if the two incidents were the same. The conflict between Saudi Arabia and the Houthi rebels began in April and has led India to evacuate more than 6,000 Indians and thousands of foreign nationals including many Americans and Europeans. However, some Indian fisherman risk the conflict to continue working in the region. [BBC, Star Tribune, Indian Express, Reuters, 9/9/2015]

Increasing number of schoolchildren arrested in Bahrain
Bahraini security forces have arrested ten children under eighteen over the past two weeks according to The Bahrain Center for Human Rights (BCHR). With the start of the new school year, BCHR reported that more than two hundred and forty schoolchildren are in custody and are being deprived an education. Bahrain, a close ally of the United States in the Persian Gulf region, has been witnessing almost daily protests against the ruling Al Khalifa dynasty since early 2011, who in turn has used imprisonment in an attempt to stop the demonstrations. Bahraini opposition groups have called for the release of imprisoned political dissidents, stressing that only a political solution over the use of force would end the political crisis in the country. [Al-Alam, 9/7/2015]


Tunisia to start IMF negotiations over new credit program
Tunisia will start negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) over a new credit program that will likely be worth at least $1.7 billion, its central bank chief said on Wednesday. The program will succeed a two-year deal totaling $1.74 billion that was agreed in 2013 and extended in May by seven months to buy time for Tunisia to put banking and fiscal reforms in place. Tunisia also agreed to follow certain economic policies, such as keeping its deficit under control and making the foreign exchange market more flexible. “We hope to have an agreement with the IMF around March. The IMF is in agreement in principle but there are many aspects to discuss before then,” Tunisian Central Bank Director Chadli Ayari said after meeting IMF Chief Christine Lagarde. “We agreed on the need to move forward as quickly as possible on the vast number of reforms still to be executed,” Lagarde said. “To maintain growth, create the conditions of prosperity and, above all, create employment, it is imperative to maintain security, macroeconomic and financial stability so that confidence can be restored” among domestic and foreign investors, she added. [Reuters, AFP, All Africa/TAP, 9/9/2015]

Egypt aims to cut arrears owed to foreign oil firms to $2.5 billion this year
Egypt is aiming to lower the amount of arrears it owes foreign oil companies to $2.5 billion by the end of 2015, according to Petroleum Minister Sherif Ismail. Egypt paid foreign oil companies $600 million in arrears in August and still owes them $2.9 billion, which is about 16 percent of Egypt’s reserves, according to Bloomberg. Delays in paying back foreign companies had discouraged investment in Egypt’s economy. Egypt’s Central Bank said Wednesday that the country’s current account deficit widened to $12.2 billion in the 2014/15 fiscal year, from $2.7 billion the previous year. [Reuters, 9/9/2015]

Eni CEO says Egyptian gas find estimate conservative, could be raised
The estimate of 850 billion cubic meters of gas for Eni’s giant gas find off the coast of Egypt is “conservative” and could be increased, the chief executive of the Italian oil and gas group said on Wednesday. “[The estimate] is conservative and could be raised; below we have found another field,” Claudio Descalzi said at a senate hearing in Rome. “We will see in 2016 when the exploration restarts.” He added that Eni expects between $6 billion and $10 billion of total investment for the development of the gas field. [Reuters, 9/9/2015]

Iraq’s foreign exchange reserves near $60 billion as oil prices fall
Lower oil revenues have cut Iraq’s foreign currency reserves to about $60 billion, which is enough to cover about eighteen months worth of imports, Central Bank Governor Ali al-Alak said on Tuesday. The government has projected a fiscal deficit of about $25 billion this year in a budget of roughly $100 billion. Foreign reserves fell to $66 billion at the end of 2014 from $78 billion at the end of 2013, according to the International Monetary Fund. However, Alak said that a drop in dollar-denominated expenditures has also eased demand on foreign currency. “Iraq is at the comfortable level of reserves,” he said. Reserves are decreasing on a monthly basis, he added, but “not that much.” Iraq’s economic activity shrank by 6.7 percent in the first quarter of 2015 compared to the same period last year. [Reuters, 9/8/2015]

UAE government to see surplus in budget in 2016, 2017
While the government of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is expected to face a 2.9 percent budget deficit in 2015, budget surpluses are expected in 2016 and 2017, at 0.2 percent and 1.5 percent respectively. According to a World Bank official, the surplus in the next two years is a result of government reforms and strategies aimed at boosting non-oil sectors. “We’re not necessarily expecting oil prices to climb back, but governments are starting to adjust to the lower [oil] prices by changing their strategies… Such new strategies will improve the deficit and even result in a budget surplus,” said Hafez Ghanem, the World Bank’s Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa region. He praised the UAE’s decision to reduce fuel subsidies, adding that the Bank’s top priority in the UAE is developing and increasing investments from the private sector. [Gulf News, 9/8/2015]