Top News: UN to Hold Peace Talks Next Week Over Conflict in Yemen

The United Nations on Thursday said peace talks aimed at ending the conflict in Yemen are set to resume next week in the region and urged all parties to participate “in good faith.” Saudi Arabia and Arab allies intervened in March to try to restore President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi to power and push back the Houthi militia. About twenty million people, or 80 percent of the population, are estimated to be going hungry due to increasing violence between the Saudi-led coalition and Houthi rebels. Twenty people were also killed in Marib when Houthi militias sporadically shelled a busy market in the Yemeni eastern city. A UN press official said UN Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed welcomed the commitment of Yemen’s government, the Houthi rebels, and Yemen’s General People’s Congress to join the talks, which will reportedly take place in Oman next week. Yemen’s government-in-exile said Friday that it agreed to take part in UN-mediated peace talks next week in Oman aimed at reaching a ceasefire with the Houthis. However, in the absence of a formal announcement, Yemeni government spokesman Rajih Badi was unsure the rebels would attend. [ReutersNaharnetUNWashington PostAl Arabiya, 9/11/2015]



Agriculture corruption case does not involve other ministers according to cabinet
The recent Agriculture Ministry corruption case under investigations does not include other officials from the cabinet with the exception of Salah Helal, who resigned from his position as minister and was arrested on September 7, the cabinet said in a press statement on Thursday. According to the Administrative Prosecution in charge of investigations, charges include several financial bribes. Four defendants were announced in the case: the former Agriculture minister, his deputy, a businessman, and a mediator. Due to a media gag enforced in the case since the arrest of the deputy minister, journalists have not been able to extract further information, which has led to unconfirmed news reports circulating about possible involvement of other ministers and public figures in the case. [DNE, Cairo Post, 9/10/2015]

Hundred of teachers and students stage protests in Egypt, criticize the Ministry of Education
Hundreds of teachers staged a protest in front of the Journalists Syndicate in Cairo on Thursday to demand an increase of wages and the dismissal of Minister of Education Moheb al-Refai. The protesters demanded that Refai be removed from his position due to his “failure” at running the ministry. Additionally, students also protested the Ministry of Education in Alexandria, but left after one hour when they were contacted by National Security asking them to end their protest for “their safety.” [Ahram Online, 9/10/2015]

Muslim Brotherhood member shot dead in Egypt
Egyptian security forces shot dead a Muslim Brotherhood member in southern Egypt, the Interior Ministry said in a statement Thursday. Mujahed Hassan Zaki, a middle-ranking Brotherhood member, was killed in an exchange of fire with security forces during a raid on his hideout in Beni Suef, the ministry said. The ministry added that the slain Brotherhood member was a “special operations” commander for what it described as an armed wing of the Muslim Brotherhood. The statement said he was wanted on charges of violence and sabotage in Beni Suef. A Brotherhood source denied the ministry’s claim, saying that Zaki had been “liquidated” by security forces. The source claimed that Zaki had been arrested without resistance three days ago in an apartment in the eastern Cairo suburb of Ain Shams. [Anadolu Agency, 9/11/2015]

Egypt to give Palestinian cause top priority, welcomes UN resolution raising Palestinian Flag
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Thursday said that Egypt and the other Arab countries give top priorities to the Palestinian cause. Sisi made the remarks in a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his accompanying delegation, who arrived Cairo on Wednesday. They discussed how Egypt would continue to support the Palestinian issue in order to reach a just and comprehensive settlement, ensuring the establishment of a Palestinian State. Egypt has also hailed a UN resolution that passed on Friday, allowing for the raising of the Palestinian flag at the United Nations headquarters in New York. Additionally, these events coincide with Islamist activists in Egypt criticizing Sisi for allowing the Israeli embassy to reopen in Cairo after four years. [SIS, 9/11/2015]

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Libya dialogue delegates gather in Skhirat
Delegates to the Libyan dialogue have gathered in the Moroccan city of Skhirat for what UN Special Envoy Bernardino Leon has said will be the final round of negotiations. The various factions are expected to select a new prime minister and two deputy prime ministers. Describing it as a “moment of truth,” Leon said the September 20 deadline would not be extended. A list of twelve names for the posts of prime minister and one of the deputies have been sent to Leon by the House of Representatives (HoR). The General National Congress (GNC), which flew in from Tripoli yesterday evening, will provide suggestions for the other deputy prime minister. Leon announced hopes there will be final agreement on the annexes by the end of the day on Friday, allowing discussion of candidates to start Saturday. [Libya Herald, Reuters, 9/10/2015]

UNSC extends UNSMIL, urges parties to finalize political accord
The UN Security Council extended until March 15, 2016 the mandate of the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) on September 10, while underscoring that there can be no military solution to the ongoing political crisis. In a unanimously adopted resolution, the fifteen-member body called for an “immediate and unconditional” ceasefire in the North African nation. In its resolution, the Council urged all parties to “engage constructively” with the efforts of UNSMIL to finalize the political agreement and called for the immediate formation of a Government of National Accord and agreement on interim security arrangements to stabilize the country. [All Africa/UN News Service, 9/10/2015]

New EU-UN program to counter radicalization in the Sahel-Maghreb region
A new pilot project to counter radicalization and violent extremism in the Sahel-Maghreb region was launched in Brussels on Thursday during a meeting of high-level officials from the EU and the UN. The initiative will integrate international, regional, and local resources to support the countries of the region in countering the growing threat of violent extremism. This project, financed with 5 million euros from the EU and implemented by the UN Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI), will run for four years and promote deradicalization activities in the region through the development of more responsive and inclusive societies. A key component will be the involvement of civil society actors – including NGOs, victims of terrorism, media, cultural associations, women and youth organizations – as primary partners. [EuroMed, ANSAMed, 9/10/2015]

Tunisian Foreign Minister meets NATO Secretary-General in Brussels
On Wednesday, Minister of Foreign Affairs Tayyeb Baccouche met with Secretary-General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Jens Stoltenberg in Brussels. The Foreign Minister spoke of the achievements of the democratic process in Tunisia and the challenges the country now faces. Stoltenberg praised the partnership established with Tunisia as part of the Mediterranean dialogue and welcomed the “major progress” made by Tunisia towards consolidation of democracy and rule of law. Representatives of NATO expressed their solidarity with Tunisia and reiterated their countries’ commitment to supporting the Tunisian democratic experience. [TAP, 9/10/2015]

Algeria’s Bouteflika sacks generals to curb power of military intelligence
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has sacked several top generals, security sources say, in what analysts call his latest move to curb the power of the DRS military intelligence service which has long influenced politics from behind the scenes. The purged generals included the head of presidential security and the director of internal security, sources said. Both worked under DRS chief General Mohamed Mediene, who has played the role of political kingmaker for several decades by seeking to influence leadership choices behind the scenes. The sacked officials’ duties have been transferred to Chief of Staff and Deputy Defense Minister General Ahmed Gaed Salah, one of Bouteflika’s closest allies, the sources said. [Reuters, 9/10/2015]


Russia lifts UN hold on Syria chemical attacks probe
The UN Security Council (UNSC) gave the green light to an international investigation on chemical weapon attacks in Syria. The official start of the joint inquiry by the UN and the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons had been delayed due to objections by Russia. According to diplomats, Moscow wanted guarantees on several points, notably that the sovereignty of Syria would be respected and on the mission’s financing. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon addressed a letter to Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin giving assurances that the UN would “expeditiously consult” with Damascus. The Syrian government is supposed to cooperate fully with the investigators. [AFP, Reuters, 9/11/2015]

United States to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees
President Barack Obama has directed his administration to prepare to take in at least 10,000 Syrian refugees over the next year. Since the start of the Syrian crisis, the United States has accepted 1,500 refugees. It currently accepts around 70,000 refugees from conflicts each year, but has been slow to accept Syrians. “Refugees go through the most robust security process of anybody who’s contemplating travel to the United States,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said. “Refugees have to be screened by the National Counterterrorism Center, by the FBI Terrorist Screening Center. They go through databases that are maintained by DHS [Department of Homeland Security], the Department of Defense, and the intelligence community.” Refugees from Syria and its region must undergo strict security checks to exclude extremists. [NYT, Reuters, AFP, 9/11/2015]

Russia calls on nations to help arm the Syrian government
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on Friday called on world powers to help arm the Syrian army, describing it as the most efficient force against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) group. Lavrov said that Russia would continue to supply Assad with weapons and called on other countries to help the Syrian government and its ground troops. “You cannot defeat Islamic State with airstrikes only,” Lavrov said. “It’s necessary to cooperate with ground troops and the Syrian army is the most efficient and powerful ground force to fight [ISIS].” Lavrov insisted that Russia is not propping up Assad by sending weapons to Syria but rather contributing to defeating ISIS fighters. [AP, 9/11/2015]

US official says ISIS making and using chemical weapons in Iraq and Syria
There is a growing belief within the US government that ISIS is making and using crude chemical weapons in Iraq and Syria, a US official has told the BBC. The United States has identified at least four occasions on both sides of the Iraq-Syria border where ISIS has used mustard agents. The official said the chemical was being used in powder form, thought to be a mustard agent and then packed into traditional explosives like mortar rounds. The official said the intelligence community believes the most plausible explanation is that they are manufacturing it. “We assess that they have an active chemical weapons little research cell that they’re working on to try and get better at it.” [BBC, 9/11/2015]

Casualties and international concern mount as curfew continues in town of Cizre
The majority-Kurdish town of Cizre entered its eighth day of a strict curfew on Friday. The Turkish state reported one civilian casualty to date in the town, while a pro-Kurdish organization has reported twenty-one civilian deaths. Human Rights Commissioner for the Council of Europe Nils Muiznieks urged “the authorities to ensure immediate access to Cizre by independent observers.” Leader of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) Selahattin Demirtas, currently blocked from entering the city, accused the Turkish security forces in the town of killing indiscriminately “anyone venturing into the street.” [AP, Reuters, BGN, 9/11/2015]

Ankara attacks PKK forces in Iraq; intellectuals condemn violence
Turkish jets bombed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets in Qandil, Zap, and Avashin in the mountains of northern Iraq on Friday morning, reportedly killing sixty PKK fighters and destroying sixty-four targets in the group’s camps across the region. Renewed and escalating violence between the PKK and the Turkish State has also extended to urban areas. PKK gunmen opened fire on a restaurant in Diyarbakir in southeastern Turkey, killing a waiter and wounding three police officers on Friday. In an appeal to the Turkish public, the media, and politicians, Turkish and Kurdish intellectuals met for a press conference in Istanbul on Friday to condemn the increased violence in the country. At the summit, poet Hüseyin Akın said, “We should reunite our conscience and power of mercy, no matter what opinion we have, because this country belongs to all of us. We should all preserve it together.” [AP, Reuters, Guardian, Hurriyet, CNN, 9/11/2015]


UK government’s weapon sales fuel Yemen conflict
The UK government is quietly fueling the Yemen conflict and exacerbating one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises, potentially in breach of both domestic and international laws, on the sales of arms, warned Oxfam. These laws prohibit arms deals where there is a clear risk that they might be used to commit war crimes or human rights abuses. The United Nations estimates that more than 4,500 people have been killed in the conflict in Yemen since March. The government says it is not directly involved in the bombing, but since the conflict began UK arms exports have reportedly replenished Saudi Arabia’s stocks. The government has declined to give parliament details on the arms. Oxfam called to suspend arms shipments and military support, investigate the use of weapons by the Saudis in the conflict, condemn attacks on civilians, and make every diplomatic effort to end the conflict. [Reliefweb, Naharnet, 9/11/2015]

Saudi Arabia offers to build 200 hundred mosques for refugees in Germany
Saudi Arabia has reportedly responded to the growing number of people fleeing the Middle East for western Europe by offering to build 200 mosques in Germany. Syria’s richer Gulf neighbors have been accused of not doing their fair share in the humanitarian crisis, with Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman and the UAE also keeping their doors firmly shut to asylum seekers. As many as 20,000 refugees entered Germany from Hungary by train, bus, and on foot last weekend. Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud has reportedly offered to build one mosque for every one hundred refugees who have entered the European country. The Gulf States have faced increasing criticism recently for not opening up their own borders to more Syrian refugees fleeing the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). [The Independent, al-Diyar (Arabic), NYT, 9/11/2015]

Bahraini Foreign Minister expresses concern over Iran nuclear deal
Explosives smuggled on boats from Iran seized by authorities in July were enough to destroy the Bahraini capital Manama, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid Bin Ahmed Al Khalifa said on September 10. He expressed concern over the Iran deal given that the P5+1—the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China, and Germany—had focused only on the nuclear aspect of the deal, but ignored Tehran’s general involvement in terrorism in the region such as Iran’s attempt to smuggle C4 explosives into Bahrain last July. The Foreign Minister said the Iran deal “does not address all sources of tension” between Tehran and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states. He urged Iran to refrain from interfering in internal affairs of other countries, saying that the Islamic Republic should stop what he described as “dualism” in language and actions and revise its foreign policy. [Al Arabiya, Asharq al-Aswat, 9/10/2015]


Saudi Arabia says no need for oil summit
Saudi Arabia sees no need to hold a summit of oil producing countries’ heads of state if such discussions would fail to produce concrete action toward defending oil prices, sources said Thursday. The comments followed a meeting of Gulf Arab oil ministers with Qatar’s Emir in Doha, at which a Venezuelan proposal for an Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and non-OPEC summit was discussed. Sources said Saudi Arabia believes it is best not to interfere in the market presently. An OPEC source said that failure to produce a concrete outcome would have a negative impact on oil prices. Gulf OPEC members opposed holding an early meeting and show no sign of changing strategy. Meanwhile, Gulf oil sources see no sign of Saudi Arabia wavering when other OPEC members, such as Iraq, are raising production. On Friday, oil prices fell more than 2 percent on after Goldman Sachs and Germany’s Commerzbank slashed their crude forecasts. [Reuters, 9/10/2015]

Iraq’s bond drops to lowest in six years on oil revenue squeeze
Iraq’s only international bond declined to its lowest level since September 2009, as Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said oil prices have dropped below the minimum level to cover the cost of crude oil production. The fall in oil prices comes as Iraq plans to tap the international market for the first time in a decade. Iraq plans to raise $6 billion through bond sales in order to ease its a budget shortfall. However, investors warn that Iraq will have to pay significant yields to raise a sizeable amount. “There is no way [Iraq] can get [$6 billion] in one tranche,” said one investor. “I imagine the maximum will be $2 billion.” Another investor said that even raising $2 billion could be a struggle. “In order to [raise] $2 billion, [Iraq] will need to pay quite a substantial amount,” he said. [Bloomberg, 9/10/2015]

Tunisia development plan aims to raise growth to 5 percent
Tunisia’s five-year economic plan for 2016-2020 aims for a growth rate of 5 percent. The plan, formulated by the Ministry of Development, International Cooperation, and Investment, was released on Wednesday and submitted to government coalition parties. The plan aims to target “economic efficiency based on innovation and partnership, social inclusion, and sustainable development.” However, the ambitious growth rate requires several major reforms and a significant increase in both public and private investment. The plan also aims to reduce inflation to 3.6 percent and decrease the unemployment rate by 2020. On Thursday, TAP reported that IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde urged Tunisia to focus the country’s 2016 budget on growth and encouraging investment. [Zawya/TAP, 9/10/2015]

Egypt’s economy needs investment to boost reserves and growth
Experts say Egypt needs to boost investment and bring in foreign capital to avoid a looming cash crunch. Billions of dollars in debt repayments are due, foreign currency reserves fell to a six-month low in August, and Finance Minister Hany Kadry Dimian said this week that foreign direct investment is not growing as fast as hoped. Experts say if the government does not act quickly, the investment needed to realize its ambitious plans may not materialize in time. Experts recommend letting the currency devalue against the dollar to make exports more competitive, shore up foreign reserves, and alleviate investor uncertainty. Implementing a planned value-added tax this month would help bring the budget into line, as would a fresh bond issue similar to the one last June that raised $1.5 billion. [AP, 9/11/2015]