Egyptian Army Announces Death of 24 Terrorists in Sinai

An Egyptian military vehicle in northern Sinai. Reuters

Cairo- Egyptian armed forces said Sunday that at least 24 terrorists and six soldiers were killed as they foiled terror attacks aimed at targeting checkpoints in al-Qawades district, North Sinai.

Armed Forces Spokesman Colonel Tamer al-Rifai said in a statement that one terrorist was also injured during the clashes.

During the operation, 24 militants were killed and another one was injured when law enforcement forces thwarted a failed terrorist attempt

The armed forces also destroyed two vehicles, which were used by terrorists, and the forces are currently combing the area of the incident and chasing the attackers.

North Sinai has witnessed many terrorist attacks since the January 2011 revolution that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak.

Egypt is fighting an insurgency by militants affiliated with ISIS in the Sinai Peninsula, where hundreds of soldiers and police have been killed since 2013 when the military ousted Islamist president Mohamed Mursi after mass protests.

Since then, hundreds of Egyptian security personnel have been killed in attacks across Sinai, especially in the peninsula’s volatile northeastern quadrant, which shares borders with both Israel and the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

The militants have also extended their campaign to other parts of Egypt, most recently attacking churches in Cairo and other cities with the loss of dozens of lives.

Yemeni Militias Resort to Planting Mines Across Villages after Losing in Taiz

Yemeni students attend a class on the first day of the new school year in the capital Sanaa, on October 15, 2017

Taiz- Militia sources in Yemen said that coup factions have stepped up their weaving of landmines into the southwestern villages near Taiz. The increase in mine-planting activity comes after suffering steep losses in the battlefield.

On the other hand, a pro-government military source belonging to the 35th Armored Brigade said that insurgency militias continued to plant mines across civilian infrastructure, such as farms, residential neighborhoods, and near water wells.

Al-Houd, Al-Sayyar, Al-Sharaf villages and the Othman Bin Affan School in Al-Houd, were among areas targeted.

The source further stressed that national army units pushed against attempts for coup militias to advance into the city of Taiz and the countryside.

Most attempts were staged to progress and restore sites lost east and northwest of the city.

The source added that Houthi-planted mines have killed 9 civilians, including two women and three children, in August alone.

Last Friday, the mines killed a citizen named Saif al-Qamri, and wounded four women in the area of ​​Hamli, west of Taiz.

Planting mines increased fiercely in retaliation to Zaid bin Ali al-Sharfi, a senior Houthi field commander, being killed in the fierce battles between militias and the Yemeni armed forces in the north-western frontier of Harad.

The statement issued by the Media Center of the fifth military region underlined that the leader of the Houthi militia, Zaid bin Ali Sharfi was killed on Friday evening, in the battles between the forces of the National Army on the one hand and Houthi, Saleh militias on the other near the border frontier of Harad.

The center quoted military sources as saying that the corpse of Sharfi is still laying in the Harad desert as the militias were unable to retrieve their dead due to fierce ongoing battles.

The statement said that the arms officer in the warehouse of the Midi Front and the leader of the Houthi militia, Waleed Mohammed Ahmed al-Houthi, was also killed along with four other Houthi leaders in an air raid by the Arab coalition east of Midi.

Iraq Govt. Forces Launch Offensive on Kurdish-Held Kirkuk

Kirkuk

Iraqi government forces launched on Monday an offensive to retake territory seized by Kurds in Kirkuk in what is seen as response to last month’s Kurdish independence referendum, which was rejected by Baghdad.

The forces have so far seized a swathe of countryside surrounding the oil city of Kirkuk in a bold military response to the September 25 referendum in which an overwhelming majority of Kurds voted in favor of independence.

Baghdad and the Kurdish region have long been at odds over the fate of Kirkuk, a dispute that has grown more bitter since the vote.

The government said its troops had seized Kirkuk airport and had taken control of Northern Iraq’s oil company from the security forces of the autonomous Kurdish region, known as Peshmerga.

Iraqi oil industry officials said there was no disruption to production from the facilities of the Company, which is based in Kirkuk and one of the two main oil companies that together provide nearly all of Iraq’s government revenue.

The military action was the most decisive step Baghdad has taken yet to rein in the independence aspirations of the Kurds, who have governed themselves as an autonomous part of Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

“We call on the Peshmerga forces to serve under the federal authority as part of the Iraqi armed forces,” Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said in a statement which was read out on television. He ordered security forces “to impose security in Kirkuk in cooperation with the population of the city and the Peshmerga”, the statement said.

State television said Iraqi forces had also entered Tuz Khurmato, a flashpoint town where there had been clashes between Kurds and mainly Shi‘ite Muslims of Turkmen ethnicity.

The Kurdish regional government did not initially confirm the Iraqi advances, but Rudaw, a major Kurdish TV station, reported that Peshmerga had left positions south of Kirkuk.

The city of Kirkuk itself remained under Kurdish control, 12 hours after the start of the Iraqi operation, but two routes in and out were under control of the Iraqi forces.

“We have no orders to enter the city, just to secure the surroundings,” a military commander involved in the operation told Reuters, adding that the Kurdish forces had pulled out in an orderly manner from the position taken by the Iraqi forces.

Another military commander said: “Kurdish leaders we consider our brothers have agreed to hand over control of North Oil and North Gas company facilities that belong to the state.”

Although Iraqi officials portrayed the Kurds as retreating without a fight, Kurdish officials said Peshmerga had clashed with the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), Shi‘ite forces trained and armed by Iran that operate alongside regular Iraqi troops.

The Peshmerga and PMF exchanged artillery fire south of Kirkuk, a Kurdish security official said. The official said the Peshmerga had pushed back two assaults by the Iraqi forces south of the city and destroyed several Humvees used by the PMF.

A spokesman for Iraq’s state-sanctioned militias announced they have “achieved all our goals” in retaking areas from Kurdish forces in and around the disputed northern city of Kirkuk.

He said federal forces have been deployed in the area of the K-1 military base, the Kirkuk airport and a number of oil fields and installations. But he added that the PMF have not entered the city center. Abadi had previously vowed they would remain outside the city.

Neither side provided a toll of casualties.

Major General Ayoub Yusuf Said told The Associated Press that his Kurdish forces have been battling since early Monday and have suffered casualties, without providing a specific figure.

“We are not withdrawing from here, we are fortifying our positions at the airport and we intend to fight here.”

US forces which have worked closely with both the federal forces and the Kurdish Peshmerga to fight against ISIS called on both sides to avoid escalation.

It said it believes the exchange of fire between Iraqi and Kurdish forces was a “misunderstanding.”

It continued that it was aware of reports of a “limited exchange of fire during predawn hours of darkness,” but “we believe the engagement this morning was a misunderstanding and not deliberate as two elements attempted to link up under limited visibility conditions.”

The US-led task international force in Iraq was “closely monitoring (the situation) near Kirkuk; urge all sides to avoid escalatory actions. Finish the fight vs. #ISIS, biggest threat to all,” a spokesman said on Twitter.

Bayan Sami Rahman, the Kurdish regional government’s representative in the United States, tweeted a plea for Washington to “use (its) leadership role to prevent war”.

Major General Robert White, commander of coalition ground forces, said: “We continue to advocate dialogue between Iraqi and Kurdish authorities. All parties must remain focused on the defeat of our common enemy,” ISIS.

The action in Iraq helped spur a jump in world oil prices on Monday.

Baghdad considers last month’s Kurdish independence referendum illegal, especially as it was held not just in the autonomous region itself but in territory in northern Iraq, including Kirkuk, which the Peshmerga seized after driving out ISIS.

The Kurdish secession bid was strongly opposed by neighbors Iran and Turkey. Washington, allied with the Kurds for decades, had pleaded in vain for them to cancel the vote, arguing that it could lead to regional war and the breakup of Iraq.

Abadi’s government said its forces, including the elite US-trained Counter Terrorism Service, had moved almost unopposed into the industrial zone just south of Kirkuk and the oil, gas, facilities located south and west of the city.

SDF Launches Final Assault Against ISIS in Raqqa

People displaced in fightings between the Syrian Democratic Forces and Islamic State militants are pictured at a refugee camp in Ain Issa

US-backed forces are battled on Monday ISIS militants from their former Syrian stronghold Raqqa, bringing their four-month campaign for the city to the brink of victory.

Sporadic artillery fire rang out and thick columns of smoke rose above the city as US-led coalition air strikes targeted remaining jihadists in a handful of last positions.

The field commander in Raqqa described Monday’s fighting as “a clearing operation” and said he expected it to be completed by the end of the day with the SDF controlling the whole city.

Ilham Ahmed, a senior politician in the SDF, said she expected the end of the campaign to be declared “within hours of days”, but the US-led coalition said it could not put a timeline on the battle.

An alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, the Syrian Democratic Forces, broke into Raqqa in June and is poised to seize the last 10 percent of the city after a weekend deal to evacuate civilians.

“The Syrian Democratic Forces are currently waging their toughest battles yet,” AFP quoted Jihan Sheikh Ahmed, spokeswoman for the operation to capture the city, as saying.

The latest fighting “will bring an end to Daesh’s presence,” she added, using the Arabic acronym for IS. “They can choose between surrendering and dying.”

An estimated 300 mostly foreign ISIS fighters are surrounded, mostly in central parts of the city, but are expected to resist fiercely

Overnight, SDF fighters captured the northern Al-Barid neighborhood, and their efforts would focus Monday on several adjacent districts, she added.

ISIS defeat in Raqqa mirrors its collapse across Iraq and Syria, where its enemies have driven it from cities, killed its leaders in air strikes and regained the oil fields that funded its self-declared caliphate.

It lost Mosul, its largest city and most prized possession after months of fighting in July.

The group, which at its height ruled millions of people in both countries, is in Syria now forced back into a strip of the Euphrates valley south of Deir al-Zor and areas of desert on each side.

“We have conducted some strikes in the last 24 hours, but I suspect that that will pick up here very soon with the SDF advancing into the final remaining areas of the city,” said Colonel Ryan Dillon, spokesman for the US-led coalition.

According to a Reuters correspondent, some cars in the streets had loudspeakers mounted on their roofs broadcasting messages to the last ISIS fighters telling them they would not be ill-treated if they surrendered.

Another SDF field commander, who gave his name as Ashraf Serhad, said he had heard that 250 ISIS militants remained and that on Sunday he had seen several minivans and buses leave the hospital carrying some who had surrendered.

Saturday night’s convoy out of Raqqa included about 100 ISIS fighters and nearly 200 family members, said Omar Alloush, a member of the Raqqa Civil Council set up by the SDF to run the city.

The fighters who left in the convoy are being held by security forces before interrogation and may be tried in court, he added.

Israel Expects UNESCO to Change its Policy following Selection of Azoulay

Tel Aviv – Israel will not follow Washington’s steps in leaving the UNESCO, saying it expects positive change towards Tel Aviv following the selection of Audrey Azoulay as chief of the organization, according to political sources in Tel Aviv.

The sources indicated that Israel was surprised by the US decision on Thursday to quit United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Four senior Israeli and American officials said there was no coordination with Israel in the days leading to the decision, adding that the Trump administration did not inform Israel.

Over the past few months, Israeli and US diplomats in New York and Paris discussed the possibility of US leaving the UNESCO during bilateral talks, according to senior Israeli officials.

Officials added that the issue was discussed during US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley’s visit to Israel in June, but at no point did US officials tell Israel a decision had been made to withdraw.

In spite of close relations between Israel and Trump’s administration, the incident exposed lack of coordination between the two countries.

Senior Israeli officials confirmed that Israel learned of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s decision from the website of Foreign Policy very late Wednesday night.

Following the announcement, Israeli diplomats at the embassy in Washington and UN’s delegation asked US counterparts for clarification.

Thursday morning Israel was told that in a few hours the State Department would announce the US departure from UNESCO.

Senior US officials confirmed that Washington did not inform Israel of its decision.

The process that led to the decision to withdraw was an internal US issue and was not discussed with any non-US governmental entity prior to the secretary’s decision, according to a senior official.

Actually, even after the decision was made, Tillerson did not inform Israel. He only reported the decision to UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova. Only after the announcement was published in the media, the US informed its allies including Israel.

The surprise in Jerusalem and the fact that the decision was made during the Simhat Torah holiday, were the main reason behind Israel’s rather strange announcement on Thursday night that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had directed the Foreign Ministry “to prepare” for the possibility of Israel leaving UNESCO.

Israel had no information about the timing of the US decision, and that is why there had been no real discussions with the prime minister on the subject. Netanyahu’s instructions were the result of a conference call held with a few of his advisers and senior Foreign Ministry officials.

However, with the selection of France’s former Culture Minister Audrey Azoulay as director of UNESCO, Israeli officials are leaning towards cooperating with her.

Azoulay is the daughter of Jewish adviser of King of Morocco Andre Azoulay who is also close friends of Israel’s Envoy to the UNESCO Carmel Shama.

7 Killed in Militant Attack in Egypt’s North Sinai

Sinai

Seven people were killed on Monday when militants robbed a bank and engaged in a shootout with security forces in northern Sinai in Egypt, security sources said.

Four policemen were killed in the attack when five SUVs, each carrying four gunmen, fired at security forces nearby the unused Saint George Church before robbing a branch of National Bank of Egypt, in al-Arish, the capital of North Sinai.

Three civilians were also killed in the assault, officials said.

“They looted the entire bank and left explosive devices inside,” a senior security official said.

“The militants fired shots randomly in the street as if they were celebrating with some of them raising their black flags (of ISIS) and they roamed the streets for about 20 minutes then disappeared,” said Alaa Lotfy, a shop owner in the area who witnessed the clashes.

Fifteen people were injured in the attack, officials added.

A bank employee appeared to have been kidnapped in Monday’s attack, they revealed.

Security forces cordoned off the city center and evacuated residents living in the bank building.

Pictures posted on social media by locals from al-Arish showed school girls fleeing a school located in the vicinity of the bank and the church.

Services at the church were suspended months ago, following a wave of attacks on Christians in Sinai.

At least 24 militants and six soldiers were killed on Sunday in attacks on military outposts in North Sinai. The attacks were claimed by the ISIS affiliate in Sinai.

On Thursday, six other policemen were also killed in an attack by the terrorists in al-Arish.

Hamas Runs a Regional PR Campaign

Fatah’s Azam al-Ahmad (right) and Saleh al-Aruri of Hamas kiss after signing a reconciliation deal in Cairo on Thursday.

Ramallah- Gaza ruling party Hamas is steadily on the track of restoring its ties with former allies while maintaining current friends. The move by no means is risk-free, as conflict pits parties Hamas views as valuable against each other.

It is no secret that the Islamist movement, which lost allies and won others, is planning broader and better relations with Egypt. It looks forward to opening up as much as possible to Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE. But it also strives to do the same with Qatar and Turkey, and to restore ties with Iran and Hezbollah, and perhaps the Syrian regime at a later date.

Officially, Hamas says it wants to maintain advanced relations with all Arabs in the region, as well as other countries, so long that it serves the best interest of the Palestinian cause.

Many Hamas officials, including Hamas Leader Khaled Meshaal, confirmed that this goes beyond playing along politics axes.

Hamas-affiliated writer and political analyst Ibrahim Madhoun said the movement will partially succeed in its endeavors.

“There are countries and people who understand the positions of the movement and there are other countries that are conservative, but this will not push Hamas to take a hostile stance or to back down,” said Madhoun.

“The movement will try to knock on these doors, and open areas with everyone in one way or another, especially central countries such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran and Egypt, as they stand to be the real supporter of the Palestinian cause,” he added.

According to Madhoun, “Hamas’ response to Egyptian efforts was not at the expense of Turkey or Qatar or of any other party, and neither will contact with Tehran be at the expense of Riyadh or the Gulf.”

“I believe that talking to Russia does not mean antagonizing the United States, although the latter takes a negative attitude. There are efforts by Hamas to infiltrate the American wall itself.”

Contacts made by the head of Hamas’ political bureau in the last two days, made it clear that Hamas actually tried to communicate with all sides openly as if it were sending out a message in every direction in this regard.

Amr Moussa Appointed Representative at African Union Panel of the Wise

Moussa

Cairo – The African Union Commission (AUC) appointed on Saturday former Secretary General of the Arab League Amr Moussa as the first Egyptian to become a member of the African Union Panel of the Wise.

He has been appointed as a successor to Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi, said Moussa in a statement.

The Panel of the Wise includes Nobel Peace Prize winner Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Gabon former Minister for Social Affairs Honorine Nzet Biteghe, in addition to the former President of Namibia Hifikepunye Pohamba and former Vice President of Uganda Specioza Naigaga Wandira Kazibwe.

Moussa underlined the vital role the Panel played following the June 30, 2013 revolution in Egypt through the visits its members paid to to Cairo, Addis Ababa, and various African capitals. He stressed the importance of Egypt’s presence among African circles and its defense of the continent’s interests.

The Panel of the Wise deals with conflict prevention, management and resolution among African countries. It provides consultations to the Peace and Security Council on relevant issues. The Panel of the Wise serves a three-year term and is composed of five members representing the North, East, West, South and Center of Africa.

It was established in December 2007, and since then it had been concerned with issues of justice, national reconciliation, preserving the rights of women and children in armed conflicts, democracy and governance.

The first Panel of the Wise was comprised of late Algerian President Ahmed Ben Bella, Tanzanian diplomat Salim Ahmed Salim, former President of Sao Tome Miguel Trovoada and others.

Kuwaiti Emir to Conduct Gulf Tour to Resolve Qatar Crisis

Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah attends the opening of the Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Doha

Kuwait- Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al Sabah is expected to start a Gulf tour this week as part of his efforts to resolve the Qatari crisis ahead of a Gulf summit in Kuwait next December.

The holding of the summit is faced by several obstacles, including the boycott imposed by a number of Gulf States on Doha on the basis of Qatar’s policy that contributes to destabilizing the region and the Arab world.

“Talks between the Saudi and Kuwaiti sides will focus on the ongoing rift between Qatar and the quartet countries, the means to address differences at the negotiating table and finding solutions that will resolve the crisis radically,” Germany’s official news agency quoted a Saudi source as saying.

The sources refused to comment on current reports suggesting that a close solution to the crisis could be reached by holding a meeting of the leaders of the six Gulf countries and Egypt at a summit hosted by Kuwait according to a specific roadmap with the guarantee of the Emir of Kuwait.

“The wisdom and experience of Sheikh Sabah will facilitate the achievement of practical solutions that ensure Qatar’s abidance by the basic principles required by the four countries, the adoption of procedures to converge views based on the commitment to the six principles adopted in 2013, their implementation mechanism, which was issued in 2014, and the written commitment by the Emir of Qatar to implement them,” the sources noted.

Last week, Kuwait’s deputy foreign minister, Khalid al-Jarallah, said that Kuwait had not yet sent invitations to Gulf Arab leaders for the Gulf Summit.

“It was usual at every Gulf summit to send invitations before an appropriate time, but it is too early to talk about these invitations now and send them to our brothers in the Gulf States,” he said.

Jarallah said he was optimistic about reaching a solution to the crisis. He also expressed hope that the dispute between Gulf brothers would be addressed ahead of the upcoming Gulf summit.

“The Kuwaiti mediation efforts to resolve the Gulf crisis will not fail and will continue with the help of the United States,” he said late last month.

Houthi Minister Accuses Saleh of Killing Politicians

A poster bearing the portrait of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh and announcing the 35 year anniversary of the establishment of his General People's Congress party is seen on a Sanaa street on August 19, 2017.

Riyadh- A “Houthi” minister in the Sanaa coup government accused on Sunday former president Ali Abdullah Saleh of killing political leaders during his tenure.

Hassan Zaid, who holds the post of minister of Youth and Sports within the illegitimate Houthi government in Sanaa, wrote on his Facebook account on Sunday that “impertinence and cruelty that can reach the level of atrocity is embodied in the refusal of head of the General People’s Congress party to uncover the fate of the forced hidden Nasserite leaders.”

Zaid threatened the former president of opening the file of “illicit gains.”

The Houthi minister said he would not stop digging in the files of corruption and assassinations, the smuggling of weapons, in addition to giving up state lands.

In August, a war of words between the two previous allies, Houthi and Saleh’s supporters, exploded into a military confrontation when militants believed to be linked to Saleh’s Republican Guards fired at a Houthi military position in the Joulat al-Misbaha where the two groups exchanged fires in the presence of a high-security deployment.
Reports said the clashes erupted after Houthi fighters tried to set up a security checkpoint near the home of Saleh in Sana’a.

Last August, Zaid also confessed that, around two years ago, he had asked the head of the so-called Supreme Political Council, Saleh al-Samad, to assassinate President Abd Rabu Mansour Hadi and place him under house arrest in the Yemeni capital.

He also revealed that Saleh was granting military ranks to Qaeda militants and accused the former president of using them to assassinate academics, military officials and security leaders.

“The former regime of Saleh was granting military grades and was hiring hundreds of guards to protect armed bandits and Qaeda members who were later tasked to kill patriots from the military, security and academic leadership,” he said.