6th of June – LimaCharlie’s #MENA Weekly News Briefing:
As the month of #Ramadan begins, the battle for #Aleppo has reached new heights. The reported civilian death toll in Aleppo in the past week is in the high double digits, and there is little end in sight. Reports indicate that #Russian and #Syrian Air Force have been conducting aggressive close air support missions to aid the advancements of the Syrian Government supported Militia and Defense Forces.
The Russian Air Force’s escalation against Jabhat al-Nusra and allied groups signifies a break from the stated intent of Russian High Command in Moscow to begin a pause in air campaigns to allow allied armed groups to distance themselves, and to engage the groups on their own terms.
Reports indicate that the Russian lead proposed rewrite of the Syrian constitution is coming to an end and its contents will be announced to the public soon. Fear from Syrian Baath loyalists is that the Russian proposal will include a severely diminished power base for the Baath party in Syria to appease the base opposition.
Syrian troops on Saturday reached the edge of the northern province of Raqqa, home to the de facto capital of Islamic State militant group’s self-styled caliphate, in a push that leaves the extremists fighting fierce battles on four fronts in Syria and neighboring Iraq.
Iraqi Forces keeps pushing to secure the entirety of Fallujah in the Anbar province in an offensive that has now been going on for over 2 weeks. According to official sources, the Iraqi Forces are about to announce the conclusion of the securing of the southern edge of Fallujah. Fallujah has been the stronghold for #ISIS since ISIS’s offensive in Iraq began. ISIS is reportedly trying to hold off the assault with suicide and car bombings, and the military forces have said they will likely pause before striking Fallujah’s center to give the estimated 50,000 trapped civilians a chance to escape. Further on, reports say at least 130 Iraqi soldiers have been killed in a series of attacks by ISIS near #Fallujah. The first attack happened at dawn on Wednesday when 10 suicide bombers belonging to ISIL, also known as ISIS, hit the town of Kubaisah before storming the nearby village of Al Sejar, and then attacked an army convoy to the south of Fallujah at Amiriyat al-Fallujah with roadside bombs, military sources told Al Jazeera.
The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (#UNAMI) estimated that a total of 867 Iraqis were killed in violence in the month of May, 468 of them civilians.
#Kurdish troops offensive to retake Mosul has been at a stand still where both the #Peshmerga and ISIS have entrenched themselves in fixed positions. Saturday ISIS reportedly did a counter-offensive move in a twin multi-pronged assault. The Kurdish units were able to repulse the attack, and reportedly the ISIS casualty numbers were severe. Last Monday the Peshmerga launched a major offense against ISIS on the Khazir front, southeast of Mosul. Some 140 extremists were killed, 2 surrendered to the Peshmerga and nine villages were liberated. Also, 4 Peshmerga were killed and 34 others wounded, said the Peshmerga commander of the Khazir front.
The Kurdish offensive on Mosul has shown cracks in the fragile alliance between the Peshmerga and the Iraqi Military. Reportedly neither side trusts that the other side will fight alongside or stand against ISIS if a large scale counter offensive were to happen. The politics that both sides represent are also at odds with one and other, the Iraqi Military representing a united Iraq, and the Kurdish one representing a divide that would enable a Kurdish state to emerge.
#Turkish Air Force attacked a Kurdish military convoy traveling on one of the main paths, and a Kurdish military installations, in northern Iraq and southeast Turkey on Sunday. The attack reportedly netted 27 Kurdish fighters the Turkish Military Spokesperson said.
#SaudiArabia’s Council for Economic and Development Affairs (#CEDA) has announced the completion of the national transformation plan overseen by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and will pass it to the cabinet on Monday for approval, a senior Saudi source said. “The Council of Economic and Development Affairs (CEDA) has approved the final draft of the National Transformation Plan, which is one of the plans adopted and part of the 2030 vision which was launched and adopted by the Saudi deputy crown prince, president of CEDA,” the source said. The Saudi central bank has told banks it is banning the use of options and other derivatives to speculate against the riyal, in a new effort to reduce pressure on its currency peg, a senior executive at a Saudi bank told Reuters on Sunday.
Saudi Arabia’s recently created Public Investment Fund, which is nationally funded by the Saudi Government and is part of the government’s economic reform program with $100bn in illiquid assets, has invested $3.5 billion US Dollars into #Uber. The investment announcement occurred this past Tuesday.
#Iran – Turkish energy company #UnitInternational has announced a $4.2bn deal with Iran’s energy ministry to build seven natural gas power plants there on Saturday, in what it said was the biggest investment in Iran since the lifting of sanctions.
The Iranian Supreme Cyberspace Council: Foreign messaging services must hand over their data. The Supreme Cyberspace Council, the highest state body in Iran tasked with developing and coordinating cyber policy, decreed that all foreign messaging services must store their data on Iranian users in servers located inside the country. This move would facilitate state monitoring and censorship of popular messaging services, such as Telegram, that the Iranian regime has sought to block in the past.
#Qatar Airways has canceled the order for its first A320neo jetliner from Airbus Group SE in the clearest sign yet that supplier bottlenecks are undermining commitments the European plane maker has made to customers. At the same time, Qantas Airways Ltd. has announced its intent to expand U.S. services with the introduction of new Boeing Co. long-range planes to bolster its budding partnership with American Airlines Group Inc.
The bodies of 133 migrants have washed up on the shore at the western #Libyan city of #Zuwara in recent days, the Red Crescent said on Sunday.
#Bahrain’s coastguard have arrested 8 men convicted or wanted on “terrorism” charges, as they tried to escape to Iran by speedboat, a Bahraini news agency reported on Sunday. Earlier in the week, Bahrain’s High Criminal Court has accused 24 Bahrainis of joining the ISIL terror group. 8 of the defendants were put on trial on Wednesday while the others were still at large, reported Gulf Daily News. Defense lawyer #AbdullaHashim, who represents five of the defendants, called for an acquittal and said his clients did not join ISIL. However, he said one of the defendants did fight alongside the Free Syrian Army in Syria.
#Jordanian Border Guards night killed two people who tried to illegally infiltrate into the Kingdom from Syria on Thursday, a military official at the Jordan Armed Forces-Arab Army (JAF) said on Friday.
Last Monday saw a roadside attack on a Police transport in Northern Sinai which netted the life of 2 Egyptian Police officers. In response to the increasing turmoil in Sinai, Fuji has announced that they will be diminishing their deployed number of troops on Multinational Force and Observers (#MFO) peacekeeping missions. Egypt and the Kuwait fund for Arab Economic Development (#KFAED) signed on Tuesday the first agreement in a pledged series of projects for the development of Sinai, according to the international cooperation ministry’s website. The KFAED will loan Egypt $100 million to finance five water desalination plants in South Sinai. The loan will be repaid after five-year grace period for a 25-year duration at a yearly interest rate of 2 percent. The Kuwaiti fund had pledged in November 2015 $300 million annually over five years for developmental projects in #Egypt.
In 2015, several Arab funds pledged $1.5 billion to finance developmental projects in Sinai, including the #KFAED, the Abu Dhabi Fund, the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development and the Islamic Development Fund.
Signals have been detected from the black boxes of #EgyptAir flight MS804, which crashed into the Mediterranean last month, the French aviation authority said on Wednesday.
#Somalian Sports radio journalist Sagal Salad Osman for State operated Radio Muqdishu was shot dead by unknown gunmen outside of Palasma University on the morning of Sunday. The United Nations Somalia office made a public statement 4 hours after the incident condemning the act, and stating that the “perpetrators must be apprehended.” Ms Sagal Salad Osman was one of the few female journalists in Somalia.
A total of 8 individuals, 3 of which are teenagers, have been arrested by the #Israel Defense Forces for working on the construction or security of #Hamas tunnels. Further on, on Thursday the Israeli military said a knife-wielding Palestinian woman was shot and killed as she tried to stab a soldier at a West Bank checkpoint. Over the last eight months, Palestinian attacks have killed 28 Israelis and two Americans. About 200 Palestinians have been killed during that time. Israel says most were attackers and the rest were killed in clashes with Israeli forces. The assaults were once near-daily incidents but they have become less frequent in recent weeks.
U.S. President Barack #Obama on Wednesday renewed a presidential waiver suspending the relocation of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem for another six months. The Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995 states the embassy must be relocated to Israel’s capital no later than 1999. However, all U.S. presidents have issued waivers at six-month intervals ever since.
#Afghan MP Sher Wali Wardak was injured in an explosion outside his house and died on the way to hospital, Afghan Government officials said. No group has so far admitted carrying out the attack. Separately, at least seven people were killed and more than 20 injured when Taliban gunmen, reportedly in police uniform, stormed a court in Puli Alam, capital of Logar province. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has pledged a tougher response to the Taliban after an attack in Kabul in April left 64 people dead.
#Oil prices stagnates. The price per barrel of oil has been fluctuating by about 2% up and down throughout the week. Last week we saw it hit $48.80, and today at the time of the publishing of this briefing it stands at $48.47.
We here at The Middle East Desk at #LimaCharlie wish everyone Ramadan Mubarak.
John Sjoholm, Lima Charlie’s Middle East Bureau Chief
John Sjoholm is a seasoned Middle East specialist with a past in the Swedish Army’s Special Forces branch, and in the Private Military Contracting industry. He lived and operated extensively in the Middle East between 2005-2012 as part of regional stabilizing projects, and currently resides in Jordan.
Follow John on Twitter: @JohnSjoholmLC
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