MENA Week In Review – September 20

Below is a roundup of some of the top articles and news highlights from around the MENA region over the last week:

Syria:

  • The United States and Russia agreed to a deal on Saturday through which Syria would destroy its chemical weapons arsenal by mid 2014. The United Nations Security Council would enforce the deal, though disagreements remain between Russia and the U.S. as to whether a threat of force should be part of punitive measures against Syria if it does not satisfy all conditions.
  • The UN published on Monday a report that confirms large-scale chemical attacks took place on August 21, with the U.S. interpreting the report’s findings as an indication that Bashar al-Assad’s government was responsible for the attack. In an interview on Fox News on Tuesday, Assad denied all culpability and claimed it could take a year for Syria to destroy its chemical weapons.
  • An Al Qaeda linked rebel group and a Free Syrian Army outfit agreed to a ceasefire today after clashes between the two took place on a border town with Turkey this week.

Egypt:

  • Egyptian Armed Forces Spokesman Ahmed Ali vowed on Sunday to continue security operations in Sinai until the area no longer contains “factions threatening national security.” Ali reported that hundreds of militants were arrested and that arms such as rocket-propelled grenades had been confiscated.
  • Egyptian forces stormed the Islamist-dominated towns of Dalga and Kerdasa on Monday and Thursday respectively.
  • State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki called on Egypt to halt all politicized arrests following the arrest of the Muslim Brotherhood’s English language spokesperson, Gehad el-Haddad, on Tuesday. In response to the State Department, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry denied that Egypt has arrested any person on political grounds since the June 30th Revolution.

Iran:

  • Iranian leaders made a number of statements and gestures this week that experts suggest could reflect more moderate and compromising foreign and nuclear policies. Earlier in the week, President Hassan Rouhani and President Obama exchanged letters about Iran’s nuclear program. On Wednesday, Iran released 11 prominent political prisoners, and Rouhani stated in an interview with NBC that “under no circumstances would we seek any weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons.” On Friday, Rouhani published an op-ed in the Washington Post in which he called for constructive engagement with the international community.
  • Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, expressed his support for President Rouhani’s efforts to improve relations with the West. The Washington Post wrote: “Although Khamenei said the Islamic republic must never abandon its revolutionary ideals and objectives, he said it was time to address Iran’s diplomatic disputes with major world powers.”

Israel:

  • President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet at the end of the month following the UN General Assembly to discuss Iran’s nuclear program. Possibly as a response to Iran’s diplomatic overtures, the Prime Minister listed four necessary steps for stopping Iran’s nuclear program.

Libya:

  • The U.S. Defense Department confirmed on Tuesday a Fox News report from the previous week that weapons were stolen from a U.S. Special Forces installation in Tripoli. The Pentagon claims the U.S. troops were in Libya to train the Libyan military. The U.S. soldiers were not at the installation during the break-ins, and Libyan security forces were guarding the installation at the time of the theft.
  • After weeks of inactivity, some oil fields in Libya resumed work, as Libyan authorities continue to negotiate with militias and protesters occupying the fields to return Libyan oil output to its full capacity. Libya’s Prime Minister complained earlier in the week that disruptions were costing the country USD 130 million each day.

Tunisia:

  • Tunisian Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou acknowledged on Thursday that his ministry received prior warnings from the CIA about an assassination attempt on opposition politician Mohamed Brahmi but failed to prevent the assassination. Ben Jeddou defended his ministry’s overall performance, stating: “Tunisia is doing significantly better than other countries of the Arab Spring in terms of security.”

Yemen:

  • A suspected Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula attack on security installations in Southern Yemen killed at least 40 soldiers and policemen today, the deadliest attack against security personnel since May 2012.
  • Yemen received two Cessna 280C reconnaissance aircraft from the U.S. on Monday aimed to help the country bolster its counterterrorism capabilities.
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