The Egyptian military has denied a report that army chief Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has announced his candidacy for presidency. On Thursday, Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Seyassah quoted Sisi saying "The decision has been made, and I have to succumb to the people's demand of running for the republic's presidency." Egypt's military spokesman Ahmed Ali, in a statement on Facebook, said, "What was published in Al-Seyassah is merely journalistic speculation and not a direct statement from Field Marshal al-Sisi." He continued that Sisi's "decision to run for president is a personal one that he will announce by himself to the great Egyptian people and no one else." The army chief has been expected to resign and announce a bid to run in presidential elections, which according to a decree issued by interim President Adly Mansour should begin between mid-February and April 18.
The Islamic Front and al Nusra Front have launched a new offensive in the northern province of Aleppo. The announcement Thursday has come in response to a recent campaign of attacks by government forces on the city of Aleppo. In the past five days, airstrikes with barrel bombs have killed at least 246 people in Aleppo, according to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Meanwhile, a close advisor to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Bouthaina Shaaban, said the government remains undecided on whether to participate in the second round of peace talks that the United Nations has proposed to begin February 10. U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has said he is confident that Syria would meet a June 30 deadline to eliminate its chemical weapons program, despite missing a February 5 deadline for the removal of its chemical arsenal. Ban said, "This may be a very tight target, but I believe that it can be done with the full support of the Syrian government."
- Iraqi authorities are illegally detaining thousands of women, subjecting many of them to torture and sexual abuse, according to a report released by Human Rights Watch.
- A series of car bombings across the Iraqi capital Baghdad have killed at least 13 people on Thursday, a day after multiple explosions killed an estimated 34 people.
- The Turkish Parliament has passed a bill imposing new restrictions on the Internet in a move met with outrage from the opposition and which has raised concerns for Europe over freedom of expression.
- Israel approved the construction of 558 new homes in Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem in a move Palestinian officials said undermined peace talks.
- Iran's nuclear energy chief Ali Akbar Salehi said Iran is prepared to modify its planned Arak heavy water reactor to produce less plutonium in order to ease Western concerns.
Arguments and Analysis
'Iraq: Security Forces Abusing Women in Detention' (Human Rights Watch)
"Both men and women suffer from the severe flaws of the criminal justice system. But women suffer a double burden due to their second-class status in Iraqi society. Human Rights Watch found that women are frequently targeted not only for crimes they themselves are said to have committed, but to harass male family or members of their communities. Once they have been detained, and even if they are released unharmed, women are frequently stigmatized by their family or community, who perceive them to have been dishonored.
Iraq's broken criminal justice system fails to achieve justice for victims either of security force abuses or of criminal attacks by armed groups, Human Rights Watch said. Arrests and convictions Human Rights Watch documented appeared often to have been predicated on information provided by secret informants and confessions coerced under torture."
'Jihadist Return is Said to Drive Attacks in Egypt' (David D. Kirkpatrick and Eric Schmitt, New York Times)
"'Egypt is again an open front for jihad,' said Brian Fishman, a researcher in counterterrorism at the New America Foundation in Washington. 'The world is being turned on its head, and, for the United States, the ability to rely on Egypt as a stabilizing force in the region -- rather than a source of problems -- is really being challenged.'
The birthplace of political Islam, Egypt has sent fighters to battle zones from Kandahar to the Caucasus for decades, and in the late 1990s its security forces crushed an Islamist insurgency at home. But until last summer, when the military ousted President Mohamed Morsi and began a bloody crackdown on his allies in the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt remained largely insulated from the Islamist violence that flared up around it.
Now the new government is facing a new campaign of terrorism -- set off by anger at Mr. Morsi's ouster but also tied to the Islamist and sectarian violence engulfing the region."--Mary Casey & Cortni Kerr
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