Top News: Assad backs Syria truce, accuses opposition of violations

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad described the ceasefire as a “glimmer of hope,” but accused the opposition of violating the agreement intended to halt the fighting. He pledged Tuesday to do his part to ensure a fragile ceasefire holds and offered “full amnesty” to rebels who hand in their weapons. The opposition has in turn accused the Syrian government of breaching the fragile truce by repeatedly attacking its positions, which the government denies. International observers have acknowledged violations of the agreement while stressing that the level of violence has decreased considerably. “We will play our part to make the whole thing work,” Assad was quoted as saying in an interview with Germany’s ARD television network. Assad said the Syrian army had not reacted to truce violations in order to give the agreement a chance. Journalists who visited rebel-held Aleppo reported, however, that residents remain distrustful of the Assad regime and Russian intentions, viewing the ceasefire as a trick and opposing it. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that clashes took place late Monday night between regime forces and Islamic battalions in Suleiman al-Halabi neighborhood amid rebel shelling. A series of artillery shells also exploded on the main street of Kinsibba village near the Turkish border in Latakia province. The Russian military says the shelling came from Nusra Front. [Reuters, AFP, Daily Star, AP, 3/1/2016]



Justice Minister proposes legislation to penalize parents of terrorists
Justice Minister Ahmed al-Zind announced a plan to amend Egypt’s anti-terrorism law to permit the prosecution of parents and guardians who allow youth under their care to leave home in order to join terrorist organizations. Zind made the remarks from Kuwait after discussions with Kuwaiti officials regarding bilateral efforts to improve counter-terrorism efforts. “Whoever leaves their son or anyone under their care without checking what he’s up to or his whereabouts is considered an accomplice in the crime,” he said. The change to Egypt’s anti-terrorism law would be accompanied by a similar change to anti-terrorism legislation in Kuwait, he added, with the amendments ratified by their respective parliaments. The proposed amendments are part of a broader deal agreed upon by the two nations to cooperate on anti-terrorism efforts. The new deal involves a range of legal and judicial measures in civil, trade, personal status, and penal matters. The minister said that changes to legislation that laid some responsibility on parents and guardians would allow them to have more control over youth under their care, thus making it more difficult for terrorist groups to recruit young people. [AMAY, 3/1/2016]

Facebook admin sentenced to five years in jail for ‘inciting murder against police’
An Ismailia Misdemeanor Court sentenced Mohamed Magdy Ibrahim, an administrator of a pro-Muslim Brotherhood Facebook page, to five years in jail on Monday on charges of “inciting murder against police officers.” In May 2015, Ibrahim was arrested along with seven others who were later acquitted, after an officer at an Ismailia police station filed a report against him, accusing him of publishing threats to police officers and pictures of their families, inciting the page’s followers to kill them. The verdict is subject to appeal. [Ahram Online, 3/1/2016]

Coordinator of 6 April group sentenced to three years in jail
A Cairo Misdemeanor Court sentenced on Monday the coordinator of the April 6 Youth Movement Amr Ali to three years in prison and a fine of EGP 500 on charges of illegal protesting and joining a banned group. Ali, who was arrested from his home in September 2015, was elected as April 6 coordinator in October 2013, succeeding its founder and long-time coordinator Ahmed Maher. Maher is currently serving a three-year jail term on charges of illegal protesting. Three other defendants in the same trial received the same sentence in absentia. The April 6 movement condemned the verdict in a statement issued on its Facebook page on Tuesday. The verdict is subject to appeal. [Ahram Online, DNE, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, 3/1/2016]

Forensics expert reportedly says Italian killed in Egypt was interrogated for days
According to Reuters, an Egyptian forensics official told the public prosecutor’s office the autopsy he conducted on Italian student Giulio Regeni showed he was interrogated for up to seven days before he was killed, two prosecution sources said. The prosecution sources said Hisham Abdel Hamid, Director of the Department of Forensic Medicine, gave his findings during questioning as an expert by officials in the public prosecutor’s office last week. “We asked Hisham Abdel Hamid to appear before the prosecutor’s office for questioning, to ask him questions about the autopsy,” an investigator in the prosecutor’s office said. “Abdel Hamid said during the questioning that the wounds on the body occurred over different intervals of between 10-14 hours. That means that whoever is accused of killing him was interrogating him for information.” Egypt’s state news agency, however, said Shaaban al-Shami, Assistant to the Justice Minister on Forensic Medical Affairs, denied Abdel Hamid was questioned by the public prosecutor’s office. Meanwhile, the Italian government-backed energy giant Eni has expressed confidence in Egyptian investigators who are examining Regeni’s case, in response to a call by Amnesty International for the company to put pressure on Egyptian authorities. In a letter to Amnesty dated February 12, Claudio Descalzi, Eni’s chief executive, said information he had received through informal contacts in Cairo showed that “competent authorities are putting in maximum effort to try to find answers” to Regeni’s murder. [Reuters, 3/1/2016]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


UK sending troops to Tunisia to bolster Libyan border
Britain is sending troops to Tunisia to help prevent Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) fighters from moving into the country from Libya, British Defense Minister Michael Fallon has said. A training team of some 20 troops from the 4th Infantry Brigade is now moving to Tunisia to help to counter illegal cross-border movement from Libya in support of the Tunisian authorities Fallon told Parliament on Monday. Fallon said Britain was not currently planning to deploy ground troops to Libya in a combat role. [Reuters, AP, AFP, 3/1/2016]

Tunisia backs plan to host German troops to train Libyan army
Tunisia’s government has backed a plan for German forces to come to the country to train Libyan security and army forces in Tunisia for the fight against Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), Tunisian Defense Minister Farhat Horchani said on Tuesday. Last week a German delegation visited Tunisia to discuss a training program for Libyan forces. Horchani gave no details on the nature of the training or when it might begin, but said Tunisian forces would also take part. The minister affirmed that Tunisia is still opposed to any foreign intervention in Libya, but at the same time is dedicated to fighting terrorism. [Reuters, TAP, 3/1/2016]

Tunisian forces kill four militants in clashes
Tunisian security forces killed four Islamist militants in clashes near the border with Algeria late on Monday, officials said. The Interior Ministry said that special forces units killed four terrorists in Ain Jafal region between Sbeitla and Jelma, without giving more details. There were no security force casualties in the operation. The area, which neighbors Algeria, has seen repeated clashes between security forces and Islamist militants. [Reuters, AFP, TAP, 3/1/2016]

Libya will need US help to defeat ISIS, general says
Even if a unity government were formed in Libya, ISIS has become too strong to be defeated in the country without US help, said Army Brigadier General Donald Bolduc, commander of US special operations forces in Africa. They need training and a certain amount of equipping in order to be successful, he said in an interview in Dakar, Senegal. While political negotiations remain underway, the US military and some allies, including France, Italy, and the UK, have for months been preparing plans for intervention in Libya and have already established a Coalition Coordination Center in Rome, General Bolduc said. In Libya, he said, the main partner for American special operations forces would be a small special forces unit that the United States initially helped establish and train after the 2011 revolution that ousted Colonel Muammar Qaddafi. This unit is currently affiliated with Libya’s eastern government. General Bolduc declined to further identify the unit or its commanders but said that US special operations forces are not cooperating with the administration in Tripoli, nor working directly with General Khalifa Haftar, the controversial leader of the Libyan National Army. [WSJ, 3/1/2016]


United States, Russia in new Syria military safety talks
Pentagon officials spoke with Russian counterparts on Monday as part of a series of discussions aimed at avoiding military mishaps in Syria. “The two sides discussed measures to enhance operational safety . . . including the means to avoid accidents and unintended confrontation between coalition and Russian forces whenever the two sides operate in close proximity,” Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook said in a statement. The Russian military said Monday that its warplanes struck Nusra Front targets north of Aleppo. It also said that groups which have declared their adherence to the ceasefire are not being targeted. Russian warplanes sat idle Tuesday on the tarmac at Hemeimeem air base in Syria on the fourth day of a ceasefire, according to reporters. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called Tuesday for the closure of Syria’s border with Turkey to cut off outside supplies to “terrorists,” including through humanitarian convoys. US Secretary of State John Kerry says both sides may have violated Syria’s ceasefire. But he says no breaches have been significant enough to shatter the three-day-old “cessation of hostilities.” Speaking alongside German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Kerry says a US-Russian-led task force is investigating all claims of violations. Meanwhile, aide to Saudi Arabia’s defense minister Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri said on Monday that defense ministers from the US-led coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) discussed the possibility of a Syrian ground incursion two weeks ago but they have not made a decision. [AFP, Daily Star, AP, Reuters, 2/29/2016]

UK admits bombing ISIS in Syria not working; Pentagon expands cyber war
The ISIS militant group is not being pushed back in Syria despite the extension of British air strikes, ministers have admitted. Defense Secretary Michael Fallon told MPs that the situation in the country was “complicated” and that recent events on the ground had concerned the government. “[ISIS is] being pushed back in Iraq,” he told MPs in the House of Commons when asked about the situation there. “In Syria the position is much more complicated and we are concerned at some of the more recent reports that may suggest coordination between Syrian democratic forces and the Assad regime, which is not helpful to the long-term aim of defeating [ISIS].” Meanwhile, US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and top officer General Joe Dunford told reporters that cyberwarfare has playing an increasingly important role in anti-ISIS efforts. The US-led coalition is working to disrupt ISIS’s command chain “to cause them to lose confidence in their networks,” Carter said. He did not offer technical specifics on how the coalition was doing this but said the tactic was to “overload their network so that they can’t function, and do all of these things that will interrupt their ability to command and control forces there, control the population and the economy.” [The Independent, Al Arabiya, The Guardian, 3/1/2016]

United States under pressure to take lead in Syria migrant crisis
Former and serving senior US officials have criticized Washington for not taking a lead on the refugee crisis, saying that it threatens the stability of the Middle East and European Union. “You can’t exercise leadership simply by saying you’re a leader,” said Eric Schwartz, a former senior diplomat and member of the National Security Council. Ryan Crocker, a former US ambassador to Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon said, “This risks unraveling the European Union as a political construct.” Obama promised that the United States would admit 10,000 Syrians during the 2016 fiscal year, which ends on September 30, but five months into the current fiscal year the United States has only accepted 942 Syrians. EU countries have already begun measures to control the refugee flow. The European Commission will propose using funds earmarked for catastrophes outside the bloc to aid EU countries most affected by the crisis. Some have proposed suspending the Schengen open borders agreement. US Secretary of State John Kerry defended US policy, saying that the United States is the largest donor to the relief effort, having spent $5.1 billion, but admits that if the Syria peace process fails, the crisis will get worse. [AFP, 3/1/2016]

United Nations says food aid will be restored to Syrians
The United Nations stated that it will recommence distributing food aid to Syrians, after being forced to cut down operations because of funding shortfalls. Donor countries, led by Germany, pledged $675 million to the World Food Programme. The funding will allow the WFP to “fully reinstate” aid to Syrian refugees in Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt for the rest of 2016. It will also allow the agency to distribute food at full capacity to internally displaced Syrians until October 2016. The WFP was forced to make cutbacks last year due to lack of funding. [NYT 2/29/2016]

Turkey partially lifts curfew in Cizre
Turkey will partially lift a curfew it had imposed on on the district of Cizre, in southeastern Turkey, on Wednesday. The curfew will remain in place from 7:30 pm to 5 am, but will be lifted during the daytime. Turkey imposed the curfew on December 14, and conducted military operations, to flush out Kurdish militants who had set up ditches and trenches to keep security forces out. The military operations ended February 11. A curfew remains in place in the district of Sur in the mainly Kurdish city of Diyarbakir. Another was recently imposed on Idil city. [AFP, Daily Star, 3/1/2016]

For more in-depth Syria news and analysis, please visit SyriaSource.


Iraqi government prepares for new wave of refugees after Mosul offensive
Iraq’s ministry of migration says it is preparing to receive between half a million to 800,000 new refugees from Nineveh province after the long-anticipated offensive against ISIS kicks off. Darbaz Muhammad, the Minister of Migration, told Rudaw that the new displaced families will be accommodated in the Kurdistan region and central parts of Iraq with direct coordination with the UN and local authorities. Muhammad further stated that “We have already set up rescue teams that are responsible to receive and help the new wave of refugees with food, housing and other basics … Most of them will be accommodated in neighboring areas where Peshmerga or Iraqi forces are in charge, and some will be placed in camps in southern Iraq.” [Rudaw, 3/1/2016]

Senior Iraqi army officer killed in Haditha attack
Brigadier Ali Abboud, chief of staff of a military headquarters near Haditha, was killed when four suicide bombers attacked an entrance to the base and clashed with soldiers, said Major General Ali Daboun, the commander of Jazeera and Badiya operations in charge of the western desert bordering Syria, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Seven other police and army personnel were killed, including a second army officer, two police sources said. Initial investigations showed the militants managed to reach the base by dressing in army uniforms, security officials said. Haditha and its nearby dam, which the command is charged with protecting, are in one of the few parts of the Sunni Muslim province of Anbar still under the control of Iraq’s security forces and local police backed by tribal fighters. [Reuters, 3/1/2016]

Suicide bombings kill 40 in eastern Iraq, eight west of Baghdad
At least 40 people were killed by a suicide bomber at a funeral in Muqdadiya, 50 miles northeast of Baghdad, and in a separate attack eight members of the Iraqi security forces were killed in a suicide blast at a security checkpoint just outside of Baghdad. The attack in Muqdadiya killed six local commanders of the Hashd al-Shaabi umbrella group of Shia militias who were attending the funeral of a commander’s relative and a further 58 people were wounded, security officials and police said. ISIS claimed responsibility for the blast, according to a statement posted on the group’s Twitter account. [Reuters, Al Jazeera, 2/29/2016]

Iraqi forces launch push to retake area north of Baghdad
Backed by paramilitary forces and aerial support, Iraqi troops have launched a new push to retake Jazerat Samarra, a key area north Baghdad. According to a statement by the Joint Operations Command, the “new offensive” began at dawn in an agricultural area northwest of Samarra, 60 miles north of Baghdad, with the aim to cut ISIS supply lines and to tighten the grip around the ISIS-held northern city of Mosul. The statement did not say if the US-led international coalition was involved in the operation. Controlling the Jazerat Samarra area will not only restrict the ISIS’s movements between the three provinces in the region, but will also be essential for future operations to retake parts of Anbar province and Mosul, said Sabah al-Numan, the spokesman of the counter-terrorism forces. [AP, 3/1/2016]

After gains against ISIS, Pentagon focuses on Mosul
Recent gains against ISIS in eastern Syria have helped sever critical supply lines to Iraq and set the stage for what will be the biggest fight yet, the battle to retake Mosul, Pentagon officials said on Monday. General Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a Pentagon news conference that American-backed forces had begun laying the groundwork for the fight by moving to isolate Mosul from ISIS’s de facto headquarters in Raqqa, Syria. Speaking at the same news conference, US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter hailed the Kurdish and Arab forces who retook the town of Shaddadi in eastern Syria, calling it the last major artery between Raqqa and Mosul. Carter also said that the United States will provide more support for Iraqi forces to retake Mosul. In addition to the advances in eastern Syria, the Pentagon has begun using cyber-attacks on ISIS communications between Raqqa and Mosul, as well as attacks meant to disrupt the group’s ability to use social media to recruit fighters. [NYT, Radio Free Europe, 3/1/2016]


President Hadi meets with US Ambassador
Yemeni President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi on Tuesday met with US Ambassador Matthew H. Tueller in Riyadh. Hadi said his government are “advocates of peace” and support coexistence in Yemen. The two discussed a number of issues facing Yemen, including economic development and security. Tueller reaffirmed US support for the Yemeni government and its efforts to establish security and stability throughout the country. [Al Masdar, 3/1/2016]

UN official warns of repercussions of failing to fund Yemeni response plan
UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Republic of Yemen Jamie McGoldrick on Tuesday warned of the negative repercussions of the international community not funding the 2016 response plan for Yemen. McGoldrick said in a press conference in Amman, Jordan that the conditions on the ground in Yemen would deteriorate even further if there is a lack of funds to finance the response plan. He underscored that the plan would help save the lives of 13.6 million Yemenis affected by the conflict. [Al Masdar, 3/1/2016]

Dozens of Syrian residents of Kuwait barred from re-entering
Several Syrian residents of Kuwait said Monday that airport officials have kept them waiting for more than 48 hours, barring their re-entry on suspicion of having forged passports. Ayman Nashewati, a 42 year-old sound engineer who works in Kuwait, said that he returned on Saturday after a weekend visit to nearby Dubai and was placed in a waiting room with other Syrians suspected of having forged documents. He said more than 50 Syrians, including children, were transferred Monday to a nearby airport hotel until further notice. He said they are being asked to pay for their hotel accommodations, and have been told they can cancel their residency and depart the country if they want to leave. [AP, 2/29/2016]

Kuwait MPs approve extra $500 million for Eurofighter jets
Kuwait’s parliament Tuesday approved a bill allowing the government of the oil-rich Gulf state to spend an additional $500 million on buying Eurofighter Typhoon warplanes. The new funding comes on top of an additional $10 billion on defense spending already approved by parliament in January to upgrade the country’s military. Defense Minister Sheikh Khaled Jarrah Al-Sabah told the MPs the $10 billion will be spent over the next 10 years, while the new funds will be used as an advance payment for the jets. [AFP, 3/1/2016]


Egypt’s debts climb to EGP 2.3 trillion
Egypt’s debts have reached EGP 2.3 trillion (about $293 billion), Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said Monday. He also said that the state’s general budget does not exceed EGP 864 billion. Egypt’s debt service cost is EGP 250 billion. Wages come to EGP 218 billion and subsidies cost EGP 230 billion, Ismail said. This leaves about EGP 164 billion only for health, education, housing, sanitation, and infrastructure. Ismail said the government and parliament need to work together to achieve development across all sectors. He said services must be provided at the appropriate cost in order to “guarantee their continuity.” Ismail also said in an interview Monday that Egypt’s tourism revenue has declined by roughly $1.3 billion since the Russian plane crash in the Sinai in November. [Aswat Masriya, 2/29/2016]

GCC sovereign debt issuances to top $45 billion in 2016
The sharp decline in oil prices, fiscal consolidation efforts, and upcoming refinancing needs are expected to keep commercial debt issuance by Gulf Cooperation Council countries (GCC) elevated in 2016, according to Standard & Poor’s (S&P). “Based on our assumptions, we now expect a rise in GCC sovereign gross commercial long-term borrowing to $45 billion in 2016, up from $40 billion in 2015 and $4 billion in 2014,” S&P analyst Trevor Cullinan said. “We expect Saudi Arabia to account for nearly 70 percent of the GCC countries’ total borrowing in 2016 and to become the second-largest issuer of commercial debt in the MENA region.” Outside the GCC, Egypt and Iraq are expected to be biggest commercial debt issuers in 2016. S&P projected that MENA countries will borrow a total of $134 billion from long-term commercial sources in 2016, down from $143 billion in 2015. [Gulf News, 3/1/2016]

Kuwait fund offers $100 million loan to Jordan
The Central Bank of Jordan (CBJ), in cooperation with the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation, on Monday announced an agreement with Kuwait’s Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD) for a loan of $100 million. The CBJ will relend the loan to banks and micro-financing companies, which will in turn lend to micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises. The CBJ is set to will establish a fund for loan guarantees for small- and medium-sized businesses in cooperation with the Jordan Loan Guarantee Corporation. Loans from the World Bank and AFESD in 2015 contributed to 11,600 projects and generated 2,600 jobs. [Gulf News, Jordan Times, 3/1/2016]

Meeting between German investors, Tunisian officials to take place
During a meeting on Monday, Prime Minister Habib Essid and German Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development Gerd Müller discussed a organizing a meeting between German investors and Tunisian officials. The date of the meeting has not yet been set. Investors and officials will discuss means to facilitate administrative procedures and encourage German investment in Tunisia. Müller emphasized bilateral cooperation on investment between Germany and Tunisia, calling the country a “privileged partner of Germany.” He also stressed Germany’s commitment to “implement new cooperation programs that meet Tunisia’s needs and priorities.” Essid noted that Tunisia relies on German support for assistance with economic programs in the interior regions. [TAP, 2/29/2016]