Top News: Chiefs of Rival Libya Parliaments Meet for First Time

The heads of Libya’s rival parliaments met on Tuesday for the first time since the latest fighting started more than a year ago, and ahead of the expected signing of a UN plan for a national unity government, Libyan television reported. Ageela Saleh, who heads the House of Representatives (HOR) in the east, met Nuri Abu Sahmain, head of the Tripoli-based General National Congress, in Malta in the presence of representatives of both parliaments. But they both dismissed the UN deal as a foreign imposition. “We met to find a solution of the Libyan crisis and to let the world know that we are able to work our problems by ourselves,” Saleh said. Abu Sahmain said they would consider parts of the UN accord, but asked the international community to consider their meeting as a way to a Libyan consensus. Some Western diplomats said the two parliament leaders are the main block to getting support and a vote on a UN deal and they could be the target of sanctions if an agreement is signed without them. [AFP, Reuters, AP, Libya Herald, 12/15/2015]



Cabinet discusses unified media and press law
The cabinet is scheduled to begin discussing a draft law for the press and the media in its meeting Wednesday as part of the government’s preparations to present its program to the upcoming parliament. The Egyptian Press Syndicate previously encouraged the step, stating in a Tuesday press release that “a unified law for all media is urgently required and the organization of the media will begin with the implementation of constitutional articles.” The statement referred specifically to Article 71 of the constitution, banning the imprisonment of journalists in crimes related to publishing. [DNE, 12/16/2015]

Justice Minister warns of ‘social media abuse’ ahead of January 25 anniversary
Justice Minister Ahmed al-Zend said Monday, “Whoever is awaiting the January 25 celebrations as a pretext to cause harm to the nation, awaits a mirage.” In a speech, Zend alluded to the “danger posited by social media,” claiming that the platform was being abused by “criminal elements that aim to cause further polarization in society and incite the youth.” He also called on Egyptians to adhere to the president’s vision and make economic progress their top priority. Leading up the anniversary of the January 25 revolution, the Egyptian government has taken various measures to quell calls for dissent and protest by various groups. [DNE, 12/15/2015]

Twelve sentenced to three years for hampering voters in 2014 presidential elections
A Sharqiya court sentenced twelve people who allegedly belong to the Muslim Brotherhood on Tuesday to three years in prison for preventing voters from casting their votes in the 2014 presidential elections. A court specialized in ‘terror crimes’ issued the sentence, ruling that the defendants were in possession of leaflets urging voters to boycott the elections. The court also said the defendants resorted to violence when confronted by the police. The sentence may be appealed. [AMAY, Cairo Post, 12/15/2015]

Sisi discusses newly formed Islamic military coalition with Saudi Crown Prince
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi received Saudi Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohamed bin Salman in Cairo on Tuesday for the second meeting of the Egyptian-Saudi Coordination Council. The meeting was headed by Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail and Prince Salman, with parties agreeing on a number of projects, including energy conservation projects, state media reported. During the visit, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Tuesday pledged a total of $8 billion in investment and aid to Egypt over the next five years. Saudi ships will also “support” traffic in the Suez Canal. An anonymous Saudi government official said that Saudi Arabia may also support Egypt by buying local treasury bonds and treasury bills instead of depositing dollars with the Central Bank of Egypt. Egypt’s cabinet had said that the government planned to offer Saudi Arabia “major” projects in return for its support. The visit to Cairo also came hours after King Salman announced the formation of a Saudi-led Islamic military coalition. During a meeting with the crown prince, Sisi said that Arab efforts should be targeted towards reaching political settlements for some of the crises that face some of the Arab states, which would ensure their stability and unity. Both sides, according to a statement released by presidential spokesman Alaa Youssef, shared the same vision on the importance of “stopping bloodshed and working on ending these crises in the nearest possible time.” Prior to the visit, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said of the Islamic coalition, “Egypt supports all efforts to defeat terrorism, especially if such efforts are Islamic or Arab.” He added, “We endorse it and will be a part of it.” Al-Azhar also welcomed the decision to form a coalition. A follow-up meeting between Saudi and Egyptian officials is scheduled to take place on January 5. [Ahram Online, AP, AFP, Bloomberg, Reuters, 12/16/2015]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


Signing of UN Libya deal delayed to Thursday
The signing of a UN-brokered peace agreement in Libya has been pushed back again to Thursday due to logistical problems, a UN spokesman said on Wednesday. The signing will take place in the Moroccan resort city of Skhirat, Moroccan officials have confirmed. Representatives from Libya’s two rival governments are due to agree the UN-backed accord on Wednesday after months of negotiations and opposition from hardliners in both camps. The pact calls for a unity government and the imposition of a ceasefire. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 12/16/2015]

UNESCO, museums warn of extremist threats to Libya artifacts
Greek and Roman antiquities and prehistoric artwork are under threat from Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) extremists in Libya, leading world museums and the UN cultural agency said Tuesday. The International Council of Museums (ICoM) released a list of cultural treasures “in peril” and appealed to Interpol, customs officers, and art traders to watch out for looted Libyan goods. The US Department of State also released a media note with the ICoM regarding this updated list. ISIS extremists have destroyed temples and ancient sites in Iraq and Syria and experts believe they are also selling plundered antiquities on the black market. ISIS has also made inroads across Libya. The threatened artwork includes sculptures and mausoleum carvings in Cyrene, the Roman-era trading center of Sabratha, and a desert region home to stone paintings or carvings dating back 12,000 years. [AP, 12/15/2015]

Tunisian forces repel protesters at Ras Jedir
Hundreds of protesters tried to storm the Ras Jedir border from the Tunisian side, but were confronted by Tunisian security forces. Three hundred people reportedly tried to force their way across the border on December 14, but security forces dispersed the protesters using tear gas. The protests, centered in the Tunisian town of Ben Gardane, are linked to new restrictions introduced by Libyan customs authorities. Each vehicle entering Libya must now pay LD 1,000 ($728) to pass the border, according to Libyan media. The protesters are requesting the removal of the new fee or for the Tunisian authorities to introduce a similar one for vehicles coming from Libya. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 12/16/2015]


US Defense Secretary Carter in Iraq to seek new ways to battle ISIS
Defense Secretary Ash Carter met with Iraqi leaders and his commanders Wednesday on an unannounced war zone visit aimed at broadening US assistance to Iraq to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). At a meeting with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, Carter said the United States wants to help Iraq as it fights against ISIS in Ramadi and then later in Mosul. “Everything we do…here is subject to the approval of the sovereign Iraqi government,” Carter said. “And I also wanted to emphasize to you, the respect for sovereignty and for Iraq’s territorial sovereignty is a principle that the United States strongly supports in every context.” Abadi said he believes Iraqi forces are making progress. “I think we are on the verge of breaking the back of Daesh [ISIS],” he said, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS. The Pentagon has also offered to send Apache helicopters to help the fight in Ramadi if Iraqi leaders request the aid. [AP, 12/16/2015]

Syrian troops capture strategic mountain in coastal province; humanitarian aid reaches Homs
Syrian government forces captured a strategic mountain in the country’s northwest coastal province of Latakia on Wednesday. An unnamed Syrian military official said that Syrian troops and pro-government gunmen captured the Noba Mountain in Latakia early on Wednesday, “after destroying the terrorists’ positions and fortifications.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said the capture of Noba Mountain opens a path for government forces toward the rebel-stronghold of Salma. SOHR said government troops were backed by fighters from Lebanon’s militant Hezbollah group. Meanwhile in Homs, a convoy of eighteen trucks carrying food, medical supplies, and construction materials began entering the rebel-held neighborhood of Waer, according to International Committee of the Red Cross spokesman Pawel Krzysiek. [AP, AFP, 12/16/2015]

German air force runs first refueling mission over Syria
Germany’s military staged its first aerial refueling mission of allied fighter jets targeting Syria’s Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), the armed forces said Wednesday. The A310 MRTT refueled two combat aircraft Tuesday before returning from its five-hour mission to the Turkish military base at Incirlik, a Bundeswehr spokesman said. The tanker aircraft is part of Berlin’s deployment to aid the anti-ISIS coalition, which also includes six German Tornado surveillance jets, a frigate helping protect the French Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier, and up to 1,200 troops. Unlike France, the United States, and Britain, Germany is not conducting bombing missions. [AFP, 12/16/2015]

Over 30 civilians dead in suspected Russian raids on Syrian markets; Russia confirms talks on Friday
At least 34 civilians were killed on Tuesday in suspected Russian air strikes on two markets in northern Syria, SOHR said. According to SOHR, the raids killed 16 civilians at a market for fuel in Idlib province. Another 18 civilians, including four women, were killed after strikes on a market in a village held by ISIS in the northern Aleppo province. SOHR said both tolls were likely to rise as many people were critically wounded. During Secretary John Kerry’s three-hour meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday, Lavrov confirmed the Russian support for a meeting in New York on December 18. [AFP, 12/16/2015]

Amnesty reports mistreatment of refugees in Turkey
Amnesty International says Turkey has rounded up scores of refugees and asylum-seekers since September and transported them to detention centers where some were mistreated or forcibly returned to Syria and Iraq. In a report released Wednesday, Amnesty said the mistreatment occurred “in parallel” with Turkish-EU migration talks and warned the European Union that it risks being “complicit in serious human rights violations.” Turkey hosts the world’s largest number of refugees, including 2.2 million Syrians. Turkey denied that Syrians were being forced back and claim all returnees are interviewed by UN staff. [AP, 12/16/2015]

Turkey steps up security operations in southeast, nine killed
Turkish security forces stepped up operations targeting Kurdish militants in southeastern towns on Wednesday, security sources said, as pro-government media detailed plans for a 10,000-strong force to restore state control in the region. One person was killed in a clash in Cizre near the Syrian border, which was placed under curfew on Monday evening, state officials said. Kurdish Firat news agency described an 11-year-old boy as being shot dead. Turkish military also said eight Kurdish militants were killed in Cizre on Tuesday after they shot at the soldiers during an operation. Residents of Silopi near the Iraqi border said explosions rocked the town early on Wednesday. Deputies from the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said security forces had begun raiding houses. HDP co-leader Figen Yuksekdag told deputies from the party in Diyarbakir on Tuesday that 200,000 people had been displaced in the southeast in recent months as a result of conflict hitting areas under curfew where some 1.3 million people live. [Reuters, 12/16/2015]

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


Residents says Saudi-led air strikes target Yemen’s Houthi rebels despite ceasefire
Residents and tribal sources said Saudi-led air strikes hit positions of the Houthi rebels in two conflict zones in Yemen on Wednesday despite the start of a seven-day ceasefire on Tuesday coinciding with peace talks in Switzerland. Tribal leaders reported that coalition planes launched an air strike on the positions of the Houthis and Saleh forces in the Marib and Taiz provinces after they repeatedly violated the ceasefire. However, the Houthi rebels accused Saudi Arabia of being responsible for breaking the ceasefire. At least 42 people have been reportedly killed in the continued violence since the ceasefire came into effect on Tuesday at midday. In Sana’a, a high-profile official from the rebels, also known as Houthis, warned on Wednesday that it will not be possible to continue the talks unless the ceasefire holds. [NYT, AP, Al Masdar, 12/16/2015]

Yemen’s warring parties to swap prisoners via tribal mediation
Yemen’s warring parties agreed on Wednesday to exchange hundreds of prisoners as part of confidence building measures under UN-sponsored peace talks now under way in Switzerland. Abdel-Hakim al-Hasani, a senior official in the Southern Resistance, allied with President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi, said that 360 members of the Houthi movement held in Aden and 265 civilians and fighters from southern Yemen would be exchanged at midday following tribal mediation. An official from the Houthi-run prisons authority in the capital Sana’a said southern prisoners had already boarded buses on their way to the exchange venue on the border between the former south and north Yemen. [NYT, 12/16/2015]

US Defense Chief Ashton Carter pushes Gulf States to do more against ISIS
Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter flew to Icirlik air base in southern Turkey on Tuesday, carrying an appeal for allied nations to do more to combat the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). As President Obama did the day before at the Pentagon, Mr. Carter directed much of his message to Saudi Arabia and other Arab states in the Persian Gulf. He said, “Some of the Gulf countries could make very important contributions to encouraging and assisting Sunni communities subjected to ISIS rule to resist ISIS rule.” Developing the idea further, Mr. Carter suggested that Gulf states could help mobilize Syrian Arab fighters to challenge ISIS in its Syrian sanctuary or support Sunni tribes in neighboring Iraq in their struggle against the jihadist militant group. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has said 34 mainly Muslim nations have joined a new military counterterrorism alliance to coordinate efforts against extremists in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt, and Afghanistan. [NYT, BBC, 12/15/2015]


AfDB approves $1.5 billion loan to Egypt
The African Development Bank (AfDB) has approved a $1.5 billion loan to Egypt that will be paid over three years, International Cooperation Minister Sahar Nasr said Tuesday. The first $500 million of the loan will arrive within days and will go toward the government’s economic development program, Nasr said. “We have a competitive economic reform program that started more than a year back and based on that we are taking the first tranche,” she said. “The bank’s approval today is a strong message affirming that the Egyptian economy is moving at a steady pace towards achieving comprehensive development and confirms that the bank is confident in the government’s reform process,” AfDB Representative Leila Mokaddem said. [Reuters, DNE, MENA, 12/15/2015]

ISIS eyeing oil targets beyond Syria stronghold
The Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) is looking at potentially vulnerable oil assets in Libya and elsewhere outside of Syria, a senior US official said Tuesday. The official said the United States is carefully examining who controls oil fields, pipelines, trucking routes, and other infrastructure in places that could be vulnerable to attack, including Libya and the Sinai Peninsula. The United States recently targeted fuel trucks, part of a broadening of its strikes on ISIS’s oil wealth, which the official said has shown anecdotal signs of raising the costs of ISIS’s oil operations. “The costs of [oil] operation have gone up and the ability to move [oil] around has gone down,” the official said. [Reuters, 12/16/2015]

Turkey to receive EUR 3 billion for refugees
Turkey will receive EUR 3 billion euros ($3.27 billion) from the European Union (EU) within the next year to spend on Syrian refugees, Turkey’s EU Minister Volkan Bozkir said Wednesday. Bozkir said Turkey is negotiating with the EU on how to spend the money. Since the beginning of the Syrian war in 2011, Turkey has spent around EUR 8 billion euros ($8.73 billion) on providing for the refugee population, Bozkir said. On Monday, the EU opened a new chapter in Turkey’s accession process that aims to bring Turkey in line with EU economic and monetary policy.Turkey and the EU aim to double trade to $300 billion in the next two years, Bozkir noted. [Anadolu Agency, 12/16/2015]

Kuwait expects 2015-16 budget deficit at between 5-6 billion dinars
Kuwait expects its 2015-16 budget deficit to be between 5 and 6 billion dinars ($16.5-$19.8 billion), Finance Ministry Undersecretary Khalifa Hamada said Wednesday. The figure is lower than the previously projected 8.18 billion dinars. Hamada also said that Kuwait plans to unify corporate taxes on local and foreign companies at 10 percent and that he expects revenues from such a move to exceed 2 billion dinars a year. He also said Kuwait is still studying better management of fuel subsidies and that any changes would begin with petrol. He said that better management of fuel subsidies would earn the country 1 billion dinars in savings. [Reuters, 12/16/2015]