Top News: French, Russia Raids in Syria Kill 33 ISIS militants; ISIS Stiffens Defenses in Raqqa

French and Russian air strikes in northern Syria have killed at least thirty-three ISIS fighters in the last 72 hours according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). France intensified strikes on Raqqa following last week’s attacks in Paris and Russia pounded Raqqa with long-range bombers and sea-launched missiles on Tuesday, after Moscow confirmed that a bomb attack brought down a Russian passenger jet over Egypt last month. SOHR head Abdel Rahman said, “The limited number of deaths can be explained by the fact that the jihadists had taken precautions.” Reports indicate that ISIS militants are stiffening their defenses for a possible assault on their de facto capital of Raqqa with fighters hiding in civilian neighborhoods and preventing anyone from fleeing. [AFPBBCAP, 11/18/2015]



Egypt ranked thirteenth on 2015 Global Terrorism Index
Among 124 countries, Egypt ranked thirteenth out of the countries that were highly impacted by terrorism, with a score of 6.813 out of 10, according to the Global Terrorism Index’s recent report for 2015.  Along with the United States, Egypt was also among the ten countries most affected by terrorism for a year between 2000 and 2014. The report, which was issued by the Institute for Economics and Peace think tank, stated that the total number of global deaths from terrorism in 2014 reached 32,685, an 80 percent increase from the 18,111 deaths recorded in 2013. The majority of deaths in 2014 occurred in Syria, Iraq, and Nigeria. [DNE, Aswat Masriya, 11/17/2015]

Egypt says cause of plane crash unconfirmed; Russian media says bomb in main cabin
Egypt said on Tuesday it would take into account Russia’s conclusion that a bomb brought down a passenger plane over Sinai last month but its investigation had so far found no evidence of criminal action. The Interior Minister said if any security lapse was to blame for the crash, then those behind it would be punished, but that no security lapse had yet been discovered. Russian daily Kommersant quoted an unnamed source on Wednesday as saying that the bomb that downed the plane was placed in the aircraft’s main cabin not in the cargo compartment as reported earlier. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told Russian President Vladimir Putin that Egypt understands the Russian people’s pain, a day after Moscow’s announcement. Egypt’s presidential spokesman Alaa Youssef confirmed the two leaders spoke by phone Wednesday, agreeing on the need for greater international security cooperation. They also agreed on measures to improve airline security as a first step towards resuming flights between the two countries, the Kremlin said on Wednesday. A Russian security delegation also arrived Tuesday in Cairo to discuss securing the Russian embassy in Cairo, an Egyptian airport official said. [Ahram Online, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, 11/18/2015]

Security raids journalist’s Sinai residence in his absence says Press Syndicate
The Press Syndicate announced on Tuesday that it filed a complaint with the general prosecution demanding an investigation into a security raid on the house of one of its members in North Sinai. The syndicate said security forces raided the home of Abdel Qader Mubarak, a journalist with independent newspaper al-Osboa, in the city of Arish. The syndicate, quoting a complaint made by Mubarak, said the police force ignored his family’s explanation that he is a member of the syndicate. [Egypt Independent, 11/18/2015]

Parliament introduces new members to regulations
The induction meeting of the newly elected first-phase parliamentary members took place Monday where new members were introduced to the nature of the parliament’s legislative and supervisory powers. A number of the parliamentary members objected to the rule that their passports, newly-issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, can only be used for special sanctioned tasks in which they will represent Egypt abroad by virtue of an assigned letter from the head of the parliament. The induction informed the new members of the technical services provided to them, according to Khalid al-Sadr, Secretary-General of the parliament, including a first class travel subscription with Egyptian railways and airlines and free parking in Tahrir. Head of the National Center for Parliamentary Consulting Ramy Mohsen asked MPs to reexamine any privileges provided that would burden the state budget. The members also received personal smart cards for a new electronic voting system. Assiut MP Mohamed al-Desouky said, “It will ensure transparency in voting, increase attendance … and it will definitely help that the voting process does not take a long time.” [DNE, 11/17/2015]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


New UN Libya envoy to restart unity government talks
The United Nations will restart talks with Libya’s rival factions to address outstanding hurdles to a unity government, giving priority to security issues, new UN Libya Envoy Martin Kobler said on Tuesday. Moderates within both of Libya’s rival governments have agreed to the unity government proposal, as have some of the armed factions. But hardliners in both camps are holding out against the deal. Kobler, who formally took over from Bernardino Leon on Tuesday, said in a statement that he would meet negotiators and members of the UN-proposed executive council. Talks on security-related issues would be a priority. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 11/17/2015]

Dangers for Libyan journalists highlighted at UNESCO workshop in Tunis
On Monday, journalists and human rights activists from Libya attended a workshop in Tunis, organized by the UNESCO Tripoli Office and the Regional Bureau of Reporters Sans Frontières. There is growing concern about the safety of journalists in Libya. There is still no news of photographer Mohamed Neili who disappeared at the end of last month, one of two Tunisian journalists kidnapped in eastern Libya in September 2014, or of the five-member Cyrenaica TV crew seized the previous month, among others. The Committee to Protect Journalists released a statement yesterday reiterating its concern for Neili, who works for the Chinese state-run Xinhua news agency. The participants recommended a number of concrete proposals to enable the continuity of their work and to ensure that crimes against media professionals do not go unnoticed or unchallenged. [Libya Herald, UNSMIL, 11/17/2015]

UK sets Tunisia beach attack inquest for next year or early 2017
A British inquest into the deaths of thirty tourists killed in a beach attack in Sousse in June will take place late next year or in early 2017, the coroner leading the investigation said on Tuesday. Nicholas Loraine-Smith, the senior judge acting as coroner, said the initial scope of his investigation would include looking at the adequacy of travel advice provided by Britain’s foreign office and travel companies, the incident itself, and post-mortem investigations. Tunisia is conducting its own inquest into the Sousse attacks, and Loraine-Smith said he was in contact with a Tunisian judge and expected to receive material from him in December. The judge set a second pre-inquest review for January 21 and said that the inquest would begin on either October 31 next year or in January 2017. [Reuters, 11/17/2015]

Morocco says expels Dutch reporter over lack of accreditation
Morocco has expelled a Dutch reporter for working without accreditation, state media said on Tuesday. Rik Goverde, who had worked in Morocco as a freelancer since 2013, said police arrested him on Monday in Rabat. Goverde said he applied for accreditation in 2014 and in 2015, but never got a response. Moroccan television is tightly controlled by the state and while text journalists enjoy more freedom, they still run the risk of being jailed for critical writing on the royal family or Islam. Last week, the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch, and other rights groups urged Morocco to drop all charges against journalists and activists. [Reuters, 11/17/2015]


Obama calls on Russia to focus on war against ISIS in Syria; international debate Assad
While France and Russia coordinate their military and security services against ISIS in Syria, President Barack Obama said on Wednesday that Russia had to shift its focus from propping up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and concentrate on the war against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). Speaking just hours after President Vladimir Putin vowed to hunt down those responsible for blowing up a Russian airliner and intensified air strikes against militants in Syria, Obama said it was a fitting response. “If in fact he shifts his focus and the focus of his military to what is the principal threat – and that is ISIL (Islamic State) – that is something that we very much want to see,” Obama said. Also on Wednesday, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told journalists that Russia is not changing its plans in Syria as air strikes alone could not fully succeed in fighting ISIS; rather, it must be supported by land operations that are being conducted by the Syrian army. Meanwhile, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that global powers should unite in the fight against terrorists without any preconditions on the fate of Assad. Spanish Foreign Minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo argued in favor of engaging with Assad to deal with the terror threat in Europe. [Reuters, WSJ, 11/18/2015]

Syria accused of attacks on medical facilities and personnel
A Physicians for Human Rights organization accused the Syrian government of flouting international law by killing health workers, bombing hospitals, and blocking lifesaving aid from entering opposition-held Aleppo in northern Syria. In a report released Wednesday, the group chronicled forty-five attacks on medical facilities in Aleppo since 2012, mostly by Syrian government forces. In related news, medical sources have reported that the birth rate in Syria has fallen by more than half since the start of the civil war. [NYT, AP, 11/18/2015]

Turkey detains eight Europe-bound ISIS suspects ‘posing as refugees’
Turkish police detained eight suspected members of ISIS, state media said Wednesday, adding they were planning to sneak into Europe posing as refugees. Counterterrorism police detained the suspects in Istanbul’s Ataturk Airport after they flew in from the Moroccan city of Casablanca Tuesday. The police found a handwritten note on one of the suspects detailing a migration route from Istanbul to Germany via Greece, Serbia and Hungary, including smuggler boats across the Mediterranean Sea, and several overland journeys. The eight men told police that they were just tourists who had been planning to spend a few days in Istanbul and had booked rooms at a hotel, but no reservations were found under their names. In the United States, some US Republicans seek to freeze White House programs to resettle refugees, while President Barack Obama called this backlash against refugees a “potent recruitment tool for ISIL.”  [AFP, 11/18/2015]

Abadi orders an investigation into attacks on protesters
Prime Minister Haider Abadi has opened an investigation into reports that protesters were attacked by security forces on Monday. The Prime Minister said in a statement that Iraqis had the right to protest peacefully. The security forces broke up the protest near the Green Zone in central Baghdad and arrested and detained protesters for a brief period. Abadi has responded to ongoing Iraqi protests by attempting to pass reforms targeting corrupt officials within government and cutting ministers’ salaries. [Shafaq (Arabic), 11/17/2015]

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


Yemen officials say forty-four anti-rebel fighters killed in ambush
Yemeni security officials and witnesses say an ambush by Houthi rebels in the port city of Mokha killed forty-four anti-rebel fighters. In a separate development, more than twenty Houthi fighters were killed Monday and Tuesday in clashes in the central Marib province. Meanwhile, the Saudi-led coalition continued to enforce the naval blockade, preventing any imports entering Yemen, as it bombed naval boats trying to smuggle fuel into Yemen on Tuesday. [NYT, Al Masdar, 11/18/2015]

Yemen Foreign Ministry opens first office in Aden
The Yemen Foreign Ministry announced on Wednesday that is has opened an office in the southern port city of Aden. The office was officially opened today in the Mansoura district of the city. The Yemeni government has been attempting to implement a stronger governing presence in the city, since pro-government forces and the Saudi-led coalition retook control from the Houthi rebels in July. Meanwhile, Yemen’s exiled President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi returned to the city on Tuesday to rally forces loyal to him in the country’s civil war and oversee a campaign to retake the city of Taiz. It was not clear how long Hadi would stay in the country or whether his visit would herald the permanent return of his exiled administration from the Saudi capital Riyadh. Bahraini troops arrived in Aden to help support security efforts in the wake of growing extremist threats in the city. [Al Masdar (Arabic), NYT, Sahafa (Arabic), 11/18/2015]

Saudi Arabia says two police officers killed
Saudi Arabia says two police officers were shot and killed early on Wednesday in the predominantly Shia eastern region of al-Qatif. The officers were shot while on patrol near farm fields. A Saudi Interior Ministry official has announced that an investigation is underway. The shooting comes as the kingdom has faced a series of attacks by Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL)-inspired militants. In October, a previously unknown ISIS affiliate claimed an attack in the al-Qatif region targeting a Shia mosque that killed five people and wounded nine. [NYT, 11/18/2015]

UN Envoy arrives in Tehran
UN Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed arrived in Tehran on Wednesday where he will meet with Iranian officials to discuss the latest developments in Yemen. After his visit to the Iranian capital, he will then travel to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman. Throughout the Yemeni conflict, Saudi Arabia has accused Iran of interfering and sending weapons to Houthi rebels. In September, the Saudi-led coalition said it intercepted an Iranian boat carrying arms to the war-torn country, compounding tensions between the region’s two main powers. [Al Masdar (Arabic), WSJ, 11/18/2015]

Yemen Houthi rebels using banned landmines
Houthi forces in Yemen are using banned antipersonnel landmines, causing multiple new civilian casualties, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said today. Landmines have killed at least twelve people and wounded over nine in Yemen’s southern and eastern governorates of Abyan, Aden, Marib, Lahj, and Taiz since September 2015. HRW believes that the actual number of mine victims in Yemen since September may be much higher. Yemen ratified the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty on September 1, 1998, making a commitment to never use antipersonnel mines under any circumstances and to prevent and suppress the activities prohibited by the treaty. [HRW, 11/18/2015]


World Bank expects to pay $1 billion loan to Egypt
The World Bank expects to make a $1 billion development policy loan available to Egypt in December, the Bank’s Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa Hafez Ghanem said. Egypt has said it needs the money to help ease a foreign currency shortage caused by a slide in tourism revenues and foreign investment. “Our team was in Cairo over the weekend and I think they completed the negotiations,” Ghanem said, noting that the World Bank and Egyptian government still need to approve the final documents for the $1 billion installment. “There is an agreement in principle that this is a $3 billion, three-year program, but [the current] commitment is only for the first year,” Ghanem added. Meanwhile, Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said Tuesday that the government is working with the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) to ease downward pressure on the pound by boosting exports and regulating imports. On Wednesday, Egypt reshuffled the CBE board of directors ahead of Tarek Amer taking over as CBE governor on November 27. [Reuters, 11/18/2015]

Iraq to issue $2 billion Eurobonds in 2016 with World Bank guarantees
Iraq plans to issue $2 billion worth of international bonds in 2016 with World Bank guarantees for up to $1 billion, Central Bank Governor Ali al-Alak said Wednesday. The move comes after high yields forced the government to halt a bond issuance earlier this year. Alak predicted the new bond’s yield would be less than the 11.5 percent demanded by investors during a roadshow in Europe and the United States in September, but he did not speculate further. Alak said Baghdad had factored the bond into next year’s budget in order to finance a fiscal deficit estimated at $21 billion out of a roughly $95 billion budget. “[The bonds] will be $2 billion but [the World Bank] will guarantee let’s say 40 or 50 percent of that,” he said. “That will open the market more – make it wider – to attract more investors.” [Reuters, 11/18/2015]

IMF could conclude talks on a new program with Jordan by February
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Jordan could conclude negotiations over a new program by February to help advance reforms to boost private sector economic growth following the completion of a standby arrangement, the IMF Mission Chief Kristina Kostial said Tuesday. Jordan began talks this month on an Extended Fund Facility (EFF) to replace a three-year $2 billion standby arrangement that ended last August. The standby arrangement contributed to fiscal stability, but made limited progress in structural reforms, Kostial said.  “We will be talking about specific reform elements,” said Kostial, adding that the IMF mission would return in January and by February to conclude the discussions. The new program could be sent to the IMF Executive Board for approval next April, she added. Kostial said the amount of assistance to be provided through the EFF will be less than the standby agreement due to Jordan’s improved fiscal position. Kostial said the new IMF deal would also address growing debt, good governance, and women’s participation in the labor market. [Reuters, 11/17/2015]

Saudi could buckle under oil shock, FX peg, investors warn
Saudi Arabia faces a crisis in the next three to five years if oil prices remain low and the country maintains large budget deficits and a rigid, pegged currency, participants in the Reuters Global Investment Outlook Summit said. “If Saudi Arabia buckles, we have a huge problem, on a scale that is not comparable to what we are contemplating at this point,” Founder of hedge fund SLJ Partners Stephen Jen said. The Saudi riyal is pegged to the rising dollar around SAR 3.75, which denies the economy a lift from a cheaper currency. “Saudi can be a problem in three to five years if they run a deficit of 20 percent plus,” Head of Emerging Markets at Pioneer Investments Mauro Ratto said. [Reuters, 11/17/2015]