Top News: Iraqi Kurds Reach Sinjar Road, Cutting ISIS Supply Line

Kurdish Peshmerga forces have started clearing parts of the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar and have established positions along an ISIS supply route between its two main strongholds in Iraq and Syria, the coalition said on Thursday. Backed by US-led coalition air strikes, the Kurds launched an offensive in the early morning designed to cordon off Sinjar, take control of strategic routes, and establish a buffer zone to protect the town from artillery. The Kurds have captured three villages and penetrated parts of a supply route between the Raqqa, Syria and Mosul, Iraq ISIS strongholds. The coalition said twenty-four air strikes were carried out over the past day, striking nine militant tactical units, nine staging areas, and destroying twenty-seven fighting positions, among other targets. Various Kurdish militias on Sinjar’s edge, including the Turkey-based Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), the Syria-based People’s Protection Units (YPG), and Yazidi-led forces known as the Sinjar Resistance, have been fighting guerrilla battles with ISIS for months. The Sinjar operation has stalled over the past few weeks, as both the PKK and the Kurdish Democratic Party (KDP) vie for control of the area. [APReuters, 11/12/2015]



Sisi, Salman hold summit talks in Riyadh
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi held talks on Wednesday with Saudi King Salman Bin Abdulaziz al Saud on matters of enhancing bilateral cooperation between the two states. The talks, held on the fringe of the Arab-South American Countries Summit, addressed conditions in Syria, the Palestinian territories, Yemen and Libya in addition to a number of other regional and international issues of mutual concern. In statements, Presidential Spokesman Alaa Youssef said President Sisi and King Salman attended the inking ceremony establishing the Egyptian-Saudi Coordination Council for implementing the Cairo declaration. The declaration, previously issued in June, is meant to enhance cooperation between the two states on matters of military cooperation, Investment initiatives, economic integration, as well as executive programs in various domains. Additionally, Saudi King Salman expressed his full confidence in Egyptian security measures, ordering flights from Riyadh’s national airline to continue flights to Sharm el-Sheikh despite suspicions that a bomb downed a Russian plane as it left the resort city. Meanwhile, Sisi gave a speech during the summit stating that military action alone is not enough combat terrorism, while highlighting other crucial elements, such as education, economic, and cultural elements involved in rooting out extremism. [SIS, Ahram Online, Al Arabiya, DNE, 11/12/2015]

Egypt’s new female MPs say will not amend constitution to create a new ‎dictator
A number of Egypt’s newly elected female MPs have said that they ‎oppose amending the constitution to create a “new ‎dictator,” in response to proposals to amend article 140 that would extend the president’s term to more than four years. Out of 273 candidates who won in the first stage of Egypt’s parliamentary elections, 34 women now occupy parliamentary seats – the highest number in Egypt’s 150-year parliamentary life. Newly elected Sarah Othman sharply criticized the performance of the current government of prime minister Sherif Ismail, urging new MPs to focus on “supervising the performance of this weak government rather than amending the new constitution.” The second stage of Egypt’s parliamentary elections, which covers thirteen governorates, will take place in Cairo and six densely populated Nile delta governorates between November 21 and December 2. The voter turnout is not expected to be high, however. Omar Marawan, the spokesperson of the Higher Election Committee (HEC) in charge of supervising the polls, told a press conference on November 5 that the second stage will include some 28.2 million registered voters – almost one million more than the first stage. [Ahram Online, 11/11/2015]

Egyptian businessman Salah Diab, son released on bail
Egypt’s top prosecutor ordered the release on bail Wednesday of Salah Diab and his son, following their arrest and detention earlier this week for possessing unlicensed weapons and ammunition. Diab and his son Tawfik were released on bail of EGP 50,000 bail and EGP10,000, respectively. The decision came after a Giza court renewed Diab’s detention for fifteen days on Tuesday. Senior employees from Al-Masry Al-Youm the Associated Press on Monday said that the accusations against Diab and the way in which he was detained suggested the arrest was politically motivated. Meanwhile, earlier on Wednesday, Egypt’s Criminal Court cancelled a previous decision to freeze the assets of Diab and seventeen others. The freeze now only applies only to assets related to the New Giza housing compound project. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, AP, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, 11/11/2015]

Cairo University expels twenty-seven students, political activism suspected
Cairo University expelled Twenty-seven students this week without prior notice, news reports have said, indicating that their past political activism could have been a factor. A source at Cairo University told the state-run al-Ahram news website that twenty-seven students were expelled after being accused of attempting to “disrupt the educational process.” Another source told the independent al-Tahrir news website that the main reason behind the dismissal was that some of them had taken part in past protests on campus. Some of the dismissed students had previously organized welcoming events for newcomers, while others had invited them to join student societies, the source told al-Tahrir. [Egypt Independent, 11/11/2015]

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Heavy fighting in Libya’s Benghazi, sixteen killed
At least sixteen people have been killed in Libya’s Benghazi since heavy fighting between General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) and Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) fighters began on Tuesday. Military Spokesman Milad Zwei said that landmines planted by terrorists killed most of the soldiers. There have also been several civilian casualties due to missile fire in residential areas. Zwei insisted, however, “Our special forces are making progress and have recaptured the air defense camp between Mash’hash and Sidi Faraj districts. The camp was captured last year by ISIS.” [Reuters, AFP, Libya Herald, 11/11/2015]

Libya’s Tripoli government says UAE soldier arrested for spying
Authorities of Libya’s Tripoli-based government say they arrested an Emirati police officer on suspicion of being a spy, although Dubai police said on Thursday that the man in question was fired five years ago. The Tripoli authorities detained the soldier, identified as a corporal with the Dubai police named Yousef Saqer Ahmad Mubarak Welayti, after receiving a tip and finding thirty minutes of video footage purportedly from the Turkish Embassy in Tripoli, said Head of the Attorney General’s Investigation Department Sadiq al-Sour. The arrest comes after reports that the UN Envoy for Libya would be leaving for a job with a United Arab Emirates diplomatic academy. The UAE has been a strong supporter of Tripoli’s rival, the Tobruk-based House of Representatives. [Reuters, AP, Libya Herald, AFP, 11/11/2015]

Rights group says Libyan journalist kidnapped in Tripoli
A Libyan rights group says armed men have kidnapped a Tripoli-based journalist in front of his home. Nizar Ibrahim, spokesman for the Libyan Center for Freedom of Press, says that neighbors and family members saw four militiamen dressed in fatigues force journalist Motaz Kraif into their vehicle late Tuesday. Kraif has worked for Libya al-Ahrar TV, a network formed during the 2011 uprising, and Al-Wasat newspaper. Ibrahim says that in the past three months in Libya, three journalists received death threats, three were assaulted, and eight kidnapped. [AP, Libya Herald, 11/11/2015]

Arab-South American Summit backs July version of UN agreement
The two-day Arab-South American summit in Riyadh, attended by President of the House of Representatives (HOR) Ageela Salah Gwaider, has declared its support for the UN-brokered Libya Dialogue agreement as it was initialed in Skhirat on July 11, not the official final version of October 8, which the HOR rejects. In a final statement, according to the Saudi Press Agency, summit participants said they welcomed “the agreement of Skhirat on a political solution to the crisis in Libya, which was initiated by the majority of the Libyan parties last July.” [Libya Herald (subscription), 11/11/2015]

Tunisian convicted of terrorism tried to return to Italy
A Tunisian man who was sent home after serving a seven-year prison term in Italy on terrorism charges returned to Italy on a migrant boat, Italian officials said Tuesday. The case of Mehdi Ben Nasr is significant because right wing, anti-immigrant politicians have long warned that extremists could blend in with the boatloads of migrants arriving on Italian shores. The Interior Ministry said that Ben Nasr arrived in Lampedusa, Sicily on October 4 and was expelled again a week later. He had been convicted in Italy for being part of a network of Islamic extremists who recruited fighters to go to Iraq. After completing his sentence in April 2014, he was sent back to Tunisia only to return eighteen months later aboard a migrant boat, the ministry said. [AP, 11/10/2015]

Nidaa Tounes bloc announces changes in committee leadership
On Wednesday, the Nidaa Tounes parliamentary bloc announced changes to its leadership of the General Legislation Committee and the Rights, Freedoms and External Relations Committee. Chaker Ayadi took over from Abada El Kefi as head of the General Legislation Committee and Khemaies Ksila will chair the Rights, Freedoms and External Relations Committee in the place of Bochra Belhadj Hmida. The move follows a request from the former heads of the committees. Reportedly, other changes were introduced to party candidacies for the Energy and Finance committees. The thirty-one resigning deputies did not attend Wednesday’s meeting chaired by Mohamed Fadhel Omrane, president of the parliamentary group. [TAP, 11/11/2015]


Opposition oppose Russia’s draft proposal; Iran says resolution should not focus solely on Assad
Russia circulated a document on ending the nearly five year-old Syrian conflict that calls for drafting a new constitution in up to eighteen months that would be put to a popular referendum followed by an early presidential election. It calls for UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura to launch a political process between the Syrian government and “a united delegation of the opposition groups” to establish a transitional governing body for Syria with full executive powers leading to elections. Syrian opposition figures dismissed the draft proposal, saying Moscow aims to keep Assad in power and marginalize dissenting voices. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that any resolution of the Syrian conflict must focus on the need for strong government in Damascus and not only on the fate of Assad. An official Syrian newspaper said any talk about a transitional period, amending the constitution, or early presidential elections is “premature.” [AP, Reuters, 11/12/2015]

At least 100 fighters killed in Syria during storming of besieged airbase
At least 100 soldiers and fighters were killed in northern Syria in just over twenty-four hours of fierce fighting as pro-government forces reached an airbase that had long been besieged by the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said on Thursday. Most of those killed were ISIS militants, followed by government forces and its allies, the monitoring group said. The breaking of the siege was the most high-profile military victory for Syria’s government since Russia intervened in the conflict with an air campaign. On Tuesday, government troops reached the Kweires airbase in the northern province of Aleppo, where soldiers and officers had been besieged for nearly two years and were able to retake the airbase. [Reuters, 11/12/2015]

UN launches app to help feed Syrian refugee children
The UN launched a new app on Thursday that will allow people about to begin a meal to “share” it virtually with a Syrian refugee. The first of its kind, the app developers hope to transform the way people connect to those in need. Called “ShareTheMeal,” users of the app can send 50 US cents or more to the World Food Programme (WFP) at the touch of a button on their smartphone, effectively providing a Syrian child in Jordan’s Zaatari refugee camp with at least a day’s worth of food. Tested in Germany since July, the app has already been heralded as a game-changer in connecting the public with refugees, picking up one of the country’s leading media awards as startup of the year and named “one of 15 ideas for a better world” by Wired magazine Germany. [WFP, France24, 11/12/2015]

Turkey’s Erdogan puts Syria, Iraq on G20 leaders’ agenda
On Wednesday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he wanted world leaders to discuss conflicts in Syria and Iraq at a G20 summit in Turkey this weekend and is ready to take “stronger steps” in the region after polls this month strengthened the Justice and Development Party (AKP). President Erdogan renewed a call for the creation of a no-fly zone in Syria that would allow refugees to return to their homeland. He said the plan would create a safe zone cleared of “terror” where refugees would be able to settle. He added that Turkey would rapidly construct housing and meet other needs. [AP, Reuters, 11/11/2015]

Seven children among fourteen dead in migrant boat sinking off Turkey
A wooden boat carrying dozens of migrants sank off the Turkish coast on Wednesday, killing fourteen people including seven children stuck inside the vessel’s cabin. Turkish coast guards rescued twenty-seven others after the boat went down off the town of Ayvacik on its way to the Greek island of Lesbos. On Wednesday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan renewed a call on Western nations to share the refugee burden. “This morning another fourteen refugees died. Should there be another Aylan for the world to take notice?” Erdogan said, referring to the three year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi whose dead body washed up on a Turkish beach in September. [AP, 11/12/2015]

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


UAE officer denies Yemen civilian deaths caused by air power
The head of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) air force on Wednesday dismissed charges that Arab coalition air power caused regular civilian casualties in Yemen’s war, saying warplanes used precision weapons and raids needed multiple approvals. Amnesty International has asked the United Nations to investigate allegations that humanitarian law has been broken during the seven-month-old war, killing 5,600 people. The human rights group has said the vast majority of civilian casualties in Yemen have been caused by the Saudi-led coalition. Major-General Ibrahim Nasser al-Alawi said that coalition planes had complete command of the skies and could focus their efforts on supporting ground forces fighting the Houthi rebels. “As an air power player in the allied forces, we are running almost 98 percent precision [weapons] and with small calibers, especially when it comes to civilian areas like cities,” he said, in a rare public comment. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told Arab and South American leaders in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday that heavy-handed tactics in fighting terrorism only add fuel to the fire. [Reuters, UN News Centre, 11/11/2015]

UK to halt arms exports to Saudi Arabia if humanitarian laws broken
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said that the United Kingdom would halt weapons exports to Saudi Arabia if investigations found Riyadh had breached international humanitarian law in the war in Yemen. Hammond said on Tuesday that he was aware of the UK-supplied weapons being used by Saudi Arabia in Yemen. He added it was important to the United Kingdom that these weapons were being used legally in compliance with international humanitarian law. The Saudi-led coalition has continued to deny targeting civilians as it continues its air strikes on the besieged country. Meanwhile, the Houthi rebels have reportedly shot down a Saudi warplane and captured its pilot on Thursday. [Reuters, Al Masdar (Arabic), Alalam, 11/12/2015]

First Qatari soldier killed in Yemen conflict
Qatar said Wednesday that one of its soldiers fighting with the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen against Houthi rebels has been killed in the country’s first reported casualty in the conflict. Foreign Minister Khalid Bin Mohammed al-Attiyah announced the death on Twitter without saying how or when the soldier was killed. The Saudi-led force joined the fighting in March, backing the internationally recognized government. The coalition has suffered casualties such as the September missile attack that killed fifty-two Emirati troops, ten soldiers from Saudi Arabia, and five from Bahrain. [NYT, 11/11/2015]

State Department says detained US citizen in Yemen has died
The US State Department on Tuesday said that US citizen John Hamen, one of two contractors who had been detained by the Houthi rebels in Yemen, has died. The United Nations said earlier this month that two contractors who worked for a firm that managed UN facilities were arrested upon arrival in Djibouti and then detained in Yemen’s capital Sana’a. The human rights organization, Reprieve, voiced concern over the welfare and safety of other US detainees being held in Sana’a, who are regularly beaten and currently exposed to daily Saudi-led air strikes on the city since the Yemen conflict began in March. [NYT, Al Masdar (Arabic), 11/12/2015]

Saudi Arabia pushes UN panel to condemn Iran intervention in Syria
Saudi Arabia is pushing the UN General Assembly’s human rights committee to condemn Iranian and Russian intervention in Syria, a move that prompted complaints on Tuesday from the delegations of Iran and Syria. The non-binding draft resolution, prepared by Saudi Arabia and co-sponsored by Qatar and other Arab nations, the United States, Britain, France and other Western powers, was presented during a meeting of the assembly’s Third Committee, which focuses on human rights. A Syrian delegate read a statement criticizing the resolution. He said Saudi Arabia and Qatar have no right to lecture anyone on human rights. The draft resolution demands foreign militias leave Syrian territory immediately including such forces as the al Quds Brigades and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (of Iran). [Reuters, 11/10/2015]

AQAP confirm fighting with popular resistance fighters in Taiz
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) announced this week that it was fighting alongside other local militias to eject the Houthi rebels from the city. While there were previous reports about al-Qaeda fighting alongside the Salafists in Taiz in October, the group’s presence has grown in the area. Taiz now risks suffering the same fate as Aden, the southern port city, which was retaken from the Houthi rebels in July, but quickly descended into chaos with AQAP and Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants making significant inroads in the city. AQAP Commander of Taiz Harith al-Ezzi says the group is mainly concentrated in Souk al-Samil, one of the city’s districts, where they are in control of key state institutions such as taxes and security headquarters. He added that AQAP is not given any weapons by the resistance to fight the Houthis, but uses its own resources. [Reuters, The Independent, Long War Journal, 11/12/2015]


Egypt strengthens currency amid disruptive dollar shortage
The Central Bank of Egypt strengthened the pound on Wednesday for the first time since 2013, injecting dollars into a banking system suffering from an acute foreign exchange shortage and raising expectations of a radical shift in monetary policy. The Central Bank raised the pound’s official value by 0.20 pounds to 7.7301 to the dollar, surprising bankers who had been expecting a depreciation to ease the country’s currency crisis. The move drew conflicting reactions from the market, with some criticizing it as dangerous and others predicting that the bank was laying the ground for a major devaluation, a loosening of the peg or a full flotation. Meanwhile, Egypt’s Central Bank Governor Hisham Ramez said on Wednesday he had appointed Gamal Negm as caretaker governor. Ramez submitted his resignation on October 21. Tarek Amer was appointed to permanently take over the bank starting on November 27. [Reuters, AP, 11/11/2015]

Negotiations over $3 billion World Bank loan to Egypt move to Washington
Negotiations between the Egyptian government and the World Bank over a $3 billion loan have moved from Cairo to Washington, DC. Minister of International Cooperation Sahar Nasr visited Washington on Tuesday for negotiations. She said that she discussed Egypt’s economic and social reform efforts and measures taken to improve the investment climate. Nasr met with officials including World Bank Vice President for the Middle East and North Africa Hafez Ghanem, who confirmed the Bank’s readiness to cooperate with Egypt. Discussions focused on efforts to reduce poverty, create jobs, complete infrastructure projects, and reduce social inequities. According to Nasr, the loan will be used to fund Egyptian national projects. [AMAY, 11/11/2015]

Iraq agrees to IMF monitoring program as precondition to loan
Iraqi authorities agreed on Tuesday to an International Monetary Fund (IMF) monitoring program as the basis for a possible funding program in 2016. IMF Mission Chief Christian Josz said the program would rein in spending and reduce Iraq’s budget deficit, which is expected to approach 12 percent of economic activity next year. “[The move] will allow the Iraqi authorities to build a track record for a possible Fund financing arrangement.” A senior IMF official said last month that the new loan would be a “multiple” of the $1.24 billion in emergency funding that the IMF agreed to provide in July. Josz said the IMF expects Iraq’s gross domestic product (GDP) to grow by 1.5 percent this year and the current account deficit to expand to 7 percent of GDP. He predicted that foreign exchange reserves would decline, but remain high enough to cover nine months of imports through the end of the year. [Reuters, 11/11/2015]

Kuwait may issue dollar or dinar bonds; financial regulator opens door for more sukuk issues
Kuwait may issue US dollar or dinar denominated bonds to financial institutions to help cover a fiscal deficit caused by low oil prices, Finance Minister Anas al-Saleh said Thursday. Saleh did not specify when the issue might occur or whether it would feature conventional or Islamic bonds. Meanwhile, Kuwait’s Capital Market Authority (CMA) released rules covering issuance of Islamic bonds in a move that could facilitate sales of sukuk by both the government and corporations. The rules aim to provide a legal basis for issues and outline conditions that sukuk must meet to be tradeable. [Reuters, 11/12/2015]

Turkish wage hike plan sets alarm bells ringing over economy
Turkey’s government is set to increase the minimum wage by around 30 percent in January. However, unless the government introduces strong countermeasures to soften the impact of such a steep rise on an uncompetitive and inflation-ridden economy, it also risks setting itself on a collision course with domestic employers and international investors. According to official data, the hike will be the biggest since 2003 and entail higher wages for around one-fifth of Turkey’s workforce. Economists argue that such an increase in the minimum wage will create a negative supply shock, leading to higher costs for employers, entrenched inflation inertia, and increased unemployment. Some in the private sector warn of ballooning costs and job cuts, and say that they government should pay for the wage hike. Finance Minister Mehmet Simsek has said, “There may be some incentives … but the majority of the burden from the wage increase will be on the private sector’s shoulders.” [Reuters, 11/12/2015]