Top News: Kurdish PYD not invited to peace talks in Geneva

Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) officials will not be invited to peace talks in Geneva, where negotiations for the opposition will be led by a Saudi-backed opposition group, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said on Wednesday. “The PYD group was causing the most problems, and Mr. de Mistura told me he had not sent them an invitation letter,” Fabius explained. PYD leader Saleh Muslim confirmed that he had not been invited, stating, “Of course we would sincerely like to join, and also we think that if we don’t join it, this Geneva 3 will fail as happened in Geneva 2, where they excluded some sides.” Haytham Manna, co-leader of the Syrian Democratic Council that works closely with the PYD, was invited but said he would not attend unless Kurdish leaders Muslim and Ilham Ahmed were also invited. UN Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura, who sent invitations on Tuesday without confirming the names, planned to make a statement on invitees later on Wednesday or on Thursday and would not comment beforehand. [Reuters, 1/27/2016]



Egypt’s top auditor Geneina requests new judge in contempt of judiciary case
The head of Egypt’s official corruption watchdog Hisham Geneina has requested a new judge to oversee a probe against him over accusations, dating back to 2014, of contempt of the judiciary and insulting a senior judge. The request by Geneina, the head of the Central Auditing Organization (CAO), alleges a lack of impartiality on the part of Judge Safaa al-Din Abaza after the latter disclosed details about the investigation to the media, Geneina’s lawyer Ali Taha said. The lawyer also said the judge may bear a grudge towards his client given that Geneina beat him in a 2002 Judges’ Club election. Taha cited a statement by the judge—saying he would issue an arrest warrant against Geneina if he does not appear for questioning—as an instance of bias against his client. Taha also argued that under a law regulating the operation of the CAO, Geneina is at a minister’s rank and should be subject to exceptional investigation measures in accordance with a 1958 law. Investigations were adjourned on Monday to January 31 to consider Geneina’s request. [Ahram Online,Aswat Masriya, DNE, 1/26/2016]

Amnesty International demands Egypt release T-shirt detainee
International human rights organization Amnesty International demanded on Tuesday the release of high school student Mahmoud Mohamed Hussein after two years of detention without charge. Hussein was arrested on January 25 2014, at the age of 17, for wearing a shirt that read “nation without torture.” Amnesty International stated that Hussein should be released immediately according to the Egyptian criminal procedures law. “Under the provisions of Egypt’s Criminal Procedures Law (Article 143) a detainee facing accusations that could lead to life imprisonment or the death penalty must be released immediately if he or she is not sentenced within the pre-trial detention limit of two years,” the statement read. According to Amnesty International, Hussein is among more than 700 detainees held for more than two years without trial across Egypt. [Ahram Online, 1/27/2016]

Military source says top ISIS leader killed in Sinai; ISIS calls on Salafis to take up arms
Armed forces carrying out raids in the Sinai Peninsula killed Wednesday a top leader of the Sinai State, the Egyptian affiliate of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), military sources said. The army shot and killed Attallah Abu Reteima, whom the sources identified as the person in charge of logistics for the Sinai State, formerly known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis. According to the sources, Abu Reteima was responsible for transporting “terrorist elements” and the storage of ammunition for the group in Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid, revealing that troops found the suspect in a mountainous area in central Sinai. Meanwhile, a new video released Monday by Sinai State showed a militant advising other Islamist entities in Egypt, including Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi movement, to abandon “peaceful means” of applying of Islamic Sharia and to take up arms. [AMAY, 1/27/2016]

Egypt army chief discusses military cooperation with Pakistan general
Egyptian Minister of Defense Sedki Sobhi met Tuesday in Cairo with General Rashad Mahmood, the Chairman of the Pakistani Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, where they discussed military cooperation between Egypt and Pakistan. The two officials also discussed the latest developments in the Middle East during the meeting, which was attended by Egypt’s Chief of Staff, Lt. General Mahmoud Hegazy, according to an official statement by Egyptian Armed Forces spokesperson Mohamed Samir. [Ahram Online, 1/26/2016]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


EU considering sanctions against Libya spoilers
The European Union is discussing imposing travel bans and asset freezes on at least two Libyans it sees as blocking efforts by the United Nations to form a government of national unity, diplomatic sources said on Tuesday. Nouri Abusahmain, the head of Libya’s General National Congress, and Khalifa al-Ghwell, who heads Libya’s western government, could face sanctions early next month if European diplomats reach agreement soon, the sources said. Other names are also being discussed, including Aguila Saleh, the President of Libya’s House of Representatives that rejected the UN-backed plan on Monday. EU foreign ministers last week promised EUR 100 million (USD 108 million) for “immediate and substantial support” to Libya once a government is formed. With a government in place, the European Union is also considering helping Libya strengthen its borders and disarm militias, according to a draft plan seen by news agencies. [Reuters, AFP, Libya Herald, 1/26/2016]

Algeria suspends flights to Libya
Algeria has suspended flights to Tripoli, a few days after it detained hundreds of Moroccans trying to travel to Libya from Algiers. The decision to suspend flights to Tripoli was taken by the Algerian Civilian Aviation Authority on Tuesday, with no reason given for the suspension. The decision will be effective on January 29, according to a statement from the Aviation Authority. The ban will only affect Libyan Airlines, the sole carrier between the two countries. Algerian officials did not say when they would resume flights to Tripoli. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 1/27/2016]

Tunisia’s Nidaa Tounes loses parliamentary majority to Ennahda
Tunisia’s Islamist Ennahda party has become the largest group in parliament after 22 lawmakers who quit the government’s ruling Nidaa Tounes party submitted a formal request Tuesday to form a new bloc. Parliamentary Vice President Faouzia Ben Fodha told the Assembly of People’s Representatives that the new bloc called Al-Hurra has been created and comprises 22 members. With the departure of 22 deputies, the Nidaa Tounes bloc has shrunk to 64 lawmakers, making Ennahda the largest party with 69 deputies. Most of Al-Hurra’s members back Mohsen Marzouk, who also quit Nidaa Tounes and is expected to announce the creation of a new political party in March. [AFP, 1/26/2016]

Kuwait willing to redouble support to Tunisia
Kuwait is willing to redouble support to Tunisia through the Kuwaiti Development Fund, according to Kuwaiti First Vice-Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled al-Hamad al-Sabah. “The Kuwaiti Investments Committee will have several opportunities to work in Tunisia, after setting up an adequate legislative environment as soon as possible,” he specified. Tunisia and Kuwait also concluded on Tuesday a bilateral military cooperation agreement, the first of its kind between the two countries. The agreement promises military training and the exchange of experts, technicians, and professionals in the various military fields, among other provisions. [TAP, 1/27/2016]


Syria peace talks hinge on envoy’s answers
The Syrian opposition is awaiting clarification on key points from the United Nations before deciding whether to attend peace negotiations planned for Friday. The Saudi-backed High Negotiations Committee (HNC) that includes armed and political opponents of President Bashar al-Assad viewed its invitation positively, but said it had requested clarifications from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The questions reportedly regarded the implementation of steps outlined in a UN Security Council resolution, including the lifting of blockades on besieged areas, a halt to attacks on civilian areas, and a release of arbitrarily detained people. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said, “I spoke to Mr. Hijab … he will respond to de Mistura and Ban Ki-moon this morning … If I understand their position, they say yes to negotiations.” A spokesman for the HNC Monzer Makhous said opposition talks could last “perhaps all day.” The Syrian government has already agreed to join the talks. [Reuters, Al Arabiya, 1/27/2016]

Syrian government troops recapture key southern town
Government forces have retaken control of a strategically important town in southern Syria, activists say. Sheikh Miskeen, which lies on one of the main routes from Damascus to the city of Deraa and the Jordanian border, fell after a month-long battle. Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) Director Rami Abdulrahman said taking the town has cut off rebel links between eastern and western Deraa. He also said, “The destruction in the town is huge.” Russian warplanes were reported to have played a key role in the offensive. [BBC, 1/26/2016]

Turkey’s human rights environment deteriorated in 2015, says HRW
The environment for human rights in Turkey deteriorated in 2015 with the breakdown of the Kurdish peace process, a sharp escalation of violence in the country’s southeast and a crackdown on media and political opponents of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), the Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on January 27. HRW Senior Turkey Researcher Emma Sinclair-Webb was joined by International Executive Director Kenneth Roth in İstanbul on Wednesday morning for the international release of the group’s 2016 world report, ‘Politics of Fear’ Threatens Rights, Terror Attacks, Refugee Crisis, and Broad Global Crackdown. Sinclair-Webb said, “We are seeing the dismantling of all checks on power of the [country’s] leaders. Turkey is basically dismantling and eroding its democratic framework. This spells, for Turkey, dark times ahead.”[Hurriyet, Today’s Zaman, ANF, HRW, 1/27/2016]    

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


Amid falling oil prices and ISIS threat, Iraq cuts free healthcare
The robust healthcare system that Iraqis were once accustomed to has changed substantially in the past decade, but one of its most drastic upheavals has seen citizens this week being asked to pay for services that had been provided free of charge since 1970, the London-based Arabic news outlet Al-Araby Al-Jadeed reported. “I have to sustain the war [against ISIS]. I have to sustain the economy. With all other expenditures, it’s tough,” Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said during the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. But for ordinary Iraqis, paying for visits to the doctor, X-rays or medicine can be a challenge. A hospital visit might cost up to $45 in a country where poverty rates are rising and 23 percent of the country’s citizens live on less than $2.20 a day, according to United Nations statistics. [IB Times, 1/26/2016]

Iraq says 40 bodies found in mass grave in Ramadi
Iraqi forces have found more than 40 bodies, including those of women and children as well as police, in a mass grave in the city of Ramadi west of Baghdad, which they recently retook from ISIS militants, Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Gen. Saad Maan said. Ramadi, the provincial capital of the sprawling Anbar province, fell to ISIS in May, marking a major setback for US-allied Iraqi forces. Iraqi troops retook the city center last month with heavy coalition air support. Similar mass graves have been found in other areas liberated from ISIS in Syria and Iraq. [NYT, IB times, 1/26/2016]

Iraq’s military still struggling despite US training
A recent live-fire exercise administered by US, Spanish, and British coalition trainers exposed areas needing significant improvement within Iraqi army ahead of the plan to liberate Mosul from ISIS control. Washington and Baghdad have cast the recent victory over ISIS in Ramadi as proof that training efforts are paying off and that the Iraqi military has improved. But analysts and former US trainers say that despite some significant advances, the battle for Ramadi highlighted the troops’ lingering shortcomings. [NYT, 1/26/2016]


Saudi-led coalition forces reach Aden
Saudi-led coalition forces on Wednesday reached Aden, the temporary capital of Yemen. Local sources said that troops and armored vehicles arrived at Aden’s port city of Brega. The number of troops and their nationalities is unknown.  The move is an attempt by the Saudi-led coalition and the Yemeni government to impose security and take control of the city. [Al Masdar, 1/27/2016]

UN panel calls for global inquiry on Yemen
A panel of UN experts monitoring UN sanctions on Wednesday said the Security Council should consider creating an international commission of inquiry to investigate alleged human rights abuses by all sides in Yemen’s conflict. The panel’s annual report, which has not been released publicly, says civilians in the Arab world’s poorest country are suffering under tactics in the conflict that “constitute the prohibited use of starvation as a method of warfare.” [AP, 1/27/2016]

Minister says Yemen heading for political solution
Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdel Malak al-Mekhlafi said on Tuesday that Yemen is heading for a political solution and negotiations towards a federal state will continue. Al-Mekhlafi’s remarks were made during a press conference on the sidelines of the retreat of the Arab League’s foreign ministerial council, which was held on Monday at Saadiyat Resort in Abu Dhabi.  Al-Mekhlafi said, “The UN’s Special Envoy to Yemen will leave for Sana’a to convince rebel groups to sit at the negotiation table, which will in turn begin the process of building trust between all rival parties.” [WAM, 1/26/2016]

GCC plans an international conference on the reconstruction of Yemen
Secretary General of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Abdullatif al-Zayani said on Wednesday that the Council seeks to resume the political process in Yemen and efforts to restore peace and security to the country. Al-Zayani reiterated the GCC’s rejection of Iranian interference, saying that the GCC is working on many levels to detect suspicious activities carried out by Iran in the region. He said that the GCC supports the efforts of UN Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh for the resumption of negotiations between the parties involved and is working on increasing humanitarian aid to the country. He added that the GCC plans to hold an international donor’s conference for the reconstruction of Yemen. [Al Masdar, 1/27/2016]


Iraq says would consider deal on global oil cuts
Iraqi Finance Minister Hoshiyar Zebari has said that Iraq is willing to take part in emergency meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in order to lift oil prices. OPEC said it was considering a request from Venezuela to hold a meeting. Venezuela has also called for a meeting of OPEC and non-OPEC nations in February. Zebari stressed that the policy “needs to be a collective one, otherwise it will not work.” However on Tuesday, Iraqi Oil Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi said Saudi Arabia and Russia were showing signs of flexibility. “We have seen some flexibility from the brothers in Saudi and a change in tone from Russia,” he said. Mahdi and Acting Kuwaiti Oil Minister Anas al-Saleh said they were willing to back an emergency OPEC meeting if an agenda were agreed in advance. Meanwhile, Zebari said there are “encouraging signs” that oil prices could rebound in the coming months on lower output from higher-cost US shale oil producers. [Reuters, 1/27/2016]

Dollar surges against Egyptian pound after CBE raises cap on deposits
The dollar surged against the Egyptian pound on the black market on Wednesday after the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) raised a cap on foreign currency deposits. The CBE raised the cap on dollar-denominated deposits from $50,000 a month to $250,000 for essentials. “Speculators used the confusion caused by the central bank decision to push the pound lower … A huge wave of demand on dollars hit the market after raising the cap,” one trader said. “The market is also expecting the central bank to amend the official exchange rate of the pound,” he said. Before the CBE’s announcement, the black market rate for the dollar was around 8.62 pounds, far from the official rate of 7.7301 pounds per dollar. “There is no supply and there is higher demand after they raised the caps… We sold at this (8.75 pound) price and now we are unable to find dollars to buy,” another trader said. [Reuters, 1/27/2016]

Arab fund provides Tunisia with 332 million dinars in loans
Tunisia and the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development (AFESD) signed two loan and technical support agreements worth 332 million dinars on Tuesday in Kuwait amid a visit by President Beji Caid Essebsi. Tunisian Finance Minister Slim Chaker said the first loan, worth 330 dinars, will be allocated to building two dams in the governorates of Sousse and Manouba. The two dams will be used to store water from the north and transfer it to treatment plants. Chaker said the loan, which includes a six-year grace period and 3 percent interest rate, will be repaid over 22 years. The second loan of 2 million dinars will be allocated to a pilot program in Beja to create jobs. Chaker signed the agreements with AFESD President and CEO Abdellatif Youssef al-Hamad. [TAP, 1/26/2016]

Saudi industrial city says to speed up, broaden investment
The developer of one of Saudi Arabia’s biggest industrial city projects says it will speed construction of infrastructure and broaden the range of industries it accommodates as part of efforts to diversify the economy. King Abdullah Economic City (KAEC), a state-backed business zone on the Red Sea coast near Jeddah, is part of the effort. The zone is being developed by Emaar the Economic City (EEC). Chief Executive of KAEC and EEC Fahd al-Rasheed said construction of infrastructure in the zone—including housing, commercial space, hotels and roads—would accelerate. While 40 projects have been developed since the government-backed zone was launched in 2005, 170 projects are planned for the next ten years, he said. Rasheed did not say where KAEC would find investors for the new sectors, but the government has said it is willing to spend billions of dollars to jump-start growth in new areas by awarding contracts and procuring services from companies. [Reuters, 1/26/2016]