Top News: Major powers agree to plan for cessation of hostilities in Syria

Diplomats agreed to work toward a temporary “cessation of hostilities” within a week, although efforts to secure a lasting ceasefire fell short. The deal appeared to be the result of a compromise between the United States, which wanted an immediate ceasefire, and Russia, which had proposed a March 1 start date. UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura is very keen to hold a new round of peace talks after big powers agreed, but he said plans to reconvene the talks were still “cloudy.” Foreign ministers from the International Syria Support Group managed to seal an agreement to “accelerate and expand” deliveries of humanitarian aid to besieged Syrian communities beginning this week. Secretary of State John Kerry defended the agreement as what the Syrian opposition wanted. Speaking for the group, Kerry praised the results as a significant accomplishment but noted that an agreement would only be a “pause” in fighting and that more work would be needed to turn it into a ceasefire. “The real test is whether or not all the parties honor those commitments and implement them,” he told reporters after the nearly six-hour meeting. France, Germany, and Britain put pressure on Russia to follow through on agreement with actions and to stop air strikes. Turkey hails the agreement as an important step. Meanwhile, Syrian opposition said rebel forces on the ground, which were not at the talks, have yet to agree. [Reuters, AFP, AP, NYT, Guardian, 2/12/2016]



Thousands of doctors rally in front of syndicate amid standoff with Interior Ministry
At least 4,000 doctors gathered in front of the Doctors Syndicate headquarters in downtown Cairo on Friday morning, to attend an emergency general assembly meeting in the wake of a reported police assault on doctors. In a statement distributed at the general assembly, the syndicate said that medical staff at various hospitals had been repeatedly subjected to violations including physical violence. The statement also objected to the cabinet’s decision to form an authority to train doctors, a move that the syndicate says the cabinet is not authorized to make. The syndicate said the decision was issued without consulting any relevant body, which is a violation of the constitution. The general assembly is expected to discuss the aforementioned decision, as well as the issue of abuses committed against doctors. Several public figures and members of other syndicates attended the meeting in solidarity. The meeting was called for two weeks ago after policemen purportedly assaulted doctors at the Matariya Teaching Hospital. Prior to the rally, the East Cairo Prosecution ordered the release on bail of the nine Matariya policemen accused of assaulting “two physicians, eight nurses and one security administrator” on Thursday. [Mada Masr, Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, 2/12/2016]

Ministry of Industry prepares legislation to regulate issuance of licenses and allocation of land
Minister of Industry and Trade Tarek Kabil said that the ministry is in the process of preparing new legislation to regulate the issuance of licenses and allocation of land, and will submit a draft to the cabinet before seeking the approval of parliament. Kabil announced that the ministry intends to introduce four industrial zones by the end of this year and will aim to provide industrial land to investors. The minister indicated that Egypt can institute legislative reform to attract key industries, such as the automotive industry. For this, he suggested Egypt look to its African partners who have had success in this field for guidance. The ministry has tentative plans to establish five commercial offices in Tanzania, Uganda, Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, and Ghana that will facilitate Egyptian exports to the African market, part of a long-term plan to increase the industrial sector’s share of Egypt’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to Kabil. The ministry will also establish logistical centers to assist trade between Egypt and other African countries. [DNE, 2/11/2016]

Court reasoning shows journalist’s filming of ‘gay bath house orgy’ as serving public interest
An appeals court declared that the work of an Egyptian female journalist who had reported “a gay bath house orgy” to the police in late 2014 is “journalistic work that serves public interest.” In the reasoning released by the Cairo Misdemeanor Appeals Court Wednesday, the court stated that Mona Iraqi was acquitted of charges of defamation and “publishing false information” because the intention to “defame” did not exist in her case. Instead, the court argued, Iraqi intended to raise awareness regarding the causes of the AIDS or HIV virus and reveal the reasons behind its spread in Egypt to commemorate World AIDS Day through her TV show, which the court views as a matter of public interest. The court had reversed on January 19 a six-month prison sentence previously handed to Iraqi in the case known as the “Ramses Bathhouse” case. A defense lawyer for the 26 men whom Iraqi had filmed asserted that the appeals court’s ruling is in “complete violation” of the law because “the judge cannot rule on the validity of slanderous statements.” The defense is expected to file a complaint against Judge Amr Sakr, who presided over the appeals court, to the judicial inspection unit of the Ministry of Justice. In addition, the defense will request an appeal of the latest verdict in front of the Cassation Court. [Aswat Masriya, 2/10/2016]

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ISIS fighters head south in Libya, threatening Sahel
Groups of Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) fighters fearing Western air strikes are reportedly quitting their bases on the Libyan coast and heading south. Officials and intelligence sources, speaking on the sidelines of the US-led ‘Flintlock’ counterterrorism exercises in Senegal, expressed worry about a new threat to countries in Africa’s Sahel region including Niger and Chad. African and Western governments fear that the vast Sahel band to the south will become the group’s next target and say any large regional presence could be used as a springboard for wider attacks. A Western intelligence source said ISIS fighters had already entered Niger, although this could not be independently verified. Chad also expressed concern. Checkpoints had been set up near the border, said Colonel Khassim Moussa, head of Chad’s Special Antiterrorism Group. A Sirte resident said on Thursday that some districts were being evacuated and fighters were building defenses around the city amid fears of Western attacks. [Reuters, 2/11/2016]

Tunisia prepares for impact of possible intervention in Libya
Tunisia said Friday that it was asking authorities to work on a plan to cope with the fallout of a possible foreign military intervention in neighboring Libya. Tunisia shares a southeastern border with Libya, where Western powers are openly considering an intervention against Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). Prime Minister Habib Essid has authorized governors in the southeast regions to form regional committees to draw up a plan for each governorate. On Thursday, the Health Ministry said it had met to discuss an emergency plan for the health sector in preparation for the influx of refugees and migrants from Libya. [AFP, TAP, 2/11/2016]

Mohsen Marzouk’s political party to participate in municipal elections
Former Secretary-General of Tunisia’s Nidaa Tounes party Mohsen Marzouk has said that his new party, to be formally launched in March, will participate in municipal elections. Marzouk said he has consulted with several national figures to determine the nature of his party and that it will take the form of a movement that will make coalitions with similar parties. The “New Tunisia” project seeks to involve citizens in decision-making, breaking with the existing political mode, said Marzouk. He said he aims to create a movement that will include a million members prior to the party’s first constituent congress. [Mosaique FM (French), TAP, 2/11/2016]

Moroccan sets himself ablaze in prosecutor’s office
A door-to-door salesman set himself on fire Thursday in a public prosecutor’s office in southern Morocco in protest of the judiciary’s inaction on a complaint he filed, local media reported. Mashahid website said the man in the city of Agadir filed a complaint against a night watchman who had hit his car, but the court took no action. The man is to be questioned to determine if he should face legal action. Human rights activist Aziz Salami said that the man was being treated in an Agadir hospital. [AFP, 2/11/2016]


Syria task force hopes for humanitarian access
Representatives of 17 countries will meet in Geneva Friday afternoon for UN hosted talks on how to ensure humanitarian access in war-ravaged Syria. Jan Egeland, who heads the Norwegian Refugee Council and is to lead Friday’s meeting in the task force, says the deal could provide a “breakthrough” to get aid needed to civilians in the war-torn country. Egeland said the main focus is gaining access to besieged towns. He said aid convoys have been denied access and left on standby “for too long.” In a statement, Egeland said a request for access to the most-affected areas was made Friday, and aid could be shipped to some of those areas by early next week. A UN report on Thursday said military offensive by Syrian regime and allied forces has cut off 120,000 people in the northern Homs governorate since mid-January, worsening hunger and killing patients unable to get to medical care. [AFP, AP, 2/12/2016]

Carter says UAE will put special forces in Syria
US Defense Secretary Ash Carter says the United Arab Emirates has agreed to send special forces to Syria to assist in the development of local Sunni Arab fighters focused on recapturing Raqqa, the Islamic State group (ISIS or ISIL)’s self-proclaimed capital. Carter declined to say how many Emirati special forces would participate. He said they would be part of an effort led by the US and bolstered by Saudi special forces. Carter also told reporters that if the proposed cessation of hostilities is implemented, the United States will continue combating ISIS in Syria. “There is no ceasefire in the war against ISIL, let’s be clear about that,” Carter said. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has warned other nations against committing their troops to ground action in Syria, saying it would exacerbate the conflict. Medvedev said, “a ground operation draws everyone into a war.” He reaffirmed that Russia, which has conducted an air campaign in Syria since September 30, has no intention to engage in ground action. [AP, AFP, Reuters, Al Arabiya, 2/12/2016]

Turkey says 100,000 refugees in border camps inside Syria
Close to the Turkish border, some 100,000 Syrian refugees are being looked after in camps inside Syria. This number includes 35,000 who fled this month a Russian-backed regime offensive in northern Aleppo province. Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan said, “There are nine camps on the other side of the border accommodating 100,000 people including the 30-35,000 new arrivals.” He added that a tenth camp was being built 3 kilometers inside Syria. Thousands came right up to the Turkish border in the hope that Turkey would open the gates and allow them inside, but only wounded victims went through for treatment. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday threatened to send the millions of refugees in Turkey to EU member states, as NATO agreed to deploy ships to the Aegean Sea to ease the migrant crisis. In a speech in Ankara, Erdogan stepped up his denunciations of Western policy in the refugee crisis, confirming he had threatened EU leaders at a summit meeting in November that Turkey could say “goodbye” to the refugees. [AFP, AP, 2/12/2016]

Turkish Prime Minister Davutoglu signals Turkish action after fall of Aleppo corridor
Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has implied that Turkey will take action after the capture of the town of Azaz in Syria, a strategic corridor between Aleppo and Turkey for rebel groups, by Syrian regime troops backed by Russian air strikes. Speaking to reporters en route to Turkey from the Netherlands, Davutoglu said that he had told German Chancellor Angela Merkel of the need to stop Russia in Syria in order to prevent further influxes of refugees to Turkey and Europe from the region. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday that the number of refugees fleeing to Turkish border might reach 600,000 if air strikes continue. When asked whether Turkey will take action to reopen the corridor to Aleppo, Davutoglu said, “Wait for the next few days and you will have the answer,” daily Hurriyet reported on Friday. With regard to recent controversy over US support for the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), Davutoglu has also stated that Ankara will “do what is necessary if Turkey’s security is threatened by the group’s military wing, the People’s Defense Units (YPG). [Today’s Zaman, Hurriyet, 2/12/2016]

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


Czechs propose to send pilot trainers to Iraq as anti-ISIS coalition ‘steps up’ in Iraq and Syria
After a meeting with defense ministers from the anti-ISIS coalition, US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said that 90 percent of the countries had made pledges to increase support in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. Czech Defense Minister Martin Stropnicky said during a meeting in Brussels that his government will send about 30 instructors and military technicians to train Iraqi pilots. This initiative comes in conjunction with the agreement made by the Czech government to sell Iraq 15 Czech-made L-159 light combat planes. The Dutch, who have been carrying out airstrikes in Iraq, are prepared to now extend them in Syria, Mr. Carter told reporters. He also praised the Canadian government for its announcement on Monday to will expand its training, advisory and surveillance programs in northern Iraq. Carter also stated that there were new efforts to cut off ISIS’s financing, and added that a number of Iraqi military units were scheduled to finish their training and would then be deployed to the northern part of the country for the expected battle to retake the city of Mosul. [AP, NYT, 2/11/2016]

Russia boosts ties with Iraq in challenge to US influence
Russia is ready to sell civil airliners to Iraq and keep providing it with military aid to fight ISIS, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said on Thursday, accompanied on a trip to Baghdad by the biggest Russian delegation in years. The mission by nearly 100 government and business officials was part of a drive by Moscow to strengthen commercial and security ties with Iraq and Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari said discussions had revolved around providing military assistance to defeat ISIS. “We need support, training and intelligence-sharing . . . Intelligence plays an important role in the war on [ISIS], and we’ve been coordinating for a while now with the Russian side to place this information in the hands of Iraqis,” Jaafari told reporters, also expressing his appreciation for Russia’s position and support of Iraq in the fight against ISIS. Russia has invested millions of dollars in Iraq’s energy sector and last year opened a command center in Baghdad under an intelligence-sharing agreement with Iraq, Iran and Syria aimed at combating ISIS. [Reuters, Radio Free Europe, Rudaw, 2/11/2016]


Gunmen kill Yemeni colonel in Aden Province
Unidentified gunmen assassinated Yemeni Colonel Nasser Abdullah al-Qashmi al-Yafei in the city of Kreiter in Aden Province. Witnesses said al-Yafei was killed by gunman outside a restaurant in Kreiter after he left Friday prayers. This follows an earlier attack by suspected Al-Qaeda militants that killed five soldiers in Aden. [Shabwa Press, AFP 2/12/2016]

Top Yemeni commander survives assassination, three killed
A senior Yemeni military commander on Thursday survived an assassination attempt in Aden, though three of his guards were killed when suspected Al-Qaeda militants ambushed their convoy and opened fire. This was the second assassination attempt on Brigadier General Fadl Hasan, who heads the military in an area that includes the strategic Al-Anad military base, once the site of US intelligence operations against Al-Qaeda’s Yemeni affiliate. [Daily Star Lebanon, 2/12/2016]

Saudi Arabia calls on the UN to leave Houthi areas
Saudi Arabia sent a brief to the United Nations and humanitarian relief organizations on Thursday, calling on them to leave Houthi controlled areas for their own safety. The Saudi embassy in London explained on Friday that the warning was for the protection of the staff of international organizations from coalition airstrikes in Houthi controlled areas. [Al Masdar, 2/12/2016]

New Saudi-led coalition against terrorism to meet
A new Saudi-led coalition to fight “terrorism” in Islamic countries will gather in the kingdom next month for its first publicly announced meeting, a Saudi source said Thursday. Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman announced the new coalition in December. The coalition has 35 members, ranging from Comoros to major regional powers like Turkey. [AFP, 2/11/2016]


EU says it is ready to lend Tunisia EUR 500 million
The European Union (EU) said Friday it is ready to lend Tunisia EUR 500 million in 2016-2017 to help the country address economic difficulties, weeks after violent protests erupted demanding jobs. The EU said the macrofinancial assistance will take the form of medium-term loans at favorable financing conditions. European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs Pierre Moscovici said, “The European Commission is living up to its commitment to provide greater support for the reform efforts made by Tunisia . . . Today’s proposal will help Tunisia to cover external financing needs and will give its people some leeway to achieve a sustainable and inclusive growth model.” A press release from the European Commission said that the macrofinancial assistance aims to help cover Tunisia’s external financing needs in 2016 and 2017. The EU also aims to support Tunisia’s reform measures, improve the country’s investment climate, and foster economic integration with the EU. [Reuters, 2/12/2016]

Egypt’s central bank injected $14 billion in three months to ease dollar shortage
The Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) has injected over $14 billion dollars into local banks over the past three months to facilitate import activity and curb inflation on essential goods, a government statement said Thursday. “The central bank and Egyptian banks have embarked on an urgent plan to facilitate foreign trade in order to provide for production and for essential consumer goods for Egyptian citizens,” a CBE report cited in the statement said. “To this end the central bank has provided more than $14 billion over three months and this has had an immediate impact on foreign trade and industrial activity.” The dollar injections have helped push down prices on essential food items by 25 to 35 percent, the statement added. The CBE report said the dollar injections did not affect its level of foreign reserves, which have remained steady around $16 billion dollars in recent months. [Reuters, 2/12/2016]

Egypt, EU launch trade program
Egypt’s Minister of Industry and Foreign Trade Tarek Kabil and Head of the European Union (EU) Delegation to Egypt Ambassador James Moran announced on Thursday the implementation of a Trade and Domestic Market Enhancement Program. As part of the program, the EU will provide Egypt with technical assistance in foreign trade and will provide Egypt with EUR 20 million to support industrial development and infrastructure. Kabil said the program is a central part of the ministry’s plans to increase industrial sector growth by 9 percent. The program also aims to align Egypt’s industrial sector with Europe’s 2020 sustainable development strategy to mitigate trade barriers. Moran noted that EU investment in Egypt rose by 4 percent in 2015 and that the volume of trade between Egypt and the EU increased by 11 percent since 2015. [DNE, SIS, 2/11/2016]

UAE oil minister says OPEC ready to cooperate on output cut
Energy Minister of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Suhail bin Mohammed al-Mazrouei said members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) are ready to cooperate on a production cut, while non-OPEC producers are holding off on output increases amid current prices. He said non-OPEC supplies are expected to drop up to 800,000 barrels per day while global demand growth is seen at 1.3 million bpd, which will to balance the market balance itself. “The positive thing is the current market is forcing everyone not to increase output . . . I’m optimistic that the balance will happen this year despite the oversupply and stocks overhang,” Mazrouei said. [Reuters, 2/11/2016]

Foreign direct investment in Turkey rises by over 30 percent
Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Turkey rose 32 percent in 2015 compared to the previous year, the country’s investment agency said Thursday. FDI reached $16.6 billion, up from $12.5 billion in 2014. The service sector saw the greatest input of foreign capital at $6.2 billion, followed by the manufacturing and energy sectors. President of Turkey’s Investment Support and Promotion Agency Arda Ermut said he expects investment in Turkey to continue to increase, as investor confidence is renewed. “We can predict progress regarding international investments in 2016 based on the views and opinions of international investors who are pleased with the reforms and steps taken to improve the investment environment,” Ermut said. [Anadolu Agency, Daily Sabah, 2/11/2016]