Top News: Obama Tells the Nation Terrorist Threat to US is ‘evolving’ but Beatable

President Barack Obama’s speech to reassure the nation on Sunday night included no new strategy to contain or defeat the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). He reassured Americans that the United States is equipped to meet the dangerous and “evolving” threat of terrorism. Obama used a rare Oval Office address to make the case that his administration was ahead of the problem and to explain once again a series of incremental moves his administration has made over the past month: the Pentagon’s decision to send special operations forces to Iraq and Syria, the long-awaited move to launch air strikes on oil tankers that provide ISIS with much of its revenue, and Secretary of State John Kerry’s attempt at diplomacy through the Vienna process to halt the civil war in Syria. [NYT, 12/7/2015]



Sudan files UNSC complaint against Egypt over disputed territories
Sudan officially filed a complaint against Egypt at the United Nations Security Council over the disputed territories of Halayib and Shalateen, Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir said in press statements on Sunday. Egypt has considered the area of Halayib and Shalateen part of Egyptian territory since Sudan’s independence from Egypt during the Nasser era, while Sudan considers it part of Sudanese territory. The dispute dates back to 1995, when the Egyptian army posted military troops in the area of Halayib and Shalateen. Egyptian parliamentarian Mamdouh Omara, representing the region where the two cities are located, rebuffed Bashir’s remarks and attributed them to signs of “political bankruptcy” and “an attempt to appease the Sudanese nation.” Meanwhile, Bashir also said the Ethiopian Renaissance Dam has become a reality, and the project requires the mutual trust, cooperation, and the involvement of Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia. On Sunday, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry met with representatives of an Ethiopian diplomatic delegation and discussed a wide range of issues including the Renaissance Dam project. The meeting occurred after a postponement by Ethiopia on Saturday of the tripartite meeting that was scheduled to be held between the foreign and irrigation ministers of the three countries. [DNE, AMAY, 12/6/2015]

Parliamentary elections turnout 28.3 percent; US expresses concern over opposition participation
Head of the High Election Committee (HEC) Ayman Abbas said the average turnout rate of voters in the first and second phase of elections was approximately 28.3 percent, with a total 15,206,010 voters out of 53,786,762 eligible voters. Abbas said the highest turnout in both stages was South Sinai with a turnout of 41.6 percent, while the lowest was in the Suez governorate with a turnout of 18.1 percent. Abbas also said that the turnout in the second, final runoffs in the parliamentary elections was 22.3 percent. He added that of the 568 elected seats, a total of 555 candidates were elected over the two phases, with voting being repeated for 13 disputed seats in four constituencies to a reportedly low turnout. The US State Department said that although parliamentary elections were administered “in accordance with Egyptian laws,” it is concerned about low turnout and limited opposition participation. Several coalitions among the winning MPs have already begun to form, with Sameh Seif al-Yazal, the rapporteur for the dominant For the Love of Egypt list saying that ‘The Coalition to Support the Egyptian State’ will be finalized within days. According to Al-Ahram, members of the coalition constitute more than two thirds of parliament, bringing together 400 representatives. For the first time in parliamentary history, MPs representing the governorate of Alexandria are also planning to form an ‘Alexandria MP Bloc.’ [Ahram Online, 12/7/2015]

Egypt to head counterterrorism committee in UN Security Council
Egypt was chosen to lead the UN Security Council counter-terrorism committee, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry said on Saturday, as well as two of the council’s subsidiary bodies. Diplomatic sources said this confirms the successful efforts by the Foreign Ministry, which led to Egypt’s non-permanent membership with the United Nations for 2016-17. The sources also said the committee, formed after the 9/11 attacks in America, is the UN’s most important anti-terrorism committee, adding that Egypt was chosen for its expertise in fighting terrorism. They added that all permanent and nonpermanent members voted for Egypt. The committee will be headed by Egypt’s Permanent Delegate to the United Nations Amr Abul Atta. Egypt’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Abu Zeid said in a statement that the choice of Egypt to lead the committee reflects the international community’s confidence in Egypt. The objectives of the committee are to develop international counter-terrorism policies and implement respective Security Council resolutions. [AMAY, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, 12/5/2015]

Luxor prosecution detains five policemen on torture charges; Alexandria prosecution investigates torture claims
Egypt’s prosecution ordered Saturday the detention of five low-ranking policemen for four days on accusations of involvement in torturing to death a detainee in Upper Egypt’s Luxor. Two days earlier, four officers were also detained for four days pending investigation into the same accusations. According to state media, their detention has been renewed for 15 days. Alexandria prosecution also opened an investigation Monday into the Sunday death of a 22-year-old man inside a police station after human rights lawyers filed a report against officers at the station, accusing them of torturing the man to death. The lawyers claim that the officers tortured Amr Mahran Farouk, a driver, in an effort to coerce a confession regarding the theft of a tuk tuk. A security source at Alexandria Security Directorate told Al-Ahram that the death was not due to any assaults, but was caused by an overdose from drugs taken by the man before he was arrested. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, 12/7/2015]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


Rival Libyan lawmakers sign proposal for peace deal

Lawmakers from Libya’s rival parliaments reached a power-sharing agreement, separate from UN-brokered talks, a representative of Libya’s internationally recognized government said Sunday. The proposal was signed late on Saturday in Tunisia by groups from Libya’s House of Representatives (HOR) and General National Congress (GNC). However, it appears the deal has failed to gain broad acceptance by either side, with representatives from both parliaments criticizing the agreement. Lawmakers said the agreement calls for forming a ten-person committee – five members from each parliament – that would be charged with naming an interim Prime Minister and two deputies in the next two weeks. One of the deputies would come from the HOR, the other from the GNC. The trio would then form a unity cabinet. A committee would also look at making at amendments to the 1963 constitution, which would then be adopted by both bodies until the new constitution is finalized and approved. Legislative elections would be held within two years. Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi received the chief negotiators on Sunday night and urged the negotiating parties to maintain contacts with the UN envoy for Libya. Nearly half the members of the HOR and GNC are still in favor of the United Nations deal, albeit with conditions. [Reuters, AP, AFP, Libya Herald, TAP, 12/6/2015]

No Libyan military intervention says NATO chief
NATO is ready to help a future national unity government in Libya but remains opposed to any military intervention in the country, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said. He commented, “We are not discussing a major new military operation in Libya and I will not be recommending it.” Stoltenberg was speaking in Rome ahead of next Sunday’s international conference called by Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. Renzi, who had previously given indications that he did not rule out Italian involvement in an international peacekeeping force, said last week that intervening in Libya “is not on the agenda at the moment. We would rue the consequences of any intervention without a clear strategy.” [Libya Herald, AFP, 12/6/2015]

France warns risk of huge ISIS influx into Libya
There is an increasing risk of Libya becoming a haven for combatants from Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), even as western nations target the group in Iraq and Syria, the French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian warned on Sunday. “We see foreign militants arriving in the region of Sirte who, if our operations in Syria and Iraq succeed in reducing the territorial reach of Daesh [an alternative name for ISIS] could tomorrow be more numerous,” Le Drian said. He ruled out military intervention in Libya but said the West should try to foster Libyan unity in the face of such a threat. “There is a major risk of a link being forged with Boko Haram,” Le Drian said. [AFP, 12/5/2015]

Libya trial against Saadi Gaddafi postponed to February
A high court in Tripoli has postponed the trial of Saadi Qaddafi, the third son of former Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, until February 2016. Saadi is detained in a prison in al-Habda for his role in the violent crackdown on regime opponents, the murder of demonstrators at the end of 2011, and the 2005 homicide of a former Libyan soccer player. He risks the death penalty. Saadi appeared on Sunday in a cage dressed in a blue uniform in front of a judge, who ruled in favor of a postponement for further investigations. In September, Saadi told Human Rights Watch that he had been held in solitary confinement and suffered due process violations during pretrial detention at al-Hadba prison. [ANSAmed, AFP, Libya Herald (subscription), 12/7/2015]

Libyan carriers banned from landing at Tunis airport
Planes originating from Libyan airports will no longer be allowed to land at Tunis–Carthage airport but will instead be diverted to Sfax airport. The restriction will apply between December 5 and 31, according to Libyan Aviation News. A Tunisian official said Sfax airport is able to receive up to ten services from Libyan airports each day. The decision comes as part of the security measures adopted by Tunisia following a bomb attack on November 24, which targeted a bus carrying presidential guards in downtown Tunis. Tunisia also closed the Ras Jedir border crossing with Libya and declared a thirty-day state of emergency. A Libyan official at the border said that Libyan border crossings with Tunisia, both at Ras Jedir and further south at Dahiba, will remain closed until December 11. [Libya Monitor, 12/7/2015]


Assad says Britain’s Syria strikes “illegal”
Britain’s bombing campaign against ISIS in Syria is “illegal” and will only cause “terrorism” to spread, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said in an interview. Assad has said the only air strikes that have worked against ISIS are those carried out by Russia, which is cooperating with Syrian government forces. “It will be harmful and illegal and it will support terrorism as happened after the coalition started its operation a year or so (ago),” he said. “You cannot defeat [ISIS] through air strikes alone. You cannot defeat them without cooperation with forces on the ground. You cannot defeat them if you do not have buy-in from the general public and the government,” he said. He also said next week’s meeting of the Syrian opposition and rebel groups in Saudi Arabia “will not change anything on the ground.” The groups will gather in Saudi Arabia Tuesday to unify their stance ahead of potential talks with the regime. [AP, AFP, 12/6/2015]

Fabius: Assad’s departure not necessary before political transition
The departure of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is no longer necessary before any political transition in Syria, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said. The comments mark a softening of Paris’ position regarding Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as attention turns to the fight against ISIS. “The fight against Daesh is crucial, but it will only be totally effective if all the Syrian and regional forces are united,” Fabius told a French newspaper, using an Arabic acronym for ISIS. “A united Syria implies a political transition. That does not mean that Bashar Assad must leave even before the transition, but there must be assurances for the future.” Until now, France other Western powers fighting ISIS, including Washington, have insisted that Assad step down as part of any political solution to the Syrian conflict. [AFP, 12/5/2015]

Syria accuses US-led coalition of killing regime troops
Syria expressed outrage Monday after a suspected US-led coalition strike for the first time killed regime troops. However, the coalition denied that its warplanes hit an army base. In a letter to the United Nations Security Council and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Syria’s foreign ministry condemned what it called a “flagrant aggression” that killed at least three soldiers and wounded 13 late on Sunday. A spokesman for the US-led coalition said its only strikes in the area on Sunday were some 35 miles southeast of the Syrian army base. “We’ve seen those Syrian reports but we did not conduct any strikes in that part of Deir Ezzor yesterday. So we see no evidence,” said spokesman for the coalition Colonel Steve Warren. [AP, AFP, 12/7/2015]

Aid reaches Syrian rebel-held area of Homs
Humanitarian aid has reached a besieged rebel-held area in the central Syrian city of Homs, part of a local ceasefire deal that is to include the withdrawal of opposition fighters, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said. In a delivery presided over by the United Nations, food and medical supplies entered the Waer district of the city on Thursday in a sign that the deal, which marks the second local ceasefire agreement to be reached in Syria in recent months, is beginning to be implemented. Syrian government officials said on Tuesday they had agreed that opposition fighters could withdraw from the last insurgent-held area of Homs with their weapons as part of the agreement. [Reuters, 12/6/2015]

Nusra fighters surrender to regime in south Syria
Over 100 fighters in the Nusra Front have handed themselves over to Syrian regime forces in the southern province of Deraa, according to both activist and pro-regime media. SOHR reported Monday morning that “over 100 members of an Islamism faction handed themselves over to regime forces in the Deraa countryside,” without specifying the location or affiliation of the surrendering fighters. “It remains unknown whether the handover was carried out through a prior agreement with regime forces or not,” the monitoring group added. SOHR’s report came a day after the pro-rebel Syria Mubasher outlet said that 180 Nusra militants had turned themselves over. [NOW, 12/7/2015]

Turkey slams Russian Bosphorus provocation
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has called on Russia to end “provocative acts” after Turkish media captured images of a Russian soldier on Sunday apparently pointing a missile launcher as his warship navigated through the Bosporus on its way to the Mediterranean. On Monday, Cavusoglu said Turkey would “give the necessary response” should it perceive a ‘threatening situation.” The incident came amid escalating Russian-Turkish tensions following Turkey’s downing of a Russian plane on November 24. Cavusoglu renewed a call for the two sides to overcome tensions through diplomatic means and for Russia to halt punitive sanctions on Turkey, adding, “We are asking Russia to act as a more mature state.” [AP, Guardian, 12/7/2015]

Iraq says Turkish troops near Mosul violating international law
Iraq’s Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari has warned Turkey that the deadline for the withdrawal of additional Turkish forces from Iraq’s north expires on Tuesday. He said on Monday that unless Turkish troops pullout, Iraq intends to raise the matter before the UN Security Council. Syria slammed Turkey on Sunday for Turkish troop deployment in Iraq, accusing Ankara of playing a “destructive role” against both countries. Turkey says its troops have been stationed at a small base outside of ISIS-controlled Mosul since last year as part of a training mission coordinated with Baghdad and that it has a duty to protect its soldiers around the city. The arrival of additional Turkish forces on Friday sparked uproar in Baghdad amid exaggerated media reports. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has repeatedly called for the forces to be withdrawn. A number of other senior Iraqi politicians called the move a violation of Iraq’s sovereignty. On Sunday, Turkey announced additional deployments to Iraq would be halted until the Iraqi government’s “sensitivities are overcome.” As of Monday, Turkey had not withdrawn troops from Iraq and was in discussion with Iraq’s defense ministry. [AP, 12/7/2015]

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


UN says President Hadi ready to call ceasefire on December 15
Yemeni President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi is prepared to call a ceasefire on December 15 to coincide with the start of UN-led peace talks in Switzerland, United Nations Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed said Monday. Speaking to reporters in Geneva, Ahmed said “[the coalition is] certainly on board regarding our discussion on the ceasefire but they made it very clear that the ceasefire request has to come from President Hadi.” Meanwhile, fighting continued on the Saudi border this past weekend as helicopters and fighter jets belonging to a Saudi-led coalition on Sunday repelled Yemeni Houthi fighters who were pressing a six-day offensive to seize Saudi territory. Two residents said 20 Houthi fighters were killed at the southern border of the Saudi provinces of Najran and Jizan. Saudi State television said 50 Houthis were killed. [NYT, 12/7/2015]

Yemen’s Aden Governor killed in car bombing claimed by ISIS
The Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) claimed responsibility for a car bomb that killed the provincial governor in the southern port of Aden early Sunday. A local official and residents said at least six members of General Jaafar Mohammed Saad’s entourage also died in the attack, which targeted the governor on his way to work. Several other people were wounded. In a statement posted on a messaging service, ISIS said it detonated a car laden with explosives as Saad’s convoy passed b and promised more operations against “the heads of apostasy in Yemen.” A day after the assassination, President Hadi appointed Brigadier Aidroos al-Zubaidi as the new governor. In October, ISIS claimed responsibility for twin bombings in Aden that targeted a hotel housing members of the Yemeni government. [NYT, 12/6/2015]

German Vice Chancellor warns Saudi Arabia over Islamist funding
German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel urged Saudi Arabia on Sunday to stop supporting religious radicals, amid growing concern among some lawmakers in Berlin regarding Saudi funding of militant mosques. Gabriel’s comments follow a report by Germany’s foreign intelligence agency (BND) that suggested Saudi foreign policy is becoming more “impulsive.” He said, “we need Saudi Arabia to solve the regional conflicts but we must at the same time make clear that the time to look away is past. Wahhabi mosques are financed all over the world by Saudi Arabia.” Officials in Berlin rebuked BND,
saying that the report “does not reflect the position of the German government.” A government spokesman called Saudi Arabia an important partner “in a crisis-ridden world,” especially in the context of peace talks on Syria. [NYT, 12/6/2015]

Al-Qaeda offers bounty for head of Yemen pro-government forces
Al-Qaeda threatened on Friday to kill one of the leaders of the pro-government forces in southern Yemen, putting a bounty on his head. A statement by Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) circulated during weekly prayer vowed to kill Abdellatif al-Sayed, the Abyan provincial commander of the Popular Resistance fighters. Accusing him of having “stabbed the mujahedeen in the back,” it placed a bounty of seven million Yemeni riyals ($32,500) on his head and warned that his accomplices would be regarded as “legitimate targets.” [AFP, 12/5/2015]


Gulf states agree on key issues for implementing VAT
Gulf states have agreed on key issues for implementing value-added tax (VAT) in the region. The agreement was reached at a meeting of representatives from Gulf ministries a few days ago, Undersecretary at the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) Finance Ministry Younis Haji al-Khouri said. The introduction of a VAT would mark a major economic reform for the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, which have minimal tax systems and no tax on income. The drop in global oil prices has slashed government incomes and made finding new revenue more urgent. The UAE is expected this year to post its first budget deficit since 2009. Khouri said the target for introducing the tax is three years. He said it would take 18 to 24 months to implement once a final agreement has been reached. “We agreed on key issues to apply zero tax on healthcare, education, social services sectors and exempt 94 food items,” Khouri said. GCC governments have not indicated the rate at which the VAT will be levied. [Reuters, Gulf News, 12/7/2015]

Deputy PM says Turkey needs “more orthodox” monetary policy
Turkey needs a “more orthodox” and predictable monetary policy, Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek said, throwing his weight behind an effort by the Central Bank of Turkey to simplify its intricate system of multiple rates. Simsek sought to reassure investors he was committed to fiscal discipline and Central Bank independence. He said there should be more predictability in monetary and fiscal policy and said he plans to announce a roadmap for reforms this week. Simsek did not provide further details about expected reforms. He said he did not foresee changes in the “main parameters” of Turkey’s budget. He also said a worst case of “zero relations” with Russia would cost Turkey about $9 billion, underscoring the economic fallout of tensions between Moscow after Turkey. Bloombergreported that foreign investors withdrew $7.6 billion in assets from Turkey in 2015. In other news, Moody’s affirmed Turkey’s Baa3 government debt and issuer ratings, saying that it “reflects the country’s economic resilience and strong fiscal metrics.” [Reuters, 12/7/2015]

Egypt lifts 2015-16 GDP growth forecast
Egypt revised its gross domestic product (GDP) target for the current fiscal year to 5.5 percent from 5 percent on Saturday. Planning Minister Ashraf al-Arabi said that Egypt’s economy grew 4.2 percent in the 2014/2015 fiscal year, up from 2.2 percent the previous year. “The economy has responded favorably to reform processes put in place by the government and economic stimulus measures that have injected huge additional investments into labor-intensive infrastructure projects,” the Planning Ministry said. On Saturday, Egypt said it aims to increase exports of agricultural products to Russia by 15 percent in the coming year. Meanwhile, Minister of International Cooperation Sahar Nasr said that Egypt will sign a final agreement with the World Bank for a $1 billion loan on December 19 and expects to receive the funds before the end of the year. [Reuters, 12/5/2015]

Egypt ordered to pay Israel $1.76 billion after halting gas supplies
Israel’s state owned electric utility Israel Electric Corporation (IEC) said Sunday that Egyptian natural gas companies have been ordered by international arbitrators at the International Chamber of Commerce to pay $1.76 billion in compensation for halting gas supplies. Egypt stopped selling natural gas to Israel in 2012 after months of attacks on a pipeline by militants in the Sinai Peninsula. IEC sued Egyptian providers Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company (EGAS) and the Egyptian General Petroleum Corporation (EGPC), as well as the firm operating the pipeline, Eastern Mediterranean Gas (EMG), for $4 billion in damages. “Israel Electric will act toward the implementation of the arbitration ruling through dialogue with the gas companies,” IEC said. EGPC and EGAS said in a statement that the arbitrator had also ordered them to pay $288 million to EMG. Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said Egypt would appeal the decision. Israeli firms Delek Group, Ratio Oil, and Isramco Negev said Monday that they would push ahead with talks to export natural gas to Egypt despite the ruling. However, the Egyptian government ordered its oil and gas arms to freeze talks on importing Israeli natural gas. The government ordered EGPC and EGAS to halt approvals to companies to import Israeli gas until it clarifies the ruling and the fate of the appeal. [Reuters, AP, 12/6/2015]

Bayda NOC reissues warning following Tripoli NOC deals
Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) set up by the internationally-recognized government in Tobruk has again claimed that it is the only entity that can legally oversee the country’s oil contracts. Tobruk NOC Chairman Nagi al-Magrabi said the only legitimate office of the NOC is in eastern Libya in Bayda. Any crude shipments arranged with “any other entity” will be refused shipment, al-Magrabi said in a statement. Companies that deal with other entities will also face “legal consequences.” The statement also said the Bayda NOC is offering “lucrative business opportunities [that aim] to attract international and well-reputed companies.” [Libya Monitor (subscription), 12/7/2015]