Top News: Putin Sends Air Defense Missiles to Syria; Erdogan and Obama Seek to Ease Tensions

On Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered state-of-the art air defense missile systems to be deployed to a Russian airbase in Syria following the downing of a Russian warplane by Turkey on Tuesday. Despite the deployment, Russian FM Sergei Lavrov insisted it does not plan to wage war against Turkey. The S-400 missile systems, to be sent to the Hemeimeem air base in Syria’s coastal province of Latakia located about 50 kilometers south of the border with Turkey, are capable of targeting Turkish jets with deadly precision. Militants killed one of the two pilots of the downed Russian jet after bailing out. Syrian army commandos rescued his crewmate and delivered him in good condition to the Russian base. Capt. Konstantin Murakhtin, the Russian airman who survived the downing of the warplane, said on Wednesday on Russian television that the Turkish jets did not issue any warnings before engaging. Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Erdogan said on a televised speech in Istanbul, “We have no intention to escalate this incident. We are just defending our security and the rights of our brothers.” President Barack Obama agreed with Erdogan’s stance, saying, “This is a moment in which all parties can step back and make a determination as to how their interests are best served.” [AP, 11/25/2015]



Russian Defense Ministry says Egypt to buy advanced weapons from Russia
Egypt plans to buy advanced weapons from Russia, the Russian Defense Ministry said on Wednesday. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu ordered federal service for military-technical cooperation to rapidly respond to an Egyptian request to buy armaments. It is not yet known what type of weapons Egypt plans to buy. Russia has also asked Egypt to sign a protocol by which Russian warships may cross the Suez Canal and pass through Egyptian territorial waters. Shoigu’s announcement comes after a two-day visit to Egypt, where he met President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Tuesday in Cairo. The Egyptian Defense Minister Sedki Sobhi, the Russian Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov, and the Russian Ambassador to Cairo attended the meeting. During his meeting with Sisi, Antonov said Russia appreciates Egypt’s role in achieving security and stability in the region, according to a statement released by the Egyptian presidency. A Russian news agency quoted Antonov saying that Russia will respond in coming weeks to Egypt’s armaments and combat hardware requests. “The plan is that we must give an answer to all the requests of our Egyptian friends in the coming weeks,” Antonov said. Shoigu and Sobhi agreed to maintain close contact on issues of military and technical cooperation, he added. Russian media reports said earlier that Russia may sign a deal with Egypt for the delivery of Kamov Ka-52K helicopters developed for the Mistral-class amphibious ships and the corresponding equipment. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, Cairo Post, 11/25/2015]

Egypt, Israel rebuff bid to trim Sinai peacekeeping force says official
The US-led peacekeeping force in Sinai will remain unchanged after Egypt and Israel rebuffed proposals to trim it by about a fifth, an Egyptian official said on Tuesday. Created to monitor the demilitarization of the Sinai and ensure the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace accord, the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) and some of its twelve contributor countries have considered changes to its deployment and mandate. They worry about the safety of the almost 1,900 peacekeepers after six were wounded in September by a roadside bomb. Some have argued that dismantling more remote and vulnerable posts would not significantly set back the mission – especially at a time when Egypt and Israel say their counterinsurgency ties are closer than ever. But both Egypt and Israel favor the MFO status quo and, at a review meeting held in Rome last week and attended by a US delegation, they stood firm, according to one Egyptian official. MFO and US officials had no immediate comment. An Israeli official declined to discuss the Rome meeting but appeared to confirm common cause over maintaining the MFO. [Reuters, 11/24/2015]

Parties announce more preliminary election results
With the first round in the second stage of Egypt’s parliamentary elections over, more parties are announcing preliminary results. The Conference Party said two of its candidates secured seats in the For the Love of Egypt coalition, with another five participating in the runoffs for individual seats. The Free Egyptians Party, after having previously said none of their candidates won in the first round, have since announced one candidate has secured a seat. The Future of the Nation Party said it has fifty candidates in the runoff, with candidates securing seats in the For the Love of Egypt list. Hafez Abu Seada, head of the independent Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) and member of the Conservatives Party, also reportedly secured a seat in the first round. Tawfiq Okasha, owner of al-Faraeen channel, along with former Wafdist leader Fouad Badrawy and another independent candidate, Bassem Falayfel, are in the runoffs competing over one seat. Preliminary estimations place turnout in this round of elections at 32.5 percent. [Ahram Online, 11/24/2015]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


Tunisia says suicide bomber behind bus attack that killed thirteen
Tunisian security officials said on Wednesday that a suicide bomber carried out Tuesday evening’s attack on a presidential guard bus that killed at least thirteen and wounded twenty others. The Interior Ministry now says that ten kilograms of explosives were used in the attack. President Beji Caid Essebsi declared a thirty-day state of emergency across the country and a curfew of 9 p.m. on greater Tunis, and convened an emergency meeting of his security council on Wednesday morning. No group has claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s attack. This was the first suicide bombing in the capital, and the first major attack directed at security forces. Security officials said the bomber blew himself up as presidential guards were boarding a bus on the main Mohamed V Avenue to travel to the presidential palace for duty. The United States, France, the United Nations, the Arab League, Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Qatar, and Bahrain have all strongly condemned the attack. Tuesday’s blast on a main boulevard was the third major terrorist attack on Tunisia this year. [Reuters, AP, NYT, Washington Post, AFP, 11/25/2015]

Tunisian President cancels state visit to Switzerland
President Beji Caïd Essebsi has cancelled his state visit to Switzerland, due on November 25-26, according to the president’s press department. This decision comes a few hours after the terrorist attack targeting a bus of the presidential guard at Mohamed V Avenue in Tunis, causing the death of thirteen and injuring twenty. [TAP, 11/25/2015]

HOR meeting suspended as ninety-two members back the dialogue deal
Discussions in the House of Representatives (HOR) on the Government of National Accord (GNA) proposed by the UN-brokered Libya Dialogue came to an abrupt end on Tuesday when the session was suspended. According to the Libyan news agency LANA, the suspension followed heated discussions about the plan and ended up with a fight in the parliament. This session was the first chance the HOR had to discuss the GNA. For two weeks, HOR President Ageela Salah Gwaider was out of the country and unable to convene a session to debate the GNA. Prior to Tuesday’s meeting, ninety-two HOR members had signed a statement backing the GNA. However, they also said that there could be no changes in the leadership of the Libyan National Army and that the names announced by former UN Envoy Bernardino Leon for the proposed presidential council needed modification. [Libya Herald, 11/24/2015]

Markets dedicated to Tunisian products to open in Libya
Markets dedicated to Tunisian produce are to set up in Benghazi, Zintan, and Khoms according to the Supreme Council of Tunisian and Libyan Businessmen. The project was announced on Monday at the launch of the Tunisian-Libyan business association in Tunis. The aim of the project, said Vice President of Benghazi Business Council Said Fuad Al-Awam, is to strengthen the presence of Tunisian products in Libya. These, he explained, have suffered a severe slump since the Libyan revolution. Al-Awam called on Tunisian businessmen to seize this opportunity to return to the Libyan market. He said that with soaring prices because of inflation in Libya, Libyan consumers would react positively to the new competition provided by the Tunisians. [Libya Herald, 11/24/2015]


Russian raids in Syrian province of Latakia continue after jet downed by Turkey
Russian warplanes carried out heavy air raids in Syria’s northern Latakia province a day after Turkey downed one of Moscow’s jets in the area, a monitoring group said on Wednesday. “Russian warplanes have since last night been carrying out heavy air strikes on the Jabal Akrad and Jabal Turkman regions” in the north of the province, said Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) Director Rami Abdel Rahman. He added that Russian planes had carried out at least twelve strikes in the area since the morning, but had no information on any casualties. State television reported that Syrian warplanes were also carrying out strikes in the north of Latakia. [AFP, 11/25/2015]

France, US vow unity against ISIS; Russia says ready to join others in anti-ISIS coalition
France and the United States pledged Tuesday to step up the fight against ISIS, urging Russia to throw its weight behind global efforts to resolve the Syrian conflict. President Francois Hollande met President Barack Obama at the White House, eleven days after militants killed 130 people in the French capital, Hollande urged an “implacable” joint response to crush the group in Syria and Iraq. At a joint news conference, Obama pledged full US support in the wake of the Nov. 13 carnage. He said in French, “We are all French … We are here to declare that the United States and France stand united in total solidarity to deliver justice to terrorists and those who sent them, and to defend our nations.” The Russian Ambassador to France Alexander Orlov said Wednesday that Russia is “prepared to … plan strikes on [ISIS] positions together and create a joint staff with France, the US, with all the countries that want to be in this coalition.” [Daily Star, 11/25/2015]

Syrian army source says rebels make heavy use of TOW missiles
A Syrian military source said rebels are making heavy use of US-made anti-tank missiles paid for by Saudi Arabia and supplied via Turkey in recent weeks. The weapons are having an impact on the battlefield. The so-called TOW missile is the most potent weapon in the arsenal of rebel groups battling President Bashar al-Assad and has been seen in action more frequently since Russia intervened with air strikes on Syria on Sept 30. The US Central Intelligence Agency has supplied TOW missiles to rebels under a military support program for vetted Syrian groups that has included military training. The Syrian source said, “The one paying is Saudi, and the one securing the supply, is Turkey.” [Reuters, NYT, 11/25/2015]

Joint projects and tourism with Turkey may be canceled after Russian jet downed
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said on Wednesday the downing of a Russian warplane by Turkey could result in cancelling some important joint projects. As a result, Turkish companies could lose Russian market share, Medvedev said in a statement published on the government website. The Russian Association of Travel Agencies says several Russian agencies have stopped selling package tours to Turkey. [Reuters, AP, 11/25/2015]

Kurds discover ISIS tunnels under Sinjar
Under the Iraqi town of Sinjar, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants built a network of tunnels, complete with sleeping quarters, wired with electricity and fortified with sandbags. Kurdish forces that took the city in northwestern Iraq earlier this month, after more than a year of ISIS rule, uncovered the tunnels. ISIS has been digging tunnels for protection and movement throughout the territory it controls in Iraq and Syria, even before the US-led coalition launched its campaign of airstrikes against the group more than a year ago. The Kurdish forces also found boxes of US-made ammunition and bomb-making tools in the tunnels. [CBS, 11/25/2015]

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


UAE reportedly sends Colombian mercenaries to fight in Yemen
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has reportedly dispatched hundreds of Colombian mercenaries to Yemen to fight in the country’s conflict between Houthi rebels and pro-government fighters. The reported arrival in Yemen of 450 Latin American troops, among them are also Panamanian, Salvadorean, and Chilean soldiers, adds to the government armies, armed tribes, terrorist networks, and Yemeni militias currently fighting in the country. According to the New York Times, the Colombian troops now in Yemen were handpicked from a brigade of some 1,800 Latin American soldiers training at an Emirati military base. Those left behind are now being trained to use grenade launchers and armored vehicles that Emirati troops are currently using in Yemen. Emirati officials allegedly recruited Colombian troops over other soldiers because they consider the Colombians more battle tested in guerrilla warfare. In addition, a recent UN report cited claims that some 400 Eritrean troops might be embedded with the Emirati soldiers in Yemen. [NYT, 11/25/2015]

Abu Dhabi Crown Prince receives Yemeni tribal chiefs
Abu Dhabi Crown and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces Prince Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan on Monday received the leaders of Yemen’s Marib tribes. Marib Governor Sultan bin Ali al-Arrada headed the Yemeni delegation, accompanied by Brigadier Mussalam al-Rashedi, Commander of Marib Liberation Force. Al-Nahyan said that the people of Yemen are capable of facing all challenges and rebuilding their state on a purely Yemeni and Arab foundation. He added that the Saudi-led coalition’s support of pro-government forces in Yemen had “contributed significantly in helping Yemen regain its sovereignty, under a vision that serves the aspirations of the Yemeni people for stability and development.” During John Kerry’s visit to the UAE this week, Kerry expressed US support for the Saudi-led coalition’s role in the Yemen conflict. [Al Arabiya, US State Department, 11/24/2015]

UN accuses Houthis of blocking supply routes into Taiz
A senior UN official accused Houthi rebels of obstructing the delivery of humanitarian supplies to civilians in Taiz and warned that up to 200,000 people are living under “virtual siege.” Supporters of President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi, backed by Arab coalition forces, have been trying to capture the city from Houthi fighters for months in clashes that have killed hundreds and displaced many more. The UN Humanitarian Affairs Chief (UNOHCA) Stephen O’Brien said that prolonged fighting has left some 200,000 civilians in need of drinking water, medical treatments, protections, and other life-saving assistance. While the Saudi-led coalition has made some gains against the Houthis, the advance had been slow. [NYT, 11/25/2015]

Human rights group says Bahrain jails reporter on terrorism charges
This week, Bahrain jailed a freelance photographer for ten years and stripped him of his nationality after convicting him of terrorism, said Reporters sans Frontiers on Tuesday. Sayed Ahmed al-Mousawi was accused of giving mobile phone SIM cards to demonstrators and taking photographs of anti-government protests. A report on Bahrain News Agency late on Monday quoted Prosecution Advocate General Ahmed al-Hammadi as saying that the High Court had sentenced three defendants to fifteen years in prison and three to ten years for setting up and joining a terrorist cell. None of those sentenced were named and it was not clear if Mousawi was among them. Al-Hammadi said those arrested were trained to make explosives, conducted illegal rallies, possessed petrol bombs, committed forgery for the purpose of terrorism, and attempted murder in 2013 and 2014. [Reuters, 11/24/2015]


Fuel prices set to triple as part of Tripoli subsidy reform plan
Libya’s Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC) has approved plans to remove subsidies for fuel and related products. According to the GNC decision, petrol prices will jump from LD 0.15 per liter to LD 0.45. The changes will not be implemented immediately, as direct payments designed to replace subsidies have yet to be made due to “liquidity shortages.” As part of the reform process, the Tripoli government said each adult would receive LD 50 ($40) per month to assist with the higher prices. It is unclear when the cash payments will be processed or whether the Tripoli-based government has the power to implement the changes nationwide or only in areas nominally under its control. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 11/25/2015]

Israel’s Leviathan signs preliminary natural gas supply deal with Egypt

Natural gas from Israel’s Leviathan offshore gas field will be pumped to Egypt via an existing subsea pipeline for up to fifteen years under a preliminary deal announced by the field’s developers on Wednesday. Leviathan, which is expected to begin production in 2019 or 2020, will supply Egypt’s Dolphinus Holdings with up to 4 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas per year for ten to fifteen years. The price of gas is linked to the cost of Brent oil and includes a floor price. “We’ve worked with Dolphinus before and we expect to reach a final agreement quickly,” Chief Executive of Israel’s Delek Drilling Yossi Abu said. “The Egyptian market is thirsty for gas, both for domestic use and for their export facilities. There is a lot of room for cooperation there,” he added. Egypt has expressed its eagerness to import Israeli gas despite the discovery by Italy’s Eni of the Zohr gas field off Egypt’s coast in August. Earlier this year, Dolphinus agreed to a seven-year deal to buy at least $1.2 billion of gas from Israel’s Tamar gas field, which is near Leviathan. “Egypt is becoming a regional hub through cooperation with the Leviathan and Tamar partners,” Abu said. [Reuters, 11/25/2015]

Kuwaiti fund to finance Egyptian projects with $1.5 billion
The Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development announced plans to allocate $1.5 billion to finance Egyptian projects, particularly projects in the housing sector. The money will be delivered in annual instalments of $300 million over five years, according to the fund’s general director Abdulwahab Ahmed al-Bader. It is not yet clear whether the financing constitutes a loan or a grant. The fund also signed a $95 million loan agreement with Egypt to assist in financing the Egyptian side of a power interconnection project between Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The loan represents 15 percent of the total cost of the Egyptian share of the project and is to be repaid over twenty-five years at 2.5 percent interest rate. [Ahram Online, 11/24/2015]

Turkey’s new finance ministers vows to maintain fiscal discipline as tourism weighs
Turkey will not give up on fiscal discipline in the coming period and parliament will be working intensely on economic reforms, the country’s new Finance Minister Naci Agbal said on Wednesday. Turkey’s new economic administration will need to deal with a number of challenging economic issues. On Tuesday, Turkish tourism representatives voiced concern after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov advised Russians not to visit Turkey after Turkish jets downed a Russian plane. “We cannot lose the Russian market, which is the second largest source of Turkey’s tourism sector. We have already lost over 800,000 Russian tourists over this year due to economic woes in [Russia] and had to make significant cuts in hotel prices to overcome our losses in addition to other concessions,” said the head of the Turkish Hoteliers Federation Osman Ayik. [Huriyyet, 11/25/2015]