Top News: Russia Flies 82 Sorties, Hits 204 Targets in Syria; US Says Only 30 Percent of Russia Air Strikes Target ISIS

According to the Russian defense ministry, Russia’s air force flew eighty-two sorties against 204 targets in Syria in the last 24 hours. The strikes hit targets in Syria’s Aleppo, Idlib, Latakia, Hama and Homs provinces, the ministry said, according to the news agency. Also on Wednesday, the US Special Envoy for the Anti-ISIS Coalition Brett McGurk told a Baghdad news conference that only 30 percent of Russian air strikes in Syria target ISIS. McGurk said, “If you run the numbers, it’s about maybe 30 percent are actually attacking [ISIS] and the rest of the air strikes are attacking other opposition groups…that are not affiliated” with the jihadists. [Reuters, 12/9/2015]



Egyptian anti-corruption activist sentenced to four years in bribery case
A Giza misdemeanor court sentenced on Thursday prominent anti-corruption activist and former independent MP Hamdi al-Fakharany to four years in prison and a EGP 100,000 fine on charges of blackmail. The court found Fakharany guilty of blackmailing a businessman, saying he demanded EGP 3.5 million in return for dropping a corruption lawsuit against him. This is a first degree court ruling that can be appealed. [Ahram Online, 12/9/2015]

UK Defense Advisor briefs Egypt on anti-ISIS airstrikes
Senior British Defense Advisor Tom Beckett met on Tuesday with senior Egyptian military figures in Cairo to brief them on the UK parliament’s recent decision to launch airstrikes against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militant group in Syria, according to a statement from the UK embassy in Cairo. In a meeting with General Mohamed al-Shahat and General Mohamed al-Keshky, Beckett said, “The UK strikes, conducted as part of international counter-ISIS coalition operations, are now targeting ISIS across Syria and Iraq and form part of a comprehensive strategy to defeat ISIS and restore peace and stability to Syria and Iraq.” During the meeting, Beckett also “reaffirmed the strong military relationship between the UK and Egypt and welcomed the strong, continued partnership between the two countries in the fight against ISIS.” [Ahram Online, DNE, 12/8/2015]

Military spokesperson reportedly urges police to treat people well to combat terrorism
Military Spokesperson Mohamed Samir held a meeting with central security forces on Wednesday, in which he warned them of the conspiracies against Egypt and asserted the best way to counter them is by treating people well and not allowing divisions to occur in society, local media reported. The Ministry of Defense announced Samir’s meeting with “the fighters from Central Security,” as part of an initiative by the defense and interior ministries to “raise the combat efficiency of the fighters and to unify the concepts and strategies in the field of fighting terrorism.” Samir told the forces Egypt is facing “fourth generation warfare” that aims to destroy nations by propagating rumors and creating divisions. He asserted that the only way to combat this kind of war is for military and police to observe good manners, follow their consciences and “treat people as they would like to be treated.” [Mada Masr, 12/9/2015]

Businessmen occupy one fifth of Egypt’s House of Representatives
Reaping 116 seats in Egypt’s newly-elected House of Representatives, businessmen already have their legislative agenda set out: the investment law, tax law, and the law governing local municipalities, which they say have the most significant impact on Egypt’s ailing investment climate. Parliamentarian and Chairman of the Federation of Egyptian Industries Mohamed al-Sewedy, who ran with the For the Love of Egypt coalition, told Aswat Masriya he believes that amending the investment law is a priority to prepare the state to become more competitive and to attract foreign investment. Ayman Abul Ela, Secretary-General of the Free Egyptians said the party has an economic agenda, which includes amending laws regulating investment, taxes, and tenders. Mostaqbal Watan’s Sara Othman said the party is concerned with economic legislations which stimulate investment and protect the rights of the state. She added that the party will focus on adopting laws that encourage small and medium enterprises to create jobs for young people. Al-Wafd Party will work on tax reforms to guarantee social justice, according to its representative Mohamed Fouad. [Aswat Masriya, 12/8/2015]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


EU, US warn against attempts to derail Libya peace plan
In a joint statement on Tuesday, the Ambassadors and Special Envoys of France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the Head of the EU Delegation to Libya reaffirmed their support for the UN-facilitated Libyan Political Agreement as the only way forward to resolve Libya’s political, security and institutional crises. The statement came after Libya’s rival parliaments announced a deal of their own that was reached without participation from the United Nations. It urged those who still oppose the UN proposal to act “urgently and responsibly in the interests of the Libyan people, and to join the majority who want peace in unity under a stable and inclusive” national unity government. EU and American diplomats said the UN deal represents the “culmination and consensus of a year of complex negotiations between the wide breadth of Libyan participants.” [AFP, Libya Herald, Libya Monitor (subscription), 12/8/2015]

UN urges increased security against Sahel extremist groups
The UN Security Council is urging the international community to help Libya and neighboring countries in Africa’s Sahel region beef up security to combat al-Qaeda-linked groups. A presidential statement approved by all 15 members on Tuesday expressed grave concern that Libya remains a safe haven for terrorist groups operating in the Sahel and that arms and ammunition are widely available and proliferating. The Security Council urged regional and West African countries to coordinate efforts to prevent extremist groups from crossing borders and seeking safe havens in the Sahel. [AP, UN News Centre, 12/8/2015]

Egypt’s Sisi calls for international mobilization on Libya
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Tuesday called for world action to halt the flow of fighters, money, and weapons into and out of Libya. The president said at a Tuesday press conference with Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras that Egypt had made “enormous efforts” to secure its border with Libya but needed “Europe and other countries interested in stability in the region” to come to the table. Sisi called for “an international mobilization” to halt the flow of weapons trafficking and secure Libya’s land and maritime borders. Tsipras promised to back Sisi’s call for help among fellow European Union members. [AFP, Ahram Online, 12/8/2015]

Libyan Investment Authority Board of Trustees meets in Malta
Libya’s eastern Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni, in his capacity as Head of the Board of Trustees of the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), held a meeting with the chairman and members of the board of the LIA in Malta on Saturday. During his visit to Malta, al-Thinni met with staff at the interim headquarters of LIA and the Libya Africa Investment Portfolio. The LIA’s combined assets were valued at approximately $67 billion as of December 2012, a significant portion of which remains frozen under sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council at the express wish of the Libyan Government. [Libya Herald, 12/8/2015]

Tunisian Prime Minister leaves Jordan for Qatar
Prime Minister Habib Essid left Jordan on Tuesday for a working visit to Qatar, where he will chair the work of the Tunisian-Qatari high joint Committee. While in Qatar, Essid will meet Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani and Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior Sheikh Abdallah Bin Nassir Bin Khalifa al-Thani. Cooperation agreements and memorandums of understanding will be signed between the two countries after the session of the Tunisian-Qatari High Joint Committee. Essid will also visit the Tunisian-Qatari Food Company, where he will inaugurate a Tunisian olive oil bottling plant. [TAP, 12/8/2015]


Syrian opposition groups meet in Saudi Arabia to close ranks
Syrian opposition groups and rebel factions began talks in the Saudi capital of Riyadh on Wednesday in an effort to form a unified front ahead of proposed peace negotiations with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government. The meeting is taking place under the auspices of Saudi Arabia, a key backer of Sunni opposition blocs pushing for Assad’s ouster. The largest bloc at the meeting, with around twenty delegates, is the Western-backed opposition group known as the Syrian National Coalition. Also in attendance are representatives of the Syria-based National Coordination Body. In total, fewer than ten women are taking part. Notably absent were Kurdish opposition factions, such as the People’s Protection Units (YPG), the main Kurdish fighting force battling the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in Syria. Secretary of State John Kerry also announced Wednesday that he plans to visit Moscow next week, ahead of the next round of Syria talks scheduled for December 18. [AP, 12/9/2015]

Evacuations of rebels from last stronghold in Homs begins
Hundreds of Syrian civilians and rebels began pulling out of the last opposition-held neighborhood of Homs on Wednesday as part of a local deal with government forces that would return the entire central city to government control. A few thousand insurgents have been holed up in Waer district, which government forces had blockaded for nearly three years, only sporadically allowing in food. Governor of Homs Talal Barazzi said at least 272 gunmen and 447 civilians left Waer on Wednesday. UN and Red Crescent officials were on hand on the outskirts of Waer to oversee implementation of the deal, which saw the gunmen and some of their families transported to areas further north in Hama and Idlib province. The truce deal also stipulates that the government in Damascus release an unspecified number of prisoners from Syrian jails, in addition to the release of some civilians and militants who were kidnapped by the gunmen in Waer. [AP, 12/9/2015]

Anti-ISIS coalition focusing on sealing Turkish border
The United States’ new Envoy to the Anti-ISIS Coalition Brett McGurk said Wednesday its priority was to seal the last strip of border between Turkey and territory held by ISIS. The United States and Turkey have for months been talking of a joint operation to clear ISIS from the remaining part of the frontier but there has been no sign of progress. “We are increasing our pressure there,” said McGurk, without elaborating. The aim is to deprive ISIS of a smuggling route that has swollen its ranks with foreign fighters and filled its coffers with illicit trade. [Reuters, 12/9/2015]

Turkish army hits Kurdish militant targets in northern Iraq overnight
Turkish warplanes struck Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant targets in northern Iraq overnight and a policeman was killed in southeastern Turkey during clashes with the group. Turkish jets hit targets in the Qandil, Hakurk, Zap, and Avasin Baysan areas of northern Iraq, targeting storage units and shelters for the militants, the Turkish army said on Wednesday. The region is part of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish entity known as Kurdistan. Separately, a bomb-disposal policeman was killed by sniper fire in the Sur district of Diyarbakir, which has been under curfew for eight days. [Reuters, 12/9/2015]

Iraqi forces shore up new gains in Ramadi; bombing kills 11 outside Baghdad mosque
Iraqi forces on Wednesday consolidated newly gained positions in Ramadi, after achieving a breakthrough in their fight against ISIS by retaking a large part of the city. Backed by sustained air strikes from the US-led coalition, elite troops recaptured the southwestern neighborhood of al-Tameem the day before. The advance was hailed as a significant step in efforts to retake Ramadi, a key ISIS hub 60 miles west of Baghdad, and fragment the jihadists’ self-proclaimed caliphate. In Baghdad on Wednesday, a suicide bomber attacked a Shia mosque, killing at least 11 people and wounding 20 in an assault claimed by ISIS. Interior Ministry Spokesman Brigadier General Saad Maan said the attacker detonated his bomb in the doorway of the mosque as worshippers were exiting after midday prayers. [AFP, 12/9/2015]

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


Gulf summit on regional security begins in Saudi Arabia
Royalty and officials from around the Gulf have arrived in Saudi Arabia to meet on regional security issues. The two-day summit began Wednesday in Riyadh. Saudi state television showed dignitaries from around the Gulf meeting with Saudi King Salman after arriving at the capital’s international airport. Saudi Defense Minister Mohammed bin Salman and Interior Minister Muhammad bin Nayef also met with the Gulf leaders. The meeting comes as the Saudi-led coalition battles the Houthi rebels in Yemen and amid concerns about the deal between Iran and world powers over the Islamic Republic’s contested nuclear program. [AP, 12/9/2015]

Battle for key Yemeni base in South kills dozens of fighters
Air strikes by the Saudi-led coalition targeting Yemen’s Houthi rebels and ground clashes over a key military base on Tuesday have killed and wounded dozens of fighters. According to officials, at least thirty-five pro-government and rebel fighters died in the battle for the base in the southwestern port city of Mokha. The military base is located along a vital road to the heavily contested western city of Taiz. Meanwhile, President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi’s government said Tuesday that the country’s warring sides are preparing to observe a week-long truce from December 15 to coincide with the peace talks in Geneva. [AP, 12/9/2015]

UN announces ‘press blackout’ around Yemen peace talks
Peace talks between Yemen’s warring factions set to begin next week will be held in a secret location, with no media access. United Nations Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed “has decided that the venue of the meeting will not be made public, in order to give the talks every chance of success,” the United Nations said in a statement. It added that periodic updates may be provided as Ahmed “wishes to maintain a flow of information to the media.” Ahmed told reporters in Geneva that three delegations would take part in talks likely to be held outside Geneva, with no set timeline. [AFP, 12/9/2015]

Unidentified gunmen blow up Catholic Church in Aden
Unknown attackers blew up an abandoned Catholic Church in the Hafon neighborhood in Yemen’s southern port city of Aden on Wednesday, residents said, days after the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) assassinated the city’s governor. “The gunmen, who were probably extremists, blew up the Catholic church in the Mualla district of Aden,” one resident told Reuters. “We heard a strong explosion which sent a big plume of smoke into the air and afterward saw that the building was completely destroyed.” Yemen’s embattled government is based in Aden but has struggled to impose its authority there since its forces expelled the Houthis. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and ISIS carry out frequent attacks, seize government buildings, and occasionally deploy on the streets unhindered. [Reuters, Al Masdar, 12/9/2015]


Turkey Central Bank says inflation target should be set with government
Turkey’s inflation target should be set together with the government, Central Bank Governor Erdem Basci said on Wednesday, a marked departure from the norm in the European Union that Ankara aspires to join. Presenting the bank’s monetary and exchange rate policy for 2016, Basci steered clear of providing investors with any signals on policy, sticking to an “optimistic” inflation target of 5 percent for the next three years. He predicted inflation, which was 8.1 percent in November, would fall to 6.5 percent by the end of next year. The bank will face a crucial credibility test when it meets on December 22. Analysts say a failure to raise rates in tandem with the US Federal Reserve would further undermine investor confidence in the bank’s independence. Meanwhile, Moody’s said it expects low oil prices and slower domestic demand to help narrow Turkey’s current account deficit. [Reuters, Anadolu Agency, 12/9/2015]

Israel says will not forgo $1.76 billion compensation in Egyptian gas dispute
Israel is unlikely to forgo the near $1.76 billion it was awarded in compensation for Egypt halting a natural gas supply contract in 2012, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said Wednesday. “But I think that we will sit with the Egyptians, and there will be a dialogue, and we will think together how to move forward,” Steinitz said. Israel has agreed to send an envoy to Cairo to hold talks with Egypt. “I think we will find a solution because it is in both countries’ strategic interests,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday in remarks at a meeting of a parliamentary commission. Cairo said on Sunday it would appeal against an order by an international arbitrator to compensate state-owned Israel Electric Corp (IEC) and would freeze talks on future gas imports from Israel’s new gas fields in the Mediterranean Sea until the dispute is resolved. [Reuters, 12/9/2015]

EGPC denies report it is negotiating to delay dollar repayments
The Egyptian General Petroleum Corp (EGPC) denied on Tuesday that it was negotiating with banks to delay dollar payments owed to them after failing to receive its full dollar needs from the central bank in November. An EGPC official on Tuesday said the company was in negotiations to postpone dollar installments owed to banks. “The central bank did not provide the EGPC’s full dollar needs in November and that forced the authority to spend from its own resources,” he said. The EGPC later released a statement denying that any such negotiations were taking place, adding that the company was not at risk of missing scheduled payments. “The EGPC is on track and on time with its payment of dues to others,” it said. However the statement made no mention of whether the central bank had fully supplied the company with its dollar needs in November. [Reuters, 12/8/2015]

Minister says UAE on track to reduce oil reliance
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is on the right track to reducing its reliance on oil, according to Minister of Economy Sultan Bin Saeed al-Mansouri. He expressed his optimism regarding the UAE’s 2016 economic growth, saying, “We’ve been through such cycles [of low oil prices] before, and we were able to overcome them and grow past them.” In its efforts to diversify the economy, the UAE aims to see increased economic contribution from small and medium enterprises (SMEs). In 2014, the sector accounted for 60 percent of the UAE’s non-oil GDP. Mansouri said the government is looking to raise that figure to 70 percent by 2021. In other news, the UAE Central Bank is set to start engaging with the country’s banks for full compliance with the Basel III set of global banking regulations. The Basel III rules, which are aimed at making the global banking system more resilient, include forcing banks to hold more and different types of capital to insulate themselves during downturns. [Gulf News, 12/8/2015]