Top News: Russia proposes March 1 ceasefire in Syria

World powers pressed Russia on Wednesday to stop bombing around Aleppo in support of a Syrian government offensive to recapture the city. Secretary of State John Kerry is pushing for a ceasefire and more aid access to Aleppo, where rebel-held areas are being cut off and the United Nations has warned a new humanitarian disaster could be on the way. Aid workers said on Wednesday the water supply to Aleppo, still home to 2 million people, was no longer functioning. Russia has proposed a March 1 ceasefire in Syria, US officials say, but Washington believes Moscow is giving itself and the Syrian government three weeks to try to crush moderate rebel groups. The United States has countered with demands for the fighting to stop immediately. [AP, AFP, Reuters, Al Arabiya, 2/11/2016]



Egypt’s Sisi to address parliament on Saturday
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will address the country’s newly elected House of Representatives on Saturday for the first time since taking office in June 2014. Sources said that Sisi’s speech will address domestic and regional issues, including the country’s current economic situation. Parliamentary Secretary General Ahmed Saadeddin told reporters Wednesday that the Republican Guard was implementing final security measures in the parliament building in downtown Cairo for Sisi’s visit. “This is a routine measure,” Saadeddin said. “All parliamentary staff will be on duty on this day.” He said that a number of foreign guests—primarily ambassadors of foreign countries and the speakers of a number of Arab parliaments—will be invited to attend the speech. [Ahram Online, 2/11/2016]

Citing security, Davos organizers postpone Egypt conference
Organizers of the World Economic Forum, which holds an annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, have postponed a similar conference planned to take place in Egypt this spring over security concerns. The WEF Middle East and North Africa conference generally alternates between Jordan and Egypt from year to year. Spokesman Adrian Monck says the 2016 edition planned for May in Sharm al-Sheikh, Egypt, was postponed but not cancelled following the November bombing of a Russian passenger plane that had taken off from that Red Sea resort. He confirmed the decision, which appeared in a report last week in the UAE newspaper The National, was taken last year. [AP, 2/11/2016]

Italy urged Egypt for help hours after student disappeared
Italian officials contacted Egyptian authorities, hours after a student later found tortured to death disappeared in central Cairo last month, according to an official summary of Italian efforts to locate him. The summary says Ambassador Maurizio Massari contacted Italian intelligence, who reached out to their Egyptian counterparts shortly after Giulio Regeni disappeared on January 25. Egyptian security forces had been extremely active on that day, raiding apartments, checking IDs, and searching baggage in order to prevent protests or violence on the fifth anniversary of a popular uprising. On January 26, Massari sent a diplomatic note to his Egyptian counterpart, and a day later requested to meet the Interior Minister but the request was denied, the summary said. Italy waited for six days before going public with the case, which has prompted accusations that it prioritized business interests with Egypt — and hopes for a trade delegation headed to Cairo as Regeni disappeared — over the search for the student. Meanwhile, Mada Masr reports that a senior police officer in charge of the preliminary investigation into Regeni’s murder has a prior conviction for torturing a man to death and forging a police report, according to rights activists. [AP, 2/11/2016]

Nine policemen referred to prosecution in assault of Matariya doctors’ investigation
Nine policemen were referred to the prosecutor Wednesday to be interrogated in relation to the assault of two doctors at Matariya hospital, state media reported. Doctors at the hospital, Moamen Abdel Azim and Ahmed Mahmoud al-Sayed, alleged on January 28 that they were physically and verbally assaulted by a group of policemen who repeatedly attacked them on hospital premises. [DNE, 2/10/2016]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


Eight Tunisians expelled from Libya
Eight Tunisians suspected of links to Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) were deported from Libya on Wednesday by the Rada Special Deterrence Force, according human rights activist Mustapha Abdelkebir. Rada reported that some among the group had entered Libya illegally and called on the Tunisian and Libyan authorities to cooperate more closely on issues of security. The Tunisian nationals, who were detained in Mitiga, were flown home from Mitiga to Sfax. [Libya Herald, TAP, 2/20/2016]

Denmark, Sweden pledge greater cooperation with Tunisia
On Wednesday, Danish Foreign Minister Kristian Jensen affirmed his country’s commitment to be the “voice of Tunisia” in the European Parliament. Foreign Minister Jensen also stressed Denmark’s will to share its experience in agribusiness through the establishment of Tunisian-Danish partnership in this field, and a desire to expand cooperation with Tunisia in agriculture and renewable energy. A joint business council between Tunisia and Denmark will be held before the end of 2016. Also on Wednesday, National Defense Minister Farhat Horchani and Swedish Ambassador to Tunisia Fredrik Florèn discussed ways to foster Tunisian-Swedish cooperation and address the security challenges in the region. Florèn identified democracy, local governance, judiciary, security, and telecommunications as potential areas for expanded bilateral cooperation. [TAP, 2/10/2016]

US envoy says ISIS in Libya biggest cause for concern
The US Envoy to the Coalition against Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) Brett McGurk said on Wednesday that the militant group’s branch in Libya is the greatest cause for concern, given its attacks in the North African country and the threat it poses to US partners such as Tunisia and Egypt. McGurk, said in testimony to the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said that the United States and its allies are making progress against the group, but face major challenges. [Reuters, 2/10/2016]

Moroccan unions call for general strike
Morocco’s four largest labor unions, the Moroccan Labour Union (UMT), Democratic Labour Confederation (CDT), Democratic Federation of Labour (FDT), and General Union of Moroccan Workers (UGTM), have called for a 24-hour general strike by both public- and private-sector workers on February 24 to protest government reforms of pensions and subsidies, the unions said in a statement on Wednesday. International lenders have praised Morocco for progress in controlling high public spending, which it has done by ending fuel subsidies and freezing public-sector hiring. Last month, the government moved into another sensitive area when it adopted a bill outlining planned pension reforms. Unions have vowed to block the reforms, saying they would damage workers’ rights. [Reuters, 2/10/2016]


Kurdish fighters capture military air base in northern Syria
Kurdish fighters and their allies captured a military air base from rebels in northern Syria under the cover of Russian air strikes. Abdul-Jabbar Abu Thabet, a local rebel commander in the Aleppo province, said Thursday that Mannagh air base fell to the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and their allies after fierce battles. Russian Ministry of Defense Spokesman Maj. Gen. Igor Konashenkov said that since February 4, Russian warplanes have carried out 510 combat missions and destroyed 888 “terrorist facilities” in several Syrian provinces including Aleppo, Deraa, and Latakia where the government offensive is concentrated. “We have not witnessed such bombardment since the revolution began,” said Abu Thabet referring to the start of the uprising in March 2011. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said the air base and a nearby village, also called Mannagh, fell late Wednesday. [AP, AFP, Reuters, 2/11/2016]

Russia says US planes bombed Syria’s Aleppo on Wednesday
On Thursday, the Pentagon said Moscow’s air strikes had destroyed two hospitals in the city though he did not specify when the strikes were alleged to have taken place. Moscow furiously denied the US claim, charging in return that Washington had sent ground-attack planes to bombard Aleppo. The US State Department dismissed these allegations and said, “claims made by Russian officials of US air strikes in Aleppo are false.” Russia’s Defense Ministry said that Russian planes had not been operating in the area on February 10. The Syrian army has made rapid advances near Aleppo in recent weeks with the help of Russian air strikes. Defense Ministry Spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement that “only aviation of the anti-ISIS coalition flew over the city yesterday.” [Reuters, AFP, 2/11/2016]

NATO warships ordered to Aegean to help with migrant crisis
On Thursday, NATO’s European commander ordered three warships to move immediately to the Aegean Sea to help end the deadly smuggling of migrants between Turkey and Greece. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the warships, now under German command, will conduct reconnaissance and surveillance to help end Europe’s gravest migrant crisis since World War II. Ships from NATO Standing Maritime Group 2 “will start to move now” on orders from NATO Supreme Commander in Europe US Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove, Stoltenberg said. “This is about helping Greece, Turkey, and the European Union with stemming the flow of migrants and refugees and coping with a very demanding situation,” he said, calling the situation a “human tragedy.” [AP, Guardian, 2/11/2016]

Turkey’s Erdogan warns patience will run out on Syria
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has renewed a call for the establishment of a safe zone in northern Syria, saying it is the only way to deal with the influx of migrants and refugees. The proposal has so far gained little traction with Washington or NATO allies who fear it would require an internationally patrolled no-fly zone which could put them in direct confrontation with Assad and his allies. Erdogan on Thursday also pressed ahead with his verbal attack on the United Nations, which has demanded that it open its border to a new wave of Syrian refugees. Erdogan said the world body should be focusing on ending an “ethnic cleansing” unfolding around the Syrian city of Aleppo instead of making demands on Turkey. The president has stated that patience is running out on an end to the fighting in Syria and that Turkey may be forced to take action. Rumors of Turkey and Saudi Arabia deploying ground troops to Syria, however, have been met with skepticism by Western officials. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated Wednesday that he did not believe the US-led coalition would allow a military invasion. [Reuters, Hurriyet, Al Arabiya, Financial Times, Today’s Zaman, 2/11/2016]

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


Abadi says sending ground troops to Syria would be ‘dangerous escalation’
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi warned on Wednesday of a “dangerous escalation” if ground troops were deployed to Syria, comments aimed at Sunni Arab countries that have said they are prepared to enter the fray. During his visit to Rome where he met with his Italian counterpart, Abadi “called for a political solution to the Syrian crisis and not to send ground troops because that would lead to a dangerous escalation,” according to a statement on the Prime Minister’s website. This comes after several Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain, promised to send ground troops to help support and train an international military coalition against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) provided such efforts were led by the United States. Abadi’s statement echoes that of one of Iraq’s most powerful Iranian-backed Shia militias who warned earlier this week that Arab forces sent to Syria or Iraq would “open the gates of hell.” [Reuters, 2/10/2016]

Abadi urges Kurds not to hold referendum
In a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi urged Kurdish leaders not to go ahead with their planned independence referendum, saying that Kurdistan is part of Iraq and “disintegration is in no one’s interest.” Abadi also pointed to the fact that while President Masoud Barzani said the “time has come” to hold a referendum on independence, Barzani admitted that a favorable outcome in the referendum would not mean an immediate declaration. [AFP, Rudaw, 2/11/2016]

ISIS suicide car bombers hit Iraqi forces near Ramadi
At least 27 Iraqi soldiers were killed and 16 wounded on Wednesday in suicide car bomb attacks committed by ISIS fighters near Ramadi, military sources said. The attacks came one day after Iraqi security forces entered the last remaining ISIS stronghold in the east of Ramadi and declared Ramadi fully liberated. [Al Jazeera, 2/10/2016]


Pro-government forces seize camp outside Yemen capital         
Yemeni pro-government forces backed by Saudi-led airstrikes seized control of a military camp 40 miles from Sana’a on Thursday, as troops advance toward the capital held by Houthi militants. Pro-government forces seized the Fardhat Nahm camp outside Sana’a in battles with Houthi fighters that left a number of people dead and wounded, local officials and residents said, without giving precise figures. Aircraft from the Arab coalition carried out dozens of strikes during the battles in the area, they said. [Reuters, 2/11/2016]

WHO delivers medical aid to Yemen’s Taiz
The World Health Organization said Wednesday it has delivered desperately needed medical supplies to Yemen’s Taiz city which has been besieged for months by Shia Houthi rebels. “[The WHO has] successfully delivered more than 20 tonnes of life-saving medicines and medical supplies,” it said in a statement. “These medical supplies are critical to meet the most urgent needs in a city where more than 200,000 people continue to live under siege with limited access to humanitarian aid.” [AFP, 2/11/2016]

Masked gunmen kill three Yemeni soldiers in Aden
Masked gunmen suspected of belonging to Al-Qaeda killed three Yemeni soldiers in Aden on Thursday in the latest attack to target security forces in the southern city. The soldiers were attacked as they walked down the main road in Inmaa district, a security official said, adding that the assailants managed to escape. Al-Qaeda controls parts of the port city where the government of President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi has set up base in its battle against Iran-backed Houthi militia. [AFP, 2/11/2016]

More women in UAE’s sweeping cabinet reshuffle
Women now make up around one third of the UAE’s federal cabinet positions after the country unveiled sweeping new changes on Wednesday. Under the changes, women have been appointed to head several posts, including the newly-created ministries of Happiness and Tolerance. Women now make up eight of the 29 members of the federal cabinet. The new government has fewer ministries, but more ministers handling national, strategic, and dynamic portfolios. The changes were announced by UAE Vice President Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid al-Maktoum. [Al Arabiya, 2/10/2016]


Germany to make available EUR 500 million in credit to Iraq
Germany is making EUR 500 million ($566 million) in credit available to Iraq. The funds are not earmarked for any specific purpose, but German Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasized the need for investment in iraq’s infrastructure on Thursday after a meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. “Germany is ready to do what it can . . . to stabilize Iraq in view of the big security challenges and economic challenges,” Merkel said, adding low oil prices are a major challenge for Iraq’s budget. “So today we have given Iraq credit of EUR 500 million for unspecified purposes,” she said. Following the meeting, Abadi told journalists that Iraq’s oil revenues have sunk to just 15 percent of their value two years ago. “This is a major decline and we therefore have great difficulties,” he said.[Reuters, AP, Rudaw, Deutsche Welle, 2/11/2016]

Economists say to brace for a devaluation of the Egyptian pound
Egypt will allow a sharp devaluation of its currency in the first half of this year, according to a number of bankers and economists. The Egyptian pound is trading at 8.7 to the US dollar on the black market, compared to an official rate of 7.73. “We expect the central bank will let the pound depreciate to 8 (against the dollar) by end of March, if not sooner,” one senior Cairo banker said. Head of Equities at Cairo-based Beltone Financial Hany Genena said the CBE will make a “swift move towards an exchange rate regime.” The CBE’s decision to raise caps on monthly cash deposits for importers of essential goods can be seen as a “partial devaluation,” he said. “We expect devaluation to take place in the first half of this year, in a one-off move to an exchange rate of 8.5 pounds against the dollar,” economist at London-based Capital Economics Jason Tuvey said. “To solve the foreign currency shortage, Egypt needs two things: a different monetary policy and working to generate foreign exchange,” said former Finance Minister and World Bank economist Ahmed Galal. [Ahram Online, 2/10/2016]

Turkey’s current-account deficit narrows at slower pace on oil
Turkey’s current-account gap narrowed at a slower pace in December than in the previous two months when the impact of lower oil prices diminished toward the end of the year. The deficit shrank to $5.07 billion, compared to $6.66 billion a year earlier, a 24 percent annual drop. The deficit had narrowed at an annual rate of about 59 percent and 84 percent in November and October respectively, the central bank reported on Thursday. “After beginning their descent in 2014, oil prices somewhat plateaued early last year and they were not at a dramatically different level in December,” Chief Economist at Turkey’s Finansbank Inan Demir said. “The so-called base impact in energy prices is now becoming less supportive, which is the reason why the gap improved at a slower pace.” [Bloomberg, 2/11/2016]

Tunisia makes $500 million from ousted president Ben Ali’s assets
Tunisia has made nearly half a billion dollars from the sale of assets confiscated from ousted president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and his allies, Finance Minister Slim Chaker said Wednesday. “Since 2011, we made around 1.5 billion dinars [of which] around 1 billion dinars ($500 million) went into the state’s coffers,” Finance Minister Slim Chaker said. Chaker said the remaining 500 million dinars went to paying off Tunisia’s debts. Revenues from the sales have boosted the national budget and allowed the state to borrow less, he added, however the process has been slow. Only some assets have been sold off so far. “There were lots of cars we didn’t have the keys for, and that are still registered in the names of their previous owners,” he said. [AFP, 2/10/2016]