Top News: SOHR Reports Russian Raids in Syria’s South for First Time

Russia appears to have carried out strikes in southern Syria’s Deraa province for the first time in an apparent expansion of its aerial campaign, the Syrian Observatory for Human Right (SOHR) said. “Warplanes that are believed to be Russian carried out strikes on the Hara, Tal Antar, Kafr Nasaj, and Aqraba areas of northern Deraa” last night, said the monitor. “This would be the first time that Russian planes have carried out strikes in Deraa,” the SOHR head said. The area targeted is controlled by an array of opposition groups including moderate and Islamist rebels and the Al-Qaeda affiliated Nusra Front. There have been clashes between opposition and regime forces in the province, but it has not seen the kind of large-scale operations the regime and Russia have carried out elsewhere in the country. [AFP, 10/29/2015]



US contributes $45 million to entrepreneurship and employment programs in Egypt
The US Embassy in Cairo announced two new programs with a total investment of $45 million that would promote small businesses in Egypt and train students to help them successfully compete for jobs. Provided through the Agency for International Development (USAID) in partnership with the Ministry of International Cooperation, the new programs seek to fulfill the needs of thousands of entrepreneurs and vocational school students over a four-year period. The “Strengthening Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Development” (SEED) program will receive funding of $22.9 million. Over the coming four years, SEED will provide technical assistance to small businesses throughout Egypt to help them qualify and gain access to bank loans, develop new business ideas, and conduct market research. [Cairo Post, 10/29/2015]

Sisi in India for India-Africa Forum Summit
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi arrived in New Delhi on Wednesday to attend the third India-Africa Forum Summit, where presidents and representatives of forty African countries will discuss means of developing economic cooperation and mutual investments between India and African countries. The visit marks Sisi’s first visit to India since he was sworn into office in 2014 and Egypt’s participation comes amid efforts to strengthen Egypt’s economic ties with various developing powers, especially economically developing countries such as India. The Egyptian leader will discuss possibilities of Indian investments in Egypt, especially the new development projects in areas around the Suez Canal, such as the planned industrial and logistics hub as well as a bolstering of overall Indian-African ties in order to help developing countries. Sisi is expected to meet with Indian President Shri Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with whom he will discuss a number of issues including bilateral relations and developmental opportunities. Meanwhile, European Union Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini will visit Egypt and meet Sisi next week to discuss bilateral relations and developments in the region, including conflicts in Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Palestine. [Ahram Online, DNE, SIS, 10/28/2015]

Arab League hosts youth counterterrorism seminar in Sharm al-Sheikh
More than 200 youths from over a dozen Arab states attended the seventh iteration of a counterterrorism seminar organized by the Arab League for university students in Sharm al-Sheikh on Wednesday, according to an al-Azhar statement. Many Muslim youths are “brainwashed by false interpretations” of texts in the Quran and Sunna, al-Azhar said, adding that scholars and intellectuals must help the youth by promoting the “correct understanding” of Islamic texts and conceptions so they do not “fall prey to violence.” A number of ministries are participating in the seminar, working to educate the youth on their role in addressing extremism, which will include a number of roundtable discussions meant to facilitate a conversation on conceptions of extremism, militancy, and how to prevent terrorism. [Cairo Post, 10/29/2015]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


German diplomat to take over Libya peace efforts
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon plans to appoint German diplomat Martin Kobler to head the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL). Ban informed the Security Council of his decision on Wednesday in a letter. Kobler will succeed Bernardino Leon as Special Envoy for Libya, although the timing of the handover remains unclear. Kobler has led the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the UN’s largest peacekeeping mission, for the past two years. Ban gave the fifteen-member council until Friday to raise any objections to the appointment, which is expected to then be formally announced. [AFP, 10/29/2015]

Libya helicopter death toll at nineteen
Libya’s Tripoli authorities say rescue workers have recovered five more bodies in the Mediterranean, raising the death toll from Tuesday’s downing of a helicopter carrying two senior officials from the Tripoli government from fourteen to nineteen. Prior to this announcement, the government based in Tobruk denied responsibility for the attack. They had claimed responsibility a day earlier. The United Nations Support Mission in Libya has called on all parties to exercise maximum restraint and refrain from any action that would further escalate tensions. In only his second statement since being named Prime Minister-designate, Fayez Saraj called for calm in the wake of yesterday’s crash while the “tragic incident” is being investigated. Since the incident, nine members of the Justice and Construction Party have resigned from the party. All are co-founders of the party and members of the Tripoli-based General National Congress. [AP, Libya Monitor (subscription), Libya Herald, 10/28/2015]

More than 1,000 migrants rescued from boats of Libya on Wednesday
Italy’s coast guard said that rescuers plucked more than a thousand migrants from overcrowded boats near Libya on Wednesday morning, the most reported saved in a single day in three weeks. About 140,000 migrants have reached Italy this year in boats from Africa out of a total of about 700,000 who have come to Europe by sea, mostly through Greece. British, Irish, Slovenian, and German navy ships took part in Wednesday’s rescues along with the Italian coast guard and a ship operating under the auspices of European Union border agency Frontex. [Reuters, 10/28/2015]

Spain willing to make reform experience available to Tunisia
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy Tuesday told his counterpart Habib Essid his country is willing to make its post-crisis reform experience available to Tunisia. He also said Spain is committed to supporting Tunisia in its negotiations with the European Union and its efforts to stamp out terrorism and transition to full democracy. The meeting also focused on the crisis in Libya and the situation in the Euro-Mediterranean region. [TAP, 10/28/2015]


Increased strikes kill thirty-five in Syria hospitals
A “significant increase” in air strikes on Syrian hospitals recently has killed at least thirty-five patients and medical staff and wounded seventy-two, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said Thursday. The group said the escalating attacks began in late September, though it did not identify who was behind them, and that twelve hospitals were hit in Idlib, Aleppo, and Hama provinces, including six supported by MSF. Russia began an aerial campaign in support of Syria’s government on September 30. Several medical groups accused it of hitting hospitals and field clinics. MSF said, “Six hospitals [in total] were forced to close … and four ambulances destroyed.” In recent days, two medical organizations have directly accused Russia of strikes that have hit their medical facilities. [AFP, 10/29/2015]

Four-way Syria talks begin in Vienna; Syria criticizes Saudi Arabia
Key nations backing Syria’s warring sides will seek to put differences aside at the Vienna talks. Russia, the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey, the four major powers meeting in Vienna, support opposite sides in the Syrian crisis. Syria has criticized Saudi Arabia, saying it is not qualified to play a “productive” role in resolving the Syrian War because it is shedding the blood of Muslims and Arabs in Yemen and in Iraq. The comments by Syria’s Information Minister Omran al-Zogby aired on pro-state Syrian al-Ikhbariya TV. For the first time the talks also bring together Saudi Arabia and Iran. A day before the meeting, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Jubeir said there is no role for Assad in the political transition. [AFP, 10/29/2015]

China, Germany call for political solution in Syria; Russia opposes resolution on barrel bombs
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang appealed Thursday for a political solution to Syria’s civil war as diplomats prepared to meet in Vienna for new peace efforts. “We both agree that we should work out a political resolution through diplomatic channels,” said Merkel at a news conference with Li. “We hope that we can put together these suggestions, and particularly through the United Nations, this organization, advance the resolution of the Syria issue,” Li said. In related news, Russia’s Deputy UN Ambassador Petr Iliichev said the UN sponsored draft on barrel bombs, sponsored by Britain, France, and Spain, comes at a “delicate moment” and could potentially jeopardize the international talks scheduled for the end of the week on how to restore calm to Syria. [Reuters, AP, 10/29/2015]

Turkey marks 92nd Republic Day amidst deep political, social strain
At a reception at the Presidential Palace on Turkey’s 92nd Republic Day, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan proclaimed, “The nation is the owner of the republic and its symbol is the presidential complex.” Erdogan made the remarks during the first public reception at the presidential complex, where more than 800 citizens from across eighty-one provinces had been invited. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also issued a message, saying, “The anniversary is a great chance to express commitment to our country. Unity and solidarity is the best answer to those who try to sow discord among us.” Violence in the country’s southeast, political polarization, increased violent extremism, and limitations on media freedom, such as a government-appointed trustee panel halting printing of two newspapers critical of the government, marked the holiday just three days before the November 1 elections. [Anadolu Agency, Hurriyet, 10/29/2015]

Members of Iraq’s ruling coalition threaten to withdraw support for Abadi’s reforms
More than sixty members of Iraq’s ruling coalition will seek to withdraw parliamentary support for Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s reforms if he does not respond within seventy-two hours to their demands for wider consultation, parliamentarians said after delivering a letter Tuesday on the issue. An MP who signed Tuesday’s letter said there was growing frustration among Abadi’s political partners, in and out of the State of Law, who say he takes critical steps without consulting them. “Every decision taken by the government on reforms should pass through multiple circles of discussion,” said the lawmaker. A meeting with the Premier scheduled for Wednesday night was cancelled after lawmakers decided to wait for a written response from Abadi. [Reuters, 10/29/2015]

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


Militants bomb a college in Aden
Militants bombed a local college in the southern Yemeni city of Aden on Wednesday, following previous threats against the school. Militants on a motorcycle tossed a bomb onto the campus of the University of Aden, shattering windows at the College of Commerce and Economics and sending students running for safety. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack. A university official said that Islamist militants had vowed to attack the school if it did not segregate classes by gender. The university director said that despite the attack, classes will continue as usual. Earlier this week, security officials and tribal leaders in Aden arranged mediated talks with al-Qaeda, which failed to persuade the militants to disarm or leave the city. Despite pro-government forces recapturing Aden in July, President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi’s returning government has failed to implement a strong security force in city. The Saudi-led coalition has decided to fund and train nearly 6,000 pro-government fighters to join Aden’s overwhelmed police force in the coming days. [AP, Sahafa (Arabic), 10/29/2015]

Saudi-led air strikes kills ten Yemeni factory workers
Warplanes from the Saudi-led military coalition bombed a bus carrying workers to a factory in the Yemeni city of Taiz on Thursday, killing ten. At least 5,600 people have been killed in air raids and nationwide battles since the conflict began in March. Human rights groups have criticized the coalition for a series of mass-casualty strikes, including a hospital in northern Yemen on Tuesday. The alliance denied responsibility for today’s attack and criticized the United Nations for preemptively blaming the Saudi coalition for the hospital air strike without a thorough investigation. Saudi Arabia’s UN Ambassador Abdallah al-Mouallimi said the coalition did not carry out the hospital air strike and added that Saudi Arabia was aware of many other incidents in Yemen where damage was caused to targets by Houthi artillery fire and then blamed on the coalition. [Reuters, Al Masdar (Arabic), 10/29/2015]

Saudi Foreign Minister sees signs of Yemen war ending
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Wednesday that the seven-month conflict fought between pro-government forces, backed by the Saudi-led coalition, and the Houthi rebels in Yemen, may soon end. Al-Jubeir said, “One of the indications that the campaign is nearing its end is the fact that … Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Houthis are accepting UN Security Council Resolution 2216 and entering into talks with the United Nations on that basis.” He added that the pro-government rebels recaptured much of Yemeni territory with the support of the Saudi-led coalition. [Reuters, 10/29/2015]

Yemen to request joining the Gulf Cooperation Council
Yemen’s Minister of Planning Mohammed Maytami said that Yemen will apply to join the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) after security is restored in the country. Maytami said that Yemen is currently discussing with its Gulf partners joining the GCC secretariat, adding that all Gulf countries welcome the move and believe that Yemen’s inclusion in the Council is important. Yemen’s membership would also further the development and reconstruction of the country, which has been largely destroyed by ongoing conflict. The minister announced that a specialized commission in Yemen is currently working on implementing a program addressed at improving healthcare, education, energy, and housing services. [Al Arabiya, Sahafa (Arabic), 10/29/2015]


Iraq to adjust 2016 military spending in line with budget cuts
A financial squeeze is forcing Iraq to put major weapons deals on hold, but the country will hire 10,000 additional paramilitary forces in order to combat the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), Finance Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said Wednesday. Baghdad will focus its military spending in 2016 on light and medium weapons such as sniper rifles, anti-mining devices, and surveillance equipment rather than heavier weapons like artillery. Zebari said about 20 percent of Iraq’s 2016 budget will go to defense, including the paramilitary forces fighting ISIS. Spending on the forces will be less than the $1 billion allocated for this year, in line with broader budget cuts. “I think we gave [the forces] … about 10,000 new recruits, which they have requested, but they have their budget within the security forces,” Zebari said. “We will pay their salaries, we pay for their equipment, we pay for their basic war needs.” He also expects Baghdad to spend only about 60 percent of its 2015 budget by the end of 2015 because of cuts in operational and investment spending. [Reuters, 10/28/2015]

Tunisia’s Central Bank cuts key interest rate
Tunisia’s Central Bank said on Thursday it had cut its main interest rate to 4.25 percent from 4.75 percent to boost economic growth as inflation rates fell. This marks the first time the bank cut its benchmark interest rates since 2011. The bank said its decision was aimed to “help the promotion of investment and the resumption of economic activity.” The bank also said that 2016 will be a year of economic recovery. Tunisia will start talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in December or January for a new credit program worth about $2 billion, Finance Minister Slim Chaker said this week. A $1.6 billion standby arrangement with the IMF is due to expire at the end of this year. [Bloomberg, Reuters, 10/29/2015]

Algeria will move to free private sector, but slowly
Algeria will take steps to free up its private sector in response to a plunge in energy revenues, but change is expected to be slow due to an entrenched government bureaucracy, former Presidential Adviser Abdelmalek Serrai said. “[Algeria’s] economic model will change in the short run because of the [energy] crisis, but things will move slowly,” he said. The government is restricting import licenses, plans to impose customs duties on some imported products, and is encouraging increases in local production to stabilize the country’s trade balance. But officials say for local industries to grow rapidly, the private sector needs to get involved, which will require liberating it from oppressive regulation and red tape. “There is political will to improve things,” said Serrai. “There have been good indications. The government this year allowed the private sector to set up and run industrial estates for the first time. This was a taboo. I think the government is willing to go further.” [Reuters, 10/29/2015]

Zohr discovery to make Egypt’s status as LNG importer short-lived
The huge Zohr natural gas field discovered by Italy’s Eni off the coast of Egypt could reverse the country’s status as an importer of liquefied natural gas (LNG). Egypt entered the LNG market with a burst of imports earlier this year after leasing a floating storage and regasification unit from Norway’s Hoegh LNG for five years in April. Eni’s discovery, which came at the end of August, could turn Egypt into a net exporter. “We felt comfortable in Egypt’s demand for LNG over a five-year period and we still feel that there’s a good chance Hoegh will serve for longer, but it all depends on how quickly local reserves are developed,” said Chief Executive of Hoegh LNG Partners Richard Tyrrell. Offshore gas fields typically take several years to come on stream, but Egypt already has some of the infrastructure in place, which could accelerate the process. A source at Egypt’s Ministry of Petroleum said the government expects production at Zohr to begin at some point in 2018. The ministry said Egypt aims to cease importing LNG by 2020. Meanwhile, Egypt’s cabinet approved a law regulating the natural gas market that establishes a new authority to oversee the market. [Reuters, 10/29/2015]

Kuwait defers Iraq’s final war reparation payment until 2017
Kuwait has postponed the final installment of reparations for Iraq’s 1990-1991 occupation following a request from Iraq, Iraqi Finance Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said on Thursday. The delay gives Iraq until 2017 to pay the last and largest tranche worth $4.6 billion. More than a million claimants have been paid and nearly all the $52.4 billion reparations bill has been met through Iraq’s annual allocation of 5 percent of crude oil exports to a UN body tasked with overseeing the compensation. But with the economy now under pressure, Iraq cannot afford to divert a large chunk of its budget to make the final payment, which was due this year after an earlier postponement. [Reuters, 10/29/2015]