Top News: Syrian government approves transport of medical supplies into Aleppo

The Syrian government has approved the delivery of medicine and surgical supplies into Aleppo and the Damascus suburbs of Muadamiya and Eastern Ghouta, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Monday. The WHO Syria representative told reporters that the food relief agency planned to deliver around thirty tons of medical supplies to seven opposition-controlled towns in rural Aleppo and around 100 tons to Muadamiya and Eastern Ghouta. An estimated 4.7 million Syrians are living in hard-to-reach areas, including 241,000 in places besieged by the government or opposition groups, according to UN estimates. [Daily StarNaharnet, 12/23/2014]



Sisi ratifies Egypt electoral constituencies law
On the same day he left to China for political and economic talks, Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi ratified an anticipated electoral constituencies law, the final prerequisite for holding parliamentary elections, which would conclude the country’s transitional roadmap. The law drafted by Egypt’s government last week will divide the country into 237 constituencies for individual candidacy seats and another four for party list seats. The parliament will be comprised of 567 seats, 120 for party candidates, 420 for independents, and twenty-seven for presidential appointees, as stipulated by an elections law issued by former interim-president Adly Mansour in June, a day before Sisi’s inauguration as president. [Ahram Online, DNE, Egypt Independent, 12/22/2014]

Qatar-based Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr announces closure
Qatar’s controversial Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr (Al Jazeera Egypt) announced on Monday that it is broadcasting its last news items before closure, as reconciliation efforts to mend tensions between Egypt and Qatar continue. A statement published by the Al-Jazeera said Mubasher Misr “temporarily ceased broadcasting until such time as necessary permits are issued for its return to Cairo in coordination with the Egyptian authorities.” Meanwhile, according to the statement, a new channel named Al Jazeera Mubasher Al-‘Amma (Al-Jazeera General Live) would temporarily report on global events on the same frequency as Mubasher Misr. The presenter of a Mubasher Misr program said the channel’s staff was informed of the closure only after it was announced. [Ahram Online, DNE, Egypt Independent, AP, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, The Guardian, 12/22/2014]

Security reinforcements in North Sinai following gas pipeline attack
Egypt’s security forces have increased their security presence in North Sinai’s al-Arish following an attack on Tuesday against a pipeline that carries gas to Jordan, the twenty-seventh such attack since 2011. Security forces have closed the entrances and exits of al-Arish in search of the assailants, state news agency MENA reported. No one has claimed responsibility for the attack yet, however, Egypt’s most violent militant group, Sinai-based Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, have repeatedly claimed previous attacks on the gas pipeline. The General Prosecutor’s office has begun an investigation into the attack. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, AP, 12/23/2014]

Rights group challenges referral of minor to military court
Lawyers of The Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) have challenged the referral of a minor to military court, citing violations to the Egyptian Constitution and laws that say civilian suspects must be referred to civilian judges. The center demanded permission to file appeal against the decision. Abdullah Zaki, 19, was taken in August to police station where a report was filed against him, the center said. Along with others, Zaki was referred to prosecution where he was accused of joining a banned group, protesting without permission, using force, shouting anti-military slogans and damaging public property. [DNE, Egypt Independent, 12/23/2014]

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Hundreds of civilians killed in Libya fighting, says UN; EU releases emergency funds
Hundreds of civilians in Libya have been killed in fighting since late August, the United Nations said on Tuesday, warning commanders that they could face prosecution for possible war crimes. The conflict has triggered a humanitarian crisis, said the joint report by the UN human rights office and the UN Support Mission in Libya. The European Commission has pledged €2 million in emergency assistance to help Libyans who have been impacted by the deteriorating situation in the country. The funding will provide essential humanitarian aid, including food, shelter, medicine, and psychosocial support. [Reuters, PR Newswire, 12/23/2014]

Libyan human rights group calls for halt to militias hiring minors
The Libyan Observatory for Human Rights has expressed “deep concern” that growing numbers of Libyans under the age of eighteen are being recruited into the ranks of the country’s militias. The organization has called on parents to be proactive in stopping their children from joining militias, warning that “what is voluntary now will become mandatory in the future,” and it has also called for a halt to the forced recruitment of untrained civilians into the current armed conflict. There has been evidence of all sides using minors as fighters. [Libya Herald, 12/23/2014]

President-elect Essebsi urges calm as riots erupt in El Hamma, Gabes
President-elect Beji Caid Essebsi appealed to residents in the country’s south, urging them to refrain from violence after post-election riots broke out in the southern town of El Hamma in Gabes Governorate. Essebsi confirmed that his rival, Interim President Moncef Marzouki, had called to concede and congratulate him on his victory and expressed his support for a smooth peaceful transition. The newly elected president affirmed that his administration would serve all Tunisians for the prosperity of the state and urged all citizens to support the country’s development into the future. [TAP, Tunisia Live, 12/22/2014]


Iraqi defense minister confirms plans to train Iraqi forces in Jordan
Jordan will begin training the first group of Iraqi army troops in the next few weeks as part of the international effort to fight the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), Iraqi Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi said on Monday. Speaking after meeting Jordanian King Abdullah, the minister said Amman would also supply the Iraqi army with arms needed for its drawn-out fight against the radical militant group. Jordan has recently beefed up its troops along the 112-mile border with Iraq, provided a logistics base for the US-led air campaign against ISIS militants in Syria and is a hub for intelligence gathering operations against the jihadist group. [Reuters, 12/23/2014]

Satellite images show 290 heritage sites in Syria damaged by war
Satellite imagery indicate that 290 cultural heritage sites in Syria, whose history stretches back to the dawn of civilization, have been damaged by its ongoing civil war, the United Nations’ training and research arm (UNITAR) said in a new report released Tuesday. Using commercially available satellite pictures, UNITAR found that twenty-four sites were completely destroyed, 189 severely or moderately damaged, and a further seventy-seven possibly damaged. [Reuters, 12/23/2014]

US-led coalition conducts twenty-two airstrikes; 1,000 militants killed since September
The US-led coalition conducted twelve air strikes against Islamic State militants in Syria on Monday and ten strikes inside Iraq, destroying numerous buildings, a weapons factory, and several vehicles. In Iraq, the strikes targeted the northern town of Sinjar as well as Asad, Tal Afar, Ramdi, Mosul, and Falluja. A statement from the Combined Joint Task Force said that Monday’s airstrikes were in support of the 7th Iraqi Army, local police, and tribal fighters engaged in fighting with ISIS forces. In Syria, the dozen strikes centered around the border town of Kobani as well as Aleppo, Hasaka and Raqqa, destroying various fighting positions, vehicles and a group of fighters. According to monitors, US-led airstrikes have killed more than 1,000 militants since September. [Reuters, 12/22/2014]

Kurdish forces face fierce ISIS resistance in Sinjar
Iraqi Kurdish forces on Monday forged ahead with their assault on the northern town of Sinjar, but encountered heavy resistance from ISIS fighters. They used sniper fire, burnt tires, and oil to obscure US-led airstrikes and halt the Kurdish forces’ initial advance. Since its initial push into Iraqi territory in early June, ISIS has struggled to expand territory under its control as Kurdish forces as well as the Iraqi government and allied Shia militias mount effective offensive operations against ISIS-strongholds in Anbar and Nineveh provinces. [AP, 12/22/2014]

Amnesty International report documents widespread ISIS atrocities against Yazidi
Amnesty International on Tuesday released a new report highlighting widespread sex crimes committed against women and girls from Iraq’s Yazidi minority by the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militant group. The report detailed unrestricted torture, rape, forced marriage, and sexual slavery of women and girls as young as ten to twelve throughout ISIS-held territory in northern Iraq. With hundreds and possibly thousands of Yazidi women taken hostage since ISIS militants captured large swathes of Iraqi territory, the report emphasized the growing number of suicides among captives subjected to wanton brutality and abuse. [AP, Daily Star, 12/23/2014]


Five bombs targeting Houthi militias exploded across Sana’a
Five small bombs on Tuesday hit the center of the Yemeni capital, mostly controlled by Houthi militiamen since September, killing one of them and wounding two others, a medic said. The first explosion went off in the old quarter of Sana’a when one Houthi fighter tried to defuse a bomb discovered underneath the car of a judge. He died in the hospital. Another four bombs planted in garbage containers in the same Bustan al-Sultan neighborhood then exploded within intervals around five minutes. [AFP, Reuters, 12/23/2014]

Yemen, Qatar agree to form technical committee to examine labor recruitment
Minister of Social Affairs and Labor Samira Obaid met with the Qatari Minister of Social Affairs Abdullah al-Khulaifi on Monday to discuss an agreement for the recruitment of Yemeni labor in Qatar. During the meeting, which took place on the sidelines of the thirty-fourth Session of the Council of Arab Ministers of Social Affairs, they discussed finalizing the work mechanisms of the agreement. The two ministers agreed to form a technical committee and planned to hold a meeting in January 2015. Al-Khulaifi invited Obaid to visit Qatar to finalize the executive procedures of the agreement. [SABA, 12/22/2014]

President Hadi receives southern ministers of parliament
President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi received a number of parliamentary members of the southern provinces led by parliament deputy speaker Mohamed Ali al-Shadadi on Monday. During the meeting, President Hadi expressed his appreciation for their support to the new cabinet headed by Prime Minister Khaled Bahah, indicating that the new government is a technocrat government not related to any parties. He added that the constitution drafting process is nearly complete and that the country would hold a referendum on the new constitution before holding the parliamentary elections in the capital and the regions. [SABA, 12/22/2014]

First woman appointed to leading position at Holy Mosques Presidency in Saudi Arabia
Fatimah al-Rashoud has become the first woman to occupy a leading position at the General Presidency of the Two Holy Mosques, Mecca daily reported. The organization’s president Sheikh Abdulrahman al-Sudais appointed al-Rashoud as head of the Women Guidance Committee and supervisor of the women’s section of the Grand Mosque library, citing a need for female leadership in the organization. [Al Arabiya, 12/23/2014]


Libya’s port closures raise energy costs
According to the Tripoli oil minister, closures at oil terminals have forced power plants to run on fuel rather than liquid gas, costing the state LD3 billion ($2.4 billion) per year. The major ports of Es Sider and Ras Lanuf have been closed since December 13 following an offensive launched by Libya Dawn to capture the ports. Clashes have reportedly spread to another oil installation, the Mellitah complex near Zuwara in the northwest of Libya, further crippling oil production. [Libya Monitor, 12/23/2014]

Iraqi cabinet approves next year’s budget
According to a government spokesman, Iraq’s cabinet agreed on a 2015 budget of $105 billion and sent the draft to parliament for final approval. The budget of 123 trillion Iraqi dinars ($105.48 billion) comes with a deficit of 23 trillion dinars ($19.72 billion) and is based on an assumed oil price of $60 a barrel. The approval is an achievement for the current government since the previous administration never managed to approve the 2014 budget due to political wrangling and the dispute over oil exports with the northern Kurdish region. [AP, 12/23/2014]

Algeria, EU ink two partnership agreements worth 63 million euros
Algeria and the European Union signed two partnership agreements estimated at more than 63 million euros. The agreements are meant to boost rural development and improve the living conditions of citizens in ten provinces of the country. They also hope to strengthen the capacity of local operators and improve the quality of agricultural products by improving marketing strategies. The Algerian director of cooperation with the EU stressed the importance of these projects in diversifying the economy and create jobs to raise the standard of living for populations in rural and remote areas. [Algeria Press Service, 12/22/2014]

China and Egypt sign strategic partnership
According to Chinese state media, China and Egypt announced the establishment of a “bilateral comprehensive strategic partnership.” The agreement was signed on Egyptian president’s four-day visit to China. The deal is believed to focus on Chinese investments in Egypt, including projects around the Suez canal, which Egypt is expanding to boost the country’s ailing economy. The trade volume between Egypt and China exceeded for the first time $10 billion in 2013, of which more than 80 percent consisted of Chinese exports. [World Bulletin, 12/23/2014]