Top News: Syrian Soldiers, Rebel Fighters Killed in Battle for Government Bases in Idlib

Around one hundred Syrian soldiers and eighty Islamist fighters were killed during a two-day battle in which insurgents captured the Wadi al-Deif military base, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said on Tuesday. The human rights monitoring agency also reported that at least 120 regime fighters were captured and another one hundred retreated towards the neighboring town of Morek in neighboring Hama province.

Seizing the key Wadi al-Deif and Hamidiyeh military posts on Monday also gave Nusra Front and other allied rebels control of most of the northwestern province, in a major blow to the regime. Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad had previously managed to repel numerous attacks on Wadi al-Deif, which has been surrounded by insurgents for two years. [NaharnetReuters, 12/16/2014]




Presidential decree creates new police rank with power of arrest
Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi issued a decree on Monday to create a new police rank with arrest powers, the move will increase the number of law enforcement staff. Spokesperson to the presidency Alaa Youssef said in a statement that the decision aims at creating a new rank of ‘police aides’ who will be appointed and trained according to specific criteria. The low ranking police positions will be limited to 19 to 23 year-olds who have completed preparatory school. Officers with this rank will follow the same rules and procedures that apply to policemen, except for certain regulations that have to do with promotion and study requirements. [Ahram Online, DNE, Mada Masr, 12/15/2014]

Another 340 Brotherhood members referred to military courts
The Egyptian prosecution in Ismailiya referred 300 Muslim Brotherhood figures to military courts on Monday. Among the figures are Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie, along with other prominent leaders in the organization, including Mohamed al-Beltagy, Essam al-Erian, and Safwat Hegazy. The defendants are charged with inciting violence and torching the Ismaillia courthouse building in July 2013, following the dispersal of the pro-Morsi camps in Raba’a al-Adaweya and al-Nahda squares. The Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), the political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, announced late Monday that forty defendants, including nine women, were also referred to military prosecution in Ismailia over charges of “joining a banned group and illegal protesting.” The Hisham Mubarak Law Centre confirmed the incident and added that four of the female defendants are high school students. [DNE, Reuters, Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, 12/16/2014]

New militant group in Sinai splinters off Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis
The Jihadi Ribat, a group purporting to be an offshoot of the Sinai-based militants Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, announced on Monday its break with the latter organization due to its allegiance with the Islamic State. The Jihadi Ribat declared in its first statement that jihad is not subject to allegiances with certain groups or states, but rather only pledges allegiance to God under the slogan, “There is no god but God, and Mohamed is his prophet.” The statement warned Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis to follow the teachings of Islamic scholars and stop following its own interpretation of religion. [Mada Masr, 12/15/2014]

Egyptian presidency approves US-Egypt agreements
Egypt’s presidency approved cooperation agreements with the United States on Monday, presidential spokesperson Alaa Yousef said. The agreements included an EGP 55 million aid agreement between Egypt, the United States and the OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) for Egypt to finance a power plant in the southern city of Assiut. Yousef stated that other agreements approved include development cooperation in the fields of science and technology, higher education, agricultural development, trade and investment. [Ahram Online, SIS, 12/15/2014]

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More airstrikes near Libyan oil ports; oil production down significantly
Libya’s recognized government conducted airstrikes against rival government forces trying to seize major oil ports in the east and against targets in the west on Monday, according to witnesses. Forces loyal to the Tobruk-based administration carried out airstrikes against brigades aligned with the Tripoli-based rival authorities, which launched an offensive over the weekend to take the country’s oil facilities in the east. The Tripoli government maintained its troops controlled all roads leading to the country’s biggest oil port. Meanwhile, the latest clashes have contributed to Libya’s oil production falling “significantly” after the two biggest oil ports, Es Sider and Ras Lanuf, halted operations, the National Oil Corporation said without giving an exact production figure. [Reuters, 12/15/2014]

UN mission condemns military escalation in Libya, calls on all parties to join dialogue
The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has condemned the sharp escalation in violence in the North African country, saying military operations are “a direct attempt to undermine the political dialogue efforts. In a statement, it called on all political actors to “shoulder their responsibilities with courage and determination” and work towards achieving a consensus-based political solution that ensures Libya’s long-term stability. “The use of violence and the force of arms will not succeed in achieving political objectives,” it said. [UN News/AllAfrica, 12/15/2014]

Tobruk government names new heads of state bodies
The internationally recognized government of Abdullah al-Thinni has appointed a number of chairmen for several state agencies, including transport, water, agriculture, and youth. It said the decisions go into effect immediately, but it is unclear if some of the bodies are new organizations created by the Tobruk government as it seeks to assert its authority. Meanwhile, its health minister has awarded contracts to a number of local firms to provide up to $9 million of medical supplies for the country’s hospitals. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 12/16/2014]

Senior al-Qaeda member killed in Benghazi
Algerian al-Qaeda leader Abu Yunis Gilabi Mansour has been killed in Benghazi, an Algerian security source has confirmed. Mansour, more commonly known as Abu Yunis, was a member of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). He was killed with five other al-Qaeda-linked militants, two of whom were Algerians. It is believed that Abu Yunis’ arrival in Libya was most likely a sign of his split from AQIM to join the more militant Islamic State-linked group, according to the source. [Libya Herald, 12/15/2014]

Tunisian PM says closing border crossing with Libya not an option
After battles between rival Libyan forces for control of the main Ras Jedir border crossing with Libya, interim Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa has said the situation is “difficult” but that Tunisian authorities do not plan to close the crossing and a crisis response unit is closely monitoring developments. Forces loyal to the Tobruk government apparently tried to capture the border area, but the latest reports suggest Libya Dawn forces are still in control of the crossing and surrounding area. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 12/16/2014]

Tunisia’s Foreign Minister Mongi Hamdi appointed SRSG of MINUSMA
United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon announced on Friday the appointment of Tunisian Foreign Minister Mongi Hamdi as his Special Representative and head of United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). Mongi Hamdi has been foreign minister since January 2014 as part of Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa’s government. The Tunisian government congratulated Hamdi and welcomed this decision in a statement released on Sunday. [Tunisia Live, 12/15/2014]


Syrian soldiers, rebel fighters killed in battle for government bases in Idlib
Around one hundred Syrian soldiers and eighty Islamist fighters were killed during a two-day battle in which insurgents captured the Wadi al-Deif military base, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said on Tuesday. The human rights monitoring agency also reported that at least 120 regime fighters were captured and another one hundred retreated towards the neighboring town of Morek in neighboring Hama province. Seizing the key Wadi al-Deif and Hamidiyeh military posts on Monday also gave Nusra Front and other allied rebels control of most of the northwestern province, in a major blow to the regime. Forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad had previously managed to repel numerous attacks on Wadi al-Deif, which has been surrounded by insurgents for two years. [Naharnet, Reuters, 12/16/2014]

Lebanon, UN launch crisis plan to deal with Syria fall out
Lebanon and the UN have launched a plan that calls for an estimated $2.1 billion to help the country cope with the fallout from the conflict in neighboring Syria. The Crisis Response Plan for Lebanon announced Monday outlines the priorities of the government and international community over the next two years. It aims to deliver humanitarian assistance to Syrian refugees while also expanding plans to invest in services and institutions in the most affected areas. It hopes to reach some 2.9 million people, half of them Lebanese. [AP, 12/15/2014]

EU pledges reconstruction assistance funds for Syria
European Union countries pledged their assistance Monday to help rebuild basic services and local government in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo if a UN plan to halt the fighting there can be implemented. Meeting in Brussels, foreign ministers of twenty-eight EU nations expressed full commitment to UN Special Envoy Staffan de Mistura’s efforts to seek localized ceasefires but expressed concerns with intensified military action by the Assad regime against rebel forces if the ceasefire plan is implemented. The European Union has mobilized 3 billion euros to date for humanitarian assistance to Syria and neighboring countries affected by the 3 1/2 years of fighting. [AP, 12/15/2014]

Iraqi PM makes inaugural visit to the UAE as domestic struggle to unite warring nation continues
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi Monday made his first visit to the United Arab Emirates since taking office in early September as he seeks to expand cooperation with the Gulf state. The prime minister met with Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed al-Nahyan to discuss joint responses to extremism and terrorism, efforts to support regional security and the importance of economic, trade and industrial cooperation. Since taking office in September, the prime minister has dismissed dozens of top army and security officers appointed by former premier Nouri al-Maliki, announced a campaign against corruption in the military, while facing a determined foe, in the Islamic State, which has harassed and attacked Iraqi security forces, sometimes at will. Iraq’s human rights ministry on Monday reported that at least 2,700 people, mostly soldiers, are missing as a result of attacks by the Islamic state raising alarms that the prime minister’s attempts to build an effective fighting force are yet to yield results. [The Daily Star, Naharnet, 12/15/2014]


Houthis allegedly take control of the defense ministry
Sources in the defense ministry have alleged that the Houthis have taken control of the defense ministry compound. The source said that the Houthis posted a guard near the compound’s western gate, the only gate they had not controlled since September. This came after Defense Minister Mahmoud al-Subaihi expelled Houthi militants from the ministry of finance on Monday. The Houthis recently opposed the appointment by President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi of new military Chief of Staff, Major General Hussein Khiran, and prevented him from entering his office and performing his duties. [Al Masdar (Arabic), 12/16/2014]

Two blasts target Houthis in RIda
Two explosions targeting Houthis in Yemen’s central Bayda province left a number of casualties on Tuesday in an area that has seen fighting for months. A car bomb in the town of Rida was detonated near the home of Director of Education Abdullah Idris, and allegedly targeted a gathering of Houthis there. A second explosion targeted a checkpoint in the southern part of Rida where a Houthi checkpoint had been set up. The number of killed and wounded has not yet been confirmed. [Reuters, Al Masdar (Arabic), 12/16/2014]

Yemen presidential aide says Houthis plotting to bring down government
Houthi fighters prevented Yemen’s new army chief from entering the defense ministry on Tuesday in a fresh show of power, a day after the Shia faction accused the president of promoting corruption and demanded that it oversee state funds. The escalation of tension between Houthis who control the Yemeni capital Sanaa and Western-backed President Hadi raises the prospect of open confrontation after months in which Hadi sought to appease the group. Houthi leader Abdelmalik al-Houthi, in a speech to tribal leaders late on Monday at his northern Saada stronghold, said Hadi was a leading player in the country’s corruption. [Reuters, 12/16/2014]

Yemeni’s hand severed for theft in Saudi Arabia
Saudi authorities on Monday severed the hand of a Yemeni national convicted of repeated theft, under the strict rules of Islamic sharia law applied in the kingdom. A court ordered the amputation of Ibrahim Abdulrahman Hazbar’s right hand after convicting him of a “series of thefts”, the interior ministry said. The punishment was carried out in Mecca. According to an AFP tally, eighty convicts have been executed in the kingdom this year, despite international concerns over the number and judicial process. [AFP, 12/15/2014]

Saudi Arabian security man shot dead in restive province
An unidentified assailant killed a member of Saudi Arabia’s security forces on Sunday, near a restive Shia neighborhood according to a police statement released to state media outlets. The village, Awamiya, has been the focal point of unrest since mass protests in early 2011 calling for an end to discrimination against the minority sect and for reforms in the monarchy. More than twenty people have been killed in the unrest since then, most of them shot in incidents that police have described as armed confrontations with security forces. Rights activists say some of those killed were shot dead while peacefully protesting, which the government denies. [Gulf News, 12/15/2014]

Saudi Shura Council member calls for revision of terrorist rehabilitation program
The terrorist rehabilitation programs run by Prince Muhammad Bin Naif Center for Advice and Care needs to be revised and reevaluated now that it has been in place for ten years, according to Latifah al-Shalan, member of the Shura Council, al-Watan daily reported. Only 10 percent of rehabilitated inmates return to terrorist activities after their release from the center, according to reports. “These reports do not change the fact that the center has produced very positive results since its inception in 2004,” al-Shalan said during the Council’s session on the great achievements accomplished by the ministry of interior in fighting terrorism. She said the Council’s committees and some of its members are capable of contributing to a comprehensive plan to further develop the program. [Al Arabiya, 12/16/2014]


World Bank urges Egypt to make reforms before investor conference
A senior World Bank official has called on Egypt to implement promised legal and bureaucratic reforms ahead of the international investor conference scheduled for march 2015, which would allow the country to have better chances at attracting more than $12 billion in investments. The government reportedly announced it would amend the investment regulations, but until now only general outlines have been drafted, making it difficult for foreign investors to plan and expand investments in the country. [Reuters, 12/16/2014]

Marzouki decides to challenge constitutionality of finance law articles
The incumbent Tunisian President Marzouki has decided to challenge the constitutionality of certain articles of the 2015 draft finance law. The decision refers to articles of the constitution relating to property rights, rights and liberties, and the State resources and expenses. According to the presidency, the appeals will not disturb overall proceedings, as the legal deadlines are sufficiently broad to revise, examine, and promulgate the financial law before the end of 2014. [TAP, 12/16/2014]

Yemen and World Bank discuss improving business environment
Yemen and the World Bank (WB) discussed the activation of the business environment improvement project in Yemen. A committee tasked with working on developing the business environment is to focus especially on the establishment of small and medium enterprises. During the meeting the importance of creating a single-window system and unifying procedures was stressed with the WB affirming its commitment to provide technical support to the committee. [SABA, 12/15/2014]

Thinni appoints deputy chairman of National Oil Company
Al-Thinni’s government has appointed Mohamed al-Arabi as deputy chief for the Libyan National Oil Corporation (NOC). This decision follows last appointment of Al-Mabrook Buseif as the organisation’s chairman after the ministry of oil and the NOC merged. The appointment indicates a further attempt by the government to strengthen its hold on the NOC. The rival Tripoli government had its own NOC chairman and minister of oil and gas. [Libya Herald, 12/15/2014]