Top News: Ten dead, 15 wounded in Istanbul tourist district explosion

An explosion in Istanbul’s Sultanahmet district has killed at least 10 people and injured 15 others. Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus said the bomber was a 28-year-old Syrian national whose “connections” were being investigated. Nine out of the 10 killed were German, and recent reports have confirmed that six German citizens, one Norwegian and one Peruvian were among the wounded rushed to the hospital.  In a news conference in Berlin German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “Today Istanbul was hit; Paris has been hit, Tunisia has been hit, Ankara has been hit before… International terrorism is once again showing its cruel and inhuman face today.” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has condemned the attacks, stating, “This incident has showed once again that we have to stand in full unity against terror.” A temporary broadcast ban has been imposed regarding the blast as investigations by police continue.  Officials said they believed the attack was the work of the ISIS militants, although no claim of responsibility has yet been made. [AP, Hurriyet, Guardian, 1/12/2016]



Egypt tightens security on Libyan border following mysterious airstrikes
Egyptian police forces deployed near the border with Libya have been put on a high state of alert following airstrikes on Libyan soil by unidentified fighter jets late Sunday. Hesham Lotfi, the head of the security department in the governorate of Matrouh, the closest Egyptian province to Libya, said police are seeking to secure Egypt’s territory around the border, rather than the actual borders, which is a job for the army. Unconfirmed reports said that unknown aircraft had struck Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) strongholds near the Libyan city of Sirte early Monday. [AMAY, 1/11/2016]

Temporary ban on airing parliamentary sessions; Alexandria MP resigns
Egypt’s new House of Representatives decided late Monday to temporarily ban the live airing of its sessions until it finishes discussing laws issued since July 2013 by the executive power as mandated by the 2014 constitution. The decision came after the majority of MPs agreed to a proposal submitted by 40 members to stop TV coverage in order to prevent grandstanding by some MPs. Parliament Speaker Ali Abdel Al said journalists would be able to continue to conduct their work covering the sessions, rejecting proposals by some MPs to ban all coverage. The ban order was criticized by a number of representatives and other public figures. Abdel Al also announced the formation of the House of Representatives Office consisting of the speaker, the two deputies, and six special committees to discuss the approximately 341 laws issued since 2013. The parliament also elected Monday the Wafd Party’s Suleiman Wahdan as second deputy speaker. He faced the parliamentary bloc In Support of Egypt’s Alaa Abdel Moneim in the runoff. Meanwhile, on Tuesday, veteran independent parliamentarian Kamal Ahmed announced his resignation from parliament only two days after its inaugural session. Ahmed, who is in his seventies, said he is leaving parliament for health reasons. However, sources close to him say Ahmed resigned because he disagreed with the way the new parliament is operating. Prior to the January 25 revolution, the Alexandria parliamentarian was known as a harsh critic of Mubarak-era ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). [Ahram Online, Cairo Post, AMAY, 1/12/2016]

Tamarod co-founder detained 15 days for joining ‘outlawed group’
Egypt’s State Security Prosecution ordered on Monday the detention of activist Moheb Doss, a leading Tamarod member for 15 days pending investigation. He is charged with joining an “outlawed group” called ‘January 25 Youth’, his lawyer Mohamed Fadel said, arguing that the charges were false. “The authorities don’t have any evidence against him. He wasn’t given the right to contact a lawyer, or even the right to be questioned by a normal prosecution, not a specialized one,” Fadel added. According to family, his laptop was confiscated from home by authorities on January 7. The Kefaya movement, founded in 2004 to oppose Mubarak, condemned the arrest of Doss “without charges” and added in a statement that the security forces were now targeting “all the icons of the January 25 uprising,” and oppressing any voice that opposes or criticizes the policies of the current authorities. [Ahram Online, 1/11/2016]

Prosecutors say Hurgahda attack was meant to target Russian tourists
Friday’s attack on tourists in Hurghada was meant for Russian tourists, a Supreme State Security Prosecutor investigation has said. According to the investigation, the assailant, who was arrested on the spot, said that the attack was carried out in revenge for Russian strikes in Syria. The other assailant was killed during the attack. According to prosecutors, the defendant said that because they were unable to travel abroad to join a jihadist organization, they planned the attack in Hurghada instead. Prosecutors also said the defendants met through the Ultras White Knights, a football fan group. [AMAY, 1/11/2016]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


Presidential Council commits to support Libyan National Army
In its strongest statement to date, the Presidential Council of Prime Minister-designate Fayez Serraj has declared its complete support for the Libyan National Army (LNA). In a press statement, the council condemned strongly the recent attacks in Benghazi. Praising what it described as the sacrifices of LNA soldiers, the Council promised that it would ensure the army is provided with the utmost support once the UN Security Council lifts the ban on arms. The blanket description of different Islamist organizations in Benghazi, including Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), as terrorists echoes the sentiment of LNA General Khalifa Haftar and Operation Dignity. [Libya Herald, 1/11/2016]

Libyan Prime Minister-designate in Ankara
The head of the Presidency Council, Prime Minister-designate Fayez Serraj, visited Ankara on Monday for talks with Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on potential support that Turkey can give to Libya. The invitation came from Turkey, one of the 17 countries that signed the Rome Declaration last month, committing itself to backing the Libyan Political Agreement and Government of National Accord, to be led by Serraj. Turkey, however, is still seen as having significant leverage with the General National Congress and Libya’s western government. In the meeting, Davutoglu stressed Turkey’s commitment to Libyan unity and security, adding that it would support the country’s reconstruction. [Libya Herald, 1/11/2016]

Tunisian parliament grants vote of confidence to new cabinet
The Assembly of the People’s Representatives (APR) has granted a vote of confidence to the new line-up of Habib Essid’s government at a plenary session attended by 186 deputies. The APR voted on each minister individually and the government was approved by a large majority. Many key ministers have been replaced, including those of justice, interior, foreign affairs, culture, and religious affairs. Essid’s new coalition government includes a total of 30 ministers and no secretary of state. It was announced on January 6. [TAP, ANSAmed, 1/12/2016]

Algerian PM says must fight terrorism in all forms after Istanbul blast
Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said on Tuesday that it was necessary to continue to fight “terrorism” in all its forms, and he said his country would fight ISIS resolutely to ensure greater security. Sellal, speaking during a joint news conference with Chancellor Angela Merkel during a visit to Berlin, made the comments when asked about a blast in Istanbul that killed at least ten people earlier on Tuesday. [Reuters, 1/12/2016]


Aid convoys reach besieged Syrian communities; some residents need medical evacuation
UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien called for Monday’s delivery of aid to three besieged towns in Syria to be the first of many and welcomed a Syrian statement that such deliveries should be repeated and sustained. O’Brien told reporters that the arrival of convoys to help civilians, cut off for months by the war in Syria, must not be “either one-off or exceptional.” They must become the model for regular aid deliveries to civilians caught in conflict, which is a requirement under international law.An aid convoy brought food to 40,000 Madaya residents, but some 400 people in the besieged town needed to be urgently evacuated for medical treatment, O’Brien said. [NYT, Washington Post, BBC News, Naharnet, 1/12/2016]

Syria army enters rebel bastion in Latakia province
Syrian regime forces advanced Tuesday into the main bastion of rebels in the northwestern province of Latakia, the coastal heartland of President Bashar al-Assad’s clan, a monitor said. Supported by pro-regime militias, Hezbollah fighters, and intense Russian air strikes, the army entered the town of Salma, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said. Rami Abdel Rahman, head of SOHR, said pro-government forces were locked in fierce fighting with rebels including Islamist hardliners Ahrar al-Sham and al-Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front. Over the past 48 hours, more than 120 air strikes by Russian warplanes targeted Salma and its outskirts, SOHR reported. [AFP, AlArabiya 1/12/2016]

Putin says premature to speak of asylum for Assad
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Tuesday, that it is too early to speak about granting political asylum to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Russia began carrying out airstrikes against Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) fighters in September in support of Assad’s army. Critics say these strikes are aimed against Assad’s opponents. Russia, the United States, and Middle East nations are currently promoting talks between the Syrian government and the opposition. Putin said in an interview with the German daily Bild, that Moscow is advocating for constitutional reform in Syria and if the next election is democratic, “Assad won’t have to go anywhere, no matter if he is elected president or not.” [AP, AFP, 1/12/2016]

Iraq rocked by three major suicide bombings
Gunmen raided an eastern Baghdad shopping mall, killing at least 32 people and injuring 58, while a bomb rocked a busy market in the capital and further bombings killed at least 20 in Muqdadiya, north of Baghdad. The first attack saw gunmen detonate a car bomb before spraying gunfire in a crowded area and taking hostages in a shopping mall, Iraqi officials said. Iraqi officials said police raided the mall about half an hour after the attack, killing two attackers and arresting four others. Two bombs later went off in Muqdadiya, killing at least 23 people and wounding another 51, security and medical sources said. Another blast in a southeastern Baghdad suburb killed seven more. ISIS militants controlling swathes of Iraq’s north and west claimed responsibility for the attacks in Muqdadiya and at the Baghdad mall, targeting Shia Muslims. The US Department of State released a statement condemning the attacks. [BBC, Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, Reuters, 1/12/2016]

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

UN announces delay of Yemen peace talks
United Nations spokesman Ahmad Fawzi announced Tuesday that Yemen peace talks planned for January 14 will be postponed. He added that the UN special envoy to Yemen was contemplating a date after January 20. Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdel Malak al-Mekhlafi on Saturday announced the postponement peace talks scheduled for January 14 due to the Houthis’ rejection of that date. [Al Masdar, 1/12/2016]

Yemen ISIS-linked militants kill senior officer in Aden
Yemen’s ISIS-linked militants on Monday said they killed a senior security officer in the southern port city of Aden. The militants said in an online statement that they killed Colonel Ali Saleh al-Yafie. They also posted photographs purporting to show the killing in Aden’s Mansoura neighborhood. The statement could not be independently verified but was posted on an ISIS website that has had similar claims in the past. [AP, 1/11/2016]

Kuwait sentences two to death over ‘spying for Iran’
A Kuwaiti court on Tuesday sentenced to death two men convicted of espionage with Iran and Hezbollah. The men were an Iranian convicted in absentia and a Kuwaiti. The pair were convicted along with 24 other Kuwaitis, one of whom was sentenced to life in prison. The verdicts come amid deep tensions between Tehran and Gulf Arab states after Iranian protesters on January 2 attacked the Saudi diplomatic mission in Iran. [Al Arabiya, 1/12/2016]

Deadly strike on Yemen MSF clinic draws condemnation
A missile strike on a Doctors Without Borders (known by its French acronym MSF) clinic in Yemen’s Houthi-dominated Saada province on Sunday killed at least four people, the group said, condemning what it called a “worrying pattern” of such attacks. MSF could not specify whether the medical facility was hit in an airstrike by the Saudi-led coalition or by a rocket fired from the ground. Three MSF staff were among 10 people wounded in the Yemen strike, and two other members of staff were in “critical condition”, MSF said in a statement. All staff and patients had been evacuated, with the patients being transferred to another MSF-supported hospital in Saada, it said. [AFP, 1/10/2016]


Libya’s oil company empties Ras Lanuf storage after ISIS attacks
The Libyan National Oil Corporation (NOC) has emptied oil storage tanks at the Ras Lanuf terminal as a precaution after Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants attacked the country’s two biggest oil ports, Es Sider and Ras Lanuf, last week. The attacks triggered several days of clashes between militants and the Petroleum Facilities Guard and caused fires at five oil storage tanks in Es Sider and two others at the Ras Lanuf. “We have taken all the oil stored in the tanks there (Ras Lanuf) to a safer location,” said an advisor at the eastern NOC Mohamed al-Manfi. Al-Manfi declined to give further details but said last week that each of the oil tanks was estimated to contain 420,000 to 460,000 barrels of oil.  Libyan officials said much of the crude oil would be refined at the Zawiya refinery in western Libya, with the remaining quantities exported abroad. [Reuters, WSJ, 1/11/2016]

New Egypt bank rules to boost business lending and growth
The Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) said on Monday that it had amended credit market rules to encourage banks to lend to a wider range of clients as part of an effort to mitigate credit risk and boost growth. In a circular published on its website, the CBE cut the maximum amount that banks are allowed to lend to a single client to 15 percent of their Tier One capital, down from 20 percent previously, to reduce the risks associated with lending to a small number of large clients. In a separate circular, the CBE placed limits on consumer credit, saying that banks were relying too heavily on retail lending. The CBE also cut the total sum banks can invest in money market funds to 2.5 percent of their total deposits in local currency from 5 percent previously, a move bankers say could reduce their holdings of Egypt’s government debt. The CBE is currently awaiting the first segment of a loan from the World Bank, valued at $1 billion, which will support foreign reserves. Last week, the CBE received the first segment of a $500 million loan from the African Development Bank. [Reuters, 1/11/2016]

Oman sets new gasoline, diesel prices
Oman has set new selling prices for domestic gasoline and diesel fuels starting this month, state news agency ONA reported on Monday. The new price for gasoline 95 octane will be 0.160 rials ($0.4156) per liter, and the price for 90 octane will be 0.140 rials per liter. The price for diesel will be 0.160 rials per liter, ONA said. No changes in prices will be introduced to jet fuel. The new prices will come into effect on January 15 and will be reviewed monthly, ONA said. [Reuters, 1/11/2016]

UAE’s Dana Gas plans more cost cuts due to low oil prices
United Arab Emirates (UAE) energy firm Dana Gas plans to cut costs in 2016 as the company gears up for a prolonged period of low crude prices, CEO Patrick Allman-Ward said. Dana Gas plans to cut general and administrative expenses by 55 percent in 2016 and operating expenses by a smaller amount. “We need to prepare ourselves for the continued low oil price environment going forward,” Allman-Ward told reporters. Since the beginning of the year, the firm has cut $5 million in costs by lowering general and administrative expenses. It also reduced its workforce during the fourth quarter of 2015. Dana Gas reported a net loss of $9 million in the third quarter of 2015, and Allman-Ward said the fourth quarter would be similarly challenging. [Reuters, 1/12/2016]