Top News: Turkey plans operation in Syria as part of international movement to dismantle ISIS

Turkish sources stated that Ankara is preparing for a ground operation in Jarabulus, near the Syrian-Turkish borders and under the control of ISIS, in the next few days. The sources said a minesweeper has arrived at Kilis, a city in south-central Turkey near the border with Syria and is scheduled to begin demining the areas planted with mines by ISIS. Fawzi Jan Berdi, an MP in the Turkish Parliament of the Development and Justice Party (AKP), has revealed that Turkey’s preparation for the military operations will continue in order to preserve the security of its citizens. Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights has cited that Rmelan airport, which will be used by US aircraft in operations against ISIS, is almost ready after expanding its runway the last few weeks. [Asharq Al-Awsat, 1/21/2016]



Parliament rejects civil service law, approves law shielding state deals
Egypt’s parliament rejected on Wednesday the controversial Civil Service Law after 332 MPs out of 468 voted against it. The law, which regulates appointment criteria, payments, retirements and promotions for civil workers in government agencies, was met with widespread criticism by many state employees, labor unions and labor rights activists. They say the legislation would destroy the long held rights such as job security, and could push thousands of government workers out of work. The bill is likely to be returned by the floor to the parliamentary committee on labor issues for further review and modifications before returning to the general assembly again. Also on Wednesday, parliament passed a law barring third-party challenges to state contracts even though it was rejected earlier this week, MP Medhat al-Sherif said. The law, which was passed in April 2014 under then-interim president Adly Mansour, aims to assure investors that their deals with the Egyptian government would be shielded from lengthy legal disputes incurred by citizens’ legal complaints. The parliament also approved the three laws governing the parliamentary elections – the law on the exercise of political rights, the constituencies law, and the House of Representatives law. Meanwhile, MP Mortada Mansour accused the media of attempting to tarnish the image of the new parliament, and has called for internal bylaws of the House be amended to allow MPs to file lawsuits accused of defaming parliament or covering parliamentary news in “derogatory” terms. [Ahram Online, Mada Masr, AMAY, 1/21/2016]

Foreign Ministry celebrates January 25 revolution achievements
Ahead of the fifth anniversary of the January 25 uprising, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has launched a media campaign dubbed “Egypt Better Today,” which will highlight the 25 “most important accomplishments” of the Egyptian state since 2011. Using the hashtag #EgyptBetterToday, the Foreign Ministry says it will issue five daily statements in both Arabic and English on social media. According to the ministry’s Facebook page, the five areas of success they will highlight are “political rights and the enhancement of citizen participation, the restoration of Egypt’s regional and international roles, youth empowerment, promotion of a culture of diversity and the path towards social justice and economic reform.” On Twitter, the #EgyptBetterToday Arabic hashtag has attracted many opponents of the January 25 revolution, who slammed the uprising as a conspiracy, saying that Egypt was “better” in 2011 than in 2015. Supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi also joined the active Twitter hashtag, slamming President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and his supporters. [Ahram Online, Mada Masr, 1/21/2016]

Mubarak, Adly retrial postponed to April 7
The Court of Cassation postponed on Thursday the retrial of former President Hosni Mubarak, his Interior Minister Habib al-Adly and six other security officials to April 7 over charges of ordering the killing of protesters during the 2011 uprising. The court ordered the retrial session to be moved from its current location at the High Court building in downtown to a more “suitable” location. The last retrial session was postponed for the same reasons. The court said it received a request from the Maadi Military Hospital to move the retrial to the Police Academy, so he may be transported via helicopter. [AMAY, Aswat Masriya, 1/21/2016]

ISIS claims attack on checkpoint that killed seven policemen
An Egyptian affiliate of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) group claimed responsibility on Thursday for an attack on a checkpoint in the country’s volatile Sinai Peninsula that killed seven policemen. The ministry initially announced a death toll of five, and later updated it to seven. Those killed included three officers and four lower-ranking personnel. The claim, which was issued via a statement circulated by the group’s sympathizers on social media, could not independently but the design and logo resembled previous ISIS claims. The attack took place at midnight on Wednesday in the city of al-Arish and also wounded three policemen, the Interior Ministry said in its original statement. [Ahram Online, AP, 1/21/2016]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


Policeman killed as Tunisian protesters demonstrate over jobs
Police continued to clash with protesters demanding jobs in Kasserine on Wednesday and one policeman was killed as other demonstrations broke out in the capital and towns across the country. Residents said young people also took to the streets in Seliana, Tahala, Feriana, Sbiba, El Fahs, Kairouan, Sousse, and in the capital, Tunis. Interior Ministry spokesman Walid Louguini said the police officer was attacked by the crowd as he tried to leave his car during a protest in Feriana, in the Kasserine region. Unrest elsewhere left about 40 people injured during clashes between police and protesters. Seeking to calm protests, Tunisia’s government on Wednesday announced a series of measures for the outlying regions and an investigative commission to look into allegations of corruption. The government said it would hire more than 5,000 young unemployed people from Kasserine and start construction projects in the region. [Reuters, AP, TAP, Tunisia Live, 1/20/2016]

Militants attack near Libya’s Ras Lanuf oil terminal
Suspected Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants attacked oil installations close to Libya’s Ras Lanuf terminal on Thursday, an engineer at the port and energy officials said, and the group threatened more attacks. The engineer said two storage tanks from the Harouge Oil Operations company had been set on fire near Ras Lanuf, where militants also launched attacks earlier this month. An energy official from Libya’s eastern-based government, Mohamed al-Manfi, said a pipeline leading from the Amal oil field to the Es Sider terminal had been targeted. ISIS fighter Abu Abdelrahman al-Libi said in a video posted on the group’s official Telegram channel, “Today Es Sider port and Ras Lanuf and tomorrow the port of Brega and after the ports of Tobruk, Es Serir, Jallo, and al-Kufra.” The state-run National Oil Corporation (NOC) said the area was facing an “environmental catastrophe.” Huge columns of smoke cover the area and power lines supplying residential and industrial districts were damaged. [Reuters, AP, 1/21/2016]

Fighting intensifies in Benghazi
Fighting in Benghazi has intensified in the last three days, as the army repelled an assault by ISIS and appeared to make ground in the districts of Sabri and Suq al-Hud. However, the terrorists have fired a series of mortars and shells, one of which slammed into a block of flats killing a 49-year-old woman. Four soldiers were seriously injured in Wednesday’s fighting, while the army claimed that it had killed at least three ISIS fighters. Benghazi continues to suffer from electricity cuts due to rocket damage to the Benghazi North power station last week. [Libya Herald, 1/20/2016]

Beida Council tells Constitutional Drafting Authority to quit city in two months
The Beida Municipal Council has reportedly warned the Constitutional Drafting Assembly (CDA) that if it does not complete its work and publish a draft constitution by March 26, it will have to leave the town. Local residents speak of growing exasperation in Beida, as in many Libyan towns, at current living conditions. These frustrations are now being directed at the interim government and the CDA. Two days ago, the council ordered the government of Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni to quit the city within 24 hours, again as a result of rising local public anger at the lack of electricity and other worsening conditions. [Libya Herald, 1/20/2016]


Kerry says there will be no ‘fundamental delay’ in Syria talks
US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday that talks between Syria’s government and opposition groups this month may be delayed by a day or two, but will face no fundamental delay. The Syrian government’s UN envoy Bashar al-Jaafari will be the government’s chief negotiator for the regime, a government source said. The chief negotiator for the opposition will be Mohammed Alloush, the political leader of Jaysh al-Islam. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov rejected suggestions that negotiations might be delayed until February amid disagreements over who will represent the opposition. Diplomats remain divided on key areas of political transition, opposition versus terrorist groups, as well as the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). Lavrov stressed though that the United Nations was leading the process and the start date would ultimately be determined by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and his envoy for Syria Staffan De Mistura. [Reuters, AP, AFP, 1/21/16]

France says air strikes against ISIS will accelerate
French President Francois Hollande said Thursday that a coalition waging a bombing campaign against ISIS group would intensify air strikes. “The pace of the interventions will be accelerated and France will play its role in this,” Hollande said in a speech to ambassadors. His comments came after a meeting by the defense ministers of seven countries in the coalition, who said their strategy was to dislodge ISIS from its power centers of Raqqa and Mosul in Iraq and Syria. “They also decided to reinforce support to Arab and Kurdish forces fighting Daesh on the ground,” he said, using an alternative name for ISIS. Hollande told ambassadors that 2016 must be a “year of transition” in Syria. [AP, AFP, 1/21/2016]

United States, France condemn Russia’s role in Syria
The US and French defense ministers on Wednesday condemned Moscow’s role in the Syrian conflict, saying Russian jets should stop targeting the opposition forces fighting ISIS. “The Russians are on the wrong track strategically and also in some cases tactically,” said US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter after a meeting in Paris of seven defense ministers in the coalition fighting ISIS. “We don’t have a basis for broader cooperation [with Russia],” Carter said. His French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian said, “We hope that Russia will concentrate its efforts against Daesh [ISIS] and stop bombing the groups of the uprising [nationalist rebels] who themselves are fighting Daesh.” [AFP, 1/21/2016]

Hundreds of army trainers needed for Mosul recapture
Iraqi security forces will need help from hundreds of military trainers ahead of a planned assault to recapture the city of Mosul from ISIS, said Col. Steve Warren, spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve, on Wednesday. Following recent successes against ISIS, including the recapture of Ramadi by US-backed local forces, the Pentagon is now pushing Iraq to launch an assault on Mosul. The US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter called upon the US-led coalition countries to greatly increase the numbers of trainers to train the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF) and Kurdish Peshmerga who are fighting ISIS on the ground. [AFP, Al Arabiya English, Rudaw, 1/21/2016]

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


Houthis kidnap local Islah Party leader
Local sources said on Thursday that Houthi militants and forces loyal to ousted president Ali Abdullah Saleh kidnapped the al-Bayda leader of the Islah Party Ahmed Marzouki. Local sources said that Houthis in four vehicles raided his office and kidnapped him. The location of Marzouki is unknown. [Al Masdar, 1/21/2016]

Drone strike kills two Al-Qaeda suspects in Yemen
A drone strike believed to have been carried out by the United States killed two Al-Qaeda suspects in a militant stronghold in southeast Yemen, military sources said Thursday. The unidentified suspects were travelling in a vehicle in the town of Qoton in Hadramawt province when they were targeted, the sources said. The United States is the only country known to operate armed drones over Yemen, home to what it considers to be Al-Qaeda’s most dangerous affiliate. It has kept up strikes on militants during months of fighting between pro-government forces and Iran-backed Houthi rebels who control the capital. [AFP, 1/20/2016]

Pan-Islamic body urges de-escalation in Saudi-Iran dispute
The world’s largest Muslim body called for a deescalation of tensions between regional rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran, telling member countries that unity was required to eradicate “terrorism.” The Jeddah-based Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) appeared to take a balanced response to the Riyadh-Tehran crisis after the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council both took pro-Saudi positions. Without naming Saudi Arabia and Iran, OIC Secretary General Iyad Madani said that the continued strains in relations between some member countries were contributing to “deepening the fractures in the Islamic political entity.” [Reuters, 1/21/2016]

GCC working on joint missile defense
Gulf Arab states are cooperating on regional missile defense and hope to announce the results soon, a Bahraini officer said on Wednesday, suggesting progress in long-stalled efforts to create a cross-border approach to counter Iran’s growing missile capabilities. US and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) officials say the time has come to push ahead as Arab nations start to mount more joint military missions. Gulf Arab countries also worry that the lifting of sanctions against Iran could revive Iran’s economy and enable it to acquire more accurate and reliable missiles. [Reuters, 1/21/2016]


China offers financial support to Egypt during president’s visit
China signed a number of economic deals with Egypt during a visit by President Xi Jinping on Thursday and agreed to a $1 billion financing agreement with the Central Bank of Egypt and $700 million in loans to the National Bank of Egypt. Officials from the two countries signed a total of 21 deals that span several infrastructure investments, including power generation, the first phase of a new administrative capital, and the development of an industrial and commercial hub around Egypt’s new Suez Canal.  Agreements were also signed in the electricity, housing, and civil aviation sectors. “China supports Egypt’s efforts to maintain stability, develop the economy and improve livelihoods, and supports Egypt to play an even greater role in international and regional affairs,” Xi said. “We are ready to work with the Egyptian side to carry forward our traditional friendship, learn from each other, and deepen our practical cooperation in various fields.” [Reuters, Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, 1/21/2016]

China’s Xi opens refinery with Saudi King Salman
Chinese President Xi Jinping and Saudi King Salman on Wednesday inaugurated a joint-venture refinery during Xi’s Middle East tour. Saudi Aramco holds 62.5 percent of the Yanbu Aramco Sinopec Refining Corporation Refinery (Yasref), located in Yanbu Industrial City on the Red Sea. Yasref, which has a capacity of 400,000 barrels per day oil, is one of five joint-venture refineries in Saudi Arabia. Another four are overseas, including one in Fujian, China. “Yasref represents both companies’ focus on driving downstream growth,” the refinery said in a statement. Saudi Aramco and China Petroleum & Chemical Corporation (Sinopec) also signed a framework agreement on cooperation, reflecting confidence “in the potential opportunities we can create together,” said Saudi Aramco President Amin Nasser. “Aramco would like to invest more in China.‎..We look forward to have other projects with Sinopec in China specifically, so that Aramco expands in its investments in refining, marketing and petrochemicals in China,” Aramco Chairman Khalid al-Falih said. During Xi’s visit, Saudi Arabia and China agreed to boost bilateral relations. Meanwhile, China and the Gulf Cooperation Council agreed to speed up talks on a free trade deal. [AFP, Reuters, WSJ, 1/20/2016]

Hit by oil price drop, Algeria turns to China for funds
Algeria is turning to China to finance several infrastructure projects, the first time the country has sought external funding in a decade. Chinese banks will fund the port in Cherchell, east of Algiers, for a megaport of 23 docks capable of processing 26 million tonnes of goods per year. The project is worth $3.2 billion and will be managed by China’s Shanghai Ports Group. “This is an important and strategic project not only for Algeria, but for Africa,” China’s Ambassador in Algeria said Monday. “We have $60 billion available for projects in Africa in the next three years, and Algeria is in a good position to take advantage of this amount,” he said. The total amount of the loans requested by Algeria from China is unknown, but a vehicle and trucks assembly plant and thousands of houses are among Chinese-funded projects planned for the next couple of years.  [Reuters, 1/20/2016]

Kuwait’s emir urges management of spending, budget cut over oil price drop
Kuwait’s emir has called for better management of spending and for budget cuts to cope with declining revenues due to lower oil prices. The remarks by Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah, at a meeting with newspaper editors, appeared part of a drive to prepare the ground for politically difficult economic measures. “We are required to start with treatment and economic steps and programs aimed at managing and reducing the budget articles, to deal with the shortages in the state financial revenues,” Sheikh Sabah said. Chief Executive of Kuwait Petroleum Corporation Nizar al-Adsani said on Tuesday that Kuwait was considering several options for energy subsidy reforms. Sheikh Sabah also said that operations and exports from oil fields jointly operated with Saudi Arabia would resume soon. The al-Khafji oilfield has been shut since October 2014 and the Wafra oilfield has been shut since May 2015. [Reuters, 1/20/2016]

Libya’s NOC holds series of meeting with energy majors
Libya’s Tripoli-based National Oil Corporation (NOC) held a number of official meetings with key oil and gas companies with interests in Libya in recent days. The NOC held separate sessions with BP, Shell, Medco, Turkish Petroleum, Statoil, Eni, and Taftnet on January 12-14, according to official NOC reports. The meetings were led by NOC Chairman Mustafa Sanallah and attended by NOC Head of Exploration and Production Abulqasim Shanqir. The NOC called the meetings to discuss security threats that have disrupted oil production and distribution and the global drop in oil prices. The meetings aimed to find cooperation initiatives between the oil and gas companies and the NOC and methods to overcome challenges facing Libya’s oil sector. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 1/20/2016]

Iraq oil exports at record, unaffected by Iran’s return to market
Iraq’s plan to increase oil output this year will go ahead, with exports running in January at a record level and unaffected by Iran’s return to the market, Iraqi Oil Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Thursday. Iraq expects output from the country’s southern region to increase by up to 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) this year to over 4 million bpd. Iraq will be offering competitive prices to market its additional crude output, the minister said, adding that it had made contracts with Chinese refineries covering all of 2016. Iraq also produces oil from the north but revenues from those sales go to the Kurdish self-ruled region, not the central government in Baghdad. The north produces more than 600,000 bpd. [Reuters, NYT, 1/21/2016]