Top News: Turkey suspects Russia building airbase near border with Syria

Turkish authorities reportedly have intelligence suggesting that Russia might be preparing to establish an airbase near Turkey’s border with Syria, a step likely to deepen tensions between the two countries that flared after Turkish warplanes downed a Russian fighter jet in November. A Russian delegation reportedly flew to the northern Syrian town of Qamishli, right across the border from Nusaybin in southeastern Anatolia, on January 16. Turkish sources suspect that the delegation’s visit is part of Russian plans to renovate the Qamishli airport so that it could be turned into a base for warplanes and military cargo planes. This would also entail installation of radars that would be able to closely monitor Turkish military activities in the area. Days before planned Syria peace talks in Geneva, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has accused Russia as well as others of trying to undermine negotiations for a solution to the Syrian conflict by including groups such as the YPG. [Today’s ZamanAFP, 1/22/2016]



US trade delegation explores opportunities in agricultural and energy sectors
A trade delegation from the state of North Dakota is visiting Cairo for the first time for two days of meetings with prospective business partners and government officials. The delegation will explore possible expansion of US trade and investment opportunities with Egypt in certain fields. Two American agricultural companies, Healthy Oilseeds and JM Grain, are participating in the trade mission, led by the Commissioner of the North Dakota Department of Agriculture, Doug Goehring, and the Executive Director of the North Dakota Trade Office, Dean Gorder. Mr. Goehring noted, “Egypt has tremendous business potential, and we are visiting Cairo to look into opportunities both for trade and potential future investments here.” [US Embassy, 1/21/2016]

Egypt denies reports of mediation efforts with Turkey to ease relations
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry denied on Thursday that there was any kind of meditation in place to improve strained relations between Egypt and Turkey. In a meeting with diplomatic correspondents in Cairo on Thursday, Spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid said ties with Turkey are “going through a crisis” due to interference by Turkey in Egypt’s internal affairs. Abu Zeid added there would be no improvement in relations between Cairo and Ankara unless there was a “fundamental change” regarding the latter’s policies and views concerning the situation in Egypt. [Ahram Online, SIS, 1/22/2016]

Two groups claims responsibility for blast in Giza apartment that kills ten
An affiliate of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) and another militant group in Egypt both claimed responsibility for a bombing that took place in Giza governorate’s Haram district on Thursday, killing at least ten. Neither claim could be verified. In a statement issued on Friday and published on Twitter, the ISIS-linked Sinai State claimed that ten Egyptian police personnel were killed when they entered a “booby-trapped” house in Marioutiya Thursday night. An hour later, another militant group called Revolutionary Punishment claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement released on Facebook. The group claimed that it lured police to the apartment, at which point two of its members carried out a suicide bombing killing a former state security police officer, among others. According to an official statement from Egypt’s prosecution, ten people, including seven policemen and three civilians, were killed in the explosion. The Interior Ministry issued a statement saying the bomb was planted by Muslim Brotherhood militants and went off when security forces tried to raid the building. [Ahram Online, AP, Aswat Masriya, Reuters, Mada Masr, 1/22/2016]

Egyptian police raid Cairo homes as country prepares to mark 2011 uprising
Egyptian security officials say police have been questioning residents and searching apartments at more than 5,000 homes in central Cairo as a “precautionary measure” to prevent street protests on the upcoming anniversary of the January 25 Uprising. A senior security official said that the ten-day search campaign was based on surveillance and intelligence gathered over months and focusing on pro-democracy activists inside and outside the country, including foreigners. Some Cairo residents, however, have said the sweeping raids are not targeted, instead designed to round up anyone who fits the youthful demographic of the 2011 protesters. [The Guardian, 1/22/2016]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


France offers EUR 1 billion to Tunisia
France is offering EUR 1 billion ($1.1 billion) in aid to Tunisia, including to the country’s underdeveloped interior regions. French President Francois Hollande and Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid met for lunch Friday in Paris before Essid cut his visit short to deal with a spreading protest movement fueled by economic frustrations. In a statement afterward, Hollande announced 1 billion euros in aid over five years as part of an economic support package. “A major aspect of the plan aims to help poor regions and young people, putting the focus on employment,” said Hollande’s office. [AP, AFP, 1/22/2016]

Tunisia declares nationwide curfew after violent job protests
Tunisia declared a nationwide curfew on Friday after four days of protests and rioting over jobs and economic conditions. The Interior Ministry said in a statement that, due to the risk to public and private property, it was imposing a curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. with immediate effect. In a press release posted on its Facebook page, the ministry says that any violation of this measure will be liable to prosecution. On Thursday night, police stations came under attack and security officers used tear gas to repel protesters armed with stones and Molotov cocktails. In housing projects on the outskirts of Tunis, roving groups of youth pillaged a bank and looted stores and warehouses. At least 19 people were arrested in connection with the unrest, a security official said. [Reuters, AP, TAP, 1/22/2016]

Tunisian PM defends economic policies as unrest spreads
Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid said on Friday in an interview that his government is committed to tackling unemployment, as protests spread across the nation in recent days. Essid said the government is fully aware of the difficult situation, and that as a young democracy there is a period of “adolescence” to navigate. Essid said his government needs time to tackle the economic problems. “We do not have a magic wand to give a job to everyone at the same time,” he said. [France24, 1/22/2016]

Four fires at Libya’s Ras Lanuf terminal
An attack by suspected Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants on Thursday has caused fires at four storage tanks at Libya’s Ras Lanuf terminal, National Oil Corporation Chairman Mustafa Sanalla said. The terminal, which has been closed since December 2014, would remain shut for “a long time” because of damage from this and earlier attacks, he said. About 1 million barrels of oil were lost because of fires caused by fighting near Ras Lanuf earlier this month, and as much as three million barrels could be alight due to the most recent attacks, he said. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 1/21/2016]

Haftar’s spokesman alleges corruption
General Khalifa Haftar’s official spokesman, Colonel Mohamed Hejazi, has accused Haftar, his family, and his associates of corruption and a long list of crimes. Speaking on Libyan TV, Hejazi claimed that Haftar had deliberately stretched out the fighting in Benghazi, targeted civilian areas, and diverted money from the Libyan army to buy property in Egypt and Jordan. Hejazi also called him a traitor, alleging he wanted to let 5,000 Italian troops arrive in Libya as part of a stabilization force. [Libya Herald, 1/21/2016]


Syrian Kurds say must be represented at Geneva talks
Co-chair of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) Saleh Muslim said Syrian Kurds must be represented at peace talks in Geneva or they will fail. Muslim also said one of the opposition groups involved, Jaysh al-Islam, had the “same mentality” as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). The negotiations, which are due to begin on January 25 in Geneva, look increasingly uncertain for reasons including a dispute over the composition of the opposition delegation. Russia wants to include other figures that could be deemed closer to its own thinking as well as the main Syrian Kurdish party, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), and its affiliated People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia. The YPG meanwhile is an important partner in the US-led anti-ISIS fight in Syria. The Saudi-backed opposition council has said it will boycott the Geneva negotiations if Russia insists on such a shake-up. [Reuters, 1/22/2016]

EU official says Syria losses may force ISIS leaders to move to Libya
ISIS military losses in Syria and Iraq may prompt some of its leaders to relocate to Libya, EU Counterterrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove said Thursday. De Kerchove also warned that the raids by the US-led coalition and Russian warplanes as well as operations by Iraqi and Syrian ground troops could lead ISIS to stage more Paris-style attacks in Europe. De Kerchove cited the jihadist group’s recent ouster from the Iraqi city of Ramadi and heavy air strikes in Syria where he said the organization is now on the defensive, saying there could be “some movement of senior leadership from the caliphate to Libya.” It would be easy at present for the ISIS group to operate in Libya, where there are an estimated 3,000 ISIS fighters, “because there are no air strikes for the time being in Libya and not a fully functioning government,” he said. [AFP, 1/22/2016]

Syria court sentences Assad cousin to 20 years for murder
A cousin of Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for the murder of a military officer last summer, a security source said Friday. “A court in Latakia on Thursday sentenced Suleiman Assad to 20 years in prison for the murder of Colonel Hassan al-Sheikh,” the source said. The incident raised tensions within the Alawite community in the Latakia province. Al-Sheikh’s relatives said at the time that the president had pledged “to punish the perpetrator, whoever he is.” Suleiman Assad’s father, Hilal Assad, a first cousin of the president, headed the defense forces in Latakia city before his death in March 2014 during clashes with rebels in nearby Kasab.[AFP, 1/22/2016]

Aid airdrops to Syria’s besieged are called too dangerous
The US Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James said aid airdrops in Syria are possible. “If we’re asked to do it, we have the assets, we have the people, we know how to do airdrops,” said James. Russia, the Syrian government’s strongest ally, this month announced airdrops to the city of Deir Ezzor, where government held areas are blockaded by ISIS militants and an estimated 200,000 people are besieged. A series of UN Security Council resolutions since early 2014 allow for aid deliveries without the permission of Syria’s government, though their effect on airdrops is not clear. But while diplomats, aid workers, and UN officials say they are exploring all options to reach besieged communities, they say airdrops face deep complications, both political and logistical, with the risk of Syria responding with force. [AFP, 1/22/2016]

Iraq to start Mosul offensive against ISIS in first half of 2016
Iraq plans to launch an operation to dislodge ISIS from the northern city of Mosul in the first half of 2016, Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi told Reuters on Thursday. After the Iraqi army retook control of Ramadi from ISIS in December 2015, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said 2016 will be the year of “final victory” over ISIS. Secretary of State John Kerry also said Thursday that the anti-ISIS coalition will reach its goal of “seriously denting” ISIS in Iraq and Syria in 2016. US Defense Secretary Ash Carter has said US led coalition will use “boots on the ground” to take back the cities of Mosul and Raqqa. [Reuters, 1/22/2016]

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


Yemeni delegation says negotiations postponed indefinitely
Minister of Industry and member of the Yemeni delegation to Geneva Dr. Mohammed al-Saadi said on Friday that UN-sponsored negotiations between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels have been postponed indefinitely. Al-Saadi said that negotiations were postponed for the second time due to the Houthis’ failure to break the siege in Taiz and release hostages, which was agreed upon in Geneva. He added that UN Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh “is still making efforts and arrangements to communicate with the other party, but did not specify a date for the moment.” [Al Masdar, 1/22/2016]

OIC backs Saudi stance in Iran spat
The world’s largest Muslim body backed Saudi Arabia in its weeks-long diplomatic spat with Iran in a statement issued on Thursday night, accusing Tehran of backing terrorism and meddling in other countries’ affairs. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), based in the Saudi city of Jeddah, had gathered for an exceptional meeting called by Riyadh over the storming of its embassy and consulate by Iranian protesters on January 2. In its final statement, the OIC condemned the attacks on Saudi missions and criticized “inflammatory Iranian statements on the implementation of court rulings against a number of perpetrators of terrorist crimes in Saudi Arabia.” The OIC further condemned Iran’s interference in the internal affairs of members such as Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, and Somalia and its continued support for terrorism. [Reuters, 1/21/2016]

Air strikes on Yemeni oil port kill nine
Air strikes by Arab coalition forces hit oil facilities in Yemen Thursday, killing at least nine people, and four Yemeni government soldiers died in a suspected militant attack. The air attack on a Red Sea facility at Ras Isa port, used to load tanker trucks with refined products for domestic distribution, wounded at least 30 other people, medical sources said. Ras Isa is Yemen’s main oil export terminal but no shipments have been leaving since the coalition of Arab states launched a military campaign in March last year. In eastern Yemen, four Yemeni government soldiers were killed and four wounded in a bomb attack on their vehicle near a border post between Yemen and Saudi Arabia, a government official said. The official said Al-Qaeda militants, who are known to operate in the area, were suspected of carrying out the attack at al-Wadia. [Reuters, 1/22/2016]

Air strikes in Saada wound dozens, kill an ambulance driver
An airstrike hit the ambulance service of the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)-supported Al-Gomhoury Hospital in Yemen’s Saada governorate, killing one Ministry of Health staff member. The incident took place in Dhayan, about 12 miles from the city of Saada and not far from Shiara hospital, which MSF also supports, and which was also hit on January 10 in an attack that killed six people. In this latest instance, the ambulance was responding to an earlier bombing in Dhayan. Just as it arrived and people were gathering to assist the victims of the initial bombing, the same site was hit again with another airstrike, wounding dozens of people. A third strike was then launched, hitting the ambulance and killing its driver. [MSF Statement, 1/22/2016]

Al Jazeera says its crew kidnapped in Yemeni city of Taiz
The Doha-based Al Jazeera news channel said on Thursday three of its journalists had been kidnapped in the besieged Yemeni city of Taiz and demanded their immediate release. Al Jazeera said its Arabic correspondent Hamdi al-Bokari and his crew, Abdulaziz al-Sabri and Moneer al-Sabai, had last been seen late on Monday in Taiz, which is located in the southwest of the impoverished, war-battered Arabian Peninsula nation. “They were covering events in the besieged city of Taiz reporting on the human cost of the conflict. Our colleagues were simply doing their job of reporting the story and informing the world of what is taking place in Yemen,” said Mostefa Souag, acting director general of Al Jazeera Media Network. [Reuters, 1/21/2016]


Gulf ministers say low oil price is opportunity for reforms
The sharp drop in the price of oil is an opportunity to end subsidies and introduce reforms, Gulf ministers said Friday. “With low prices… it is the right time” to cut subsidies on oil products, Kuwait’s Finance Minister and Acting Oil Minister Anas al-Saleh said at the World Economic Forum in Davos. He said that record low oil prices would make the lifting of subsidies on fuel products easier on consumers. “We saw an opportunity to have people do the right thing, which is to pay the right cost of energy,” said Emirati Energy Minister Suhail al-Mazrouei. “We need to rethink about major reforms that make our budgets independent from oil revenues,” he added. After liberalizing fuel prices in June, al-Mazrouei said the United Arab Emirates is looking to lift subsidies on other products and services, including on electricity. Meanwhile, Head of Bahrain’s Economic Development Board Khalid al-Rumaihi described the sharp drop in oil revenues as a “blessing in disguise,” because it provides an “opportunity for reforms.” [AFP, 1/22/2016]

Minister says Iraq faces harsh year due to oil price fall
Oil revenues that supply the vast majority of Iraqi government funds are “very limited,” with crude oil trading at half the value projected in the budget, Finance Minister Hoshyar Zebari said Thursday. He told a news conference that oil is selling between  $21 and $25 per barrel. Iraq’s 2016 budget is based on a projected oil price of $45 a barrel. “Projections indicate a continued collapse of oil prices,” Zebari said. “It will be a difficult and harsh year for all of us.” Meanwhile, Iraqi Oil Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi told Reuters that Iraq is in talks with foreign oil companies to link the fees they receive for developing its fields to oil prices and have them share the burden when markets go down. According to current service agreements, the government pays oil companies a fixed fee for increasing production at ageing fields. “We are still in the process of agreeing on a new model. The talks seek to establish a correlation between the remuneration fee and the movement of oil prices,” he said. [AFP, 1/21/2016]

Turkey seeking more aid from EU after EUR 3 billion migration deal
Turkey has indicated that it wants more assistance from the European Union (EU), a few months after the EU agreed to grant Turkey EUR 3 billion ($3.2 billion) in a deal aimed at stemming the flow of migration. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Thursday that there needs to be a larger commitment to burden-sharing, as Turkey is most affected by the current migration crisis. “We are not exporting a crisis; a crisis has been exported to Turkey,” he said. He emphasized that Turkey has spent close to $10 billion on refugees within its borders. While Davutoglu stressed that Turkey is not “begging for money from the EU,” he emphasized that Turkey should not carry the burden alone. He added, “There are many things to be done, together with the EU, together with the international community.” Germany’s Die Welt newspaper suggested that Germany could provide additional bilateral funds to Turkey. [The Telegraph, Anadolu Agency, AFP, 1/22/2016]

World Bank to loan Cairo $500 million to develop industrial zones in Upper Egypt
The World Bank will finance infrastructure development for industrial zones in Upper Egypt governorates of Qena and Sohag, Industry and Foreign Trade Minister Tarek Kabil said Thursday. The $500 million program aims to raise the economic and competitive capacity and efficiency of the two governorates, according to Minister of Local Development Ahmed Zaki Badr. It will also address challenges to institutional and administrative coordination and strengthen the role of information and communication technology in the governorates. According to state statistics body CAPMAS, Qena and Sohag are two of the poorest governorates in Egypt. [Ahram Online, DNE, 1/21/2016]