Top News: UK Begins Syria Air Strikes After Parliament Vote

Britain joined the US-led bombing campaign over Syria on Thursday, hitting an oil field held by the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) just hours after a decisive parliamentary vote authorized air strikes. Royal Air Force planes based in Cyprus carried out the “first offensive operation over Syria and have conducted strikes,” a Defense Ministry spokesman said Thursday, following a vote Wednesday evening. The strikes, carried out by four Tornado fighters, focused on six targets in the oil field in eastern Syria, 30 miles from the Syria border, the ministry said. “This strikes a very real blow at the oil and the revenue on which the Daesh [ISIS] terrorists depend,” Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said. [AFPReuters, 12/3/2015]



Egypt court withdraws Raba’a operations room sentences, orders retrial
Egypt’s Court of Cassation revoked on Thursday death sentences issued to Muslim Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie and 11 other leading members of the group, in the case known publicly as the Raba’a Control Room Trial. The court also revoked the life sentences for 25 others in the same case, and ordered a retrial for all defendants. The case included 14 journalists and media workers–13 of whom received life sentences, while one received the death penalty. The defendants face charges of directing the movement of Brotherhood supporters across the country as part of a plan to “defy the state and spread chaos” after the violent dispersal of the Raba’a al-Adaweya protest camp in mid-August 2013. The same court upheld on Tuesday a 15-year prison sentence against Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) leader Mohamed al-Beltagy and Islamist preacher Safwat Hegazy in a torture case. The pair were found guilty of holding a lawyer captive and torturing him during the January 25 Revolution in 2011. [Ahram Online, 12/3/2015]

Sisi says individual police violations should not take toll on relationship with public
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Thursday pledged to punish police officers who make mistakes amid mounting criticism of the force following the deaths of three people while in custody last month. Speaking at the police academy in Cairo, Sisi said “isolated incidents” do not reflect on the conduct of the whole police force, which is keeping the country safe. “When someone makes a mistake, we will punish him,” Sisi said, but added that “an individual’s mistake should not lead us to accuse an (entire) institution.” In his speech, Sisi also saluted police victims, and highlighted the role played by the police in maintaining security, as well as its performance during the parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, according to a new report from the El Nadeem Centre for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, last month alone witnessed the death of 13 citizens in detention centers, while another 42 cases of prison torture were reported, as well as the forced disappearance of 40 persons. The relocation of one of the policemen implicated in the death of a detainee in Luxor has been criticized by the Socialist Popular Alliance Party, as well as by activists. Ibrahim Omara was relocated to Ismailia, where another incident of a detainee’s death in custody has been reported, amid accusations of torture. The Administrative Court is also due to issue a verdict on December 14 in response to a lawsuit filed by a Beheira resident in which he is demanding compensation for physical damages he sustained at the hands of a policeman who allegedly tortured him. [Ahram Online, AP, DNE, 12/3/2015]

Russia ready for discussions over lifting flight ban to Egypt
Russia is set to begin discussions with Egyptian authorities before the end of the year concerning the possibility of restoring flights between the two countries, according to Russia’s Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov. Moscow halted all direct flights by Egyptair from Egypt to Russia in the wake of the crashed Russian A321 aircraft in Sinai. “We can start talking about the [resumption of air traffic with Egypt] now, before the New Year, we will start a joint action plan, but this won’t be easy and will require a very big responsibility,” Sokolov told Russia 24 TV channel. The Russian statement comes two days after Egyptian Minister of Tourism Hisham Zaazou agreed with British ambassador in Egypt John Casson on a joint action plan by the end of November for the return of flights between the UK and Sharm al-Sheikh as soon as possible. [DNE,  12/2/2015]

Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia to hold six-party meeting on Renaissance Dam next week
Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia will a hold a six-party meeting in the Sudanese capital Khartoum on Sunday and Monday for talks on Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam, according to Egyptian Irrigation Minister Hossam Moghazi. The meeting will be attended by the foreign minister as well as the water and irrigation minister from each attending country. The meeting aims to revive technical talks on the dam, and to discuss Egyptian concerns. Moghazi also said that the ministers will discuss means to implement the declaration of principles signed by the three countries in March 2015. Moghazi explained that this meeting constitutes a new level of negotiations and is a significant step towards addressing the concerns of the involved parties. A tenth round of talks is scheduled to take place in Khartoum following the six-party meeting. Meanwhile, Sudan’s President Omar al-Bashir described the Egyptian media as “poor” and “fuelling conflict” between Sudan and Egypt, citing the circulation of news about holding Egyptian elections in the disputed territories of Halayib and Shalateen. [Ahram Online, MENA, AMAY, 12/2/2015]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


Italy seeks international meeting on Libya in Rome
Italy wants to host an international meeting in Rome this month to promote a political deal between rival governments in Libya and open the way to fight Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants there, Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said on Wednesday. Italy is at work to bring the international community together to make a “decisive push” for a political agreement on a unity government in Libya, Gentiloni said in the Senate. Gentiloni’s proposed date for the meeting, which would include regional and global players, is December 13. He said it was urgent to get an accord in place quickly in order to fight ISIS. Gentiloni’s announcement came after he met in Brussels with several of his NATO counterparts on Tuesday and Wednesday. [Reuters, AFP, Libya Herald, 12/2/2015]

Senior Libyan commander killed in Benghazi
A Libyan official says a senior Libyan National Army (LNA) commander, Colonel Ali al-Thamen, has been killed in Benghazi by a roadside bomb. A military spokesman for the eastern government says al-Thamen died Wednesday after stepping on a mine at Benghazi’s Sidi Faraj frontline. LNA troops have recently driven militants from an alliance of Islamic factions, including Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), out of the area, according to a military spokesman. Twenty-seven Libyan soldiers have been killed and 36 injured in recent clashes in Benghazi. [AP, Libya Herald, ANSAmed, 12/2/2015]

Arbitrary detentions in Libya may constitute crimes against humanity
Thousands of people have been detained without charge in Libya for more than a year, Human Rights Watch said in a report released Wednesday. The widespread and systematic nature of these long-term arbitrary detentions may constitute a crime against humanity. The report documents long-term arbitrary detention and torture and other ill-treatment in four prisons in Tripoli and Misrata that are administered by the Judicial Police and controlled by the Justice Ministry of the Tripoli-based government. The report is based on individual interviews by Human Rights Watch with 120 detainees. [HRW, 12/2/2015]

Amnesty International criticizes abuse of emergency measures in Tunisia
Security forces have carried out scores of arrests and detentions in the wake of last week’s suicide attack in central Tunis in a troubling sign that the authorities are reverting to repressive and abusive measures, said Amnesty International. At least 1,880 raids have been carried out across the country and 155 people arrested on suspicion of belonging to terrorist organizations since the state of emergency was declared on November 24, according to the Ministry of Interior. At least a further 138 people have been placed under house arrest. The organization spoke to residents who suffered a series of night time raids by security forces who stormed homes in the La Goulette district of Tunis threatening residents, including women children and the elderly, at gunpoint and arresting dozens of people in the early hours of November 27. [Amnesty International, Tunisia Live, AFP (French), 12/2/2015]

Tourism down 26 percent in Tunisia
About 4.8 million tourists have visited Tunisia as of November 20, down 26 percent compared to the same period last year, said Minister of Tourism Salma Rekik. Speaking during the parliamentary debates on the Tourism Ministry’s budget for 2016, Rekik attributed this decline to the security situation. She noted, however, that the number of Algerian tourists has increased by 17.2 percent. Rekik reported a 33 percent decrease in tourist revenues in foreign currency compared with the last year, saying they reached 2,087.4 million dinars as of the end of October 2015. Overnight stays in Tunisian hotels declined 44 percent to nearly 15 million. [TAP, 12/2/2015]


Kerry calls for Syrian, Arab ground troops against ISIS
US Secretary of State John Kerry called Thursday for Syrian and Arab ground troops to take on ISIS fighters to enable a complete defeat of the organization. “I think we know it, that without the ability to find some ground forces that are prepared to take on Daesh [ISIS], this will not be won completely from the air,” Kerry told delegates a gathering of dozens of foreign ministers in Belgrade. When asked later whether he was referring to Western or Syrian ground forces, he said, “Syrian and Arab, as we have been consistently.” He also said that ISIS can be defeated within months of a ceasefire between Syria’s government and moderate rebels. [AFP, 12/3/2015]

Russia-Syria prepare for Idlib battle; FSA coalition launches new offensive in the south
Russian and Syrian forces have been holding joint training exercises in Syria’s Latakia province for the past few days to prepare for fighting in neighboring rebel-held Idlib, a security source said Wednesday. “The exercises were being conducted in an area of Latakia with similar terrain to Idlib province, which is held by a coalition of rebels known as the Army of Conquest. In the next stage, Idlib will become the major destination and most important target of joint Russian-Syrian military operations,” the source said. The Army of Conquest took control of the province earlier this year. Meanwhile, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) Southern Front coalition has launched a new offensive to seize a base in the Daraa province near Sanamayn, one of the regime’s major lines of defense. A collection of 12 rebel factions in southern Syria announced Wednesday the beginning of a joint-operation to capture the artillery base in Jaddiyeh. [AFP, NOW, 12/3/2015]

Syrian opposition figures accept Saudi invite to attend Riyadh conference
The Syrian National Coalition has accepted an invitation from Saudi Arabia to attend talks with opposition groups at the upcoming conference in Riyadh. The meeting will bring together Syrian political and military opposition factions by the middle of December in an effort to form a unified delegation before negotiations with the Assad regime in Vienna. Coalition representative for Daraa governorate, Mohammed Qaddah said that Saudi Arabia has invited 20 Coalition members. He noted the other invitees including six figures of the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change, representatives of the Army of Islam, the Southern Front, Ajnad al-Sham, al-Jabha al-Shamiya, and four sheikhs. At least 20 other national figures were also invited, including Louay Hussein, Mona Ghanem, and Jihad Makdissi. [Syrian Observer, 12/3/2015]

Russia, Turkey trade accusations over who bought oil from ISIS
Russian military officials laid out Wednesday what they say is hard evidence that Turkey is involved in an oil trade with ISIS, offering more detail on earlier claims that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has flatly denied. Russian officials presented photographs and videos that they said show links between Turkey and oil refineries in ISIS-controlled territory in Syria, estimating $3 million worth of oil per day traversing this route before Russian airstrikes cut that roughly in half. Russian military leader Sergey Rudskoy pointed to “three main routes [that] have been exposed for the transportation of oil to Turkey,” one ending in Turkish ports on the Mediterranean Sea, another at an oil refinery in Batman and a third in Cizre. Keeping up his own tough talk, the Turkish President denied the allegations during a speech at Qatar University. Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said the Turkish and Russian foreign ministers will meet on the sidelines of an Organization for Security and Cooperation meeting in Belgrade, Serbia–the first high-level meeting since the crisis in relations began. A ministry official said the meeting between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Turkey’s Mevlut Cavusoglu was scheduled for the afternoon. [CNN, AP, 12/3/2015]

Germany considering sending aircraft to Turkey’s Incirlik base
Germany’s Defense Minister is due for talks in Turkey on Thursday as Berlin considers sending aircraft to Incirlik airbase as part of operations to confront ISIS, diplomatic sources said on Wednesday. Germany has vowed to take a more active stance against the Islamist militant group after it masterminded an attack in Paris last month that killed 130 people and raised security fears across Europe. Berlin has already decided to deploy a frigate in the Mediterranean and send six scout planes and a tanker aircraft to an undisclosed location, the sources said. “Turkey’s approval and an agreement is necessary before we can deploy German planes in Incirlik base and the final decision has not been made,” one source said. [Reuters, 12/2/2015]

Leaders urge restraint after assassination in Iraq’s Kirkuk
Gunmen shot dead a prominent Sunni Arab official in the northern Iraqi oil city of Kirkuk, police and medical sources said on Tuesday, in an attack that risks inflaming tensions in the ethnically mixed area. Mohammed al-Jubouri, head of the Arab bloc in the Kirkuk provincial council, was killed in his car while traveling near his home in a central neighborhood, said police chief Brigadier Saraht Qadir. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack. Political leaders in Kirkuk Wednesday urged restraint and unity after the assassination. Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has ordered a thorough and independent investigation. [Reuters, AFP, 12/2/2015]

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


Saudi Arabia accused of bombing MSF medical facility in Yemen
The Saudi-led coalition has reportedly bombed a medical facility in Yemen,  injuring nine people including two aid workers. Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) said local sources claimed a mobile clinic in the village of al-Khashabeh, al-Houban area, had been hit by air strikes on Wednesday afternoon. The agency said it had repeatedly shared coordinates of the clinic with Riyadh in the days before the strike. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for a prompt investigation into the attack. The attack coincides with the release of a UN report on Wednesday saying more than 15.2 million Yemenis now lack access to health care services. The UN World Health Organization (WHO) said, “Insecurity, power shortages and a lack of fuel have led to the closure of almost one in four health facilities.” The WHO needs $83 million to address Yemen’s health care crisis but has so far received only $37 million. [UN, The Independent, The Daily Star, 12/3/2015]

Al-Qaeda militants quit South Yemen town of Jaar but remain in Zinjibar
Al-Qaeda militants who fought their way into the southern Yemeni town of Jaar on Wednesday have withdrawn and police are back in control, although the militant group remains in the nearby town of Zinjibar. The Ansar al-Sharia militants, affiliates of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), took over Jaar in an early morning surprise attack. They withdrew hours later and regrouped at an old ammunition factory 25-30 km away, after blowing up the house of the commander of a local tribal militia group. In Zinjibar residents said that al-Qaeda fighters were briefly deployed on the streets on Wednesday before returning to their compound. The militants have long had a presence in the town without fully controlling it. They described the al-Qaeda force as mostly local tribesmen who had helped fend off attempts by the Houthi rebels to advance in the area earlier this year. [NYT, 12/3/2015]

ISIS militants kill two Yemen tribesmen
Militants have killed two members of an influential tribe in southeastern Yemen, tribal sources said Thursday, accusing the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) of carrying out the executions. A senior tribesman said, “Supporters of Daesh [ISIS] on Wednesday executed members of the Awlaki tribe after kidnapping them.” Another tribal source said the two men kidnapped, Hashem and Ahmed Maklam al-Tunssi, were killed in Seiyun, the second largest town in Hadramawt province, where AQAP has a significant presence. The pro-government Popular Resistance fighters in Hadramawt confirmed the deaths of the two men in a statement accusing ISIS of the killing. [AFP, 12/3/2015]

British diplomat says Yemen peace talks likely in mid-December
Britain’s UN Ambassador Matthew Rycroft says UN-led talks aimed at ending the conflict in Yemen will probably take place in Geneva in mid-December. Rycroft told reporters Wednesday that the UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed has been meeting government and Houthi rebel leaders in preparation for the talks. He said the Security Council is united and has urged all parties to enter the new talks without preconditions and to send delegations empowered to make decisions. He added that resolving the crisis is particularly urgent due to organizations like al-Qaeda profiting from the chaos. Meanwhile, fighting continued at the Saudi border where eight civilians including two children were wounded in Saudi Arabia from Yemen cross-border shelling. [NYT, AFP, 12/2/2015]


Saudi floats idea to lift oil prices but Iran, Russia reject cuts
Saudi Arabia reportedly floated the idea of a global deal to balance oil markets and lift prices, although fellow producers Iran and Russia on Thursday rejected the prospect of cutting output. Saudi Arabia may propose that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) cut output by 1 million barrels per day (bpd) next year. A report by Energy Intelligence quoted a senior OPEC delegate as saying the Saudis would agree to cut production if Iraq freezes production increases and Iran and non-OPEC members, including Russia, contribute. “We cannot cut alone. Everyone has to contribute to that—Iran, Iraq, and the rest outside OPEC,” the Wall Street Journal quoted a Gulf official as saying. A Saudi source called the report “baseless” but declined to comment further. Iran’s OPEC Governor Mehdi Asali said a cut in OPEC oil production is unlikely. Russian Oil Minister Alexander Novak said he sees no need for Moscow to decrease oil production and does not expect OPEC to change output policies at a meeting on Friday. Iraqi Oil Minister Adel Abdel Mahdi said Iraq will maintain its oil production plans. [Reuters, Bloomberg, 12/3/2015]

Egypt’s Central Bank to inject dollar liquidity over next month
The Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) plans to inject dollar liquidity into the market this month and is planning an exceptional foreign exchange auction. A statement issued following a meeting between President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and CBE Governor Tarek Amer said that Egypt’s foreign reserves are stable and will improve in the coming period. The statement did not say where Egypt would source the dollars for the planned foreign exchange injections or how it expects to rebuild its foreign currency reserves. Meanwhile, the CBE said its new mechanism for dollar auctions will allocate dollars based on banks’ effectiveness in providing foreign currency to the local market, stressing the priority on covering basic goods. The new mechanism will assess banks based on their ability to extend credit facilities in foreign currency to cover their clients’ needs. [Reuters, DNE, 12/2/2015]

Russia halts work on Turkish Stream gas pipeline project
Russia has suspended preparatory work on the Turkish Stream pipeline project, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said. “Currently work on Turkish Stream has been halted,” Novak said, because “an intergovernmental commission on trade and economic cooperation has stopped meeting.” However, Novak said talks on building a nuclear power plant in Turkey remain open. Meanwhile, Turkish officials have said they are not very worried about Russian trade sanctions against Turkish goods. “Our trade with Russia is just at around 1 percent of our gross domestic product. This is not an intolerable amount as we can compensate this loss by increasing our trade with other countries,” Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek said. “We have already been in search of alternative markets. At this point, we can overcome the losses with other markets, such as European Union members,” he added. [Reuters, AFP, 12/3/2015]

Turkey open to LNG storage projects with Qatar
Turkey’s Petroleum Pipeline Corporation and Qatar’s national oil company signed a memorandum of understanding for long term liquefied natural gas (LNG) trade on Wednesday. According to Turkey’s Energy and Natural Resources Ministry, both parties signed the memorandum in order to provide regular and long term LNG trade to Turkey. The amount of LNG to be traded was not specified. “We viewed positively a possible LNG storage investment or other steps with Qatar, as a result of obvious developments regarding Turkey,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. Turkey has previously explored the possibility of LNG storage projects with Russia and negotiations with Qatar aim to cover any shortages in gas supplies from Russia. However, a source from Russia’s Gazprom told Reutersthat gas supplies to Turkey are flowing normally. Erdogan also announced the signing of a visa-free travel agreement between Turkey and Qatar. [Reuters, Anadolu Agency, 12/2/2015]