Top News: France Flies Surveillance Missions over ISIS-held Areas of Libya

French military aircraft recently flew reconnaissance and intelligence missions over Libya, including over areas controlled by Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), and more are planned, a presidential document shows. According to the press dossier provided on Friday ahead of President Francois Hollande’s visit to the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier off the coast of Syria, French aircraft flew two missions on November 20 and 21 around Sirte and Tobruk. Sirte is controlled by the group. The French government had not previously acknowledged carrying out operations over ISIS zones in Libya. [Reuters, 12/4/2015]



Molotov cocktail attack kills 16 at Cairo nightclub
A firebomb attack on a small nightclub in Cairo early Friday killed 16 people and wounded three others, authorities said. Police were looking for two young men who carried out the attack because they were previously not allowed to enter, state news agency MENA reported. A statement posted on the Interior Ministry’s Facebook page said a preliminary investigation showed the attack happened after a dispute between the staff and some other people, who then threw Molotov cocktails at the entrance. Security officials earlier said the attacker was an employee who had been fired from the restaurant in the Agouza area in the center of the Egyptian capital. Victims of the blast were burned to death or died from smoke inhalation in the establishment. El Sayad restaurant, which is also an unofficial nightclub, was located in a basement, offering no escape route, the officials said. Online video posted by newspaper Youm7 showed thick black smoke pouring through the doorway of El Sayad as onlookers milled outside unable to help. [Ahram Online, DNE, AP, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, The Guardian, 12/4/2015]

Early results show independents seize unprecedented power in new parliament
As the second and final phase of the parliamentary elections comes to an end, early results show that independent candidates will hold a critical bloc — a marked shift from Egypt’s long-standing tradition of majority parties ruling the parliament. Unofficial tallies issued by candidates and media outlets suggest that independent candidates won 317 out of 596 seats, seizing more than 50 percent of parliament. Coptic candidates gained 36 seats, 12 as independents and 24 on the four electoral lists. Media personalities and journalists won 11 seats, and women won 73 seats, equal to 12 percent of seats in parliament, including 17 independents and 56 on the winning lists. About 50 former police and army major generals also won seats. Meanwhile, the little known anti-Shiite coalition, Kheir al-Ummah, called on President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to choose one of its members among the 28 appointed members of parliament to “reveal Iran’s agents and the Shiite lobby.” [Mada Masr, 12/4/2015[

Autopsy confirms Luxor man tortured to death, four officers detained
Egypt’s prosecution detained four Luxor officers Thursday four days pending investigation on charges of torturing a detainee, Talaat Shabib, to death. The Luxor prosecutor also summoned five low-ranking officers for questioning in the case. The decision came shortly after an autopsy report was released showing that a severe beating to Shabib’s neck and back broke his vertebrae and ultimately cut his spinal cord, causing his death. [Ahram Online, Mada Masr, Aswat Masriya (Arabic), 12/4/2015]

Detained journalist Ismail Alexandrani’s interrogation postponed, lawyers denied access
The Supreme State Security prosecution postponed Thursday the interrogation of journalist and researcher Ismail Alexandrani to Monday December 7, due to difficulties in transporting Alexandrani from his place of detention, defense lawyer Mohamed Baker alleged in a statement on his Facebook page. Alexandrani’s defense lawyers, including rights advocate Khaled Ali, were also barred from entering the prosecution’s premises, where they believed Alexandrani was to be interrogated. Security forces argued an x-ray machine had not yet been installed in the building to allow them safe entry, lawyer Ahmed Abdel Naby said in a Facebook statement. The lawyers filed a complaint of misconduct and mistreatment with the State Security Prosecution. Alexandrani was detained fifteen days pending investigation earlier this week on multiple charges, including spreading false news. [Mada Masr, Aswat Masriya, 12/3/2015]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


Two arrested on suspicion of planning suicide attacks in Tunisian capital
Tunisian police have arrested two suspected jihadists planning suicide attacks in the capital Tunis, the Interior Ministry said on Friday, ten days after a suicide bombing in downtown Tunis killed twelve presidential guards. Since last week’s attack in the capital, authorities have arrested dozens of people and put scores more under house arrest on suspicion of having fought or trained with Islamist militant groups in Syria, Iraq, or Libya. [Reuters, 12/4/2015]

Tunisia labor union leader says no agreement reached on private sector wage increase
Leaders of the Tunisian General Labor Union (UGTT) and the Tunisian Confederation of Industry, Trade, and Handicrafts (UTICA) have not yet reached an agreement on a wage increase deal for private sector workers, said UGTT Secretary General Hussein Abassi. Abassi said he “deeply” regrets that even a draft agreement could not be reached in spite of the mediation of the Prime Ministry. “There is no real will to arrive at an agreement and positions are still quite far apart,” he pointed out. Abassi said another meeting is due Friday at the seat of the Prime Ministry. Prime Minister Habib Essid, who has emphasized the “ugent need” for agreement, is expected to propose a commission to break the deadlock. The commission will include two members from the UGTT, two from the UTICA, and two representatives of the government. [TAP, 12/4/2015]

Algeria’s Bouteflika goes to France for medical visit
Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has left for France for a brief routine medical checkup, the presidency said in a statement on APS state news agency on Thursday. Bouteflika, 78, who was treated in a Paris military hospital after suffering a stroke in 2013, has been seen mostly in brief television images or in photographs on state media since winning a fourth term in office last year. He has visited France on occasion for checkups since his illness. Questions over Bouteflika’s health have left his critics asking what happens next, who replaces him if he cannot govern for his entire term, and how that affects the country’s political and economic reforms. [Reuters, AP, 12/3/2015]


Germany approves anti-ISIS military action in Syria; French president to visit aircraft carrier off Syria
Germany’s lower house of parliament on Friday approved government plans to join the military campaign against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in Syria. Even in Germany where there has traditionally been reluctance to engage in military missions abroad, the government’s decision to take direct action in Syria has been largely met with support. The mission will include sending six Tornado reconnaissance jets, a frigate to help protect the French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, refueling aircraft, and up to 1,200 military personnel. Germany however will not be conducting air strikes. Also on Friday, President Francois Hollande will visit the Charles de Gaulle in the eastern Mediterranean off Syria where it is being used to conduct air strikes on ISIS targets, his office said. Hollande is expected to meet fighter pilots and the crews that service the planes in his first visit to one of the sites from which France’s military operations against ISIS are being launched. [Reuters, AFP, 12/4/2015]

US reportedly preparing airbase in northeastern Syria
The United States is preparing an airbase in northeastern Syria as a conduit of supplies for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) coalition fighting ISIS, according to a pro-Damascus newspaper and a local Kurdish outlet. Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar reported Friday morning that US experts were “close to finishing the preparation of an agricultural airport” in a region of eastern Hasaka controlled by the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG). “American technicians have worked for more than one and a half months to expand and prepare the airport with a runway specialized for warplanes,” the report claimed. The pro-Syrian regime newspaper said that the airbase was located southeast of the town of Rimelan, which is one of the YPG’s main strongholds and “largest arms and ammunition depots.” According to the report, the airfield was used by Hasaka’s Directorate of Agriculture for crop dusting and has been out of service since 2010. [NOW, 12/4/2015]

Syria opposition to meet next week in Riyadh
A conference bringing together dozens of figures from Syria’s political and armed opposition will be held next week in Riyadh, opposition members said Friday. According to Samir Nashar, a member of the opposition National Coalition, “the meeting will be in Riyadh on Tuesday and Wednesday, and maybe Thursday if necessary.” He said that twenty people would represent the Coalition and that ten other opposition figures were also invited. However, the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) and its affiliated People’s Protection Units (YPG) have yet to be invited because of pressure from the Istanbul-based Coalition, Nashar said. An opposition source said the armed factions invited are those “not considered terrorist groups,” including the powerful Jaysh al-Islam and the rebel Southern Front. [AFP, 12/4/2015]

Pressure mounting on Dutch to join Syria air strikes
Pressure is mounting on the Netherlands to join US-led air strikes against ISIS in Syria, with several lawmakers late Thursday joining calls for a bombing campaign. The Dutch cabinet however said it would reach a decision to take part in the US-led operation only once “all military and political aspects” of the Syrian conflict had been discussed. “It will be good to see a stop being put to [ISIS]’s Syrian pipeline,” said Han ten Broeke, lawmaker for Prime Minister’s Mark Rutte’s People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD). Four Dutch F-16 jet fighters have been hitting ISIS in Iraq since October last year, but The Hague said it would not carry out air strikes over Syria without a UN mandate. Dutch Foreign Minister Bert Koenders told the meeting that requests have been received from both France and the United States to join the coalition in bombing ISIS in Syria. [AFP, 12/4/2015]

‘Nothing new’ from Russia-Turkey talks on downed fighter jet
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said he had heard “nothing new” from his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu on Dec. 3 after the first high-level bilateral contact between the two countries since the Turkish air force shot down a Russian jet on Nov. 24. He said Russia had reiterated its own position during the meeting with Cavusoglu on the sidelines of a conference of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in the Serbian capital Belgrade. In a speech during a visit to Baku, Azerbaijan, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu again defended Turkey’s action and said Turkey will not apologize for defending its borders. “No one can blame Turkey, no one can expect an apology from Turkey,” Davutoglu said in the speech, which was televised on Turkish television. [AP, Hurriyet, 12/3/2015]

Nearly 3,000 migrants detained in four days in Turkey’s west
Nearly 3,000 migrants and suspected human traffickers have been detained in the northwestern province of Canakkale over the past four days, in operations conducted to stop migrants from crossing over to Greek islands through Turkey. Canakkale Gendarmerie Command forces have captured at least 2,933 migrants in the province’s Ayvacik district since Dec. 1, in operations it says were launched to prevent both migrant deaths and illegal crossings into Lesbos, a Greek island. In addition, thirty-five people have been detained on suspicion of human trafficking. [Hurriyet, 12/4/2015]

UN reports 16 mass graves found after Iraq’s Sinjar freed from ISIS
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Iraq said on Friday that it has received reports of sixteen mass graves discovered near the town of Sinjar after it was liberated from ISIS last month.There were no immediate details about how many bodies might be inside the newly found Sinjar graves, according to OHCHR spokeswoman Cecile Pouilly. Among the first mass graves uncovered in Sinjar, one near the town’s center has been estimated to contain the bodies of seventy-eight elderly women, and another, about 15 kilometers (10 miles) outside of Sinjar, with between fifty and sixty bodies of men, women, and children, according to the Sinjar Head of Intelligence Qasim Samir. Meanwhile, the US-led coalition aircraft carried out eighteen airstrikes on Iraq Friday, including one near Sinjar that targeted an ISIS tactical unit. [AP, 12/4/2015]

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


Saudi Arabia investigates strike on aid group in Yemen
Saudi Arabia began an investigation Friday after an aid group said the kingdom’s coalition targeting Houthi rebels in Yemen struck one of its clinics, the second such strike in recent months. Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said Saudi-led airstrikes Wednesday hit its clinic in the city of Taiz in southern Yemen, wounding nine people. In a statement Friday the coalition said it began the investigation to verify whether the news is true. It said it would “publish the findings with the utmost transparency and frankness.” However, the statement also said aid groups needed to have “beforehand coordination” with the military and “remain away from the places where the Houthi militias are present.” MSF says it provided the clinic’s coordinates several times to the military campaign before it was struck. [AP, 12/4/2015]

Germany rebukes its own intelligence agency for criticizing Saudi policy
The German government issued an unusual public rebuke to its own foreign intelligence service, the BND, on Thursday over a blunt memo saying that Saudi Arabia was playing an increasingly destabilizing role in the Middle East. The German Foreign Ministry in Berlin, which said the German Embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, had issued a statement making clear that the BND statement reported by media is not the position of the federal government, flatly repudiated the intelligence agency’s memo. The BND declined on Thursday to comment on the memo, although an agency spokesman Martin Heinemann disputed German media reports describing it as a warning. [NYT, 12/3/2015]

Hundreds rally in Saudi for death row Shias
Hundreds of Saudi Shias rallied in the east of the kingdom on Friday to support activists whose execution they fear could be imminent. It was the second Friday in a row that a mass gathering was held in solidarity with Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr and other death row detainees. Activists say three of them were minors at the time of their arrest after protests that began in 2011 in eastern Saudi Arabia, where most of the country’s Shia minority live. Nimr was a driving force behind the protests that developed into a call for equality in the Sunni-ruled kingdom, where many Shias have complained of marginalization. An estimated 600 or 700 people attended the rally in solidarity with the cleric. So far this year, more than 150 people have been executed, the highest figure recorded by human rights groups for twenty years. Dozens of them were convicted of nonviolent crimes, including drug offences. Human rights activists say many of the trials were unfair. [AFP, BBC, 12/4/2015]

Popular Resistance fighters integrated into Yemeni army
The Yemeni army and the security forces have begun integrating 12,000 members of the Popular Resistance in Aden governorate into its forces. The governor of Aden, Major General Gaffar Mohamed Saad, said that people above the age of twenty-eight would be absorbed and trained in the army. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has also set up camps to help train new soldiers. President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi returned to Yemen last month to oversee the ongoing Taiz offensive and to establish a temporary government based in Aden. There are growing concerns over the security situation in the country, as al-Qaeda has tightened its control over and made significant progress in the Abyan province. [Al Masdar, 12/4/2015]


Saudi Naimi says global oil demand can absorb Iran output jump
Saudi Arabian Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said that growing global demand will be able to absorb an anticipated jump in Iranian production next year. Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zangeneh said he expects the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) to roll over production policies following the meeting today. Naimi said he expects the meeting to go smoothly. He reiterated Saudi Arabia’s willingness to cooperate with any who are willing to help balance the oil market. Zangeneh said Tehran would be prepared to discuss OPEC quotas or other actions to lower production only when his country reaches pre-sanction oil output levels. Both Iran and Iraq plan to boost exports in 2016, which could potentially worsen one of the worst oil gluts in history. [Reuters, 12/4/2015]

Turkey mounts charm offensive among regional energy producers amid dispute with Russia
Turkey’s leaders have mounted a charm offensive among regional energy producers in an effort to diversify supplies as relations with major natural gas provider Russia deteriorate following the downing of a Russian warplane by the Turkish air force. President Tayyip Erdogan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visited Qatar and Azerbaijan respectively this week in an effort to avert any economically damaging disruption in energy supplies. “There is indeed a crisis right now… We are exploring how we can offset this,” a Turkish energy official said. “Davutoglu and Erdogan have personally taken the initiative to make sure Turkey doesn’t experience a problem in terms of energy supplies.” Meanwhile on Thursday, Turkey’s European Union (EU) Minister Volkan Bozkir said that Ankara is ready to boost energy cooperation with the EU. Bozkir met with EU officials in Brussels and noted Turkey’s intention to invest $125 billion in the energy sector by 2030. [Reuters, 12/3/2015]

Egypt’s foreign reserves rise slightly in November
Egypt’s foreign currency reserves rose to $16.422 billion dollars at the end of November from $16.415 billion the previous month, according to the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE). The statistics were released a day after new CBE Governor Tarek Amer met with president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and told him that foreign reserves were stable and would improve. Bankers had been watching for a dip in reserves after the CBE pumped additional dollar liquidity into the banking sector in recent weeks to ease a foreign exchange crisis. Meanwhile, Sisi met with a group of Egyptian businessmen on Thursday and emphasized the importance of the private sector and investment in Egypt’s economy. He asked the businessmen to form a contact group of Egyptian business leaders and investors that would communicate directly with the presidency. [Reuters, Ahram Online, SIS, 12/3/2015]

Tunisia eyes 5 percent growth in next five years
Tunisia’s five year development plan for 2016-2020 aims to achieve 5 percent growth, according to Minister of Development, Investment, and International Cooperation Yassine Brahim. “The broad lines of Tunisia’s development plan provide for a series of bold reforms, a gradual recovery of economic growth for a sustained growth, and a noticeable reduction of unemployment,” Brahim said in remarks at the opening of the second Tunisian-German economic forum. More than 200 businessmen from Tunisia and Germany are participating in the forum. In addition, President Beji Caid Essebsi met with President of the Euro-Mediterranean and Arab Association for Economic Cooperation (EMA) Christian Wulff. Wulff affirmed Germany’s commitment to Tunisia and stressed the need for Tunisia to achieve sustainable growth. [TAP, 12/3/2015]

Iraqi Kurdistan’s cash crisis hits banks
Iraqi Kurdistan’s cash-strapped government has seized billions of dollars in deposits at two branches of the Central Bank of Iraq since 2014, bankers said. Since Baghdad cut budget payments to Kurdistan in January 2014, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) has struggled to meet the public payroll and is now several months in arrears. Though initially envisioned as a temporary measure, the KRG Finance Ministry’s practice of tapping funds that banks had deposited in their current accounts at local branches of Iraq’s central bank has continued. State-run Iraqi lenders and institutions from Lebanon, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates may sue or threaten to divest from the KRG if their funds are not released soon, bankers said. “We funded the revenue gap through advances from banks including the Central Bank of Iraq’s branches in Erbil and Sulaimaniyah,” said KRG Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani. “Ultimately it’s a liquidity issue caused by the fiscal crisis in Baghdad.” That move led to the freezing of around two dozen banks’ current accounts at central bank branches in Kurdistan. Talabani confirmed banks operating in the region had problems accessing their funds. [Reuters, 12/4/2015]