Top News: UN Struggles to Move Aid Inside Syria as EU Leaders Advance Ceasefire Agenda in Brussels

Aid workers report that minimal progress has been made in delivering aid to thousands of besieged residents. They have called for the UN Security Council to renew a resolution that permits the UN to move more aid through four border crossings in Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq without the regime’s approval, but deteriorating security conditions are likely to hinder delivery of much needed aid in the most contested regions.

As the humanitarian situation worsens, EU foreign ministers will meet in Brussels to discuss a UN plan to implement a temporary freeze in fighting in Aleppo. The foreign ministers met informally Sunday with UN special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura, who first advanced the temporary freeze proposal to deescalate violence and permit delivery of humanitarian aid as a precursor to peace talks. [APDaily Star, 12/15/2014]




US analyst denied Egypt entry at airport; Foreign ministry blames it on visa
Egypt denied entry to a prominent American analyst and former diplomat, Michele Dunne, arriving at Cairo’s international airport Saturday to speak at a conference hosted by the Egyptian Council of Foreign Affairs. State news reported that Dunne was refused entry for security reasons, adding that she is on an entry ban list. “Some Egyptians complain I don’t list[en] enough to pro-government views. When I accept invite to [conference] of [a] pro-government group, they deny me entry,” Dunne commented via her Twitter account. Mohamed Ibrahim Shaker, vice president of the Egyptian Council on Foreign Affairs, said that the council had invited Dunne to the conference as an attempt to change her views. “This is a security decision that we won’t interfere in, because the security apparatus knows better about these situations and is keen on the stability of the country,” he added.  Egypt’s foreign affairs ministry stated on Sunday that she was denied entry because she had no visa. The statement said Dunne went to the Egyptian consulate in Washington where she submitted a visa request form but withdrew her passport without completing the procedure, and decided to apply for a visa on entry, which can only be obtained for purposes of tourism. Dunne wrote on her Twitter account, “US citizens are allowed to obtain a visa at the airport for business as well as tourism in Egypt…” [Ahram Online, DNE, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, The Guardian, 12/14/2014]

Egypt sends 439 to military trials over violence
The Egyptian prosecution referred on Saturday 439 defendants to the military judiciary over violence, which followed the deadly dispersal of two pro-Mohamed Morsi camps in August 2013. Egypt’s top prosecutor referred 139 defendants, believed to be Muslim Brotherhood supporters, to a military tribunal over the killing of a police officer and two policemen, as well as breaking into a police station in Minya and torching it. The Damanhour general prosecutor referred 300 more to the military prosecution, accusing them of torching the Beheira Governorate building. Minya lawyer Gamal Abdul Hameed said the Minya case was referred to the military prosecution based on a decree passed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in October that expanded the jurisdiction of military courts. [DNE, AP, Aswat Masriya, 12/13/2014]

Egypt’s state council ratifies parliamentary constituencies law
Egypt’s state council has ratified the parliamentary elections constituencies law sending it back to the government to review amendments it has made. The law that was passed by the cabinet last week is the final step necessary before the parliamentary vote expected last year. The state council’s department of legislation ‎revises the legal terminology of the law as well as its constitutional stance. After the government approves the law’s final draft, it must be ratified by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who holds all legislative powers until a new parliament is sworn in. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, 12/15/2014]

Egypt detains three accused of discussing sabotage in public
Cairo police briefly detained three Egyptians, including two with British citizenship, after reportedly discussing ways to destabilize the country during next month’s anniversary of the 2011 uprising, a security official and a British diplomat said Sunday. The Egyptian official said the three were apprehended at a subway station Saturday night after a passenger told police they were speaking in English about burning homes and businesses on the anniversary of the January 2011 uprising. The three denied the accusations and the case was referred to prosecutors, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to brief reporters. A British diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity in line with regulations said the British nationals were provided consular assistance and were subsequently released. It was not immediately clear if the Egyptian was also released or if the case was closed. [AP, 12/14/2014]

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Fighting breaks out near Libya’s main border crossing with Tunisia
Fighting between armed factions aligned with Libya’s competing governments broke out on Sunday near the country’s main border crossing to Tunisia, Libyan and Tunisian officials said. The Ras Jedir crossing is effectively closed, and Tunisia has deployed more security forces to the area. It is unclear which group currently controls the crossing, as media outlets close to either Operation Libya Dawn or Operation Dignity forces both claim their respective side is controlling the crossing. Libya Dawn was understood to be previously in control of the area. [Reuters, Libya Monitor (subscription), Libya Herald, 12/15/2014]

Clashes force closure of Libya’s two biggest oil terminals, force majeure declared
Due to ongoing clashes, Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) has declared force majeure at the ports of Es Sider and Ras Lanuf, which have a combined capacity of some 550,000 barrels per day. Operation Libya Dawn forces launched a campaign to wrest control of the installations, thought to be held by self-styled federalist leader Ibrahim Jadhran who is loosely aligned with the internationally recognized Tobruk administration. Forces allied with Tobruk also carried out a number of airstrikes against Libya Dawn near Es Sider. Meanwhile, the Tobruk government has appointed a second official to run the NOC, as questions linger about who owns Libya’s oil reserves. [Libya Monitor (subscription), Libya Herald, Reuters, 12/15/2014]

EU could consider new Libya sanctions if it helps peace talks
The European Union (EU) could consider imposing new sanctions on Libya if UN Special Representative Bernardino Leon thought it would help his mediation efforts to end the political crisis there, EU diplomats have said. The prospect of more sanctions had been raised but not discussed in detail, according to one diplomat, who did not specify what type of sanctions could be considered. The second round of UN-brokered negotiations is supposed to happen this week. EU foreign ministers, who hold a regular meeting in Brussels today, will discuss the situation in Libya and explore how the EU can help support Leon’s efforts, a senior official said. [Reuters, 12/12/2014]

Bombing near Tunisian border kills two
Fighting between armed factions allied to Libya’s competing governments broke out on Sunday near the the Tunisian border crossing of Ras Jedir, according to Libyan and Tunisian officials. Sources indicated that at least two Libyans were killed in the bombing raid that targeted the Boukamèche zone and a security post in the Libyan territory six miles from the Tunisian border. Tunisian authorities stressed that the Tunisian border remained open, but discouraged Tunisian citizens against traveling into Libya. [TAP, Asharq al-Awsat, 12/14/2014]

Prosecutor denies investigation into Interim President Marzouki
A Spokesperson for the Tunis First Instance Court denied claims by a media outlet indicating that the Public Prosecutor had opened an investigation against Interim President Moncef Marzouki and former Director of the Presidential Cabinet Adnene Mansar for violation of Article 18 of the anti-terrorism law. The spokesman confirmed that an investigation had been launched into assassination threats made against the Nidaa Tounes’ presidential candidate Beji Caid Essebsi on September 15, 2014 but stressed that the investigation was focused on individuals with ties to terrorist networks and organizations. [TAP, 12/12/2014]


Nusra Front captures key government bases in Idlib
Rebel fighters allied to the Nusra Front militant group captured two Syrian army bases Monday in the northwestern province of Idlib after two days of intense fighting that killed dozens of gunmen. The capture of Wadi Deif and Hamidiyeh is a blow to the government that has managed to hold the besieged posts for more than two years and repelled repeated attacks. At least thirty-one government soldiers and twelve opposition fighters have been killed in clashes since Sunday. Local activists told reporters that the capture of both bases pushed retreating government forces into the neighboring village of Maar Hattat where an ensuing siege is likely to raise casualties on both sides. [AP, Asharq al-Awsat, 12/15/2014]

ISIS shoots down Iraqi helicopter over Samarra, as militants capture key towns in Anbar
Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants shot down an Iraqi military helicopter, officials said Saturday, killing the two pilots on board and raising fresh concerns about the extremists’ ability to attack aircraft amid ongoing US-led coalition airstrikes. The plane was shot down over Samarra, sixty miles north of Baghdad, and is the third Iraqi military helicopter brought down by Islamic State militants since October. Meanwhile in Anbar province, ISIS militants stormed a police station and killed nineteen officers as part of an assault that concluded with the capture al-Wafa, twenty-seven miles west of the provincial capital of Ramadi. At least twenty-one Sunni tribal fighters were also executed after ISIS militants captured the town of Kubaisa near the Islamic State stronghold of Hit. [Asharq al-Awsat, Reuters, 12/13/2014]

UN struggles to move aid inside Syria as EU leaders advance ceasefire agenda in Brussels
Aid workers report that minimal progress has been made in delivering aid to thousands of besieged residents. They have called for the UN Security Council to renew a resolution that permits the UN to move more aid through four border crossings in Turkey, Jordan, and Iraq without the regime’s approval, but deteriorating security conditions are likely to hinder delivery of much needed aid in the most contested regions. As the humanitarian situation worsens, EU foreign ministers will meet in Brussels to discuss a UN plan to implement a temporary freeze in fighting in Aleppo. The foreign ministers met informally Sunday with UN special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura, who first advanced the temporary freeze proposal to deescalate violence and permit delivery of humanitarian aid as a precursor to peace talks. [AP, Daily Star, 12/15/2014]

Syrian army recaptures territory north of Aleppo in fierce fighting
Syria’s army seized an area north of Aleppo on Sunday and killed insurgents as fierce battles raged in the area east of al-Malah farms outside Aleppo. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that government forces had captured all territory in the al-Malah area as well as areas south and west of Handarat district north of Aleppo. The human rights monitoring group said that government forces were now securing the seized territory and striving to cut rebel supply routes into Aleppo city. [Reuters, 12/15/2014]

French authorities arrest ten suspects in jihadist-recruiting network
The Paris prosecutor’s office on Monday reported that about ten people had been arrested in a recent attempt by authorities dismantle a recruiting network for jihadist groups in Syria. A spokesman from the prosecutor’s office said the investigation into the network was opened in December 2013 and the recent arrests are part of the government’s effort to curb the recruitment of youths to fight in conflicts abroad. So far, a Frenchman linked to Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) has been accused of a deadly shooting at a Brussels Jewish museum. [AP, 12/15/2014]

300 Chinese citizens fighting alongside ISIS militants in Iraq, Syria
About 300 Chinese citizens are fighting alongside ISIS in Iraq and Syria, a Chinese state-run newspaper said Monday, raising concerns within the Chinese government of militants posing a threat to internal security. China has expressed concern about the rise of ISIS in the Middle East, nervous about the effect it could have on its Xinjiang region. Chinese officials blame the East Turkestan Islamic Movement for carrying out attacks in Xinjiang, home to the Muslim Uighur people. China has so far shown no interest in joining US-led efforts to confront the radical jihadist group. [Daily Star, 12/15/2014]


Leading Herak figure among two shot dead in Aden
A separatist activist was among two people shot dead in southern Yemen on Monday, as secessionists staged a day of civil disobedience, witnesses and activists said. Khaled al-Junaidi, a prominent figure in the Southern Movement, was shot in the chest when security forces opened fire while trying to arrest him, activists said. Junaidi was released from prison earlier this month after serving five months for separatist activities, and had been preparing to take part in Monday’s day of action, witnesses said. Most businesses and schools in Aden were closed in response to the call for the demonstration to demand the secession of the formerly independent south. [Reuters, AFP, 12/15/2014]

Security forces kill Saudi-bound al-Qaeda suspects dressed as women
Yemeni troops on Saturday shot dead five al-Qaeda suspects disguised as women who fired at a soldier during a checkpoint inspection of their Saudi-bound bus, officials said. Another suspect and the driver were wounded in the shooting in Haradh, a town nine miles from the Saudi border, the officials said. Two of those killed were Saudi nationals. “As one of the soldiers climbed on board the bus for an inspection, one of the suspects opened fire and wounded him, prompting shooting from other soldiers at the checkpoint,” said a government official. All six had been dressed in black robes and donned the niqab traditionally worn by Yemeni women. A suicide belt and arms were also found on board the bus and the wounded suspect and driver were detained for questioning. [AFP, Asharq al-Awsat, 12/13/2014]

Houthis take control of Arhab in north Sana’a; fourteen Houthi fighters killed in Rida
Houthi fighters took control of the northern Sana’a directorate of Arhab over the weekend following clashes with tribesmen in the area last week. Military and tribal officials said the Houthis used tanks and artillery to shell houses and neighborhoods of rival tribes. The fighting left dozens dead, including twelve tribesmen and two al-Qaeda fighters. The number of Houthi casualties was not confirmed. Sources said the Houthis blew up seven buildings in Arhab, apparently owned by their opponents, despite a ceasefire agreement signed by all parties in September. At least fourteen Houthis were killed in fighting with al-Qaeda in the Yemen’s central province of Bayda over the weekend. Al-Qaeda and tribal fighters attacked positions held by Houthi militants in the Qalala mountains in the Rida district on Sunday, where fighting has gone on for months. [Al Arabiya, Al Jazeera 12/14/2014]

Oman arrests human rights defender who participated in Arab Spring protests
Omani authorities arrested Saeed Jadad, a human rights defender who led Arab spring-inspired protests in the sultanate in 2011, a regional rights group said Friday. Security forces arrested Jadad Wednesday at his home in Salalah. Jadad was known for his active role in organizing and leading pro-reform protests in the southern province of Dhofar in 2011. He was a blogger and signed many petitions urging reform in the sultanate, said the Gulf Center for Human Rights. Scores of Omani activists have been convicted of defaming or using social media networks to insult Sultan Qaboos, who has ruled for forty-four years. Others have been convicted or face trial for taking part in demonstrations calling for political reform. [AFP, 12/13/2014]


Gulf states, OPEC stand fast on production levels
Speaking at a conference in Dubai, OPEC chief Abdullah al-Badri defended the group’s November decision not to cut its output target of 30 million barrels per day (bpd) in the face of a drop in crude prices to multi-year lows. Kuwait’s oil minister Ali al-Omair said on Sunday OPEC’s decision to keep output unchanged was intended to retain market share, even if it had a negative impact on prices, which settled below $62 a barrel on Friday. The move triggered stock markets across the Middle East to fall sharply on Sunday, erasing the year’s gains in Abu Dhabi and hitting an eleven-month low for Qatar. Many analysts believe most governments will be able to maintain comfortable spending, but Oman and Bahrain will be under pressure because of their lower fiscal reserves and higher fiscal break-even prices. [Al Arabiya, 12/14/2014]

Libya declares force majeure for two biggest oil ports, Es Sider and Ras Lanuf
According to the Tripoli-based state National Oil Corp (NOC), Libya has declared “force majeure,” a legal waiver for contractual obligations, for the country’s two biggest oil export ports, Es Sider and Ras Lanuf. Reportedly, oil production to the two eastern ports will be gradually shut down due to clashes between armed factions allied to Libya’s two rival governments closing in on the ports and interrupting oil flows from fields supplying the ports. Es Sider and Ras Lanuf normally ship nearly half of the country’s export capacity. [WSJ, Libya Monitor (subscription), 12/15/2014]

Egypt targets 4.3 percent growth in 2015/16 draft budget
According to Egypt’s finance ministry, the government aims to boost economic growth to 4.3 percent and have a budget gap of 9.5 to 10 percent of gross domestic product in the 2015/16 fiscal year. The government  expects to reach those targets by extending new taxes and cuts to energy subsidies introduced earlier this year. [Reuters, 12/14/2014]

Jordan says steep drop in oil prices requires revising 2015 draft budget
Due to the continuing slide of oil prices budget planners in Amman may need to change key assumptions in next year’s government spending bill currently under debate at the Lower House Finance Committee. According to the head of the committee Yousef Qorneh, the government prepared the draft state budget law based on global oil prices averaging $100 a barrel, with the recent slide in prices to less than $60 a barrel the committee was prompted to stop deliberating the bill. Qorneh said, “The committee will ask the government to redraft articles related to international oil prices.” [The Jordan Times, 12/14/2014]

CBS suspends credit facilitations to protect Syrian Pound
The Central Bank of Syria (CBS) has decided to suspend granting credit facilitations for the Syrian Pound (SYP), given for insurances in the form of deposits in foreign currency. The decision came as part of an effort to prevent a rise in the exchange rate, secure the necessary foreign currency to meet the market’s needs, and combat speculation attempts which had been recently witnessed. CBS also issued a statement saying it would extend a decree which allows applicants to reschedule loans for another two months in order to help protect the banking sector and increase cash flow. [SANA, 12/13/2014]