Top News: UN to Vote on Extending Cross-Border Aid Delivery into Syria

The UN Security Council has scheduled a vote Wednesday on a draft resolution extending cross-border delivery of humanitarian aid to Syrians in rebel-held areas in desperate need of food and medicine, without approval from Damascus. The resolution would extend until January 2016 and authorize aid delivery by UN agencies and relief organizations across conflict lines.

The UN humanitarian office said that based on security conditions, UN aid trucked through four crossings in Iraq, Jordan, and Turkey could possibly reach 2.9 million people. So far, however, the number of people who have benefited from aid delivered under terms of the resolution is in the hundreds of thousands. Government and rebel forces have periodically attacked aid convoys, commandeering supplies for their own needs. [AP, 12/17/2014]




Obama administration welcomes flexibility in bill permitting waiver on Egypt aid
The Obama administration said Tuesday that it welcomes new flexibility in providing up to $1.4 billion in aid to Egypt, a close ally in the Middle East despite its recent sweeping crackdown on dissent. The massive fiscal 2015 spending bill that Congress passed on Saturday includes a longer list of conditions for releasing aid to Egypt, the bulk in the form of military aid. Those provisions include holding free and fair elections, allowing peaceful assembly, due process for detainees and the release of US citizens held as political prisoners. Unlike last year’s spending bill, this year’s legislation also includes a waiver allowing Secretary of State John Kerry to ignore the preconditions for national security reasons. “Generally speaking, we welcome the flexibility that the bill provides to further our strategic relationship with Egypt and our national security interests,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Tuesday. “That said, there’s been no policy decision with regard to our assistance program, which remains under review. And our concerns about Egypt’s human rights record, which we speak about frequently, that has not changed.” [AP, 12/16/2014]

Floor for parliamentary elections to open in last week of December
Egypt’s High Electoral Commission will open the floor for the parliamentary elections during the last week of December, a government official said on Wednesday. The official, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that Egypt’s cabinet will finalize the draft electoral districts law on Wednesday night and refer it to the presidency for ratification on Thursday. Meanwhile, Minister of Transitional Justice Ibrahim al-Heneidy said political forces, which he described as the “old forces,” would not be part of the upcoming parliament. The revolutionary forces will occupy the majority of seats he said on Tuesday. [Aswat Masriya, 12/17/2014]

Twenty-six men referred to court over Cairo bathhouse ‘debauchery’
Azbakeya prosecution referred on Wednesday twenty-six suspects to court on “debauchery” charges. The men were arrested last week in a bathhouse in downtown Cairo for allegedly holding a gay sex party for money. The prosecution accused the bathhouse owner and four others of running the place to “practice, facilitate and incite debauchery.” The 21 other men were accused of “debauchery” and violating public decency. The men are scheduled to face court on December 21. Forensics authority spokesman Hisham Abdel-Hameed said that medical tests could not conclude whether the defendants suspects were engaged in “homosexual acts” or not. The suspects denied the accusations. [Aswat Masriya, Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, 12/17/2014]

Forty students expelled from Egypt’s police academy over Brotherhood links
Forty students were expelled from the police academy after “investigations by the security forces and the national security proved that they belong to the Muslim Brotherhood,” said interior ministry spokesperson Hani Abdel-Latif on Tuesday. He said that investigations revealed that “40 junior and senior students belong to the terrorist [Muslim Brotherhood] organization.” He added that the students’ first and second degree relatives take part in “the organization’s terrorist practices.” He added that the students were in their final years of study, and were enrolled in the Academy during the presidency of Mohamed Morsi. [Ahram Online, DNE, Egypt Independent, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, 12/17/2014]

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Threatened African nations urge action on Libya crisis
African leaders are urging Western nations to act to resolve the crisis in Libya, which threatens to destabilize fragile regional governments. The absence of authority has allowed Islamist groups to regroup in Libya’s barren south and from there threaten neighboring countries. African states accuse the West of ignoring their concerns and that it left Libya to fend for itself once Qaddafi was killed. Chad’s president said NATO had an obligation to finish what it started in Libya. The French defense minister, whose country has deployed more than 3,000 troops in the Sahel to tackle Islamist groups, said the problems in southern Libya would not be settled until a solution was found for the political crisis. [Reuters, 12/16/2014]

Libya Dawn denies air attacks near oil ports
Operation Libya Dawn, backing the rival administration in Tripoli, in a move to ensure that the country’s oil facilities are under Tripoli’s control, has denied carrying out airstrikes as part of its ongoing offensive. In an apparent reference to Ibrahim Jadhran, whose supporters seized oil terminals to exert pressure for a federalist system, a spokesman said that the operation’s sole task was to “lift the siege that has been enforced on the ports by outlawed groups.” According to the spokesman, the task of Operation Sunrise, as it is known, is to return control of the oil facilities to the government and that, as soon as this was achieved, the operation would cease. [Libya Herald, 12/17/2014]

House of Representatives names new pro-federalist head of audit bureau
The internationally recognized, Tobruk-based House of Representatives has reportedly appointed the pro-federalist Abdrabbo al-Barasi as the new head of the audit bureau. Al-Barasi was a leading figure in the groups led by self-styled federalist leader Ibrahim Jadhran. Given the political situation in Libya, it is unlikely that the current chairman of the bureau, Khaled Shakshak, will agree to step down and the appointment reflects the increasing trend toward parallel, competing state bodies. According to pro-Tobruk media outlets, Shakshak is a member of the Justice and Development Party, which has now sided with the rival Tripoli government. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 12/17/2014]

Libya releases foreign airmen; liberal professor abducted
The foreign minister of the Tripoli government says it has freed four crew members of an Emirati cargo plane who were detained after landing illegally in a western Libyan airport. Three others remain in detention and are under interrogation. Meanwhile, as targeted kidnappings continue, a prominent legal expert and professor of constitutional law has been abducted in Tripoli. Masood al-Kanuni was known for his progressive ideas and publicly criticized the Supreme Court decision against the House of Representatives. A leading cleric that had been kidnapped a couple of weeks ago, also in Tripoli, was released. [AP, Libya Herald, 12/17/2014]

Tunisian minister of justice says Counterterrorism Judicial Pillar is not an exceptional court
The Counterterrorism Judicial Pillar is not an exceptional court or inconsistent with the constitution, it comes under the Court of First Instance in Tunis, said Minister of Justice Hafedh Ben Saleh. He reiterated that only the Court of First instance has the jurisdiction to try terrorist crimes, in accordance with the counterterrorism and money laundering law of 2003. Speaking Tuesday at a press conference, the minister said the adoption by the House of People’s Representatives of the counterterrorism law will give legal status to this judicial pillar. Once this issue decided by policymakers, efforts will focus on its organization and prerogatives. The pillar brings together investigating judges, the indictment division and the prosecutor, and judges with experience in terrorism cases. [TAP, 12/17/2014]

NGOs launch strategy to encourage youth to vote in Tunisia’s presidential run-off
Several organizations announced, Tuesday, a strategy to encourage youth to vote in the presidential run-off due December 21, 2014. Presented at a press conference, the strategy includes the creation of a website “My President,” which contains data and information on the two presidential candidates as well as an online petition entitled “I pledge to vote if,” including a set of Tunisian youth demands. Initiated by iWatch, Sawty, Youth Decide, and the International Institute of Debate, the strategy aims to overcome the disaffection of young people observed in the October 26, 2014 parliamentary elections and the first round of the presidential election, said Achref Aouadi, President of iWatch. [TAP, 12/16/2014]


Iraqi Kurds launch Sinjar assault, aided by coalition airstrikes
Kurdish forces launched an operation to retake the town of Sinjar in northwestern Iraq early Wednesday after heavy coalition airstrikes on ISIS positions in the area overnight, Kurdish security officials said. The ground offensive began in the early morning following several hours of coalition airstrikes against multiple ISIS targets. Recapturing the town would open up a corridor to Sinjar mountain, where hundreds of minority Yazidis have been besieged by ISIS militants since August. [The Daily Star, 12/17/2014]

UN to vote on extending cross-border aid delivery into Syria
The UN Security Council has scheduled a vote Wednesday on a draft resolution extending cross-border delivery of humanitarian aid to Syrians in rebel-held areas in desperate need of food and medicine, without approval from Damascus. The resolution would extend until January 2016 and authorize aid delivery by UN agencies and relief organizations across conflict lines. The UN humanitarian office said that based on security conditions, UN aid trucked through four crossings in Iraq, Jordan, and Turkey could possibly reach 2.9 million people. So far, however, the number of people who have benefited from aid delivered under terms of the resolution is in the hundreds of thousands. Government and rebel forces have periodically attacked aid convoys, commandeering supplies for their own needs. [AP, 12/17/2014]

Iraqi Kurdistan to deepen ties with Iran
Iraqi Kurdistan plans to strengthen its relationship with Iran, the prime minister of the semi-autonomous region said Wednesday in an acknowledgement of the deepening ties between Irbil and Tehran. Prime Minister Nechirvan Barzani also defended the recently signed oil deal between Irbil and Baghdad, and stressed that it would not impact the Kurdistan Regional Government’s ties with Turkey or its growing partnership with Iran. [The Daily Star, 12/17/2014]

Syrian airstrikes target Idlib after loss of base
Syrian airstrikes Tuesday targeted two hospitals and a besieged rebel enclave near the city of Homs, killing at least fifty people, anti-regime activists said. The strikes came a day after Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham insurgents overran a large military base in northwest Idlib province, leaving nearly 200 combatants dead. Eight airstrikes pounded several areas of Idlib province including the Wadi Deif complex which was seized by the insurgents. In eastern Deir Ezzor province, airstrikes targeted an Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) controlled hospital in the town of Mayadin, while several civilians were killed in barrel bomb attacks in Hama, Deraa, and Aleppo provinces. [The Daily Star, 12/17/2014]

ISIS fortifies positions in Mosul as rumors of spring counter-offensive gather steam
The Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) has begun fortifying its positions in and around the city of Mosul as Iraqi and Kurdish troops gear up for a major offensive to recapture the city, a senior Kurdish official in Nineveh governorate said on Monday. Sources inside Mosul reported that residents who have not already fled the city are now attempting to leave, as the militant group continues to forcibly recruit residents to aid the city’s defense. The Kurdish official described the situation in Mosul under ISIS rule as increasingly fraught, with the group carrying out harsh punishments against residents suspected of espionage or breaking sharia laws. [Asharq al-Awsat, 12/17/2014]


MPs from Bayda accuse Hadi of ignoring violence in their province; soldiers killed in Seyoun
Parliamentarians from Bayda province issued a sharp attack against President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi following yesterday’s car bombings in Rida that left fifteen students dead. The MPs said that Hadi has demonstrated “duplicity,” leaving the violence in Bayda, which has been almost continuous since early October, largely unaddressed even as he responds to demands from independence from the south. They expressed their concern that Hadi did not address the victims’ families, and that if yesterday’s explosion had happened in Abyan or Hadramawt it would have received much greater attention. Meanwhile, three soldiers were killed after being targeted by an improvised explosive device attack in Seyoun. No group has yet claimed responsibility for planting the roadside bomb in Hadramawt. [Al Masdar, Aden al-Ghad (Arabic), 12/17/2014]

Yemeni officials say Houthis consolidating hold over state institutions
Yemen’s Houthi movement sacked top managers of the country’s second largest port and the main oil company on Wednesday, staff said, in the group’s latest move to consolidate its hold on state institutions. Officials at al-Hudaydah port said Houthi fighters on Wednesday blocked the director of the facility, Yemen’s main Red Sea harbor where most of the country’s food imports arrive, with a view to replacing him. Later on Wednesday, about twenty Houthi fighters broke into the state-run Safer oil company in Sana’a, kicked out the director and his deputy and locked their offices, company officials said. [Reuters, Al Masdar (Arabic), 12/17/2014]

Houthis take over state-run newspaper al-Thawra
Yemen’s official news agency says the country’s powerful Shia rebels who control the capital, Sana’a, have stormed the building of the nation’s main state newspaper and ousted the chief editor. Sources within the information ministry did not immediately accuse Houthi militants, who have overrun several ministries in the capital, for the assault but rather claimed that the attack was aimed at influencing editorial policy. [Al Arabiya News, 12/17/2014]

Qatif dignitaries condemn killing of Saudi soldier
Clerics, businessmen and other dignitaries from the city of Qatif in the Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province issued a statement condemning the “treacherous” killing of a Saudi soldier by unknown gunmen near Awamiyah on Sunday. “We condemn the treacherous attack that led to the death of soldier Abdulaziz Ahmed Al-Asiri,” said the statement, which a thirty-strong delegation from the city handed to the province’s governor, Saud Bin Naif Bin Abdulaziz, on Tuesday. Asiri died after an unknown assailant opened fire on a security checkpoint near Awamiyah on Sunday. Saudi authorities have opened an investigation into the attack. [Asharq al-Awsat, 12/16/2014]

Public feud over face veiling between grand mufti, former head of religious police in Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti has asked the former Mecca chief of the country’s religious police to repent for his recent comments on the niqab, or face veil, the Saudi Gazette reported Wednesday. Vice Sheikh Ahmad al-Ghamdi, the former Mecca Chief of religious police, this week said women were not required to wear niqab on a local program presented by a prominent Saudi media personality, igniting a striking admonition from the grand mufti. The grand mufti stressed that face covering is mandated by religious law and deviations from this standard was an unlawful deviation from a religious obligation. [Al Arabiya News, 12/17/2014]


Iraq seeks one-year deferral on Gulf War reparations
According to UN officials, Iraq has requested a one-year deferral of a $4.6 billion reparations payment it owes for destroying Kuwait’s oil facilities during the 1990-1991 occupations. The request comes as Iraq faces a cash crisis caused by falling oil prices and the war on Islamic militants. The UN Compensation Commission will consider the formal request at a special session on Thursday. Kuwait is reportedly supportive of the request. [Reuters, 12/17/2014]

Revenues of Algeria’s foreign exchange reserves exceeds $3.1 in 2013
According to the governor of the bank of Algeria, revenues from its investment transactions in foreign exchange rates in 2013 reached $3.15 billion despite “difficult” international conditions. The bank’s annual report on development, economic, and financial trends revealed that “the interest rates of investments of foreign exchange reserves reached an appreciable rate in view of low interest rates applied by the majority of foreign central banks.” The high level of reserves is expected to absorb external shocks. [AllAfrica, 12/16/2014]

Morocco’s central bank cuts benchmark interest rate
In a historic move, Morocco’s central bank cut its benchmark interest rate to 2.5 percent from 2.75 percent. This second cut in three month shows the bank’s interest in supporting the country’s economic growth while expecting inflation to remain low. The central bank forecasts overall gross domestic product to grow 4.4 percent in 2015 due to good rainfall boosting agricultural output, a significant increase from the 2.5 percent growth in 2014. [Reuters, Ahram Online, 12/16/2014]

Egypt set to pass mining, industrial land laws
According to Egyptian investment ministry, Egypt will pass laws related to mining and the allocation of industrial land in an attempt to speed reforms aimed at attracting foreign investors ahead of the investor conference in March. The World Bank urged Egypt to take concrete steps towards reforms early this week. Few details about the exact content of the laws were given and legal reforms were not discussed while they are aimed at facilitating the investment process. [Trade Arabia, 12/17/2014]