Top News: United Nations Experts Say ISIS Struggling to Expand in Libya

A bid by the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) to expand its territory in Libya has been hampered by a lack of fighters and the militant group struggles to win local support because it is viewed as an “outsider,” according to a report by United Nations experts. ISIS in Libya has between 2,000 and 3,000 fighters, with about 1,500 of those in the coastal city of Sirte, the only affiliate known to have received support and guidance from the extremist group’s stronghold in Syria and Iraq, according to UN experts. In a 24-page report circulated to reporters on Tuesday, they said that while the group has demonstrated its intention to control more Libyan territory, it seems limited in its ability to expand quickly. Despite several attacks on oil installations in Libya, ISIS lacks the capacity to seize, hold, and manage oil fields or refineries in the country, the report said. However, the report notes that ISIS is still “an evident short and long-term threat in Libya.” The group’s central command views Libya as the best opportunity to expand its so-called caliphate from Syria and Iraq, the experts said. [ReutersAPAFP, 12/1/2015]



Egypt’s Prime Minister in Riyadh, Foreign Minister in Algeria
Egyptian Prime Minister Sherif Ismail traveled to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday to head the Egyptian delegation to the Egyptian-Saudi Coordination Council, state news agency MENA said. The first meeting of the council will be held later on Wednesday. Deputy Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and Defense Minister Prince Mohamed Bin Salman will lead the Saudi delegation. According to official Saudi news agency SPA, the council will discuss a number of economic and military agreements at the meeting. Ismail will leave Saudi Arabia for South Africa on Thursday, where he is set to participate in the Forum on Chinese-African Cooperation to be held in Cape Town. The summit, which hosts leaders of African states, aims to enhance cooperation and mutual understanding between China and Africa. Meanwhile, Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry attended a meeting in Algeria to discuss the situation in Libya with his ministerial counterparts from Libya’s neighboring countries. “This meeting comes at a critical stage after the worrying developments of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) announcing that they took over Sirte,” Shoukry told MENA. Shoukry added that there is a consensus among the different Libyan factions to solve the conflict, stabilize the country and unite its lands to get the country out of the crisis. Shoukry also called for the  Libyan parliament to ratify a political agreement, reached last July, before the end of this year so that they “wouldn’t have to look into alternative plans that might meet resistance from some of the Libyan factions.” [Ahram Online, 12/2/2015]

Endowments Ministry revokes licenses of non-governmental religious institutions
The Endowments Ministry revoked all licenses given to religious institutes and cultural centers that are not administered by the ministry or Al-Azhar, a ministry statement said on Saturday. The ministry also announced the launch of 19 new Islamic culture centers and institutes across the country. Salafis institutions will likely be most affected by the decision, with Al-Dostour private newspaper reporting the closure of 86 religious institutions considered by the authorities to be “hubs of terrorism.” Local media reported that Salafi institutions alone were targeted. According to Al-Dostour, they were accused of insulting Al-Azhar, spreading extremist beliefs and attempting to “change the identity of the Egyptian people.” But Amr Ezzat, a researcher of religious affairs for the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), told Mada Masr that the decision applies to all religious institutes and is part of a general initiative by the Endowments Ministry to centralize cultural religious institutes and the messages they spread. [Mada Masr, 12/1/2015]

Sinai expert detained fifteen days for ‘spreading false news’
An Egyptian researcher and freelance journalist detained upon his return to Egypt is being investigated for spreading false news his lawyers said Tuesday. Arrested in Hurghada on Sunday, Ismail Alexandrani, was transferred to Cairo where he was questioned for eight hours on Tuesday. The Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) said in a statement that Alexandrani was charged with “joining a group established in violation of the law to disrupt the constitution, laws and the work of state institutions and authorities.” He is also charged with promoting the ideas of the unnamed group and “spreading false statements and rumours,” likely to “disturb public peace” and “spread panic.” Journalist Abdelrahman Ayyash said on his Facebook page that Alexandrani, an expert on militants operating in Egypt’s northern Sinai Peninsula, recently gave a presentation in Berlin on the topic. Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists, and fourteen Egyptian rights organizations, including the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, and the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, have called for Alexandrani’s release. [AFP, AP, Aswat Masriya, 12/2/2015]

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Libyan air strikes hit ISIS forces pushing eastward
Warplanes from Libya’s internationally recognized government have hit positions of Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) pushing eastward from their stronghold in Sirte toward the oil hub of Ajdabiya, a senior officer said Tuesday. The militants control Sirte, Muammar Qaddafi’s hometown east of Tripoli, and have been battling both government forces and Islamists in Benghazi. They are now trying to expand their zone of influence to Ajdabiya, which lies between Sirte and Benghazi and is in the heart of one of the country’s major oil-producing regions. The attack was part of a campaign aimed at preventing ISIS from capturing the city, which is held by militias loyal to the recognized government. Tuesday’s strike was preceded by others last week, the officer said. [AFP, 12/1/2015]

UN Envoy says very close to Libya political deal
Libya’s warring factions are very close to a deal on forming a unity government and could sign a long-awaited accord in a month, according to new UN Special Envoy to Libya Martin Kobler during talks in Algiers. He also said that the unity government should be based in Tripoli. Kobler said there was no talk of sanctions against those resisting the deal for the moment, but rather efforts to “encourage Libyans to go for a solution.” [Reuters, 12/2/2015]

Libya’s rival government reshuffles cabinet
Libya’s rival government on Tuesday announced a cabinet reshuffle that drastically reduces the number of portfolios, but retains Khalifa Ghweil as Prime Minister. “The General National Congress voted today in favor of a government reshuffle to reduce the number of ministers” from 24 to 12, in addition to the post of Prime Minister, according to a GNC source. “Congress believes that such limited government is actually a crisis cabinet,” the source said, without elaborating. [AFP, Libya Herald (subscription), 12/2/2015]

Tunisia dismisses security minister after suicide bus bombing
On Tuesday, Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid dismissed five senior officials, including the Interior Ministry’s top security chief, a week after a suicide bombing killed 12 presidential guards in an attack in the center of Tunis. The Prime Minister’s office said that Secretary of State for Security Affairs Rafik Chelly “has been relieved of his post” and the Interior Ministry said four other senior officials were dismissed. The office of Prime Minister Habib Essid gave no reason for removing Chelly from his post, but said that he would be “invited to assume other duties.” [Reuters, AP, AFP, 12/1/2015]


US sending new special ops force to Iraq to fight ISIS; Abadi says foreign troops not needed
For the first time in the fight against Islamic State (ISIS) militants, the United States is putting US combat troops on the ground in a more permanent role in Iraq and Syria. Defense Secretary Ash Carter told Congress on Tuesday that the US military will deploy a new special operations force to Iraq to step up the fight against ISIS. Hours later, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi defended his country’s security forces, saying they are capable of defeating ISIS without the help of foreign combat troops. “Iraqi special operations and anti-terrorism forces are playing an important role in the fight against Daesh (ISIS) terrorist gangs and proved their capability in targeting Daesh leaders and carrying out dangerous missions to retake vital areas,” Abadi said. He added that his country needs training, weapons, and advice from the international community and not “foreign ground combat forces fighting on Iraqi soil.” [AP, 12/2/2015]

Kerry says NATO members ready to step up anti-ISIS fight
US Secretary of State John Kerry said Wednesday that NATO members stood ready to step up military efforts against ISIS and held out hope of broadening cooperation between the West and Russia to end Syria’s protracted civil war. After two days of meetings at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels, Kerry said several alliance members were bringing more to the battle or would do so soon. He did not outline any fresh commitments specifically, saying plans would be announced only after foreign ministers first consult their governments at home. Kerry did welcome Russian involvement, saying, “As long as they’re focused on Daesh [ISIS] and as long they are genuine in wanting to be part of implementing the Geneva [accords], they can be an extremely constructive and important player in reaching a solution [AP, 12/1/2015]

Cameron urges UK parliament to back bombing of ISIS in Syria
Prime Minister David Cameron urged lawmakers on Wednesday to approve air strikes against ISIS in Syria, saying Britain could make a “real difference” to the US-led campaign to destroy the militants. Cameron’s argument that Britain should launch more military action in the Middle East was all but drowned out by lawmakers demanding he apologize for suggesting that those opposing air strikes were “a bunch of terrorist sympathizers.” Cameron avoided making an apology, saying he respected those who disagree, but anger over the slur could stiffen opposition in Britain’s Labor Party. Labor leader Jeremy Corby criticized the Cameron for rushing to war. [Reuters, 12/2/2015]

Russia says it has proof of Turkey’s involvement in ISIS oil trade
Russia’s Defense Ministry said on Wednesday it had proof that Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and his family were benefiting from the illegal smuggling of oil from ISIS-held territory in Syria and Iraq. “Turkey is the main consumer of the oil stolen from its rightful owners, Syria and Iraq. According to information we’ve received, the senior political leadership of the country–President Erdogan and his family–are involved in this criminal business,” said Deputy Defence Minister Anatoly Antonov. “In the West, no one has asked questions about the fact that the Turkish president’s son heads one of the biggest energy companies, or that his son has been appointed Energy Minister. What a marvellous family business,” Antonov said. The ministry also alleged that the same criminal networks smuggling oil from ISIS-held areas into Turkey were also supplying weapons, equipment, and training to the militant group. [Reuters, 12/2/2015]

Germany says every EU state should pay into Refugee Fund
Germany wants every EU state to contribute to a $3.2 billion aid program for Syrian refugees in Turkey, saying it is a question of European solidarity. The total sum was pledged to Turkey following a summit on Sunday, but details on the bill for individual EU states have yet to emerge. German Finance Ministry State Secretary Jens Spahn said the question would be broached at an EU finance ministers’ meeting next week. Turkey says it has taken in a total of 2.2 million refugees from Syria’s four-year civil war and still maintains an open door policy while warning that its capacity to take more refugees is limited. The EU initiative is not completely altruistic, as the bloc expects Turkey’s help in discouraging the flow of refugees westward. [AFP, 12/2/015]

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


Yemeni PM rejects cabinet reshuffle by president
Yemeni Prime Minister and Vice President Khaled Bahah rejected a cabinet reshuffle ordered on Tuesday by President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi as illegitimate, a senior government official said. Hadi said earlier on Tuesday he was replacing five ministers, including acting Foreign Minister Reyad Yassin Abdulla. The Saudi-backed Hadi, who returned to the southern city of Aden last month after he was driven into exile by Houthi fighters in March, is trying to restore his authority in areas that his supporters have recaptured from the Houthis. Bahah has rejected the president’s decision, as Hadi made the changes without consulting him. [Reuters, 12/1/2015]

Al-Qaeda militants take over two south Yemen towns
On Wednesday, al-Qaeda fighters retook two southern Yemeni towns they briefly occupied four years ago, residents and local fighters said, exploiting a collapse of central authority in Yemen. In an early morning surprise attack on the Abyan province capital Zinjibar and neighboring town of Jaar, the militants overcame local forces and announced their takeover over loudspeakers after dawn prayers. Residents identified them as Ansar al-Sharia, a local affiliate of al-Qaeda. The group destroyed the headquarters for the popular committees in Jaar and killed at least four senior popular committee commanders. They also began setting up military checkpoints around the towns. Armored vehicles, funded by Gulf nations, which entered Yemen over the last five months to stop the Houthi expansion are reportedly now controlled by the militant group. [Reuters, CNN, Al Masdar, 12/2/2015]

Houthi spokesman optimistic about ceasefire while UAE troops ready for a long war in Yemen
Official Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul Salam said that peace talks between the rebels and Yemeni government have been delayed until mid-December, but that the parties involved had come a long way since the last attempted talks. He added that the parties reached a quasi-consensus over a potential ceasefire in the country. Meanwhile, soldiers from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are preparing for a long ground war from their base in Aden. Brigadier Nasser Mushabab al-Otaibi, the Emirati officer leading the combined land force, said around 4,000 troops from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Sudan were now in Yemen. The UAE has poured money into reconstruction and humanitarian aid in Aden, hoping to build a sustainable economy and set an example of good governance that will turn public opinion against the Houthis. A team from the UAE’s Red Crescent Society said it had spent almost $100 million on power stations and distributed food to 163,000 families. [Al Masdar, Reuters, 12/2/2015]

Red Cross workers kidnapped in Yemen
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said that two of its staff members were abducted by gunmen as they drove to work on Tuesday in the Yemeni capital, Sana’a. One of the workers, a Yemeni man, was later released, but the second, a Tunisian woman, was still being held, the group said in a statement. It was the latest in a series of attacks in Yemen against the Red Cross, one of the few international humanitarian organizations that has continued operations in Yemen since a civil war started in March. No group has claimed responsibility for the kidnappings. [NYT, ICRC, 12/1/2015]

German intelligence says Saudi prince could endanger international ties
Germany’s foreign intelligence agency says Saudi Arabia’s ambitious Defense Minister could endanger the country’s ties with regional allies by attempting to cement his place in the royal succession. The BND spy agency says Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is second in line to the throne, and his father King Salman are trying to establish themselves as leaders of the Arab world. The agency said that the Saudi leaders’ efforts have replaced the royal family’s previously cautious diplomatic stance with an “impulsive policy of intervention,” citing examples of its involvement in Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain, Iraq, and Yemen. [AP, 12/2/2015]


Under new central bank leadership, Egypt repays foreign investors
The Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) changed the way it allocated dollars at a foreign exchange auction on Tuesday and sought to reassure markets by repaying foreign investors a backlog of more than $500 million. In the first major move by the bank’s new governor Tarek Amer, the CBE said it had repaid foreign portfolio investors $547.2 million, clearing the entire backlog. “This is a very strong signal about the change in management ideology,” said Senior Economist at CI Capital Hany Farahat. “There has not been an indication of where such sources of funding have come from… It might just be more aggressive use of the reserves available at the bank.” Egypt’s stocks rallied following the payment to foreign investors. The CBE held the Egyptian pound steady at 7.7301 to the dollar at its second official dollar auction under Amer on Tuesday, but caused confusion by supplying some banks with more of their foreign exchange needs than usual and others with nothing at all. Bankers said some banks had bid late in the auction due to uncertainty over whether the CBE would move the exchange rate or hold it steady and had missed out. Others said some banks who bid early were also refused. The CBE said it had changed its “internal allocation process” but gave no details on the changes or whether they would apply to future foreign exchange auctions. [Reuters, Bloomberg, DNE, 12/1/2015]

Russia may freeze Turkish Stream gas project
Russia may freeze work on the Turkish Stream gas pipeline project in retaliation against Turkey for shooting down a Russian air force jet on November 24. Russia has imposed trade sanctions on Turkey, although so far the measures have not affected the Russian energy exports to Turkey. Russian Economy Minister Alexei Ulyukayev said Tuesday that no decision had been made regarding the freezing of the gas project already beset by delays or the nuclear power station that Russia is building in Turkey. Gazprom sources also said no decision had been taken inside the company about changes to the Turkish Stream schedule, but added that they were awaiting instructions from Russian President Vladimir Putin. Ulyukayev said last month that Turkish Stream could be among the projects affected by sanctions against Turkey. However on Tuesday he said, “There have been no decisions at this stage on suspending, freezing or ending financing for these projects. We are working on the assumptions that they will be carried out as they were agreed.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that Turkey will wait to impose any sanctions against Russia in order to see what further steps Russia will take. Meanwhile, Turkey’s exports declined by 10.5 percent in November, data showed on Tuesday.  [Reuters, 12/1/2015]

EU releases EUR 100 million in aid to Tunisia
On Tuesday, the European Commission disbursed a loan of EUR 100 million to Tunisia on behalf of the European Union (EU). The amount is the second tranche of a EUR 300 million macro financial assistance program for Tunisia. The first tranche was released in May. European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation, and Customs Pierre Moscovici said the loan will “support the agenda of economic and social reforms that Tunisia intends to implement. This is a new and tangible sign of our solidarity with Tunisia and of our support for the ongoing political transition there.” Also on Tuesday, the EU signed an agreement to provide Tunisia with EUR 25 million to finance a support program for the EU’s Association Agreement with Tunisia and a program to support Tunisia’s cultural sector. [TAP, 12/1/2015]

Iraqi Kurdish government may cut fuel, power subsidies
The Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) said Tuesday that it is exploring ways to cut spending, particularly on subsidies to the power sector as low oil prices strain finances and cannot bills to a number of international oil companies remain unpaid. “Reform options are under consideration and some are underway to reduce the subsidies of petroleum products and electricity,” KRG Deputy Prime Minister Qubad Talabani said. “Our people have become accustomed to generous government salaries and other payments funded by oil revenues. But what was feasible at $100 [per barrel of oil] is not sustainable at $40,” he said. The KRG has also delayed target oil production as it faces increasing pressure on its resource in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). The KRG authorized the release of payments to oil exporting companies for November in line with payments made in the past two months, an official close to the Minister of Natural Resources said on Monday. Still, foreign operators warned they may have to curtail their investment in the region if payment is not forthcoming. On Wednesday, Gulf Keystone Petroleum said it had received a gross payment of $15 million from the KRG for oil exports, marking the third consecutive month of regular payments. [Reuters, 12/1/2015]

Kuwaiti government requests special 6.2 billion dinar budget for weapons
The Kuwaiti government has asked parliament to approve a supplementary budget of 6.2 billion dinars ($20.4 billion) to fund weapons purchases for its military over ten years. Minister of State for Cabinet Affairs Sheikh Mohammad Abdullah al-Sabah confirmed that the government had sent a request to parliament for a special budget, but declined to specify the amount requested. The government reportedly asked that the money be drawn from the country’s general reserves. [Reuters, 12/1/2015]