Top News: United States and Turkey Launch Operation to Take Border with Syria

US President Barack Obama rejected calls for a US-led ground invasion in Syria on Monday. In the wake of the deadly attacks in Paris on Friday, public pressure for a strong military intervention in Syria has risen steeply. The president insisted that a patient approach was needed and committed the United States only to “intensify” its current strategy. US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Tuesday the United States is starting an operation with Turkey to finish securing the northern Syrian border, an area that ISIS militants have used as a lucrative smuggling route. “The entire border of northern Syria – 75 percent of it has now been shut off. And we are entering an operation with the Turks to shut off the other remaining 98 km (61 miles),” he said in an interview. [The Guardian, 11/16/2015]



Russia confirms bomb downed its plane over Egypt; Cairo yet to comment
Russia said Tuesday that a passenger plane that crashed in the Sinai desert last month was brought down by “a terrorist act.” Russian President Vladimir Putin led a meeting late Monday in which Federal Security Service Chief Alexander Bortnikov said an examination of passengers’ belongings, luggage, and fragments of the crash revealed that there were traces of “foreign-made explosives,” the Kremlin said in a statement on Tuesday. Bortnikov said a homemade explosive device equivalent to 1 kilograms of TNT was responsible for the midair breakup of the plane. The Egyptian side has yet to respond to the Russian announcement, but state-run Al-Ahram said the Egyptian Cabinet will release a statement shortly. An Egyptian official at the Ministry of Aviation also reportedly said Tuesday that Egypt was not officially notified of the Kremlin’s statement. Putin vowed to hunt down those responsible, and the Russian government has offered a $50 million reward to anyone who helps it detain those responsible for placing the bomb on the plane. Hassan al-Nahla, head of the Egyptian Tourist Guide Syndicate, said Russia’s announcement will “have a very bad impact on Egyptian tourism during the current period.” Over 72,000 Russian tourists have been airlifted from Egyptian resorts in the aftermath of the crash. Meanwhile, Egypt denied on Tuesday the arrest of two employees at Sharm al-Sheikh airport, countering a report by Reuters that two were arrested in connection with the crash. [Ahram Online, DNE, AP, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, The Guardian, 11/17/2015]

US Secretary of the Air Force talks training opportunities with Egyptian military officials
US Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James spoke with Egyptian military officials about the opportunities for future military training for Egyptian troops during her visit to Cairo earlier this week, the US embassy in Cairo said in a statement. During her visit, James met with Minister of Defense Sedky Sobhi, Chief of Staff Mahmoud Hegazy, and Naval Commander Younes al-Masry. “I had very helpful conversations with Defense Minister Sobhi and others on where we should focus our cooperation next now that we have completed the delivery to Egypt of the F-16 fighter jets.” she said, adding, “We talked about how our two air forces work together to defeat terrorism and the possibility for future military training for airmen.” [Ahram Online, 11/16/2015]

Egypt prosecution orders detention of Austrian national for four days over Suez Canal photos
A Port Said prosecutor ordered on Monday the four-day detention of an Austrian citizen pending investigation after he was arrested for photographing military ships in the Suez Canal. The prosecution said that upon questioning, the Austrian national said that he works as a security consultant for a German company that is seeking investment projects in Egypt. He said that the company assigned him to provide a report on the security status of several Egyptian governorates. The unnamed Austrian national, who is in his forties, was arrested for allegedly taking pictures at the Mediterranean entrance of the Suez Canal at Port Said, the stationed security services guarding the customs’ ports, as well as other areas, including the airport. [Ahram Online, 11/16/2015]

Egypt seizes Brotherhood property, arrests sixteen members
A number of Cairo offices affiliated with the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, were seized by the Egyptian government, according to an official statement released on Tuesday by the committee tasked with appraising and freezing Brotherhood funds. The committee also announced that it seized a hospital, a school, and two foreign exchange companies linked to the group. According to Ahram Online, the committee has thus far frozen assets and taken control of over 1,000 NGOs, nearly 100 schools, and over 700 individuals allegedly affiliated with the group. Additionally, Egypt’s Ministry of the Interior announced in an official statement on Monday that it had engaged in a “preemptive security campaign,” arresting sixteen middle ranking members of what it described as the terrorist wing of Muslim Brotherhood. [Ahram Online, Cairo Post, 11/16/2015]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


German diplomat takes over as UN Envoy to Libya on Tuesday
Veteran German diplomat Martin Kobler will take over from Bernardino Leon as the top UN Envoy to Libya on Tuesday. “The leadership transition comes at a critical time for Libya,” the UN press office said in a statement on Monday. Kobler, an experienced UN official who has held top posts in Iraq and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, replaces Leon at a difficult time for the UN mission. Kobler faces a tough task, not the least of which will be to rebuild trust in the UN and its peace process after a series of revelations casting doubt on Leon’s neutrality. Lieutenant-General Paolo Serra of Italy has also joined the UN mission as Senior Advisor on security sector matters relating to the dialogue process. From 2012 to 2014, Serra served as Head of Mission and Force Commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL). [Reuters, UNSMIL, Libya Herald, 11/16/2015]

ISIS tightens grip in central Libya
A new UN report says fighters pledging allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) are consolidating their hold on parts of central Libya and carrying out summary executions, beheadings, and amputations. The UN has documented ISIS executions in their coastal stronghold city of Sirte and in Derna to the east. Victims included Egyptian Copts, Ethiopians, Eritreans, and a South Sudanese, it said. Some were accused of “treason,” others of same-sex relations, but none were given due legal process, according to the report, which covered the year through October. Libyan armed groups pledging allegiance to ISIS-controlled areas of central Libya including Sirte, Harawa, and Nofliya have claimed responsibility for attacks, including on oil fields, checkpoints, and petrol stations, the report said. [Reuters, AP, AFP, 11/16/2015]

Tunisia says it prevented a major Islamist attack this month
Tunisia has arrested a cell of seventeen Islamist militants and prevented a major assault on hotels and security forces in the resort town of Sousse planned for this month, a senior government official said on Tuesday. Interior Ministry Security Chief Rafik Chelli said some of the militants had been trained in Libya and Syria and were awaiting orders to carry out the assault. He said Kalashnikov rifles, explosives, and a bomb belt were also seized during the arrests. [Reuters, 11/17/2015]

Tunisia arrests seven women over ISIS propaganda
Tunisian officials have arrested seven women for posting propaganda on the Internet on behalf of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), Tunisia’s Interior Ministry announced Monday. It said the women had confessed to “activities within the media wing” of Jund al-Khilafa, which claimed two attacks this year in Tunis and the seaside resort of Sousse that killed sixty people. The arrested women also said they were members of the banned organization Ansar al-Sharia. The ministry gave no details about the suspects. [AFP, TAP, 11/16/2015]

Morocco arrests four militants with suspected ISIS ties
Moroccan police have arrested four people suspected of belonging to a militant cell linked to the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), the Interior Ministry said on Monday. The cell, the latest of a series of Islamist militant groups the authorities say they have uncovered, had been active in the central city of Beni Mellal, the ministry said in a statement. The cell was planning to carry out attacks using explosives, while its leader had close ties to Moroccans fighting with the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq in order to win logistical support, the ministry said. It did not give details of those contacts. Last week, authorities said it had arrested another man in the northern city of Nador who was planning attacks in Morocco and against a church in Europe. It was unclear which European country was to be targeted. [Reuters, 11/15/2015]


Kerry says Syria could be ‘weeks away’ from transition
US Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that Syria could be weeks away from a “big transition,” following on from international talks in Vienna this weekend. “We are weeks away conceivably from the possibility of a big transition for Syria,” Kerry said, and that there is now a “genuine process with possibilities” to unlock the war in Syria. He continued, “We have found a common agreement on principles (and) established a concept of giving life to a negotiation with Iran and Russia at the table, which is unique in the last four and a half years.” Saudi Arabia is expected to host a meeting of Syrian opposition figures by mid-December, at which they are to agree on a delegation to send to talks with representatives from President Bashar al-Assad’s government. Once those negotiations begin, a ceasefire is to take effect, according to the agreement reached in Vienna. [AP, AFP, 11/17/2015]

France deploys aircraft carrier to support Syria raids
French President Francois Hollande said Monday its Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier would be deployed to the eastern Mediterranean to boost operations in Syria as Paris intensifies a bombing campaign against Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). The vessel, the flagship of the French navy, will take a few days to reach its destination, near Syria or Lebanon, whereas it was not due to reach the Gulf, its original destination, until next month. With twenty-six fighter jets on board, the nuclear-powered carrier will dramatically increase France’s capacity to carry out air strikes adding to the twelve French planes currently stationed in the United Arab Emirates and Jordan overall. With thirty-eight fighters, France will be able to “intensify its operations in Syria,” Hollande said following Friday’s deadly attacks in Paris. [AFP, 11/17/2015]

Russia ‘outraged’ at accusations it killed civilians in Syria
Russia has told the United Nations on Monday it was “outraged” by allegations that it had killed civilians in Syria and destroyed civilian infrastructure as a US-based rights group accused Moscow’s air force of bombing ten medical facilities in October. Physicians for Human Rights said there had been sixteen attacks on medical facilities in Syria in October. It blamed at least ten of those attacks and one death on Russian air strikes. “We are outraged by different types of information regarding alleged civilian deaths and destruction of civilian infrastructure as a result of missile and air strikes by the Russian armed forces,” Russian Deputy UN Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov said. [Reuters, 11/17/2015]

Syrian Kurdish-Arab alliance captures nearly 200 villages from ISIS
An alliance of Kurdish and Arab forces fighting ISIS in Syria has driven the militants out of nearly 200 villages, its spokeman Talal Ali Sello said. Sello added at a press conference that “between October 30 and November 13, an area of 1,362 square kilometers was cleansed of ISIS”. That area included 196 towns and villages, among them Al-Hol which lies along a strategic ISIS supply route and where Sello made his comments. He said these “victories” had been achieved with air support from a US-led coalition striking ISIS targets in Syria over the past year. The offensive south of the city of Hasaka, where control is divided between Syria’s regime and Kurdish militia, saw the alliance take several villages before seizing Al-Hol on Thursday. [AFP, 11/16/2015]

Kurdistan continues to bypass Baghdad and sell oil on the global market
Kurdistan has for the first time detailed its secretive oil exports operations and said it plans to sell more, whether Baghdad likes it or not, as it needs money to survive and fight ISIS. In order to avoid detection, oil was often funneled through Israel, transferred directly between ships off the coast of Malta, and decoy ships used to make it harder for Baghdad to track. Kurdistan says it had been forced to bypass Baghdad and begin exporting oil directly because the latter refused to respect budgets in 2014 and 2015. The Iraqi central government said the Kurds have failed to respect deals to transfer agreed volumes of oil to Baghdad. The region plans to increase exports to as much as 1 million barrels and wants also to become a significant gas exporter. [Reuters, 11/17/2015]

Yazidi mass grave discovered in Sinjar
A mass grave believed to contain the remains of more than seventy members of Iraq’s Yazidi minority was discovered east of Sinjar town after Kurdish forces claimed victory over ISIS militants in the area, the mayor and locals have said.The mayor of Sinjar and local Yazidis said they believe those buried were older women from the village of Kocho whom the militants had separated from younger women during their onslaught. Kurdish forces retook Sinjar town on Friday in a two-day offensive backed by US-coalition air strikes. Most of Iraq’s Yazidi population are still living in camps in the Kurdistan region, and more than 2,000 women remain in ISIS captivity. [The Guardian, 11/15/2015]

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


EU calls on rebels and President Hadi to resume peace talks
The European Union (EU) released a statement yesterday supporting the efforts made by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UN Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed to resume peace talks in Yemen. The EU welcomed the recent commitment of the Government of Yemen and Houthi rebels to participate in the consultations but urged all parties to gain renewed momentum in building trust and establishing a stable foundation for further negotiations towards a sustainable peace between all parties. It added that parties need to be flexible and constructive in these talks. The statement also addressed the growing security concerns in the country over the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), saying that all parties to the conflict must take resolute action against such groups that pose a direct internal and external threat. The EU concluded that the resumption of the peace talks was necessary to ameliorate the dire humanitarian crisis in the country. Meanwhile, in an interview on Monday, Houthi spokesman Mohammed Abdul Salam said that the Houthi rebels have real intentions in working towards a peaceful outcome at the upcoming talks, as war is only producing death and destruction. [Al Masdar (Arabic), European Council, 11/16/2015]

Saudi air strikes kill over forty rebels
Yemeni security officials say Saudi-led air strikes and clashes have killed some forty Houthi rebels and their allies over the past twenty-four hours. The air strikes and fighting took place mostly in Ibb province into Monday, and near the cities of Mocha and Taiz. The raids in Taiz also killed four civilians. Anti-rebel fighters say thirteen of their own forces were killed and more than twenty wounded in the Taiz fighting. Meanwhile, fighting continued in the Shawba province, as the Houthi rebels were ambushed and eight of them were killed. Saudi air strikes in the province also killed five rebels and destroyed a weapon depot. [NYT, Al Masdar (Arabic), 11/16/2015]

Yemen authorities clamp down on gun ownership
Pro-government forces began carrying out a long-awaited plan to clamp down on the proliferation of armaments in an attempt to improving the security situation in Aden. According to security officials, the plan includes a week-long awareness campaign to convince people to keep their guns at home, the setting-up of more checkpoints, absorbing local militiamen who fought the Houthis militias into the army, and raiding rebels’ hiding places in the city. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), which has a strong military presence in the area, will fund the plan. Aden has been racked by armed clashes, explosions and assassinations since the Houthi rebel group was pushed out of the city in July. Militant groups such as ISIS and AQAP have made significant in-roads in the city, despite the deployment of thousands of pro-government forces. [Al Jazeera, 11/17/2015]


United States approves sale of $1.3 billion in guided bombs to Saudi Arabia
The United States has approved the $1.3 billion sale of bombing munitions to Saudi Arabia as the Gulf state’s air force strikes rebel targets in Yemen. The State Department said the deal “replenishes” weapons stocks that are being depleted in Saudi counterterrorism operations. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) said Saudi Royal Air Force stocks are low “due to the high operational tempo in multiple counterterrorism operations.” Congress has been notified of the sale and has thirty days to block the deal, although reports suggest it is unlikely to do so. The order includes 5,200 Paveway II laser-guided bombs in their GBU-10 and GBU-12 variants, along with 1,100 more modern, longer range GBU-24 Paveway III. It also includes 12,000 general purpose bombs weighing between 500 and 2,000 pounds and 1,500-2,000 pound “bunker busters” that are designed to smash hardened concrete structures. In addition, the Saudis will receive thousands of “tail kits” to convert dumb munitions into satellite-guided smart bombs. “Providing these defense articles supports Saudi Arabian defense missions and promotes stability in the region,” the DSCA said. [AP, AFP, 11/16/2015]

Bahrain planning more subsidy cuts, new charges to boost revenues
Bahrain is planning more subsidy cuts and intends to impose charges for government services next year in order to boost revenues hit by slumping oil prices, Minister for Industry and Commerce Zayed bin Rashed al-Zayani said. “We have already started cutting subsidies and we are now looking at others,” al-Zayani said, noting that electricity and fuel subsidies will be cut next year. Bahrain’s revenues have dropped between 60 and 70 percent due to low oil prices, al-Zayani said. Bahrain is looking to boost revenues by imposing charges on government services that are currently free or carry minimal fees. In addition, as part of its effort to diversify its economy, Bahrain will unveil a new short and medium term industrial strategy in the first quarter of 2016. “We are looking at more export-based industries to create employment and that can be accommodated with our current resources,” al-Zayani said. [Reuters, 11/17/2015]

UAE banks coordinate to address more than $1 billion in “skips”
Banks in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are working together to try to stem the number of small business owners fleeing the country with unpaid debt, a trend that has already reached around $1.4 billion this year, a senior banking official said. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) have come under pressure in recent months amid a gradual drying up of liquidity in the banking system due to weak oil prices and slowing economic growth. As a result, some business people have chosen to “skip” the country, leaving behind unpaid debt, a situation that bankers say has grown significantly from last year. “We want to take coordinated action on risk management,” UAE Banks Federation Chairman Abdul Aziz al-Ghurair said. “The idea is to allow the customer to pay for his debt and stay in town if they have a good intention.” UAE Central Bank Governor Mubarak Rashid al-Mansouri said the government is keen to press ahead with a new bankruptcy law to help support SMEs. [Reuters, 11/16/2015]

Over 72,000 Russian tourists flown out of Egypt following Sinai crash
Over 72,000 Russian tourists have been airlifted from Egyptian resorts in the aftermath of the Russian plane crash in the Sinai on October 31, according to the Russian Tourism Agency. Some 80,000 Russian tourists who have been in Egypt since the beginning of November are expected to remain until the end of their planned vacations, Deputy Russian Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich said. No other Russians are expected to visit the country once the remaining tourists leave, Sputnik reported. Meanwhile, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) said Monday it will hold a signing ceremony on November 19 to announce a loan to Credence Group, a leading hospitality company in Egypt, to support the country’s tourism sector and help boost economic growth. The initiative is part of the IFC’s efforts to support Egypt’s economy and attract investment. [Ahram Online, 11/17/2015]