Top News: United States strikes ISIS camp in Libya, killing more than 40

American F-15 jets struck an Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) camp in Libya early Friday, targeting a senior Tunisian operative linked to two major terrorist attacks in Tunisia last year. The operative, Noureddine Chouchane, was most likely killed in the strike, according to the Pentagon. Tunisian authorities have said Chouchane, a Tunisian citizen, was the architect of two terrorist attacks in Tunisia last year. The airstrikes on a camp outside Sabratha, about 50 miles west of Tripoli, killed at least 30 ISIS recruits at the site, many of whom were believed to be from Tunisia, according to a Western official. The mayor of Sabratha, Hussain al-Dawadi, put the death toll at 41, and he said that six others had been wounded. The US official said the action was taken in coordination with Libyan officials, and that the airstrikes on Friday morning were focused on Chouchane and did not represent the start of major new war. “The number of foreign fighters conducting the type of training they were doing under Chouchane’s direction led us to believe they were preparing for a major attack outside of Libya, either in the region or possibly Europe,” the official said. [DoD, NYT, WSJ, Washington Post, Reuters, AP, AFP, Libya Herald, 2/19/2016]



Egyptians protest after policeman kills driver
Disgruntled Egyptians beat up a policeman, blocked roads, and surrounded the local security headquarters late Thursday night after the officer killed 24-year-old taxi driver Mohamed Sayed in a dispute. Egypt’s Interior Ministry said in a statement that the killing followed an argument over the sergeant’s fare for his ride in Cairo’s Darb al-Ahmar district. In the course of the dispute, the officer shot and killed the driver. The Cairo Security Directorate said in a statement that the policemen killed Sayed by mistake. A second Interior Ministry statement said the policeman fired a round from his pistol in order to control the crowd, but he hit the victim in the head. The statement added that angry relatives and friends of the victim beat the policeman, leaving him with severe injuries, including fractures and internal bleeding. The injured policeman was taken to hospital ahead of investigations into the incident. Egypt’s state-run news agency said he was arrested. Videos posted by Al-Masry Al-Youm showed tearful residents displaying bloodstained sections of cardboard and saying the officer had verbally insulted the driver and when the latter objected, the policeman shot the driver in the head. Interior Ministry Spokesman Major General Abu Bakr Abdel Karim, meanwhile, said any policeman who violates the law will be prosecuted. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told the Interior Minister on Friday to make accountable any policeman who attacks citizens and to submit proposals to parliament to achieve this goal, the presidency said. [AP, Mada Masr, DNE, Egypt Independent, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, 2/19/2016]

Nadeem Center challenges possible shutdown
The Nadeem Center for Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence and Torture filed a request Thursday to the Health Ministry to halt the shutdown decision, according to the center’s Director, Magda Adly. In the event that the request is not addressed, the center will appeal the decision in front of the State Council. The NGO also confirmed Thursday that it has not yet been closed and that a visit to the Ministry of Health is planned on Sunday. Adly said that the shutdown requires an official inspection in addition to a written report detailing the alleged violations. The law allows for 30 days in order to eliminate the violations, she added. [Aswat Masriya, 2/18/2016]

State Council stays neutral in Egyptian Student Union saga
The State Council declined to offer its opinion on Wednesday concerning the Higher Education Ministry’s decision to void the results of the Egyptian Student Union (ESU) elections that took place in December. Higher Education Minister Ashraf al-Shihy nullified the poll results in December, citing a legal loophole in the elections process that effectively unseated the elected leaders of student unions at public universities. Student leaders alleged the ministry voided the results because a pro-revolution current within the student movement that supports academic freedoms and university independence had won. Shihy denied the claims and referred the issue to the State Council’s Legislation and Jurisprudence Committee to rule on the disagreement. The State Council, however, explained Wednesday that it has no authority to offer its opinion in a matter that has already been referred to court. Judicial sources told the privately owned Al-Shorouk newspaper that an appeal against the ministry’s decision was filed before the Administrative Court. [Mada Masr, 2/18/2016]

Sinai State publishes photos of beheading of ‘army spies’
The Egyptian affiliate of the Islamic State group claims it has beheaded two men in Sinai for “spying” for the Egyptian army, posting photos online of the killings. The photos were circulated on Twitter accounts affiliated with the Sinai State, formerly known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, late on Thursday. The claims were reported by the US-based monitor SITE Intelligence Group. In the captions accompanying the photos, one of the men, named as Walid Ahmed Amer, is described as “a spy for the army intelligence” and the second man, Mostafa Zeraa Salmi, as “a spy for the army.” [Ahram Online, 2/19/2016]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


Libya’s North African neighbors brace for any Western strikes
Libya’s neighbors are again preparing for possible Western intervention in Libya, tightening border security and sending diplomatic warnings about the risk from hurried action against Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) that could force thousands of refugees to flee. North African officials back international attempts to bring Libya’s factions together, but they worry they will pay the price in instability, refugees, and militant counterattacks if an intervention happens without a government on the ground. There has not yet been a response from Libya’s neighbors to Friday’s US strike on a training camp near Sabratha. [Reuters, 2/18/2016]

Tunisia and Switzerland reach agreement on processing of frozen funds
A cooperation agreement will be signed between Tunisia and Switzerland on methods of handling the frozen Tunisian assets in Switzerland, according to President Beji Caid Essebsi. Switzerland will help Tunisia lift legal obstacles to the recovery of 60 million Swiss Francs in Swiss banks. Essebsi expressed his hope that these funds, illicitly acquired by the ousted president’s family, would give more opportunities and resources to Tunisia’s democratic project. “Tunisia prefers to cooperate with Switzerland as it is a neutral state and does not impose political conditions to others,” Essebsi said. Tunisia and Switzerland also signed six cooperation agreements in fields including education, vocational training, democracy support, and countering violent extremism. [TAP, 2/18/2016]

Four more MPs join Tunisia’s Al-Hurra group
President of Al-Hurra Abderraouf Cherif said four more MPs – Leila Hamrouni, Mohamed Troudi, Brahim Nacef, and Hassouna Nasfi – have officially joined the new parliamentary group. The group now has 27 members. After its general assembly on Thursday, the Al-Hurra group has accepted applications for membership in accordance with the rules of parliamentary procedure. Al-Hurra, the third largest group in the parliament after Ennahda and Nidaa Tounes, is made up of dissidents from Nidaa Tounes. [TAP, 2/18/2016]


United States and Russia hold talks on Syria ceasefire ahead of UN meeting
On Friday, US and Russian military officials held talks in Geneva ahead of a wider meeting aimed at trying to secure a cessation of hostilities in Syria, diplomats said. The unannounced bilateral meeting was aimed at narrowing positions before the two powers jointly chair a UN meeting on the issue, they said, declining to give details. “The idea of the whole exercise is for Russia and the United States to have a joint view. The UN will apparently promote a ceasefire and implementation, and will negotiate with the parties,” a diplomat said. UN spokesman Michele Zaccheo said the larger meeting of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG) would take place at the UN on Friday afternoon. [Reuters, BBC, 2/19/2016]

UN Syria envoy says February 25 resumption of talks not realistic
UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura has warned that the planned resumption of troubled peace talks next week was not realistic, a Swedish newspaper reported Friday. “I cannot realistically call for new Geneva talks starting on February 25,” de Mistura was quoted as telling the Svenska Dagbladet newspaper. “We need ten days of preparations and invitations. But we will aim to do this soon,” he said. Ahmed Fawzi, interim Director of the UN Information Service in the Swiss city, said de Mistura is trying to convince those with influence over the warring parties to persuade them to come to the table and “stop the madness.” [Reuters, AFP, AP, 2/19/2016]

Pentagon asked Russia to avoid Syrian areas with US commandos
US military officials said on Thursday the Pentagon has asked Russia to stay away from parts of northern Syria where US special operations troops are training local fighters to combat the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). The Pentagon has repeatedly stressed it is not cooperating with Moscow as the two powers lead separate air campaigns in war-ravaged Syria. Lieutenant General Charles Brown said US officials had asked Moscow to avoid “broad areas [in northern Syria] to maintain a level of safety for our forces that are on the ground.” He added that Moscow had asked the US-led coalition to avoid some of the airfields the Russian military is using. “They don’t want us flying close,” Brown said. “Typically, we don’t fly there anyway. So, that hasn’t been an issue.” Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said Russia had honored the request and stressed that the Pentagon only provided broad geographic descriptions of US troop deployment, not their precise location. [AFP, 2/19/2016]

Media rights group calls on Turkey to release Syrian journalist
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on Friday urged Turkey to release a Syrian journalist who was raised in Britain and has lived for five years in Turkey, was detained by the Turkish immigration authorities on Wednesday after applying for residency. CPJ said Rami Jarrah had been detained in the southern city of Gaziantep and that he had been questioned about his reporting, but the reasons for his detention were unclear. Nina Ognianova, CPJ coordinator, said “Syrian journalists like Jarrah, who have turned to Turkey for safe refuge, should be protected rather than subjected to detention and harassment.” [AP, BBC, Guardian, 2/19/2016]

Russia warns Assad on vow to retake all of Syria
Russia’s envoy to the UN on Friday warned President Bashar Assad over his vow to retake all of Syria, saying he faced dire consequences if he did not comply with Moscow over the peace process. “Russia has invested very seriously in this crisis, politically, diplomatically and now also militarily,” Vitaly Churkin said. “Therefore we would like Assad also to respond to this,” he said, adding that the Syrian leader’s stance “is not in accord with the diplomatic efforts that Russia is making.” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said “everyone including President Putin recognizes that there is no alternative other than a political resolution.” In an interview last week, Assad defiantly pledged to retake the whole of the country, speaking before the plan for a nationwide “cessation of hostilities” in Syria was announced. [AFP, 2/19/2016]

EU to hold migration summit with Turkey in early March
The European Union has called an extraordinary summit with Turkey for early March to coordinate efforts to stem the flow of migrants across the Aegean into Greece. EU Council President Donald Tusk said early Friday that the EU’s “joint action plan with Turkey remains a priority and we must do all we can to succeed.” A precise date has not been set for the summit as the meeting still has not been discussed with Turkey but it is likely to take place in the first week of March. EU leaders meeting in Brussels also unanimously opposed “unilateral actions” by member states after Austria said it would cap the daily number of asylum claims. European migration commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos warned in a letter to Vienna that such plans would “be plainly incompatible” with EU law and Austria should reconsider them. Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann hit back strongly at his fellow EU leaders and said he would not postpone the asylum cap. [AP, Daily Sabah, 2/19/2016]

Turkish FM criticizes US statements on Ankara blast
US State Department spokesperson John Kirby has said Washington cannot “confirm or deny” whether the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) were responsible for the February 17 attack on Ankara that claimed 28 lives. “We’re in no position to confirm or deny the assertions made by the Turkish government with respect to responsibility,” Kirby told reporters during a press briefing on February 18. Kirby said the US administration recognized Turkey’s right to protect its people in the face of terrorist attacks.” In response to a question asking whether it would be “warranted or acceptable” for Turkey to respond to the attack by hitting the YPG in Syria, Kirby said this was an “open question.” Kirby stressed that the US kept communicating with the YPG to “not do things that are counterproductive” to the effort against ISIS while urging Turkey not to engage in cross-border shelling. Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has accused the United States of making conflicting statements as, in a departure from Washington’s official position, State John Kerry had told him the Kurdish insurgents could not be trusted. [Reuters, Hurriyet, Today’s Zaman, 2/19/2016]

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


Iraqi tribes clash with ISIS in Fallujah
Clashes erupted Friday in Fallujah between the ISIS and Iraqi tribesmen, officials and a tribal leader said.  “Clashes took place between the Al-Mahamda and Al-Juraisat tribes against [ISIS],” Issa Sayir, the exiled official responsible for the Fallujah area, said. Sheikh Majeed al-Juraisi, a leader in the Juraisat tribe, described the clashes as an uprising against ISIS in the city and called on the government and security forces to help residents who are fighting the group. [AFP, 2/19/16]

Civilians killed in airstrikes in Anbar province
More than 20 Iraqi civilians have been killed in two airstrikes on towns held by ISIS in the west of Anbar province, military sources say. It was not immediately apparent whether the airstrikes, which took place in the towns of Heet and Rutbah, were carried out by the US-led international coalition or the Iraqi air force. [Al Jazeera, 2/18/2016]

SGS, Weatherford trade blame over Iraq’s missing nuclear material
Swiss inspections group SGS and US group Weatherford International Plc traded recriminations on Thursday, both denying responsibility for the disappearance last year of radioactive material used to test pipes at an oil field in southern Iraq. Reuters reported on Wednesday that Iraq was searching for a “highly dangerous” radioactive source whose theft in November had raised fears among Iraqi officials that it could be used as a weapon if acquired by ISIS. SGS said in a statement that the equipment and material, when not in use, had been stored in a “secured bunker” provided by Weatherford, which it said was the “main contractor” and had hired its Turkish unit to perform the tests. [Reuters, 2/18/2016]

Iraq’s Defense Minister says Shia militias will not take part in Mosul operation
Defense Minister Khaled al-Obeidi stated that only Iraqi security forces will partake in the anticipated operation to liberate Mosul in an effort to rebuild trust in the Iraqi security forces. This move would exclude the Shia militias, which have varying levels of Iranian and Iraqi government support, that have also been fighting ISIS in Iraq. [Bas News, 2/19/16]


UN Security Council calls for Yemeni parties to resume peace talks
The UN Security Council on Friday called for all Yemeni parties to resume peace talks without preconditions and to fully implement Resolution 2216. The Security Council called on all parties to commit to pledges made during the last round of peace talks that took place in December. It also called on the parties to take all necessary steps to come to a comprehensive and lasting ceasefire. The Council described the humanitarian crisis in Yemen as the largest in the world and asked that the arrival of aid to areas in need not be prevented and that measures be taken to minimize civilian casualties. [Al Masdar, 2/19/2016]

UN aid official decries lack of attention given to Yemen war
UNDP Resident Representative for the Republic of Yemen Jamie McGoldrick said on Friday there is a lack of attention given to the war Yemen. He said “civilians are the losers” and that the fighting in Yemen is being “overlooked” amid greater attention on the conflict in Syria. His remarks came as he detailed a $1.8 billion funding appeal for Yemen this year by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. He said most of that money would go toward food assistance for nearly 7.6 million people in Yemen. [AP, 2/19/2016]

Saudi Arabia halts $4 billion security grant to Lebanon
Saudi Arabia announced on Friday it is halting deals worth $4 billion aimed at equipping and supporting Lebanese security forces, a likely retaliation for the tiny country’s siding with Iran amid the kingdom’s spat with the regional rival. The Lebanese government declined to immediately comment on the Saudi decision. One deal involved Saudi Arabia paying $3 billion to buy French arms for the Lebanese military. The other involved a $1 billion support deal for the Lebanese police. Saudi Arabia said it halted the deals because of recent Lebanese positions “which are not in line with the brotherly relations between the two countries.” [AP, 2/19/2016]

Saudi FM says coalition to continue mission in Yemen
Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said on Thursday the coalition’s operations against the Houthis will continue until full control of Yemen is restored to President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi. Al-Jubeir said the operations include airstrikes, direct field support, and training. He indicated that it would be “only a matter of time” for the coalition to restore the Yemeni government’s full authority and control over the country. [Al Masdar, 2/19/2016]

Amnesty says Saudis targeting civilians in Yemen is helping BAE Systems sales
Saudi Arabia’s potentially illegal bombing of civilian targets in Yemen, currently being investigated by the United Nations, is helping to grow sales of fighter aircraft made by BAE Systems, according to Amnesty International. The group says that that financial figures from the UK-based multinational defense contractor reveal that a net gain of close to $1.4 billion over the last year in the company’s UK division is down to continuing sales and engineering support of its Eurofighter Typhoon jet to the Royal Saudi Air Force. BAE strongly denied that sales to Saudi Arabia were helping fuel the conflict in Yemen and that their improved sales were related to the bombing campaign. Details of fighter jet sales and UK-manufactured missiles, both licensed by the UK government, are examined in a UN report currently being studied by the Security Council. [The Independent, 2/18/2016]


Foreign minister says Saudi will not cut oil output
Saudi Arabia is “not prepared” to cut oil production, Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Thursday, after it agreed to a tentative deal with Russia to freeze output if other oil producers followed suit. “If other producers want to limit or agree to a freeze in terms of additional production that may have an impact on the market, but Saudi Arabia is not prepared to cut production,” al-Jubeir said. “The oil issue will be determined by supply and demand and by market forces. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will protect its market share and we have said so.” Oil prices rose more than 14 percent over the last three days after the announcement of the deal between Saudi Arabia and Russia. [AFP, Reuters, 2/18/2016]

Tunisia plans to issue bonds between EUR 750 million and EUR 1 billion
Tunisia is preparing to issue euro-denominated bonds worth as much as 1 billion euros ($1.12 billion) within a few weeks, an anonymous government official said Friday. “We will go to the international market in few weeks . . . it should be between mid-March and May 2016, for between 750 million euros and 1 billion euros,” the official said. He said the financing would help cover part of Tunisia’s budget deficit and that the Finance Ministry had asked the Central Bank of Tunisia to begin the technical procedures for the bond operation. Tunisia last went to the international market a year ago with a $1 billion bond. On Thursday Tunisia began talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) over a new credit program. The program would be tied to measures aimed at strengthening the country’s economy and finances and would likely be worth at least $1.7 billion over four years. Head of the IMF delegation Amine Mati met with the Central Bank Governor Chedli Ayari to discuss the details of the credit program. [Reuters, 2/19/2016]

Egypt struggles to get subsidized food to poor amid dollar crisis
In recent weeks, imported commodities in Egypt have been in short supply as a dollar shortage affects state importers’ ability to secure regular supplies. This has affected millions of Egyptians who rely on state subsidies provided as credits on smartcards. Supply Minister Khaled Hanafi said Thursday that stocks at state food companies are being replenished with dozens of products and will be available to smartcard-holders in March. Cooking oil has been impacted especially hard by the foreign exchange shortage. Egypt’s state importers canceled three cooking oil tenders in the last three months after not receiving enough offers or because prices were too high. Traders say they now have to factor in the cost of expected delay. “You are talking millions of dollars here. These delays are costly,” said one trader. “They make you feel like a beggar when you chase your money, not answering calls, not responding.” A lack of clarity on rice policy has also caused confusion in the market. Egypt issued a rice import tender last month only to cancel it again. Grocers say there is not enough rice in state stores. Hanafi said 2,000 tonnes of rice and 2,500 tonnes of oil are being supplied daily to replenish stocks. [Reuters, 2/18/2016]

Bahrain cancels $750 million bond sale after S&P downgrade
Bahrain’s government canceled a $750 million bond sale on Thursday after Standard & Poor’s (S&P) downgraded its rating of the kingdom’s debt to junk status. Bahrain launched a $750 million, two-part bond sale on Tuesday, expanding the borrowing size by $250 million from its original target after it attracted over $1.35 billion of orders. On Wednesday, S&P cut Bahrain by two notches to ‘BB/B’ with a stable outlook, pushing the rating below investment grade. “We expect the impact of lower oil prices will further strain Bahrain’s already weak fiscal and debt metrics to the extent that we now view these credit measures as consistent with a ‘BB’ rating,” S&P said. After consulting lead managers of the bond issue, Bahrain’s central bank said it decided “to not proceed” with the sale. It is rare for sovereign governments to cancel debt sales once they have begun. “Any future transaction will be subject to market conditions,” the central bank said without elaborating. [Reuters, 2/18/2016]