Top News: United States weighs military options in Libya

The United States is weighing potential military options in Libya as Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) extremists expand their influence, Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said on Wednesday. The growing ISIS presence in Libya is a significant concern and the United States is assessing how best to respond to the group’s “metastasis” from Iraq and Syria, said Cook. “We’re looking at military options, a range of other options as … the situation in Libya unfolds,” he said. [AFP, DoD News, FT, 1/28/2016]



Egypt’s parliament releases Whatsapp number to receive messages from public
Egyptians have sent around 5,000 Whatsapp messages of suggestions and grievances to the country’s newly-elected parliament in the first days following the release of the number. On Saturday, the parliament’s Secretary General provided a new phone number specifically for the messaging service to receive messages from citizens with the aim of “boosting communication with the public…and bolstering the parliament’s transparency.” In the first two days after the service was launched, the chamber received 3,629 messages that have mainly addressed legislative and supervisory issues as well as social grievances, the parliament said on its official website. Over 1,000 messages were sent on the third day, it said on Wednesday. [Ahram Online, 1/28/2016]

Prosecution appeals release of Mubarak’s sons
Cairo prosecutors appealed on Wednesday the decision by the Court of Cassation to release from prison the two sons of Egypt’s former president Hosni Mubarak, demanding their return to prison to complete their sentence. Former President Hosni Mubarak and his two sons were convicted in May 2014 of squandering EGP125 million in state funds to renovate their residential properties. Mubarak was sentenced to three years in prison, while both sons were sentenced to four years and a fine of EGP125 million. An appeals court upheld sentences against them earlier this month. A criminal court decided to release Alaa and Gamal last October, on the basis that their time served in prison covered the sentences handed down to them in the case. Wednesday’s appeal, however, claimed that there had been a miscalculation. The Prosecution said that the pair still have to serve an additional eight months in prison. [Ahram Online, Mada Masr, 1/27/2016]

Four soldiers killed in Arish attack; Four children killed in fighting in Sinai
At least four Egyptian security officials were killed and 12 injured in the Sinai Peninsula after an armored personnel carrier exploded on the outskirts of the city of al-Arish, security and medical sources said on Wednesday. According to some reports, a colonel was the fifth victim of the attack. Militants planted an improvised explosive device on the road and later remotely detonated it as the vehicle conducted a search operation, the sources said. Egyptian medical officials also said fighting between army troops and extremist militants in the restive northeastern part of the Sinai Peninsula has killed four children and wounded eight other minors. The Rafah hospital said in a statement Thursday that the children were killed and wounded during clashes using heavy weapons, with some buried under rubble when buildings were hit and collapsed. [Ahram Online, DNE, Reuters, Mada Masr, 1/28/2016]

Egypt secures three year membership at AU Peace and Security Council
Egypt secured on Thursday a three-year membership at the Peace and Security Council (PSC) of the African Union. The council’s elections took place Thursday morning on the sidelines the AU Summit which is to be held in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. The PSC is comprised of 15 members, five of whom are elected for a three-year term and the remaining 10 elected for a two-year term. Egypt won one of the two seats allocated for North Africa and is expected to take up office on the first of April. The twenty-sixth AU Summit will take place on January 30-31, with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi leaving for the Ethiopian capital to attend the summit. [Aswat Masriya, AMAY, 1/28/2016]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


Libya asks to be labeled top health emergency by WHO
Donors must help Libya rebuild its devastated health care system and fight increasing outbreaks of disease, not wait for a unity government to be formed, Health Minister Reida al-Oakley and the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday. Libya has asked that the WHO raise the emergency level in the country to the highest category in order to mobilize resources for people in need. The minister noted that 60 to 70 percent of hospitals are shut down or dysfunctional, and more than 80 percent of high skilled staff has left the country. An estimated 1.9 million people in the country of 6.3 million are in need of urgent health assistance, according Dr. Jaffar Hussain, the WHO Representative in Libya. The WHO is seeking some $50 million for Libya this year, including vaccines for children and insulin for diabetes. [Reuters, AFP, 1/27/2016]

Tunisia PM defends policies in face of unrest
Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid defended his government Wednesday before parliament, while faced with the worst social unrest since the 2011 revolution. “We have tried, as far as possible, to improve the situation,” he told a special parliamentary session on last week’s protests. “We don’t have solutions for everybody but we do have some solutions,” Essid said, without giving specifics. He urged opposition parties and civil society to join forces with his administration to address people’s demands, saying that the responsibility to find solutions lies not only with the government. But his appeal was spurned by critics in parliament who demanded “real solutions.” [AFP, 1/27/2016]

Tunisia says breaks up militant cell linked to ISIS
Tunisian police have broken up a cell recruiting fighters for ISIS in Libya and Syria, authorities said on Wednesday. “Our Special Forces Counterterrorism Unit dismantled a cell which included nine extremists in Bizerte who were actively recruiting young people to send them into areas of trouble,” the Interior Ministry said. It said those arrested had admitted recruiting for ISIS in Libya and Syria. [Reuters, 1/27/2016]


Russia proposes international meeting on February 11 about Syria
On Thursday Russian officials announced wanting to hold an international meeting in Munich next month. “There is an agreement in principle between Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Secretary of State John Kerry, and now we will propose to all the other participants of the international Syria support group a time and place, Munich, February 11,” state news agency quoted Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov. Russia’s security chief also said Syrian refugees should be given an opportunity to cast their ballots in the country’s future elections, and added that the international community should focus on creating conditions for a free vote in Syria. Meanwhile, at least 44 civilians have been killed in suspected Russian air strikes in parts of northern and eastern Syria a monitor said. [AFP, 1/28/2016]

Opposition says Syrian peace talks unlikely to begin Friday
A Syrian opposition figure said Thursday that indirect peace talks between the government and opposition are unlikely to begin on Friday for “technical reasons.” One of the major stumbling blocks ahead of peace talks scheduled to begin in Geneva Friday has been determining which groups from Syria’s opposition will be allowed a seat at the negotiating table. Meanwhile, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian said Iran strongly opposed Saudi Arabia allowing “terrorists in a mask” to attend talks. The Saudi-backed opposition bloc says that before it participates in the Geneva talks the government should stop bombardments and allow humanitarian access to besieged rebel-held areas. One Syrian opposition figure said “it will be very difficult to hold the talks on Friday,” adding that many opposition figures still haven’t obtained visas or made reservations to come to Geneva. [AP, 1/28/2016]

UN says number of Syria’s besieged communities rises to 18
Besieged areas in Syria’s conflict have risen to 18, up from 15 earlier this month, with as many as half a million people now affected. The UN’s humanitarian chief and the head of the World Food Program on Wednesday called upon Syria’s government to allow sustained access to besieged areas and to the estimated 4.5 million people in hard-to-reach areas. Officials said the convoys that reached a few besieged communities earlier this month are not enough and that the food delivered will soon run out. “One off access … is not the kind of access we need to prevent starvation,” UN Humanitarian Chief Stephen O’Brien said. O’Brien told the UN Security Council that last year the United Nations made 113 requests to the Syrian government for approval of inter-agency aid convoys, but only 10 percent were able to deliver assistance. Another 10 percent of convoys were approved in principle by the Syrian government, but could not proceed due to a lack of final approval, insecurity, or no safe passage. The remaining 75 percent of requests went unanswered, O’Brien said. [AP, Reuters, 1/28/2016]

PYD-YPG has no future in Syria, says Turkey’s top national security body
A regular meeting of the National Security Council (MGK), which brings together top civilian and military officials, lasted for almost seven hours on January 27, as Ankara has been increasingly alarmed over the prospects of the inclusion of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in planned UN-backed talks on Syria. Neither the current regime under President Bashar al-Assad nor any “terrorist organization” has a place in Syria’s future, Turkey’s top national security body has reiterated, while also pledging to take measures to compensate civilians for damages incurred during ongoing deadly operations in southeast Anatolia. The Council also concluded that Turkey would continue its support for the Turkmens in northwestern Syria targeted by the Russian air strikes. [Hurriyet, Daily Sabah, 1/28/2016]

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


In Iraq, civilians pay price of conflict
In the World Report 2016 released on Wednesday, Human Rights Watch detailed the abuses and possible war crimes perpetrated during 2015 by the Iraqi security forces and pro-government militias in their fight against ISIS. The report points out that coalition countries as well as Iran and Russia provided military support to the Iraqi government and militias despite ongoing abuses and violations. Atrocities committed by ISIS as also detailed, and Joe Stork, Deputy Middle East Director of Human Rights Watch, said “ISIS and Iraq’s government-affiliated militias are both committing atrocities against civilians with evident support from their commanders. Making matters worse … is the fact that Iraq’s justice system isn’t providing any semblance of accountability.” [HRW, BAS News, 1/28/2016]

Mass grave in Ramadi holds at least 40 ISIS victims
Iraqi authorities have uncovered a mass grave in Ramadi containing at least 40 bodies, including women and children, apparently killed by Islamic State insurgents when they seized the city in May, police and provincial officials said. “We believe they were the last to fight [ISIS] before Ramadi fell in May 2015. Investigation ongoing.” Anbar Governor Sohaib al-Rawi said in a tweet. Muhannad Haimour, the governor’s adviser, said at least 15 of the bodies belonged to police officers, according to ID cards retrieved from the grave. He furthered that not all the bodies had been identified, but some were believed to be women and children related to the police. [Reuters, 1/28/2016]

Iraqi army learns Ramadi’s lessons in US-led coalition training
US-led coalition forces training Iraqi soldiers to fight Islamic State are applying lessons from last month’s recapture of Ramadi to prepare the army to retake the northern city of Mosul later this year. Currently the 72nd infantry brigade is receiving training in combined arms breaching as part of a ten week course at Besmaya, a base south of Baghdad. This will make it the Iraqi army’s best-trained brigade and equip it for a key role in the government’s promised offensive to retake Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, from ISIS. If successful, that would mark the biggest military blow against ISIS since they seized large parts of Iraq and Syria in 2014. [Reuters, 1/28/2016]

Mosul dam could face catastrophic collapse
US Army Lieutenant General Sean MacFarland said on Thursday that the US military has a contingency plan to deal with a potential collapse of Mosul dam in northern Iraq. “The likelihood of the dam collapsing is something we are trying to determine right now … all we know is when it goes, it’s going to go fast and that’s bad,” MacFarland, head of the US-led coalition bombing ISIS in Iraq and Syria, told reporters in Baghdad. He further stated that Iraqi authorities understood “the potential” for the collapse of the hydroelectric dam, whose foundation requires constant grouting to maintain structural integrity. An Italian company, the Trevi Group, is finalizing a contract with Baghdad to upgrade the 3.6-km (2.2-mile) long dam, which has suffered from structural flaws since it was built in the 1980s. [Reuters, 1/28/2016]


ISIS claims attack on Yemeni President’s residence
The Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) claimed responsibility on Thursday for a bomb attack outside the residence of Yemeni President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi, which killed eight people. In a statement online, the militant group said the attack was carried out by a suicide car bomber it identified as Abu Hanifa al-Hollandi, suggesting the attacker was Dutch. It was not immediately possible to verify the authenticity of the claim or the identity of the attacker. According to a guard, the suicide bomber exploded a car at the eastern gate of the palace. He added that the explosion occurred minutes before a convoy of cars reached the residence. [Reuters, Al Masdar, 1/28/2016]

President of Yemeni National Security Agency resigns
The President of the Yemeni National Security Agency on Thursday handed in his resignation to protest the government not meeting demands to reactivate the security agency. A source said that the Yemeni government headed by Vice President Khaled Bahah failed to respond to the agency’s repeated requests for support. The source added that government authorities deliberately ignored requests for meetings to discuss the security situation in Aden and the adoption of a security plan. [Al Masdar, 1/28/2016]

Britain says will take UN Yemen report seriously
Britain said on Thursday it would take “extremely seriously” the findings of a UN report that says British military ally Saudi Arabia could have committed crimes against humanity in Yemen. The UN report released on Wednesday said the Saudi-led coalition has targeted civilians in Yemen, documenting 119 sorties “relating to violations of international humanitarian law.” The report has put political pressure on the UK government which provides training to the Saudi military and has approved billions of pounds worth of military exports to the country. Human Rights Watch cited the report while criticizing UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond’s denial that deliberate violations are occurring in the Saudi campaign. In light of the report, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the opposition Labour party, has called for an independent inquiry into UK arms exports to the Kingdom. [Reuters, Human Rights Watch, Guardian 1/28/2016]

Kidnapped Al Jazeera journalists freed in Yemen
Two journalists and a driver working for the Qatari-owned Al Jazeera Arabic TV channel were freed in Yemen on Thursday, the network said, ten days after they were abducted by gunmen in the wartorn southwestern city of Taiz. The Doha-based channel said in a news report on its website that correspondent Hamdi al-Bokari, cameraman Abdulaziz al-Sabri and driver Moneer al-Sabai were released by their captors, whose identity remains unclear. Al Jazeera, whose reporting of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings won it millions of viewers in the Middle East, has seen several of its journalists detained and killed in recent years in conflicts across the region. [Reuters, 1/28/2016]

FAO warns of rapidly deteriorating food security in Yemen
The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) said on Thursday that more than half of the total population of Yemen—some 14.4 million people—is food insecure, as ongoing conflict and import restrictions have reduced the availability of essential foods and sent prices soaring. The number of food insecure people has grown by 12 percent since June 2015, according to the UN agency. “Food insecurity and malnutrition are becoming highly critical,” said Salah Elhajj Hassan, FAO Representative in Yemen, calling for urgent support to assist families in growing food and protecting their livestock as well as measures to facilitate much needed food and fuel imports. [FAO, 1/28/2016]

Qatar emir names new foreign minister in cabinet reshuffle
Qatar’s emir issued a decree on Wednesday replacing the foreign minister and merging some portfolios in what was seen as a move to consolidate his power and cut costs after a sharp drop in oil prices. The world’s biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas, Qatar is one of the Gulf’s richest countries, although the value of its energy exports almost halved last year. Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, a member of the royal family, will take over as foreign minister, replacing Khalid al-Attiyah, who will become state minister for defense affairs. [Reuters, 1/27/2016]


Kuwait sees budget deficit jumping by 50 percent in 2016-17
Kuwait’s Finance Ministry said Thursday that the country’s 2016-17 draft budget forecasts a deficit of 12.2 billion dinars ($40.2 billion), an increase of almost 50 percent compared to the previous year. The 2015-16 budget, which was approved by parliament last July, envisaged a deficit of 8.18 billion dinars. The Ministry expects revenues of 7.4 billion dinars and expenditures of 18.9 billion dinars. It said revenues would cover only 71 percent of state salaries and associated costs, which are estimated at 10.4 billion dinars. The ministry did not say how the deficit would be financed, however the government is likely to resort to borrowing from state reserve funds. Emir of Kuwait Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Sabah called last week for budget cuts and better management of spending to cope with declining revenues resulting from lower oil prices. [Reuters, 1/28/2016]

Egypt’s budget deficit up to 4.9 percent from July to November
Egypt’s budget deficit edged up to 4.9 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) in the first five months of the current fiscal year, compared to 4.4 percent in the same period last year, due to a surge in subsidies and debt service. Data from the Ministry of Finance showed an EGP 34 billion ($4.34 billion) increase in revenues from July to November compared to an EGP 57.6 billion ($7.35 billion) rise in expenditures, leading to a deficit of EGP 138.5 billion ($17.7 billion). Wages and employee compensations, which contributed to almost a third of expenses, increased by about 6 percent in the period. Subsidies and social benefits contributed a fifth to expenses with a 39 percent increase. A hike in sales tax collections drove up tax revenues by 23 percent. [Ahram Online, 1/27/2016]

Bahrain working with banks to tap existing $1.5 billion bond
Bahrain is working with banks on a potential re-tap of a dollar-denominated two-part bond issued late last year, sources said on Wednesday. Bahrain is working with the same five banks – Bank ABC, BNP Paribas, Citigroup, HSBC and JPMorgan – that arranged its $1.5 billion bond in November, which was split between five- and ten-year portions paying 5.875 percent and 7 percent, respectively. Any potential re-tap could happen within the next two to three months. Under a tap transaction, a new deal (in effect a copy of an existing bond with the same terms and conditions) is issued. The pricing is adjusted to reflect the market performance between the issuances. Taps are rare in the Middle East, with only a handful in recent years, but the structure could benefit Bahrain due to the speed at which the kingdom could access the market rather than waiting for new documentation to be drawn up for a separate issue. [Reuters, 1/28/2016]

Bahrain, Tunisia agree to relaunch harbor mega-project
Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi and Bahrain’s Prime Minister Emir Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa agreed on Thursday to relaunch the Tunis harbor mega-project, Essebsi’s Spokesman Moez Sinaoui announced. The project, which is funded by Bahrain’s GFH Financial Group, will cost about 7 billion Tunisian dinars and is expected to create 16,000 jobs. During the meeting, Al Khalifa also affirmed Bahrain’s interest in developing economic, trade, and investment cooperation with Tunisia. Essebsi arrived in Manama on Wednesday following a visit to Kuwait. [TAP, 1/28/2016]