Top News: UNSC criticizes Turkey’s strikes in northern Syria

On Tuesday, the UN Security Council criticized Turkey for its strikes into northern Syria that are fueling fears of a serious escalation. As a rapid advance of US-backed Kurdish fighters seized new ground in northern Syria on Tuesday, Turkey fired artillery from across the border to try to halt their advances in northern Syria. “All members of the Security Council agreed to ask Turkey to comply with international law,” said UN Ambassador Rafael Dario Ramirez Carreno, president of the Security Council for February. The 15-member council discussed Turkey’s military action at the request of Russia, which is waging an air war in Syria in support of President Bashar al-Assad. Kurdish militias are taking advantage of Russian air strikes to seize territory near the Turkish border, which has infuriated Ankara and threatened to drive a wedge between NATO allies. [Reuters, AFP, WSJ, 2/17/2016]



Former presidential candidate Sabbahi referred to prosecution
Prosecutor General Nabil Sadek referred a report against former presidential candidate and founder of the Popular Current Hamdeen Sabbahi to prosecution for further investigation. Lawyer Ashraf Farahat accused Sabbahi of attempting to overthrow the regime and incite violence, in the wake of televised statements by the former candidate in January 2016. The lawyer also called on putting him on travel ban. The reports revealed that Sabbahi was also accused of saying “We will continue,” which according to Farahat is a slogan used by rebels that indicate their intention to protest. In his January 2016 TV appearance, Sabbahi criticized President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, asking, “If the people truly support and love you why don’t you give them what they want, the demands of the January 25 Revolution — bread, freedom and social justice?” [DNE, 2/16/2016]

Doctors to hold nationwide protest Saturday over police assaults
Egypt’s Doctors’ Syndicate notified the Interior Ministry Monday of nationwide standing protests that will take place at hospitals on Saturday, February 20. The protests are being held to decry the repeated assaults on doctors, according the syndicate’s official website. “Kindly take the necessary measures to secure the standing protests,” the notification letter read. The decision is part of a set of measures the syndicate’s emergency general assembly voted for last Friday. Egypt’s Health Minister, meanwhile, said security posts and surveillance cameras will be installed at major hospitals, in response to mounting calls by doctors for improved security following recent assaults on physicians in Cairo. Minister Ahmed Emad al-Din said close circuit cameras will be installed to “boost security at hospitals” and “improve service by recording doctors’ attendance,” following numerous complaints by patients that doctors are not always available at the emergency centers. He added that his ministry has been working closely with police to set up security checkpoints of armed personnel at major public hospitals. [Ahram Online, AMAY, 2/17/2016]

ISIS Egypt claims fatal Giza checkpoint attack
A police officer was killed and two others were wounded late Tuesday when gunmen shot at their checkpoint in the town of Badrashin, Giza, the Ministry of Interior said in a statement. The statement added that the unknown assailants were on a motorbike as they shot at the checkpoint. ISIS Egypt claimed responsibility for the attack. In a statement published on social media, the group claimed that the attack left “three police personnel dead including a policeman and at least five others injured.” The statement could not be independently verified. [AMAY, Aswat Masriya, 2/17/2016]

Court reduced sentence against shopping mall harasser down to two weeks
The Heliopolis Criminal Court reduced the sentence of a man charged with sexually harassing a woman in a shopping mall in Cairo from one month to two weeks on Tuesday. The court had previously sentenced him in November to one month and fined him EGP 200. The case went viral when a video of the victim being assaulted by the harasser was posted online and was broadcast on a show hosted by Reham Saeed. According to investigators, the defendant confessed to assaulting the victim after she verbally insulted him but he denied sexually harassing her. Egyptian police released a police officer on Monday who was accused of assaulting and harassing a woman in front of Al-Marg metro station. According to the victim, Ghada Hussein, the incident in question occurred after she refused to go with the police officer to his home in exchange for money. Hussein and her husband alleged that they received several threatening phone calls in which they were urged to drop the charges, that police officers arrested Hussein’s husband from their home, and threatened to bring charges of drug possession against him. They said they were discouraged from attending the investigation, which resulted in the officer’s release. [DNE, 2/17/2016]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


Libya MPs postpone vote on new unity government
Libya’s House of Representatives (HOR) decided Tuesday to postpone a vote on the newly proposed government lineup. The members of parliament met Tuesday and decided to extend the deadline for a vote until February 23, according to MP Aicha al-Aqouri. The new, smaller government will then be submitted to a vote of confidence on Tuesday. Prime Minister-designate Fayez Serraj will appear before the parliament on February 20 to present the cabinet. Reports suggest that Serraj requested extra time to reconcile two members of the Presidential Council who have withdrawn their support for the proposed government. [AFP, Libya Monitor (subscription), Libya Herald, 2/16/2016]

Obama vows to stop ISIS from building base in Libya
President Barack Obama has vowed not to let Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) build a base in Libya, saying the United States would take action where there was a “clear target.” He said the United States will coordinate with coalition partners to attack ISIS in Libya as targets are identified. The militant group has established a base with thousands of fighters in the coastal city of Sirte. [Reuters, AFP, AP, 2/16/2016]

Tunisian Interior Ministry arrests 1,800 in three days
Tunisia’s Ministry of the Interior announced that it arrested 707 people on Monday, bringing the total number arrested this week to 1,800. According to Ministry of Justice figures, the Tunisian prison system is currently operating at around 200 percent of its intended capacity. Last November, in the wake of the suicide attack on the Presidential Guard, security forces arrested 17,000 individuals within a single month. [Tunisia Live, 2/16/2016]

Tunisian-Iraqi high joint commission meeting to be held in 2016
The prospects of cooperation between Tunisia and Iraq are unlimited, Foreign Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui said Tuesday at a joint press conference with his Iraqi counterpart Ibrahim al-Jaafari. He added that the 16th session of the Tunisian-Iraqi high joint commission meetings will take place in Baghdad before the end of 2016. The minister said the two countries discussed the importance of expanding bilateral cooperation in security, both as relates to the fight against terrorism as well as in the field of air transport. Jhinaoui also raised the issue of Tunisian nationals allegedly participating in “terrorist acts” in Iraq, and the situation of Tunisian inmates in Iraqi prisons. [TAP, 2/16/2016]


Syria allows humanitarian aid into seven besieged areas
The UN said on Tuesday that Syria has agreed to allow access for humanitarian aid to besieged areas. “So far I understand that the government of Syria has approved access to seven besieged areas,” said Vanessa Huguenin, spokeswoman for the UN Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). The areas involved are Deir Ezzor, Fuaa and Kafraya in Idlib, and Madaya, Zabadani, Kafr Batna and Moadamiya in rural Damascus, she said. Damascus gave the green light to the aid convoys after the UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura visited the capital on Tuesday. The United Nations and other aid agencies said they would begin delivering about 100 trucks of desperately needed food and supplies to besieged areas of Syria on Wednesday. “It is clear it is the duty of the government of Syria to want to reach every Syrian person wherever they are and allow the UN to bring humanitarian aid,” de Mistura said earlier in after his meeting with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem. “Tomorrow we test this.” [AFP, Reuters, WSJ, NYT, BBC, Al Jazeera, 2/17/2016]

Russia and United States to meet on Syria ceasefire this week
The Russian foreign ministry said Russian and US military officials will take part in the first meeting on Friday of a working group to discuss implementation of a ceasefire in Syria. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov added that decisions on a no-fly zone over Syria are not possible without agreement of the Syrian government and the United Nations. “The implementation of the agreement reached in Munich on a peaceful resolution in Syria has already begun,” Gatilov said. [Reuters, 2/17/2016]

At least 15 civilians dead in Syria coalition air raids
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said, “at least 15 civilians were killed and 20 wounded in coalition air strikes on al-Shadadi,” in the northeastern province of Hasaka controlled by the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), adding that the death toll was likely to rise. German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday described the humanitarian situation in Syria as “intolerable” and reiterated her call for a no-fly zone to protect civilians. [AFP, 2/16/2016]

Deputy PM says Turkey wants secure zone 10 km within Syria
Turkey wants a secure strip of territory 10 kilometers deep on the Syrian side of its border, including the town of Azaz, to prevent attempts to “change the demographic structure” of the area, Deputy Prime Minister Yalcin Akdogan said on Wednesday. Kurdish forces took advantage of the violence in northern Syria to seize territory from Syrian rebels, and Turkey has accused the Kurdish militia of pursuing “demographic change” by forcibly displacing Turkmen and Arab communities. The proposal has so far gained little traction with Washington or NATO allies who fear it would require an internationally patrolled no-fly zone which could put them in direct confrontation with Assad and his allies. Despite German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s support for the plan, Turkey has repeatedly criticized the United States for not backing the proposal. Ankara ultimately fears the creation of an independent Kurdish state occupying contiguous territories currently belonging to Iraq, Syria and Turkey. [Reuters, AP, 2/17/2017]

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


Americans kidnapped in Baghdad last month released
The three US citizens kidnapped in Baghdad last month have been released with the help of the Iraqi government, the US Department of State said in a statement on Tuesday. “We sincerely appreciate the assistance provided by the government of Iraq, and its whole-of-government effort to bring about the safe release of these individuals,” spokesman Mark Toner said. US Department of Defense spokesman Peter Cook said that the Department of Defense is providing the Americans with transportation out of the region, and that they left Iraq on Tuesday. Throughout their captivity, American officials leaned on the Iraqi National Intelligence Service and the Iraqi military, which in turn leaned on Moktada al-Sadr, the Shia cleric whose militia once fought against the United States. The abductors were not believed to be under Mr. Sadr’s control, but the cleric was able to use his contacts to mediate and win their release. [Reuters, BBC, NYT, 2/16/2016]

Iraqi Kurdish Deputy Prime Minister says deal with Baghdad ‘easy’ if salaries paid
Qubad Talabani, the Deputy Prime Minister of Iraqi Kurdistan, said a dispute with Baghdad over oil sales could easily be resolved if the federal government agreed to cover the region’s bloated public payroll, including the salaries of its armed forces. “If Baghdad pays the full salaries of people who receive salaries from the government in the Kurdistan region, including the Peshmerga, we can easily and naturally agree with it,” said Qubad Talabani on his official Facebook page. The comments came after Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Baghdad was prepared to pay the salaries of government employees in Kurdistan if the autonomous region stopped selling oil independently. [Reuters, 2/16/16]

UN staffer killed in Iraq, first since 2010
Amer al-Kaissy, a local UN staffer in Iraq was killed after he was abducted from the eastern province of Diyala last April, the United Nations said on Tuesday. Kaissy, the Diyala representative for the UN mission, was found dead in November near the city of Baquba with a gunshot wound, a statement said. He was buried a month ago but his body was only identified on Monday after friends looked at photographs. Several Iranian-backed Shia militias operate in Diyala, which lies between Baghdad and Iran. [Reuters, 2/16/16]

United States delivers winter relief supplies to refugees in the Kurdistan Region
On Monday, the US Consul General in Erbil, Matthias Mitman, joined the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and local NGOs in Erbil to distribute relief items, such as Kerosene heaters, plastic sheeting, blankets and towels to the refugees and internally displaced people (IDP). A press release from the Consulate General stated that 1,300 people, approximately 200 households, at the Gazna informal settlement near Erbil received the items. Since December 2015, more than 1,000 trucks transported roughly 2 million items valued at nearly $70 million to help conflict-affected people cope with the cold weather, particularly in Northern Iraq. [Bas News, 2/16/2016]


Fourteen killed in suicide bombing in Aden, ISIS claims responsibility
A suicide bombing killed fourteen people and injured fifty at the military barracks for government forces on Wednesday in the city of Brega in Aden Province. ISIS (or ISIL) later claimed responsibility for the attack. A military source said the suicide bomber detonated himself in the barracks in Brega in a crowd of new military recruits. ISIS had issued a statement on Friday warning people not to join the army or the police and that it would target those who did. [Al Masdar, 2/17/2016]

UN calls for resumption of ceasefire dialogue
The UN Security Council on Tuesday held a hearing on the situation in Yemen. Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien said $1.8 billion is needed to meet the urgent humanitarian needs in all parts of Yemen, underscoring that the indiscriminate bombings since March 2015 have resulted in more than 35,000 victims, including 6,000 deaths. O’Brien said he will launch a plan for humanitarian aid to Yemen in Geneva, which will require $1.8 billion to meet the needs of top priority areas. The Security Council renewed its calls for all parties to resume peace talks and agree on a ceasefire. [Al Masdar, 2/17/2016]

First UN refugee aid in months reaches Taiz
Humanitarian aid has reached the embattled city center of Taiz in Yemen for the first time in months, the United Nations said on Tuesday. A convoy of trucks carried blankets, mattresses, and emergency supplies for 1,000 families living in an isolated enclave in Yemen’s third largest city who have been cut off amid months of fighting, the UNHCR said. The UN’s World Food Programme said on Monday that Taiz was on the brink of famine. Three weeks of negotiating with warring parties allowed for UNHCR’s convoy to enter Taiz, said Johannes Van Der Klaauw, UNHCR’s representative in Yemen, who led the distribution mission. [Reuters, 2/16/2016]

Iran claims Saudi embassy attackers on trial
The Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani announced on Tuesday that “those who stormed the Saudi Embassy have been brought to justice and are awaiting trial.” Shamkhani said in a press conference, “The government is following the issue of the attack on the Saudi embassy in Tehran.” The statement went on to say that the case had been referred to the courts and that the suspects’ trial would follow. Shamkhani did not disclose the identity of those involved in the embassy attack. [Al Arabiya, 2/16/2016]

HRW says Saudi Arabia must protect humanitarian workers in Yemen
Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Wednesday said Saudi Arabia is obliged to protect humanitarian workers in Yemen. This comes after Saudi Arabia issued a warning to the United Nations to pull its employees from Houthi-controlled areas. HRW issued a statement saying Saudi Arabia’s warning was not adequate and did not absolve the Saudi-led coalition from its legal obligation to protect humanitarian workers and facilities from airstrikes. [Al Masdar, 2/17/2016]


OPEC presses Iran, Iraq to cap crude oil production
The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) increased pressure on Iran and Iraq on Wednesday to limit their oil production following a tentative deal between Saudi Arabia, Russia, and other oil producers to freeze output. Qatari Energy Minister and current OPEC President Mohammed al-Sada met with ministers from Iran, Iraq, and Venezuela in Tehran on Wednesday to discuss the agreement. Sada said he is hopeful that Iran will agree to freeze oil production at the January levels. However, Iran said it would resist any plans to restrain its oil output. “Asking Iran to freeze its oil production level is illogical . . . when Iran was under sanctions, some countries raised their output and they caused the drop in oil prices.” Iranian OPEC envoy Mehdi Asali said. “How can they expect Iran to cooperate now and pay the price?” he said. Meanwhile, Kuwait said it will commit to the agreement if it is backed by other major oil producers, and the United Arab Emirates said that it was open to cooperating with other oil producers. [WSJ, 2/17/2016]

Iraqi Kurds say will accept PM’s oil for salaries deal
The Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) said Wednesday it would halt independent oil sales if Baghdad pays its employees, but cast doubt on the federal government’s ability to implement the proposal. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said earlier this week that he would pay KRG employees’ salaries if the region halts oil sales. The KRG said it accepts Abadi’s proposal, which includes paying all the salaries of the employees of the Kurdistan region, who number 400,000 people. The salaries amount to about $800 million a month. In exchange, the region would hand over all of its oil production to the federal government of Iraq. The Kurdish authorities appeared skeptical about the chances of a deal materializing and questioned the state of Iraq’s federal finances. [AFP, 2/17/2016]

Egypt rejects Canadian wheat shipment over ergot fungus
Quarantine officials at Egypt’s Ministry of Agriculture have rejected a shipment of Canadian wheat, saying it contained traces of the fungus ergot. The move is the latest in a series of rejections that have caused concerns over Egypt’s strict new quality regulations. The vessel carrying Canadian wheat has been rejected twice by quarantine officials on ergot concerns. The Canadian cargo was first rejected in early February after visual inspection at the port in Abu Qir. It was barred again by officials even after three independent tests carried out by the seller found ergot levels at 0.005 percent, far below the 0.05 percent limit. Egypt, the world’s largest wheat importer, has been facing difficulties purchasing wheat in its import tenders since it rejected a shipment from Bunge. Wheat suppliers have refrained from making offers or added risk premiums to prices. Egypt’s quarantine officials have also reportedly started applying stricter measures to other commodities. [Reuters, Bloomberg, 2/16/2016]

UAE money exchangers raise sector growth worries with central bank
Money exchange houses in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are holding talks with the central bank about planned new capital requirements amid concerns that they might restrict industry growth. The central bank has been tightening rules for the industry in an effort to combat money laundering and push out weaker companies. New guidelines for minimum capital came into effect on January 1. Under the rules, companies are required to hold at least 5 million dirhams ($1.4 million) if they offer remittance services, up from the previous level of 2 million dirhams. Firms handling wage payments must have at least 10 million dirhams. Implementation of another new rule related to the opening of additional branches has been delayed amid confusion about the requirement. [Reuters, 2/16/2016]