Top News: US Will Send 400 Troops to Train Mainstream Syrian Opposition

The US military is planning to deploy more than 400 troops to help train Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), along with hundreds of US support personnel.

The US military has not yet identified where it will draw its forces from for the training mission, expected to begin in the spring at sites outside Syria. Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia have offered to host the training. Critics have said the program won’t aid Syrian opposition forces fast enough, and question whether it is too small to influence the course of Syria’s multi-pronged civil war. The Syrian regime attacked the US plan, saying that it amounted to support for terrorists. [APBBCReuters, 1/16/2015]



EU parliament calls on Egypt to release political detainees; Egypt hits back at EU statement
The European Parliament has called on Egypt “to release immediately with no condition” all political detainees, including members of the Muslim Brotherhood. In a statement issued on Wednesday the European Parliament expressed its concerns about the “restrictions” imposed in Egypt on fundamental human rights, citing concerns about freedom of expression, the right to assembly, restrictions on NGOs, and political pluralism. Egypt’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday hit back at the statement, saying that the call to release political detainees was based on “allegations, inaccuracies and misinformation” that reflect a lack of awareness of the situation in Egypt. [Ahram Online, 1/16/2015]

Egyptian rights NGOs say government targets its workers with travel bans
Egyptian human rights groups have condemned travel bans imposed on local rights activists, several of whom found out about their legal status when attempting to travel. The groups included the Cairo Institute for Human Rights, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information, the Egyptian Centre for Public Policy Studies, the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights, the New Woman Foundation and the Arab Organization for Penal Reform. The NGOs demand “the immediate lifting of these decisions, and the halting of the maltreatment of human rights defenders and abuses against NGOs and those who work in them.”. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, 1/15/2015]

Jailed Jazeera journalist urges Canada to press for his release after Cairo talks
Canadian-Egyptian journalist, Mohamed Fahmy, who is jailed in Egypt on terror-related charges, said he hoped the Canadian government can press Egyptian authorities to secure his release. “I understand that the ability of the Canadian government to help me is limited by the rules of diplomacy. But I do believe that Prime Minister Harper could do more to obtain my release if he were to directly intervene in our case,” Fahmy said in statement released by his counsels Amal Clooney and Lorne Waldman on Thursday. [Ahram Online, 1/16/2015]

Egyptian cabinet approves amendment to lower age of legal adulthood to eighteen
Egypt’s cabinet has approved a suggested amendment to the child law which lowers the official age of majority from twenty-one to eighteen, in accordance with the 2014 constitution. The amendment will affect court verdicts against those over eighteen and less than twenty-one years old isolating them from children under eighteen. Minors in Egypt serve sentences for violating the law in juvenile institutions rather than in adult prisons. [Ahram Online, 1/15/2015]

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Libyan parties in Geneva agree on roadmap for unity government
The rival Tobruk-based House of Representatives and some members of the Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC) have agreed on a roadmap towards a unity government for Libya. The participants called on all parties to cease hostilities and create an environment conducive for dialogue. The confidence building measures include halting attacks on oil, gas, and electrical facilities, releasing those illegally detained or abducted, allowing international aid in, and reopening airports and Libyan airspace. The negotiations occur as onlookers, such as the British Envoy, believe Libya will become a “Somalia by the Mediterranean” if the talks fail. [AFP, Libya Herald, 1/16/2015]

Tripoli municipal council expresses support for peace talks despite Hassi’s objections
Delegations from the Tobruk-based House of Representatives and its rival Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC) have agreed to continue negotiations in Geneva next week. The hope is that the invited members of the GNC who did not attend this round will agree to participate moving forward. The Tripoli and Misrata Municipal Councils have supported the negotiations despite Omar al Hassi, the Prime Minister of the GNC government, ordering local municipal councils not to participate in the Geneva talks. The participation of some GNC allied groups, but not all, displays rifts between its various factions. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 1/15/2015]

Libya warplane attacked trawler carrying gasoline to Benghazi
Earlier this week a Libyan warplane from the internationally recognized, Tobruk-based House of Representatives attacked a fishing trawler off the port near Benghazi. The trawler was carrying gasoline, which the Libyan military believed was destined to supply Islamist militants. There are no further details of the owner or source of the ship. [Reuters, 1/15/2015]

Tunisians banned from travel to Syria not monitored by state or civil society, says interior minister
Tunisian Interior Minister Lotfi Ben Jeddou said that the 9,000 Tunisians banned from travelling to Syria are not monitored by the state or civil society groups. He also said, “Counterterrorism efforts remain insufficient within both the society and the cyberspace.” He emphasized the role of media in battling the allure of extremist groups in Tunisian youth. [TAP, 1/15/2015]

President of Tunisian parliament receives US delegation
Tunisia’s President of the People’s House of Representatives Mohamed Ennaceur received the US Ambassador Jacob Walles and US Deputy Assistant Secretary for North Africa John P. Desrocher on Thursday. The US delegation commended Tunisia on its successes in transitioning to democracy. The discussion also focused on economic, social, and security issues affecting Tunisia and North Africa broadly. [TAP, 1/15/2015]


US will send 400 troops to train mainstream Syrian opposition
The US military is planning to deploy more than 400 troops to help train Syrian rebels to fight the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), along with hundreds of US support personnel. The US military has not yet identified where it will draw its forces from for the training mission, expected to begin in the spring at sites outside Syria. Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia have offered to host the training. Critics have said the program won’t aid Syrian opposition forces fast enough, and question whether it is too small to influence the course of Syria’s multi-pronged civil war. The Syrian regime attacked the US plan, saying that it amounted to support for terrorists. [AP, BBC, Reuters, 1/16/2015]

Food enters Homs city after local truce
UN aid workers have started delivering food to tens of thousands of people trapped in a besieged district of Homs city in central Syria following negotiations with warring parties. Food was sent to the al-Waar district on Thursday after a local truce was reached between rebels and government forces after the area had been under blockade for twenty months. The UN announced that more convoys over the coming days will deliver food to 75,000 residents. [Reuters, 1/16/2015]

Assad lowers expectations for Moscow meeting on Syria
President Bashar al-Assad said on Thursday that a Russian initiative to bring together Syria’s warring sides later this month does not aim to launch peace talks but rather to discuss the basis of future dialogue. “We are going to Russia not to start a dialogue, but to meet with these [opposition] figures and to discuss with them the framework of a dialogue.” Such talks, he said, should focus on “Syrian unity, the fight against terrorist organizations, support for the army, and the war on terror.” Most opposition groups and opposition figures have have said they will not attend the Moscow talks, saying the framework for the discussions was unclear and the meetings had little chance of success, adding that that the Geneva formula should be the basis for any talks with the regime. [The Daily Star, Al-Arabiya, 1/16/2015]

Nineveh governor says military planning for liberation of Mosul complete
Planning for the liberation of Mosul from ISIS is complete according to Nineveh Governor Atheel al-Nujaifi, adding that a long-awaited Iraqi military offensive to recapture the city is set to get underway soon. “The Iraqi military, Kurdish Peshmerga forces, and the international coalition have put plans in place for the battle to liberate Mosul from ISIS control…. What is postponing the implementation of these plans is ensuring that contingency plans to protect our people in the city are ready and I assume the process will not be delayed much longer,” Nujaifi said on Thursday. [Asharq al-Awsat, 1/16/2015]

ISIS kills seventeen in Syria after hit-and-run attacks
ISIS militants have executed seventeen men in the past two days in Raqqa and Deir Ezzor. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the executions follow the killing of ten ISIS fighters in hit-and-run attacks in several areas around Deir Ezzor province earlier this month.  [SOHR, The National, Naharnet, 1/16/2015]

US Ambassador for War Crimes stepping down
Stephen J. Rapp, the US ambassador at large for war crimes, is stepping down after five and a half years as the Obama administration’s point man for global prosecutions of the world’s most notorious war criminals, including the Assad regime and ISIS. Rapp’s departure has not yet been announced, but several sources familiar with Rapp’s plans confirmed that he is leaving and that the State Department has formally launched a search campaign for a replacement. It remains unclear, however, how soon he will go. [Foreign Policy, 1/15/2015]


Fourth anniversary of Yemeni revolution
The Revolutionary Youth Council gathered in Change Square to mark the fourth anniversary of the peaceful popular revolution on January 15, 2011. While the revolution did succeed in installing a new government, the youth are dissatisfied with the amount of economic, social, political, and military reforms that have taken place four years later. The group vowed to continue pushing for change and stressed the movement’s condemnation of all acts of violence.
[Al Masdar, 1/15/2015]

Saudi Arabia postpones activist’s flogging
Saudi Arabia has postponed Friday’s public flogging of activist and blogger Raif Badawi on medical grounds. Badawi was subjected to the first fifty lashes a week ago and was due to be flogged again after Friday prayers. Over the past week, Saudi authorities had come under Western pressure to call off the punishment. [Reuters, 1/16/2015]

Saudi scholars condemn cartoon publication
The Council of Senior Scholars, Saudi Arabia’s highest religious body, has condemned the publication this week of caricatures of the Prophet Mohamed by French magazine Charlie Hebdo, saying that it had nothing to do with freedom of speech or creativity in any way. Millions of Muslims said that they felt betrayed by Charlie Hebdo and several figures in the West after the satirical magazine again published the offending cartoons. [Gulf News, 1/16/2015]

US Muslim rights group seeks removal from UAE terror list
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said Friday it has sought to be removed from a United Arab Emirates’ list that designates it as a terrorist organization, along with dozens of other groups. The Emirates included CAIR on a list of eighty-three groups. The list was made public November 15, 2014 and also included another US-based group, the Muslim American Society. [AP, 1/16/2015]


Libya central bank seeks cuts to plug $19 billion budget gap
Libya’s central bank has proposed reducing the country’s diplomatic missions abroad and halting foreign scholarships and other state allowances to plug the country’s budget deficit, estimated at $19 billion. It also wants to suspend family and child allowances while reviewing international medical treatments funded by the state. The bank has tried to stay out of the ongoing conflict by freezing spending apart from salaries and subsidy payments, but the two competing governments have appointed their own respective central bank governors, raising the question who is in control of oil revenue. [Reuters, 1/15/2015]

Morocco’s trade deficit narrows 6 percent in 2014
Newly released data showed that Morocco’s trade deficit narrowed by 6 percent in 2014, reflecting lower energy imports as oil prices fell and exports surged. According to Rabat’s foreign exchange regulator, the trade gap was 186.35 billion Moroccan dirham ($19.83 billion) with exports up 6.1 percent and imports down 0.2 percent. [Reuters, 1/16/2015]

Egypt’s central bank cuts key interest rates
Egypt’s central bank made a surprise 50 basis-point cut in its main interest rates, saying that plummeting global oil prices had eased inflation risks while economic growth was rebounding. The central bank’s monetary policy committee reduced deposit and lending rates to 8.75 and 9.75 percent, respectively. [Reuters, Ahram Online, 1/15/2015]

Yemen, Egypt and Saudi Arabia discuss trade and development cooperation
Yemeni Prime Minister and Saudi ambassador to Yemen discussed bilateral cooperation between the two countries in economic, development, and humanitarian fields. Officials also met in Cairo to study the possibilities of increasing cooperation between Yemen and Egypt in the fields of export and import of agricultural products between the two countries. [SABA, 1/16/2015]