Top Story: EU, Turkey hope for migrant deal by March 17

European Union leaders hoped early Tuesday they reached the outlines for a possible deal with Ankara to return thousands of migrants to Turkey and said they were confident a full agreement could be reached at a summit next week. All eyes centered now on March 17 and the start of a two-day summit to finalize the commitment and clinch an iron-clad deal which the leaders hope would allow for a return to normalcy at their borders by the end of the year. Turkey, home to 2.75 million refugees chiefly from neighboring Syria, surprised EU counterparts Monday by demanding funding beyond the 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion) already pledged. Meanwhile, many humanitarian organizations have expressed concerns over the proposals released, arguing that the new agreement will contravene international human rights law. [AP, NYT, 3/8/2016]



Sisi addresses issues in Sinai, Libya in telephone interview
In a phone interview on Amr Adib’s Al-Qahera al-Youm, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called on Egyptians to be patient with the government while discussing development in Sinai, and local and regional security. Sisi outlined development projects in Egypt, including in Sinai. “You do not have enough information about what is going on in Sinai,” he said, but promised that the peninsula will be “fully developed” by the end of his first term in 2018. Sisi said his government set up a plan that includes EGP 10 billion ($1.28 billion) worth of development projects in Sinai, and an execution timeframe of around a year and a half. The North Sinai Social Solidarity Department has also said it will pay EGP1.13 million in compensation to Rafah and Sheikh Zuweid residents who have been affected by terrorism and counterterrorism efforts in North Sinai. During the interview, Sisi said Egypt would not intervene militarily in Libya, describing the neighboring country as a “sovereign state.” Sisi’s comments came after dozens of Islamist militants in the Tunisian town of Ben Guerdan, near the Libyan border, attacked army and police posts in a raid that left at least 50 people dead. The Egyptian army is capable of foiling such attacks near the borders, Sisi said. [DNE, Aswat Masriya, Ahram Online, Cairo Post, 3/8/2016]

Sabbahi proposes unified opposition coalition
Hamdeen Sabbahi issued a statement on March 4 calling on political powers to form a “civilian alternative” to the current political situation, but there remain many unanswered questions regarding the initiative’s goals, political orientation, and members. Sabbahi’s statement was issued in cooperation with the founders of the Karama Party and the Popular Current Party, both of which he has led, and was signed by the Preparation Committee to Unite Civil Forces—a new initiative which, presumably, Sabbahi intends to act as this “alternative.” Committee coordinator Tarek Said said that it includes “a large number of leading members of the Karama Party and the Popular Current, in addition to intellectuals and independent politicians,” but the identity of most of these members is not known. According to Popular Current Spokesperson Emad Hamdy, “[The initiative] aims to remove the current political parties that are subordinate to security management and censorship, as they represent the current regime’s point of view.” The Free Egyptians Party rejected the initiative, while the Future of the Nation Party described it as vague. [DNE, Mada Masr, 3/7/2016]

Sinai State claims responsibility for killing five soldiers in al-Arish
A statement from the Interior Ministry reported that two policemen were killed and three injured in an attack Monday. According to the statement, an explosive device went off as an armored vehicle passed by. The attack comes one day after two conscripts were killed and another was injured when an explosive device went off as a police vehicle passed by in Sheikh Zuweid, also in North Sinai, according to a security source. The Sinai State, Egypt’s ISIS affiliate, also reportedly claimed responsibility Monday for an attack in al-Arish, but claimed five soldiers were killed after an IED detonated under their armored tank in al-Arish. The group published a statement circulated on social media detailing the attack. [DNE, Aswat Masriya, 3/8/2016]

Egypt officially nominates Ahmed Aboul-Gheit to head Arab League
The Arab League said on Monday that Egypt has presented Ahmed Abul Gheit, former President Hosni Mubarak’s last Foreign Minister, as its candidate to head the 22-member body after its present chief declined a second term. Abul Gheit is the only nominee for the position, Arab League Deputy Secretary-General Ahmed Bin Helli said in a statement released Monday. The Arab League will hold an urgent meeting on March 10 to choose a new Secretary General to succeed the current Secretary General Nabil al-Araby. The Egyptian Foreign Ministry confirmed on Monday that Egypt had submitted an official note to the Arab League nominating Abul Gheit for the position. A ministry spokesman told reporters that Egypt’s consultations with Arab countries revealed strong support for the Egyptian candidate. Abul Gheit is expected to garner support from neighboring Arab states based on his strong anti-Iran sentiment and his support of Saudi Arabia. [Ahram Online, AFP, DNE, SIS, Mada Masr, 3/7/2016]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


Tunisia says ISIS attacked border to control town
Tunisian Prime Minister Habib Essid said that Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants carried out the raid on Ben Guerdane on Monday in an attempt to control the town and expand their territory. Dozens of militants stormed through the border town of Ben Guerdane on Monday attacking army and police posts and triggering street battles during which troops killed 36 fighters. Twelve soldiers and seven civilians also died during the attack. Essid said officials were still investigating whether the group of 50 militants had infiltrated across the frontier from Libya. President Beji Caid Essebsi denounced Monday’s attacks as “unprecedented” coordinated assaults. [TAP, Reuters, AP, AFP, 3/8/2016]

International community deplores terrorist attacks against security forces in Tunisia
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the terrorist attacks carried out Monday on police and army posts in the town of Ben Guerdane. In a statement released by the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon “reiterates the commitment of the UN to stand with the people of Tunisia as they confront the scourge of terrorism and work to preserve the gains of the revolution.” Ban Ki-moon was joined by many nations, including the United States, France, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, and Bahrain, in strongly condemning the “cowardly attack” in Tunisia. [UN News Centre, 3/7/2016]

UN Libya Envoy condemns detention of Temporary Security Committee members in Tripoli
UN Special Envoy for Libya Martin Kobler has expressed his concern over the detention of three members of the Temporary Security Committee (TSC). The TSC members were briefly detained in Tripoli on Sunday, March 6, 2016. Martin Kobler said that the detention of the TSC members is against UN Security Council resolution (2259), and aims at preventing the TSC from performing its duties freely and safely. The 18-member TSC was set up in January by Serraj to ensure the national unity government can go to Tripoli and operate there. [UNSMIL, Libya Herald, 3/7/2016]

Algerian imam gets jail for demanding author’s execution
Algerian Salafist preacher Abdelfatah Hamadache Ziraoui was given a six-month jail term on Tuesday for demanding the death of journalist and author Kamel Daoud, whom he accused of apostasy. The court in Oran also fined Ziraoui 50,000 dinars (450 euros) after he was prosecuted for making death threats. In December 2014, Ziraoui urged the North African country’s authorities to put Daoud to death in a statement posted on his Facebook page. In 2015, Daoud, a journalist with the Quotidien d’Oran newspaper, won the Prix Goncourt for a debut novel “The Meursault Investigation,” a retelling of Albert Camus’ “The Stranger.” [AFP, AP, 3/8/2016]

Morocco says it has dismantled five-member ISIS cell
Morocco’s Interior Ministry says it has dismantled a five-member ISIS cell planning to detonate explosives in crowded public spaces. The brief statement Monday said the cell had planned to make the explosives using a pressure cooker, and made plans to train in Libya. Monday’s statement didn’t specify the nationalities of those arrested. [AP, 3/7/2016]


Syrian government says will attend peace talks starting March 14, opposition undecided
Syria’s government said Monday it would attend renewed peace talks in Geneva starting March 14, but the opposition was still considering whether to go despite a major lull in fighting. A source close to the Syrian government delegation said it would attend the new round of talks, but the opposition has sent mixed signals on whether it will take part. High Negotiations Committee (HNC) Head Riad Hijab said Monday the Syrian government’s failure to release detainees and the inadequate flow of aid to besieged areas were among the main preconditions for the opposition to attend the indirect peace talks. Also on Monday, a Syrian or Russian air strike on a fuel market in Syria’s northern Idlib province reportedly killed 12 people. Hijab said such incidents would inform the HNC’s decision on whether to attend peace talks in Geneva, calling it a “massacre.” The UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura said Tuesday substantive talks are scheduled to begin March 14. [AFP, WSJ, 3/8/2016]

Syrian army retakes village in Aleppo province from Nusra Front
The Syrian army backed by allied forces recaptured a village from Islamist insurgents hours after Nusra Front and others seized the area south of city of Aleppo, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said on Tuesday. The Nusra Front and Islamist group Jund al-Aqsa and others took the village of al-Ais on Monday, in the first advance of the group this year but government forces quickly launched a counter assault and pushed them out, SOHR said. The Nusra Front is not covered by the US-Russia truce agreement to halt the fighting in Syria and Moscow and Damascus said they will continue fighting groups outside the deal. On Monday, anti-government protests in Idlib city ended abruptly when members of the Nusra Front threatened to fire on protesters if they did not leave the streets. [Reuters, 3/8/2016]

US denies building air bases in northern Syria
The Pentagon on Monday denied reports it is building two airfields in northern Syria as part of the battle against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). Syrian military and security officials have said the United States is expanding an airfield in Rmeilan, in Hasaka province, and new reports have surfaced of a base near the Kurdish city of Kobani. “We are not building or operating any air bases in Syria,” Pentagon spokesman Captain Jeff Davis told reporters. “That we have people there and that we have made deliveries there, and that they have to get there by some means should be no secret, but we are not going to comment on the means,” Davis said. [AFP, 3/7/2016]

One killed, another wounded as rocket projectiles from Syria hit Turkey
One person has been killed while three others wounded as five rocket projectiles from Syria hit Turkey’s southeastern border province of Kilis. The military reported that it fired back at the ISIS targets within the ‘rules of engagement,’ although it was not immediately clear which force was in control of the area in northern Syria the rockets were fired from. The attack comes after Turkish armed forces launched artillery strikes on repeated occasions in the last two weeks on ISIS positions in Syria. [Hurriyet, Naharnet, 3/8/2016]

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


Iraqi Prime Minister says ‘fundamental changes’ underway to restructure government
Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi asked Kurdish lawmakers in Baghdad to introduce their candidates for ministerial posts in his new cabinet, which will be “meritocratic” and bring “fundamental changes” to government practices. Kurdish lawmaker Ahmed Haji Rashid who met with the Abadi on Sunday along with his fellow Kurdish lawmakers in the Iraqi parliament said, “[Abadi] said both Kurdistan … and Iraq were in the same boat and in the absence of real change and reform, the boat would go down for both of them.” Kurdish lawmakers aim to secure an agreement with Abadi that Kurds would receive a 20 percent share of cabinet posts in the new government. Barham Salih, Deputy General Secretary of Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), is reportedly a candidate for the position of Foreign Minister in the new technocrat government in Baghdad. [Rudaw, 3/8/2016]

Kirkuk Provincial Council wants salary cuts for Peshmerga, not just Hashd al-Shaabi
In response to a decree by the central government in Baghdad stating that all civil servant salaries will be cut by 3 percent to fund Hashd al-Shaabi, the Shia militia group, Almas Fadhil Agha, head of the Kirkuk Provincial Council, announced that the cuts should also allocate funds to the Peshmerga forces, also protecting areas against ISIS. Agha stressed that they “decided to allocate 20 of the three percent [salary cuts] to go to the Peshmerga because 95 percent of the city is protected by them.” The central government has also decreed that 40 percent of the cuts will aid internally displaced persons. [Rudaw, 3/8/2016]

New Iraqi troops arrive in Makhmour to join Mosul battle force
Sirwan Barzani, a frontline Peshmerga commander reported that a fifth group of Iraqi troops arrived in the Makhmour front on Monday night to join forces being readied in the area for the long-anticipated battle for Mosul. According to Barzani, the deployment was agreed upon by the Peshmerga Ministry and Iraq’s Department of Defense, and US officials in Iraq have confirmed the establishment of a joint command center in the area to gather Iraqi troops, Kurdish Peshmerga and Sunni fighters under one umbrella for the upcoming battle. [Rudaw, 3/8/2016]

Peshmerga complete advanced training in Germany
A group of 28 Kurdish officers recently concluded their trip to Munster North Training Area, one of Germany’s well-known military training centers since Germany’s expansion of its military training programs for Peshmerga forces to include more specialized skills, including intelligence gathering and monitoring. Kamal Faqyiani, one of the Kurdish officers who attended the 16-day course, said that “the skills are very effective, especially in urban warfare” and hailed the training as successful especially because Peshmerga forces are more used to guerrilla warfare in the mountainous Kurdish region. Germany is one of seven countries arming the Kurdish forces directly, providing military supplies and training, and the United States, Canada, Britain, and Italy also have military advisors and trainers in the Kurdistan Region. [Rudaw, 3/7/2016]


Yemen’s Houthis in Saudi for talks on ending war
Officials of the Iran-allied Houthi movement are in Saudi Arabia for talks on ending Yemen’s war, two officials from a Houthi-controlled Yemeni Revolutionary Committee said on Tuesday. The Houthi visit, the first since the war began in March last year between Houthi forces and a Saudi-led Arab coalition, began on Monday at the invitation of Saudi officials, following a week of secret preparatory talks, they said. A spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition did not respond to requests for a comment, nor did the Saudi Foreign Ministry. Meanwhile, a senior Iranian military official signaled on Tuesday that Iran could send military advisers to Yemen to help Houthi rebels fight the Saudi-led coalition. Brigadier General Masoud Jazayeri, deputy chief of staff of the armed forces, suggested Iran could support the Houthis in a similar way it has backed President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in Syria, in an interview with the Tasnim news agency. [Reuters, 3/8/2016]

Yemen conflict leaves 2.4 million forcibly displaced
UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Leo Dobbs held a press conference today at Palais des Nations in Geneva in which he said, “After almost one year of conflict in Yemen, more than 2.4 million people are forcibly displaced by the fighting, some of them in hard-to-reach areas.” The figure of 2,430,178 internally displaced people in Yemen appears in the latest report of a special Task Force on Population Movement, led jointly by UNHCR and the IOM as part of the humanitarian response to the Yemen crisis. Although down slightly from the 2.5 million displaced people reported by the last task force report in December (due to improved methodology and returnees identified in the south), the number remains staggeringly high and a cause for grave alarm. The figures also mask the human face of the conflict and the continuing suffering and growing needs. [UNHCR, 3/8/2016]

German FM voices concern over civilians in Yemen
Germany’s Foreign Minister Dr. Frank-Walter Steinmeier will visit the UAE and Oman on Monday and Tuesday as part of his Gulf trip, the German Embassy in Muscat confirmed. An embassy official said he met with his counterpart HE Yousuf bin Alawi bin Abdullah among other high-ranking officials to discuss bilateral ties and a peaceful solution to the conflicts in Syria, Libya and Yemen. The German government has expressed concern over the high number of civilian casualties in Yemen. A German Foreign Ministry’s spokesperson said Germany believed the conflict in Yemen can only be settled through political means, expressing concerns over the catastrophic conditions in the country. The German government has called for a ceasefire in Yemen in order to enter humanitarian aid to the country, stressing reaching a ceasefire is first priority. [Muscat Daily, ABNA, 3/7/2016]

Shia clerics in Sunni-ruled Bahrain demand equality
Dozens of Shia clerics called Tuesday for equality in Sunni-ruled Bahrain, insisting that there had never been a call for sectarianism by their majority community in the Gulf kingdom. “There was never, and there is not today, a demand by the people or the ulema [clerics] for a sectarian state… let alone a one-sect state,” the 39 Shia clerics said in a statement. Led by Sheikh Isa Qassim, the spiritual leader of the main opposition Al-Wefaq movement, the clerics also urged protection for the freedom to practice religious rites. “This is a right no believer of any faith can abandon,” they said. Sheikh Ali Salman, the Al-Wefaq secretary general, was given a four-year jail sentence last June for inciting disobedience. [AFP, 3/8/2016]

Kuwait top court jails activist for insulting judges
Kuwait’s supreme court on Monday upheld a four-year jail term against an online activist for insulting judges on Twitter. The court, whose rulings are final, convicted Ahmad Fadhel for writing comments on Twitter deemed offensive to a number of judges, the court verdict said. Three top judges sued the activist, claiming they were subjected to defamation. A lower court issued the same sentence against Fadhel in October 2014. The ruling was upheld by the appeals court in February last year. [AFP, 3/7/2016]


War could cost Syria $1.3 trillion by 2020
The prolonged conflict in Syria could cost more than $1 trillion by 2020, according to a report by World Vision and Frontier Economics. The report analyzes how the destruction of productive capacity, the disruption of investments, and the diversion of public spending to military and security budgets have impacted the Syrian economy. It says the war has cost Syria an estimated $275 billion to date. Real gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is around 45 percent lower than it would be in the absence of war. “The $275 billion is just to Syria itself. It’s the gap between what the GDP should be and what it is,” World Vision’s Syria Response Advocacy Director Fran Charles said. “Financial loss translates into human loss: lost education, lost health, lost jobs, and lost opportunities,” Chief Executive of World Vision UK Tim Pilkington said. “In the best case scenario, even if the war stops this year and it only takes ten years for the GDP to recover, that will cost Syria between $448-689 billion in terms of lost growth. In the worst case scenario, if the war carries on for another four years to 2020, the GDP takes 15 years to recover and will cost $1.3 trillion,” said Charles explained. The report also emphasizes the “severe economic shock” experienced by Syria’s neighbors. [CNBC, The Guardian, 3/8/2016]

Egypt’s EGAS makes first LNG payments for year
Egypt’s state-owned EGAS has made its first payments to liquefied natural gas (LNG) suppliers since terms for deliveries were extended. Egypt imports around six to eight cargoes of LNG per month. Traders say that until last week, EGAS had not paid suppliers since December when it extended payment terms to 90 days from the usual 15 days due to the country’s foreign currency crisis. EGAS Head Khaled Abdel Badie said the company made all payments that were due on LNG shipments. “We agreed with the companies to paying dues owed to them over a period of 90 days, and we are committed to this payment process,” he said. Market participants said Egypt now owes LNG suppliers up to $1 billion. The extended payment terms have increased Egypt’s risk profile for future LNG deals. [Reuters, 3/7/2016]

Kuwait to issue international, domestic bonds
Kuwait’s government plans to issue both international and domestic bonds to help cover a budget deficit caused by low oil prices, Finance Minister Anas al-Saleh said Tuesday. Saleh said the issues would be conducted once government committees had agreed on a plan. Kuwait originally aimed to make its first issue by the end of 2015, but officials have not yet come up with a final plan. The ministry projected in January that the government would run a deficit of 12.2 billion dinars ($40.7 billion) in the next fiscal year starting on April 1, nearly 50 percent higher than the deficit estimated for the current year. The government has begun drawing down on its financial reserves to cover part of the deficit, but it is seeking to issue debt to limit the speed of the drawdown and develop Kuwait’s financial markets.  [Reuters, 3/8/2016]

UK judge adjourns hearing on rival claims to Libyan wealth fund
A court case over the leadership claims of rival heads of Libya’s $67 billion sovereign wealth fund was adjourned in London’s High Court on Monday. The judge declared it would be premature to rule on the case while steps are being taken to form a government of national accord. Both Hassan Bouhadi and AbdulMagid Breish claim to be rightful chairman of the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA). Judge William Blair’s decision on the first day of the hearing came after a letter from the British Foreign Office was read out in court on the prospects for the establishment of a Government of National Accord (GNA) under the auspices of the United Nations. “In those circumstances, the court considers that it would be premature today to decide the issues before it,” Justice Blair said. Breish welcomed the decision. “We must not lose sight of the main objective—to return the assets that we believe have been stolen from the Libyan people,” he said. Bouhadi said he was optimistic a unity government would soon be established. “However, until then, the board of directors of the LIA has a duty to do everything it can do to protect the assets of the LIA,” he said. [Reuters, AP, 3/7/2016]