PGI Risk Portal Weekly MENA Briefing
Posted on 16 December by PGI Risk Portal
The transfer of civilians and rebels from eastern Aleppo repeatedly stalled amid reports that rebels were not permitting the departure of civilians from the besieged Idlib Shi’a villages of al-Foua and Kefraya. Around 3,000 fighters and civilians were left stranded in buses for hours before evacuations resumed. Elsewhere in Syria, Turkish forces faced fierce resistance from Islamic State fighters near al-Bab on 22 December, leaving 14 Turkish soldiers dead and 33 others wounded.
There were continuing indications of an improvement in Libyan oil production with the start of production at the Sharara oil field after the end of a two-year blockade of a key oil pipeline and the arrival of the first oil tanker to visit Es Sider terminal in two-years. Four militants attacked tourists in the city of Karak on 18 December, killing ten people including a Canadian tourist. Subsequent operations uncovered a suicide belt and other explosives. The attack was the first Islamic State-claimed attack within Jordanian border following earlier militant attacks including an Islamic State suicide attack on the border with Syria in October.
PGI’s Weekly Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Briefing provides an overview of key developments from across the region in the past seven days. To receive PGI’s daily briefing, containing a comprehensive update of developments in the region, register now for free Risk Portal access or follow us @PGIIntelligence
Government to open Mauritanian border crossing – 21 December
Prime Minister Abdel Malik al-Sellal said that the government would open a border crossing with Mauritania to encourage trade and facilitate the movement of people. No date was immediately confirmed for the planned opening of the border. Relations between Algeria and Mauritania suffered in 2015 after Nouakchott accused Algiers of interfering its domestic affairs.
Police clash with students in Béjaïa – 19 December
Security forces clashed with student demonstrators in downtown Béjaïa, around 200 km east of Algiers. There were no reports of injuries. The students had mobilised to protest a decision by the education ministry to reduce the length of winter holidays.
Clash leaves militant leader, policeman dead in Cairo – 19 December
Egypt’s interior ministry announced that a raid on the Hassam Movement’s headquarters left the militant leader and a police officer dead on 19 December. The Hassam Movement claimed responsibility for the 11 December bomb attack inside a Cairo church that killed 26 people and a 9 December bombing that killed six policemen in western Cairo. In a statement circulated on social media, the group confirmed the death of a member named Mohamed Ashour Desheisha. Most attacks in Cairo have been claimed by Hassam and another little-known group, Lawaa al-Thawra.
Sugar workers continue strike in Fayoum – 18 December
Daily News Egypt reported that employees of the Fayoum Sugar Company continued their open-ended strike. The strike had begun days earlier in protest against alleged repressive action by the local government and workers demanded concessions from their employer, including raises, meal vouchers and permanent employment. The strike comes amid a shortage of sugar in Egypt which has led to sharp price increases.
Two die in clashes west of Cairo – 17 December
According to local media, one militant and one police recruit died following clashes between unidentified gunmen in 6 October City, west of Giza. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack. The incident comes following attacks by militants in recent days. On 10 December, Hasm Movement claimed responsibility for an attack which left six policemen dead in Giza.
Tehran frees four Kuwaitis – 19 December
Iran released four Kuwaiti nationals arrested several days earlier in the in southwestern Ahvaz area. The reason for their arrest was not officially confirmed, although a Kuwaiti newspaper had said the men accidentally strayed into Iranian waters while fishing. On 16 December, Kuwait summoned the Iranian ambassador to protest the decision. Kuwait withdrew its ambassador to Tehran in January to protest attacks on Saudi diplomatic facilities in Iran.
Tehran calls for meeting of nuclear deal powers over US sanctions – 17 December
According to the official IRNA news agency, the Iranian foreign minister requested a meeting of a commission overseeing the implementation of a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers which saw a reduction in sanctions in return for restrictions on the Iranian nuclear programme in response to alleged US violation of the agreement. The call comes after the White House said that an extension of sanctions against Iran would be implemented without the signature of Barack Obama on 15 December.
Bombs kill seven in Koysinjaq – 20 December
According to the deputy interior minister for the Kurdistan Regional Government, two bombs killed seven people at the headquarters of the Kurdistan Democratic Party of Iran at around 2000 hrs local time. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the bombings. Security in Iraqi Kurdistan is generally better than in other areas of Iraq and attacks are rare.
Mortar attack kills 10, injures 34 in Mosul – 20 December
The Anadolu Agency said that a suspected Islamic State mortar attack killed at least 10 civilians and injured 34 others in Mosul. Human Rights Watch has warned that the Islamic State militant group is deliberately targeting civilians who refuse to join them as they face a major government operation to capture the city.
IED blast kills one in Baghdad – 18 December
A roadside IED blast killed one civilian and wounded three others in northern Baghdad’s al-Rashidiya district. No group claimed responsibility for the attack, but Islamic State militants have continued to stage attacks across Iraq despite suffering significant territorial setbacks.
Soldiers kill one in clashes in East Jerusalem – 22 December
Israeli officials said soldiers shot dead a Palestinian man amid clashes during an operation to demolish the home of an alleged assailant. Officials said that the man threw an explosive device at soldiers, often a euphemism for a petrol bomb, before they shot and killed him. Operations to arrest Palestinians or demolish homes frequently trigger unrest in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Shooting attack wounds civilians in West Bank – 19 December
An Israeli man was lightly wounded in a drive-by shooting near Halamish in the West Bank. Authorities said the shooters opened fire from a passing vehicle near the Palestinian village of Aboud. Police launched a search for the assailants but it was unclear who responsible for the attack. On 14 December, a gunman fired on a car carrying an Israeli woman and her two children in Ramallah in the West Bank.
Four police officers die in clashes in Karak – 20 December
Security forces clashed with unidentified gunmen during an operation in the Qarifla region of Karak province to locate local suspected militants following an attack on 18 December, killing four police officers. The Petra news agency said that the suspects were not linked to the group behind the 18 December attack which left 10 people dead and 34 others injured.
Gunmen kill police, tourist in Karak – 18 December
Four terrorists were killed in an operation by security forces after they attacked tourists and police in the city of Karak. Ten people, including seven members of the security forces and a Canadian tourist were killed in the attack, while 34 other civilians and police officers were injured according to local media. The violence began when the militants fired on police from a home in the town of Qatraneh in the Karak district. The gunmen later fired on security forces in Karak and holed up for several hours in the Karak Castle, a Crusader fort. No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack.
Hariri forms 30-minister government – 19 December
Prime Minister Saad Hariri announced that he has formed a 30 member national unity government, bringing together most of the political spectrum except for the Maronite Kataeb Party that refused to be represented by a state minister. New portfolios include an anti-corruption post and, for the first time, a minister of state for women. Hariri stated that the first task of the new government would be reaching a new electoral law so that fresh elections could be held.
Production restarts at Sharara oilfield – 21 December
The Libyan National Oil Corporation said that production at the Sharara oilfield reached 58,000 barrels as operations resumed a day after the lifting of a two-year pipeline blockade. The NOC said that it hopes it can increase national output by 270,000 barrels per day (bpd) over the next three months. The overall production capacity of the field is around 330,000 bpd. Libyan output remains far lower than the 1.6 mn bpd produced before 2011 and armed factions frequently disrupt the operation of oil infrastructure.
Flights resume at Labraq, Toburk – 20 December
Flights at Labraq and Torbuk airports resumed after a strike by baggage handlers who claim that they had gone a year without pay. Abdullah Al-Thinni, head of Libya’s eastern political authority, reportedly secured funds to pay back wages. However, baggage handlers in Misrata refused to return to work until they confirmed receipt of their wages, and there are concerns about possible industrial action by handlers at Tripoli’s Mitiga airport.
Tanker to load first crude cargo from Es Sider in two years – 20 December
An oil tanker docked at Es Sider port to load the first cargo of crude since the terminal reopened following a two-year closure. Es Sider, Libya’s biggest export terminal, had been shut due to a blockade by an armed militia since 2014.The facility reopened in mid-September, but repairs were needed before tankers could load at the port, and its capacity remains far below its pre-conflict level. The tanker that docked at the port, the Alicante, is due to start loading 600,000 barrels of oil for export to Italy on 21 December. A second tanker is expected to load before the end of the month.
Car bomb attack kills seven in Benghazi – 18 December
An Islamic State suicide car bomb attack killed seven members of the pro-eastern government Libyan National Army (LNA) in Benghazi. The blast occurred in the besieged district of Ganfouda, among the last remaining strongholds of Islamist militants in the eastern city. Reports also said that fighting in Benghazi the previous day killed at least three LNA fighters and 13 militants.
Hundreds protest against educational reform nationwide – 19 December
Local media said that several hundred members of the Democratic Confederation of Labour (CDT) and Unified Socialist Party (PSU) unions protested nationwide to denounce a draft bill on education reform. The main demonstration took place in Casablanca. The draft reform has encountered intense opposition from unions since it was published on 22 November. Unions have called for more investment in education to prevent teachers from leaving the sector.
MERS kills two in Buriadah, Taif – 20 December
The health ministry announced that two people had died as a result of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), increasing the total number of deaths from the virus to 628 since September 2012. The latest deaths occurred in Taif and Buriadah, however officials said that no new cases had been reported in the last 24 hours.
Customs officials arrest Gulf citizen for smuggling drugs at Al-Bathaa – 19 December
Saudi Customs agents at al-Bathaa port prevented an attempt to smuggle 211,000 Captagon pills into the Kingdom, arresting the Gulf citizen who owned the car where the pills were hidden. Authorities found 211,560 Captagon pills stashed in the spare fuel tank of the vehicle.
Clashes kill three Turkish soldiers, wound 11 others in al-Bab – 21 December
According to Turkish officials, three Turkish soldiers died and 11 others were wounded during clashes with Islamic State (IS) militants in al-Bab. Officials said that fighting was ongoing. Turkish forces are in northern Syria as part of a campaign to clear the border of IS and Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) forces.
Aleppo evacuations resume after delay – 21 December
Syrian state television indicated that evacuations from the rebel-held eastern districts of Aleppo continued after they were delayed for nearly a day. The delays raised concerns over the wellbeing of civilians, waiting on buses in cold weather with little food or water. Government forces said that rebels in Idlib, where a simultaneous evacuation of Shi’a civilians was taking place, were responsible for the delay.
Islamic State attack kills 20 troops near Palmyra – 20 December
An Islamic State (IS) attack near Palmyra killed at least 20 pro-regime forces, including two high-ranking Syrian officers who died when a helicopter was shot down. According to a report from the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights the fighting took place at the Tayfur airport in Homs province. IS seized Palmyra on 11 December and has launched repeated attacks in the areas to weaken pro-government forces.
Government suspends evacuations from Aleppo – 16 December
The Syrian government has suspended the evacuation of civilians and fighters from eastern Aleppo, accusing rebels of breaking terms of the deal by trying to take prisoners with them during the evacuation. According to a Reuters, one witness reported hearing at least four blasts at a location where buses had been departing. Up to 8,000 people have been evacuated from rebel-held Aleppo in several convoys of buses and ambulances since 15 December.
Authorities arrest five suspected militants in Sidi Bouzid, Beja – 22 December
The interior ministry said that the National Guard arrested five members of a militant cell in Sidi Bozuid and Beja. Initial reports indicated that the group was in contact with militants in Algeria and Libya though there was no indication whether the cell was planning to carry out any attacks. Arrests of suspected Islamist militant supporters are common in Tunisia.
Thousands protest in Tunis against killing of engineer – 20 December
Local media said that thousands of people protested in Tunis to denounce the killing of a Tunisian engineer, Mohammed Zouari, whom Hamas claim worked for their drone programme. Unidentified assailants shot dead Zouari at his home in Sfax on 15 December. On 17 December, Hamas claimed that Israeli security forces killed Zouari. The government has pledged to prosecute whoever is responsible for the killing.
Clashes leave 22 dead in Taiz – 20 December
Military sources said that fighting between Houthi rebels and forces affiliated with the Saudi-backed government of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi left at least 22 people dead in the northern outskirts of Taiz. The fighting comes after unconfirmed reports on 17 December that fighters with the Hasm militia took over large areas of the city after forcing out government-appointed leaders, complaining of a lack of government support.
Two soldiers die in fighting in Midi – 20 December
Two officers with Yemen’s Saudi-led coalition backed government were killed in fighting with Houthi rebels at the Red Sea port town of Midi. Government troops captured the town from rebels in January. The area is seen as strategically key as Saudi-led coalition officials accuse Houthis of using the port to bring in weapons to northern Yemen.
Kerry hopes for a ceasefire before 2017 – 19 December
US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed his hope in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, that a new ceasefire could be announced in Yemen before the end of 2016. Kerry also said that the US will work with Britain, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to achieve a new pause in the fighting. If successful, this will be the eighth ceasefire since the hostilities escalated in 2015. Since March 2015, Saudi Arabia has led an Arab coalition conducting air strikes against Houthi rebels, which it believes are armed by Iran, and providing other assistance to local forces in support of President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi.
Suicide bomb kills at least 30 soldiers in Aden – 18 December
Officials said that a suicide bomber killed at least 30 soldiers and wounded tens more while they were queuing to receive salaries at the al-Solban base in Aden’s al-Arish district. The attack comes after a similar attack killed 48 soldiers on 10 December. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, though the Islamic State militant has previously targeted military positions in Aden.