Monday, 18th January 2016

GERMANY – Germany wants to limit migration from North Africa by declaring Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia ‘safe countries’, officials from the ruling coalition said Monday, cutting their citizens’ chance of being granted asylum to virtually zero. (The Daily Star)

Advances by Islamist militants in Libya pose a new threat to Europe and could unleash a new wave of refugees, Germany’s defence minister said on Monday, adding she did not rule out deploying German troops in the north African country. (Al Arabiya)

Syria – Islamic State captured ground from Syrian government forces near the eastern city of Deir al-Zor on Monday, a group monitoring the war said, pressing a three-day assault which state media says has killed 300 people. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said there was still no word on the fate of over 400 people it reported kidnapped when IS began to attack government-held areas of the city on Saturday. State media has made no mention of the abductions. (Reuters)

Tuesday, 19th January 2016

Euopean Union – The European Union reinforced on Monday its position that products made in Israeli settlements must be clearly labelled in Europe, despite growing tensions with Israel over the issue, but stressed that the bloc opposes any boycott of the Jewish state. (The Jerusalem Post)

Syria – The United Nations said on Monday it would not issue invitations to peace talks between Syria‘s government and opposition set to begin on Jan. 25 until major powers pushing the peace process reach agreement on which rebel representatives should attend. (The Jerusalem Post)

Israel – As Israel frets about the lifting of sanctions on Iran and its troubled relations with the European Union, on the other side of the Middle East conflict – the Palestinians – an uneasy quiet has fallen that speaks of ideas running out. (Reuters)

LIBYA – Representatives of Libya’s rival factions who are sitting in Tunis and negotiating through a U.N.-brokered process announced on Tuesday that they have formed a unity government aimed at stemming the chaos that has engulfed the country in recent years. (The New York Times)

Wednesday, 20th January 2016

SYRIA – Islamic State on Tuesday released 270 of an estimated 400 civilians, most of them women and children, kidnapped at the weekend when its fighters attacked Syrian government-held areas in the eastern city of Deir al-Zor, a monitoring group said. (Reuters)

Thousands of refugee children travelling along the migration route through Turkey and southeastern Europe are at risk from a sustained spell of freezing weather in the next two weeks, the United Nations and aid agencies said on Tuesday. (Reuters)

TUNISIA – Police fired tear gas and clashed with protesters demanding jobs in the impoverished Tunisian city of Kasserine Wednesday, as smaller demonstrations broke out in the capital and at least eight other towns, residents said. (The Daily Star)

EGYPT – Egyptian activists Ali al-Khouly and Mohamed Ali had just sat down at a Cairo coffeeshop when plainclothes officers grabbed them and hauled them off to a police station. What they most wanted to know was: what are your plans next Monday? As the fifth anniversary of Jan. 25 protests that ended Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule approaches, the toughest security crackdown in Egypt’s history is a clear sign that authorities are worried. (Reuters)

ISRAEL – U.S. and European criticism of Israeli actions in the occupied West Bank have drawn a furious response from Israel this week, including a former official dismissing the U.S. ambassador to Tel Aviv as a “little Jew boy”. (Reuters)

Israel accused Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah guerrillas on Wednesday of trying to escalate a months-old surge in Palestinian street violence by recruiting militants in the Israeli-occupied West Bank to carry out suicide bombings. (Euronews)

Thursday, 21st January 2016

SYRIA – The Russian military is expanding its footprint in Syria, setting up operations at an airfield in a northeastern, mostly Kurdish province across the country from its main coastal base. In an adjacent province, locals say the United States is intensifying its aid to Kurdish militias, even taking over a small agricultural airport; Pentagon officials denied this. And some Syrian fighters say Russia has reached out to Sunni tribes, offering to help them fight the Islamic State extremist group in the east after similar American efforts failed. (The New York Times)

There will be no Syria peace talks if the government does not take humanitarian steps outlined by the U.N. Security Council, including a halt to attacks on civilians and an end to blockades, the opposition’s chief negotiator said on Thursday. (Reuters)

LIBYA – Four storage tanks at Libya’s Ras Lanuf terminal have been set ablaze following an attack by “Islamic State” (“IS”) militants. Libya’s National Oil Corporation said the situation was “catastrophic for the environment.” (Deutsche Welle)

ISRAEL – Israel confirmed on Thursday it was planning to appropriate a large tract of fertile land in the occupied West Bank, close to Jordan, a move likely to exacerbate tensions with Western allies and already drawing international condemnation. (Reuters)

TURKEY – Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu accused Russia on Thursday of jeopardizing peace talks on Syria planned for next week by insisting on the inclusion of “terrorist groups” such as the Kurdish YPG militia on the opposition side. (Al Arabiya)

Friday, 22nd January 2016

SYRIA – Syrian Kurds must be represented at peace talks in Geneva or they will fail, a Syrian Kurdish leader said on Friday.

Saleh Muslim, co-chair of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), also said one of the opposition groups involved, Jaysh al-Islam, had the “same mentality” as al Qaeda and Islamic State.

The negotiations, due to begin on Jan. 25 in Geneva, look increasingly uncertain for reasons including a dispute over the composition of the opposition delegation. (Reuters)

TUNISIA – Tunisia declared a nationwide curfew on Friday after four days of protests and rioting over jobs and economic conditions, the interior ministry said. The ministry said in a statement that due to the risk to public and private property a curfew would be imposed from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m., starting on Friday. (Al Arabiya)

On Dec. 17, 2010, a young, desperate Tunisian vendor named Mohamed Bouazizi set himself ablaze in a suicide protest over unemployment and police abuse that spread revolt across the Arab world. Five years on, Ridha Yahyaoui, another young Tunisian, has killed himself in frustration after being refused a job, inflaming protests through the same impoverished towns that once brought down the regime of Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. If Tunisia was hailed as the success story of the Arab Spring revolts for its democratic progress, it has also become an example of the dangers in failing to tackle economic malaise, alienation and frustrations of North African youth. (Reuters)

LIBYA – Fires at oil storage tanks in the major Libyan terminal of Ras Lanuf were still raging on Friday more than 24 hours after an attack by Islamic State militants, a firefighting official said. Mustafa Moussi said fires were burning at five of the terminal’s 13 storage tanks, one of which was close to collapse. (Reuters)