At a Thursday joint press conference with Government of National Accord's (GNA) Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan pledged additional military support for the GNA, which earlier in the day announced driving Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) from its remaining positions in Tripoli's suburbs. Erdogan said, "We will never leave our Libyan brothers to the mercy of legionnaires" and Turkey's support for the GNA "will increasingly continue." However, GNA Deputy Prime Minister Ahmed Maiteeq stated after talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow Wednesday that the GNA might dial down its military operations to facilitate diplomacy. The United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) announced Monday that the GNA and LNA will soon resume ceasefire negotiations. During the press conference with al-Serraj, Erdogan also said, "We aim to expand our cooperation including exploration and drilling operations to take advantage of natural resources in the eastern Mediterranean." Before providing military assistance to turn the tide of Libya's civil war, Ankara signed a November 27, 2019 agreement with the GNA defining their maritime boundaries, which Greece and Cyprus claim encroaches on their territorial waters.
Iran on Thursday released US Navy veteran Michael White, who was sentenced to 13 years in prison for purportedly insulting Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and posting private information online. A Swiss government flight transferred White to Zurich, from where he will return to the US. Although Washington and Tehran deny that White's release is part of a prisoner swap, a senior US official told Fox News that the Trump administration freed Majid Taheri, an Iranian-American doctor sentenced Thursday to time served for violating American sanctions against Iran, in exchange for White. White originally traveled to Iran in 2018 to meet a woman he met online. The US also returned Professor Sirous Asgari to Iran Tuesday. Asgari was acquitted of all charges last November and only COVID-19-related flight cancelations stymied earlier Department of Homeland Security attempts to deport him.
To ease negotiations with the IMF for a $10 billion loan, the government and central bank over the next week will reach consensus figures on the losses to Lebanon's financial system during its present economic crisis. Gerry Rice, director of the IMF's Communications Department, said Thursday that Lebanon's reform plan to qualify for the loan should be structured "in a way to ensure that the burden of adjustment does not fall on the poor and middle class." That might prove difficult since Lebanese Economy Minister Raoul Nehme told The National on Wednesday that 60 percent of the population is predicted to fall below the poverty line by the end of the year, up from 33 percent last September.
The Turkish parliament expelled three members Thursday, Leyla Guven and Musa Farisogullari from the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) as well as Enis Berberoglu from the main opposition Republican People's Party's (CHP). Guven and Farisogullari were convicted and sentenced to prison for being members of an "armed terror organization." The group in question is the Kurdish Communities Union, an umbrella group of parties, including the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK). Both the US and EU have designated the PKK as a terrorist organization. Berberoglu was tried and sentenced to prison for disclosing government secrets by allegedly providing the Cumhuriyet newspaper with footage of Turkish intelligence transporting weapons to Syrian rebel groups.
After Russian warplanes carried out late Tuesday and Wednesday morning the first airstrikes in three months against anti-regime forces in northwestern Syria, the Russian embassy in Syria tweeted: "Syrian Arab Army received the second batch of advanced MiG-29 fighter jets from #Russia - in the framework of military & technical cooperation between our countries. Syrian already begin to carry out missions on those planes."
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that Israeli airstrikes Thursday night targeting Syria's Scientific Studies and Research Center, a defense laboratory associated with the manufacture of chemical arms and advanced missiles, killed at least 9 people. Neither the Syrian S-300 anti-aircraft battery located just a few miles from the site nor the nearby Russian S-400 battery appear to have been used to repel the Israelis.
The Syrian pound traded at 2,050 per dollar on the black market Thursday, a record low partially attributable to the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act taking effect later this month. It imposes sanctions and travel restrictions on those providing support to members of the Assad regime.
Norwegian Foreign Minister Ine Eriksen Søreide said Thursday that Oslo will withhold half of the money pledged to support the PA's school system this year until Ramallah pulls textbooks promoting hate and violence. Coalition lawmakers issued a statement last December that asserted, "We can no longer sit still and watch Norwegian money contribute to a teaching system that encourages children to violence and promotes racism and anti-Semitism." Annual Norwegian aid to the PA's education system totals approximately $24 million.
Egyptian authorities will prosecute a father who tricked his three daughters into undergoing female genital mutilation (FGM) under the pretense of injecting them with a COVID-19 vaccine. Instead, a medic anesthetized them and performed the procedure. Prosecutors will charge both the father and medic under a 2016 law that made FGM a felony. To date, no one has been successfully prosecuted for FGM in a country where, according to a 2016 UN Children's Fund study, 87 percent of women between 15-49 have undergone FGM.
Iranian Electricity Minister Reza Ardakanian told IRNA that he signed a contract during his Wednesday visit to Baghdad for the export of electricity in 2020 and 2021. Ardakanian did not specify the amount to be exported while Iraq has yet to confirm the deal. The US has continuously granted Iraq sanctions waivers to import electricity from Iran.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum