Top News: Air Strikes Hit Yemen Airports as Saudis Ponder Ceasefire

Heavy Saudi-led airstrikes targeted several airports Monday across Yemen even as the kingdom’s Foreign Minister said officials were considering a ceasefire to allow aid into Yemen. In the southern city of Aden, more than 150 airstrikes hit the city’s airport. Monday’s airstrikes also hit airports in the city of Hodeida and Sana’a. They said other airstrikes targeted Yemen’s eastern province of Marib and the Houthi stronghold of Saada, while clashes in Aden left buildings ablaze and the Saudi-led coalition air dropped weapons to tribes allied with Hadi’s government in Marib. Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud announced on Tuesday the establishment of a center to coordinate humanitarian assistance for Yemen and invited the United Nations to coordinate its relief work. [APSPA (Arabic), 5/4/2015]



Ex-CIA Director reveals details regarding the January 25 uprising
Former CIA Director Michael Morell disclosed in his upcoming book new details about the January 25 revolution. In excerpts published by the Washington Poston Monday, Morell reveals he was a conduit for communications between the administration of US President Barack Obama and then Egyptian intelligence chief General Omar Suleiman. Morrell added he received a call from the former CIA director saying Suleiman was looking for guidance from the United States. The CIA believed that Suleiman was looking for ways to survive the revolution and perhaps even maneuver to succeed Mubarak, the book says. One of the messages sent to Suleiman urged him to push Mubarak to deliver a resignation speech and appoint a transitional council, as part of a final effort to achieve a peaceful transition of power, Morell says. [Egypt Independent, 5/5/2015]

Government seeks rights groups’ eradication, say NGOs
Twenty Egyptian human rights organizations issued a joint statement Monday condemning “aggressive actions by the Egyptian government against civil society, which seeks the NGOs’ eradication.” High profile human rights organizations—including the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR), El Nadeem Centre for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence, Nazra for Feminist Studies, the Hisham Mubarak Law Center among others—criticized the “falsity of the government’s claim to support civil society” and the laws it uses to stifle the work of civil society. The statement strongly criticized Law 84/2002 (the NGOs law), saying it is being applied to “suppress” civil society. The NGOs’ statement also highlighted the reopening of investigations in cases related to the receipt of foreign funds, saying it is aimed at “eliminating remaining civil society organizations.” [DNE, 5/4/2015]

Court to rule on July 2 in lawsuit calling for Facebook to be blocked in Egypt
The State Council’s administrative court will look into a lawsuit calling for blocking Facebook services in Egypt on July 2. The lawsuit argues that Facebook is used to spread immorality, rumors, and falsified news detrimental to the state. The lawsuit adds that due to ease with which anyone create an account, it’s possible to create pages falsely representing state agencies, such as Egypt’s General Intelligence and the Supreme Council for Armed Forces, or public figures. In response to the lawsuit, the State Litigation Authority said that using Facebook is a constitutional right granted to all Egyptians. The authority added that Saudi Arabia, which applies sharia law, has not blocked the website. As a result, blocking the website will bring about strife and would be deemed an assault on freedom. The authority added that it would be technically impossible to block the website. [AMAY (Arabic), 5/3/2015]

Egypt plays pivotal role in the region says German Foreign Minister
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that Egypt is a key partner in guaranteeing stability in the region at a Cairo press conference on Monday. The German Foreign Minister is currently in Egypt, where he has met with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. Speaking about illegal immigration into Europe, especially from the Libyan coastline, the Foreign Minister said that Egypt urgently needed to protect and monitor its borders, adding that Germany provides technical assistance to Egypt to do so. Steinmeier also spoke of supporting Egypt’s economy, and Egyptian-German maritime cooperation. At the press conference, Shoukry said that Sisi would visit Germany this June. German newspaper Die Welt reported that Steinmeier also discussed the 2013 NGO trial in which Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Foundation was ordered closed, and two of its German staff members sentenced in absentia. Steinmeier expressed hope that the issue would be resolved by the time Sisi visits Germany in June. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, Die Welt, 5/4/2015]

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Protesters close eastern Libyan oil port of Zueitina; Tobruk government plans new refineries
Protesters demanding state jobs have shut down the eastern Libyan oil export port of Zueitina, a port engineer said on Monday. The protesters complained that they had not received state jobs, as promised by a previous oil minister, and closed down a pipeline leading into the port. Meanwhile, the Tobruk government plans to build two small oil refineries in eastern and southern Libya in a bid to improve local fuel supplies. Refineries are concentrated in the northern and western regions in the country, which motivated the Tobruk government’s decision to build the new facilities in the east and south. Despite being a major oil exporter, Libya relies on imports for the majority of its refined fuel needs. [Reuters, Libya Monitor (subscription), 5/5/2015]

OIC General Secretariat delegation visits Libya
The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) General Secretariat sent a delegation to Libya on a fact-finding mission at the end of April. A three-member delegation met with officials from the Tobruk-based government including the Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni, along with civil society representatives. The trip was to underscore the OICs commitment to preserving stability and security in Libya, as well as finding a peaceful resolution through inclusive national dialogue. [Zawya, 5/5/2015]

National strategy against corruption in Tunisia yet to be implemented
President of the National Authority against Corruption Samir Annabi said the project to implement a national strategy against corruption remained stalled, though one year has elapsed since its drafting began. According to him, the delay was caused by the absence of a preliminary strategy and to the fact that potential obstacles and difficulties were not taken into consideration. He added that among the difficulties encountered by participants in devising this strategy is the absence of a clear notion on corruption. [TAP/All Africa, 5/4/2015]

Ennaceur urges Tunisian MPs to attend parliamentary committee sessions
Speaker of the House of People’s Representatives Mohamed Ennaceur called on members of the special parliamentary committees to respect their moral commitment to the people who elected them, urging them to attend the committee meetings. With the creation of the health and social affairs committee, the parliament will have all its committees, pending the organization of the conference of committee presidents. The legislature has nine permanent and eight special committees, with each holding twenty-two members. [TAP/All Africa, 5/4/2015]

Israeli PM warns Jews against visiting Tunisia due to terror threat
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has warned Jewish pilgrims against going to Tunisia this week after learning of concrete threats targeting the annual pilgrimage to Djerba, Tunisia. An estimated 2,000 Jewish pilgrims from across Tunisia and abroad are expected to attend the annual pilgrimage on May 6 and 7 to the Ghriba synagogue, the oldest in Africa. Netanyahu’s office released a travel warning citing information indicating a planned attack, however, the Tunisian authorities have refuted that claim, stating they have no information related to an attack and welcomed people to join the festivities. [Tunisia Live, 5/4/2015]


Staffan de Mistura to kick off separate talks with rival Syria sides
The UN Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura on Tuesday announced the start of wide-ranging consultations in Geneva with regional and domestic players in the hope of reviving stalled dialogue on the conflict. De Mistura said talks with the Syrian government and some forty groups, including “political, military actors, women, civil society, victims, the diaspora,” and twenty regional and international players, including Iran, would participate. The consultations would be held on a one-to-one basis between the UN and the separate players. He said the “low-key” talks could extend beyond a tentative June deadline. Terror-listed entities like the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) and the Nusra Front have not been invited, but groups in contact with them are on the list of participants. “We will try to listen to the maximum voices,” he said. Calling the Syrian conflict the “biggest humanitarian tragedy since the Second World War,” de Mistura said he would “leave no stone unturned” in his bid to try to end the fighting. [AFP, The Daily Star, BBC, 5/5/2015]

Hospital in Syria’s Aleppo shuts due to bombing
One of the main hospitals in Syria’s northern city of Aleppo has been forced to close indefinitely after being targeted by rockets and barrel bombs, Doctors Without Borders (MSF) said on Monday. MSF said the private Al-Sakhour hospital, serving around 400,000 people as one of the only hospitals in east Aleppo, halted all activities after being bombed twice on consecutive days last week. “It is unclear when or if the hospital will be operative again” as it was severely damaged, the MSF statement said. The hospital’s staff are Syrian, but it receives medical equipment from MSF every three months. Raquel Ayora, MSF’s director of operations, said: “We renew our appeal to the warring parties to respect civilians, health facilities and medical staff… These new attacks on medical infrastructures are intolerable.” MSF said another medical center in Aleppo closed on April 17 after being repeatedly targeted and an air attack on an ambulance last month killed three medical staff, their driver, and a civilian. [AP, AFP, 5/5/2015]

Aleppo civilians suffer “unthinkable atrocities”
Syrian government forces are committing “crimes against humanity” by indiscriminately bombing Aleppo, Amnesty International said on Tuesday, as it also criticized rebels for abuses including war crimes. In a new report, the rights watchdog said “relentless” government aerial bombardment of Aleppo had forced many residents to “eke out an existence underground.” It slammed the “horrendous war crimes and other abuses in the city by government forces and armed opposition groups on a daily basis… Some of the government’s actions in Aleppo amount to crimes against humanity,” Amnesty said. The report was particularly critical of the government’s use of so-called barrel bombs, crudely constructed weapons fashioned from barrels and other vessels packed with explosives. The report also criticized rebels fighting in Aleppo for committing war crimes by using “imprecise weapons such as mortars and improvised rockets fitted with gas canisters called ‘hell cannons.'” [BBC, AFP, 5/5/2015]

Jordan hosts eighteen-country military drill
Jordan has kicked off a two-week military exercise with some 10,000 participants from eighteen countries, many members of a US-led military coalition against ISIS. The kingdom is hosting the “Eager Lion” drill for the fifth year. Jordan’s Brig. Gen. Fahad al-Damen, in charge of joint training,
said Tuesday that the rise of extremist groups mandates cooperation “to fight all aspects and types of terrorism.” US Maj. Gen. Rick B. Mattson says the drill will include responses to conventional and unconventional threats, including border security. [AP, 5/5/2015]


Senegal to send 2,100 troops to join Saudi-led alliance
Senegal will send 2,100 troops to Saudi Arabia as part of an international coalition combating Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen, the West African nation’s Foreign Minister said on Monday. “The international coalition is aiming to protect and secure the holy sites of Islam, Medina and Mecca,” Senegalese Foreign Minister Mankeur Ndiaye told parliament. Senegal deployed troops to Saudi Arabia as part of the US-led alliance during the Gulf War against Iraq, when ninety-two of its soldiers were killed in the crash of a Saudi transport plane in 1991. [Reuters, 5/4/2015]

Airstrikes hit Yemen airports as Saudis ponder ceasefire
Heavy Saudi-led airstrikes targeted several airports Monday across Yemen even as the kingdom’s Foreign Minister said officials were considering a ceasefire to allow aid into Yemen. In the southern city of Aden, more than 150 airstrikes hit the city’s airport. Monday’s airstrikes also hit airports in the city of Hodeida and Sana’a. They said other airstrikes targeted Yemen’s eastern province of Marib and the Houthi stronghold of Saada, while clashes in Aden left buildings ablaze and the Saudi-led coalition air dropped weapons to tribes allied with Hadi’s government in Marib. Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud announced on Tuesday the establishment of a center to coordinate humanitarian assistance for Yemen and invited the United Nations to coordinate its relief work. [AP, SPA (Arabic), 5/4/2015]

GCC to hold Riyadh summit on Yemen crisis
The six-state Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states will meet in the Saudi capital of Riyadh on Tuesday to discuss regional developments, most significantly the ongoing crisis in Yemen. Alongside the Gulf heads of state, French President Francois Hollande will be the first foreign leader to attend a GCC Summit since its inception in 1981. Last week, the GCC insisted that talks on ending Yemen’s conflict be brokered by the regional body and held in Riyadh rather than a neutral venue as sought by Iran. [Al-Arabiya, AFP,  5/4/2015]

Saudi Ambassador to US sworn in as new Foreign Minister
Former Saudi Ambassador to the United States Adel al-Jubeir was sworn in on Monday before King Salman bin Abdulaziz as the kingdom’s new Foreign Minister. Jubeir served as Saudi ambassador to the United States since 2007 and will replace Prince Saud al-Faisal, who was appointed Foreign Minister in 1975. Prince Faisal had asked to be relieved of his duties. The king also relieved his Chief of Royal Protocol late Monday amid claims of “negative conduct” with a photojournalist. [Al-Arabiya, 5/4/2015]


IMF may agree on $800 million loan to Iraq in weeks
Iraq has requested financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and may reach an agreement within weeks on a loan of about $800 million, a senior IMF official said. The government has projected a budget deficit of about $25 billion this year. Aid from the IMF could ease the pressure and by increasing investor confidence, helping Iraq to raise money from other sources. The aid would likely come in the form of a Rapid Financing Instrument (RFI), which could lead to a longer-term lending program for Iraq if needed. Meanwhile, Iraqi forces besieged inside the country’s largest oil refinery are running low on food and calling for reinforcements to provide relief from ISIS militants that have advanced into the compound. [Reuters, 5/5/2015]

Saudi Arabia issues rules for foreign investing in stocks
Saudi Arabia laid down final rules on Monday for the long-awaited opening of its $590 billion stock market to foreigners, allowing only large institutions to invest in one of the last major bourses to have remained mostly shut to international investors. The rules, which take effect on June 1 ahead of the market’s planned opening on June 15, permit only qualified foreign investors such as banks, brokerages, fund managers, and insurance companies with at least $5 billion in assets under management to invest in the market. Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund said the country needs to take significant measures to curb public spending and reduce its reliance on oil revenue. [WSJ, 5/4/2015]

IMF says Egypt economic policies starting to pay off
Egypt’s economic policy reforms are starting to pay off and growth is strengthening although the country still faces a difficult situation, a senior official of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said. The Fund had held “good discussions” with Egyptian officials in Washington last month and plans to send a technical assistance team to Cairo in early June. Masood Ahmed, director of the IMF’s Middle East and Central Asia Department, said the Egyptian government had not requested an IMF loan, but reiterated that the Fund is ready to provide assistance if asked. [Reuters, 5/5/2015]

Libya’s foreign reserves fell by a quarter last year
Libya burned through more than a quarter of its foreign currency reserves in 2014 to offset a fall in vital oil revenues and keep the country running, official data showed on Monday. The dramatic fall in foreign reserves suggests the oil producing country may be edging closer to financial collapse. A budget crisis has worsened following the closure in December of Libya’s two biggest oil ports, Es Sider and Ras Lanuf. More than a dozen oilfields have been shut this year and oil revenues fell 30 percent. [Reuters, 5/4/2015]