Arab leaders on Wednesday condemned mass killings perpetrated by the Syrian regime and called for a political solution to the conflict in Syria, although the Syrian opposition had asked for “sophisticated” arms to tip the balance of power. “We call for a political solution to the crisis in Syria based on the Geneva I communiqué,” calling for a peaceful transition of power, they said in a statement at the end of a two-day summit in Kuwait. At the summit on Monday, Syria’s opposition National Coalition chief Ahmed Jarba repeated calls on the international community to supply rebels with “sophisticated weapons.” Jarba urged Arab leaders to put pressure on world powers to fulfill pledges to supply arms. Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, whose country is a key backer of the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad, said the world was “betraying” rebels by failing to arm them. [AFP, 3/26/2014]


Sisi meeting with SCAF, expected to submit resignation
Several Egyptian media outlets reported that Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is currently meeting with military officials to submit his resignation in preparation for launching his presidential campaign. Aswat Masriya’s Arabic website reported that there are conflicting reports from military sources about the time of the meeting. A report on the state owned Al-Ahram said that a statement will be broadcast after Sisi submits his resignation to interim President Adly Mansour upon his return from the Arab Summit in Kuwait. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, Shorouk (Arabic), AMAY (Arabic), Aswat Masriya (Arabic), 3/26/2014]

Students across Egypt demonstrate against Minya death sentences
Protests by Muslim Brotherhood supporters took place on Wednesday outside Cairo University, according to privately-owned TV channel CBC, as well as at Al-Azhar University and Zagazig University. Protests were also scheduled to begin on Wednesday at universities in Minya, Tanta, and Mansoura, according to a statement from the Students Against the Coup. The students are protesting the mass death sentences of more than 500 defendants in Minya, and the political detainment of others. Security forces fired tear gas at Cairo University to disperse the protest, with injuries reported among both students and police. Security forces also intervened in protests in Zagazig, with eight arrested. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, DNE, 3/26/2014]

Egypt mulls free trade zone with Russia’s customs union-official
Egypt is considering the creation of a free trade zone with the customs union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, Egyptian industry and investment minister Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour said on Wednesday. “You’ve expressed your wish to expand exports, primarily of wheat… and we want to develop exports of vegetables and fruit. It would help widen our cooperation. An agreement on free trade with the customs union could contribute to it,” he told a meeting of the Russian-Egyptian commission for trade development. [Reuters, 3/26/2014]

Washington denounces Egypt’s mass death sentences, reevaluates aid policy
The United States on Tuesday strongly condemned Egypt’s mass death sentencing of more than 500 members and supporters of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood movement, saying it would be “unconscionable” for Egyptian authorities to carry out the ruling. State Department Spokeswoman Marie Harf said verdicts handed down on Monday to 529 defendants and the beginning of another mass trial on Tuesday of Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie and 682 others “represent a flagrant disregard for basic standards of justice.” Monday’s verdict sparked a chorus of local and international condemnation, with many questioning the fairness of the proceedings that only spanned two days. [Ahram Online, US State Dept. Briefing, 3/26/2014]


GNC instructs constitutional committee to hold first meeting on April 14
The General National Congress (GNC) has instructed the forty-seven elected members of the sixty-member constitutional committee to meet for the first time in Beida next month. Until today’s decision, it was widely believed that the assembly could not legally start its work without the all sixty members. According to a congresswoman from Zawiya, an opening ceremony will take place, followed by the first meeting chaired by the oldest delegate. The second session, however, will not take place until after the remaining thirteen seats are filled. On Sunday, the GNC ordered High National Election Commission to organize fresh elections for the vacancies, declared unfilled after polls on February 20 and 26. [Libya Herald, 3/25/2014]

Emergency budget passed
The General National Congress (GNC) voted to grant the government an emergency budget of 2.5 billion Libyan dinars to resolve problems, particularly security issues, that continue to hamper the country’s development. This emergency budget is effectively an advance payment from the 2014 budget which, the GNC has yet to agree upon. According to a Sebha congresswoman, the funds will be spent in different areas. The government said it needed the money to work out several security-related issues in Benghazi, Derna, Sebha, and Sirte. Funds are also needed to address problems within the defense and interior ministries and pertaining to the eastern oil port crisis. The GNC has also extended caretaker Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni’s service by another two weeks due to a lack of consensus over Ali Zeidan’s successor. [Libya Herald, 3/25/2014]

Meeting to discuss Ras Jedir border crossing
Libyan and Tunisian civil society representatives have met in a bid to defuse the current crisis at the Ras Jedir border crossing, which has been closed for over two weeks. The meeting was held in the presence of the governor of the southern Tunisian governorate of Medenine. The Libyan side was represented by Zuwara’s Coordinating Group of Civil Society Organizations of Zuwara. According to one of its members, the Tunisian and Libyan sides agreed to set up a common security committee in an effort to protect the dignity of Tunisian and Libyan travelers. This committee will oversee the general situation in the border region between Tunisia and Libya and try to ensure free movement of citizens from both countries. At the end of the meeting, both sides said they hoped that the Ras Jedir border crossing would be reopened in a matter of days. [Libya Herald, 3/25/2014]

Tubruk offers reward for finding kidnapped Italian
The leaders of the city of Tubruk have offered a reward to anyone who finds the Italian technician Gianluca Salviato, missing since Saturday after all trace of him was lost in the city located in Libya’s eastern region. It marks the first kidnapping of a foreigner in the city of Tubruk, and the local community is mobilizing to find the Italian technician. Salviato is from the province of Venice and has worked for a number of years for an Italian construction sector company. According to company officials, the technician was in Tubruk to conduct a test survey and was following the construction of sewage systems that the company has been working on for the last two years in the Libyan city. [ANSAmed, 3/26/2014]


Qaeda militants seek long-term base in Syria to launch foreign attacks
Dozens of seasoned militant fighters, including some mid-level planners, have traveled to Syria from Pakistan in recent months in what US intelligence and counterterrorism officials fear is an effort to lay the foundation for future strikes against Europe and the United States. CIA director John O. Brennan fears the extremists are part of a group of al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan that has been severely depleted in recent years by a decade of US drone strikes. Syria offers these operatives the relative sanctuary of extremist-held havens and ready-access to about 1,200 US and European Muslims potential recruits. Senior counterterrorism officials have voiced fears in recent months that these Western fighters could be radicalized by the country’s civil war. New classified intelligence assessments conclude that al-Qaeda’s senior leadership in Pakistan is developing a much more systematic, long-term plan than was previously known to create specific cells in Syria to identify, recruit, and train Westerners. [NYT, 3/26/2014]

Arab summit calls for political solution in Syria, no deal on “sophisticated” weapons
Arab leaders on Wednesday condemned mass killings perpetrated by the Syrian regime and called for a political solution to the conflict in Syria, although the Syrian opposition had asked for “sophisticated” arms to tip the balance of power. “We call for a political solution to the crisis in Syria based on the Geneva I communiqué,” calling for a peaceful transition of power, they said in a statement at the end of a two-day summit in Kuwait. At the summit on Monday, Syria’s opposition National Coalition chief Ahmed Jarba repeated calls on the international community to supply rebels with “sophisticated weapons.” Jarba urged Arab leaders to put pressure on world powers to fulfill pledges to supply arms. Saudi Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz, whose country is a key backer of the revolt against President Bashar al-Assad, said the world was “betraying” rebels by failing to arm them. [AFP, 3/26/2014]

Fierce fighting raging in Latakia
Fierce battles raged Wednesday in coastal Latakia province near the Turkish border, days after rebels seized a frontier crossing. On Tuesday, the rebels captured a hill known as Observatory 45, which strategically overlooks opposition-held areas of Latakia, the historic heartland of President Bashar Assad’s clan and his Alawite sect. The latest fighting raged around Kasab, home to the border crossing seized at the weekend, as well as Observatory 45 and Samra, also captured by rebels this week. According to an activist on the ground, the army was retaliating with heavy shelling including air strikes near the Turkish border. Local monitors and opposition sources said the army has deployed a large number of fighters to battle the rebels, including pro-regime National Defense Force militiamen. A rebel fighting the army said the clashes in flashpoint areas of Latakia were fierce. “There are thousands of [opposition] fighters ready to strike back against the army.” [AFP, 3/26/2014]

Tensions running high on Turkey-Syria border
Tensions are running high on the Turkey-Syria border following the downing of a Syrian warplane by Turkish forces Sunday. The military reported a dozen incidents involving its aircraft and Syrian anti-aircraft defenses on Monday alone. “During one mission… five F-16 jets were followed by anti-air missiles… deployed by Syria, which were locked on our aircraft for 10 minutes, 53 seconds,” the Turkish air force said in a statement. Local media also reported that Turkey has deployed specialist elite units on the border. Damascus accused Ankara of “flagrant aggression” after the plane was shot down. [AFP, 3/26/2014]


Marzouki’s speech during the Arab Summit held in Kuwait
In a speech delivered during the Arab Summit held in Kuwait, caretaker-President Moncef Marzouki called for boosting Arab joint action and developing economic and trade cooperation. He also called for the creation of a permanent nationalist reconciliation committee that will be tasked with “restoring the interrupted paths of dialogue in and between Arab countries.” Speaking of the Syrian war, Marzouki urged participants to mobilize to stop what he called “the bloodshed in Syria,” through the urgent establishment of a ceasefire to seek a political solution for the Syrian people. On Tunisia, Marzouki said the country’s peaceful democratic transition will continue. He stressed that the Tunisian revolution will successfully establish a civil, democratic state. [TAP, 3/26/2014]

Legislative committee submits report on electoral law to NCA Bureau
The president of the General Legislative Committee said on Tuesday that it has submitted its report on the draft electoral law to the Bureau of the National Constituent Assembly after discussing and voting on its articles on Friday. In its final version, the draft electoral law comprises 170 articles and (after amendment by the commission) uses a methodology compliant with international standards regarding registration, filing of nominations, campaigning, counting, and polling. [TAP, 3/25/2014]

Seychelles extends asylum for relatives of Tunisia ex-dictator
The authorities in the Seychelles are allowing the son-in-law of Tunisia’s deposed dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to continue his asylum on the islands for another twelve months. Sakhr al-Materi, convicted in absentia of corruption by a Tunisian court, appealed for asylum in the Seychelles in February 2013. According to the Seychelles foreign ministry, the extension was granted to Materi, his wife, three children and entourage on the grounds that Materi was “still at risk of persecution and would not be granted due process of the law by the Tunisian authorities if he were forcibly returned to the Tunisian Republic. [AFP, 3/25/2014]


Benomar meets with GPC leaders
The UN special envoy to Yemen Jamal Benomar met with leaders of the General People’s Congress (GPC), the former ruling party of Yemen on Tuesday, saying he hoped to open a new page with the still-powerful party. Benomar and the GPC had previously been at odds, publically exchanging criticisms. The meeting touched on numerous subjects including the implementation of the National Dialogue outcomes, but the GPC members seemed to focus most on the process and implications of the recent UN Security Council resolution that could see some of their members targeted with sanctions. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 3/26/2014]

Chamber of Commerce expresses concern over the escalating price of foodstuffs
Yemen’s chamber of commerce noted the price of some of the basic nutritional staples in the country—rice, sugar, wheat, milk—have gone up at varying degrees, in some cases as much as 20 percent. With some products, like rice, the meager purchasing power of Yemenis have kept prices from escalating as much as they have globally, however for other goods local prices have increased at a faster rate than witnessed in other countries. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 3/26/2014]

Yemen security forces free Western hostages soon after kidnapping
Yemeni security forces freed two Westerners unharmed on Tuesday shortly after they were kidnapped by gunmen in the capital Sana’a. Police said the security forces tracked the two kidnappers to a house where they were holding the pair, one of whom was Italian, and managed to free them safely after surrounding the premises. They had been seized earlier on Tuesday when the kidnappers stopped their car in the Hada district of Sana’a, where many diplomatic missions are located. One of the Westerners was a diplomat for the United Nations and the other was a woman accompanying him. [Reuters, 3/26/2014]

Judges Club announces complete suspension of work after judge kidnapped
The Judges Club of Yemen announced the complete suspension of work for judges as well as prosecutors after a judge was abducted in Hajja province. The Judges Club further called for the dismissal of Hajjah’s director of security, and an investigation into the province’s security officials. Witnesses claim that the judge was abducted when security forces withdrew following a controversial verdict that saw alleged killers of a police officer go free. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 3/26/2014]


Iraq electoral commission resigns en masse weeks before vote
The entire Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) tendered its resignation on Tuesday in protest of political interference. The body said it had found itself caught between conflicting rulings from parliament and the judiciary regarding the exclusion of certain candidates from the election, due on April 30. The IHEC statement said the conflict stemmed from divergent interpretations of the electoral law, which includes a clause allowing for candidates “of ill repute” to be barred. Critics of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have accused him of using the law to eliminate his political rivals to help clear the way for his third term. [Reuters, 3/26/2014]

New Lebanon government prepares for presidential elections, national dialogue
Preparations are under way in Lebanon to hold presidential elections and resume the national dialogue a week after the new government headed by Prime Minister Tammam Salam won a vote of confidence in parliament. The new cabinet’s ministerial policy statement said the government will work to hold presidential elections May 25 as planned to replace current President Michel Suleiman The government is also preparing for the national dialogue scheduled to resume March 31, which will include discussions on how to handle Hezbollah’s arsenal and the country’s defense strategy. [Al-Shorfa, 3/25/2014]