Top News: Explosions Kill Forty-Five in Homs; Fourteen Dead, Eighty-Six Injured in Damascus

Mortar shells slammed into a religious school campus in central Damascus on Tuesday, killing at least fourteen people and wounding eighty-six. The school, an Islamic law center where students from Syria and abroad study religious jurisprudence, taught students as young as fourteen, but it was not immediately clear if there were children among the dead or wounded. Later on Tuesday, a car bomb and rocket attack on a government-held district of the central city of Homs killed at least forty-five people and wounded eighty-five, the provincial governor said.  Governor Talal al-Barazi said the car bomb detonated in the Abbasid area of the Zahra neighborhood in the city, killing thirty-six, adding that the blast was followed by rocket fire that killed nine others. [AFP, 4/29/2014]



Tamarod to become political party after presidential elections
The Tamarod movement’s co-founder, Mahmoud Badr, announced on Monday that the movement will transition to a political party after the upcoming presidential elections. Badr’s announcement was made during the celebration of the first anniversary of founding of the youth movement which played a critical role in ousting former president Morsi this past July. Badr also added that during the next phase, youth should work to get into parliament to fulfill the aims of Egyptians and assist the next president of Egypt. The parliamentary elections are to be held after the upcoming presidential elections which will take place May 26-27. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, 4/28/2014]

Condemnation and protests in Egypt in wake of Minya verdict
The National Alliance to Support Legitimacy has called for protests against the death sentences passed against 683 people in Minya on Monday. In a protest against the death sentences in Damietta, a man was shot dead by unidentified gunmen on Monday. In Minya, protests led to the injury of a policeman who was taken to the Minya University Hospital in critical condition after he was assaulted by students. Minya security services used teargas to disperse the protests, arresting two students. Ten students were also arrested at the University of Alexandria after clashes with the administrative guard. In Cairo, twelve supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi were arrested on Tuesday after they blocked one of Greater Cairo’s main intercity highways. More than 200 protesters gathered on the road and burned car tires. Mohamed Badie, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide and one of the defendants in the case, said on Tuesday, “This ruling is the last nail in the coffin of the ruling powers that led the coup.” The Strong Egypt party was one of the first Egyptian political parties to condemn the criminal court in Minya and its three verdicts. The ultra-conservative Salafist Nour Party also denounced the verdict, describing it as shocking. Human rights lawyer Hafez Abu Seada slammed the court’s verdict, insisting that it would be appealed. [Ahram Online, 4/29/2014]

Egypt’s central bank says keeps key rates unchanged
Egypt’s central bank kept official interest rates on hold as expected on Monday, as it tries to stimulate growth in an economy battered by three years of political turmoil, while keeping inflation under control. The bank said its monetary policy committee (MPC) left the overnight deposit rate at 8.25 percent and its overnight lending rate at 9.25 percent. It also kept its discount rate and the rate it uses to price one-week repurchase and deposit operations at 8.75 percent. [Reuters, 4/28/2014]

Fahmy quizzed on Russia relationship during US visit
Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy has stressed the strategic importance of Egypt’s relationship with the United States. Fahmy, who is on a visit to the US, was speaking on Monday with members of the foreign affairs committee of the House of Representatives. When asked about Russia, Fahmy stressed that Egypt was keen to maintain its strategic relations with the US while also maintaining relationships with countries including Russia, China, India, Japan, South Korea and others–without replacing one with another. Fahmy also stressed that Egypt is committed to its transitional road map, new constitution, and the democratic process. [Ahram Online, 4/29/2014]


Libya prepares to start oil exports at second eastern port
Libya is lifting force majeure from the eastern Zueitina oil port, according to the National Oil Corp (NOC), paving the way to resume exports at a second port after a deal was struck with rebels blockading major terminals. Marketing of oil in Zueitina’s storage tanks is expected to begin today after Libya lifted the waiver of its oil contracts. More talks are needed, however, as the country’s industry minister said that rebels were making more financial demands. The justice ministry has announced the formation of a committee to investigate whether there have been any financial irregularities in the sale of oil since the revolution—a key condition set by self-styled federalist leader Ibrahim Jadhran. [Reuters, 4/28/2014]

Budget approval pushed back after low GNC turnout
A low turnout at Sunday’s General National Congress (GNC) session resulted in the legislature’s inability to discuss the 2014 budget. Nor were members able to vote for a new prime minister due to the lack of quorum. Members who did attend, however, managed to approve a proposal to increase salaries of members of the judiciary. One legislator explained that judicial personnel are “subject to temptation from bribes or corruption, so it is important to give them good salaries, which will help build the strong institutions that we are working for.” It is expected that the budget will be discussed at today’s GNC’s session. [Libya Herald, 4/28/2014]

Preliminary results from Constitutional Committee elections in Murzuk and Kufra emerge
Local officials have disclosed preliminary results from the Constitutional Committee election reruns in the towns of Murzuk and Kufra to fill vacant seats on the body that will draft Libya’s new constitution. While results have not yet been officially declared by the High National Elections Commission (HNEC), the local media coordinator offered names of two candidates with the best chance of winning the Tebu ethnic minority seat in the area. Formal results are expected later this week. [Libya Herald, 4/28/2014]

Suicide bomber in car kills two at army camp in Benghazi
A suicide bomber in a car killed at least two people and wounded two others at an army camp in Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi on Tuesday, security and medical sources said. A source inside the special forces camp said the car had exploded at the gate. Since the revolution, security in Libya has been steadily deteriorating. The country’s armed forces have been battling militants from hardline Islamist groups, such as Ansar al Sharia, listed as a foreign terrorist organization by Washington. [Reuters, AP, 4/29/2014]


Lawyers say UN aid does not need Damascus’ consent
United Nations agencies and other charitable organizations do not need the permission of the Syrian government to deliver humanitarian relief to civilians trapped in the fighting and destruction from the three-year-old civil war there, a group of international lawyers and academics argued in an open letter released on Monday. The letter, signed by three dozen lawyers, including Hans Corell, the former chief legal counsel of the United Nations, added a prominent new legal argument to demands by rights advocates and nongovernmental organizations that have been pressing to deliver aid. Its publication comes as the United Nations finds itself repeatedly blocked by government authorities in Syria as it tries to deliver food, medicines and other basic supplies to endangered Syrian civilians. In a separate letter obtained Tuesday, aid organizations working in Syria say they are growing frustrated at how the United Nations is handling the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis, accusing it of excluding them and withholding information vital to assist millions in need. [NYT, 4/29/2014]

Human Rights Watch says UN must block flow of arms to Syria
An international rights group called Tuesday for the UN Security Council to block the flow of weapons to Syria’s regime, which it said was launching indiscriminate attacks with “barrel bombs.” The New York-based Human Rights Watch said it had documented eighty-five aerial attacks by the regime against opposition areas in northern Aleppo province since February 22 alone. It urged the United Nations to block the flow of arms to the government and any group committing abuses against civilians in the war-torn country where an estimated 150,000 people have been killed in the past three years. [The Daily Star, Al Arabiya, 4/29/2014]


Contentious points of draft electoral law discussed
On Monday, the Consensus Commission at the National Constituent Assembly reached a compromise on articles 147, 148, and 53 concerning elections. However, the commission stumbled on two articles on the electoral threshold and public financing of electoral campaigns. These two articles will be subject to further negotiations at the Consensus Commission. A National Dialogue session also began on Monday afternoon in Tunis to discuss contentious points in the draft electoral law. Articles 70, 96, 147, 148, 164, 165, 166, 168, 169 and 170 were passed and article 128 regarding the escort of illiterate electors was dropped. [All Africa, TAP 4/29/2014]

EU to help Tunisia
The foreign ministers of France and Germany ended an historic joint visit to Tunisia on Friday with pledges of financial aid. Both ministers congratulated Tunisia on its exit from its political crisis by choosing a nonpartisan government of technocrats during negotiations that included the labor and employers’ unions and the most important political parties in the country. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on Friday announced during an interview that his country would convert Tunisia’s debt, about 60 million euros, into investment projects. [All Africa, 4/28/2014]

Tunisians reject Qatari takeover of Tunisiana cell phone company
On Sunday, the major cell phone provider Tunisiana officially became known as “Ooredoo” after it was acquired by a Qatar-based company. The takeover by Qtel has been criticized by many Tunisian social media users decrying the influence of the small Gulf state over the country’s economy. In 2002, Tunisiana became the first privately owned telecommunications company in Tunisia. [Tunisia Live, 4/29/2014]


Yemen launches fresh offensive against al-Qaeda
Army troops backed by local militia members had moved in to “purge” towns in Abyan and Shabwa provinces of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a military official said on Tuesday. Military authorities had previously expelled AQAP from towns in the South, but hesitated in pursuing the militant group’s fighters as they retreated into mountainous regions where intense fighting is now ongoing. The assault comes a week after another offensive in the area killed sixty-five suspected militants, though DNA testing concluded that AQAP leaders and presumed targets Nasir al-Wuhayshi and Ibrahim al-Siri were not among the dead. [Al Jazeera, Al Masdar (Arabic, 4/29/2014]

New report on Yemeni’s opinion of NDC outcomes
New polling data concludes that approximately fifty percent of Yemenis support—either “strongly” or “somewhat”—the outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference (NDC). Another twenty-five percent opposes the outcomes and the remainder says they don’t know enough about the outcomes to judge. Over half of the NDC’s supporters cite their primary motivation as being the fact that the NDC process avoided a civil war. A third of those opposing the NDC outcomes say they fear that federalism will lead to national fragmentation. [Al Masdar (Arabic), 4/29/2014]

Donations hindered by turmoil, insecurity; Donor conference begins in London
Political turmoil is preventing Yemen and donor countries from channeling billions of dollars in foreign aid intended to rebuild the impoverished Arab country, says the managing director of the Executive Bureau in charge of the foreign assistance. Al-Soswa’s comments come just before the London meeting of the Friends of Yemen, an international group of donors have previously pledged aid, though most has yet to be delivered. Yemen’s foreign minister announced a new mechanism of donations, involving the formation of subgroups, to facilitate the release of funds. Ahead of the conference, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees representative in the country warned of Yemen’s deteriorating humanitarian conditions. [Reuters, 4/29/2014]

Increasing attacks on security forces could lead to state collapse
According to a new report released by the Abaad Strategic Studies Center, a think-tank based in Sana’a, increasing attacks by various armed groups against Yemeni troops could lead to the disintegration of the national army, which in turn may lead to the collapse of the state. The report claims a total of 175 military and security personnel were killed from the beginning of this year until mid-April as a result of attacks and assassinations carried out by various armed groups, including AQAP, Houthi rebels, and tribal militias. Many fatalities were a result of attacks in southern governorates by unknown gunmen, some which were likely linked to Herak. [The Yemen Times, 4/29/2014]


Libya says Jordan to handover jailed Islamist to get kidnapped ambassador
Jordan has agreed to handover a Libyan Islamist to Libyan authorities in order to secure the release of its ambassador kidnapped two weeks ago. Jordan’s ambassador to Libya, Fawaz al-Eitan, was snatched by gunmen demanding the release of Libyan Islamist militant Mohamed Dersi. Dersi was jailed for life in 2007 on charges of plotting to blow up the main airport in Jordan. An official from Libya’s justice ministry said the ambassador will be released in exchange for reducing Dersi’s term and allowing him to complete his sentence in Libya. Analysts say the agreement could set a dangerous precedent for Jordan. [Reuters, 4/28/2014]

Hezbollah and Future Movement relations improving
Relations between the Lebanese Future Movement and Hezbollah have started to show signs of improvement, after three years of tension worsened by the outbreak of the Syrian crisis and Hezbollah’s participation in the fighting there. Direct contact between the two parties began approximately twelve days ago. Security coordination between the two parties is also improving. A senior member of Hezbollah’s Coordination and Liaison Unit participated in a security meeting led by the interior minister, who is affiliated to the Future Movement, to discuss the issue of the border town of Tufail approximately ten days ago. [Asharq Al-Awsat, 4/29/2014]

Accusations of ‘foul play’ a day before Iraq elections
As Iraqis across the country prepare to head to the polls on Wednesday, several parliamentary hopefuls are already complaining of electoral violations. Candidates have raised questions about the issuance of voter’s e-cards, in addition to calling for investigations into members of Iraq’s military and security forces being pressured to vote for specific candidates. Iraqi military and police personnel began voting on Monday. Other critics allege that Sunnis are being targeted for arrest in order to reduce their numbers ahead of polls largely assumed to result in voting along ethnic and sectarian lines. [Asharq al-Awsat, 4/29/2014]

Jordan navigates a difficult economic period
Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour was able to navigate the country through a difficult economic period, thanks to the determination of his people and the support of the Kingdom’s wise leadership. Stressing that the Kingdom was no longer in the economic danger zone, he mentioned that foreign currency reserves went up from $6.6 billion in 2012 to around $12 billion at the end of last year and that the remittances of expatriates have gone up noticeably. Ensour made the remarks at regional conference on small and medium-size enterprises, which had lecturers and participants from Kuwait, Egypt, Turkey, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates, Denmark, and Malaysia. [Al-Bawaba, Ammon News; 4/29/2014]