Top News: Forces Loyal to Libya’s Tobruk Shoot Down Rival Warplane

Forces loyal to Libya’s internationally recognized Tobruk-based government said that on Wednesday they shot down a warplane belonging to the rival Tripoli-based government. Meanwhile fighting, mainly sniper fire and wildly targeted mortar shelling in the Leithi, Sabri, and Garyounis areas, continues despite advances by the Libyan national army forces allied with the Tobruk government. The Libyan army continues to push through the city to regain control from Islamist militants loyal to the Tripoli-based government. [ReutersLibya Herald, 5/6/2015]



Egypt court rejects suit demanding ban on entry of Hamas members
An Egyptian court rejected Wednesday a lawsuit calls for banning members of Hamas from entering Egyptian territory. The Commissioner Authority of the State Council rejected the lawsuit filed by lawyer Samir Sabry to bar Hamas members from entering Egypt; the court said the lawyer did not elaborate on his grounds for demanding the ban. “The civil plaintiff did not specify the factors required to ban the exit from or entry into the country, although the court asked him to specify names of the persons he wants to prevent from entering or leaving,” the court said in its ruling. [Cairo Post, 5/6/2015]

Armed forces, Sinai State continue social media warfare
The armed forces announced in a Tuesday statement its success in thwarting an attack launched by the Sinai State (formerly Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis) earlier in the day. A military spokesman noted that twenty militants launched the attack at dawn by firing mortar shells in a security zone in Sheikh Zuweid. The exchange of fire left three militants injured, who later escaped, leaving behind ammunition and weapons. However, the attack neither injured nor killed any security personnel. The Sinai State claimed to have injured fourteen security personnel after three mortar shells hit a central security camp in Rafah. The military spokesman neither confirmed nor denied the incident and noted that only the attacks announced through official statements occurred. [DNE, 5/6/2015]

Tahya Misr Fund’s head claims NGOs aim to ‘bring down state organizations’
Tarek Mahmoud, lawyer and Secretary General of the Tahya Masr Fund, has accused leading Egyptian rights organizations of trying to destabilize the state during a meeting between NGOs and a US Congressional delegation. Mahmoud said that the six NGOs that met a delegation from the House Committee on Foreign Affairs presented “false statements and documents that fabricated the situation of human rights in Egypt.” In the statement from the fund, Mahmoud said that the NGOs discussed how to divert funds away from state bodies, as a way “to bring down the state institutions.” He accused the NGOs of receiving funds illegally from abroad and said that such meetings open the door to foreign interference in Egypt’s internal affairs. Tarek Mahmoud has previously used his position to target bodies seen as part of the pro-democracy movement in Egypt. Tarek Mahmoud has previously used his position to target bodies seen as part of the pro-democracy movement in Egypt. [DNE, 5/6/2015]

Former Deputy Prime Minister says political parties divided and weak
Speaking to Al-Masry Al-Youm, former deputy prime minister and professor of constitutional law Hossam Eissa described all political parties as “weak.” The problem lies in the disintegration of parties, he said. “If the parties were active on the ground instead of criticizing the election laws, it would be much better,” he stated, adding that no political party is likely to win the majority in the upcoming parliamentary elections, as independent candidates will dominate the scene. [Egypt Independent, 5/7/2015]

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Libya’s coast guard detains almost 600 African migrants
Libya’s coast guard detained almost 600 illegal African migrants on Wednesday, among them were pregnant women and children, seeking to sail to Europe on a fishing boat. The migrants, all said to be from sub-Saharan Africa, were caught west of Tripoli early in the morning. The smugglers involved were not apprehended because according to a spokesman for the anti-illegal immigration authority, the smugglers were using a new tactic. Instead of them sailing the boats themselves, they were training one or two of the illegal migrants to do so, thus eliminating the risk of being caught. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 5/6/2015]

Islamists’ influence appears to grow in Tripoli’s schools
The growing influence of radical Islamists in Tripoli since Operation Libya Dawn forces took control of the city has become clearer with changes to curricula in schools. While Islamic studies have always been a standard part of the curriculum in Libyan schools, there is a recent shift towards teaching more radical views of Islamic beliefs in secondary school religious classes. A worksheet circulating on the internet suggests that students are to be taught the value of jihad, as well as about the importance of punishing those who choose not to follow Islam. [Libya Herald, 5/6/2015]

Tunisian PM Essid calls environmental situation in Tunis ‘disastrous’
Following a visit to several sanitation facilities, Prime Minister Habib Essid said on Tuesday that environmental issues in Tunis are disastrous and require urgent intervention. He called for rapid improvement of the infrastructure and announced the immediate convention of an emergency ministerial meeting. Essid particularly emphasized the need to improve conditions at the Sebkhet Sijoumi, a lake just to the southwest of Tunis’ city center, where a delay in a new sanitation station has added to the problems in the region. [Tunisia Live, 5/6/2015]


Hezbollah takes control of strategic heights in Qalamoun
Hezbollah backed by Syrian forces controlled on Thursday strategic heights in the Syrian region of Qalamoun that abuts Lebanon’s eastern border, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The control of the area on the outskirts of Assal al-Wared came following heavy clashes with the Nusra Front. The battles were accompanied by heavy shelling by Syrian warplanes. The Observatory stressed that there were casualties from both sides. [AFP, 5/7/2015]

ISIS launches offensive in Deir Ezzor
The Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) launched a three-pronged offensive Wednesday in Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria in a bid to seize a major regime airport nearby. Syrian Observatory for Human Rights head Rami Abdel Rahman said clashes and at least one suicide explosion had rocked eastern neighborhoods of Deir Ezzor controlled by regime forces. The jihadists also clashed with government troops on the outskirts of Deir Ezzor’s military airport, but Abdel Rahman said they had yet to make any advance on the ground. [AFP, 5/7/2015]

United States says Syria safe zone would require combat mission
Creating a humanitarian safe zone in Syria would entail a “major combat mission” requiring US troops to fight Islamist jihadists and the regime, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter told lawmakers on Wednesday. Carter emphasized the challenges involved in establishing a buffer zone, and warned that other regional governments might not be ready to contribute to the effort. “We would need to fight to create such a space and then fight to keep such a space and that’s why it’s a difficult thing to contemplate,” Carter told members of the Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee. Carter was asked about the option by Senator Dick Durbin, one of four senators to send a recent letter to Obama calling for setting up a safe area in Syria. “Though this may not be a genocide by classic legal definition, it is the humanitarian crisis of our time … with no end in sight,” Durbin said.[AFP, 5/7/2015]

United States seeks UN probe of Syria chlorine attacks
The United States wants a team of UN investigators to determine who is to blame for chemicals weapons attacks in Syria in a bid to pave the way for Security Council action against those responsible. Russian UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said the United States had given him a draft Security Council resolution on the proposal on Monday, which he sent back to Moscow for study. Syria agreed to destroy its chemical weapons program in 2013, but the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has since found chlorine has been “systematically and repeatedly” used as a weapon. The group is not mandated to lay blame. The Syrian Civil Defense, known as the White Helmets, accuses the regime of recent chlorine attacks in Sarmeen in Idlib province. [AFP, Reuters, AP, 5/7/2015]

Turkey holds prosecutors over spy agency’s Syria-bound truck
Turkey on Wednesday arrested four prosecutors and a gendarme officer for trying to carry out a search of Syria-bound trucks belonging to the state intelligence agency that they suspected of illegally carrying arms for rebels fighting Syria’s government. The arrests were part of a crackdown by President Tayyip Erdogan on followers, within judiciary and police, of Fethullah Gulen a US-based Islamic cleric he accuses of trying to oust him. Seventeen army officers were held last month in the same case. The MIT intelligence agency, regarded as strongly loyal to Erdogan, refused to allow the search of the trucks stopped in the southern province of Adana last year. After a standoff, the vehicles, which Ankara said carried humanitarian aid, moved on.[Reuters, AFP, 5/7/2015]


Saudis propose five day pause in military operation
Saudi Arabia and the United States said Thursday a renewable, five-day cease-fire in Yemen’s war would start soon to facilitate aid to millions of civilians in need, if Houthi rebels and their allies also agree to stop fighting. At a joint news conference, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said the kingdom would halt airstrikes in Yemen because it is determined to expand relief assistance to the Yemeni people. Saudi Arabia will provide $274 million in new assistance, he said. [AP, CNN, Reuters, 5/7/2015]

Aden boat shelling kills dozens
At least eighty people, many of them civilians, have been killed in the Yemeni port of Aden as fighting rages between Houthi fighters and local supporters of President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi, rescue workers and residents said. The dead included at least forty Yemeni civilians who were trying to flee heavy fighting in Aden on Wednesday when the Houthi fighters fired shells at their boat, rescue workers said. Shells fired by Houthi rebels struck the boat as it left the al-Tawahi district for al-Buraiqa in the west. [BBC, Reuters, 5/6/2015]

Yemen asks UN to back foreign ground force to battle Houthis
Yemen’s mission to the United Nations has called for a ground intervention to push back a Houthi rebel offensive in the south of a country where conditions are deteriorating after weeks of fighting.
“We urge the international community to quickly intervene by land forces to save Yemen, especially Aden and Taiz,” Khaled Alyemany, Yemen’s Ambassador to the UN, said in a letter to the Security Council on Wednesday. The government also called on Tuesday for human rights groups to document “barbaric violations” by the rebels. [Al Jazeera, BBC, CNN, 5/7/2015]

Saudi Arabia mulling land operations on Yemen border
Saudi Arabia said all options were open including ground operations to stop mortar attacks on its border towns by Yemen’s Houthi militia, as its jets hammered the group’s positions ahead of U.S.-led talks on a temporary truce. A second night on Wednesday of raids aimed at suppressing further Houthi shelling struck the group’s stronghold of Saada, near Yemen’s Saudi border, and the small port of Maidi. On Thursday, the Houthi-linked Al-Masirah television channel showed the group’s fighters in the district and reported that Aden’s presidential palace was in their hands. [Reuters, 5/7/2015]

Gunship makes emergency landing near Yemen border
An Apache helicopter gunship from the Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemeni rebels made an emergency landing Thursday just inside the border from Yemen, a Saudi official said, ruling out hostile fire. Houthi officials had earlier reported that the helicopter was downed due to Houthi fire. The gunship came down in the Saudi border district of Najran, which has been targeted this week by Yemeni rebel mortar and rocket fire that killed several people. Saudi Arabia has deployed 150,000 troops and one hundred warplanes in the Yemen operation. [AFP, 5/7/2015]


Iraq’s Baiji refinery still under threat from ISIS militants
Pentagon officials said they are worried that Iraq’s Baiji oil refinery could fall to the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in the coming days. For weeks, US military officials have said that control of the refinery has been bitterly contested between Iraqi forces and ISIS militants. But ISIS fighters have made inroads in recent days, reinforcing their positions around the refinery. Still, Pentagon officials said even if ISIS takes control of the refinery, the group will not be able to operate it. It has been badly damaged, and repairs will take up to a year. [Reuters, WSJ, AFP, 5/7/2015]

Libyan Nafoura oilfield shuts due to pipeline blockage
Libya’s Nafoura oilfield has shut down due to a blockage in the pipeline linking it to the eastern port of Zueitina. Renewed protests have closed several Libyan oilfields and ports in the past two weeks as violence and a breakdown in state authority continues. The field’s output was between 30,000 and 35,000 barrels per day. Protesters demanding jobs this week stopped all crude flows to Zueitina. Meanwhile, the National Oil Corporation (NOC) said a foreign shipper would send a tanker to the eastern port of Derna for the first time since a warplane belonging to the eastern Tobruk government bombed a Greek-operated tanker there in January. [Reuters, 5/7/2015]

Saudi Arabia likely to be classified as an emerging market
Saudi Arabia, the Middle East’s largest economy, is likely to be classified as an emerging market following the opening of its $590 billion stock market to foreign investors in June, according to the global index compiler (MSCI Inc). Investors have shown strong interest in investing in the kingdom’s listed entities, pushing compilers such as MSCI to include Saudi Arabia in their indices, which are tracked by funds managing billions of dollars. There were some uncertainty in the market about Saudi Arabia’s classification as a frontier or emerging market. The earliest that Saudi Arabia could enter the emerging-market classification is mid-2017. [WSJ, 5/7/2015]

EU delivers loan installment to Tunisia, Belgium considers converting debt to investment
The European Union (EU) has delivered a EUR 100 million loan to Tunisia, the first of three installments of a macroeconomic assistance package. The EU approved the assistance package of EUR 300 million in 2014. EU Economic and Finance Commissioner Pierre Moscovici said the installment reflects support for Tunisia’s political transition and seeks to contribute to sustainable economic growth in the country. Belgian Vice-Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs Didier Reynders expressed willingness to boost cooperation with Tunisia by promoting investments and possibly converting Tunisian debt into investments. [ANSAmed, TAP/All Africa, 5/7/2015]

Egypt’s private sector decline slows in April
Business conditions deteriorated for the fourth month in a row in April, according to an HSBC survey of Egypt’s non-oil private sector. The country recorded 49.8 on the bank’s Purchasing Manager’s Index, edging towards the “no-change” point of 50. “Business conditions in Egypt’s non-oil private sector economy worsened for the fourth month running in April, driven by an ongoing decline in employment,” said Philip Leake, an economist at Markit, the research firm that compiles the report. “However, with output and new orders growing simultaneously again, it may not be long before the PMI breaches 50.0,” the press statement added. [Mada Masr, 5/6/2015]