Top News: Houthis Fire Across Border into Saudi Arabia

Yemen’s rebels fired rockets and mortars into Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, killing at least three people and purportedly capturing five soldiers in an attack showing the insurgents’ ability to launch assaults despite weeks of Saudi-led airstrikes targeting them. Saudi Arabia’s national airline cancelled flights into the border area of Najran as schools closed early amid the attack, the first by the Houthi rebels, to target a civilian area in the kingdom since the start of the airstrikes late March. [APAl-Arabiya, 5/6/2015]



Sisi, US congressional delegation discuss aid and security
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met Monday with a US congressional delegation led by Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Devin Nunes (R-CA). Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, Intelligence Chief Khalid Fawzy, and US Ambassador in Cairo Stephen Beecroft also attended. During the meeting, Sisi and the delegation discussed US aid to Egypt and the situation in the Middle East. Nunes said he was pleased with the release of military aid to Egypt, according to an Egyptian foreign ministry statement. He added that a substantial number of US Congress members show a greater understanding of Egypt’s point-of-view, and are interested in enhancing strategic relations with Egypt. He also said that they are looking to assist Egypt in overcoming the challenges it faces, as well as enhancing cooperation to achieve peace and stability in the Middle East. Sisi said that it is important for friendly countries, particularly the United States, to support Egypt politically and economically and back its efforts to stimulate development and enhance security. [DNE, 5/5/2015]

Ministry of social solidarity to investigate alleged Shia NGOs
The ministry of social solidarity announced the formation of a committee tasked with investigating NGOs that allegedly practice or promote Shia rituals. The head of the central administration of the NGOs within the ministry, Khaled Sultan, said the committee was formed upon a decree from Social Solidarity Minister Ghada Waly. He said that in the event that NGOs are discovered to be promoting or practicing Shia Islam, “Either its board will be dissolved or the whole NGO will be dissolved after hearing the opinion of the NGO’s Federation.” While, the Egyptian penal code does not criminalize Shia practices, the NGO law of 2002 prohibits the establishment of unions or federations for religious purposes. There is no official data of the numbers of Shia Egyptians, but reports estimate that they range between 800,000 to about 2 million. [Cairo Post, 5/6/2015]

Egypt calls for blocking “extremist” channels, websites
Egypt on Tuesday called for blocking TV channels and websites that incite extremism at a Cairo meeting on combating the ideology of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), a militant group that controls large swathes of Iraq and Syria. Foreign countries whose Muslim citizens join ISIS should rethink their integration policies, foreign minister aide Ambassador Abdel-Rahman Salah said at the meeting, which was attended by representatives from twenty-one countries. [Ahram Online, 5/6/2015]

Egypt, Spain sign MOU for military cooperation
Egypt’s Defense Minister Sedki Sobhi and his Spanish counterpart Pedro de Morenés signed a memorandum of understanding for military cooperation on Tuesday in Cairo, according to Egyptian military spokesperson Mohamed Samir. The memorandum included the “exchange of experience” and “joint training” between both countries, according to a statement posted on Samir’s Facebook page. A number of officials, including Egyptian army chief of staff Mahmoud Hegazy, attended the Tuesday meeting. The agreement, which has been pending since 2003, regulates cooperation between the two states in the field of security and combating crime. The agreement outlines the launching of a joint committee, which will meet biannually, to follow up on the latest developments of the cooperation in science and technology, defense, education, training, healthcare, and military regulations. [Ahram Online, DNE, Aswat Masriya, 5/5/2015]

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Al-Thinni and Algerian ministers discuss Libya crisis and border security
Prime Minister of the Tobruk government Abdullah al-Thinni is in Algiers for two days of talks with the Algerian government on the crisis in Libya, as well as joint relations between the two countries. Aside from the situation in Libya, discussions between the two government teams have concentrated on border security, in particular the problems of terrorism, organized crime, drug trafficking, and illegal migration. They have also looked at improving trade ties. Algeria has hosted meetings of the UN-led dialogue process and strongly supports a non-interventionist position to resolving the crisis in Libya.
[Libya Herald, 5/5/2015]

Libya’s official government conducts airstrikes on militants
Libya’s internationally recognized Tobruk-based government carried out air strikes on Tuesday against Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants in the eastern city of Derna. Air force commander Saqer al-Joroushi warned residents to stay away from checkpoints and ISIS locations. He also warned fisherman and tankers against approaching the Libyan coast near Derna. The Tobruk government is locked in a protracted battled with its rival Tripoli-based government, as well as defending against ISIS militants inside Libya. [Reuters, 5/5/2015]

Tunisia hosts Jewish pilgrimage under tight security
The Jewish pilgrimage to Ghriba synagogue on the Tunisian island of Djerba is to take place today under extra security after the Bardo museum massacre and Israel’s warning of terror threats. Barriers have been erected on access routes to Djerba in southern Tunisia and police checkpoints around Hara Kbira, the Jewish district of the island. Hundreds coming from France, Israel, Italy, and Britain are expected to take part in the festivities. [AFP, 5/5/2015]

Draft law on loan agreement between Tunisia and international agricultural fund passes
Members of the Tunisian House of People’s Representatives passed a draft law on a loan agreement between Tunisia and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) to cofund agricultural and pastoral project as well as relevant fields in the governorate of Medenine. It is a  six-year project and is estimated at 67.5 million Tunisian dinars. The project, carried out under the supervision of the local agricultural authority in Medenine, provides for the management of natural resources and improving basic infrastructure and amenities. [TAP/All Africa, 5/5/2015]


UN envoy looks to revive Syria talks
The United Nations has adopted a cautious approach to the Syria talks it launched this week, avoiding raising expectations that this latest initiative can end the conflict, which has so far defied all diplomatic efforts to resolve it. UN Syria Envoy Staffan de Mistura says he wants to talk to diplomats, activists, and political and military leaders to find common ground on a roadmap for ending the war. Participants include the Syrian government, a myriad of opposition groups and non-jihadist armed factions, civil society members, non-governmental organizations, representatives of five major world powers, Iran, bordering countries, and Qatar and Saudi Arabia. On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia announced it will host a meeting of Syrian opposition groups fighting to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad to stress the need for a political settlement in Syria. The meeting would stress the need for a political solution that meets the aspirations of the Syrian people. It is not clear when the meeting will take place and which groups would attend.[AFP, Reuters, 5/6/2015]

Syria’s Assad says losing battles does not mean war is lost
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said Wednesday that setbacks are a normal part of war and do not mean the conflict is lost, in his first comments after several regime defeats. “Today we are fighting a war, not a battle. War is not one battle, but a series of many battles,” he said at an appearance on Syria’s Martyrs Day. “We are not talking about tens or hundreds but thousands of battles and… it is the nature of battles for there to be advances and retreats, victories, and losses, ups and downs.” While Assad did not explicitly acknowledge his army’s losses in Idlib, he paid tribute to regime forces that remain holed up in a hospital building in the now-rebel-held town of Jisr al-Shughour and promised that the army will soon arrive and help.[AFP, 5/6/2015]

Nasrallah vows to oust militants on Lebanon-Syria border
The head of Lebanon’s Hezbollah Hassan Nasrallah vowed Tuesday his group would oust militants from the Qalamoun region on the border with Syria. Nasrallah said that rebel forces in the mountainous border area posed an unacceptable threat to Lebanon’s security. “This issue needs radical treatment. We are talking about a real aggression that exists and is present,” Nasrallah said of the militants in Qalamoun. On Monday, Islamist rebels led by the Nusra Front began a campaign to push Hezbollah forces out of Qalamoun, attacking a number of positions. [AFP, 5/5/2015]

France delivered weapons to Syrian rebels despite embargo
French President Francois Hollande admitted to delivering weapons to Syrian rebels in 2012 despite an embargo, according to a new book. “We began when we were certain they would end up in the right hands. For the lethal weapons it was our services who delivered them,” Hollande told author Xavier Panon in an interview in May last year. Panon wrote that France delivered cannons, machine guns, rocket launchers, and anti-tank missiles to the rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Panon said the weapons delivered in the second half of 2012 were aimed at aiding the rebellion as opposed to having a decisive effect on changing the course of the conflict. At the time a European Union embargo on weapons was in place, beginning in June 2011. It was lifted in May 2013. Until now, France has only admitted to delivering non-lethal weapons to the rebels.[AFP, 5/6/2015]


Houthis fire across border into Saudi Arabia
Yemen’s rebels fired rockets and mortars into Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, killing at least three people and purportedly capturing five soldiers in an attack showing the insurgents’ ability to launch assaults despite weeks of Saudi-led airstrikes targeting them. Saudi Arabia’s national airline cancelled flights into the border area of Najran as schools closed early amid the attack, the first by the Houthi rebels, to target a civilian area in the kingdom since the start of the airstrikes late March. [AP, Al-Arabiya, 5/6/2015]

Saudi warplanes strike Yemen’s Saada and Hajja provinces
Warplanes carried out more than thirty strikes overnight on the northwestern Yemeni provinces of Saada and Hajja near the border with Saudi Arabia, local officials and residents said on Wednesday. Houthi sources said forty-three civilians were killed and at least one hundred wounded as a result of the strikes, which lasted until dawn on Wednesday. The figure could not be independently verified. Local sources also said that heavy artillery shelling came from the Saudi border. Humanitarian aid agencies warned that the lack of fuel in the country could lead them to stop operations in the country. [Reuters, 5/6/2015]

Yemen talks May 17 could bolster anti-Houthi alliance
Yemen’s President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi has called a meeting of political forces on May 17 to discuss his country’s war that will include former associates of a powerful ally of the Houthis, a move that could bolster the ranks of opponents of the Iranian-allied force. Mukhtar al-Rahbi, Press Secretary at President Hadi’s office, said neither the Houthis nor their influential ally, former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, were expected to attend the gathering to be held in Saudi Arabia. The talks, which would bring together southern separatists and northern political parties, aim to forge common ground among opponents of the Houthis that would be used in any future dialogue with the Zaydi Shia group, officials in Hadi’s administration in exile said. [Reuters, 5/6/2015]

Yemen’s GPC set to meet in Cairo to determine stance on Hadi
Members from Yemen’s ruling General People’s Congress (GPC) party, who are mainly based in Europe and the Gulf, will hold a “last minute” meeting in Cairo to formulate a stance towards President Abdrabbo Mansur Hadi, a Yemeni official told Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity. Cracks began to emerge within the GPC, led by former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, after the ruling party’s second-in-command announced his support for Hadi earlier this week. In a sign of Saleh’s flagging influence within the GPC, Yemen’s ruling party has dispatched a delegation to Riyadh to discuss participation in the talks that are set to launch in mid-May. [Asharq Al-Awsat, 5/5/2015]


World Bank approves $500 million loan for Egypt public housing project
The World Bank has approved a $500 million loan to Egypt to support a government affordable housing project, Minister of Housing Moustafa Madbouly said Wednesday. Up to 170,000 housing units will be built by the end of 2015 for a total of 250,000 housing units built over an eighteen month period. The units are being built in new urban communities to house low and medium-income Egyptians who would benefit from a subsidy on each unit through the World Bank loan. [Ahram Online, 5/6/2015]

Tunisia’s public debt increased by 58 percent in 2014, says finance minister
Tunisian Finance Minister Slim Chaker said that the public debt increased over the past four years from 26 billion dinars in 2010 to 41 billion dinars in 2014, an increase of 58 percent. External debt, within the public debt amounts to 25 billion dinars in 2014 up from 16 billion dinars in 2010, a 60 percent rise. The debt ratio to GDP was up nine points from 40 percent in 2010 to 49 percent in 2014. Chaker said that the debt is liquidated in dollar, euro, and other currencies and changes with exchange rate fluctuations. [L’Economiste Maghrebin (French), 5/6/2015]

Saudi Arabia presses with big projects despite oil price fall
Saudi Arabia’s Finance Minister Ibrahim al-Assaf said that despite low oil prices, the government remains committed to infrastructure and development projects. He said the kingdom is in a strong enough financial position to help bolster private sector growth through capital expenditure projects, however it needs to “rationalize” spending. His comments came as the International Monetary Fund warned that the kingdom would need to reduce the pace of spending, despite its large financial reserves. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reported that Saudi Arabia is working on fuel efficiency measures to cut domestic oil consumption, rather than slash subsidies. [Financial Times, 5/5/2015]

IMF says Middle East oil importers will gain from price decline
In the oil importing countries across the Middle East and North Africa, economic growth is expected to strengthen this year as oil exporters (especially the Gulf Cooperation Council countries) face a fall in oil incomes and overall gross domestic product (GDP) growth slows, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Improved domestic confidence, more accommodating fiscal and monetary policies, and lower oil prices are expected to contribute to the GDPs of the oil importing countries. [Gulf News, 5/5/2015]

Halt to Libya’s Zueitina oil port and linked fields further cuts output
All crude flows to Libya’s Zueitina port have stopped after protesters demanding jobs blocked a pipeline, forcing the closure of several eastern oilfields. The closure should lower oil output to as low as 400,000 barrels a day, according to estimates based on previous production figures. Meanwhile, a tanker docked and unloaded fuel at a port in Derna, a stronghold of Islamic State militants. The fuel was bound for a power station and desalination plant in the city and the Libyan National Oil Corporation said that the unloading was very important because it gave a positive signal to the oil market that Libyan ports were safe. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 5/5/2015]

Iran mulls another $1 billion credit line for Syrian regime
Syria and Iran are discussing a second $1 billion credit line to prop up the government of President Bashar al-Assad. Syrian Central Bank Governor Adib Mayaleh said that the Iranian government had given preliminary approval for the credit line, the second since 2013. He said Syria still has money left from the first $1 billion agreement, which helps finance imports. Mayaleh added that Damascus has not dipped into its reserves, but is using inflows of $10 million daily from personal transfers and exports to fund imports. [Bloomberg, 5/6/2015]