Top News: Houthis Seize National Dialogue Headquarters in Yemen

Houthi militia seized the offices of a political conciliation body late on Wednesday, hours after the president refused UN-brokered talks with their powerful movement unless they withdrew from Sana’a. Around fifteen armed Houthis forced their way into and searched the offices of the National Dialogue secretariat in Sana’a late on Wednesday. The UN talks to resolve the deadlock have only just begun, and President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi has already signaled that he will not negotiate unless the Houthis vacate the capital. On Wednesday, he rejected two proposals put to him for solving the crisis, both of which would have preserved his title as president. [ReutersAl Masdar, 3/5/2015]



Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan reach preliminary deal on Nile dam

Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan reached a preliminary draft agreement governing the Renaissance Dam operations, state-run news agency MENA reported Friday. The foreign and water ministers met for three days of tripartite meetings to discuss the issue. The planned $4 billion Renaissance Dam will be Africa’s biggest dam and aims to provide cheap power for countries as far away as South Africa and Morocco. The project, being built by Italy’s Salini Impregilo SpA , aims to produce 6,000 megawatts of electricity for a power-hungry region. The deal will now be sent to the leaders of the three countries for final approval. The ministers did not elaborate on specific points of the deal. [Ahram Online, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, 3/6/2015]

Sisi sends member of Judges for Egypt Movement to retirement
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has sent Cairo Appeal Court President Ayman al-Wardany to retirement. The decision, made on February 17 and issued in the official gazette on Thursday, said the retirement was based on verdict by the supreme disciplinary board on September 29. Wardany was referred to the board over membership in Judges for Egypt movement, which supported the Muslim Brotherhood and formed by Waleed Sharaby. The movement declared victory of toppled President Mohamed Morsi in 2012 elections before official results were announced. [Egypt Independent, 3/5/2015]

‘Rampant abuse’ in Cairo’s Mattariya police station says Amnesty International
The “string of deaths” amongst detainees held in custody inside Mattariya police station point to “torture and horrific detention conditions,” Amnesty International said in a statement on Wednesday. At least nine detainees have died in Mattariya police station since April 2014, three of which died last week alone. Amnesty International has described the investigations into their cases “half-hearted” as no one has been held accountable. [DNE, 3/5/2015]

Six minor blasts hit Cairo and Giza on Friday
In the latest in a series of militant attacks, four bombs exploded in Greater Cairo on Friday morning and two more in the afternoon, leaving no casualties, state news agency MENA reported. One of the bombs targeted an electricity unit in the southern Cairo suburb of Maadi, causing damage to three cars. Another was planted in a central square in Zaytoun, an eastern Cairo neighborhood. On the western outskirts of Cairo, twin bomb attacks targeted a gas supply unit in October 6 city. Later in the day, two crude bombs went off in the densely populated districts of al-Marg and al-Amireya in northeast Cairo. No injuries have been reported. [Ahram Online, 3/6/2015]

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Libyan factions hold peace talks in Morocco; Army announces unilateral halt to airstrikes
Libya’s warring factions, the Tobruk-based House of Representatives and the Tripoli-based General National Congress, met for UN-sponsored peace talks in Morocco on Thursday. Western officials see the UN talks as the only hope of forming a unity government and halting the fighting, but previous talks have yielded few results. The renewed negotiations come amid concerns of rising Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) influence and the declaration of a force majeure, which halted production at eleven Libyan oilfields. During the talks, the Libyan National Army, allied with the Tobruk-based government, announced a unilateral end to its air strike campaign; however, it stated that ground operations would continue, and it reserved the right to respond to any Libya Dawn air strikes. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 3/5/2015]

Government soldiers murdered in Derna
Militants have posted a video on Facebook of the execution of two Libyan soldiers in Derna on Thursday. The video is not consistent with the typical Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) videos, suggesting that an ISIS rival in Derna, the Abu Saleem Martyrs’ Brigade, produced the film. Although both groups joined the town’s Mujahedeen Shura Council last December, they are frequently at odds. [Libya Herald, 3/5/2015]

Italian PM appeals to Russia to stabilize Libya; Jordan, Libya plan counterterrorism cooperation
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi pleaded for Russian help to resolve the security crisis in Libya, marking a fresh diplomatic approach to the North African country. Russia is considered one of the main international supporters of the Tobruk-based government, but Renzi’s push raised concerns among some Western diplomats that it could hurt the European Union’s effort to maintain economic sanctions against Russia for its actions in Ukraine. Meanwhile, the Libyan and Jordanian foreign ministers held talks on collaborating to combat terrorism and extremism. Jordan, currently one of the ten non-permanent members of the UN Security Council, has actively supported moves to end the arms embargo on Libya. [Financial Times, Libya Herald, 3/5/2015]

Tunisian troops find large arms cache near Libyan border
The Tunisian government announced its troops have captured a large arms cache near the border with Libya, including Kalashnikov rifles, rockets, and landmines. At least two Islamist militant groups operate in Tunisia, and analysts say the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) is also seeking to spread its influence across the region. The Tunisian government is further concerned about the potential spillover violence from the chaos in neighboring Libya. [Reuters, 3/6/2015]

Tunisian President says needs support for structural reforms; PM confers with US officials
Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi said, “Tunisia needs support to initiate structural reforms that can sometimes be painful.” Speaking at the Investment and Entrepreneurship Conference, he stressed that this event is a major opportunity for Tunisia to gain further international government and private support for its economic reform agenda. Prime Minister Habib Essid met with senior US officials on the sidelines of the conference. The meetings focused on economic cooperation, including investment and development. [TAP/All Africa, 3/5/2015]


ISIS has bulldozed ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud; Iraqi forces push toward Tikrit
Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) fighters have looted and bulldozed the 3,000-year-old ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud in their latest assault on some of the world’s greatest archaeological and cultural treasures. The assault against Nimrud came just a week after the release of a video showing ISIS supporters smashing museum statues and carvings in Mosul. UNESCO condemned ISIS’s actions as “cultural cleansing” and a war crime. The government in Baghdad said the terrorists were defying “the will of the world and the feelings of humanity.” South from Mosul, in Salahuddin province, Iraqi forces and Iranian-backed Shia militias pressed their offensive against ISIS on Friday, expecting to reach the outskirts of the militant-held city of Tikrit. Meanwhile in Riyadh, Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal warned on Thursday, during a press conference with Secretary of State John Kerry, of Iran’s growing role in Iraq and accused the Shia-dominated Islamic republic of “taking over” its Arab neighbor through its aid in the fight against ISIS. He also stressed “the need to provide the military means needed to face this challenge on the ground.” [The National, BBC, The Guardian, 3/6/2015]

Top Nusra Front leader killed in airstrike
The military chief of Syria’s al-Nusra Front and former Arab-Afghan fighter Abu Homam al-Shami has been killed in an airstrike. It remains unclear who conducted the airstrike. Syrian state news agency SANA claimed it was the Syrian military while pro-Nusra media said it was the US-led coalition. A press release from US Central Command listed a total of seven coalition airstrikes conducted Thursday in Syria, but mentioned none in Idlib province. [Naharnet, AP, BBC, Al-Arabiya, 3/6/2015]

EU hits Syria with fresh sanctions
The European Union (EU) imposed additional sanctions against Syria on Friday, targeting backers of President Bashar al-Assad. “Seven persons and six entities providing support to the Syrian regime as well as benefitting from it have been targeted. … This brings the number of persons and entities targeted by EU sanctions over the violent repression against the civilian population in Syria to 218 persons and 69 entities,” a statement said. The European Union will publish the names of the individuals and entities in its Official Journal on Saturday, bringing the measures into effect.[AFP, AP, 3/6/2015]

UN Security Council to vote on chlorine arms use in Syria
The United States has circulated a draft resolution in the UN Security Council that condemns the use of toxic chemicals such as chlorine in Syria without assigning blame, while threatening militarily enforced action in the case of further violations. The council will vote on it Friday morning. French UN Ambassador Francois Delattre, president of the council for March, said on Thursday that he hoped the Council would adopt the resolution unanimously. It is still unclear how Russia would vote. On Thursday, Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu criticized the UN and world powers over their failed efforts to end the war in Syria, saying they lacked a clear strategy. “Unfortunately, the international community did not have a Plan A until now—forget plan B.” Adding that the UN’s plan to freeze fighting in Aleppo fell short of a comprehensive approach. [Reuters, AP, 3/6/2015]


Houthis seize national dialogue headquarters; president demands rebels leave the capital
Houthi militia seized the offices of a political conciliation body late on Wednesday, hours after the president refused UN-brokered talks with their powerful movement unless they withdrew from Sana’a. Around fifteen armed Houthis forced their way into and searched the offices of the National Dialogue secretariat in Sana’a late on Wednesday. The UN talks to resolve the deadlock have only just begun, and President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi has already signaled that he will not negotiate unless the Houthis vacate the capital. On Wednesday, he rejected two proposals put to him for solving the crisis, both of which would have preserved his title as president. [Reuters, Al Masdar, 3/5/2015]

Security committee denies Iranian operation took place in Yemen
A source at the High Security Committee denied on Thursday reports by Iranian media about an Iranian security operation carried out in Yemen to release an Iranian diplomat kidnapped by al-Qaeda. The source said that there was no security operation in the Yemeni territories. The source claimed the operation occurred in another country where an exchange took place without any ransom. Yesterday, Iranian press announced that a successful intelligence operation had freed Iranian diplomat, Noor Ahmed, who had been abducted in July 2013. [SABA, 3/6/2015]

Saudi Arabia welcomes Yemen talks in Riyadh
During a joint press conference with US Secretary of State John Kerry, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud announced that he would be welcome to hosting negotiations between Yemen’s feuding political parties in Riyadh. Earlier this week, President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi proposed moving the talks to the Saudi capital. A few days later, the Houthis and the General People’s Party (GPC) rejected Hadi’s proposal. [Al Masdar, 3/6/2015]

Sixty-seven members of Congress ask Saudi king to release activist
On the eve of US Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to Saudi Arabia, sixty-seven members of congress sent a bipartisan letter to Saudi Arabia’s new ruler, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. The letter urged the new king to free all prisoners of conscience—including blogger Raif Badawi and attorney Waleed Abu al-Khair—and to allow women, religious minorities and peaceful political reformers to freely express themselves and fully participate in public life in Saudi Arabia. Today, Raif Badawi’s flogging, punishment for hosting a website with content critical of religious leaders, was postponed for health reasons for the eighth week in a row. [The Hill, Amnesty International, 3/5/2015]


Oil climbs to $61 per barrel on Mideast supply concerns
Brent crude oil rose to around $61 per barrel as fighting in Libya and Iraq stoked output worries, while traders kept a close eye on Iran nuclear talks that could eventually bring more supply to world markets. Fighting escalated in northeast Iraq where Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants set fire to oilfields to deter Shia militiamen and Iraqi soldiers from advancing. In Libya, worsening security conditions have led to the closure of eleven oilfields. In reaction Brent LCOc1 was up 50 cents a barrel at $60.98 and light crude CLc1 was up 10 cents at $50.86 a barrel. [Reuters, 3/6/2015]

Egypt to offer projects worth $35 billion during conference
Egypt plans to offer around fifty projects, valued at up to $35 billion at the international investment conference in mid-March. The government has already started negotiations over ten projects, including a $3 billion power plant and embarked on a mega-project to expand the Suez Canal and develop an industrial zone around it. Overall, Egypt attracted some $1.3 billion in foreign investment in the first quarter of the current fiscal year ending in June and reportedly the government hopes to reach $8 billion by the end of the fiscal year, nearly double the amount from the previous year. [AP, 3/5/2015]

OPIC to Invest MAD 5 billion in Morocco
On the sidelines of a meeting with the General Confederation of Moroccan Businesses (GCEM) on Wednesday, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) said that it hopes to reach $500-$600 million in engaged capitals. At just over MAD 5 billion, the Americans are eyeing several strategic sectors in the kingdom, including renewable energy, infrastructure, and tourism. Concurrently, a US commercial delegation of ten leading security industry firms led by Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Industry and Analysis Marcus Jadotte is currently visiting Morocco with the aim of forging business and investment partnerships. [Morocco World News, 3/5/2015]