Top News: Houthis seize US special forces base

Armed Houthis took over a special forces army base in Sana’a early on Wednesday.

The clashes, which lasted around six hours, started late on Tuesday when Houthis shelled the camp with heavy weapons. At least ten people were killed. The United States had trained and equipped the troops as an elite counterterrorism unit during the rule of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. [Reuters, Al Masdar, 2/25/2015]



Supreme Constitutional Court to rule on parliamentary elections laws
Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) adjourned on Tuesday the trial determining the constitutionality of the parliamentary elections laws to March 1, as a verdict is expected to be returned next session. The SCC’s Board of Commissioners last Saturday responded to six lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the House of Representatives Law, Political Rights Law, and Parliamentary Constituencies Law, issuing a nonbinding opinion that agreed with the plaintiffs. Constitutional expert and former deputy prime minister Yahya al-Gamal said in an interview on Wednesday, that he expects the SCC to deem the Parliamentary Constituencies Law unconstitutional. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, 2/25/2015]

Dozens of detainees expected to be released, says NCHR member
Some 140 detainees, who were imprisoned recently, many for breaching the protest law, are expected to be released within days, a member of Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights Council (NCHR) said on Tuesday. The list represents a first batch of prisoners to be set free, human rights lawyer Hafez Abu Seada said, after Egypt’s president promised on Sunday to release “unjustly imprisoned Egyptians.” Three lists of detainees drafted by NCHR, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, and young journalists had been presented to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in recent months for him to consider for presidential pardon, totalling 1100 names. Egyptian human rights groups and parties had their hopes dashed, however, as the released prisoners did not include most of the names in the submitted lists. In an interview, NCHR member Salah Sallam criticized the body’s advisory role and called for the council’s powers to include the right to investigate human rights abuses cases inside prisons and detention centers without permission from the public prosecutor. He also called for NCHR decisions to be binding. [Ahram Online, DNE, 2/24/2015]

Egyptian, US defense ministers committed to strengthening security partnership
Egyptian Defense Minister Sedki Sobhi and his US counterpart Ash Carter reaffirmed late Tuesday “their shared commitment to strengthening the security partnership between Egypt and the United States.” Carter expressed condolences to Egypt for victims of a recent attack on twenty-one Egyptian nationals in Libya. Carter said his country is willing cooperate with Egypt to “meet security challenges.” Sobhi stressed the “need to strengthen global coalitions against terrorism and extremism.” [Aswat Masriya, 2/25/2015]

Libya political deal will not defeat terrorism, says Egypt FM
Egypt said Tuesday a political accord in Libya would not be enough to tackle the jihadist threat in the country after Western states balked at military intervention following Egyptian air strikes. Shoukry arrived in Paris Wednesday morning for the second leg of a tour that also includes visits to Tunisia, Russia, and China. Shoukry will also meet with his Saudi counterpart Saud al-Faysal in Paris to discuss escalating regional tensions, particularly in Syria and Yemen. Shoukry met his Tunisian counterpart on Tuesday to discuss the repatriation of Egyptians fleeing Libya through the Libyan-Tunisian border. An Egyptian border official says some 20,000 Egyptians have fled Libya since the release of a grisly beheading video by Islamic State militants, with over 2,000 fleeing in the past twenty-four hours. [AFP, DNE, 2/25/2015]

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UN talks postponed; Secretary-General calls for UN mission in Libya to be scaled down
A fresh round of UN-brokered talks between warring parties in Libya, which were due to be held in Morocco tomorrow, have been postponed following the recent Tobruk-based House of Representatives vote to withdraw from the dialogue. UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon circulated a report yesterday that stated the UN mission in Libya should be cut substantially due to the dangerous situation in the country. This recommendation comes as Libya’s neighbors are calling for more UN action on Libya given the recent increase in violence. [Libya Monitor (subscription), AP, 2/25/2015]

France urges Libyan factions to strike political deal; Italy pushes for new diplomatic effort
French President Francois Hollande said that warring factions in Libya must strike a political deal to restore a central government, parliament and banking functions, and stop the worsening problem of human trafficking. At the same press conference, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi stated that conditions have not been met for a UN peacekeeping mission. He called for the international community to launch a new diplomatic effort to resolve the Libyan crisis. Italy has endured waves of migrants smuggled across the Mediterranean from Libya. On the same day, the Tobruk-based Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni, criticized the US, UK, and EU for failing to supply arms to his forces in their fight against extremist militias. [Reuters, AP, 2/24/2015]

Libyan flights from Turkey and Jordan to make security stop in eastern part of the country
Egypt is forcing Libyan airliners flying between Turkey or Jordan and the capital Tripoli to stop in eastern Libya to allow the country’s internationally recognized, Tobruk-based government to screen for potential Islamist fighters. The move underscores Egypt’s engagement in Libya to bolster the weak official government in its fight against Islamist militants. Flights in either direction between the Libyan cities of Tripoli and Misrata and Turkey or Jordan, via Egyptian air space, must make a transit stop in eastern Libya. [Reuters, 2/24/2015]

Tunisian journalists abducted in Libya are safe, according to Libyan official
Abducted Tunisian journalists Sofiene Chourabi and Nadhir Ktari are “alive and safe,” said President of the Libyan Culture and Information Authority Omar al-Gouiri. Chourabi and Ktari have been detained in Libya for five months by Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) affiliated militants. The group claimed to have executed the two Tunisian journalists in January in an online statement that sparked outrage in Tunis. In a statement to reporters after a meeting Tuesday in Tunis with President of the National Union of Tunisian Journalists Neji Bghouri, Al-Gouiri welcomed the cooperation between the journalists’ union and the Libyan sides on the case of the Tunisian journalists, but refused to elaborate. [TAP/All Africa, 2/4/2015]

Journalists’ union in Tunisia calls for moving blogger Yassine Ayari’s case to civilian court
The National Union of Tunisian Journalists called for blogger, Yassine Ayari’s appeal trial to be moved from a military to civilian court. The union said that bringing the case before a civilian court aims to ensure a fair and independent trial for the defendant, which is in accordance with the Tunisian constitution and international human rights conventions. Ayari was sentenced to a year in jail for insulting the military in Facebook posts and his case has been widely criticized by international human rights groups. [All Africa, 2/24/2015]


Syria dropped barrel bombs despite ban
Human Rights Watch said Tuesday that the Syrian government had dropped barrel bombs on at least 450 sites in and around the town of Daraa and at least 1,000 sites in Aleppo since last February. In a report, the group said it relied on satellite images, photos, videos, and witness statements to conclude that the Syrian government had bombarded the sites. The report focused on the period since February 22, 2014, when the Security Council specifically condemned the use of barrel bombs. In an interview with BBC this month, President Bashar al-Assad denied that his forces had used of barrel bombs. UN special envoy to Syria, Staffan de Mistura, said last week that Assad had agreed to halt aerial bombardments in Aleppo city for six weeks. [NY Times, BBC, 2/25/2015]

ISIS’s Christian hostage toll in Syria rises; Syrian Kurds cut ISIS supply line near Iraq
The Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) has abducted at least 150 people from Assyrian Christian villages in northeastern Syria according to the Syriac National Council of Syria. Some groups put the number of hostages as high as 400. Following the kidnappings, Kurdish militia forces, backed by US-led air strikes, pressed a major offensive against ISIS in the southeastern part of al-Hasakah province on Wednesday, cutting a main supply line near the Iraqi border. At least 132 ISIS militants have been killed since Saturday in fighting with Kurdish militia, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [Al-Arabiya, Reuters, 2/25/2015]

Syrian government releases prominent dissident
The Syrian authorities have released on bail dissident Louay Hussein, the head of the pro-democracy Building the Syrian State Movement. Hussein still faces charges of “spreading false news” and “weakening national morale,” according to a statement on the group’s Facebook page. Hussein’s next court date is March 3. Hussein was arrested in November last year at the Lebanese-Syrian border after publishing comments fiercely critical of the regime. [The Daily Star, 2/25/2015]

Four French MPs meet Assad in Syria
President Bashar al-Assad met on Wednesday with French parliamentarians, the first such meeting since France closed its embassy in 2012 and announced that Syria’s leader had lost all legitimacy. The French parliament’s foreign affairs committee did not approve the trip and the foreign ministry said it did not support the mission. “We met Bashar Assad for a good hour. It went very well,” said Jacques Myard, an MP from the conservative opposition party Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) refusing to reveal the content of the talks. Many European diplomats are saying it is time for communication with Damascus. Syria’s state news agency SANA said the meeting had focused on “fighting terrorism and cooperation.” [AFP, Reuters, 2/25/2015]

Cholera feared in Syria due to dirty water
A cholera outbreak is feared in the coming months in Syria, where other water-borne diseases such as hepatitis A and typhoid are on the rise due to poor sanitation, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned on Tuesday. The WHO said that drinking water is available at about one-third of pre-war levels and at times supplies are cut off to punish civilians. Over 30,000 cases of hepatitis A were reported in Syria last year and more than 1,000 cases have been recorded per week since January. [Reuters, 2/24/2015]


Houthis seize US special forces base
Armed Houthis took over a special forces army base in Sana’a early on Wednesday. The clashes, which lasted around six hours, started late on Tuesday when Houthis shelled the camp with heavy weapons. At least ten people were killed. The United States had trained and equipped the troops as an elite counterterrorism unit during the rule of former president Ali Abdullah Saleh. [Reuters, Al Masdar, 2/25/2015]

UN extends sanctions on Yemen’s political leaders
The UN Security Council voted unanimously to extend sanctions on Yemen’s former president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and two Houthi leaders. The resolution adopted on Tuesday will extend sanctions for another year with the possibility of suspension if the situation improves. The Security Council reiterated that it is prepared to impose additional sanctions on those endangering the country’s peace, security and stability, and reaffirmed “its strong commitment to the unity, sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Yemen.” [AP, UN News, 2/24/2015]

GCC secretary general visits President Hadi in Aden
Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Secretary General Abdul Latif bin Rashid al-Zayani arrived in Aden Wednesday morning where he visited President Abdrabo Mansour Hadi. President Hadi recently escaped house arrest and fled to Aden where he has called for ministers of his cabinet to join him. The secretary general’s visit comes on the heels of a Houthi announcement declaring President Hadi a fugitive. On Wednesday, tens of thousands of residents gathered in the streets of Taiz to show their support for President Hadi. [Al Masdar, AP, 2/25/2015]

Saudi Arabia arrests al-Qaeda recruiters
A Saudi court has jailed at least thirteen men on counts including the recruitment of al-Qaeda militants for the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States and sheltering Osama bin Laden in Pakistan. One of the defendants confessed in court that he had met al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden after the September 11 attacks and helped him find shelter at the home of a Saudi citizen living in Pakistan after he fled the US-led invasion of Afghanistan. [Reuters, Asharq al-Awsat, 2/25/2015]

Bahraini opposition party leader’s trial postponed
Bahrain Advocate General Haroon al-Zayani said on Wednesday that the trial of Sheikh Ali Salman, secretary-general of al-Wefaq, would be postponed until March 25. Sheikh Salman’s request for bail was denied and he will remain in custody until the case is reviewed by the court in a month. Salman was arrested after he joined a protest in December demanding the dismissal of the government and parliament. [Gulf News, 2/25/2015]


EBRD to lend Tunisia 200 million euros
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) will lend Tunisia 200 million euros this year to finance energy and industry projects. The EBRD has financed twenty projects in Tunisia, under a budget of 210 million euros since it began its activities in the country in September 2012. Tunisia faces pressure from its international lenders to curb high public spending, including by cutting politically sensitive subsidies on basic foods and fuel. Job security and high living costs are Tunisians’ main worries. [Reuters, TAP (subscription) 2/25/2015]

Algerian president says diversifying economy remains priority
According to Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, the diversification of the national economy remains a priority of the public authorities in order to reinforce growth and strengthen the resilience of the economy in view of the external shocks. While mentioning the sharp fall in oil prices, the president informed the government to take the necessary measures to mitigate negative effects on development and growth and reduce as much as possible the impact on citizens, particularly the most vulnerable social layers. [AllAfrica, 2/24/2015]

Egyptian pound steady at official auction, weaker on black market
The Egypt’s central bank kept the pound steady at 7.53 to the dollar at a foreign exchange auction on Wednesday. The central bank said it offered $40 million on Wednesday and sold $38.4 million at a cut-off price of 7.5301 pounds per dollar, the same as at the previous sale on Monday. A trader on the unofficial market said the pound was changing hands for 7.69 per dollar on Wednesday, weaker than the 7.65 quoted Monday. The central bank has now kept the official exchange rate steady for more than three weeks after letting the pound weaken in an effort to wipe out black market trading. [Reuters, 2/25/2015]

EBRD approves first country strategy for Morocco
The Board of Directors of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) approved its first country strategy for Morocco, which focuses on four key priorities identified in cooperation with the Moroccan government. The four priorities include realizing Morocco’s entrepreneurial potential; regional inclusion; sustainability and commercialization of public services and infrastructure; and advancing the development of capital markets. Under this country strategy, the EBRD “will broaden the range of financial instruments and promote innovative financial solutions. It will also focus on supporting equity and bond issuance and will raise awareness of these among foreign investors.” [Morocco World News, 2/24/2015]