Top News: Iran Calls for Unity Government in Yemen

In the most direct US criticism yet of Tehran’s backing of the Houthi rebels, Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington would not accept foreign interference in Yemen. Washington warned Thursday it would not “stand by” while Iran supports rebels in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition pounded anti-government forces at the start of a third week of bombings. The United States has backed the Saudi-led campaign, which launched air strikes last month as the rebels advanced on Yemen’s main southern city of Aden after seizing the capital Sana’a. [AFPReutersBBC, 4/8/2015]



US considering major arms sales to Egypt, Pakistan
The United States said on Wednesday it was considering a $57 million sale of air-to-surface missiles to Egypt, the second big arms deal this week after Congress was notified of a potential $1 billion sale of helicopters and missiles to Pakistan. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) said the State Department had notified Congress on Tuesday of the possible sale to Egypt of 356 R-variant Hellfire II missiles and associated equipment, parts and training. The Hellfire is a family of 100-pound, laser-guided missiles generally fired by helicopters or airplanes, including unmanned drones. The agency said it would be the first transfer of R-variant Hellfires to Egypt, which can also be fired from sea and ground platforms. DSCA said Congress was notified of the potential sale on Tuesday as required by law, but does not mean that the sale has actually been concluded. [Reuters, 4/8/2015]

Violence in Egypt’s Sinai kills eleven civilians, two soldiers
Military officials say eleven civilians and two soldiers have been killed in three attacks in Egypt’s restive northern Sinai. The officials said a mortar landed Wednesday on a residential area south of Sheik Zweid, a town in northern Sinai, hitting a house and killing nine of its residents. Separately, officials said a missile landed on a house in another village, killing two civilians. The mortar rounds also wounded six people, the officials said without specifying who was behind the attack. In a third attack, outside the provincial capital al-Arish, officials said an explosive detonated as a military vehicle drove past, killing two police officers and injuring three others. Meanwhile, Egypt’s armed forces killed twenty-nine suspected militants and arrested thirty-two more in security campaigns on the Sinai Peninsula this week, the army spokesman said on Thursday. [Ahram Online, AFP, AP, 4/9/2015]

Cybercrime draft law awaits presidential approval
Egypt’s government has approved a draft law tackling internet crime and submitted it to the presidency for final approval, Minister of Communication and Information Technology Khaled Negm said on Thursday. The minister, currently attending a meeting of the Council of Arab Ministers Of Communications and Information Technology in Beirut, said that the law addresses “crimes committed both against fellow citizens and against the state.” The law addresses infractions include the hacking of e-mail accounts, personal and government information, incitement to terrorism, and embezzlement with average penalties of EGP500,000 and prison sentences of up to three years. In a separate interview, Negm said the draft law “protects the security of both the citizens and the state, while preserving privacy.” According to the minister, the proposed document would “provide judges with the power to issue verdicts for internet crimes such as cyberterrorism, blasphemy, and sexual offenses.” The law would also stipulate punishments for “the dissemination of rumors and the promotion of extremist thought on social networks.”[Egypt Independent, 4/9/2015]

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Italy, Egypt, and Algeria to intensify collaboration over Libya
Italy, Egypt and Algeria have agreed to intensify joint efforts to fight the growth of terrorist forces in Libya and to pool information together as part of this move. They also agreed to continue backing the UN bid to create a Libyan national unity government. They said that these efforts are in support of and seek to promote the work of UN Special Envoy to Libya Bernardino Leon. Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni also met with Ageela Saleh, the President of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives and emphasized that an inclusive approach with a government founded on a broad-based consensus are necessary for the international community to engage fully in rebuilding and stabilizing Libya and combating terrorism. [Libya Herald, 4/8/2015]

Official parliament appoints committee to review UN proposal; GNC back peddles on talks
The House of Representatives (House) has appointed nineteen of its members to evaluate the interim political roadmap drawn up by UN-brokered dialogue process and they have been instructed to submit recommendations to the whole House next Monday. Meanwhile, the Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC) announced that it was likely to abandon the dialogue because of increasing military action by Tobruk-allied Libyan National Army forces in the west of the country, which is a violation of the truce. A GNC spokesman added that the issue of which parliament was legitimate was more serious than that of working out a government of national unity and as such the GNC will not nominate delegates for the proposed unity government. [Libya Herald, 4/8/2015]

National ID measure reduces wage bill by ‘several billion dollars,’ says Tripoli
Tripoli-based government officials claim that the National ID scheme, which is intended to stop duplicate payments by linking salaries to specific ID cards, reduced the wage bill by several billion dinars and will help create some 60,000 job opportunities. This comes in response to the Tobruk government’s accusation that Tripoli was blocking salaries as a way to humiliate people. The Tripoli officials responded that they were implementing the National ID scheme and seeking to prevent corruption and duplicate salaries. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 4/8/2015]

Thirteen arrested after ambush on security forces in Tunisia
The Tunisian ministry of defense said that thirteen people suspected of being involved in the ambush on a Tunisian army patrol in Maghila, Kasserine, have been arrested. The ambush killed five and wounded another nine soldiers. The ministry also announced that a new electronic defense system managed by the Tunisian armed forces is active along the border with Libya to improve border security. The system can detect movement and will aid security forces in preventing smugglers and terrorists from illegally crossing the border. [Tunisia Live, 4/8/2015]

Flaws in Tunisia’s counterterrorism bill, according to Human Rights Watch
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has outlined concerns with Tunisia’s new counterterrorism bill, including extended incommunicado detention, weakened due process guarantees for people charged with terrorism offenses, and the allowance of the death penalty. HRW stated that it understands the need for antiterrorism laws, but that respect for human rights should be at the center of these laws. HRW has urged the government to revise the draft. There is a growing fear that security measures are going too far and a crackdown on conservative Salafism has already begun. [HRW/All Africa, 4/8/2015]


ICRC demands access to Yarmouk; Palestinian envoy and Syria agree to military option
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) called on Thursday for immediate access to Yarmouk refugee camp in southern Damascus, which has largely been seized by Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) and where up to 18,000 people are caught up in fighting. The independent aid agency said that emergency medical care was urgently needed at Yarmouk camp. The ICRC has not had access to Yarmouk since October 2014. In related news, Palestinian official Ahmad Majdalani said Thursday that an agreement has been reached with the Syrian government to use military force to expel ISIS terrorists from the refugee camp. Majdalani said that all Palestinian factions have agreed to continue consultations with the Syrian leadership and to form a joint operation room with government forces. It was unclear who exactly had signed onto the plan. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that the regime has dropped at least thirty-six barrel bombs on Yarmouk since the beginning of April. [Reuters, AP, The Daily Star, 4/9/2015]

Little sign of progress at Moscow Syria talks
Talks between the Syrian government and members of the tolerated opposition were set to end Thursday in Moscow with little sign of progress towards ending the spiraling conflict in the country. Syria’s Ambassador to the United Nations Bashar al-Jaafari headed the government delegation in four days of meetings with Russian mediators and opposition figures from the National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change. But the main Western-backed exiled Syrian Opposition National Coalition stayed away and another leading domestic opposition activist was stuck in Damascus due to a travel ban. “We will meet for two hours but I do not think this will be enough to make any advances,” opposition figure Samir Aita said. Syria’s state news agency SANA said the regime and members of the opposition had agreed to the following principles in an eight-point paper titled “Estimating the Status Quo”: a political solution based on the Geneva I document, an immediate end to military operations, solving “all humanitarian disasters,” fighting terror, a democratic political transition, and the release of detainees.[AFP, 4/9/2015]

ICC says ISIS is out of its jurisdiction
ISIS has committed “crimes of unspeakable cruelty” in Syria and Iraq, the International Criminal Court’s Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said Wednesday, but added that she does not have jurisdiction to open an investigation. Bensouda said that a change in jurisdiction would have to come from decisions outside the court: the UN Security Council could ask the court to begin an investigation. Another option, she said, would be for Iraq or Syria, neither of which is a member of the court, to accept the court’s jurisdiction on a temporary basis. But she clearly did not expect this to happen soon. The prosecutor said that her office had looked into several avenues to investigate crimes by ISIS, including pursuing fighters from countries who were court members. “Several thousand foreign fighters have joined the ranks of ISIS in the past months alone,” she said. But most of the foreign volunteers are believed to be low-ranking participants in the conflict. Prosecutors say that they could be investigated in courts in their home countries but would not be likely candidates for cases for the international court.[NY Times, AP, 4/8/2015]

Iraqi Prime Minister says next battle is retaking Anbar province
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said Wednesday the country’s “next battle” is retaking Anbar province from ISIS. Abadi announced last week that Iraqi forces retook the city of Tikrit from ISIS in Baghdad’s biggest victory to date over the terrorists. The question then became whether the next target would be Nineveh, ISIS’s main stronghold in the country and the first province to fall last year, or Anbar, a massive desert province that stretches from the borders with Syria, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia to the western approach to Baghdad. While ISIS has gained further ground in Anbar since June, the government’s loss of territory in the province predates the jihadi offensive by six months.[AFP, The Daily Star, 4/8/2015]


US warns Iran against support for Yemen rebels

In the most direct US criticism yet of Tehran’s backing of the Houthi rebels, Secretary of State John Kerry said Washington would not accept foreign interference in Yemen. Washington warned Thursday it would not “stand by” while Iran supports rebels in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition pounded anti-government forces at the start of a third week of bombings. The United States has backed the Saudi-led campaign, which launched air strikes last month as the rebels advanced on Yemen’s main southern city of Aden after seizing the capital Sana’a. [AFP, Reuters, BBC, 4/8/2015]

Iran calls for unity government in Yemen
Iran’s president on Thursday warned Saudi Arabia and its allies that their airstrike campaign in Yemen is a “mistake” and called for a halt to the strikes targeting the Iran-backed rebels who have seized much of the country. The Deputy Foreign Minister reiterated Iran’s call for a ceasefire and negotiations saying, “All influential and active political currents and factions” with popular backing should stand together “to form a government of national unity that can govern Yemeni affairs in the best way possible.” Iran dispatched a naval destroyer and another vessel Wednesday to waters near Yemen as the United States quickened weapons supply to the Saudi-led coalition. [Reuters, AP, Al-Masdar, 4/9/2015]

Saudi Arabia turns away plane with Iranian pilgrims
Saudi Arabian aviation authorities say they prevented an Iranian plane carrying 260 religious pilgrims from entering the kingdom’s airspace because the aircraft lacked appropriate permissions. The pilgrims had hoped to arrive in the kingdom on Wednesday afternoon to perform the minor umra pilgrimage. On the same day, the UAE Foreign Minister said that Iran is sowing discord in Yemen and other regional countries as part of a “revolution export” strategy and Gulf Arab states are losing hope of building normal ties with Tehran. [AP, 4/9/2015]

Al-Qaeda issues bounty for Saleh and Houthi leader
Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) announced it is offering twenty kilograms of gold to anyone who kills or captures former President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Houthi leader, Abdel Malik al-Houthi. Converted to currency, the gold reward would be worth about $774,000. AQAP referred to al-Houthi and Saleh as the “two heads of evil.” Al-Houthi is believed to be based in the northern Houthi stronghold of Saada. However, the whereabouts of Saleh, three years after he resigned following an Arab Spring-inspired uprising, remain unknown. [AFP, CNN, 4/9/2015]


Oil tankers diverted from Yemen amid Saudi air strikes
At least four oil and natural gas tankers that were headed to Yemen have been diverted as chaos mounts in the country following the launch of Saudi-led air strikes, according to industry sources and ship tracking data. Fighting has forced the country’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) export plant to take one of its production plants offline. Several companies, including France’s Total and APR Energy Plc, have either evacuated staff or ceased operations due to the conflict. [Reuters, 4/9/2015]

ISIS revenues hit by lost Iraqi oil fields
The Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) has lost control of at least three large oil fields in Iraq, a German has newspaper reported. The extremist group now controls just a single oil field in the country, the northern Qayara oil field, the Sueddeutsche Zeitung said in its Thursday edition, citing a report by German intelligence services. According to the report, the group now only has 5 percent of the extraction capabilities it had previously. [AFP, 4/8/2015]

Egypt’s inflation rates rise in March
Egypt’s annual urban consumer inflation and core inflation both picked up in March for a second consecutive month, a sign the government may be struggling to balance economic growth and price stability. The urban consumer inflation rate rose to 11.5 percent in March, marking a five month high driven by a rise in food and utility prices. Inflation accelerated in Egypt after the government slashed subsidies last summer, raising fuel prices by as much as 78 percent. [Reuters, 4/9/2015]

UAE investment law for foreign ownership in final phase
A UAE investment law that allows for 100 percent ownership to foreigners is in the final phase of being issued. The new law is aimed at attracting new foreign investment. Gulf countries are pushing for foreign investment and diversifying their economies as oil revenues decrease due to drop in oil prices. Oil prices have fallen by about 50 percent over the past year. [Gulf News, 4/8/2015]