Top News: ISIS claims central Baghdad bombing

ISIS claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing on Tuesday morning in central Baghdad that police said killed three people and wounded 27. The blast occurred near a gathering of workers in Tayaran Square, about a kilometer from a sit-in held by supporters of influential Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to demand political reforms. [Reuters, Iraqi News, Al Sumaria (Arabic), 3/29/2016]



EgyptAir hijacking suspect arrested in Cyprus
An EgyptAir plane flying from Alexandria to Cairo was hijacked and forced to land in Cyprus on Tuesday but the passengers and crew were freed unharmed and the hijacker was arrested after giving himself up. Eighty-one people, including 21 foreigners and 15 crew, had been onboard the Airbus 320 flight when it took off, Egypt’s Civil Aviation Ministry said in a statement. The suspect was identified by Cypriot and Egyptian officials as dual US-Egyptian citizen Seif Eldin Mustafa, an Egyptian living in Cyprus. Conflicting theories emerged about the hijacker’s motives, with Cypriot officials saying early on the incident did not appear related to terrorism but the Cypriot state broadcaster saying he had demanded the release of women prisoners in Egypt, and also called for a meeting with his former wife, who lived in Cyprus. She visited the airport and helped persuade him to surrender, the broadcaster reported. Speaking to reporters after the crisis ended, Prime Minister Sherif Ismail said, “At some moments he asked to meet with a representative of the European Union and at other points he asked to go to another airport but there was nothing specific,” he said, adding that the man would now be questioned to ascertain his motives. Cypriot TV also said he did not have an explosive belt. Earlier, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said his country was taking all measures to ensure the safety of those on board. In a phone call with Cypriot counterpart Nikos Anastasiades early on Tuesday, Sisi praised Cypriot authorities for their cooperation with Egypt in relation to the incident. [NYT, CNN, AP, Ahram Online, DNE, Reuters, Mada Masr, 3/29/2016]

Israeli Supreme Court temporarily halts gas export deals with Egypt, others
The Israeli Supreme Court ruled Sunday to halt the Israeli government’s plan to regulate the natural gas industry, in a move that is set to complicate export deals with Egypt and other states. In November, Israel’s Leviathan partners entered into negotiations with Egypt’s Dolphinus Holdings to supply as much as 4 billion cubic meters of natural gas annually for 10 to 15 years, according to Bloomberg. The Israeli Supreme Court ruling today invalidated a clause present in a deal reached between Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, the consortium of Texas-based giant Noble Energy and Israeli partner Delek Group last year. The clause was inserted to encourage investment by preventing major regulatory changes for 10 years. The court gave the Israeli government a year to reach an alternative arrangement, Haaretz reported. The Egyptian government had expressed its approval of importing gas from Israel by private Egyptian companies amid an energy crisis that intensified in the past years. However this has yet to materialize into actual imports. The potential deal with Dolphinus indicated that the gas would be supplied from Israel through the existing pipeline operated by East Mediterranean Gas Limited (EMG). [Aswat Masriya, 3/28/2016]

Thirty-three Egyptian judges forced into retirement for ‘engaging in politics’
Egypt’s state-run news agency says the top judicial disciplinary council issued a final verdict on Monday mandating the forced retirement of 33 judges who signed a statement in support of former President Mohamed Morsi shortly after he was deposed in July 2013. The council, which oversaw the appeal of 55 judges who were sentenced to early retirement by the judges’ disciplinary board in 2015, accepted the appeals of the other 23 judges involved in the case. The board’s decision is final and cannot be appealed. [Ahram Online, AP, Mada Masr, Aswat Masriya, 3/28/2016]

Egypt’s top auditor Hisham Geneina dismissed by presidential decree
Egypt’s state-run news agency MENA says President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi dismissed the country’s top auditor who earlier had said corruption has cost the country billions of dollars. MENA reported Monday that Sisi dismissed Hisham Geneina, head of the Central Auditing Organization, and appointed Geneina’s top deputy, Hisham Badawi, to run the agency. Geneina’s dismissal came hours after State Security Prosecution issued a statement accusing him of making false claims about widespread government corruption. The statement said that Geneina had exaggerated the sums lost to corruption by harking back to violations prior to 2012, and that he had abused his position as head auditor in gathering documents to make his case, charges on which State Security Prosecution would “confront” Geneina. Geneina had been under investigation by a presidential commission that quickly concluded that Geneina had misled the public by saying corruption had cost the equivalent of approximately $76 billion over a four-year period. A media gag order was also imposed on the investigations into the corruption report. There were reports of Geneina appearing in front of State Security Prosecution on Monday, which his lawyer denied. According to the lawyer, Ali Taha, Geneina has not received any official notification that he is being investigated by state authorities nor was he officially notified of his removal. Taha insists that the decision to remove Geneina is not legally sound. Despite the new law that allows Sisi to dismiss heads of supervisory boards, Taha explained that an amendment to the CAA bylaws through the parliament was also necessary. Taha added that Geneina is unlikely to appeal the decision. [Ahram Online, DNE, Reuters, AP, Mada Masr, 3/29/2016]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


Unity government blames rival faction for Tripoli airspace closure, ready for Tripoli move
Libya’s UN-backed unity government has accused authorities in Tripoli of closing down the capital’s airspace to prevent it from travelling from Tunisia to start work. The unity government’s Presidential Council released a statement on Monday after two days of swirling rumours that it was on its way to Libya and several flight stoppages at Tripoli’s Mitiga airport on Monday. The Presidential Council said a minority led by the Tripoli-based prime minister was “terrorizing the population of Tripoli and obstructing the unity government by closing the airspace.” In a statement, the Misrata Council of Elders and civil society institutions in the city have totally rejected the UN-imposed government and its efforts to come to Tripoli, describing it a trusteeship government. The statement added that imposing the self-declared government in this way is considered a hostile action against Libyans. Revolution Squares Gathering, representing 12 cities, has also rejected what it called the desperate attempts to bring the UN-imposed government to Tripoli. [Reuters, Libya Observer, Libya Herald, 3/29/2016]

Ban urges Libyan unity to fight ISIS
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said, Monday, he was seriously alarmed and concerned about the spread of “Daesh” (the Islamic State, ISIS, or ISIL) in Libya, urging Libyans for unity. In a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister of the Libyan Government of National Accord Mr. Mousa al-Kony in Tunisia on Tuesday, Ban expressed deep concern and disappointment at the leaders of Libya who were not able to overcome their differences,” but urged them to show unity. “They must address these issues with one government, one voice and with a sense of unity,” Ban stressed, saying he has met Monday in Tunis with his special representative Martin Kobler, Head of UN Support Mission in Libya, temporarily headquartered in Tunis. [TAP, MENAFN, 3/29/2016]

HoR fails to meet yet again due to lack of quorum
The House of Representatives (HoR) has failed to meet in official session in Tobruk again today due to the lack of a quorum. The failure comes despite an earlier call by HoR president Ageela Salah on all members to meet in Tobruk today in order to vote on the constitutional amendment and the Government of National Accord (GNA). This will be the fifth time that the HoR has failed to achieve a quorum for an official session, with the last successful meeting being on February 23. A constitutional amendment is necessary in order to make the LPA and its resultant GNA constitutional. There is disagreement within the HoR as to whether the GNA can be voted in prior to voting in a constitutional amendment. [Libya Herald, 3/28/2016]

UN and World Bank reaffirm support for Tunisia’s ongoing transition
The United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, on a two-day visit in Tunisia that began on March 28, met with president Beji Caid Essebsi of Tunisia. Ban was also accompanied by World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim. “We’ve just met with his excellency President Beji Caid Essebsi. I congratulated him for the democratic progress made in Tunisia. I also lauded his efforts to reduce social and economic inequalities. I assured him that the United Nations supports Tunisia’s citizens and Government at a time when the country is in transition,” said Ban Ki-moon. Kim called for a sharper focus on creating jobs for disenfranchised youth and spurring economic growth in the country’s lagging regions. [AfricaNews, 3/29/2016]

Ban Ki-moon tries to diffuse tensions with Morocco over Western Sahara
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon regrets a “misunderstanding” over his use of the word “occupation” to describe Morocco’s annexation of Western Sahara, which led to Morocco expelling dozens of United Nations staff, his spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Monday. “Nothing (Ban) said or did in the course of that trip was meant to offend or express hostility toward the Kingdom of Morocco, which is a valued member of the United Nations,” Dujarric said. Rabat has accused Ban of dropping the United Nations’ neutral stance on the Western Sahara dispute. “The position of the United Nations has not changed,” Dujarric said. “He has not and will not take sides on the issue of Western Sahara.” [Reuters, Newsweek, 3/29/2016]

Algeria helicopter crash kills at least 12 soldiers
At least 12 Algerian soldiers were killed when a Mi-171 helicopter crashed in the south of the country, the Defense Ministry said on Sunday. Further details were not immediately available. The crash occurred near Reggane town and two other soldiers were injured, the ministry said. The helicopter was on a scheduled mission when it experienced a technical failure and came down near Reggane, Adrar province. [Reuters, 3/29/2016]


Syria regime forces advance on ISIS town near Palmyra
Government troops were locked in heavy fighting Tuesday with the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in central Syria, where they dealt a major blow by seizing the ancient city of Palmyra. Just two days after seizing Palmyra from ISIS, pro-government fighters advanced southwest towards the extremists held town of al-Qaryatin, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said. They captured a series of strategic hilltops overlooking the town backed by both Syrian and Russian warplanes. State news agency SANA said the army, backed by pro-government militia, had also seized rural farmland south of al-Qaryatin as they closed in on the town. [AFP, 3/29/2016]

Syria troops remove 150 landmines from Palmyra so far
A Syrian antiquities official says demining experts have so far removed 150 bombs planted by ISIS inside the archaeological site in the historic town of Palmyra. Syria’s head of antiquities and museums, Maamoun Abdul-Karim, said on Tuesday that a technical team has returned to Damascus after a two-day work in Palmyra. [AP, 3/29/2016]

China appoints first special envoy for Syria crisis
On Tuesday, China’s foreign ministry announced it has appointed its first special envoy to Syria as the Asian nation seeks to increase its diplomatic footprint in the Middle East. While relying on the region for oil supplies, China tends to leave Middle Eastern diplomacy to the other permanent members of the UN Security Council. But China has been trying to get more involved, including recently hosting both Syria’s foreign minister and opposition figures, at different times. The appointment would help facilitate peace talks and “contribute Chinese wisdom and solutions” towards attempts to resolve the crisis, he said, reiterating that a political solution was the “only way out.” [Reuters, AFP, 3/29/2016]

Oxfam urges rich nations to take in more Syria refugees
Wealthy countries have resettled only a fraction of the nearly five million refugees who have fled Syria, Oxfam said on Tuesday, urging them to step up and do their share. The British charity called on wealthy countries to resettle at least 10 percent of the 4.8 million Syrian refugees registered in the region by the end of the year. So far rich countries have pledged fewer than 130,000 resettlement spots, and only around 67,100 people — a mere 1.39 percent of the refugees — have made it to their final destinations since 2013. The charity issued its report ahead of an unprecedented UN conference in Geneva on Wednesday, where countries will be asked to pledge resettlement spots for Syrian refugees. The United Nations said on Tuesday it was seeking to resettle more than 450,000 Syrian refugees, some one-tenth of those now in neighboring countries, by the end of 2018, but conceded that it was battling widespread fear and politicization of the issue. [AFP, Reuters, BBC, Guardian, 3/29/2016]

Russian military delegation arrives in Turkey
A military delegation from Russia has arrived in the Turkish province of Izmir. Members of the delegation are now in a military unit located in the vicinity of the Foca district of the country’s Izmir province. This is the first visit of the Russian military delegation to Turkey since the time of crisis between the two countries. Relations between Russia and Turkey deteriorated after Turkish Air Force shot down a Russian SU-24 bomber on Nov. 24, 2015. Turkey said the bomber entered its airspace, while Russia denied its warplane flying into the Turkish skies. [Trend News, Yeni Safak, 3/29/2016]

For more in-depth Syria news and analysis, please visit SyriaSource.


Tehran-Erbil talks to resume after Nowruz
Nazim Dabagh, the representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) office in Tehran, said talks on Kurdistan oil export through Iran will be resumed after Nowruz. Once sanctions against Iran were lifted, the KRG began to consider exporting oil through Iran, especially because the KRG already sends oil to Iranian refineries via trucks to be refined. “The current talks revolve around exporting oil through Iran and importing natural gas from Iran to Kurdistan,” Dabagh added, though he also believes that the current financial crisis in Kurdistan has slowed down the process. [Rudaw, 3/28/2016]

Kurds insist on fair share of cabinet posts amid political mayhem in Baghdad
Kurdish lawmakers in the Iraqi parliament declared they would oppose any cabinet that failed to meet their demand for 20 percent of the ministerial positions. “We have made it clear to Prime Minister Abadi that the current 13 percent of the ministerial posts, which is our share in the present government, is utterly unjust and indefensible … If [Abadi] wants our support, then he should make sure we have our full electoral share, which is one-fifth of the government offices,” Kurdish lawmaker Hoshiar Abdulla said. This comes as Moqtada al-Sadr and his supporters continue their sit-in inside the Green Zone, pressuring Abadi to make good on his calls for a cabinet reshuffle to include ministers appointed based on merit and not party affiliation. [Rudaw, 3/29/2016]


Yemeni government spokesman says UN resolution is roadmap to peace
Government spokesman Rajeh Badi said on Monday the UN Security Council resolution on Yemen is the roadmap for peace in the country. In an interview with Sky News, Badi said the government would not compromise on any part of UN Resolution 2216, which calls for the Houthis to withdraw from areas they seized. Kuwait is hosting talks aimed at ending the war in Yemen on April 17. [Al Masdar, 3/29/2016]

UNICEF says children in Yemen bear brunt of brutal war
Hundreds of thousands of children in Yemen face life-threatening malnutrition and millions lack access to healthcare or clean water due to the conflict, the UN Children’s Fund said on Tuesday. A UNICEF report also said all sides in the war had “exponentially increased” the recruitment of child soldiers, with 848 documented cases—including boys as young as 10—forced to fight. “On average, at least six children have been killed or injured every day,” the report “Childhood on the Brink” said. UNICEF has confirmed 934 children directly killed and 1,356 injured, but says they are “only a tip of the iceberg”. “Basic services and infrastructure in Yemen are on the verge of total collapse,” it said, noting attacks on schools, hospitals, and water and sanitation systems. The number of children under the age of five suffering from moderate malnutrition has grown from 690,000 before the war to 1.3 million, and the rates of severe acute malnutrition among children have doubled from 160,000 a year ago to 320,000, according to UNICEF estimates. Exact numbers for those who died from malnutrition and its complications are unknown, since the majority were likely unable to reach proper care. [Reuters, AP, 3/29/2016]

Kuwait tells Iran to turn words into deeds
Kuwait’s Deputy Foreign Minister Khalid al-Jarallah said Tuesday that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s statement about his country’s readiness to start a dialogue with Saudi Arabia should be followed by action. Rouhani on Saturday said “Tehran was not interested in maintaining tensions with Saudi Arabia” and that “if there is any problem between the two countries, it should be resolved through talks”. However, Jarallah said Iran should go beyond mere words. “We hope that such statements are followed by deeds on the ground,” he said, quoted by Kuwaiti daily Al Nahar. [Gulf News, 3/29/2016]


Iraq says expects $6.4 billion financial support this year
Iraq expects to receive financial support of $6.4 billion in 2016 from donors and international organizations, Finance Minister Hoshiyar Zebari said Tuesday. Speaking after talks in Jordan with officials from the International Monetary Fund, Zebari said, “This year we expect from [the IMF] and other financial institutions and donors around $6.4 billion.” Zebari did not provide a breakdown of the funds. He added that Iraq is set to “start talking seriously” with the IMF next month on a standby arrangement. [Reuters, 3/29/2016]

Shrinking Saudi money supply points to slowing economy
Saudi Arabia’s money supply shrank in February for the first time in more than a decade. Net foreign assets at the Saudi Arabian Monetary Agency (SAMA) dropped 1.7 percent from the previous month to 2.19 trillion riyals ($584 billion) in February, data showed Tuesday. While that marked a 17.3 percent drop from a year earlier, the current level of assets suggests Riyadh could continue spending at its present pace for several years. The broadest measure of money supply published by SAMA, M3, dropped 0.9 percent from a year earlier, its first annual decline since at least 2004. Narrower money supply measures M1 and M2 also shrank. M1, which includes currency in circulation and demand deposits but excludes less liquid assets such as savings and time deposits, fell by 5.1 percent. Saudi growth may slow to 1.5 percent this year, the slowest pace since at least 2009. [Reuters, Bloomberg, 3/29/2016]

Egypt to establish infrastructure investment fund
Egypt is in the process of establishing a specialized fund for infrastructure investments through the National Investment Bank, Planning Minister Ashraf al-Araby said Monday. The fund will be owned by the state with subsidiaries funds for different sectors, including agriculture, electricity, and industry. “The government is working on establishing a major entity that carries out consultancy work and studies for major projects implemented by the state,” al-Araby said. He said the fund would be made up of “Egyptians with long years of expertise in world consultancy offices.” [AMAY, DNE, 3/28/2016]

Security concerns lead to a fall in foreign visitors to Turkey
The number of foreign visitors going to Turkey fell 10.32 percent year-on-year in February to 1.24 million people, the largest drop in a decade, amid security concerns over recent bomb attacks. Economists have forecast that Turkey’s tourism revenue will drop by a quarter this year, costing the country around $8 billion. Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek said in a speech to the Ankara Chamber of Industry that the drop in tourist numbers would be short-lived. “This year we will have some troubles, but they are temporary,” he said. Simsek said Turkey’s economy grew by about 4 percent in 2015. [Reuters, 3/29/2016]