Top News: ISIS Infighting Kills Nine in Syria

At least nine members of ISIS were killed during infighting in northwestern Syria after some of them tried to flee over the Turkish border, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). The fighters clashed on Saturday near the town of al-Bab, twenty miles south of the Turkish frontier. Five of the escapees and four of those trying to prevent them were killed. According to a recent report, defectors say discord is mounting in ISIS over pay disparities, battlefield setbacks, and corruption and that the organization is struggling to maintain unity and discipline. [Reuters, 3/10/2015]



Egyptian president pushes US for military aid in Fox News interview
Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called for increased US military aid and creation of a regional coalition to fight Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) in an interview with Fox News that aired on Monday. He addressed the need for what he called a religious “revolution,” urging moderate Muslims around the world to “stand up” against terrorists twisting their religion. But in the short term, he said more military might and funding will be needed to confront the extremist threat and questioned whether the United States was doing enough for Egypt. He said the suspension of US equipment and arms to his country has sent a “negative indication to the public opinion that the United States is not standing by the Egyptians.” Sisi said the need for weapons and equipment remains “dire,” and Egyptians “would like to feel that the United States is standing by them.” [Reuters, 3/9/2015]

Kerry to meet Sisi on margins of Egypt’s economic conference
US Secretary of State John Kerry is set to meet President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi when he travels to Sharm al-Sheikh on March 12 for the Economic Development Conference. He is expected to hold talks with Sisi and senior Egyptian officials on bilateral and global relations, including coalition efforts against Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants and developments in Libya and in Syria, US State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said in a statement on Monday. “The United States is committed to strengthening its long-term strategic and economic partnership with Egypt,” she said. Kerry has met with Sisi twice since the president was elected in June 2014. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, 3/9/2015]

Egypt agrees to 80 percent of UN Human Rights Council recommendations
Egypt’s Minister of Transitional Justice Ibrahim al-Heneidy announced on Monday that Egypt agreed to 80 percent of the recommendations in the UN Human Rights Council’s 2014 Universal Periodic Review for Egypt. Over the past three years, Egypt has implemented nearly 219 of the 314 recommendations presented by 122 countries during the Universal Periodic Review of human rights in Egypt last November, the minister told the press. These included those regarding freedom of expression and the media, and the rights of the disabled, women and children, such as criminalizing sexual harassment and domestic violence, he said. Heneidy added that the rest of the recommendations were rejected because they oppose sharia and Egyptian values. [Ahram Online, 3/9/2015]

Egypt supports UN political solution in Libya, says foreign minister
Egypt supports the political solution proposed by the United Nations to eradicate “the forces of terrorism” in Libya and form a new national unity government, Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri said on Monday. Shukri stressed that the latest developments in Libya affect Egypt’s national security. Libyan capital Tripoli has fallen under the control of the Libya Dawn Islamist militia in August 2014. Egypt and the international community only recognize authorities based in the eastern Libyan city of Tobruk. The UN has been pushing for a political solution, sponsoring a dialogue among different Libyan parties headed by the UN Special Envoy to Libya Bernardino Leon. [Aswat Masriya, 3/9/2015]

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UN delays approval of Libya request for weapons; UNSMIL urges original dialogue agenda
At least eight UN Security Council members delayed approval of a request by Libya’s Tobruk-based government to import weapons, tanks, jets, and helicopters to take on Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants and monitor its borders. Libya seeks to import 150 tanks, two dozen fighter jets, seven attack helicopters, tens of thousands of assault rifles and grenade launchers, and millions of rounds of ammunition from Ukraine, Serbia, and the Czech Republic. After another round of talks in Morocco, the UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) urged all participants in the dialogue process to refrain from making proposals outside the framework of the talks and to halt military escalation in order to keep negotiations on track. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 3/9/2015]

Haftar sworn in as Commander General of Libyan armed forces
General Khalifa Haftar was officially sworn in as head of the Libyan armed forces by the Tobruk-based House of Representatives (House) at a ceremony on Monday. During the ceremony, Haftar took an oath of loyalty to serve the country and the House government. There had been controversy surrounding his promotion, as not all members of the House agreed Haftar should command the armed forces. Haftar’s forces continue to fight the Islamist militant group Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi on behalf of the Tobruk government. [Libya Herald, 3/9/2015]

Tunisia finds second arms cache near Libya border; EU supports border protection
Tunisian troops have captured a second large arms cache near the border with Libya, including Kalashnikov rifles and rockets. The second cache was discovered just about three miles from the first in Ben Guerdane. Tunisia is in the midst of an anti-terror campaign to root out militants and secure its borders. Recently, fears have risen over the possible spillover of Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) activity from Libya into Tunisia. Laura Baeza, EU Ambassador to Tunisia, said Tunisian security is part of Europe’s short and long-term strategy. She also described Tunisia as a privileged partner and said that the European Union wants to work with Tunisia to ensure border security. [Reuters, TAP/All Africa, 3/9/2015]

Eighteen cases of assaults on journalists in February alone, according to Tunisian rights organization
The Tunis Center for Freedom of the Press reported eighteen cases of assaults against journalists and the media in February. The report highlighted cases of attack, obstruction or restriction of access, and confiscation of equipment against reporters. The primary offenders in the report are security agents, and most of the assaults occurred in Tunis and Kasserine. [L’Economiste Maghrebin (French), 3/10/2015]


Nusra Front denies plan to break away from al-Qaeda
Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate the Nusra Front on Monday reaffirmed its allegiance to the global extremist network and denied any plan to break away and become a more internationally acceptable rebel force. Nusra “completely denies reports of a break-up with al-Qaeda.” It said Nusra “remains the backbone of jihadists” in Syria, “the first into battle, dedicated to unifying the ranks around sharia… righting injustice and defending the disadvantaged.” The idea of a split with al-Qaeda emerged in early 2014 when Nusra militants in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor allied with mainstream rebels in the face of gains by Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). In related news, a Free Syrian Army-affiliated (FSA) battalion the Anfal Brigade and its commander defected from the opposition and joined the pro-regime National Defense Forces in southern Damascus over the weekend. A spokesman for the FSA said that the Anfal Brigade was an independent group with no links to larger alliances of rebels. [AFP, 3/9/2015]

ISIS infighting kills nine in Syria
At least nine members of ISIS were killed during infighting in northwestern Syria after some of them tried to flee over the Turkish border, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). The fighters clashed on Saturday near the town of al-Bab, twenty miles south of the Turkish frontier. Five of the escapees and four of those trying to prevent them were killed. According to a recent report, defectors say discord is mounting in ISIS over pay disparities, battlefield setbacks, and corruption and that the organization is struggling to maintain unity and discipline. [Reuters, 3/10/2015]

Iraqi troops, militia enter strategic town near Tikrit; Dempsey warns of sectarianism
Iraqi security forces and Shia militias took the center of the town of al-Alam on the northern edge of Tikrit from Islamic State on Tuesday as they closed in on Saddam Hussein’s home city. Al-Alam is the last ISIS stronghold that needs to be cleared before Iraqi security forces and Shia militias can enter the city of Tikrit itself. On Sunday, Iraqi security forces and Shia militia took control of the center of the town of al-Dour on the southern outskirts of Tikrit. In related news, General Martin Dempsey warned Monday that the US-led coalition fighting ISIS could be jeopardized if the Baghdad government fails to bridge Iraq’s sectarian divide. He added that Iraq’s political leaders have yet to deliver on promises to reach out to the Sunni population and have raised concerns in the region by forging closer ties to Shia-led Iran. [Reuters, 3/10/2015]

Rebel groups seize land north of Aleppo
A coalition of Syrian rebel and jihadi groups Monday seized the strategic Handarat area north of Aleppo after twelve hours of fierce clashes. According to SOHR, the attack began when a fighter from the Nusra Front detonated an explosives-packed vehicle at the southern entrance to the village. The development represented another setback for the regime’s recent efforts to seize territory north of Aleppo, cut off the rebel groups’ supply lines to Turkey and besiege opposition fighters in the divided city. [The Daily Star, 3/10/2015]


Yemen’s army retakes southern city from al-Qaeda
Al-Qaeda militants overran and held the city of Mahfad in Yemen’s Abyan province Monday before an army counterattack pushed them out. Monday’s fighting over the city, a former al-Qaeda stronghold, lasted eight hours. Al-Qaeda militants took control of the city council building and several army checkpoints before moving in on a key army base. Fighting killed four Yemeni soldiers and seven al-Qaeda militants. The military had largely expelled al-Qaeda from the area in 2013. [AP, Al Masdar, 3/9/2015]

Hundreds gathered in Sana’a to support former president’s son
Hundreds of supporters for former president Ali Abdullah Saleh gathered in Sana’a to show their support for Saleh and demand that his son Ahmed Ali be nominated for the presidential elections. Saleh’s son was the commander of the Republican Guard, which President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi dissolved in 2013. The protest comes after the former president gave a speech on television threatening President Hadi, saying Southerners should expect defeat on a similar scale to what they experienced in the civil war of 1994. [Al Masdar, 3/9/2015]

Houthis launch “martyr” videos to boost morale
Sixteen videos posted online by the Houthi channel Al-Masira in an apparent bid to boost morale show bearded fighters in green headbands brandishing rifles, urging obedience to their leader Abdel Malik al-Houthi and praising death in the cause of “holy war.” The clips have the high production values of other Iran-linked militant groups in the region such as Palestinian Hamas and Lebanese Hezbollah. The Houthis have been commemorating the fallen with memorials during a “Martyr’s Week.” [Reuters, 3/9/2015]

New Yemeni security head appointed after defense minister’s escape
Jalal al-Rowaishan, former minister of interior, has been appointed head of the Supreme Security Committee following the escape of acting defense minister Mahmoud al-Subaihi to Lahj governorate on Saturday. Al-Subaihi was appointed by the Houthis to lead the committee following the group’s constitutional declaration on February 6, a post that had been filled by President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi until his resignation as president in January. The Supreme Security Committee convened its first meeting with al-Rowaishan as head on Sunday evening. [Yemen Times, 3/9/2015]

Saudis block Swedish minister’s speech at the Arab League
Saudi Arabia has blocked a plan for Sweden’s foreign minister to address the League of Arab States in Cairo on Monday in a protest over criticism of its human rights record. Minister Margot Wallstrom had been invited to give a speech to a meeting of Arab League foreign ministers and the trip was aimed at building cooperation to promote democracy, human rights and economic integration. Wallstrom tweeted criticism in January of Saudi Arabia’s flogging of blogger Raif Badawi, calling it a “cruel attempt to silence modern forms of expression.” Sweden is currently reviewing whether to renew a five-year deal to supply military material and training to Saudi Arabia. [Reuters, AFP, Gulf News, 3/9/2015]


Low crude prices set to widen economic gap among GCC oil exporters
According to a senior representative of Moody’s, all Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries are highly dependent on oil revenues, with public spending from this source driving much of the economic activity. The decline in oil prices will have varying levels of impact on these economies depending on their level of oil dependence. For GCC oil exporters, the main impact from lower oil prices will be on governments’ fiscal accounts and external balances, with the degree of resilience to lower oil prices varying. “We see three groups, which, from strongest to weakest, consist of: First, Kuwait and Qatar; second, the UAE and Saudi Arabia; and Oman and Bahrain. [Gulf News, 3/9/2015]

Libya to export over 2 million barrels of oil from east this week
Libya is set to export more than two million barrels of crude oil this week from two ports in the east where output has topped 245,000 barrels per day, oil officials said on Monday. Rising exports from the ports of Hariga and Zueitina offer some hope for the OPEC member state’s oil sector, which has been battered by Islamist militant attacks and fighting between rival factions. The emergence of militants aligned with Islamic State have further hit the sector. Up to ten foreign workers are missing after an attack on the al-Ghani oilfield by militants loyal to Islamic State. [Reuters, 3/9/2015]

Egypt urban consumer inflation to 10.6 percent in February
According to the the official statistics agency CAPMAS, Egypt’s urban consumer inflation rose to 10.6 percent in February from 9.7 percent in January. Egypt has seen a hike in inflation following fuel subsidy cuts in July that triggered up to a 78 percent rise in prices at the pump. Inflation increased to 11.5 percent in October before slowing in November. The inflation rate for food and beverages, which contributed almost 40 percent of the consumer prices index basket, increased by 8.2 percent in February year on year. [Reuters, Ahram Online, 3/10/2015]

Saudi non-oil business rises to four-month high
Growth in Saudi Arabia’s non-oil private sector accelerated to a four-month high in February. The SABB HSBC Saudi Arabia Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI) climbed to a four-month high of 58.5 in February, up from 57.8 in January. The latest reading highlighted a robust improvement in non-oil private sector operating conditions, reflected by steep expansion in output, new orders, and employment. Underpinning the strong performance of Saudi Arabia’s non-oil private economy was marked growth of new business in February. [Al Arabiya, 3/9/2015]