Top News: ISIS issues new threat to kill Jordanian pilot

The Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) said they would execute a Jordanian pilot “immediately” if Amman does not hand over an imprisoned female suicide bomber by sunset Thursday.

In a new audio recording, a voice identifying itself as Japanese freelancer Kenji Goto said he would be killed within twenty-four hours if the Iraqi would-be suicide bomber Sajida al-Rishawi—held in Jordanian prison since 2005—were not freed. The audio message implied that the Jordanian pilot would not be part of an exchange deal, indicating any swap would be between Goto and al-Rishawi. [NaharnetThe NationalReuters, 1/29/2015]



HEC to accept applications for Egypt parliament candidacy starting February 8
The Higher Committee for Parliamentary Elections (HEC) announced it will accept parliamentary candidates’ applications starting February 8. In its announcement today, the HEC said the electoral campaigning period for the first phase will begin on February 26 and end on March 20, with the second phase occurring between April 3 and 24. Meanwhile, the HEC issued a decree regulating the distribution of logos to candidates running in the individual candidate system or in party lists. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, Aswat Masriya, DNE, Shorouk (Arabic), 1/29/2015]

Political parties threaten to boycott elections
The Socialist Popular Alliance Party decided to suspend participation in the upcoming parliamentary elections, until five “urgent” demands are met. These demands include the dismissal of Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim, the rebuilding and restructuring of the police forces, the modification of the protest law, the release of all political prisoners, and guarantees that the upcoming parliamentary elections will be free and fair. The decision to boycott the elections comes after the killing of one of its members, Shaimaa al-Sabbagh, during a protest on January 24. Meanwhile, several political parties and trade unions in North Sinai have called for a public strike as and boycotting parliamentary elections in protest against the government’s curfew extension there. Leader of the Reform and Development party, Mohamed Anwar al-Sadat, urges Sisi to meet with the youth and representatives of the different revolutionary groups lest they also boycott the upcoming parliamentary elections. [DNE, Aswat Masriya, Egypt Independent, 1/29/2015]

Women hold rally in Cairo to demand investigation into protester deaths
A group of women protested in Cairo on Thursday against the death of Shaimaa al-Sabbagh and around twenty-five other activists allegedly killed by security forces at recent rallies marking the anniversary of Egypt’s 2011 uprising. “The interior ministry are thugs!” around one hundred protesters chanted on Thursday, gathered at the site of Sabbagh’s death. Some of the women held up signs with the word “Murderer” scrawled over the face of Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim. Men stood across the street from the protesters, beside police officers, making lewd hand gestures and calling the protesters “dogs” and other profanities. Prominent figures at the rally included former broadcaster Reem Maged and activist Mahinour al-Masry. [Reuters, Ahram Online, Shorouk (Arabic), 1/29/2015]

Leading NDP member acquitted of incitement to kill protesters
A Cairo criminal court has acquitted a leading member of the now-defunct National Democratic Party of incitement to kill protesters during clashes in Tahrir Square in April 2011. Wael Abu al-Leil, Osama al-Shishtawy, and Amr Youssef were also acquitted of other charges, including attacking personal freedoms. [Ahram Online, EGYNews (Arabic), 1/29/2015]

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United Nations plans future Libya talks within country
The various delegates that attended the UN-sponsored dialogue in Geneva this week agreed in principle to resume further discussions inside Libya. The representatives of the Tobruk-based House of Representatives and other political officials in attendance agreed that if the logistics and security of future talks were guaranteed, then they would attend. The Tripoli-based General National Congress, which has boycotted the UN-sponsored talks so far, also indicated it would end its suspension of the negotiations if they return to Libya. [Reuters, 1/29/2015]

Amnesty calls for UN sanctions, war crimes probe in Libya
The rights group Amnesty International has called for targeted UN sanctions and an investigation into possible war crimes to end abductions and summary killings in Libya. A report focusing on fighting between Islamist forces and General Khalifa Haftar’s Operation Dignity in Benghazi accused both sides of assassination, torture, abductions, and summary killings. Also, the group Lawyers for Justice in Libya (LFJL) has urged for human rights violation accountability by the delegates involved in the UN-sponsored talks. LFJL sees ending impunity as vital to an effective settlement. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 1/28/2015]

Medical stockpiles depleted, says Tobruk health minister
Ridha Awlaki, the Health Minister for the Tobruk-based government, said that the lack of medical supplies in eastern Libya is a death sentence for people with heart issues and diabetes. Awlaki also said that the strategic stockpile of medical supplies and drugs has now been depleted. The health ministry cannot order new supplies due to the lack of access to funds and Awlaki asked the Central Bank of Libya to intervene and allow a new tender to be issued. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 1/29/2015]

Qatar and Turkey “withdraw” from AU Libya meeting after Libyan boycott
The Libyan foreign minister from the Tobruk-based House of Representatives, along with the Egyptian, Emirati, Saudi Arabian, and Guinean delegates, appear to have engineered Turkey and Qatar’s withdrawal from the African Union’s International Contact Group for Libya (ICG-L) in Addis Ababa. The five representatives declared a boycott due to Turkish and Qatari participation, but returned to meet once those delegates left. The House has accused Turkey and Qatar of supporting the rival Tripoli-based Omar al-Hassi regime and Operation Libya Dawn. [Libya Herald, 1/28/2015]

Tunisian Blogger Yassine Ayari Begins Hunger Strike
Tunisian blogger Yassine Ayari began a hunger strike after management at the Civil Prison in Mornaguia refused to allow him to send or receive letters. Ayari is also contesting what his lawyer calls an unfair verdict and is awaiting a date for the appeals hearing. Ayari was convicted by a military court earlier this year for defaming the military in Facebook posts, and the case has stirred controversy among human rights activists. [All Africa, 1/28/2015]


Israel says Hezbollah not interested in escalating violence
Israel says it has received a message from Hezbollah saying the group does not want a further escalation after border clashes on Wednesday that killed three people and wounded seven. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said the message was passed by the UN mission, but added that “until the area [the Israeli border with Lebanon] completely calms down, the Israel Defense Forces will remain prepared and ready.” In Lebanon, Prime Minister Tammam Salam received assurances from Israel, through a senior UN official, that it was not planning further attacks. [Reuters, NY Times, BBC, 1/29/2015]

Jumblatt warns Lebanon cannot bear new war, lauds Hezbollah retaliation from Syria
Progressive Socialist Party leader MP Walid Jumblatt stressed on Thursday that Lebanon could not endure the repercussions of a new war and expressing belief that Israel cannot afford to engage in any battle at this stage. Jumblatt said, “Hezbollah acted in a smart manner by retaliating to the Israeli airstrike in Quneitra from Syria and not Lebanon.” He also said that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could not “bear to go to war at this stage, seeing as he is engaged in elections.” [The Daily Star, Naharnet, 1/29/2015]

ISIS issues new threat to kill Jordanian pilot
The Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) said they would execute a Jordanian pilot “immediately” if Amman does not hand over an imprisoned female suicide bomber by sunset Thursday. In a new audio recording, a voice identifying itself as Japanese freelancer Kenji Goto said he would be killed within twenty-four hours if the Iraqi would-be suicide bomber Sajida al-Rishawi—held in Jordanian prison since 2005—were not freed. The audio message implied that the Jordanian pilot would not be part of an exchange deal, indicating any swap would be between Goto and al-Rishawi. [Naharnet, The National, Reuters, 1/29/2015]

UN aid effort struggling to reach millions in ISIS-controlled Syria
The United Nations says it cannot deliver aid to 600,000 people in two Syrian cities controlled by ISIS. Deputy humanitarian chief Kyung-wha Kang told the UN Security Council on Wednesday that residents of the ISIS’s de facto capital of Raqqa and the city of Deir Ezzor received no food deliveries in December because the United Nations had no agreement with armed groups there. Kang said 12 million people inside Syria need humanitarian aid, and 3.8 million people have fled to neighboring countries. Another 7.6 million are displaced inside the country. [AP, Naharnet, 1/28/2015]


Houthis take military base outside Sana’a
Yemeni officials say Houthi rebels have captured a key military base south of the capital where US advisers had previously trained counterterrorism forces. The Houthis have seized a number of key military facilities in recent days, including the headquarters of the paramilitary special forces. Forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, suspected of quietly backing the rebels, manned the camp captured on Thursday. [AP, 1/29/2015]

Violent clashes in the Sana’a
After protests erupted calling for the removal of Houthi forces from Yemen’s capital, the rebel group fired live ammunition in the air and made arrests Wednesday for the third time this week. In an effort to prevent rallies against their sudden grip on power, militiamen also used batons against the demonstrators. Witnesses said the Houthis detained several protesters and journalists. Around ten people were wounded in the scuffle. [AFP, Al Jazeera, Al Masdar, 1/28/2015]

Suspected al-Qaeda members kill police in Marib
Two Yemeni soldiers were killed and two wounded when suspected al-Qaeda militants in the central province of Marib ambushed them. Marib contains most of Yemen’s oil and gas fields, a battleground between factions including local tribesmen, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) insurgents, other Islamists, and government forces. Now tribesmen say the province is subject to an advance by Houthi fighters. [Reuters, Sahafa, Al Masdar, 1/28/2015]

Bahrain’s most senior opposition leader on trial
Sheikh Ali Salman, Bahrain’s top opposition leader, went on trial on Wednesday. The prosecution has accused Salman of promoting the overthrow of the political regime by force, inciting violence against the kingdom and supporting attacks that caused the deaths of fourteen policemen. If convicted, he faces up to ten years in jail under Bahraini law. The court adjourned until February 25 and ordered Salman to remain in jail, rejecting the defense team’s request to release him until the next hearing. [Reuters, Gulf News, Khaleej Times, 1/28/2015]


Egypt central bank widens band in which banks can trade dollars
Egypt’s central bank widened the band in which banks can trade dollars to 10 piasters above or below the official rate, up from 3 piasters, prompting the lenders’ dollar rates to fall to their weakest ever levels. Expectations that the bank will devalue have grown since it announced a surprise 50-basis-point cut in benchmark interest rates earlier this month. [Reuters, 1/29/2015]

Morocco to achieve over 90 percent of MDGs
According to the high commissioner for planning Ahmed Lahlimi Alami, Morocco will achieve over 90 percent of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by the end of 2015. The MDGs indicators show that extreme poverty and famine were almost erased from Morocco since 2000 and the multidimensional forms of poverty are on the wane, especially in the urban zone. [MAP, 1/28/2015]

Libya still said to be in talks over rice, wheat purchases
According to European traders, a Libyan state grain buying agency is still in talks on international tenders to buy 50,000 tonnes of milling wheat and 25,000 tonnes of rice but payment issues due to political turmoil have prevented a deal. The agency issued the tenders on January 14 but no purchases had yet been made.  [Zawya, Libya Monitor, 1/29/2015]

Tunisia tenders to buy 117,000 tonnes wheat, 50,000 tonnes barley
Tunisia’s state grains agency has issued an international tender to purchase up to 117,000 tonnes of soft milling wheat and 50,000 tonnes of feed barley, European traders said on Thursday. The grain was sought for a range of shipment dates between March and April depending on origin, they said. [Reuters, 1/29/2015]