Top News: ISIS massacres Kurds in Aleppo town

The Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) has committed a massacre in a Kurdish-populated town northeast of Aleppo amid accusations that pro-regime forces had abandoned the village in the face of the extremist group’s offensive. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported Tuesday morning that ISIS fighters killed at least nine residents of Kafr Saghir, two of them children, after the jihadists briefly seized the town this weekend. ISIS launched a raid on Kafr Saghir and nearby areas approximately 10 kilometers northeast of Aleppo on Sunday morning, before pro-regime forces managed to retake the region north of the Sheikh Najjar Industrial City the following day. “ISIS mercenaries took control of the town after regime forces escaped, paving the way for the mercenaries to commit a massacre against civilians,” the ANHA news agency said Monday. ANHA reported 45 civilians had been killed, while 100 others remained unaccounted for. Sources inside Kafr Saghir told ANHA that a number of families fled to the Kurdish-majority towns of Tel Aran and Tel Hasal. [NOW, Almasdar, ARAnews, 3/22/2016]



ElBaradei’s name removed from textbook, Education Ministry insists move not political
The name and photo of former Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei has been removed from a list of Egyptian Nobel laureates in fifth-grade textbooks, independent newspaper Al-Tahrir has revealed. Speaking to ONtv on Monday, Bashir Hassan, a spokesperson for the Education Ministry, refused to directly confirm the omission, only stressing that “nobody can tamper with history” and promising that the ministry would investigate the development. According to Daily News Egypt, Hassan confirmed ElBaradei’s name was removed from the textbook but said that the decision dates back to over a year ago, under former Minister of Education Moheb al-Rafie. According to Hassan, when the ministry asked the committee responsible for the national curriculum about the reason behind the removal they stated that it was based on complaints by students’ families. “The families complained that this exercise was too advanced for the students’ cognitive abilities,” he said. “There were no political motives behind the removal.” [DNE, Egypt Independent, 3/21/2016]

Fifteen judges dismissed for engaging in ‘political activity’
Egypt’s state-run news agency says the top judicial disciplinary council issued a final verdict forcing 15 judges into early retirement for allegedly supporting the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood group. MENA said Monday that investigations have shown that the judges are members of the ‘Judges for Egypt’ movement, which opposed the military overthrow of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. The news agency says the group supports the Brotherhood, from which Morsi hails, violating impartiality rules. Some of the judges read a televised statement supporting Morsi’s “legitimacy” while at a public sit-in by his supporters in Cairo’s Raba’a al-Adaweya square. The judges were forced into retirement by the Supreme Judicial Council on March 14, 2015, but later filed an appeal on the grounds that the verdict was unlawful. This decision is final and is not subject to further appeal. The board will issue a final decision on March 28 regarding another 55 judges who signed a statement voicing their support for Morsi following his ouster in 2013. [Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, DNE, AP, Egypt Independent, Ahram Online, 3/21/2016]

Media gag imposed on NGO foreign funding case
Investigating Judge Hisham Abdel Meguid issued Monday evening a gag order on the recently reopened case against local nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) accused of unlawfully accepting foreign funds. The gag order prohibits any type of media outlet from publishing anything on the case other than statements issued by the presiding judges until investigations are complete. The order was issued shortly after President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met with Prime Minister Sherif Ismail, other members of the Cabinet, the head of General Intelligence, and the presidential adviser on national security affairs, the privately owned newspaper Al-Shorouk reported Monday. In the meeting, Sisi stressed the importance of improving Egypt’s image abroad, his spokesperson Alaa Youssef said. Seventeen Egyptian rights organizations, meanwhile, issued a joint statement Monday condemning the reopening of the case, referring to it as an “orchestrated, escalating assault” on civil society in Egypt. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, Cairo Post, 3/22/2016]

Egypt condemns Brussels terror attacks, calls for tough international measures to fight terrorism
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry condemned in the “strongest terms” the deadly blasts that rocked Belgium’s capital Brussels on Tuesday morning, leaving at least 26 dead and dozens injured dozens. “The time has come for the world to make a final stand to deal with the phenomenon of international terrorism that targets the security and stability of peoples around the world, and that seeks to undermine all human civilization,” Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said in a statement. Egypt also said it was increasing security, with top security officials asked to personally handle security checks inside airports and in outside areas like hotels and car parks. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, SIS, 3/22/2016]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


MSF paints grim picture of Libyan healthcare
The international medical charity Medicins sans Frontieres (MSF) has produced a grim assessment of the collapsing Libyan health system, citing more mothers dying giving birth and a widespread collapse of childhood immunization. MSF said that in the 12 months it has been working in Libya, health service have deteriorated rapidly at every level. MSF also criticized the lack of other outside medical organizations operating in Libya. “Despite the serious deterioration of the country’s health system, very few aid organizations are following MSF’s lead and providing help” MSF Emergency Coordinator Malika Saim said. Saim added that equipment in hospitals is not working due to poor maintenance and a lack of spare parts. “It is a country where the problems are not immediately obvious,” he said, “but so much is needed. You can really see how the health system has gone downhill since we started working here a year ago.” [Libya Herald, 3/21/2016]

Tebus and Tuareg demand language rights and seats in cabinet and parliament
The Tebu and Tuareg members of the Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA) who have boycotted its proceedings for the past seven months but are taking part in its informal meetings in Oman have demanded that their languages be made official in the constitution and that they each have three members in all executive and legislative bodies in the country. They also want the constitution to define Libya not as an Arab country but as a North African one. Some 30 members of the CDA meeting in Oman under the sponsorship of UNSMIL met the four Tebu and Tuareg boycotters to discuss their demands. Despite some apparent agreement in Tuesday’s meeting, Khalid Wahali, one of the two Tebu members, expressed extreme wariness about any real progress. [Libya Herald, 3/22/2016]

Tripoli fighting over Jumhouriya Bank control
Skirmishes broke out outside Jumhouriya Bank in Bab Ben Ghashir district of Tripoli on Monday. Eyewitnesses said there were around 100 customers in the bank when bank guards exchanged fire with gunmen who stormed the bank to take cash over the limited withdrawals. The Abu Sleem unit of the Rada (“Deterrence” Forces) claimed that the fighting was the result of an attempt by a militia to take over the branch of the Jumhouriya Bank in the district. It says it has now secured the area. It did not name the unit. The main Rada organization, however, could not be reached for official comment. Banks in Tripoli have kept their doors closed to the public due to liquidity problems, causing considerable public anger. [Libya Herald, Libya Observer, 3/21/2016]

Tunisia extends state of emergency by three months
Tunisia on Tuesday extended its state of emergency by three month. President Beji Caid Essebsi “decided after consultations… to extend the state of emergency for a period of three months from March 23,” his office said in a statement. The state of emergency was imposed last year after a November suicide bombing claimed by the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) killed 12 presidential guards. The last extension, on February 22, was for a period of one month. Also on Tuesday, Tunisia reopened its border crossings with Libya after a two-week closure following a militant attack in the town of Ben Guerdane, Ministry of Interior said. Both the Ras Jedir crossing on the Mediterranean coast and the Dehiba crossing in the mountainous desert interior were reopened, Ministry Spokesman Yasser Mesbah said. [AFP, 3/22/2016]

Algerian troops kill six militants near Tunisian border
Algerian troops killed six armed Islamist fighters in near the Tunisian border and captured arms and munitions, Algeria’s Ministry of Defense said Monday. The militants were killed in an “ongoing army operation” in El Oued province, 600 km southeast of Algiers, the ministry said. Five Kalashnikov assault rifles, three machine guns, and an automatic pistol were seized, it added. The Ministry did not link the operation to an assault on Friday claimed by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb on a gas plant in Krechba further south.  [Reuters, AFP, 3/21/2016]


Syrian Kurds defend federal plan, deny autonomy aim
A Syrian Kurd representative Monday defended the proclamation of a Kurdish federal region in northern Syria, saying it was not meant to be autonomous and only for Kurds. The Kurds and their allies unilaterally proclaimed a federal region in the war-ravaged country last week, but critics said it would undermine Syria’s unity and lead to its partition. “We don’t aspire to create an autonomous zone that is exclusive to the Kurdish nation,” said Rodi Osman, director of the Syrian Kurd’s representative office in Moscow. “We envision to install a federal regime, democratic and secular, in which all parts of Syrian society can live and by which they will feel themselves represented,” he then told reporters. [AFP, 3/22/2016]

Regime says Assad’s fate still ‘excluded’ from Syria peace talks
Syria’s regime on Monday reiterated its stance that peace talks in Geneva will not address President Bashar al-Assad’s future, after the United Nations urged Damascus to submit plans for political transition. “President Assad has nothing to do with the… talks,” lead government negotiator Bashar al-Jaafari told journalists. Jaafari insisted that political transition in the war-ravaged country and Assad’s fate were “two separate issues.” The references of our talks do not give any indication whatsoever with regard to the president of the Syrian Arab Republic,” he said. Assad’s future “is something that is already excluded from the scene,” Jaafari said, following his meeting with UN mediator Staffan de Mistura. [AFP, 3/22/2016]

UNHCR will not work in Greek ‘detention centers’ in swipe at EU-Turkey deal
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Monday it would not operate in “detention centers” on the Greek island of Lesbos for migrants and refugees arriving from Turkey, dealing a blow to the EU agreement with Ankara last week. The UNHCR said migrants and refugees were being held against their will at the reception facilities on Lesbos, and it would no longer transfer them there. The deal, in effect since Sunday, is aimed at putting new arrivals in Greece who seek asylum on a fast-track for processing. A UNHCR spokesperson told the press that the deal has crossed a red line in its policy, and that, “We have taken a principled decision to disengage from transportation to and from Moria, as since Sunday, freedom of movement is not guaranteed.” Instead the organization will continue providing assistance to refugees and migrants on Lesbos’s shoreline and in the port, and will focus on “monitoring and counseling” at Moria. [Reuters, 3/22/2016]

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


Iraqi Army continues advance in western Ramadi
Iraqi forces are coming their advance in western Ramadi toward the town of Heet to recapture territories from ISIS, after halting progress so that residents had time to escape. “Iraqi security forces managed to take Mhamadia, and now our forces have set up there … We managed to defuse 50 planted landmines and we are hoping to head towards the town of Heet … The liberation of Mhamadia will simplify the military operation to retake Hit town after many of ISIS’s stronghold positions were targeted by the Iraqi forces,” an unnamed Iraqi commander told Rudaw. Mhamadia is about 7 kilometers from Heet so Iraqi forces hope to have control of the area by the end of the day. [Rudaw, 3/22/2016]

British ISIS fighter launches one of many suicide attacks in Anbar
A British ISIS fighter known as “Abu Musa al-Britani” attacked an Iraqi Army convoy on Monday with a car bomb in Anbar Province. There are conflicting statements with regards to the number of causalities, with ISIS claiming he killed “nearly 30” Iraqi soldiers, and the Iraqi military claiming that the only person killed in the attack was Britani himself. ISIS claimed he attacked the convoy after it had left Ain al-Assad military air base and was heading towards Kubaysa. Earlier on Monday, ISIS claimed another attack in western Anbar, reportedly carried out by five suicide bombers. The Iraqi military confirmed three Iraqi soldiers were killed and four others wounded in the attack in Albu Obaid early Monday morning. [BBC, Rudaw, 3/21/2016]

Marine base in northern Iraq confirmed by Pentagon
The Pentagon confirmed that it had established a small base in northern Iraq staffed solely by American Marines, a disclosure that followed an ISIS rocket attack over the weekend that killed one Marine and wounded several others. According to Colonel Steve Warren, the US spokesman in Iraq, the base was attacked again on Monday, the Pentagon said. A small group of fighters, who appeared to be focused on a nearby Iraqi base, struck the outpost with “small-arms fire.” “It was not close enough to do any damage,” said Warren, adding that no Marines were wounded and the Marines returned fire, killing at least two ISIS fighters. The outpost had been kept a secret because the Pentagon wanted to give the Marines a chance to “become fully operational” and “ready to fight.” Warren reiterated that the Marines were not combat forces because they were positioned at the outpost to provide “force protection” to American military advisers working alongside Iraqi troops. In response to the increase in US presence in Iraq, the Asaib Ahl al-Haq militia claimed that it would treat US Marines deployed as forces of occupation. [NYT, Reuters, AP, 3/21/2016]


Hadi meets with US ambassador and UN envoy to Yemen
Yemeni President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi received US Ambassador to Yemen Matthew H. Tueller and UN Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed in separate meetings in Riyadh on Tuesday. They discussed the latest developments in Yemen, including efforts for national peace and the implementation of UN Resolution 2216. Tueller reaffirmed the United States’ support for the Yemeni government, the implementation of UN Resolution 2216, and a comprehensive dialogue based on the Gulf initiative. Ahmed expressed optimism for a peace in Yemen based on international resolutions and the interests of the Yemeni people. [Al Masdar, 3/22/2016]

Renewed fighting and airstrikes in Taiz, Houthis attack targets Dali
Pro-government forces and Houthi militants engaged in heavy fighting in the eastern part of Taiz on Tuesday. Local residents said the Saudi-led coalition carried out airstrikes on multiple Houthi positions during the clashes. The number of casualties was unknown. Elsewhere, Houthis and forces loyal to ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh shelled civilian residences in Dali. Sporadic fighting between the Houthis and pro-government forces are ongoing in the area. [Al Masdar, 3/22/2016]  

Yemen FM sure of peace talks this month
Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdulmalek al-Mikhlafi said on Tuesday he was confident that UN-brokered peace talks would take place in Kuwait by the end of this month. Asked if the discussions would happen before April, Mikhlafi replied that he was “99 percent” sure that the talks would go ahead. Mikhlafi’s confirmation came as he attended the Al-Jazeera Forum in Doha. “We are going to go to these peace talks and we will say we are ready to go anywhere and we are hopeful that we are going to reach a solution,” he had said at the conference on Monday. [AFP, 3/22/2016]

US senators meet with Saudi King Salman
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud met with a US congressional delegation on Tuesday ahead of President Barack Obama’s scheduled visit next month. Saudi Press Agency reported that the delegation was led by ranking Senate Foreign Relations Committee member Ben Cardin and included Democratic Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, and Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon. Obama is due to visit Saudi Arabia on April 21 and attend a Gulf Cooperation Council summit. [AP, 3/22/2016]

Rights groups urge end to Saudi arms sales over Yemen deaths
Top rights groups Tuesday urged the United States and other nations to stop selling arms to Saudi Arabia after it was accused of killing hundreds of civilians in its year-long air war in Yemen. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch called on Washington, London, and Paris to stop weapons deliveries to Riyadh, which is leading a mainly Sunni Arab coalition that launched airstrikes against Houthi militants in Yemen on March 26 last year. [AFP, 3/22/2016]


Moody’s warns Gulf states will be forced to tap debt markets
Gulf governments will be forced to rely on debt markets as their fiscal deficits rise to over $250 billion amid an extended period of low oil prices over the next two years, Moody’s Investors Service said. Moody’s said that Kuwait, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are expected to post government deficits of single percentage points, while deficits in Bahrain, Oman, and Saudi Arabia will reach around 14 percent to 17 percent of GDP. “Lower oil prices will also affect GCC public finances, eroding their fiscal reserve buffers and increasing debt levels. We also increasingly view the GCC as a two-tier region,” Dubai-based Senior Sovereign Analyst Mathias Angonin said. “Our assumption is that a growing share of the deficits will be financed by debt, [and] a lower share by reserves going forward,” he added. Angonin said proposed subsidy reforms, capital expenditure cuts, and the introduction of a sales tax starting in 2018 will not be enough to balance GCC budget deficits. He warned that fiscal adjustments “could create social discontent,” emphasizing that “a careful balance needs to be struck.” Moody’s downgraded Bahrain and Oman and will decide at the end of May whether to adjust down Saudi, UAE, Qatari, and Kuwaiti ratings. [FT, Zawya, Gulf News, 3/21/2016]

Qatar invites OPEC members and other producers to April oil meeting
Qatar has invited all members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and other major producers to attend talks next month on a deal to freeze output at January levels to support the global oil market. “The need has become an urgent matter to bring back balance to the market and recovery to the global economy,” Qatar’s Energy Ministry said in its invitation letter to the April 17 meeting. Saudi Arabia said it is prepared to join the oil output freeze even if Iran does not take part, raising the prospects for a deal among major producers. “There is agreement from many countries to go along with a freeze—why make it contingent on Iran,” a Saudi OPEC delegate said. Meanwhile, a Libyan OPEC delegate said that Libya will not attend the meeting because it wants to be able increase output when the situation allows. [Reuters, 3/22/2016]

Iraq seeks financial agreement with Kurds before pumping crude to Turkey
Iraq will not resume pumping crude through a Kurdish pipeline to Turkey unless it reaches a financial agreement with the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG), the Iraqi Oil Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said. He said the Iraqi government had decided to stop pumping crude, previously 150,000 barrels per day, from fields under the management of its state-run North Oil Company through the pipeline. Abdul Mahdi demanded that Iraq either return to a previous agreement between Baghdad and the KRG or a new agreement be inked. Meanwhile, Iraqi Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr urged followers demonstrating in Baghdad for a new government to also demand that politicians give all Iraqis a direct share of the nation’s oil revenues. [Reuters, 3/22/2016]

Egypt central bank sells $104.5 million at regular FX auction
The Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) kept the pound stable at 8.78 per dollar at its regular foreign currency auction on Tuesday, its first since cutting the number of auctions to once a week from three. The CBE said it sold $104.5 million at the auction after offering $120 million earlier on Tuesday.  However, the pound weakened on the black market as demand exceeded supply. Black market sources said they would sell dollars at a range between 9.68-9.70 pounds on Tuesday, without specifying volumes of trade. [Reuters, 3/22/2016]