Top News: ISIS Seizes Most of Yarmouk Refugee Camp in Damascus; Rebels Attack Main Jordanian Crossing

ISIS terrorists seized control of most of the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in southern Damascus after an assault Wednesday morning, according to Anwar Abdel Hadi, Director of Political Affairs for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Damascus.  The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said ISIS was in control of a large part of the camp after fighting with Palestinian groups also opposed to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, adding that fighting is continuing inside the camp. In the south, a coalition of rebels including Islamists fought with regime forces over the last border crossing with Jordan still in government hands. Syria’s state news agency SANA said Jordanian authorities had closed the main border crossing between the two countries. [AFPReuters, 4/1/2015]



US releases military aid to Egypt suspended since 2013, ends cash flow financing
US President Barack Obama on Tuesday released military aid to Egypt that was suspended after the ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, in an effort to boost Cairo’s ability to combat the extremist threat in the region. The White House said Obama notified Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi in a phone call Tuesday that the United States would be sending twelve F-16 fighter jets, twenty missiles and up to 125 tank kits, while continuing to request $1.3 billion in military assistance for Egypt. The White House said that would make Egypt will remain the second-largest recipient of US foreign military financing worldwide. Future military aid will also be channelled into to four categories — counterterrorism, border security, maritime security and Sinai security. The United States is also putting an end to cash flow financing, meaning it will halt Egypt’s ability to draw credit from future foreign aid, barring it from drawing advance money expected in the 2018 fiscal year and beyond. Sisi welcomed the restoration of US military aid, and in a statement said “the continuation of US military assistance to Egypt and the resumption of military transactions contributes to the common strategic objectives of both countries, notably in the fields of combating terrorism and extremism, and maintaining security, particularly in (the) Sinai (Peninsula).” [AP, Reuters, The Guardian, SIS, 4/1/2015]

‘National dialogue’ between Egypt PM and political forces to begin Thursday
Egypt’s Minister of Parliamentary Affairs and Transitional Justice Ibrahim al-Heneidy announced on Tuesday that a series of national dialogue meetings between Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab and representatives of mainstream political forces are due to begin on Thursday to pave the way for long-delayed parliamentary elections. Heneidy said that as many as seventy-five political figures are expected to attend the meetings. Heneidy added, “While political forces and public figures on one side will review their proposed amendments, there will be a panel of legislative and constitutional experts who are members of a government-appointed committee in charge of amending these laws and who will reflect on these amendments in terms of whether they are in line with the constitution or not.” The meeting comes after a government-appointed committee has almost finalized amending two election laws to bring them in line with two rulings issued by the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) on the first and seventh of March. [Ahram Online, 4/1/2015]

Prosecution orders probe into prison torture allegations
Egypt’s Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat has ordered an investigation into the recent allegations of torture of prisoners at the Abu Zaabal Prison. A Delegation from the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) reported signs of flogging after a visit it made to the prison on Monday. NCHR member Salah Sallam quoted some prisoners as saying that they had been placed in solitary cells less than a meter wide, with no ventilation or sanitation, adding that their only daily meal was a crust of bread and a piece of cheese. Sallam, who said he had met with four prisoners, including Yaqeen news network photographer Ahmed Zeyada, said the prison’s wardens refused to let him speak to more inmates. [Egypt Independent, 3/31/2015]

Egypt’s illicit gains authority to appeal Mubarak-era interior minister release
The Illicit Gains Authority appealed the recent acquittal of former Interior Minister Habib al-Adly on a range of corruption charges, including squandering EGP181 million in public funds, state-owned MENA reported on Tuesday. Youssef Othman, the head of the illicit gains authority, said the body has discovered “legal flaws” in the ruling. He added that the authority has drafted the reasons for its appeal and will hand them over to the prosecutor general. The Giza Criminal Court acquitted Adly of the charges on March 19 and he walked out of prison on March 25. The judge also overturned a freeze on his personal assets, and those of his family. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, 3/31/2015]

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Libya’s rival parliament sacks prime minister; Al-Hassi refuses to step down
The Tripoli-based General National Congress sacked Prime Minister Omar al-Hassi due to financial mismanagement in hopes that the move might help break a stalemate in the UN-led negotiations to form a unity government with the Tobruk-based government. Fourteen ministers threatened to resign unless al-Hassi was removed. For now, Deputy Khalifa Mohamed Ghwail will lead the government until a new leader is named. However, al-Hassi has refused to step aside and said that he would only go if the revolutionary fighters agreed he should. The split reflects a similar one taking place within Operation Libya Dawn between pragmatists and revolutionary militants whose ideology is increasingly Islamist. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 4/1/2015]

Abdullah al-Thinni says that he does not want to be Prime Minister
Prime Minister of the Tobruk-based government Abdullah al-Thinni has claimed that he has never had any desire to be Prime Minister and cannot wait for the day that he is relieved of his position. Al-Thinni said that he wished that the rival governments would form a national unity government or a dialogue government and handover the government to any other person. He also stated, “But if confidence is withdrawn, I swear to God that it would be a happy day for me.” He continued that he never saw himself or hoped to be a politician and that he acts according to what he sees is correct. Al-Thinni also revealed that his government was constantly subjected to outside pressures, threats, and bribes ranging from local tribal leaders to the highest political and military figures in Libya. [Libya Herald, 4/1/2015]

UN Secretary General reaffirms legitimacy of Libya’s House of Representatives
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has confirmed that the House of Representatives (House) is a legitimate body and the product of a fair election. Ban and his Special Representative to Libya, Bernardino Leon, met House President Ageela Salah and Foreign Minister Mohamed al-Dairi on the sidelines of the Arab Summit in Egypt’s Sharm al-Sheikh. The Libyan delegates stressed that they still believe in a political solution to the crisis but the UN’s refusal to lift the arms embargo hinders their ability to provide security. They told Ban that the Tobruk government does not see any linkage between the dialogue and its ability to buy arms, saying that the fight against terrorism and extremism was a separate issue from the dispute between the rival governments. [Libya Herald, 3/31/2015]

ISIS weapons seized in Libya by Misratan brigade
Fighters from the Misratan Brigade 166, loyal to the Tripoli government, have seized a weapons cache that belonged to Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) fighters in Sirte. The brigade clashed with the ISIS militants east of the coastal city and claim that most of the ISIS militants were killed during the latest battle. The brigade raided ISIS militants’ rally points, including schools that the group used for training and bomb-making facilities. They also reportedly found three foreign oil workers whom ISIS had kidnapped and later released. [The Independent, 4/1/2015]

Tunisian president cites dialogue and consensus as only way out of Libyan crisis
President Beji Caid Essebsi held talks on Tuesday with Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni of Libya’s Tobruk-based government. Al-Thinni briefed Essebsi on the political and security situation in Libya and the progress being made with the UN-led negotiations between his government and the Tripoli-based government. Essebsi said that dialogue and consensus between the different Libyan sides are the only way out of the crisis and that Tunisia supports the Libyan people as they seek a unity government. [TAP/All Africa, 3/31/2015]

EU delegation in Tunisia to discuss support
President of the European Council Donald Tusk is leading a delegation in Tunisia, which includes EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove, to focus on illegal migration and terrorism. The EU delegation will highlight Europe’s solidarity with the Tunisian people and will focus on ways to increase EU support to the North African country. Last year, Tunisia received 169 million euro ($181 million) from the EU’s European Neighborhood Instrument program in effort to boost Tunisia’s economy and aid its democratic transition. [Tunisia Live, 3/31/2015]


Iraq’s interior minister says most of Tikrit is liberated, fight goes on
Iraqi troops and Shia militias were battling Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) on Wednesday in northern Tikrit, which officials described as one of the terrorist organization’s last stronghold in the city. Security forces were fighting to clear the northern neighborhood of Qadissiya, according to Interior Minister Mohammed al-Ghabban. A Pentagon spokesman confirmed the Iraqi security forces’ “advancement into Tikrit to liberate the city center as well as other parts of the city.” [Reuters, AP, Al-Arabiya, NYT, 4/1/2015]

Syria, Iraq a finishing school for foreign fighters
More than 25,000 foreign fighters from some 100 countries are linked to al-Qaeda and ISIS, with Syria and Iraq comprising a “veritable international finishing school for extremists,” United Nations experts reported to the UN Security Council. At a meeting of the Security Council in September, the experts were asked to report within six months on the threat from foreign fighters joining ISIS, Nusra Front in Syria, and other al-Qaeda-linked groups. “For the thousands of [foreign fighters] who traveled to the Syrian Arab Republic and Iraq … they live and work in a veritable ‘international finishing school’ for extremists as it was in the case in Afghanistan during the 1990s,” the experts wrote in their report. The report warned of a medium-term threat from the new generation of foreign fighters through “plug and play social networks for future attack planning—linking diverse foreign fighters from different communities across the globe.” [Reuters, 3/31/2015]

ISIS seizes most of Yarmouk refugee camp in Damascus; rebels attack main Jordanian crossing
ISIS terrorists seized control of most of the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in southern Damascus after an assault Wednesday morning, according to Anwar Abdel Hadi, Director of Political Affairs for the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in Damascus. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said ISIS was in control of a large part of the camp after fighting with Palestinian groups also opposed to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, adding that fighting is continuing inside the camp. In the south, a coalition of rebels including Islamists fought with regime forces over the last border crossing with Jordan still in government hands. Syria’s state news agency SANA said Jordanian authorities had closed the main border crossing between the two countries. [AFP, Reuters, 4/1/2015]

United States hits Syrian banker and three companies with sanctions
The US Treasury Department is imposing new sanctions on Syria’s government aimed at blunting its weapons programs and pushing it into negotiations with rebels. The Treasury Department’s action targets Batoul Rida, a Syrian central bank official, and three companies that help fund Syria’s development of ballistic missiles and nonconventional weapons. It cites Rida’s involvement in cash transfers with US-sanctioned institutions that enable the government’s “military campaign against the Syrian people.” One of the companies is based in Syria; two are in Lebanon. The Treasury Department’s Acting Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Adam J. Szubin says Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government is a “gross violator of human rights” and engages in “dangerous weapons proliferation.” [AP, AFP, 4/1/2015]


Saudi Arabia says no “automatic” ground offensive in Yemen
Saudi Arabia said on Tuesday it would only send ground troops into Yemen against the Houthi militia if such operations became necessary. “There could be a limited ground operation, in specific areas, at specific times. But don’t expect there to be a resort automatically to a ground operation,” said Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri, spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition. The Saudi announcement comes after the heaviest day of fighting on the border between Houthi provinces and Saudi Arabia. [Reuters, 3/31/2015]

UN declares Yemen on verge of collapse
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said that Yemen is “on the verge of total collapse” as Saudi-led coalition continues to bomb Houthi positions. “The situation in Yemen is extremely alarming, with dozens of civilians killed over the past four days,” al-Hussein said on Tuesday. Aid groups have warned of a humanitarian crisis unfolding with air and sea blockades making it impossible to send desperately needed assistance as casualties mount. UNICEF said that at least sixty-two children had been killed and thirty injured during the fighting over the past week. [Al Jazeera, New York Times, 3/31/2015]

Strike on factory kills at least twenty-five in Aden
An explosion at a dairy factory in Yemen’s Hodaida port killed at least twenty-five workers with conflicting accounts attributing the blast to an air strike by a Saudi-led alliance or to a rocket from a nearby army base. The incident is the worst case of civilian deaths since a Saudi-led coalition began an air campaign against Houthi militia on March 26. After the week long campaign targeting Houthis and forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the coalition has failed to secure current President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi’s control over his last remaining enclave in the southern port of Aden, a key aim of the campaign. [Reuters, AFP, Washington Post, 4/1/2015]

Saudi-led coalition welcomes international aid in Yemen
Brigadier General Ahmed Asiri said all relief efforts were welcomed by the Arab coalition fighting the Houthi movement in Yemen, but urged that “such work be presented through diplomatic channels” that comply with the ongoing military operations. Both Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) released statements yesterday calling for help getting medical supplies and personnel into the country. Spokespersons for each organization said that with air and sea transport obstructed that it was nearly impossible to deliver humanitarian assistance. [Al Arabiya, 3/31/2015]

Iran says could cooperate with Saudi to solve Yemen crisis
Iran wants all parties in Yemen to return to calm and dialogue, Tehran’s deputy foreign minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian said on Tuesday, adding the Islamic Republic and Saudi Arabia could work together to solve the conflict there. Meanwhile, Iran sent a shipment of non-military aid to Yemen on Tuesday, the first since Saudi-led coalition air strikes started last week, state television reported. The report said the shipment was sent by air, but it did not say to where. [Al Arabiya, Reuters, 3/31/2015}


OPEC oil output hits highest since October on Iraq, Saudi rebound
The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) reported that oil supply last month jumped to its highest since October as Iraq’s exports rebounded and Saudi Arabia pumped at close to record rates. The increase adds to excess supply in the market, despite some signs that the halving of crude prices since June 2014 has encouraged higher oil demand. Besides Saudi Arabia’s increased output, the main reasons for the rise are the resolution of involuntary outages. Iraq increased exports due to improved weather and Libya managed to nudge production higher despite unrest. If the March total remains unrevised at 30.63 million bpd, OPEC oil supply would be highest since October 2014. [Reuters, 3/31/2015]

Libya’s two biggest oil ports to open soon
Libya’s two biggest oil ports, Ras Lanuf and Es Sider, will open once the National Oil Company (NOC) conducts security and safety checks after forces backing the country’s rival government have left the area, a NOC official has said. The two ports, which can produce a combined 600,000 barrels per day, are under the control of forces loyal to the eastern government in Tobruk. The ports were closed in December after fighting erupted. [Reuters, 3/31/2015]

UAE plans to boost its gas import capacity
The United Arab Emirates plans to increase its gas import capacity and sees a fall in liquefied natural gas (LNG) prices as an incentive for many countries to diversify their gas supplies. The country’s energy minister said the UAE plans to upgrade Dubai’s floating LNG regasification import facility at Jebel Ali port. The UAE is also building an LNG import facility at the port of Fujairah with a capacity of 9 million tonnes a year. [Reuters, 4/1/2015]

Yemen citizens struggle as supplies dwindle
Yemeni civilians now face dwindling fuel, medicine, and food supplies under what has in effect become a blockade by sea and air. Residents are queueing in long fuel lines and hoarding food as prices for basic necessities rise. Fuel shortages are particularly worrisome due to Yemen’s reliance on on diesel-fuelled pumps to maintain its water supply. The only two access points to acquire supplies due to the Saudi-led coalition’s blockade are now the Hodeida seaport and a Saudi-Yemeni border crossing near Haradh in the northwest. [Financial Times, 4/1/2015]