Top News: Kerry Testifies That US Air Strikes Would Not Have Affected Syrian Conflict

Threatened military strikes against Syria would not have affected the course of the country’s civil war, US Secretary of State John Kerry told lawmakers on Tuesday. Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Kerry said US military action would not have had a “devastating impact” on the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “It would not have a devastating impact by which [Assad] had to recalculate, because it wasn’t going to last that long. It took 30,000 sorties and thirty days in Bosnia to have an impact. Here we were going to have one or two days to degrade and send a message,” he said [AFPReuters, 4/9/2014]



Political groups call for pardon of jailed activists, revoke protest law
Several political parties and groups demanded on Tuesday that interim-President Adly Mansour pardon activists Ahmed Maher, Mohamed Adel and Ahmed Douma, whose three-year prison sentences were upheld the day before by a Cairo court. Speaking at a press conference at the downtown headquarters of the Constitution Party, those present also called on Mansour to revoke the controversial protest law responsible for the three activists’ sentences. Representatives from the Egyptian Popular Current, the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, the April 6 Youth movement and the Freedom for the Brave campaign attended the press conference, condemning the protest law as a tool used to crackdown on dissent. [Ahram Online, 4/8/2014]

Egypt arrests another Al Jazeera journalist; detained journalist’s health deteriorating   
The Egyptian authorities arrested on Wednesday a correspondent for Al Jazeera on charges of belonging to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, and inciting and taking part in violence. Ali AbdelRahman Shaheen, who works for the Qatar-based television network, is also accused of broadcasting false news that mislead the public. Meanwhile, the family of another Al Jazeera journalist, Abdullah al-Shamy, detained in Egypt for almost eight months has called for his release, saying his health is failing due to a months-long hunger strike. Arrested on charges of violence and thuggery during clashes in downtown Cairo on August 14, Shami’s family urged rights groups and fellow journalists to call for his release. [Reuters, Aswat Masriya, Egypt Independent, Ahram Online, AFP/DNE, 4/9/2014]

New refinery promises some relief to Egypt fuel crisis
Construction of Egypt’s largest oil refinery, with capacity to produce half the volume of diesel currently being imported, is expected to begin next week, the project leader said. The Egyptian Refinery Company (ERC) plant will use fuel oil produced by an old refinery nearby as feedstock to produce 2.3 million tons of diesel per year. [Reuters, 4/9/2014]

AU delegation requests meeting with Brotherhood alliance
The African Union’s Wise Men Committee, which is currently visiting Egypt, has requested meeting the Muslim Brotherhood-led National Alliance to Support Legitimacy on Wednesday. Omar Azzam, leader with the Arab Consolidation Party, said the delegation called for meeting with the alliance on Wednesday during communications with Brotherhood figure Mohamed Ali Bishr, former local development minister. The European Council on Foreign Relations said in a report that Britain’s decision to investigate the Muslim Brotherhood’s activities is a great victory for Saudi Arabia which pressured the UK for the investigation. [Egypt Independent, 4/8/2014]


Libya parliament wants new government, cabinet demands more power
The General National Congress (GNC) officially appointed caretaker leader Abdullah al-Thinni as prime minister on Tuesday and ordered him to form a new government within a week after the cabinet demanded more powers to tackle the disorder crippling the country. The weak central government, which must be reconfirmed by the legislature every two weeks, has asked for a longer mandate to deal with Libya’s competing political parties, rival militias, regional demands and rebels disrupting the oil industry. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 4/8/2014]

International community responds to eastern oil terminal agreement
The United States, France, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom welcomed the announcement of the reopening of Libya’s eastern oil export terminals. In a joint statement released yesterday the five governments congratulated the Libyan government and General National Congress for taking significant steps toward the peaceful resolution of the blockade by federalists in the east. They called on all parties concerned to implement the agreement as quickly as possible and reiterated their desire to see a transparent and inclusive national dialogue. According to a Petroleum Facilities Guard spokesman, however, Libya’s oil protection force is not in full control of Zueitina port as some militiamen have remained at the facility following the deal to end the blockade. [Libya Herald, 4/8/2014]

Libya a primary transit country for migrants reaching Europe; more needs to be done
Europe needs to do more to curb illegal immigration and to prevent tragedies, and Italy intends to involve members of the European Union to do so during its semester of European presidency, Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini said on Tuesday. Last year an estimated 70 percent of arrivals by sea to the European Union came through the Mediterranean, from Libya to Italy. The minister warned that “the current Libyan government doesn’t have today full control of the territory, nor can it guarantee the respect of migrants’ human rights.” [ANSAmed, 4/8/2014]


Town by town, Assad regime retakes southwestern Syria
Hezbollah and the Syrian Army’s five-month campaign to clear rebels from the strategic Qalamoun region is approaching its final stand. The allies have seized one village and town after the other, gradually moving southward through the corridor between Damascus and Homs which links the Syrian capital to the Mediterranean coast. According to SANA, Syrian troops and Hezbollah fighters captured Rankous in central Qalamoun, leaving only a tract of mountainous terrain in the way of the regime’s final objective: Zabadani, the last major rebel-held town in Qalamoun. [Christian Science Monitor, 4/8/2014]

Rare aid enters rebel-held areas in Aleppo
Syria’s Red Crescent and the UN refugee agency delivered aid to rebel-held areas of Aleppo city on Wednesday for the first time in ten months. Made possible by a local ceasefire, the aid was delivered through the Jisr al-Haj crossing, which divides the regime-controlled western half of the city from the rebel-controlled eastern half. The UN refugee agency called the mission a “rare and risky operation,” adding its staff had observed a “dire humanitarian situation inside eastern Aleppo,” and noted “an acute shortage of food, water, medicine, and basic supplies.” [AFP, 4/9/2014]

Regime atrocities far outweigh rebels’ crimes, UN commissioner says
Atrocities by the Syrian government “far outweigh” crimes by the opposition fighters and Assad’s regime is “mostly responsible” for the human rights offences in the three-year war, said High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay on Tuesday. She added that both sides’ abuses should be documented and brought to the International Criminal Court, “but you cannot compare the two. Clearly the actions of the forces of the government far outweigh the violations—killings, cruelty, persons in detention, disappearances, far outweigh” those by the opposition. [CBC, 4/9/2014]


Four police officers convicted with killing protesters during the 2011 revolution
Four of six police officers accused of killing protesters in central Tunisia during the 2011 revolution were convicted Monday by the military court of Sfax. One officer received a ten year sentence and the other three officers each received a five year sentence. [Tunisia Live, 4/8/2014]

World Bank announces $1.2 billion for Tunisia
The World Bank announced that it plans to provide Tunisia with a $1.2 billion financial package this year. The package includes up to $750 million in support of government reforms to level the economic playing field and promote growth and job creation while increasing accountability in the delivery of services to citizens. [All Africa, 4/8/2014]

Marzouki pardons 467 inmates
On Martyr Day, caretaker-President Moncef Marzouki pardoned 467 inmates and commuted the death sentence of two inmates to life imprisonment. The presidential pardon concerned first-offenders against whom final judgment had been pronounced for relatively minor offenses and who served most of the sentence. It also benefitted a number of students, pupils, women and disabled persons. Marzouki did not pardon any prisoners convicted of aggravated crimes, such as terrorism or weapons and drug trafficking. [All Africa, 4/8/2014]


Yemen’s oil revenue falls by more than half in February
Revenue from oil exports was $214.8 million in January and $210 million in February a year ago to $89.4 million last in February 2014. The central bank report said on Tuesday that attacks on the pipeline in February had also led to a cut in oil production to 800,000 barrels, compared with 1.8 million barrels in February 2013. Yemen had to import 1.4 million barrels of petroleum products worth $238.7 million in February to help cover its local needs. [Reuters, 4/9/2014]

Ibb prison suicide highlights poor prison conditions
A prisoner held in Ibb Central Prison committed suicide in his cell last Thursday, prompting concerns over Yemen’s prison conditions. Another inmate who also attempted suicide claimed mistreatment led to the attempt. The director of the central prison in Ibb claimed a psychological disorder was to blame. While the director admits that the prison conditions are poor, he says that the deceased’s circumstances were no different from those of other prisoners in the country. The head of HOOD, a human rights NGO, said that bribery plays major roles in prison mismanagement, determining which prisoners get services and which are ignored. [The Yemen Times, 4/8/2014]

Guantanamo Bay inmate may be repatriated
A suspected al-Qaeda fighter held at the US military prison in Guantanamo Bay may be released soon, pending the conclusion of a parole-style hearing. Ghaleb Nassar al-Bihani, a Yemeni captured in Afghanistan suspected to be fighting with al-Qaeda, has been imprisoned since 2002. A Pentagon assessment said that al-Bihani would “almost certainly” resume operations with terrorist groups due to alleged family ties to al-Qaeda. Al-Bihani is willing to return to Yemen, but would prefer to be sent to Latin America, Spain, or Qatar, his lawyers said. [Reuters, 4/9/2014]


Lebanon’s parliament to elect new president
Speaker Nabih Berri is expected to call for a parliamentary session on April 22 to elect a new president. The vote will replace President Michel Suleiman, whose six-year term ends on May 25. So far, only Lebanese Forces chief Samir Geagea has officially announced his candidacy for the post which is reserved for Maronite Christians. The March 14 coalition announced on Wednesday that it will nominate one candidate for the presidential election although a name has not yet been announced. [Naharnet, 4/9/2014]

Germany outlaws ‘Hezbollah fundraising group’
On Tuesday, the interior ministry said it had outlawed the “Waisenkinderprojekt Libanon” (Orphan Children Project Lebanon). The group is accused of raising money for Hezbollah and German authorities staged raids across the country on homes and offices used by the organization. Police officers searched premises across six states and confiscated cash, computers and around forty boxes of files. Two bank accounts with a total of around 60,000 euros were frozen but no arrests were made. According to the interior ministry, the organization raised 3.3 million Euros ($4.5 million) in donations between 2007 and 2013 for the Lebanese Shahid Foundation, an “integral” part of Hezbollah. [Al Arabiya, 4/8/2014]

Car bombs rock Baghdad, killing at least twenty-four
Car bombs hit several mostly Shia neighborhoods of Baghdad and a town south of the Iraqi capital on Wednesday, killing at least twenty-four people and wounding dozens, officials said, the latest bout of violence ahead of the April 30 parliamentary elections. No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attacks but the bombings bore the hallmarks of al-Qaeda-linked insurgents that frequently use suicide and car bombs to target public areas and government buildings in their bid to undermine confidence in the government. [The Daily Star, 4/9/2014]