Top News: King Salman of Saudi Arabia Changes Line of Succession

King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud issued a series of surprise royal decrees early Wednesday, shaking up the line of princes slated to succeed him to the throne, replacing a number of ministers and further enhancing the power of his own line. In moves announced on Saudi state television, Salman replaced Crown Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz and named the powerful interior minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, as next in line. He also named his son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as deputy crown prince and relieved the long-serving Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, who has shaped the kingdom’s foreign policy for nearly four decades. Prince Nayef becomes the first from among his generation to be elevated to such a high position. [APNew York TimesAl-MasdarGulf News, 4/29/2015]



Egypt sentences sixty-nine to prison for Kerdasa church attack
The Giza Criminal Court sentenced seventy-one defendants to life in prison on Wednesday for breaking into a church in Kerdasa and torching it in August 2013. The court also sentenced two minors to ten years in prison. Of the sentenced defendants, fifty-two were sentenced in absentia. The sixty-nine were also fined 20,000 Egyptian pounds ($2,623) each. All defendants were accused of joining an illegal group, possession of firearms and unlicensed ammunition, attempted murder, torching a religious facility, stalling traffic, and resisting the authorities. The presiding judge Nagy Shehata has handed out hundreds of death and prison sentences to defendants in several cases, and also sentenced three journalists to up to ten years in prison in the Al Jazeera trial. [DNE, Egypt Independent, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, 4/29/2015]

Bomb explosion leads to Alexandria-Beheira water pollution says Environment Minister
Minister of Environment Khaled Fahmy said a bomb explosion near a petrol line led to water pollution in the lake between Alexandria and Beheira, during a TV interview on Monday. Fahmy said the explosion led to gas leaking into the pipe, which feeds the water stations in the neighborhood of Ibis, Kafr al-Dawar. The incident, which took place few days ago, led to the shutdown of water stations in Beheira for 72 hours, until Tuesday. No cases of poisoning were reported at Beheira hospitals, the preventive medicine director told state-run news agency MENA on Sunday. The Health Department in Alexandria also issued a statement denying rumors that water in the governorate was contaminated, and the Health Department said tests were conducted on drinking water at many water stations in Alexandria. Undersecretary of the Health Ministry in Alexandria Magdy Hegazy added that the ministry would conduct the tests again to make sure the water is completely safe. [DNE, Egypt Independent, 4/29/2015]

Italy PM and Sisi discuss Libya, Europe’s migrant crisis
Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi discussed ongoing fighting in Libya and Europe’s migrant crisis on the phone on Tuesday, according to a statement from the presidency. Renzi said that the Libyan crisis presented a danger not just to Egypt and Italy, but also to the world, according to the statement. Sisi said that the international community should support the Libyan government, parliament, and army based in Tobruk, the statement added. Renzi also told Sisi that Italy had called for emergency talks after over 950 migrants drowned trying to cross reach Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. [Ahram Online, SIS, 4/28/2015]

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Libya’s GNC rejects UN-backed draft accord; Dignity rejects UNSMIL invitation
The Tripoli-based General National Congress (GNC) on Tuesday fully and unanimously rejected a draft political agreement for the country backed by UN Special Representative Bernardino Leon. A spokesman said that the GNC will abandon neither its principles nor the country’s security and sovereignty. Meanwhile, Operation Dignity has rejected an invitation Bernardino Leon to join in the military platform of the dialogue process. It says it is part of the regular army, not a militia, and that it takes its instructions only from the General Staff and the head of the armed forces. [ANSAmed, Libya Herald, 4/29/2015]

Europe seeks to reassure Libya over plans to stem migrant flow
The European Union sought to reassure Libya on Tuesday that any action being considered by the twenty-eight-nation bloc to stem the deadly flow of migrants across the Mediterranean should not be perceived as an attack against the Libyan people. EU leaders have tripled a naval search mission and agreed to undertake systematic efforts to identify, capture, and destroy vessels before traffickers use them. It is unclear how that may be achieved and several leaders said they would need a UN Security Council mandate in the absence of a viable Libyan government. EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini said that nothing the EU is planning is intended against the Libyan people or the Libyan authorities in all their complexity. [Reuters, 4/28/2015]

Libya’s Tobruk government announces new municipality in Fezzan region
Libya’s Tobruk government announced the creation of a new municipality in Fezzan region called Waw Kabir and Waw Namus, located in the far south of the country on the border with Chad and southwest of Sebha. The largely unpopulated area contains the landmark Waw Namus, an ancient volcanic lake, which had previously been a popular destination for tourists visiting the Libyan desert. It is regarded as one of the harder to reach destinations, with very little infrastructure in place and no major towns or settlements nearby. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 4/29/2015]

First batch of US combat helicopters to be delivered to Tunisia shortly
Tunisia will receive the first batch of US manufactured combat helicopters in the coming months, as part of a transaction signed in 2014 between Tunisia and the United States. The helicopters will reinforce the Tunisian army’s capacities to counter terrorism and help it keep abreast of new technologies. Last August, Ambassador Jacob Walles announced the intention to delivery twelve Black Hawk helicopters to Tunisia to assist with counterterrorism efforts. [TAP/All Africa, 4/28/2015]

Southern Tunisians protest economic marginalization
Dehiba, in the southern governorate of Tataouine near the Libyan border, claims that 90 percent of the town’s residents make a living through illicit cross-border trade. But the chaos in Libya and a Tunisian crackdown on smuggling and contraband has led to greater economic suffering. The residents have sought help from the government and held protests to express frustration. In the short term, the government is working with the army to send doctors to the area and easing bureaucratic hurdles to fast-track building projects and new businesses. But the comprehensive regional development plan will take five years to implement. [Al Jazeera, 4/29/2015]


Syrian opposition to meet UN envoy for Geneva talks
Representatives from Syria’s opposition National Coalition will meet the UN’s Syria envoy in Geneva next month as he seeks to revive peace talks, Coalition President Khaled Khoja said Tuesday. Khoja said he had informed UN Envoy Staffan de Mistura that a delegation from the exiled opposition body would attend bilateral talks in Geneva in May. “The coalition reasserted its commitment to a political solution and the resumption of negotiations where they left off,” the statement said. Any new talks should proceed based on “the formation of a transitional government body with full powers,” it added. De Mistura is due to hold separate talks with rival sides in Geneva from May 4 in an attempt to kick-start stalled negotiations to end Syria’s war. Last week, the United Nations said invitations to the talks had gone out to “as many stakeholders as possible,” including different Syrian factions and regional and international players. On Tuesday, EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini said Iran can play a major role in persuading Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to cooperate in peace talks. [AFP, 4/28/2015]

Syria accuses Turkey of direct aggression alongside militants
Syria has accused Turkey of providing supporting fire and logistical help to enable “terrorist groups” to capture the Syrian city of Idlib and the strategic town of Jisr al-Shughour, state television said on Tuesday. “The terrorist groups’ attacks on Idlib city and Jisr al-Shughour … were carried out by logistical and fire support from the Turkish army … This is direct Turkish aggression on Syria,” Syrian television quoted the foreign ministry as saying. Ankara has rejected such charges. [Reuters, The Daily Star, 4/29/2015]

FSA factions battle Islamic militants near Golan Heights
Mainstream Syrian rebels are battling Islamists suspected of links to ISIS in a southern province near the Israeli-held Golan Heights, with at least twenty-nine people killed in days of clashes. Isam al-Rayess, spokesman for the Free Syrian Army’s Southern Front, said a group known as Jihad Units ambushed some of his fighters in the Quneitra province who were on their way to join an offensive against forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad. He said the Southern Front, a rebel coalition, has long suspected the Jihad Units of being loyal to ISIS. After the ambush, the Islamic militants raised black flags similar to those carried by ISIS. Six of the Southern Front fighters were killed in the ambush, al-Rayess said. Soon after, another ambush resulted in the kidnapping of two fighters. The rebels have vowed to clear the Jihad Units from the province and al-Rayess said his men are currently besieging about 200 Jihad Units fighters in a village south of Quneitra. Fighters from the Nusra Front and Ahrar al-Sham have also joined in the fight against the Jihad Units, al-Rayess said, although there is no coordination. [AP, Washington Post, 4/29/2015]

Damascus canceled meeting with PLO over Yarmouk crisis
The Syrian government decided to cancel a scheduled meeting with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) due to the latter’s stance on the assault on the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk as well as the PLO’s recent efforts to free two Swedish nationals captured by the Nusra Front in Syria. A delegation from the PLO was due to arrive in Damascus on Monday to discuss the situation in Yarmouk, but the Syrian government announced it was canceling the meeting late on Sunday evening due to its officials being “busy” at the present time. The Syrian government did not set another date to reschedule. [Asharq al-Awsat, 4/28/2015]


King Salman of Saudi Arabia changes line of succession
King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud issued a series of surprise royal decrees early Wednesday, shaking up the line of princes slated to succeed him to the throne, replacing a number of ministers and further enhancing the power of his own line. In moves announced on Saudi state television, Salman replaced Crown Prince Muqrin bin Abdulaziz and named the powerful interior minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, as next in line. He also named his son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, as deputy crown prince and relieved the long-serving Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, who has shaped the kingdom’s foreign policy for nearly four decades. Prince Nayef becomes the first from among his generation to be elevated to such a high position. [AP, New York Times, Al-Masdar, Gulf News, 4/29/2015]

Aid flights to Yemen blocked after Saudi Arabian jets bomb airport runway
Planned aid flights to Yemen have been blocked after Saudi Arabian jets bombed the runway at Sana’a airport on Tuesday. Saudi-led coalition aircraft carried out the bombings on Tuesday afternoon to prevent an Iranian plane from landing in the Yemeni capital, a spokesman for the coalition said. The bombing of the runway made it unusable for planned aid flights. IRNA said the plane had been given permission to fly through Omani airspace and land by the Houthi militia, which controls Sana’a airport. The UN agency OCHA said yesterday that the number of displaced people by the violence in Yemen now tops 300,000. In the past two weeks, food distribution by humanitarian agencies fed almost 500,000 people. [Reuters, 4/28/2015]

Yemeni government to request membership in GCC
Yemen’s government will request membership in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) the country’s spokesman said Wednesday. “We will present a plan in Saudi Arabia next month that will prepare Yemen to be included in the GCC,” Rajeh Badi told Reuters by telephone from Qatar. Gulf foreign ministers will meet this week to discuss the war in Yemen. Thursday’s meeting in Riyadh would cover “issues vital to the operations of the Gulf Cooperation Council and developments in the region, including the crisis in Yemen,” said GCC Secretary-General Abdullatif Zayani. [Reuters, 4/29/2015]

Houthis advancing into Yemen’s Aden kill twelve civilians
Houthi rebels’ tanks and sniper fire killed at least twelve civilians overnight in Yemen’s Aden as they advanced toward the center of the city, residents said, and a Saudi-led coalition airdropped arms to anti-Houthi fighters in the city of Taiz. Fighting still raged in the Khor Maksar district of Aden early on Wednesday. Residents and city officials said the group shelled government buildings and residential neighborhoods controlled by their armed opponents and dozens of families had fled. Yemen’s Houthi rulers have launched an investigation against dozens of public figures, including Nobel Peace Prize laureate Tawakkul Karman following a complaint that could amount to treason. [Reuters, Al-Masdar, 4/29/2015]


Oil dips on oversupply after Saudi reshuffle
Oil prices slipped on Wednesday on oversupply after news that King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia had reshuffled the kingdom’s line of royal succession. Saudi reshuffles often move oil prices as stability in the world’s biggest oil-exporting country is key to global supplies, but the announcement had little obvious impact. King Salman appointed Saudi Aramco Chief Executive Khaled al-Falih as chairman of the state oil giant in the reshuffle, replacing veteran oil minister Ali al-Naimi. The king also named Mr. Falih health minister. [Reuters, WSJ, 4/29/2015]

World Bank seeks to finance development projects in regions recaptured from ISIS
The World Bank is seeking to finance development projects in areas in Iraq that the government has recaptured from Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants, the Bank’s Regional Vice President Hafez Ghanem said. Ghanem plans to meet with Iraqi officials and discuss ways to help the government tackle a budget deficit caused by a drop in oil revenues when he visits Iraq this week. The undertaking is part of a wider plan to boost the Bank’s investments in the Middle East and North Africa in the coming years, Ghanem said. [Reuters, 4/29/2015]

Global financial regulator says investors will not come to Egypt without stability
Egypt and other emerging markets must create the right conditions, with stability and the rule of law, to attract foreign investment, the Secretary-General of the International Organization for Securities Commissions (IOSCO) has said. Egypt is pursuing a series of economic and legal reforms with the aim of attracting investors to boost an economy damaged by four years of political upheaval. More than a hundred leaders in financial regulation from around the world are currently in Egypt to attend the annual meeting of the Growth and Emerging Markets (GEM) division of the IOSCO. [Ahram Online, 4/29/2015]

Report says GCC states can gain an extra $17.7 billion through diversification
Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states could gain up to $17.7 billion if they achieve the average economic diversification levels of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), according to a study by Ernst & Young. The study used a tracker to look at the levels of diversification across the GCC and study methods to speed up progress. The public sector needs to shift from being the main investor to being the enabler and driver of business, the report says. [Gulf News, 4/29/2015]