The Misrata-based Central Libya Shield Brigade has withdrawn from Sirte Airbase and from the Zueitina, al-Fida, and al-Ghani oilfields south east of Sirte. It took control of the airbase last Tuesday and then moved into the oilfields later in the week.

The withdrawal comes amid reports of a deal being brokered by the Magharba tribe and Cyrenaican elders under which federalist leader Ibrahim Jadhran would hand over the oil terminals he and his supporters have seized over the last several months to intermediaries and leave the country while the Misratans would return home. [Libya Herald, 3/17/2014]



Sisi reshuffles top army posts
In a move that observers say might be a final step before he resigns from his military post, Defense Minister Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi approved several new appointments in the ranks of the Armed Forces leadership on Monday, newspaper state-owned Al-Ahram reported. Second Army Commander General Ahmed Wasfy is now head of the Armed Forces Training Authority, while General Mohamed al-Shahat, who used to be the Second Army’s chief of staff, is now its commander. Commander of the South Military District General Mohamed Arafat is now head of the Armed Forces Inspection Authority. General Yehia al-Gebaily, who was chief of staff of the South Military District, is now its commander. General Khairat Mohamed is now head of the Officers’ Affairs Authority instead of General Mostafa Sherif, who has been sent into retirement and appointed assistant to the defense minister. [Mada Masr, Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, 3/17/2014]

Police raid National Alliance to Support Legitimacy conference
Egyptian authorities raided a conference of the National Alliance to Support Legitimacy in Cairo’s Garden City on Tuesday and held the attendees, Essam al-Sawy, from the Building and Development Party, told Aswat Masriya. The conference was meant to discuss the dispersal of the Raba’a sit-in which was held in August in support of ousted President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. An eyewitness said that trucks and police forces have spread out in the area surrounding the headquarters of the Istiqlal (Independence) Party where the conference was being held on Tuesday. [Aswat Masriya, 3/18/2014]

NCHR releases full report on Rabaa sit-in dispersal
The National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) officially released on Monday its full report on the forcible dispersal of the pro-Mohamed Morsi sit-in at Raba’a al-Adaweya. The report concluded that clashes began during the dispersal of the sit-in when armed protesters shot and killed a policeman. It also concluded that the majority of protesters who took part in the sit-in were peaceful protesters, adding that such peaceful demonstrators constituted the majority of the death toll at the dispersal, estimated by the council to be 632. In addition another 1,492 protesters were injured during the dispersal. The report also mentioned reprisal attacks on churches and police stations in at least twenty-two governorates, which lasted four days and left 686 killed, including 64 policemen. [Ahram Online, DNE, Egypt Independent, Mada Masr 3/17/2014]

Egypt’s GDP grew 1.2 pct in first half 2013/14 says minister
Egypt’s economy grew 1.2 percent in the first half of fiscal year 2013/14, the minister of planning said on Monday. Ashraf al-Arabi said Egypt had spent 25 billion Egyptian pounds ($3.59 billion) of 64 billion pounds pledged in stimulus packages, with much of that money coming in aid from the United Arab Emirates. “We aim to achieve a growth rate in the third quarter of more than 2 percent,” al-Arabi added. Egyptian gross domestic product in the last fiscal year, which ended on June 30, was up 2.1 percent. Egypt’s finance minister last week revised down the growth target for the current fiscal year to between 2 and 2.5 percent from 3 to 3.5. Economists polled by Reuters in January saw 2 percent growth for the year ending June 2014. Three years of political unrest since a popular uprising ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak have scared away many investors and tourists, weighing on economic growth. [Ahram Online, 3/17/2014]


Misratans pull out of Sirte and oilfields ahead of possible Jadhran deal
The Misrata-based Central Libya Shield Brigade has withdrawn from Sirte Airbase and from the Zueitina, al-Fida, and al-Ghani oilfields south east of Sirte. It took control of the airbase last Tuesday and then moved into the oilfields later in the week. The withdrawal comes amid reports of a deal being brokered by the Magharba tribe and Cyrenaican elders under which federalist leader Ibrahim Jadhran would hand over the oil terminals he and his supporters have seized over the last several months to intermediaries and leave the country while the Misratans would return home. [Libya Herald, 3/17/2014]

Explosion at military training facility leaves eleven dead
A car explosion in a military training facility in Benghazi has reportedly killed as many as 11 people and injured several others. Five are said to be in a critical condition. It occurred after a graduation ceremony at the military technical academy. Initial reports that three car bombs were involved were not true, according to an official from the academy; the first explosion set other cars on fire causing them to explode. Those killed were students between the ages of eighteen and twenty-eight. In a separate incident, another deadly car bomb in Benghazi killed another soldier. Commenting on the latest violence, Justice Minister Salah al Marghani called for international assistance in fighting terrorism, insisting it would not be a violation of Libyan sovereignty. [Libya Herald, 3/17/2014]

Al-Thinni “will stay as prime minister,” says GNC member
Abdullah al-Thinni, the current caretaker prime minister, is likely to remain in post until the end of term of the General National Congress (GNC), one GNC member told the Libya Herald, speaking on condition of anonymity. “There are a lot of candidates for prime minister, but because of arguments between GNC members it is not easy to agree on any one person,” the legislator said. “I think Thinni will remain in this position for a long time.” Thinni was sworn in as caretaker prime minister last week after the GNC passed a vote of no-confidence on former Prime Minister Ali Zeidan. Doubts still hang over the vote that ousted Zeidan, with opponents calling the legality of the vote into question the legality of the vote. [Libya Herald, 3/17/2014]

Libya and Egypt agree border residents can cross border without visas
Libya and Egypt will suspend entry visa requirements for residents who live on either side of the border. The deal was hammered out at a meeting on Saturday in the Egyptian town of Mersa Matruh to discuss cracking down on smuggling and illegal immigration. It brought together local military, immigration, customs, national security, and intelligence officials from the Libyan and Egyptian border zones. A year ago, the Awlad Ali tribe, members of which live on both sides of the border, blockaded the Musaid border crossing following Libya’s decision that all Egyptians in the future had to have visas to travel to the country. Saturday’s Mersah Matruh meeting also looked at other possible measures to improve border security and ease the flow of traffic. [Libya Herald, 3/18/2014]


Kerry announces US Special Envoy to Syria
On Monday, Secretary of State John Kerry named Daniel Rubinstein as a new special envoy for Syria. Rubenstein is a senior foreign service official with long experience in the Middle East. He will fill the position vacated by Robert Ford last month. Rubinstein has most recently worked at the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence. He is fluent in Arabic and has served in Jordan, Egypt, Iraq, Syria, Tunisia and Israel. He is expected to travel to the Middle East later this month. Rubenstein’s appointment comes at a challenging time for US policy towards Syria as the conflict enters its fourth year. [NYT, Reuters, 3/17/2014]

Man arrested near US-Canada border accused of seeking to join militants in Syria
Nicholas Teausant was arrested on Monday in Washington state near the US-Canada border on a terrorism charge, according to federal officials. Teausant, a native of California, was on his way to Syria to join al Qaeda splinter group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). He is an American-born convert to Islam and had planned to cross into Canada and travel on to Syria. Teausant was a private in the United States Army National Guard but was in the process of being released as of December. He is quoted as telling a paid FBI informant “My designs have me staying there (in Syria) and being on every news station in the world.” “I’m going to be a commander and I’m going to be on the front of every single newspaper in the country,” he said. “Like I want my face on FBI’s top 12 most wanted. Because that means I’m doing something right.” [NYT, Reuters, 3/18/2014]

Six dead and twenty injured from car bomb in Homs
Six people were killed and twenty wounded on Monday by a car bomb in a district of Homs that is home to members of Syrian President Assad’s Alawite sect, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Homs has seen some of Syria’s worst violence since the outbreak of the war. Only a handful of districts in the heart of the city remain in rebel control. The city has been under siege for nearly two years and residents survive on little more than herbs and suffer daily shelling. In Aleppo, heavy fighting between rebels and regime loyalists continued on Monday, as helicopters dropped a barrel bomb on an opposition area of the city, the Observatory said. At least one man was killed by regime shelling, while clashes raged on the city’s front lines. Eleven troops were killed in Monday’s fighting. [Naharnet, 3/17/2014]

Syria attacks rebel holdouts in Qalamoun

Syrian regime forces began an assault Monday on the last rebel-held areas in the Qalamoun mountains, which is strategically located on the Lebanese border. This follows the capture of the town of Yabroud by Syrian troops and Hezbollah fighters on Sunday. The loss of Yabroud marked a significant setback for the rebels as it severs their supply lines from across the border. According to a security source in Damascus, “The aim of the army operation is to entirely secure the border and to close all corridors to Lebanon.” Two Nusra fighters including one commander were killed in the Qalamoun region Monday. An army lieutenant commander was killed when his plane crashed landed on the approach to the Nasseriya military airport in Damascus, on route back from Qalamoun. In addition, a source close to Hezbollah said a Hezbollah commando raid killed thirteen rebel leaders. [The Daily Star, 3/18/2014]


Saudi officials pledge political and economic support
On Monday, Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa met with Foreign Affairs Minister Prince Saud al-Faysal, the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Prince Abdelaziz Ibn Abdallah Ibn Abdelaziz, and the latter’s aides, Youssef al-Saadoun and Nasser al-Breik. Prince Saud al-Faysal voiced the Kingdom’s readiness to support Tunisia politically and economically. On Sunday, Jomaa me with Prince Muqrin Ibn Abdallah Ibn Abdelaziz Al Saud, second Deputy Prime Minister and Special Envoy of the Custodian of the two Holy Mosques. Prince Muqrin expressed his country’s keenness to provide political and economic support to Tunisia. Jomaa left for Qatar on Monday afternoon. [TAP, 3/17/2014]

United States committed to diversifying mechanisms of support to Tunisia’s transition
On Monday, in Tunis, US Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Heather Higginbottom stressed the United States’ commitment to increase and diversify mechanisms to support Tunisia’s transition at the economic and financial levels, in particular. At a meeting with Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Faysal Gouia, Higginbottom stated that the Strategic Dialogue, to be launched when Prime Minister Jomaa visits Washington in April, will be “a milestone in bilateral relations that would help develop partnership.” [TAP, 3/18/2014]

Three terrorist suspects from Monday’s raid involved in attack in Ouled Manaa
On Monday, security forces surrounded a house in the Jendouba region along the Algerian border and killed three suspected jihadists. According to the interior ministry, the suspects were involved in last month’s terrorist attack of Ouled Manaa. Two of the suspects have been identified as Ragheb Hanachi and Rabii Saaidani while the identity of the third has not yet been confirmed. Six policemen were injured in the raid. [TAP, Tunisia Live, 3/17/2014]


Three years on, no justice for Sana’a protest killings
Amnesty International (AI) is calling on Yemen to bring justice those responsible for the “Day of Dignity” massacre and revoke the 2012 immunity law. On March 18, 2011, unidentified gunmen opened fire during a peaceful protest in Sana’a’s Change Square, killing fifty demonstrators and bystanders. Senior officials—including former President Ali Abdullah Saleh—have yet to be investigated or charged in connection with the killing, but are widely believed to be implicated. In Yemen, demonstrators are remembering the event with mock funeral processions as the government plans on distributing compensatory funds to victims families. [Amnesty, 3/18/2014]

National dialogue members hold town hall meeting
Yemenis from around the country gathered at the Movenpick Hotel on Sunday to ask questions and share concerns about the National Dialogue Conference outcomes that are expected to shape the new country. Most questions and concerns centered around the country’s unemployment, the deteriorating economy, constant sabotage against oil and electricity infrastructure, violence in the north and the general security vacuum in the country, as well as a lack of services from the government. [Yemen Times, 3/18/2014]

Diesel, propane shortage lead gas stations to shut down
Gas stations around the capital have had to shut down this week following increased shortages of diesel fuel and propane gas. The last severe diesel fuel shortage occurred in early November 2013, when thousands of drivers were forced to queue in front of gas stations across the country in order to buy diesel and propane. Diesel is available on the black market—for higher prices, according to a local taxi driver. Supplies of regular gasoline are also spotty, but more readily available than diesel fuel. [Yemen Times, 3/18/2014]

South Yemen suicide car bomb kills one
A suicide car bombing at a military intelligence headquarters in southern city of Aden Tuesday killed one person and wounded a dozen others. A security official believes al-Qaeda to be behind the attack. Elsewhere, in Shabwa province, three suspected al-Qaeda members–including a Saudi national–were killed on Sunday when a car bomb they were preparing detonated by accident. [Al Arabiya, 3/18/2014]


Saudi-Qatar spat continues
Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said his country’s ongoing diplomatic spat with Qatar is likely to be solved unless Doha changes its policies. The editor in chief of the Egyptian newspaper Al Shurooq said on Egypt’s Al Tahrir TV that Saudi Arabia has credible documentary evidence proving that Qatar’s security services encouraged former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to assassinate Saudi King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz when he was crown prince. The editor in chief, Emad al-Din Hussein, cited a “Gulf diplomatic source who attended Arab foreign ministers’ meetings.” It is not clear if the documentary evidence that Saudi Arabia reportedly holds has been presented to Qatar yet. Qatar has insisted that Saudi Arabia back its charges against it with evidence. [Al-Bawaba, Gulf News, 3/18/2014]

Hezbollah’s Yabroud triumph makes Lebanon bigger target
Hezbollah’s victory in the Syrian rebel stronghold of Yabroud is likely to increase security incidents and widen the sectarian divide in Lebanon, while boosting chances that the party’s popular base will be targeted by more terror attacks, analysts and experts said. On Tuesday, Hezbollah gunmen and Shiite residents tightened their chokehold on the Sunni town of Arsal near the Syrian border. The standoff around the eastern town of Arsal is the latest in an ever-growing spillover of the Syrian conflict into Lebanon. Shiite gunmen set up roadblocks and closed off the road connecting the town to the rest of Lebanon. Arsal is a town of 40,000 Lebanese and 52,000 Syrian refugees for whom the road is a vital lifeline. [Naharnet, The Daily Star, 3/18/2014]

Three killed in sectarian clashes in Algerian city
Calm returned to Ghardaia, a desert city in Algeria, on Monday after weekend clashes between Arabs and Berbers left three dead, dozens injured, and homes and businesses burned. Ghardaia is home to both Algerian Arabs and the ancient Mozabite Berber community that speaks its own language and follows its own school of Islam. Tensions have been high between the communities for the past few months. The two communities compete over limited jobs, land and housing in the impoverished south. [Al Arabiya, 3/17/2014]

Iraq bill sparks fury over child marriage claims
A bill before Iraq’s parliament that opponents say legalizes child marriage and marital rape has sparked controversy. Opponents say the bill represents a step back for women’s rights in Iraq, and worry that it could further fray already fragile sectarian ties between the country’s various communities amid heightened violence ahead of April parliamentary polls. The bill, the Jaafari Personal Status Law, sets out rules to do with inheritance, marriage and divorce. Critics point in particular to a clause of Article 147 in the bill which allows for girls to divorce at the age of nine, meaning they could conceivably marry even earlier, and another article which would require a wife to have sex with her husband whenever he demands. Supporters of the draft, named after a Shiite Muslim school of jurisprudence, say it simply regulates practices already existing in day-to-day life. [Ahram Online, 3/18/2014]