Islamist militants took over Libya’s Bahi oil station and the Mabrouk oilfield on Tuesday when security forces guarding the installations were forced to retreat. Both locations were empty after staff were evacuated earlier, but Islamist militants claiming loyalty to Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) also assaulted the Mabrouk oilfield last month. Elsewhere, ISIS militants attacks the al-Dhahra oilfield, prompting a counterattack by the Islamist-backed Tripoli-based government that involved airstrikes to drive the militants out. [ReutersAP, 3/4/2015] 



Cairo court upholds jail terms for policemen in Khaled Said murder case
A Cairo court on Wednesday rejected appeals by two policemen, upholding ten year jail sentences over the torturing to death of Alexandria native Khaled Said. The decision by the Court of Cassation, Egypt’s highest criminal court and legal authority, is final and cannot be appealed. The pair were sentenced to seven years in prison in 2011. In a retrial in March 2014 after an appeal, the defendants were sentenced to ten years in jail. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, Aswat Masriya, Reuters, 3/4/2015]

Justice minister says Hamas members in Egypt to be arrested, assets frozen
Hamas members will be arrested and their money and headquarters will be confiscated, Justice Minister Mahfouz Saber said Tuesday, after a court ruling branding the group a terrorist organization. Saber told state media that the government-run committee, which has been involved in freezing assets of the now banned Muslim Brotherhood, would start to do the same for all Hamas assets and possessions. He added that the Central Bank of Egypt would be notified to implement the freezing of members’ assets in different bank accounts. Meanwhile, al-Jama’a al-Islamiya, the Wasat Party, and Strong Egypt party condemned the court verdict, while Hamas has said it is contacting Egyptian authorities to address the consequences of the ruling. [DNE, 3/4/2015]

Egypt negotiates with Palestinian Islamic Jihad on Rafah crossing sources say
Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) has offered Egypt an initiative on administering the Rafah-Gaza border, sources said. PIJ Secretary General Ramadan Shallah visited Cairo on Sunday to discuss the situation at the Rafah-Gaza border with Egyptian officials, as Egypt reportedly demanded all Hamas staff stop all contacts with the Egyptian side. Egypt has increasingly expressed its distaste for Hamas rule in Gaza stressing it will only deal with the Palestinian Authority on this issue, sources said. An Egyptian intelligence source said that Cairo has been dealing for a while with the PIJ. The source added that Jihad, the second largest Islamist organization in Gaza, has shown more “flexibility” in dealing with Egypt than Hamas. [Ahram Online, 3/4/2015]

Russian defense minister to sign protocol with Egypt on military cooperation
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Tuesday that his country and Egypt plan to sign a protocol on military cooperation that will set the guidelines for a long-term agreement. Shoigu said it was time to start an agreement with “concrete content,” with special focus on joint anti-terrorism efforts. “Naturally, our focus will be issues of training Egyptian servicemen at Russian higher education establishments of the Russian defense ministry and a number of other matters of mutual interest,” he said. According to RT, the two countries have agreed to hold a joint naval drill in the Mediterranean and to carry out joint anti-terrorist exercises. Defense Minister Sedki Sobhi said Egypt appreciates Russia’s “supportive” position, adding that cooperation between the two countries serves to preserve peace and security in the Middle East and the world. [Egypt Independent, Aswat Masriya, SIS, 3/4/2015]

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Militants take over Libya’s Bahi, Mabrouk oilfields; Tripoli responds with airstrikes
Islamist militants took over Libya’s Bahi oil station and the Mabrouk oilfield on Tuesday when security forces guarding the installations were forced to retreat. Both locations were empty after staff were evacuated earlier, but Islamist militants claiming loyalty to Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) also assaulted the Mabrouk oilfield last month. Elsewhere, ISIS militants attacks the al-Dhahra oilfield, prompting a counterattack by the Islamist-backed Tripoli-based government that involved airstrikes to drive the militants out. [Reuters, AP, 3/4/2015]

After Morocco, UNSMIL political dialogue to move to Algeria
Following this week’s session of the UN-brokered dialogue between the Tobruk-based House of Representatives and the Tripoli-based General National Congress in Morocco, due to start on Thursday, the participants will then head to Algeria early next week for further meetings. According to the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL), the Algerian session will be followed with a round of discussions in Brussels involving representatives from a number of Libyan municipalities and then a meeting with tribal leaders and social groups. The decision to involve Morocco and Algeria is a diplomatic gesture by the UN, taking into account the deep rivalry between the two countries and the role both can play in resolving the Libyan crisis. [Libya Herald, 3/3/2015]

Clashes between army-ISIS in central Benghazi
Violent fighting was reported in downtown Benghazi between the Libyan National Army and Islamist militants. The army has waged a campaign to clear the city of Islamist fighters and almost entirely controls the city, but parts are still held by Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants and Ansar al-Sharia. Also, two soldiers died in dual car bomb explosions at a checkpoint near the city. Twenty-four soldiers were reported killed during February in army clashes with the jihadists in Benghazi. [Ansamed, 3/4/2015]

Tunisia’s draft anti-terrorism law submitted to cabinet
Tunisia’s draft anti-terrorism and money laundering law will be submitted Wednesday to the cabinet meeting before being brought before the general legislation committee. A draft law for the creation of a supreme judicial council is another top priority for the new government. Five parliamentary committees were also established, they are the rules of procedure, immunity, parliamentary, and election laws committee, the general legislation committee, the rights, freedoms, and external relations committee, the youth, culture, education, and scientific research committee, and the committee of the organization of administration and armed forces. [All Africa, 3/3/2015]

Army still conducting operations to round up terrorists; two Islamist militants killed
The Tunisian army is still conducting operations to round up terrorists on the country’s western heights. The efforts are focused on clearly identified targets, such as destroying localized hideouts or eliminating holed up or moving terrorists. Also during the operation, Tunisian police killed two Islamist militants during clashes in the Chaambi mountains near the Algerian border. Previously, militants have targeted the police and military in ambushes in this region. [All Africa, Reuters, 3/4/2015]


Iraqi forces seek to encircle ISIS in Tikrit
Iraqi army soldiers and Shia militiamen, believed to receive support from Iran, are seeking to encircle Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) fighters in Tikrit, on the third day of a major operation to retake the city. The Iraqi army said Wednesday that its strategy for retaking the ISIS stronghold is to surround the city and focusing on preventing ISIS from launching more attacks and cutting supply lines before launching an assault. Backed by jets and helicopters, the 30,000-strong force is moving in from three main directions, their progress slowed by suicide bombers, sniper fire, and booby traps and the forces have not managed yet to retake al-Dawr and al-Alam, towns south and north of Tikrit, respectively, which command access to the city. Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey said Tuesday Iran’s role in an Iraqi military offensive to recapture Tikrit could be positive as long as it does not fuel sectarian divisions in the country.[BBC, AFP, 3/4/2015]

British citizen fighting with Kurds killed in Syria; Seven Afghan Shia fighters killed in Syria
Royal Marine Konstandinos Erik Scurfield has become the first Briton to be killed while fighting alongside the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) against ISIS in Syria’s al-Hasakah province. Another foreign fighter battling with the Kurds, American Jordan Matson, said he was with the body on Wednesday and was working on getting the remains back to Britain. “We’re trying to make contact with his mother to see what her wishes are. … Otherwise, he wished to be buried here under an olive tree.” At least one other foreign fighter, Australian Ashley Johnson is known to have been killed fighting alongside the Kurds. On Tuesday, Iran was to hold a memorial service for seven Afghans, including the commander of Afghan volunteer unit the Fatemiyoun Brigade, killed fighting alongside the Syrian regime forces in Deraa province.[AP, BBC, AFP, 3/4/2015]

Syria’s Nusra Front may leave al-Qaeda to form new entity [Reuters, 3/4/2015]
Leaders of Syria’s Nusra Front are reportedly considering cutting their links with al-Qaeda to form a new entity backed by some Gulf states trying to topple President Bashar al-Assad. Sources within and close to Nusra said that Qatar, which enjoys good relations with the group, is encouraging the group to go ahead with the move, which would give Nusra a boost in funding. The exercise could transform Nusra into a force capable of taking on ISIS and boost the influence of Qatar and its allies in the campaign to oust Assad, in line with the Gulf state’s growing diplomatic ambitions in the region. Nusra has recently turned on smaller non-jihadi groups, such as the former US-backed Hazm Movement, seizing their territory and forcing them to disarm to consolidate Nusra’s power in northern Syria. [Reuters, 3/4/2015]

Assad accuses Erdogan of backing extremism
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accused his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan of backing extremism as he met Tuesday with visiting Turkish opposition figures. The delegation included figures from various Turkish opposition parties and was led by Dogu Perincek, head of the ultranationalist Homeland Party. “Erdogan leads with a destructive policy that does not serve at all the interest of his people, by supporting takfiri forces,” SANA quoted Assad. Turkey and the United States recently agreed in principle to train and equip Syrian rebels. In related news, Turkish National Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz said Wednesday that Turkey is ready to give any kind of “intelligence and logistical support” to the Iraqi government in fighting terrorism and that Turkey will continue with its military aid to the Iraqi government, after two C-130 Turkish military planes landed in Muthenna Air Base in Baghdad on Tuesday. [Al-Akhbar English, AFP, 3/4/2015]


Five dead in al-Qaeda suicide attack on Houthis in central Yemen
Five people were killed in an al-Qaeda suicide attack on a Houthi outpost in central Yemen on Tuesday, highlighting the volatility of a country torn by violence. Five people were also wounded in Tuesday’s attack by a suicide bomber who detonated a vehicle laden with explosives on a youth center used by the Houthi militia as an outpost in the city of al-Beida. In the south of Yemen, al-Qaeda is continuing its offensive by attacking a Houthi military base in Lahj. [Reuters, Mareb Press, 3/3/2015]

US ambassador to Yemen will operate out of Jeddah
The US ambassador to Yemen will work out of the Saudi port city of Jeddah, more than 700 miles from the southern city of Aden where President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi is located. The United States will not move its embassy to Aden, as some Gulf countries have done, to avoid any suggestion that Washington accepts a de facto division of Yemen. Ideally, the US State Department would like to set up an arrangement where another country still operating out of Sana’a functions as a “protecting power,” to represent US interests there. [Washington Post, Al Masdar, 3/4/2015]

United Nations urges parties to maintain Yemen’s unity
The United Nations Security Council urged all parties to cooperate with the negotiations and to work toward maintaining the integrity of Yemen. In a briefing to the UNSC, UN Special Advisor on Yemen Jamal Benomar expressed his frustration over the Houthis’ reluctance to resolve the crisis according to the council’s recommendations. Benomar visited President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi on Wednesday in Aden where he discussed the progress of the negotiations. Earlier this week, President Hadi suggested that the negotiations be moved out of Sana’a to Riyadh. [Al Masdar, Mareb Press, SABA, 3/4/2015]

Saudi to ask Pakistan for troops to protect kingdom from extremists
Saudi Arabia is to press Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to boost the number of Pakistani troops in the kingdom to help bolster Riyadh’s defenses against Islamist militants including the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). It is not clear how many Pakistani troops there are currently in Saudi Arabia, although it is understood the numbers deployed are modest. Analysts say Islamabad is cautious about broadening its security relationship with Riyadh. Riyadh has grown more anxious about security after the takeover of Yemen by Houthi rebels, say western diplomats who have followed the Saudi-Pakistan discussions over the past year. [Financial Times, 3/4/2015]


Egypt’s cabinet approves long-awaited investment law
Egypt’s cabinet approved a long-awaited draft law on investment, aimed at making deals less vulnerable to legal disputes or changes in government and reducing bureaucratic hurdles. The investment law aims to create a “one-stop shop” to make Egypt more attractive to foreign investors. It is also expected to protect investors from changes in the price of land agreed to in contracts with the government. The government seeks to address foreign investors’ concerns before an economic conference Egypt plans for mid-March, when it hopes to secure domestic and foreign investment of up to $12 billion. [Reuters, 3/4/2015]

Libyan oil production jumps despite new attacks on fields
According to top officials, Libyan oil production has jumped in recent days despite fresh attacks on fields and an air raid near a terminal. Two oil fields in central Libya that had been attacked last month were stormed again by unknown gunmen overnight. Nevertheless, a spokesman for the state-owned National Oil Corporation said production is currently “about 500,000 barrels a day” compared to an average of 325,000 barrels a day in January following the resumption of oil facilities. This mixed news underscores the difficulty for Libya to stabilize its oil industry amid a civil war between Islamist and secular factions. [WSJ, 3/4/2015]

Morocco most indebted Arab and African country
According to a new report by McKinsey Global Institute, Morocco is the most indebted among Arab and African countries. The kingdom’s debt-to-GDP ratio stands at 136 percent. Morocco comes ahead of both Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which have succeeded in reducing their debts. The report calls on Moroccan policy-makers and their counterparts in countries with high percentage of debts to consider more ways to reduce government debt and reevaluate how incentives in the tax system encourage the amassing of debt. [Morocco World News, 3/3/2015]

Qatar real GDP growth set to accelerate to 7 percent in 2015
According to a QNB report, Qatar’s real GDP growth has been forecast to accelerate to 7 percent in 2015, 7.5 percent in 2016, and 7.9 percent in 2017 as the government continues to invest heavily in the non-hydrocarbon sector. The non-hydrocarbon sector is projected to continue its double-digit growth on large investments in construction, financial services, and real estate. The large influx of expatriate workers, driven by major investment projects, will add to aggregate demand, putting moderate pressure on domestic inflation. Counterbalancing this, foreign inflation is expected to slow in 2015-17 as international commodity prices fall on weak global demand, record food harvests, and a stronger dollar. Overall inflation is projected to slow to 2.5 percent in 2015. [Gulf Times, 3/4/2015]