Top News: More Than 150,000 Killed In Syria Conflict

More than 150,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011, a monitoring group said in a new tally released on Tuesday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had documented the deaths of 150,344 people, 51,212 of them civilians, including nearly 7,985 children. The group said 37,781 members of the armed opposition had been killed in the fighting, including jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), and al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front. A total of 58,480 regime forces, including more than 35,000 soldiers had also been killed. Among those killed fighting on the government side were 364 members of Hezbollah. Another 2,871 people were recorded as having died but their identities remained unknown. [AFP, 4/1/2014]


Sabbahi campaign claims breaches as signature collections begins
The presidential campaign of Egyptian Nasserist candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi said violations occurred on the first day of the period in which candidates can register to run for the presidential race. The campaign said in a statement on Monday that, as Egyptians began filing recommendation forms for presidential candidates, some forms were processed without the physical presence of their signatories. The statement released by Sabbahi’s campaign also said signatories backing a “certain candidate” were mobilized in private buses and that numerous employees at notary offices refused to register forms for Sabbahi. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, 4/1/2014]

Egypt group calls for joint protest; April 6 condemns sentencing of four members
Egyptian political groups and families of detained protesters announced they will hold a protest in Cairo on Thursday afternoon calling for the release of detainees. “We know they are all being denied their basic rights and that their trials are politicized, we want to stand together and declare our solidarity for all those unjustly jailed,” the Freedom for the Brave campaign wrote on its Facebook page. The demonstration will be held during a week witnessing multiple trials of “revolutionaries and students,” the campaign said. The Misdemeanor Court of Minya, sentenced four students belonging to the April 6 Youth Movement to three years in prison, Monday, and fined each of them LE50,000, for violating the law regulating protests. April 6 issued a statement condemning the sentence describing it as retaliatory. It accused Minya police of targeting the movement and fabricating charges against its members. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, 4/1/2014]

Britain orders probe of Muslim Brotherhood
British Prime Minister David Cameron has told the country’s intelligence agencies to investigate the Muslim Brotherhood, amid reports the group is using London as a base to plan militant activities after a crackdown in Egypt. The review is being led by Britain’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia John Jenkins. A Downing Street spokesperson said that “given the concerns about the group and its alleged links to violent extremism, it’s absolutely right and prudent that we get a better handle of what the Brotherhood stands for, how they intend to achieve their aims and what that means for Britain.” The Egyptian foreign ministry welcomed Britain’s decision to investigate Brotherhood’s activities on its soil, expressing hopes that the issue be dealt with in all seriousness and urgency. [AP, AFP/Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya (Arabic), 4/1/2014]

US Embassy denies Washington postponing return of Egypt army helicopters
The US Embassy in Cairo issued a statement on Tuesday to correct what it called inaccurate reports that have been recently circulated about holding Apache helicopters belonging to Egypt by the United States. Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy claimed in a press statement earlier that the United States had refused to return the Apache helicopters belonging to Egypt sent to Washington for maintenance. “In fact, one helicopter was sent to the United States for an upgrade. That upgrade is complete, and it is available to be shipped back to Egypt at any time,” the embassy said in its statement. It however pointed out that “The United States continues to hold delivery of new Apache helicopters as a part of the US administration’s review of assistance to Egypt.” [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, 4/1/2014]


East Libyan rebels close to deal to reopen ports, according to state media
Rebels in eastern Libya are close to reopening three oil ports they have occupied since last summer to press Tripoli for autonomy and a greater share of oil revenue, a leader from the rebels’ tribe told state media on Monday. The announcement, coming on the heels of the government releasing three rebels who boarded the tanker that loaded illicitly-obtained oil, will still be met with skepticism. The same tribal leader predicted in December that the heavily-armed rebel militia would end their blockade of the three ports, which previously accounted for 600,000 barrels of oil a day. Saleh Atawich, the top Magharba leader who is from the same tribe as port rebel leader Ibrahim Jadhran, said there are indications of a breakthrough but gave no specific time frame. [Reuters, 3/31/2014]

Libya releases three rebels who boarded tanker at rebel port, says official
Libya has released three rebel fighters who had boarded a tanker loading oil at a rebel-held port before it was returned to Tripoli by the US navy, an official said on Monday. The attorney general ordered the release following comments by some lawmakers that this would help solve the blockage of oil ports by the rebels, according to Sadiq al-Sour, head of the attorney’s investigations department. Sour said he regretted the release which had been made on political grounds. “These are people who committed crimes,” he said. “Now justice is entering political conflicts.” Staff members at the attorney general’s office have criticized the decision to release the three Libyans, expressing concern that the decision was made without consultation and under pressure from some members of the General National Congress and the government. [Reuters, 3/31/2014]

EU launches 3 million Libyan media support projects
Deutsche Welle Akademie has announced a joint project with the European Union and the Institute for War and Peace Reporting titled “Media in Libya – Stability through Structure.” The program, costing €3 million, aims at “the consolidation of the state of democratic reform and institution building in Libya by supporting the emergence of a free high-quality press and media, and thereby enhancing the context for political development in particular through the constitutional process.” The project comprises four clusters: media governance and regulatory framework, public media transition scheme, journalism independence initiative, and Libyan content development fund. The latter fund will award grants to Libyan outlets that are aimed at building capacities to produce high-quality media content relevant to the political transition democracy, good governance, human rights, the role of women in society, constitutional process and minorities rights. [Libya Herald, 4/1/2014]

Libya and Tunisia agree to reopen Ras Jedir border crossing on Sunday
The Libyan-Tunisian joint border committee has agreed to reopen Ras Jedir border crossing next Sunday. It followed a strike in Ben Guerdane earlier in the day by local youth and commercial interests in protest of the continuing closure. Attending the talks were security officials and representatives of civil society on both sides of the border, as well as the governor of Medenine. The crossing has been closed since the beginning of March due to security concerns, including disputes among border guards and attacks on drivers. There was a brief reopening on March 16, which only lasted for five hours. [Libya Herald, 4/1/2014]


More than 150,000 killed in Syria conflict
More than 150,000 people have been killed in Syria since the conflict began in March 2011, a monitoring group said in a new tally released on Tuesday. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said it had documented the deaths of 150,344 people, 51,212 of them civilians, including nearly 7,985 children. The group said 37,781 members of the armed opposition had been killed in the fighting, including jihadists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS), and al-Qaeda affiliate al-Nusra Front. A total of 58,480 regime forces, including more than 35,000 soldiers had also been killed. Among those killed fighting on the government side were 364 members of Hezbollah. Another 2,871 people were recorded as having died but their identities remained unknown. [AFP, 4/1/2014]

United States still opposed to anti-aircraft weapons for rebels
Reports that a trip by US President Barack Obama to Saudi Arabia produced a shift in Washington’s policy on arming Syrian rebels with anti-aircraft weapons were emphatically denied Monday by the State Department. The statement comes after mounting media speculation that during Obama’s visit, a US-Saudi agreement had been reached on supplying the insurgents with MANPADS, or shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles, which have long been demanded by both rebels on the ground and the chief opposition-in-exile body, the National Coalition. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf, during a press briefing in Washington, declined to say whether Kerry and Lavrov specifically discussed the issue, but maintained that there was no change in policy. “We have said it’s a proliferation risk – this wasn’t an issue that was even discussed in the meeting in Saudi Arabia” with King Abdullah. She cited the possible use of the weapons to target civilian aircraft as one example. [The Daily Star, 4/1/2014]

Turkish military fires into Syria after rocket hits mosque
The Turkish military fired back into Syria on Monday in retaliation for mortar shells and a rocket from over the border that hit a mosque in the town of Yayladagi. Three mortar rounds landed on Turkish soil, fired during fighting between the Islamist rebels in Syria and forces loyal to the Syrian government for control of the Armenian village of Kasab. Islamist insurgents launched an offensive about ten days ago into the Latakia region on the Mediterranean coast, taking both the border crossing and Kasab on the Syrian side. Since then, the regime has sent army and militia reinforcements, backed by air power, to repulse the rebels, leading to heavy fighting across the strip of territory along the Turkish border, and the retaking a key town on Tuesday. Syria’s information minister on Sunday lashed out at Turkey, accusing Ankara of sending foreign fighters “armed to their teeth” across the border to fight regime troops in Latakia province. Despite convincing electoral victories across the country on Sunday, Erdogan’s AK Party lost control of the border province, Hatay, in a stinging defeat. [Reuters, 3/3/2014]


Police officers sentenced to seven years for rape
Two police officers were sentenced to seven years in prison on Monday for raping a young woman in 2012, a third was sentenced to two years on a bribery charge. Following the verdict, the defense stated that “The ruling was lenient and unfair. The law is tougher when it comes to rape, a normal person is punished with ten years, the ruling is a catastrophe for Tunisian women.” “Meriem” was stopped by the three police officers while in her car with her fiancé in 2012. She said the two police took turns raping her and a third threatened and demanded money from her fiancé. The two policemen denied the charge, claiming to have found the couple having sex in their car and charged them with public indecency. The public indecency charges sparked protest and were later dropped. [Ahram Online, Tunisia Live, 4/1/2014]

Mehdi Jomaa starts official visit to the US
Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa begins his four-day visit to the US on Tuesday in New York. Jomaa will meet with President Barack Obama on April 4 at the White House. The meeting will mark the commencement of the Tunisian-US strategic dialogue, which is intended to foster bilateral relations and will focus on security and economic cooperation. Jomaa will meet with US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, Secretary of the Treasury Jacob Lew, International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Christine Lagarde and World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim. He will also have a set of meetings with officials in the US administration and Congress. In New York, Jomaa will meet with Google and Microsoft. [TAP, 4/1/2014]

US Department of State lifts travel warning
The US Department of State announced the lifting of the travel warning for Tunisia, which has been in place since September 15, 2012, following the attack on the US embassy in Tunis by religious extremists. The state department released a statement that “After assessing the current situation in Tunisia, the Department of State determined that circumstances did not merit extending the Travel Warning for Tunisia.” [TAP, 31/3/2014]


Emergency meeting held Monday discussing security, economics
The government held an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss reports drafted by the ministers of interior and finance. The interior minister emphasized the threat of terrorism and stressed the importance of anti-terrorism legislation and stopping attacks on oil and gas infrastructure to secure “the interests of the country and the stability of various oil companies.” The minister of finance also emphasized petroleum security, as disruptions continue to affect the government’s revenues. The meeting approved the formation of a committee headed by the ministry of planning and international cooperation that would include members of different ministries to draw up legislation addressing these issues. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 4/1/2014]

Yemenis affected by US drone strikes to launch victims’ union
Friends and family members of victims of US drone strikes in Yemen are launching a national drone victims’ organization to support affected communities and lobby for a change in Yemeni government policy regarding the covert program. The National Organization for Drone Victims (NODV), with the assistance of UK-based legal charity Reprieve, will conduct investigations of drone strikes and highlight the civilian impact of the drone program in Yemen. While the parliament passed a resolution in 2013 criminalizing drone strikes, they continue with the approval of the Yemeni administration. NODV will largely focus its efforts on getting the Yemeni government to investigate these strikes, one activist said. [Al-Jazeera, 4/1/2014]

Constitution to be completed within four months
A source in the Constitution Drafting Committee reported that the constitution will be completed within four months. The committee is currently reviewing and analyzing the outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference and holding meetings throughout Yemen. A recent meeting concluded in Taiz, and the committee will resume meetings in Sana’a on Thursday. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 4/1/2014]

Al-Qaeda announces new branch tasked with fighting the Houthis
A recent statement by from al-Qaeda in Yemen announced the formation of Ansar al-Sharia in the Central Areas, a new jihadist group aimed at combatting the Houthi group. The statement accused the central government of plotting allow the Houthis to takeover the country. [Mareb Press (Arabic), 4/1/2014]


As campaigning begins, Anbar crisis imperils elections
Campaign posters for Iraq’s April 30 elections have gone up around Baghdad and the rest of the country as candidates vie for one of 328 parliamentary seats. However, fears are growing that Iraq’s tumultuous Anbar province will be unable to participate in elections due to a recent surge in violence. The Iraqi security forces’ Joint Operations Command has stepped up operations against insurgents in the province in a pre-emptive step to prevent them from moving on Baghdad. Meanwhile, the leader of the Muttahidun bloc in the Iraqi parliament, Salman Al-Jumaili, blamed Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki’s State of Law Coalition for boycotting two parliamentary sessions to discuss the Anbar crisis. [The Daily Star, Asharq al-Awsat; 4/1/2014]

Bahrain’s Wefaq releases statement on Marzouk trial as activists convicted
Bahrain’s largest opposition society released a statement decrying the continued prosecution of Khalil Marzouk. The former MP was charged in September for supporting a terrorist organization when he held up a flag of the February 14 Youth Coalition, calling on them to renounce violence. Though he has since been released and is awaiting trial Marzouk’s imprisonment resulted in the opposition’s boycott of the national dialogue talks. The prosecution comes in a context of mass trials of activists accused of violence. Thirteen Bahrainis were sentenced to life in prison on Sunday after they were convicted of trying to kill two policemen by attacking their vehicle and of taking part in an illegal protest. Last week, the country’s criminal court sentenced twenty-six Bahrainis to ten years in jail for allegedly attacking a police station. [Wefaq, 3/31/2014]

Lebanon deploys troops to Tripoli amid unrest
The army began a heavy deployment on Tuesday to Tripoli as it began to implement a security plan established by the government to end violence in the area. There are frequent gunbattles in Tripoli between the two neighborhoods of Bab al-Tabbaneh, which is dominated by Sunnis who support Syrian rebels, and Jabal Mohsen, which is dominated by Alawites, who share the same sect as Syrian President Bashar Assad. Clashes in Tripoli left thirty dead in March. The army began removing the barricades and sandbags from the area and carried out raids to detain suspects. Checkpoints were also erected, intensified patrols were carried out and checked the identification papers of passers-by. [Naharnet, Al Arabiya, 4/1/2014]

Lebanon passes domestic violence law amid controversy
Lebanon’s parliament has approved a much-anticipated law that protects women against domestic violence after a long campaign by women’s rights activists and the recent slaying of four women. But activists said it was not a victory for women, citing the fact that parliament ignored suggested amendments to criminalize marital rape and clearly designate the law’s protections specifically for women. Lawyer Laila Awada, a top official with Lebanese women’s rights group KAFA, Arabic for “Enough,” said that activists will continue campaigning to amend the new law. [AP, 4/1/2014]