Top News: Rebels Capture Regime’s Last Border Crossing with Jordan

Syrian rebels and fighters from the Nusra Front have captured the only functioning border crossing with Jordan and three nearby military posts, prompting government bombing raids on the area. The capture of the Nasib crossing—a crucial gateway for the Syrian government—is the latest in a series of setbacks for President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in the past week. Coalitions of rebels and Islamist fighters recently seized the government-held city of Idlib in northwestern Syria and a key town, Busra Sham, in the south. In the Palestinian refugee camp Yarmouk in Damascus, Palestinian fighters and Syrian rebels retook control Thursday of large parts of the refugee camp that had been seized by the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) on Wednesday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [Al ArabiyaAPAFP, 4/2/2015]



Egypt begins evacuation of citizens in Yemen
As the battle in war-torn Yemen escalates thousands of Egyptian expatriates have found themselves stranded with no safe exit back home. On Wednesday afternoon the Egyptian foreign ministry announced that three groups of Egyptian expats managed to leave Yemen via the Red Sea, the Saudi border, and the Omani border. The announcement came after pleas by Egyptians in Yemen to the Egyptian government to evacuate them. Saudi Arabia is to open on Thursday three border crossings to Saudi Arabia to ensure a safe exit for Egyptian expats. The foreign ministry also held an emergency meeting on Thursday to follow up on the condition of Egyptians in Yemen. Meanwhile, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said on Tuesday during a recorded speech that the Houthi rebels should “back out” of the ongoing war with the Yemeni state in order to “preserve the unity of their country.” [Ahram Online, 4/2/2015]

Cabinet approves legislation maximizing penalty for digging border tunnels
Egypt’s cabinet approved on Wednesday draft legislation proposed by the president punishing those who dig or use border tunnels for communication with foreign countries with life in prison. The draft law amends Article 82 in the penal code, adding that the life-in-prison penalty would punish whoever “digs, prepares or uses a road, a passage or an underground tunnel at border areas to communicate with a foreign body, a state or one of its subjects” or to help persons, goods, equipment or machines in and out of the country. The same penalty applies to those who are aware of the use (or planned use) of underground tunnels for the aforementioned purposes without informing the concerned authorities. The legislation also allows the government to seize any buildings beneath which tunnels are dug or tools used to dig them. [Aswat Masriya, 4/2/2015]

230 Egyptians referred to military prosecutor over 2013 violence
Prosecutors in Beni Suef referred on Wednesday 230 Egyptians to the military prosecutor for violence-related charges in the aftermath of nationwide pro-Morsi sit-ins, which were broken up by security forces in August 2013. The defendants face charges of killing a police officer, attempted murder, torching and sabotaging public properties, storming Beni Suef governorate headquarters, and joining a banned group, in reference to the Muslim Brotherhood. [Ahram Online, 4/1/2015]

Egypt’s foreign ministry says new restrictions on tourist visas delayed
The ministry of foreign affairs announced on Thursday a delay to new restrictions requiring individuals to pre-obtain visas at embassies instead of on arrival at Egyptian airports. The restrictions will be delayed until a new e-visa system has been set up. The decision comes after the relevant state agencies met with tourist agencies to discuss the issue. [EGYNews (Arabic), 4/2/2015]

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Air strikes hit airport in Libyan town of Zintan; Residents return to Ben Jawad
An unidentified warplane carried out air strikes on the airport in Zintan, a town in western Libya allied with the internationally recognized Tobruk-based government. While the attack did not harm anyone, officials from the Tobruk government blame Operation Libya Dawn, a militia allied with the rival Tripoli-based government. There were also three soldiers killed as unknown gunmen attacked a checkpoint controlled by Libya Dawn forces in Misrata. Meanwhile, residents of Ben Jawad are finally returning to their homes after forces loyal to the Tripoli government withdrew from a three-month battle to try and take control of the Sidra oil export terminal. The town’s entire population evacuated in December as the arrival of forces sparked a bombing campaign by Libyan National Army. [Reuters, Libya Herald, 4/1/2015]

Hassi changes his mind, hands power over to Ghwell
Shortly after Omar al-Hassi, sacked for economic mismanagement, refused to step aside as Prime Minister of the Tripoli government, he decided to hand over power to his former deputy Khalifa Ghwell. Al-Hassi originally refused to leave office, stating that he would only go if the revolutionary fighters wanted him to. The Libyan Revolutionaries Operations Room, Islamist like al-Hassi, stated that as the defenders of the revolution, it alone had legitimate authority in Libya but later changed its mind when Operation Libya Dawn released a statement that said al-Hassi must go. [Libya Herald, 4/2/2015]

Thinni meets with ambassadors to Libya, says crisis is one of security and legitimacy
Prime Minister of the Tobruk government Abdullah al-Thinni called on foreign diplomats not to press for Islamists to be included in a national unity government. Al-Thinni met with thirty-two ambassadors to Libya in Tunis this week and stated that Operation Libya Dawn, a rival militia loyal to the Tripoli government, cannot rule in any way. He framed the crisis in Libya as one of security and legitimacy, not political as much of the international community views it. He added that the arms embargo is hindering his government’s ability to secure Libya and cited Yemen as a precedent for regional intervention in his country. [Libya Herald, 4/1/2015]

Tunisian Minister of Religious Affairs calls for modern interpretation of Islam
Following the deadly attack on the Bardo Museum, the Tunisian ministry of religious affairs began a series of meetings dedicated to the prevention of extremism. Minister of Religious Affairs Othman Battikh called on imams and religious scholars to promote the principle of moderation advocated by Islam. Battikh also stressed a need for dialogue along with security measures and explained how the principles of Islam are of moderation, freedom, and brotherhood, which contradict the calls for violence, hatred, and murder. [Tunisia Live, 4/1/2015]

Judges union calls for judicial division specializing in terrorism cases
The Union of Tunisian Judges (French acronym: SMT) has called for the establishment of a judicial division specializing in terrorism cases. The SMT also wants the new division to include the public prosecutor, investigating judges, the indictment chamber, and criminal chambers specializing in terrorism to expedite the review of terrorism cases. [TAP/All Africa, 4/1/2015]

Tunisia says plans to reopen consulate in Syria, invites Damascus envoy
Tunisia plans to reopen a consulate in Syria and offered to invite the Syrian ambassador back to Tunisia three years after severing diplomatic relations with Damascus. The breakdown in ties came just a year after Tunisia’s own uprising to oust autocrat Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Foreign Minister Taieb Bakouch said a consular presence in Syria would help Tunisia glean information on the 3,000 Tunisians who have left to fight for Islamist extremists in Iraq and Syria and whom officials fear will return to carry out attacks at home. [Reuters, 4/2/2015]


Rebels capture regime’s last border crossing with Jordan
Syrian rebels and fighters from the Nusra Front have captured the only functioning border crossing with Jordan and three nearby military posts, prompting government bombing raids on the area. The capture of the Nasib crossing—a crucial gateway for the Syrian government—is the latest in a series of setbacks for President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in the past week. Coalitions of rebels and Islamist fighters recently seized the government-held city of Idlib in northwestern Syria and a key town, Busra Sham, in the south. In the Palestinian refugee camp Yarmouk in Damascus, Palestinian fighters and Syrian rebels retook control Thursday of large parts of the refugee camp that had been seized by the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) on Wednesday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. [Al Arabiya, AP, AFP, 4/2/2015]

The Nusra Front Calls for power sharing in Idlib
Islamists in Syria’s northwestern city of Idlib should set aside their differences and rule the city together said Abu Mohammed al-Jolani, head of the Nusra Front. Adding that his group does not “want to monopolize rule over Idlib city” and called on the Islamist groups to set aside differences and join forces “for the victory of Islam and Muslims.” Jolani also lambasted those seeking Western support, saying it was impossible to achieve victory in Syria with the help of “criminal killers or Western agents who stab us in the back to satisfy the Americans.” [AFP, 4/2/2015]

Looting in Iraq’s Tikrit after city retaken; Tikrit massacre burial sites found
Militiamen were seen looting shops in the centre of the Iraqi city of Tikrit on Wednesday after its recapture from ISIS in a month-long battle. The militiamen took items including clothing, shampoo, and shaving cream from two shops in central Tikrit before driving away. Two trucks were also seen leaving Tikrit loaded with new tires, a generator, and a mirror that fell out and shattered on the highway. Militiamen also spray painted the names of their groups on houses and shops in the city, including on unbroken windows that had survived the fighting. In related news, Iraqi Interior Minister Mohammed al-Ghaban said that Iraqi forces found burial sites believed to hold victims of the Speicher massacre in which ISIS executed hundreds of army cadets in June 2014. [AFP, 4/2/2015]

Turkey detains nine Britons crossing into Syria
Turkish security forces arrested nine British nationals, three men, two women and four children, trying to cross illegally into Syria. The Britons were arrested near Hatay province on the Turkish side of the Syrian border. It was not clear why the nine people were trying to cross the frontier. Separately, security officials also detained an Algerian-born French citizen in Turkey’s southeastern Gaziantep province. [The Guardian, AP, Reuters, Anadolu, 4/2/2015]


Conflicting reports on unidentified troops entering Aden
Thursday morning, Yemeni officials denied earlier reports of troops entering the port city of Aden. Eyewitnesses reported seeing dozens of unidentified troops landing by sea in Aden after Houthi fighters seized control of its center on Thursday and stormed the presidential palace. It was not immediately possible to verify the nationality of the troops. Houthi fighters backed by tanks pushed into the center of Aden on Wednesday and battled for control of the southern port city, despite a weeklong Saudi military offensive against them. Witnesses reported fierce street battles and high civilian casualties in the Yemeni city on Wednesday night. [NYT, Reuters, AP, Mareb Press, 4/2/2015]

Al-Qaeda attacks Yemeni port city; frees prisoners
Al-Qaeda militants stormed a prison in al-Mukalla, capital of the vast eastern province of Hadramawt, on Thursday, freeing at least two hundred inmates including one of their leaders, a security official said. Al-Qaeda militants also clashed on Thursday with troops guarding the local administration complex in al-Mukalla, a branch of the central bank, and the police headquarters. Al-Qaeda militants also deployed across major roads leading into al-Mukalla, in an apparent attempt to prevent anyone from retaking the city. [Al-Masdar, New York Times, AP, 4/2/2015]

First Saudi killed in Operation Decisive Storm
The Saudi Press Agency reports that one border guard was killed and ten injured in an attack from Yemen. The incident, in which border guards came under fire from a mountainous area in Yemen, was the first of its kind on Saudi Arabia’s soil since the kingdom assembled a military coalition on March 26 to fight Yemen’s Houthi rebels. On Wednesday, a spokesman for the Saudi military told an audience that the Saudi-led operation was searching for a new leader for the Yemeni military who will reorganize the institution. Currently, much of Yemen’s military is allied with the Houthi rebels. [Reuters, Al-Masdar, 4/2/2015]

Yemen food imports disrupted
A week into Saudi-led air strikes in Yemen, food imports into the Arab world’s poorest country have ground to a halt as the conflict puts fragile supply chains under growing strain and keeps commercial suppliers away. “Although government sources reported sufficient stocks to last the country about six months, the conflict will likely negatively impact distribution, market availability and prices of foodstuffs sooner than earlier expected,” the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) representative in Yemen said. Yemen imports more than 90 percent of its food, including most of its wheat and all its rice, to feed a population of about 25 million. The collapse of the central authority and fighting on several fronts, including Aden, has already disrupted imports and the processing and distribution of wheat and other staples. [Reuters, 4/1/2015]


UAE issues new companies law to spur IPOs
The United Arab Emirates has issued a law that eases existing rules for initial public offerings (IPOs), paving the way for more listings on the country’s main exchanges. The new law lowers the minimum free float for companies considering an IPO from 55 percent to 30 percent. The previous threshold was an obstacle for companies reluctant to sell a majority stake in their businesses. The law also allows issuers to sell existing equity, while previously only new shares could be sold. In addition, IPOs can now be carried out through a book-building process, while traditionally equity offerings were done at a fixed price. [Wall Street Journal, 4/2/2015]

Syria slashes imports to save dwindling foreign reserves
Syria’s government is taking new measures to slash imports and prop up exports. Importers require government licenses that allow them to request a favorable exchange rate at the Syrian central bank, but the government has issued fewer licenses in recent months and declined to offer importers favorable rates. Two-thirds of import licenses granted in the last quarter of 2014 went to industries considered essential, including fuel, agriculture, and pharmaceuticals. The Syrian Center for Policy Research (SCPR) estimates losses to the Syrian economy totaling $202.6 billion. [AFP, 4/2/2015]

Arabtec, Egypt agree on terms for first phase of housing project
Arabtec has agreed to terms with Egypt’s Ministry of Housing for the first phase of an almost $40 billion plan to construct one million homes across the country. The first phase of the project will consist of 100,000 units to be built in Egypt’s al-Obour and Badr districts. Arabtec did not say how many phases will be part of the project or when it might conclude terms with Egypt on building the remaining 900,000 units. [Reuters, 4/2/2015]

First Saudi sovereign debt since 2007 could be seen this year
Saudi Arabia may issue sovereign debt for the first time since 2007 this year after oil’s decline sent its cash reserves plunging. The country’s central bank assets tumbled by about $20 billion in February, the largest monthly drop since 2000. Saudi Arabia may take advantage of record low interest rates and ample bank liquidity to issue debts. [Bloomberg, 4/1/2015]