Top News: Saudi King Calls Obama to Express Regret

Saudi King Salman phoned US President Barack Obama on Monday to “express his regret” for missing a high profile summit at the White House and Camp David this week and review the agenda for the meeting with Gulf leaders, the White House said. The leaders agreed they need to work with other Gulf states “to build a collective capacity to address more effectively the range of threats facing the region and to resolve regional conflicts,” the White House said, noting the leaders agreed on the need for urgent humanitarian aid in Yemen. [Gulf News, 5/12/2015]



Middle East nuclear weapons ban proposal stumbles at UN
A UN attempt to work out a ban on nuclear weapons in the Middle East was in jeopardy after Egypt complained on Monday about the lack of progress and demanded the resignation of the Finnish coordinator of the initiative. Western officials said Arab proposals drafted by Egypt for a major nuclear non-proliferation conference at United Nations headquarters in New York could torpedo the process and push Israel to walk away. The head of Egypt’s delegation, Assistant Foreign Minister Hashim Badr, rejected any suggestion that Cairo was a spoiler and insisted that he wanted to move the process forward, not kill it. [Reuters, 5/12/2015]

Amnesty International urges Egypt, Tunisia open borders with Libya
Amnesty International has called on Egypt and Tunisia to open their borders with Libya to guarantee safe passage and shelter for refugees, saying that restrictions imposed by both countries leave migrants and refugees with no other route out of the country but embarking on a unsafe sea trip to Europe. “The world cannot continue to ignore its obligation to grant sanctuary to anyone fleeing such dreadful abuse…,” said Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director Philip Luther in a report on Monday. Amnesty International also called on wealthy countries to increase the number of resettlement places available for refugees. It also urged the international community to take effective steps to confront human rights and international humanitarian law violations by all sides of the conflict in Libya. [Egypt Independent, 5/12/2015]

ElBaradei says failure to honor post-Morsi roadmap behind resignation
The failure to honor the political roadmap that was laid out following former president Mohamed Morsi’s ouster in 2013 was behind the resignation of former vice president Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel laureate has said. Speaking during the State of the Union Conference held in Italy from May 6-9, ElBaradei said he decided to take the opposition’s side during the uprising against Morsi’s government with the hope of establishing an inclusive political system that comprises all social groups, including Islamists. What happened later, however, was against the roadmap he had approved. In his show on al-Youm satellite channel, Amr Adib called upon the presidency and the cabinet to respond to ElBaradei’s comments. [Egypt Independent, 5/12/2015]

Justice Minister resigns amid criticism over classist remarks
Egypt’s justice minister resigned on Monday after raising a public uproar by saying in a TV interview that the children of sanitation workers are too lowly to become judges. The Sunday night comments by Justice Minister Mahfouz Saber sparked a heavy backlash on social media from Egyptians denouncing elitism and what some saw as the arrogance of Egypt’s judiciary, already under criticism for harsh sentences against government opponents. Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab said in a statement that Saber resigned out of “respect for public opinion.” Transitional Justice Minister Ibrahim al-Heneidy will head the Ministry of Justice until the appointment of a new minister. [Ahram Online, Mada Masr, Egypt Independent, Aswat Masriya, AP, SIS, 5/12/2015]

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Misrata mayor’s visit to UAE upsets local Muslim Brotherhood
Mayor of Misrata Mohamed Ishtewie’s visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) last week sparked a small protest, believed to have been organized by the local Muslim Brotherhood. Ishtewie said that the visit was a chance to present Misrata’s point of view and discuss the UAEs involvement in air strikes on Libyan targets last year. The Emiratis repeated earlier denials of involvement in such attacks. But a more surprising statement from the mayor was that the Emiratis said they would no longer support General Khalifa Haftar and that they said he was a source of tension in Libya and a concern. A source close to the dealings said that the UAE saw the Misrata visit as a chance to draw it back into the fold and away from Operation Libya Dawn. [Libya Herald, 5/11/2015]

Sabratha officials meet with Zintanis in confidence-building moves
Reconciliation talks are taking place in Sabratha, west of Tripoli, between local leaders and officials from Zintan. Operation Libya Dawn and what are mainly support forces forming part of the Libyan National Army (LNA) have clashed in the region west of Tripoli. Sabratha has been firmly on the Libya Dawn side while the Zintanis have been the backbone of the LNA fighters in the area. Elders from both communities organized the recent talks, seen as part a growing rapprochement between Sabratha and Zintan. Sabratha wants to reposition itself and reach out to the other side, however, officials noted that they would not deal with General Khalifa Haftar. [Libya Herald, 5/11/2015]

Conference held in Tunisia on strengthening autonomy of supreme judicial council
Tunisian legal actors held a conference aimed at strengthening the autonomy of the supreme judicial council. The Forum of Provisional Supervision of Judicial Justice organized the conference, in collaboration with the UN Development Programme, the Office of Human Rights, and the United Nations Office against Drugs and Crime. The creation of a higher council of the judiciary, which must ensure the proper functioning and independence of the judiciary, is the subject of controversy because it is unclear whether the justice system is independent. Some claim it does not align with international standards for an independent judiciary and others say it does not have any authority yet. [L’Economiste Maghrebin (French), 5/11/2015]

Wary of disorder in Libya and Mali, Algerian army targets southern smuggling
Fearing armed chaos in neighboring Libya and renewed conflict in Mali, Algeria’s army is shifting focus from fighting Islamist militants at home to the Sahel border smuggling that feeds them in the region. Since last month, the Algerian military says it has arrested more than 650 suspected smugglers on its borders with Libya, Mali, and Niger. Militant attacks in Algeria are now rare compared with a decade or more ago, but authorities appear to be taking extra precautions against spillover from the worsening disorder in adjacent countries. The southern operation appears focused in part on smashing smuggling networks run by veteran Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar who heads an alliance of Islamist fighters involved in moving contraband. [Reuters, 5/11/2015]


Kerry to meet with Putin in Russia on Tuesday
Secretary of State John Kerry is in Russia to meet President Vladimir Putin with an eye on easing badly strained relations over conflicts in Ukraine and Syria. Kerry laid a wreath at a World War II memorial in the Black Sea resort city Tuesday before holding talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Later, he was to meet Putin on the brief visit. Kerry will seek to gauge the status of Russia’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose forces have been losing ground to rebels, and press Moscow to support a political transition that could end that war. In addition, Kerry will make the case to Putin that Russia should not proceed with its planned transfer of an advanced air defense system to Iran. [Reuters, The Guardian, WSJ, NY Times, AP, 5/12/2015]

Five million Syrians at high risk of explosive weapons
Syria has been so contaminated with weapons and bombs that the lives of five million people, including two million children, are at constant risk, Handicap International warned in a report released on Tuesday. Handicap International, which helps the disabled during conflicts, called on all parties in the conflict to abide by international humanitarian law and immediately end use of explosives in highly populated areas. It also urged humanitarian groups to include weapons risk education lessons in their programs on how to spot, avoid and report dangerous ordnance. The report said that between December 2012 and March 2015, the group analyzed 77,645 incidents — such as fighting and bombardments — and found that explosive weapons are the most commonly used weapons in Syria. It said civilians “are in grave danger, as 75 percent of these incidents took place in populated areas.” [Al Arabiya, AFP, AP, 5/12/2015]

Turkey says training, arming of Syrian rebels delayed
Turkey’s Foreign Minister says the start of a joint Turkish-US program to train and arm Syrian rebels fighting the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) has been delayed. Mevlut Cavusoglu said Monday that the program has been pushed back due to technical reasons and not because of any disagreement with the United States. He did not say when the program would start. Turkey and the United States reached a deal on training and arming the rebels in February after months of negotiations. Turkish officials had previously said training would begin in March but later pushed the start date to May. The US Defense Department has said it is aiming to train 5,000 Syrians a year for three years in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. [AP, 5/12/2015]

Regime forces pushes toward Jisr al-Shughour
Stung by recent losses, the Syrian regime is making a concerted push to reach besieged forces trapped in the rebel-held town of Jisr al-Shughour. The town in northwestern Idlib province near the Turkish border fell to a rebel coalition just over two weeks ago, but regime loyalists remain trapped inside a hospital complex. In the past few days, army troops have launched a counteroffensive in a bid to reach the besieged group and retake the town if possible. The regime’s commitment to returning to Jisr al-Shughour and freeing those trapped inside the hospital comes from President Bashar Assad himself. Last Wednesday, on Syria’s Martyr’s Day, he pledged, “The army will arrive soon to these heroes trapped in the Jisr al-Shughour hospital.” In Homs province, at least four people were killed and seventeen wounded in blasts, which were caused by motorbikes rigged with explosives in the Wadi Dahab and al-Zahra neighborhoods of the city. [AFP, The Daily Star, 5/12/2015]


Yemen ruling party to consider steps against Saleh, says GPC official
The General People’s Congress (GPC), Yemen’s ruling party, will discuss whether to withdraw backing for its leader Ali Abdullah Saleh following his declaration of support for the powerful Houthi rebel group, a leading GPC official told Asharq Al-Awsat. Speaking via phone, the GPC’s second-in-command Ahmed Ben Dagher said Saleh’s declaration of support for the Houthi movement has shifted the balance within the party, whose members will be holding a meeting in Cairo to determine their stance on the former president. The Cairo meeting will discuss ways to end the political crisis in Yemen, as well as the party’s position on peace talks scheduled to take place later this month in Riyadh. [Asharq Al-Awsat, 5/12/2015]

Air strikes hit Sana’a, UN envoy arrives hours before truce
Saudi-led air strikes pounded the rebel-held Yemeni capital Sanaa on Tuesday and the new United Nations envoy to the country arrived there hours before a five-day ceasefire after over six weeks of war was set to begin. The ceasefire was set to take effect at 11 pm local time to allow the shipment of food and medicine to the blockaded country, which aid groups warn faces a humanitarian catastrophe. Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for UN refugee agency UNHCR, said planes were poised to take off from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates bearing 300 tonnes of sleeping mats, blankets and tent material. [Reuters, 5/12/2015]

Armed groups in Aden demand Houthi withdrawal before ceasefire
Fighters battling the Houthis in the war-wrecked port city of Aden say they will not comply with any ceasefire until Al Houthi militiamen withdraw from their city. “Houthis should pull out their snipers from buildings and completely and leave the city before talking about a truce,” Ali Al Ahmadi, a spokesperson for the Popular Resistance that opposes the Houthi militarily in Aden, said. Fighters in Aden received pledges from Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi’s government in Riyadh that the Saudis are recruiting hundreds of people, mainly expatriates, and will deploy them in the south as soon as they finish their training. Still, the popular resistance committees on the ground believe that more firepower is needed to combat the Houthis rather than more military training. [Gulf News, 5/11/2015]

Saudi King calls Obama to express regret
Saudi King Salman phoned US President Barack Obama on Monday to “express his regret” for missing a high profile summit at the White House and Camp David this week and review the agenda for the meeting with Gulf leaders, the White House said. The leaders agreed they need to work with other Gulf states “to build a collective capacity to address more effectively the range of threats facing the region and to resolve regional conflicts,” the White House said, noting the leaders agreed on the need for urgent humanitarian aid in Yemen. [Gulf News, 5/12/2015]


Western allies warn of conflict over control of Libya’s national resources
The United States and five European countries warned that Libyan state institutions that control billions of euros of national assets risked being exploited by rival forces wrestling for control of the country. Libya’s central bank, the Libyan Investment Authority, the National Oil Corporation (NOC) and the Libyan Post Telecommunications and Information Technology Company together control a huge portfolio of assets ranging from stakes in some of Europe’s biggest companies to vital oil revenues. Control of state bodies has become increasingly murky as Libya has descended into near anarchy since rebels toppled Muammar Qaddafi in 2011, with two rival governments backed by armed militias now claiming legitimate authority. In a joint statement, the United States, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Britain urged that Libya’s economic, financial and energy resources be used “for the benefit of all Libyan people.” [AFP, Reuters, 5/12/2015]

UAE to invest in post-war Iraq and Yemen, signs construction agreement with Egypt
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) will invest in post-war Iraq and Yemen in an effort to stabilize the two countries through economic growth and job creation, Minister of Economy Sultan Bin Saeed al-Mansouri said. He said there will need to be an end to the fighting in Iraq and Yemen before the UAE invests. He did not state how much the UAE would invest in the two countries once fighting ended or if the government had identified any particular investment or infrastructure projects. He also suggested that the investment would come from state-owned entities and would not be in the form of aid. The UAE has also signed an agreement with Egypt’s Ministry of Housing to finance the construction of 50,000 residential properties in seventeen governorates. [Gulf News, 5/12/2015]

United States says Iraq’s Baiji oil refinery severely damaged in clashes
Iraq’s Baiji oil refinery is severely damaged and barely working, a Pentagon official said Monday, as the facility remains contested between Iraqi forces and Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants. Pentagon spokesman Army Colonel Steve Warren said that the refinery’s infrastructure has been seriously damaged and is not functioning. His comments come after Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey said last week that a US-led coalition conducted twenty-six airstrikes in and around the refinery. Warren said that the airstrikes may have damaged the refinery’s infrastructure. [Al Bawaba, 5/12/2015]

Egypt’s Central Bank says $15 billion provided for import needs over four months
The Central Bank of Egypt and local banks have provided around $15 billion for imports over the past four months, according to the bank’s governor Hisham Ramez. Ramez said the bank will not revoke a decision to impose a $10,000 daily ceiling for cash deposits in hard currency for individuals and companies. He said the decision aims to address the black market and create a unified official market. Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab called on banks to facilitate access to credit needed to import food commodities, production requirements, and fuel. [Cairo Post, 5/12/2015]