Top News: Saudi-led Coalition Preventing Aid from Being Delivered to Yemen

Members of the Saudi-led coalition conducting airstrikes in Yemen are preventing a International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) plane from delivering medical supplies in Sana’a, a Red Cross spokeswoman said Tuesday. A shipment of ICRC medical supplies sufficient to treat from 700 to 1,000 people was due to arrive by plane on Tuesday for distribution to hospitals across the country that are running low on the means to treat the wounded. So far, efforts to negotiate the safe arrival of the plane have not been successful. “We still don’t have the permission from coalition members,” ICRC spokeswoman Sitara Jabeen said, declining to specify which coalition authorities were responsible for the delay. [ICRCReuters, 3/31/2015]



Egypt criticizes US reluctance to support war on terrorism
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry criticized US “reluctance” in supporting Egypt with its war against terrorism. The Foreign Minister’s assistant for US affairs, Mohamed Farid Moneib, met Monday with a delegation of US Congress representatives’ assistants. The war on terrorism and Egypt’s democratic steps post-June 30 were the main topics discussed in the meeting, according to the ministry’s statement. Moneib asserted in the meeting Egypt’s keenness on enhancing “strategic relations” between the two countries. However, he expressed “discomfort towards American reluctance with supporting Egypt with its war on terrorism.” [DNE, 3/31/2015]

Egyptian warships shell Houthis outside Yemeni city of Aden
Egyptian warships shelled a column of Houthi fighters and troops loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh as they tried to advance on the southern port city of Aden on Monday, according to reports. Yemeni journalist Abdel-Aziz al-Meguidi said that naval forces had struck Houthi reinforcements heading from Shokra to Aden. Meanwhile, Egypt is coordinating with Saudi Arabia and Oman to facilitate the return of Egyptian expats from Yemen, Egypt’s foreign ministry said on Monday. According to government figures, there are 6,000 to 7,000 Egyptian workers in Yemen. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, DNE, 3/31/2015]

Court upholds verdict banning April 6 movement
The Cairo Court for Urgent Matters upheld on Monday a previous verdict that banned the April 6 Movement and ordered the confiscation of its properties and headquarters nationwide. The court said that the movement was involved in violent attacks against security services, adding that its documents were used to create chaos through media. The movement’s two branches, the Ahmed Maher and the Democratic Front, rejected the “politicized” verdict and stressed that the court’s decision will not affect its activities. It accused the regime of trying to silence the youth, especially those who took part in the January 25 revolution. [Egypt Independent, 3/31/2015]

Egypt to inaugurate new Suez Canal next August, says Prime Minister
Egypt’s new Suez Canal is to be inaugurated in August, Egyptian Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab said on Monday at the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) summit in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa. The premier invited the summit’s guests to attend the inauguration of the newly expanded Suez Canal, which is to include a new lane to allow for ships to pass in opposite directions at the same time. He also called on them to invest in a commercial zone to be established near the extended Suez Canal. [Ahram Online, 3/30/2015]

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Al-Thinni says Arab states must intervene in Libya exactly as in Yemen
The Prime Minister of Libya’s Tobruk-based government Abdullah al-Thinni said that the Arab world could not intervene with operation Decisive Storm in Yemen without intervening in Libya, where the same type of coup has taken place. Al-Thinni added that his government had requested air strikes from the beginning in order to weaken the militias so that the Libyan army could quickly gain control over the entire country. He also thanked the Arab leaders for their supportive resolutions and explained that a number of Arab countries have stood by Libya in its legitimacy issue from the beginning, such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan. The final statement from the summit called on Arab states to provide full political and material support for the Tobruk government in Libya and support its national army. [Libya Herald, 3/30/2015]

More tankers load from eastern Libya; Output exceeds 500,000 bpd
An official said that a tanker was loading crude from the Hariga oil port in Tobruk this week, marking the eighth loading to have taken place so far this month. Tripoli’s Oil and Gas Minister Mashallah al-Zwai said that overall crude output was 528,000 barrels per day, higher than expected given the port closures due to intense fighting between rival military forces. Meanwhile, an official said that it is too early to say when Libya’s largest ports, Es Sider and Ras Lanuf, can reopen after forces loyal to the Tripoli government pulled the troops from frontlines near the terminals. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 3/30/2015]

Tunisian museum reopens after deadly attack against tourists
Tunisia’s National Bardo Museum reopened to the public Monday for the first time since extremist gunmen opened fire on foreign tourists earlier this month, killing twenty-two people. A large sign at the entrance read, “Welcome to Bardo” in English, Arabic, and French. The museum is renowned for richly colorful Roman mosaics, houses 8,000 works, and is a top destination for European cruise ship passengers and other tourists. Curator Moncef ben Moussa said that a team of experts is currently working on repairs at the museum after the attack. [AP, 3/30/2015]

Unemployed hunger strikers chain themselves in Tunis
Over 180 young Tunisians are on a hunger strike and tied themselves to a lamp post with a metal chain outside the municipal theater in downtown Tunis to protest their unemployment. The protesters feel that the government has neglected their demands since the revolution. Some have been without food for over fifteen days. Frustrated with what they described as a political impasse, strikers threatened to escalate. One of them declared that he was ready to sacrifice himself to alarm this government and let it be held accountable. [Tunisia Live, 3/30/2015]

Tunisia mulls banning niqab
The Minister of Religious Affairs Battikh Othman said that given the security situation facing the country, the niqab could be banned. He explained that wearing the niqab is a simple practice and not a religious obligation, allowing this policy to be pursued. He also said that 187 mosques are beyond the control of his ministry and that they will soon be temporarily closed, pending the regulation of their imams’ rhetoric. Othman’s comments come as Tunisia struggles to contain extremist ideology and maintain security. [L’Economiste Maghrebin (French), 3/30/2015]


EU, US, and Kuwait pledge more than $2 billion in humanitarian aid for Syrians
The European Union, the United States, and Kuwait have pledged more than $2 billion of the $8.4 billion the UN hopes to raise to help tackle the dire humanitarian situation caused by the war in Syria. Their pledges ($1.2 billion, $507 million and $500 million, respectively) were made at the opening of the third international donors’ conference for Syria, hosted by Kuwait. Kuwait’s emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, described the Syrian conflict as “the biggest humanitarian crisis in recent history… The Syrian people’s plight has spilled over to hosting countries, exhausting their resources, and it is our role to support the host countries.” Peter Maurer, president of the International Committee of the Red Cross, said the crisis was not going to end soon. “There will be at least five more years of intense humanitarian activity even if – in the best of cases – progress on a negotiated political settlement were immediate and substantive today.” [The Guardian, BBC, AFP, Reuters, 3/31/2015]

Iraq forces retake government headquarters in Tikrit from ISIS
Iraqi forces have retaken the Salahuddin provincial government headquarters in Tikrit from the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). The spokesman for the Badr militia said members of the Popular Mobilization Units took part in the fighting after some froze offensive operations last week in response to US-led air strikes. Salahuddin Governor Raad al-Juburi confirmed that the government headquarters had been retaken. Later, Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi claimed that Iraqi forces have reached the city center and now are “are moving towards the control of the whole city.” In related news, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard says a US drone strike killed two of its advisers near Tikrit, but the United States said Monday that its coalition conducted no airstrikes in the area during the time of the incident. [AFP, 3/31/2015]

Canadian parliament backs airstrikes on ISIS in Syria
Canadian legislators on Monday voted to back the government’s plans to bomb Islamic State positions in Syria. The House of Commons approved the plan 142-129. The result was never in doubt, since the ruling Conservatives have a majority in the chamber. The vote also approved the extension of Canada’s six-month mission by a year to the end of March 2016. Canada has around seventy special forces troops in northern Iraq and six Canadian jets are taking part in US-led coalition against ISIS in Iraq. [Reuters, 3/30/2015]

Regime pounds Idlib city after rebel takeover
Syrian warplanes have pounded the rebel-held city of Idlib with airstrikes since regime forces pulled out of the provincial capital over the weekend, killing at least thirty people and wounding dozens, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. One of the strikes destroyed the Syrian Red Crescent hospital, while airstrikes also targeted nearby villages in Idlib province. A coalition of insurgents, including the the Nusra Front, Ahrar al-Sham, and Jund al-Aqsa, seized the town over the weekend after a five-day battle. In related news, a Syrian military source accused Turkey and Jordan of supporting the insurgents in their Idlib offensive, saying they were “leading operations and planning them.” He added that the insurgents were using advanced communication apparatus that had been supplied to them via Turkey. [The Daily Star, 3/31/2015]

ISIS executes at least thirty civilians in Hama
ISIS terrorists have killed at least thirty-seven people, including children and women, in the government-held village of al-Mabouja in Hama province, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and Syrian state TV. Some of the victims in al-Mabouja were burned to death or beheaded. Pro-regime media says that ISIS launched an offensive early Tuesday morning, attacking multiple checkpoints surrounding al-Mabouja before they were able to reach the National Defense Forces positions.[BBC, The Daily Star, AP, 3/31/2015]


Saudi-led coalition preventing aid from being delivered to Yemen
Members of the Saudi-led coalition conducting airstrikes in Yemen are preventing a International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) plane from delivering medical supplies in Sana’a, a Red Cross spokeswoman said Tuesday. A shipment of ICRC medical supplies sufficient to treat from 700 to 1,000 people was due to arrive by plane on Tuesday for distribution to hospitals across the country that are running low on the means to treat the wounded. So far, efforts to negotiate the safe arrival of the plane have not been successful. “We still don’t have the permission from coalition members,” ICRC spokeswoman Sitara Jabeen said, declining to specify which coalition authorities were responsible for the delay. [ICRC, Reuters, 3/31/2015]

Saudi ships impose blockade on Yemen
Saudi-led naval forces imposed a blockade on Yemen’s ports as coalition air strikes on Monday repelled an advance on the southern port city of Aden by Houthi rebels and forces loyal to the former president. The move to block ports appeared aimed at preventing the Houthis from rearming. Yesterday, the coalition announced it gained full control of the airspace over Aden and bombed a number of rebel-held airports. In a press conference, Saudi Arabia’s Defense Minister told reporters the Houthis had used a recent deal signed between Yemen and Iran’s civil aviation authorities to gain military supplies from the Islamic Republic. [AP, Wall Street Journal, Asharq al-Awsat, 3/30/2015]

Saudi-led strikes hit Yemen overnight
The Saudi-led coalition continued striking Yemen for a sixth night targeting locations all across the country. The strikes focused on the Houthi’s northern stronghold of Saada and the central town of Yarim. Since the strikes began, the coalition has targeted twenty-one of Yemen’s provinces. On Monday, Saudi strikes hit a refugee camp in northern Yemen for internally displaced persons. More than 200 individuals were injured and at least forty killed. In Aden, civilian death tolls are rising as fierce fighting has taken over the city. Forces allied with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh are reportedly approaching Aden. Somalia received the first refugees fleeing the Yemeni conflict. [Reuters, AP, 3/31/2015]

Fighting spreads to five southern governorates
Violent clashes between southern popular committees, military-backed Houthis, and tribal militias have intensified in Aden and surrounding governorates since Thursday. Events in the five governorates concerned—Aden, Lahj, Abyan, Shabwa, and al-Dhale—give little indication that any side is nearing victory as casualties continue to mount. Meanwhile, members of al-Qaeda claim to have joined fighting in Abyan’s capital on Friday. A large explosion on Saturday at Badr Camp on Aden’s Mount Hadeed, said to house the largest arms depot in southern Yemen, also claimed at least 113 lives and injured 334. [Yemen Times, 3/30/2015]

Kuwait moves to ban entry for those convicted of blasphemy
A Kuwaiti parliamentary committee has endorsed a proposal to ban persons found guilty of blasphemy from entering the country. Under the proposal presented by lawmaker Abdul Rahman Al Jiran and discussed by the legal and legislative committee on Sunday, any person convicted of contempt of religions or penalized for derision of Islam or Islamic beliefs will be banned from entering Kuwait. Kuwait has previously banned controversial figures from entering the country based on other parts of Kuwaiti legal code. [Gulf News, 3/31/2015]


Visa halt negatively affects 40 percent of tourism income says former ETF Chairman
Former Chairman of the Egyptian Tourism Federation (ETF) Elhamy al-Zayat believes stopping individual visas for tourists will negatively impact the flow of tourists to Egypt during the current year. Al-Zayat added that the decision should be revised, saying, “We were surprised by the decision of the ministry of foreign affairs. No one expressed intention to make such decision.” Individual tourism represents 25 percent of the total annual tourist flow to Egypt and 40 percent of the total tourism income, according to the former ETF chairman. The expenses of individual tourists vary from $1,000 to $2,000 a week, whereas tourists that come in groups spend a maximum of $500 a week. The tourism ministry also announced a new international tourism campaign that would target emerging markets to kick-off in August. [DNE, 3/30/2015]

Iraq loses $40 billion from oil price drop
The Iraqi government will prioritize spending on security and public sector wages after the steep drop in oil prices slashed $40 billion from state revenues, an adviser to the country’s prime minister said in an interview. Iraq’s budget deficit stands at 12 percent of GDP and central bank reserves declined to $66 billion at the end of 2014 from $78 billion a year earlier. The country’s development plan has suffered a huge setback due to its reliance on oil revenues. [Zawya, 3/31/2015]

EBRD and Banque de Tunisie strengthen smaller enterprises in Tunisia
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is providing a 30 million euro loan to Banque de Tunisie, the largest Tunisian bank by market capitalization, for lending to micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) in Tunisia. The EBRD credit line will provide much needed long term financing to MSMEs, helping to strengthen and develop a vital sector for the country’s economy and generate job opportunities. [The Financial, 3/30/2015]

Tobruk promises funds for south, Benghazi salary payments
The internationally recognized government in Tobruk says it will pay approximately $14.4 million to the Benghazi General Services Company. The eastern government has also approved $12 million in funding for the southern region of Libya. Half of the $14.4 million will be used to pay salaries, while the other half will go towards paying off debts incurred by the Benghazi Services Company. Given it has limited access to central bank accounts, it is unclear how the Tobruk government will finance the payments. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 3/31/2015]