Top News: Saudi-Led Troops in Yemen

At least twenty troops from a Saudi-led Arab coalition came ashore Sunday in the southern port city of Aden on what military officials called a “reconnaissance” mission, as fighting raged between Houthi rebels and forces loyal to the nation’s exiled President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi. The Saudi-led coalition battling rebels in Yemen sent a “limited” force to the city of Aden, Yemeni sources said, in what would be its first ground deployment inside the country. A spokesman for the coalition denied that a major ground force has landed, refusing to comment on “ongoing operations.” But Yemeni government and militia forces said several dozen troops had landed in the main southern city, with some sources saying they were to assist in fighting for its international airport. [APAFP, 5/3/2015]



Egypt charges forty over alleged ISIS ties
Prosecutors referred forty people to criminal court on Sunday after an investigation revealed that they communicated with Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) fighters in Iraq and Syria, judicial sources said. The head of the south Sharqiya prosecution Belal Abu Khadra said that an investigation has “proven communication” between those referred to trial and the militant group. He said half of the defendants are in custody, while the other twenty remain at large. Meanwhile, the prosecution’s representative in Zagazig, the capital of the Nile Delta province of Sharqiya, said that the forty suspects referred to court have received military training in Syria in order to carry out “terrorist operations” inside Egypt. [AP, Aswat Masriya, 5/3/2015]

Army kills 115 suspected militants in North Sinai in April
Egypt’s armed forces has killed at least 115 suspected militants in North Sinai in April alone, the army spokesman announced on Saturday. Spokesman Mohamed Samir said in a statement that the army killed twenty-nine suspected militants in raids on North Sinai from April 20 to 30, and arrested twenty-seven wanted personnel and 106 suspects. Fifty-one “terrorist” headquarters were also destroyed, Samir added. The Tarabin tribe also captured four militants allegedly affiliated with Sinai-based militant group affiliated with the Islamic State, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis (ABM). The detained men were handed over to the armed forces in North Sinai. Another twelve suspected ABM members were killed in a military operation in North Sinai on Monday. Meanwhile, an army conscript was killed, and two conscripts and an officer injured, following a roadside explosion targeting a military vehicle in the North Sinai town of al-Arish Sunday. ABM claimed responsibility for the attack. [Aswat Masriya, 5/4/2015]

Egypt extends deployment of army units in Gulf and Red Sea area for three months
Egypt’s government agreed on Sunday to a defense ministry request to extend the deployment of Egyptian armed forces units in the Gulf area and Red Sea for another three months. In a short statement, the cabinet said that it accepted the request “for the sake of Egyptian and Arab national security.” The statement did not specify whether Egypt’s renewed mandate included the possibility of sending ground troops. A day before the announcement, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi headed to Saudi Arabia for quick talks with top Saudi leadership. The Saturday visit, which lasted less than ninety minutes, comes as Sisi and King Salman discuss bilateral ties and regional and international affairs. [Ahram Online, Reuters, SIS, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, MENA, 5/3/2015]

Two journalists arrested as Egypt marks World Press Freedom Day
The Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) documented 116 cases of violations against journalists in the first four months of 2015, according to a Sunday press release. The statement was released to mark World Press Freedom Day. Documented violations occurred mostly in Cairo, and included physical assault, detention, imprisonment, physical injury and preventing journalists from performing their duty. On Saturday, an Egyptian journalist who works for the daily al-Dostour was arrested from his home in the Nile Delta city of Behiera. On Sunday, a journalist at al-Mesreyoon and Press Syndicate member was also arrested from his home in Menoufiya governorate after security forces broke into his home and assaulted him. The Egyptian foreign ministry denied there had been any targeting of journalists. [DNE, Reuters, 5/3/2015]

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Rocket kills three at Benghazi medical center
A rocket hit a medical center in Benghazi on Friday, killing three people. Seven other people were wounded when the rocket hit a center for dispatching ambulances. It remains unclear who fired the rocket as forces loyal to the Tobruk-based government have been fighting Islamist militant groups within the city for months in order to regain control of Libya’s second-largest city. [Reuters, 5/1/2015]

French ship rescues migrants off Libyan coast; Italian ships rescue nearly 6,800
A French patrol ship rescued 217 migrants from three small boats that had run into trouble off the coast of Libya on Saturday. The rescued migrants and the suspected people smugglers have been handed over to the Italian authorities. The French patrol was responding to a call from the maritime rescue coordination center in Rome as part of the European Union’s effort to rescue migrants, named Operation Triton. Meanwhile, in the three-day period ending Sunday, 6,771 survivors were rescued at sea by the Italian navy and coast guard. [Reuters, AP, 5/4/2015]

Libya’s division and military operations leading to economic disaster, says audit bureau
The Libyan audit bureau has sounded the alarm bells, warning of dangerous indicators, economic disasters, and a lack of productivity, and cautioned that all financial indicators are negative. The warning came in the bureau’s 2014 annual report, which acknowledged that the division of the country and military operations have crippled employment and production. The report also implied that Libya’s politicians did not understand the financial danger facing the country. The audit bureau warned that the deficits will continue to multiply in 2015 if Libya follows the same economic and financial policies in view of depleting oil revenues. [Libya Herald, 5/2/2015]

Concerns in Tunisia of human rights abuses and threats to press freedom
Several NGO’s are sounding the alarm about the threat to the safety of journalists and freedom of the press in Tunisia. More than thirty attacks against journalists have been reported so far in 2015 and those primarily responsible for the attacks were security forces. Two draft bills for countering terrorism and protecting the armed forces have sparked an outcry from journalists. The draft laws are seen as a return to censorship as they propose prison sentences for those who insult or criticize the armed forces. [L’Economiste Maghrebin (French), 5/4/2015]

Tunisia’s neglected youth find their voice in hip-hop
Zone 5 rapper Mohamed Ayari and other Tunisian youth are getting out their message of rage about life on the fringes in post-revolution Tunisia through hip-hop. Despite spearheading the revolution, Tunisia’s youth still feel sidelined, and one of the few ways they are getting their voices heard is through rap – shouting to anyone who will listen that all is not well in Tunisia. Nakasaki Dali, a member of Zone 5, said in his neighborhood, youths either become rappers or take refuge in ultra-conservative Islam. Rapper Ahmed Ben Ahmed targets the police in most of his lyrics. Ben Ahmed has had his own brushes with police, being arrested in August 2013 after he performed an anti-police rap song. So far, the solution has not come for the young people through elections. Teenagers see little hope in the country’s politics, especially with the election of an octogenarian as president. [AP, 5/2/2015]


Separate talks with Syria rival sides to start Tuesday
The United Nations will start hosting separate talks with rival sides and “as many stakeholders as possible” in war-torn Syria on Tuesday in a bid to kickstart stalled negotiations to end the conflict. UN’s peace envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura will give a news conference around midday Tuesday, kicking off four to six weeks of “separate consultations” with different sides in Syria’s conflict, spokesman Ahmad Fawzi said. The “low key, low profile” talks will include as many players as possible, including different Syrian factions, regional, and international players. Terror-listed entities like the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) and the Nusra Front have not been invited to the talks, but Fawzi said that groups in contact with them were on the list. On Thursday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said on Thursday he had asked de Mistura to “focus much more to relaunch a political process.” [AFP, 5/4/2015]

Two UN peacekeepers wounded in Golan Heights
Two UN peacekeepers were wounded Monday when mortar rounds fired from Syria hit their base in the Israeli-held sector of the Golan Heights. “Mortar shells hit the Golan in Ein Zivan and in the Zivanit UNDOF base. Two UN peacekeeping soldiers were evacuated to Israel for medical care,” Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner wrote on his official Twitter account. Israel public radio said the two were lightly wounded. The army said the shelling was not deliberately aimed at the Israeli side of the plateau, but was stray fire from the ongoing conflict in Syria. [AP, AFP, 5/4/2015]

Suicide bomber blows himself up in central Damascus
A small group of insurgents, including a suicide bomber, carried out an attack in Damascus on Monday targeting a Syrian military logistics and supply facility. Syrian state media said the bombing took place in the Rokn al-Deen neighborhood, and said the militants were killed. It provided no further details or information on casualties. The Nusra Front posted a claim of responsibility on a Twitter account associated with the group. It said three of the group’s fighters carried out the attack. In related news, Syrian forces went on the offensive Sunday against rebels in the Eastern Ghouta, the stronghold of Jaysh al-Islam (Islam Army). Heavy fighting raged in and around the town of Maydaa between Syrian government forces and rebels. Maydaa is a key supply route out of the Eastern Ghouta, which has long been under regime siege. Islam Army spokesman Islam Alloush said Syrian troops tried to overrun Maydaa but were “ambushed” by the rebels. [Reuters, BBC, AP, NY Times, AFP, 5/4/2015]

UNESCO to award press freedom prize to jailed Syria activist
The UN’s cultural body on Sunday awarded its annual press freedom prize to Mazen Darwish, a Syrian journalist and rights activist who has been jailed by the regime for more than three years. Darwish was arrested on February 16, 2012 along with Hani Zaitani and Hussein Ghreir, his colleagues at the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression. They are accused of “promoting terrorist acts.” “I call on the Syrian authorities for his and his colleagues’ release,” UNESCO director general Irina Bokova said at the ceremony in Latvia to mark World Press Freedom Day, echoing repeated calls by rights groups, press organizations and the UN. Darwish is one of the founders of, an independent news site banned by Syrian authorities in 2006 — a move he said at the time was part of the state’s “repression which targets free expression and democratic activists.” [AFP, 5/3/2015]

United States says no Syrian civilians killed in coalition airstrike
The US military denied Sunday a report that strikes led by Washington had killed at least fifty-two civilians in Aleppo’s Birmahle earlier this week, saying those killed were actually fighters. “US Central Command can confirm that coalition forces conducted airstrikes in the vicinity of Birmahle, Syria, on April 30, destroying several ISIL fighting positions and striking more than fifty ISIS fighters… Prior to the airstrikes, Kurdish forces, who held the town before leaving after being attacked by ISIS, reported there were no civilians present in that location and that there had not been any civilians present for two weeks prior to the coalition airstrikes,” command spokesman Major Curt Kellogg said. [AFP, 5/4/2015]


Saudi-led troops in Yemen
At least twenty troops from a Saudi-led Arab coalition came ashore Sunday in the southern port city of Aden on what military officials called a “reconnaissance” mission, as fighting raged between Houthi rebels and forces loyal to the nation’s exiled President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi. The Saudi-led coalition battling rebels in Yemen sent a “limited” force to the city of Aden, Yemeni sources said, in what would be its first ground deployment inside the country. A spokesman for the coalition denied that a major ground force has landed, refusing to comment on “ongoing operations.” But Yemeni government and militia forces said several dozen troops had landed in the main southern city, with some sources saying they were to assist in fighting for its international airport. [AP, AFP, 5/3/2015]

Saudi-led coalition accused of using cluster bombs in Yemen
The international monitoring group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the Saudi-led coalition attacking Yemen had probably used cluster bombs, a weapon banned by most countries. “Credible evidence indicates that the Saudi-led coalition used banned cluster munitions supplied by the United States in air strikes against Houthi forces,” HRW said in a statement. A report released by the New York-based rights monitor said the weapons were dropped from coalition fighter jets targeting military installations and other points around the villages held by Houthi rebels in Yemen. [Wall Street Journal, Reuters, 5/3/2015]

Yemen violence kills 1,244, injures 5,044, says WHO
Just over a month of fighting in Yemen has left nearly 1,250 people dead, in a conflict affecting 7.5 million people, the World Health Organization said Friday. The UN health agency described a “deteriorating” humanitarian situation in the country, especially in Taez in the centre of the country where there have been heavy clashes. An emergency meeting on Yemen by the UN Security Council ended Friday with the fifteen members unable to agree on an immediate statement on the growing crisis. [AFP, AP, 5/1/2015]

Kerry says US working hard to end Yemen crisis
US Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters in Sri Lanka it was not inevitable that Yemen would become a failed state, stressing that Washington was working “very hard” to find a solution. UN chief Ban Ki-moon urged a humanitarian pause in the conflict as embattled aid agencies say they desperately need supplies, including fuel to run infrastructure such as hospitals. “The services still available in the country in terms of health, water, food are quickly disappearing because fuel is no longer being brought into the country,” said the UN’s Johannes van der Klaauw. [AFP, 5/2/2015]


ISIS again pushing to capture Iraq refinery at Baiji
Islamic State militants (ISIS or ISIL) took control of half Iraq’s largest oil refinery over the weekend and cut supply lines to the 150 or so government troops who were holding out inside the facility. The Baiji refinery remains one of the most important economic assets in Iraq, even though it has been shut down since last summer, when ISIS fighters first began trying to capture it. In addition to lost revenue, the government’s inability to operate it has forced it to import hundreds of millions of dollars of fuel. The loss of the facility would be a crippling blow to the government and a huge strategic success for ISIS. The facility would require billions of dollars and years to replace. [McClatchy, 4/2/2015]

Egypt issues tender for second LNG import terminal
Egypt has issued a five-year tender to lease a second liquefied natural gas (LNG) import terminal, as the country seeks to tackle an energy crisis. Egypt was once an energy exporter but declining oil and gas production and increasing consumption has forced the government to divert energy supplies to the domestic market, turning the country into a net energy importer. The floating regasification and import terminal, which converts supercooled LNG into gas, would be Egypt’s second. An import terminal from Norway’s Hoegh LNG arrived in April. [Reuters, 5/4/215]

Libyan gas field resumes work after protesters end blockade
Protesters at Libya’s eastern port of Brega agreed to a deal on Sunday to end their strike, Libya’s state-run Sirte Oil Company said, clearing the way for the Irda natural gas field to resume production. Protesters had demanded jobs at the oil company and had prevented staff from working at the company’s headquarters.The National Oil Corporation (NOC) confirmed that the Irda field has resumed work. Meanwhile, an operator from Libya’s Hariga oil port spoke of plans to export 7 million barrels of crude oil in May. Libya’s western El Feel oilfield remains closed due to a protest by security guards. [Reuters, 5/3/2015]

Foreign direct investment rises in Tunisia rises in first quarter
Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Tunisia rose 24 percent in the first quarter of 2015, government figures showed on Monday. The figure for that period, from January to March, was 396 million Tunisian dinars ($206 million). The manufacturing industry drew most of the investment flow, followed by the services sector. Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) warned that conflicts in the region will have a direct impact on Arab economies. It pledged to support economic and fiscal reforms in Tunisia. [Reuters, 5/4/2015]