Top News: Saudi Troops Amassing on Yemeni Border

Saudi Arabia is moving heavy military equipment, including artillery, to areas near its border with Yemen. The armor and artillery being moved by Saudi Arabia could be used for offensive or defensive purposes. On Wednesday, the Arab League’s deputy secretary general said the regional body would discuss a proposal by Yemen’s Foreign Minister who called on Arab states to intervene militarily to halt the Houthi advance. President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi asked both the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the United Nations for help fighting the Houthi rebellion. [ReutersAl MasdarMareb Press, 3/25/2015]



3,000 civilians tried in military courts in five months, says No to Military Trials campaign
The No to Military Trials for Civilians campaign said on Monday that 3000 civilians were tried in military courts in the last five months, since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi passed new legislation treating certain state facilities as military institutions. The findings formed part of the campaign’s fourth annual conference, which included testimonies from those who have been through military trials and their families. Campaign member Sara al-Sherif says this constitutes a “dramatic” increase in an already endemic practice, presenting a greater challenge for the campaign, as public outrage has been more recently directed at harsh rulings by civilian courts. [Mada Masr, 3/24/2015]

Al Jazeera retrial postponed, Canada asks judges about Fahmy’s travel status
The trial of Al Jazeera journalists, Canadian Mohamed Fahmy and Egyptian Baher Mohamed, on terrorism-related charges has been postponed until April 22. The Cairo criminal court received a letter from the Canadian embassy inquiring into the status of Fahmy, who gave up his Egyptian citizenship in a bid to be deported. The judge said the letter asked whether Fahmy was banned from travelling outside Egypt or not. During Wednesday’s trial session, the judge asked Fahmy about his Canadian passport. Fahmy said it was taken from him the minute he was arrested in December 2013, and the defense asked for an official court paper stating that the document was lost. The police has been unable to answer questions about the location of Fahmy’s passport. Meanwhile, a new technical committee is to look into video content used as evidence against the defendants. [Ahram Online, Reuters, 3/25/2015]

Four killed, twelve injured in attacks in Sinai, Giza, and Fayoum
Two Egyptian soldiers, one policeman, and a student were killed in separate attacks in North Sinai, Giza, and Fayoum on Tuesday and Wednesday. A roadside bomb killed an army officer and a non-commissioned officer on Tuesday while they were on patrol near the town of Sheikh Zuweid, the sources said. Ten soldiers were also wounded in that attack. In a separate incident, a policeman was killed in a drive-by shooting near a camp for security forces in al-Arish, the main city in North Sinai, the sources said. The gunmen fled the scene. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attacks. On Wednesday, two Egyptian policemen were injured in a drive-by shooting at an embassy in Giza’s Mohandiseen district. Both assailants were shortly arrested afterwards. A ten year-old girl was also killed on Wednesday when an explosive device detonated outside her school in Fayoum south of Cairo, a top security official said. [Reuters, Ahram Online, DNE, Aswat Masriya, 3/25/2015]

Egypt denies approval of military intervention in Yemen
Yemen’s Foreign Minister Riad Yassin has said that Egypt and Gulf countries had approved a military intervention in the country following a request it made to the Arab League. Yassin said that his country had submitted a request to the Arab League, which was approved by Egypt and Gulf states. Foreign Ministry Spokesman Badr Abdel Atty, however, denied reports in the media that Egypt had approved military intervention in Yemen. Abdel Atty added that the topic would be discussed during a meeting of Arab foreign ministers on Thursday in Sharm al-Sheikh. The Arab League’s Deputy Secretary General also said on Wednesday the regional body would discuss a proposal by Yemen’s Foreign Minister for Arab states to intervene militarily to halt the Shia militia’s Houthi advance. In related news, Egypt’s Ambassador to Yemen along with the rest of country’s diplomatic mission left Aden for Cairo on Wednesday. [Egypt Independent, 3/25/2015]

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ISIS claims suicide bombing in Benghazi and attacks in Misrata and Sirte
Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants claimed a suicide bombing that killed seven people at an army checkpoint in Benghazi on Tuesday and triggered retaliatory air strikes by army forces loyal to the Tobruk-based government. ISIS has also claimed responsibility for Sunday’s car bomb explosion outside the security administration building in Misrata, a stronghold of Operation Libya Dawn and supporter of the Tripoli-based government. Today, the Islamic State carried out a suicide bombing on a power station in Sirte, killing five soldiers loyal to the Tripoli government. [Reuters, AP, Libya Herald, 3/25/2015]

UN calls for Libya unity government, presidential council; UN envoy ‘forced out’ of Tobruk
The United Nations (UN) announced that it wants to keep Libya’s elected parliament and set up a unity government led by independents, outlining its proposed solution for the war-torn country. UN Special Representative to Libya Bernardino Leon said that a presidential council of independent personalities would lead the country while the House of Representatives (House) would be the legislative body, marking a key concession by the Tripoli-based General National Congress. Leon traveled to both Tripoli and Tobruk to meet with officials and pitch ideas; however, he was unable to leave the Tobruk airport after protesters blocked his route and forced him to cancel a meeting with the speaker of the House. The protesters were upset over a perceived bias that Leon prefers the Tripoli-based government. He was forced to meet with the Tobruk Foreign Minister at the airport. [AP, Libya Monitor (subscription), 3/24/2015]

ISIS releases Bangladeshi hostages in Libya oilfield attack
Two Bangladeshi citizens, among a group of foreign workers taken hostage by the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militant group in an attack on a Libya oil field, have been released after more than two weeks in captivity. Up to ten foreign workers went missing after the attack on the al-Ghani oil field, and foreigners have increasingly become ISIS targets in Libya. Libyan militants claiming loyalty to ISIS have been blamed for several high profile attacks this year involving foreigners, including an assault on a Tripoli hotel and the beheading of a group of Egyptian Christians. [Reuters, 3/25/2015]

Italian FM asserts Europe’s support for Tunisia; Turkey ready to help Tunisia with security
During his meeting with President Beji Caid Essebsi, Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni said that Italy and Europe stand by Tunisia to conclude its democratic transition, succeed in its economic reforms, and eradicate terrorism from its country. Meanwhile, the Ambassador of Turkey to Tunisia reaffirmed that his country is ready to continue supporting Tunisia in its democratic process and counterterrorism efforts. Tunisia’s Defense Minister commended cooperation between the two countries, namely militarily. [TAP/All Africa, 3/24/2015]

Tunisian cabinet meeting devoted to development issues in El Kef and Siliana
The Tunisian cabinet held a meeting devoted to the development of the struggling regions of El Kef and Siliana. The meeting reviewed the current investment projects and enduring obstacles to their success, which include the complexity of procuring funds, the absence of regulatory measures, the slowness of granting credits, and the reluctance for promoters to take part in financial tenders. The meeting further examined solutions and means to boost infrastructure, collective services, and make the regional administration more efficient. [TAP/All Africa, 3/24/2015]

Morocco breaks up ISIS militant cell
Moroccan authorities said that they have dismantled a militant cell planning to create an ISIS affiliate in the North African kingdom, seizing guns and accusing its members of plotting attacks. The thirteen members of the cell in Morocco had pledged allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS militants fighting in Syria and Iraq, and planned to create an offshoot called the Islamic State in the Extreme Maghreb. The cell was reportedly operating in several cities, including the two largest tourist destinations of Marrakesh and Agadir. [Al Arabiya, 3/24/2015]


Assad urges united front with Iraq against terrorism
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad called on Tuesday during talks with Iraq’s Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari in Damascus for a united front with Baghdad in tackling terrorism as the two countries battle Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants on their territory. Assad was quoted on his official Twitter account as saying “consultation and coordination between Syria and Iraq reinforces the successes of their people and their armed forces in the face of terrorism.” Yesterday, Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem also held discussions with his Iraqi counterpart where discussions “focused on the fight against terrorism and common dangers that threaten our countries.” Jaafari’s visit to Damascus comes ahead of an Arab League meeting in Egypt this weekend. Syria’s membership of the organization has been suspended since 2011. In related news, the next round of talks in Moscow between the rivals in the Syrian conflict will begin on April 6. [Reuters, The Daily Star, 3/25/2015]

Rebels launch offensive on government-held Idlib; Rebels seize Bosra al-Sham in Deraa
Syrian insurgents launched an offensive on Tuesday to capture Idlib in northwest Syria, attacking the city from the north, east, and west, seizing territory on the outskirts of the government-held, largely isolated city in the northwest. Three vehicle-borne suicide bombings, two by members of the Jund al-Aqsa faction and one by a fighter from the Nusra Front, attacked regime checkpoints. Opposition fighters have controlled the countryside and towns across the province since 2012, but regime forces have maintained their grip on Idlib city. Seven factions are reportedly involved in the offensive, including the Nusra Front, Jund al-Aqsa, Jaish al-Sunna, Liwa al-Haq, Ajnad al-Sham, and Faynad al-Sham. The Syrian Civil Defense and al-Dorar News Agency claim that the regime responded with chlorine attacks on rebel-held Binnish. In Deraa province, rebels and Islamic battalions seized the government-held town of +Syrien/@32.1783179,36.484952,9z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x151bced71a6b85b1:0xee22b8010b28681d”>Bosra al-Sham near the border with Jordan after four days of battles, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Bosra al-Sham is known for its citadel and Roman amphitheater declared by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. [AP, AFP, The Daily Star, 3/25/2015]

ISIS launches assault on pro-regime territory in Homs and Hama
ISIS militants have killed dozens of pro-Assad regime fighters in a two-pronged offensive in Homs and Hama in western Syria that threatens the ancestral homes of the Ismailis. Activists fear Damascus will exploit the attacks to provoke fresh sectarian tensions. The assault is one of the rare occasions where forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad and ISIS have battled each other on a large scale. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reports that seventy-four pro-government soldiers had died so far in the attack on checkpoints and positions held by the regime. ISIS also attacked the Tadmor military airport near Homs, leading to fierce clashes with the regime, which responded on Tuesday with air strikes near Homs and Hama. [The Guardian, 3/25/2015]

Iraqi president expects US-led coalition to carry out airstrikes in Tikrit against ISIS
Iraq’s President Fouad Massoum said Wednesday that the US-led coalition is expected to carry out air strikes soon against ISIS in the city of Tikrit. “Since yesterday, aerial support and reconnaissance flights started in Tikrit. They first begin with reconnaissance missions; then they compile the aerial reports; and afterwards the aerial [strike] operations start.” Washington said it is considering launching airstrikes, possibly within days, to back up Iraqi security forces and Iranian-backed Shia militias battling to recapture Tikrit from ISIS. The statement came after an official said Tuesday that the United States was already providing reconnaissance support for Iraqi forces there, the first confirmation of US involvement in the operation. [Reuters, 3/25/2015]


Saudi troops amassing on Yemeni border
Saudi Arabia is moving heavy military equipment, including artillery, to areas near its border with Yemen. The armor and artillery being moved by Saudi Arabia could be used for offensive or defensive purposes. On Wednesday, the Arab League’s deputy secretary general said the regional body would discuss a proposal by Yemen’s Foreign Minister who called on Arab states to intervene militarily to halt the Houthi advance. President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi asked both the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the United Nations for help fighting the Houthi rebellion. [Reuters, Al Masdar, Mareb Press, 3/25/2015]

Hadi flees residence after Houthis push closer
President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi fled his palace in Aden for an undisclosed location Wednesday as Houthi rebels offered cash bounty for his capture and arrested the Defense Minister. After seizing an airbase less than forty kilometers from Aden, the Houthis used state media to broadcast a bounty offer of $100,000 for Hadi’s capture. Unidentified airplanes also fired on Hadi’s compound.There are currently conflicting reports on whether or not Hadi remains in Aden. However, the Yemen Post reports that he is still in the de facto capital and is expected to address the country later today. [Reuters, Al Masdar, 3/25/2015]

Loyalists of former Yemen ruler reject foreign intervention
Army officers loyal to former president Ali Abdullah Saleh, a powerful ally of Yemen’s Houthi militia, strongly reject any foreign intervention to end the country’s worsening conflict, a statement carried on a website affiliated to Saleh said. Hadi, a political foe of Saleh’s, asked the UN Security Council on Tuesday to back military action by “willing countries” to combat an advance by the Houthis, who seized the capital in September and become Yemen’s de facto main power. In 2009, President Saleh and Saudi Arabia allegedly cooperated to stage a war against the Houthis which left thousands displaced and destroyed much of the infrastructure in the Houthi controlled north. [Reuters, 3/25/2015]

French builder Vinci to sue over claims of forced labor in Qatar
French construction giant Vinci vigorously denied allegations it had violated the rights of migrant workers helping to build stadiums for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and said it would sue the human rights group Sherpa over its claims. Vinci, which employs 3,500 people in Qatar and counts the wealthy Arab state as its second-largest shareholder, said it would sue Sherpa for libel and that the claims “severely” hurt its image. The testimonies of migrant workers claim that they worked an average of sixty-six hours per week, lived as many as eight to a room, and operated in “difficult, even dangerous” conditions and in “stifling heat.” [Reuters, 3/24/2015]


Tunisia’s 25 million euro debt to Italy cancelled
Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni announced that Italy has cancelled Tunisia’s 24 million euro debt with Italy. Gentiloni met, only a week after the Bardo attack, with Tunisia’s President Caid Essebsi to discuss finances as well as “cooperation in the security sector and the fight against terrorism.” He added that Italy would urge the European Union to draft an investment plan for Tunisia in order to support the country coping with economic instability and fundamentalist movements. [ANSAmed, 3/24/2015]

Inbound tourism to Egypt increases by 5.5 percent in January says CAPMAS
The number of tourists arriving in Egypt in January stood at 677.5, marking a 5.5 percent increase from those who landed in the country during the same time last year, the state’s Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS) said. The biggest number of tourists arrived from Eastern Europe, CAPMAS said in a statement released on Wednesday, making up 39.5 percent of the total number of tourists who visited the country in January. It was closely followed by Western Europe, who represented 32.9 percent. Tourists arriving from the Middle East represented 16 percent. The number of Arab tourists visiting the country increased to 26.4 percent in 2015, as opposed to 19 percent during the same month last year, CAPMAS said.[Aswat Masriya, Ahram Online, 3/25/2015]

Jordan and Russia sign $10 billion deal on nuclear power plant
Jordan signed a $10 million deal with Russia to fund the kingdom’s first nuclear power plant with two 1,000 megawatt reactors in the country’s north. The deal caps efforts by Jordan to increase energy capacity and reduce imports. Jordan imports nearly 98 percent of its oil products and crude and struggles to meet electricity demand, which is growing by more than 7 percent annually due to a rising population and industrial expansion. These essential imports have recently been threatened by violence in neighboring countries, endangering and completely cutting off supply in some cases. [AP, Reuters, 3/24/2015]

Qatar to treat Gulf investors as locals, freeing up foreigner quotas
Qatar’s stock exchange will treat investors from Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries as local citizens when calculating whether foreign ownership in listed companies has reached permissible limits, the bourse said on Wednesday. The move will allow foreign investors, from both the Gulf and outside the region, to hold bigger stakes in listed Qatari companies, most of which have ceilings on total foreign ownership of 25 or 49 percent. However, the decision will have little immediate impact on investment flows since foreign ownership limits for most stocks are far from being used up. [Reuters, 3/25/2015]

First Moroccan Islamic bank to open in 2016
The governor of Morocco’s central bank has announced that the country’s first financial institution fully compliant with the principles of sharia will open in 2016. The launching of the Islamic finance industry is part of efforts to stimulate the Moroccan economy and attract more foreign investment. Morocco has already approved plans to create a committee of experts and sharia scholars, officially called the Sharia Committee, to monitor Islamic banking products and transactions and to decide on whether the bank’s transactions are in conformity with Islamic legislations. [Morocco World News, 3/25/2015]