Top News: Syria Rebels Make Last Stand for Homs

Weakened rebels are making their last desperate stand in Homs, as forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad launch their harshest assault yet to expel them from the central city, once known as the capital of the revolution. Some among the hundreds of rebels remaining in the city talk of surrender, according to opposition activists there. Others have lashed back against the siege with suicide car bombings in districts under government control. Some fighters are turning on comrades they suspect want to desert, pushing them into battle. “We expect Homs to fall,” said an activist. “In the next few days, it could be under the regime’s control.” [AP, 4/22/2014]



Egypt’s PEC to begin accepting objections to presidential candidates
Egypt’s Presidential Elections Commission (PEC) will begin to accept objections to presidential applicants from Tuesday through Wednesday before announcing official presidential candidates on 2 May. Only two candidates applied to PEC for the presidential elections; former defense minister Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi and leftist Politician Hamdeen Sabbahi. The committee will continue to receive requests until Wednesday. The final list of accepted candidates will be announced on May 2. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, 4/22/2014]

Al Jazeera trial resumes as journalists are kicked out of court
The trial of twenty people accused of creating “a terrorist media network” and spreading false news continued on Tuesday at Tora prison. Journalists were kicked out of the courtroom during the recess. The defendants go into the sixth session of the trial having been denied bail for the second time by the judge during the previous session on April 10. Twelve of the twenty are being tried in absentia, and among the eight in custody are three Al Jazeera journalists. Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird said he received assurances from his counterpart that the trial process would be fair. [DNE, Egypt Independent, Huffington Post, 4/22/2014]

Court imposes gag order on Morsi espionage trial
A Cairo criminal court imposed a media ban on the espionage trial of deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi during Tuesday’s session. The trial of thirty-six Muslim Brotherhood leaders, including Morsi, was adjourned to April 28 to allow witness testimonies to be heard and evidence to be collected. During the trial, defense lawyers called on the court to merge the espionage case with the Wadi Natrun prison break case, in which Morsi is also a defendant. [Ahram Online,Aswat Masriya (Arabic), Egypt Independent, 4/22/2014]

Egypt gas price hike to save government EGP 1 billion annually
Raising natural gas prices for households and small businesses is expected to save Egypt EGP 1 billion per year. A new pricing structure for natural gas was approved by the government on Sunday. The decree, which takes effect in May, exempts subsidized bread producers from the price increases. [Ahram Online, 4/22/2014]


Libya’s constitution-drafting body starts work
The Constitutional Committee elected to draft a new constitution for Libya convened for the first time on Sunday, marking a milestone as the forty-seven members gathered in the eastern city of Bayda in the building that housed parliament when the country gained independence in 1951. The body will have 120 days to draft a constitution, but analysts expect the process to take much longer given growing insecurity and tribal and political divisions. Thirteen seats remain vacant as violence in Derna and several southern areas hampered elections. The Amazigh and Tebu minorities also boycotted the committee to demand more rights. “The elections have not been completed so anyone can challenge the work of the committee by filing a petition to the constitutional court,” said Tawfiq al-Shahaibi, a former lawmaker. [Reuters, 4/21/2014]

Families of Gharghour victims protest against arrival of non-Tripoli forces
Families of victims killed in Gharghour in November 2013 demonstrated yesterday in Tripoli following reports that Libya Shield forces were on their way to the city. Videos circulating on social media had shown Libya Shield forces from Benghazi gathering in Misrata, allegedly en route to Tripoli. A spokesman for Misrata-led Central Libya Shield denied this, saying that the General National Congress had not designated a force for security in the capital and, as such, Central Libya Shield had no intention of entering the city. The reports have sparked anger on the streets of Tripoli where residents fear a repeat of November’s Gharghour attacks. The Tripoli Local Council released a statement on Saturday calling for yesterday’s protests and refusing access to any brigade that tried to gain entry to the city. [Libya Herald, 4/21/2014]

Benghazi holds municipal elections
Benghazi residents voted on April 19 to elect their municipal council in an atmosphere of hope and optimism about a better future. The chairman of election subcommittee, Abdel Wahab al-Feki, lauded the peaceful transfer of power in the eastern city from the local to the municipal council, expressing relief that the vote took place without any obstacles. The subcommittee mobilized more than 1,900 employees for 128 election centers, which were secured by armed forces. Observer Awadh Ibrahim Mohamed Abu Setta said, “Although the experience is relatively new, it was a refined, civilized one in spite of frustration and abstention by some citizens.” [Magharebia, 4/21/2014]

Sebha peace deal on brink of collapse after clashes leave three dead
Three people were killed and another seriously injured in clashes in Sebha, sparking fears that a truce between fighting tribes is on the brink of collapse. Reportedly two Tebu residents were killed and two homes were burnt, prompting a retaliatory attack that left two from the Awlad Suleiman side dead. Under a truce brokered in February, both Tebu and Awlad Suleiman fighters were to hand over their strongholds in the town to the Third Force, which was brought into Sebha in late January to act as a buffer between the warring sides. Neither of the two have ever fully committed to the truce. [Libya Herald, 4/21/2014]


United States says toxic chemical used in Syria this month
The United States has indications that a toxic chemical, probably chlorine, was used in Syria this month and is examining whether the Syrian government was responsible, the State Department said on Monday. “We have indications of the use of a toxic industrial chemical” in the town of Kfar Zeita, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said, referring to a rebel-held area. Opposition activists reported that helicopters dropped chlorine gas on Kfar Zeita on April 11 and 12. US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power said that the attack was “unsubstantiated.” Chlorine was not one of the priority one or two chemicals Syria declared to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. [Reuters, US State Department, 4/21/2014]

Ransom helps militant group pay for four-front war
The release over the weekend of four French journalists whom an al-Qaeda offshoot had held for months in Syria may indicate that the group is turning increasingly to ransom to finance its activities. The French government has denied that it paid a ransom for the journalists, but two European intelligence agents involved in the cases of other hostages said they thought the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) had received a sizable payment for releasing the journalists. The payment was brokered by an unidentified Persian Gulf country, widely thought to be Qatar, which has brokered and paid ransoms on behalf of hostages in three previous incidents. [McClatchy, 4/21/2014]


Former Tunisian premier warns of election delay
Tunisia’s former prime minister and the leader of the Tunisian Call movement, Beji Caid al-Sebsi, warned on Sunday that the country’s forthcoming elections could be delayed due to political, security, and economic problems. Sebsi said his party was prepared to fight for elections to be on schedule, before the end of this year. A number of political parties and unions have expressed doubts about the possibility of holding the general election scheduled for this year on time. On Monday, the National Constituent Assembly passed articles twenty through thirty-two of the draft electoral law, except for article twenty-three which deals with male-female parity and alternation on electoral lists. [Asharq al-Awsat, 4/21/2014]

Tunisia to take steps to ensure repatriation of hostages
Following a National Security Council meeting on Monday, caretaker Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa said that despite the complexity of the situation in Libya, steps are still underway to “ensure the repatriation, safe and sound, of the two Tunisian hostages kidnapped in Tripoli.” He noted that the government has no previous experience dealing with such a situation and that the government has established a body to deal with the crisis and is taking steps to provide care of the families of the two hostages. [All Africa, 4/21/2014]

Ground and air military operations ongoing in Mount Chaambi
On Monday, for the fourth consecutive day, joint military and security operations took place in Mount Chaambi. Backed by combat aircraft, helicopters, and artillery and mortar shelling, Tunisian army and security units advanced on all fronts on Monday to take control of the whole area. Operations also covered Mount Sammama, which came under heavy shelling as suspected terrorists attempted to join the fight on Mount Chaambi. On Friday, a soldier was killed and two others were wounded in a landmine explosion that hit their military vehicle near a presumed terrorist camp. [TAP, 4/21/2014]

“I too burned a police station” online campaign begins
A Facebook campaign called “I Too Burned a Police Station” is supporting Tunisians facing criminal charges related to protests during the 2011 revolution. The page was launched on Sunday and received over 1,500 likes as of Monday evening. The page’s administrator, Fatma Asma Moatemri, stated that “This is a campaign denouncing the false and arbitrary arrests against the young activists falsely accused of burning police stations,” and that “it is a satirical response of solidarity,” not a “call to violence.” [Tunisia Live, 4/21/2014]


Interview with UNDP country director
In an interview, the UN Development Programme’s (UNDP) country director Mikiko Tanaka says that though she believes that the government wants to make things work, major problems with the civil service and government capacity stand in the way. “Citizens want to see results,” says Tanaka. “People need education, healthcare, jobs. This is becoming more and more urgent and, while the reforms are important and have to take place, people can’t wait for the reforms to finish before services improve.” [The Yemen Times, 4/22/2014]

Fall out from weekend raid in al-Bayda borderlands
At least fifty-five suspected militants were killed in the campaign launched on April 19, targeting members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Though rumors persist over the deaths of top AQAP leaders Ibrahim al-Asiri and Nasir al-Wuhayshi, their deaths are not confirmed. Several other leaders were confirmed by the ministry of interior. Security experts and human rights advocates have said that despite affecting AQAP’s ability to maneuver and hold territory, drone strikes are not an effective long-term strategy. At least four civilians were killed in the initial strike on Saturday and several others injured. The government has not confirmed any further civilian casualties. AQAP is believed to be behind four assassinations of security officials in the past two days. Yemen’s House of Representatives has summoned the country’s ministers of defense and interiors to answer questions about the campaign later in the week. [Reuters, Guardian, 4/22/2014]

Dozens jailed for debts
At least 142 people are being held in the Sana’a Central Prison in Yemen because of a debt or fine they cannot pay. The prison director says he is holding 142 people for those reasons, though prisoners say there are many more. The prisoners include people who cannot pay a private debt, those who owe diya (blood money) to another family for committing a crime, and convicted criminals who remain imprisoned past the end of their term for inability to pay a fine. Many of these prisoners have been incarcerated for years without any possibility of release. [Human Rights Watch, 4/22/2014]

Hodeida farmers protest diesel shortage
Hundreds of farmers in Hodeida province demonstrated outside the local council to protest diesel shortages. The protest came one day after a protest in front of the Yemen Petroleum Company office in Hodeida. Residents say the fuel shortage has forced many to shut down farms and that the shortage has devastated crops. Farmers in Hodeida rely on diesel to pump water to the surface in order to irrigate their crops. The political situation and resulting security vacuum has meant more attacks on oil refinery structure, which has further limited fuel supplies. Roadblocks set up by tribes also limited and shut off supply routes. [Yemen Times, 4/22/2014]


Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood split over Zamzam Initiative
Splits have emerged within Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood after the group announced it was dismissing three high-ranking members for their role in the Zamzam Initiative, a moderate movement calling for reform within the organization. The group’s official leadership has condemned the dialogue as being part of a move to establish a new organization. The initiative aims to develop a new Islamist vision and has highlighted divisions between hardline and moderate wings of the Jordanian Brotherhood. [Asharq al-Awsat, 4/22/2014]

Iraqi parliament candidate fought in Syria war; violence surges throughout country
An Iraqi Shia who fought Sunni rebels in Syria’s civil war is now running for parliament in his home country, where the conflict has intensified sectarian tensions. Faleh al-Khazali is one of an unknown number of Iraqi Shia who have gone to fight on the side of the Syrian regime against a Sunni-led rebellion. Some Iraqi Sunnis are fighting on the other side of the war, including for the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Recent violence has surged throughout the country killing at least thirty three people in suicide attacks on Monday, and threatening the country’s upcoming April 30 parliamentary elections. Another attack carried out by armed gunmen killed ten guards at a balloting center near Kirkuk. [Naharnet, 4/22/2014]

Palestinian factions meet in Gaza to discuss unity government, elections
A senior Cairo-based Hamas official crossed Monday from Egypt into the Gaza Strip ahead of a new attempt to reconcile the militant Islamist movement and its Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) rivals. Though the PLO is dominated by the Fatah party, the delegation to Gaza included independents like Mustafa Barghouti, and other PLO faction members. Barghouti said the sides would discuss “forming a national consensus government and holding elections,” among other issues. [AFP, 4/22/2014]