More than 146,000 people, over a third of them civilians, have been killed in Syria’s uprising-turned-civil war which enters its fourth year this month, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Thursday. The Observatory said it counted nearly 36,000 rebel fatalities, including fighters from the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS), an al-Qaeda splinter group which includes many foreign fighters. It said more than 56,000 of those killed were from pro-Assad forces, including 332 from the Lebanese militia Hezbollah and 459 Shia fighters from other countries. But the group said the true toll on both sides was probably much higher—by perhaps more than 60,000. [Reuters, 3/14/2014]


Sabbahi to continue presidential campaign
Hamdeen Sabbahi said he will continue the presidential race and will not allow the elections to turn into what he called a referendum. During an interview with Reuters Sabbahi expressed doubts that a Sisi presidency would bring democracy to Egypt. He also asserted that he intends to complete Egypt’s revolution saying, “A great revolution happened in this country and it will not be completed unless its people reach power… I am from the heart of the people. I am, without monopolizing such right, the one to represent the revolution, its demands and goals of social justice and democracy.” [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, Reuters, Shorouk (Arabic), 3/14/2014]

Suspect dies in custody at Dar al-Salam police station
Prosecutors opened an investigation into the death of a fourth prisoner inside Dar al-Salam police station, who was held pending interrogations on robbery. The incident, which took place on Thursday, is the fourth suspect to die in two months while in police custody. Chief Prosecutor Hazem Lam’i ordered the victim’s body transferred to Zeinhom morgue to determine the cause of death and appointed a doctor of forensic medicine to investigate the police station. He also order for other detainees to be inspected. [Egypt Independent 3/13/2014]

Egypt summons European envoys over human rights statement
Egypt’s foreign affairs ministry has summoned the envoys of European countries that sent a joint statement to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on Friday condemning Egypt’s recent crackdown on demonstrators and political dissent. Hatem Seif al-Nasr, Egypt’s assistant foreign minister for European affairs, said that the summoned ambassadors will be presented with a strongly worded objection for signing the statement, which he said contained many errors and ignored the progress Egypt has made in its democratic transition. The ambassadors will also be warned that bilateral relations between their respective countries and Egypt will be damaged if they do not take action to “correct” their political stance, tantamount to what Nasr  claimed was international interference in Egypt’s internal affairs. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, 3/13/2014]

Egypt’s army chief-of-staff meets with US Air Force Commander
The Egyptian army’s chief of staff Lieutenant General Sedki Sobhi met on Thursday with Lieutenant General John Hesterman, US Air Forces Central Commander for Southwest Asia, along with his accompanying delegation. Sobhi and Hesterman discussed a number of issues concerning military cooperation between Egypt and the United States, according to the Facebook page of Egypt’s army spokesman Ahmed Ali. [Ahram Online, 3/13/2014]


Cairo official says seventy Egyptians seized in Libya
An Egyptian official says armed men have seized seventy Egyptians in the Libyan capital, Tripoli. Foreign ministry spokesman Badr Abdel-Atti said on Friday that men in military uniform took them from their homes to a police facility. Details were sketchy, and it was not known who the armed men were. Libyan authorities did not immediately comment on the incident. Abdel-Atti says Egypt’s foreign minister is contacting his Libyan counterpart to get the Egyptians released. The Libyan Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohamed Abdelaziz is in Cairo for talks, which are expected to include the oil tanker crisis. [AP, 3/14/2014]

$8 billion loss of oil revenues in second half of 2013, says acting oil minister
Acting Oil Minister Omar Shakmak said that the embargo of the oil terminals in eastern Libya had had a “serious negative impact” on national revenues and the budget. Speaking briefly alongside the newly installed caretaker Prime Minister Abdullah Thinni at a press conference, Shakmak said that in the second half of 2013 revenues had declined by more than $8 billion. Meanwhile, North Korea on Thursday denied any responsibility for an oil tanker that loaded crude from a Libyan rebel-held port and fled the state’s attempt to seize it, saying the vessel that carried its flag was linked to an Egyptian firm. It said it had notified Libya and the International Maritime Organization that it had severed all association with the ship. [Libya Herald, 3/13/2014]

Libya captures assassins in Sirte
Libyan troops in Sirte captured a gang allegedly responsible for looting, sabotage, and high-level assassinations, officials confirmed this week. According to an anonymous security source, this group is made up of thirty people, and only four of them were arrested. They were transferred to the attorney-general. Libyans are split on the news, with some applauding the security forces while others remain skeptical. “I hope the news is not just a game in order to ease the anger and indignation of the street,” commented Zahra Yasmeen, a thirty-six year-old lawyer. “I hope that the arrest of such bands is the first drop and the first of a series to be continued in Benghazi, Derna and other areas where security tension is high. ” [Magharebia, 3/13/2014]


Confirmed death toll exceeds 146,000 as fourth year begins; true figure perhaps 200,000
More than 146,000 people, over a third of them civilians, have been killed in Syria’s uprising-turned-civil war which enters its fourth year this month, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Thursday. The Observatory said it counted nearly 36,000 rebel fatalities, including fighters from the Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Syria, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS), an al-Qaeda splinter group which includes many foreign fighters. It said more than 56,000 of those killed were from pro-Assad forces, including 332 from the Lebanese militia Hezbollah and 459 Shia fighters from other countries. But the group said the true toll on both sides was probably much higher—by perhaps more than 60,000. [Reuters, 3/14/2014]

Fighting rages on thirtieth day of Yabroud battles
Fierce clashes raged Thursday near the rebel stronghold of Yabroud as regime forces and its allies fought rebel groups, with anti-regime activists saying the rebels were holding out after one month of a stepped-up offensive in the mountainous Qalamoun region. Two rebels were killed in the clashes on the outskirts of the town, which was also targeted by a surface-to-surface missile as well as artillery shelling. The anti-regime Qalamoun Media Center said Hezbollah fighters, who are backing up Syrian army troops and paramilitaries, launched a number of Volcano rockets at the town, causing massive destruction. A number of surface-to-surface missiles also targeted Yabroud, but no casualties were reported. Most of the town’s 30,000 inhabitants have fled the area. Qalamoun activists said four rebel fighters were killed in clashes further south, in the Wadi Barada region, but added that rebel forces had managed to withstand the regime’s “scorched earth” policy. Three army officers were among those killed in the clashes. [The Daily Star, 3/14/2014]

Brahimi says Damascus delaying Geneva talks, holding elections not helpful
The international mediator on Syria told the UN Security Council on Thursday that Damascus was delaying efforts to resume Geneva talks to end the three year-old civil war. UN and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said the government was engaged in “delaying tactics” and that going ahead with a presidential election would complicate mediation efforts. Brahimi was briefing a closed session of the fifteen-member Council after a second round of peace negotiations collapsed in Geneva on February 15. Brahimi broke off the talks, known as Geneva II, to give the government and opposition an opportunity to take stock, and without setting a date for another round of negotiations. On Sunday Brahimi will travel to Tehran to meet with President Hassan Rouhani, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and other senior Iranian officials. [AFP, NYT, 3/14/2014]

Islamist rebels claim kidnapping of ninety-four civilians
Sunni Islamist rebels have claimed responsibility for kidnapping at least ninety-four women and children belonging to President Bashar al-Assad’s minority Alawi sect, according to a video published on Thursday. The civilians were abducted in August from villages in rural Latakia, the president’s coastal stronghold. The rebels said they were holding the hostages to secure the release of opposition supporters from government detention. Thousands of people are thought to be imprisoned by both sides in the increasingly sectarian civil war. The video obtained by Al Jazeera said the rebels were ready to swap the civilians for 2,000 prisoners who have been detained for more than a year. It stipulated that most of the freed prisoners were from coastal areas of the country and that half of them were women and children. [Reuters, 3/14/2014]


Tunisia working to establish stronger relations with the Gulf
Tunisia is working actively to establish strategic political relations with the Gulf countries and promote economic relations, according to interim Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa. On Thursday. Jomaa stated that the Arab Gulf countries are at the forefront of countries in the region on which Tunisia relies to develop its economy. In terms of security, Jomaa said Tunisia and Gulf countries have a “shared vision” with respect to combating terrorism. From March 15 to 19, Jomaa will visit the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Oman. [TAP, 3/13/2014]

“Illegal” preacher released, charges pending
Controversial preacher Khamis al-Mejri, arrested Monday for unlicensed religious activities, was released will appear in court again next week for hearings. Mejri does not possess a license to be an imam. An official from the ministry of religious affairs stated that the ministry received complaints and petitions from people about his preaching, saying he was inciting violence. A law from 1988 regulates religious activities in mosques in Tunisia. Several articles of this law provide penalties for religious activity that is not authorized by the government. According to the law, “anyone who performs an activity without a license will be punished by a six-month prison term and a 500 dinar ($315) fine, or one of these two sanctions.” [Tunisia Live, 3/13/2014, Ahram Online, 3/14/2014]]

Tunisia seeks to regain control of radicalized mosques
Tunisian authorities are seeking to regain control of certain mosques that they say have become incubators for radical Islamist ideology. The new constitution tasks the state with ensuring the political neutrality of mosques. A committee consisting of representatives from the interior, religious affairs, and justice ministries has been formed to enforce the government’s new strategy for reasserting control over mosques. On Monday, the religious affairs ministry announced that it is going to fix the opening hours of mosques in Tunisia for the first time in three years. There is some fear that the intention is to silence dissent under the pretext of combating terrorism. [The Daily Star, Maghrebia, 3/13/2014]

Police and protesters clash in Gafsa
Clashes between security forces and a group of citizens broke out Thursday in Oum Larayes (governorate of Gafsa) following the announcement of preliminary results of a staffing competition for the Environment and Gardening Company. On February 27, protesters set a courthouse and the Ennahda office on fire in Gafsa. A day before, protesters set a police station on fire. The clashes between protesters and police officers were caused by the results of a public recruitment process by a state-owned environmental company. Unemployment in Gafsa, a historically under-developed region, is estimated to be around 40 percent. [TAP, 3/13/2014]


Hadi swears in Constitution Drafting Committee
Newly appointed members of the Yemen’s Constitution Drafting Committee were sworn in Thursday by President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi. The president urged the new body to draw “a new contract” for Yemen based on the decisions and outcomes of the National Dialogue Conference. [Saba, 3/13/2014]

Group of ten Ambassadors voice concern over northern conflict
The group of ten ambassadors representing countries from European Union, Gulf Cooperation Council, and UN Security Council have voiced concern over clashes with Houthi militants in the north of the country as the conflict drifts further south, threatening the capital in Sana’a. The statement called on all parties involved in the conflict to work together for the establishment of a meaningful political dialogue in order to resolve their differences. [Saba, Sanaa Press (Arabic), 3/14/2014]

Interior ministry seizes illegal arms across Yemen
Yemen’s interior ministry has announced the seizure of more than 76,000 illegal weapons and hundreds of improvised explosive devices. Thousands of live ammunition rounds, communication devices and explosives also were seized in more than 11,000 search campaigns in which 15,000 policemen took part. The ministry urged Yemeni citizens to co-operate with the security forces by reporting suspicious or illegal activity in order to bolster security in the country. [Al-Shorfa, 3/14/2014]

Former Palestinian Authority PM appointed to facilitate economic development
Sana’a announced the appointment of Salam Fayyad, former Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority (PA), as a strategic expert that will head an executive apparatus in charge of obtaining grants and donor pledges and supporting policies of reform. Fayyad is a former International Monetary Fund official and was considered a technocrat as head of the PA. Yemen’s Prime Minister Mohammed Basindawa praised Fayyad’s career and said that he looked forward to his input on Yemen’s economic development. [Saba, 3/14/2014]


Gaza rockets, Israeli air strikes persist despite truce call
A small armed faction in the Gaza Strip fired rockets at Israel on Thursday, drawing retaliatory air strikes and pushing cross-border violence into a third day despite a truce called by the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad. Casualties have been scant with winter rains keeping many people indoors, and Israel’s Iron Dome interceptor shooting down some of the Palestinian rockets. Most Israeli strikes have hit unmanned militant facilities. Hamas, the Islamist movement governing Gaza, has also kept its fighters out of this flare-up. Israel’s hard line foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has called for Gaza to be reoccupied and Hamas crushed. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, sounded more restrained, vowing to “hit back with increasing force.” [Reuters, 3/14/2014]

Iraqi government steps up Anbar campaign; Maliki faces sectarian accusations
Violence continued in Iraq’s Anbar province on Thursday after a suicide car bomb targeting an army checkpoint killed four soldiers. The Iraqi army also confirmed the death of twenty-five alleged terrorists, including one sniper, in the restive western province where the government has been trying to drive out militants affiliated to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) who forcibly seized territory in the region earlier this year. Iraq’s foreign minister said that the issues in Anbar province were due to external matters, saying the Syrian crisis’ repercussions have been “fatal.” Maliki is also facing accusations that he is fomenting sectarian conflict between Sunni and Shia leaders as Moqtada al-Sadr calls for more anti-government protests on Monday. [Asharq al-Awsat, 3/14/2014]

Syria-fueled fighting in Lebanon’s second city kills two
Fighting between Sunni and Alawi sects in Tripoli killed two people including a ten year-old girl on Thursday, security and medical sources said, in violence stoked by the war in neighboring Syria. Clashes broke out after gunmen shot a Sunni man who had Alawi family members and lived in a mostly Alawi area of the city, sources said. At least fourteen people were wounded in the ensuing clashes, including two soldiers and one police officer after security services attempted to restore order. The ten-year-old girl was killed by sniper fire as residents in the Sunni Bab al-Tabbaneh and Alawi Jabal Mohsen areas exchanged fire, Lebanon’s National News Agency said. [Reuters, 3/14/2014]

Algeria approves six presidential candidates
Algeria’s Constitutional Court has approved six candidates for the April 17 presidential election, including the seventy-seven year-old incumbent who suffered a stroke last year. Six other would-be candidates were eliminated for not collecting the necessary numbers of signatures. The most prominent of those approved Thursday include Trotskyite Louisa Hanoun and Ali Benflis, a former prime minister. Current President Abdelaziz Bouteflika is expected to be elected for a fourth term. Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal will temporarily leave his duties to run Bouteflika’s campaign. [AP, 3/13/2014]