Turkish fighter jets shot down a Syrian warplane on Sunday after it violated Turkish airspace, Turkey’s prime minister said. Erdogan praised the Turkish military for its response, as did President Abdullah Gul, according to a Turkish television report. Two Syrian warplanes entered the airspace over southern Turkey, but one turned back after the pilots were warned against entering by the Turkish Air Force, a statement posted on the military’s website said. When the other Syrian plane did not comply, it was shot down by a Turkish F-16 fighter jet. Syria condemned what it called a “blatant aggression” and said the jet was pursuing rebel fighters inside Syria. It said the pilot had managed to eject before the plane crashed. [NYTReuters, 3/23/2014]


Egyptian court sentences 529 Muslim Brotherhood members to death
On Monday, the Minya criminal court sentenced 529 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood to death in the largest such sentencing in Egypt’s modern history. The unprecedented verdict, amid an extensive crackdown on Morsi supporters, is likely to be overturned on appeal, legal experts said. The defendants in the southern province of Minya are part of a larger group of more than 1,200 alleged Islamists accused of killing policemen and rioting on August 14, after police killed hundreds of protesters while dispersing two Cairo protest camps. The court also acquitted sixteen other defendants. Varying media outlets reported that between 375 and 400 of the defendants were tried in absentia. [Ahram Online, AFP, AP, Reuters, Mada Masr, 3/24/2014]

April 6 launches campaign to revoke protest law
Egypt’s April 6 Youth Movement launched a petition Saturday calling for the cancellation of the controversial protest law. The movement added that it has already held meetings with members of the constituent assembly and national figures to coordinate with all political forces in order to lobby for the cancellation of the law. Signatories of the petition approve the cancellation of the law, which the movement says has faced popular opposition and is unconstitutional. They also call for the law to be redrafted “to regulate and protect the right to demonstrate according to the constitution” and that it “not be use to harass opponents.” [DNE, Ahram Online, 3/24/2014]

Interior Minister considering importing weapons from Russia
Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim told journalists Sunday that the Interior Ministry was considering a weapons deal with Russia since the United States and European Union were “stifling” arms imports after Mohamed Morsi’s 3 July ouster, state-run Al-Ahram reported. Ibrahim, who was appointed to his post by ousted, Muslim Brotherhood-backed Morsi, said the ministry was looking to Russia because of a lack of arms to combat “terrorist elements.” According to Ibrahim, such “elements” are mostly Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated militants. [Ahram Online, DNE, 3/24/2014]

Egypt targets a growth rate of 3.4 percent during next fiscal year
Minister of Planning Ashraf al-Araby announced that the interim government is aiming to grow GDP by 3-3.4 percent during the next fiscal year. Previously, Finance Minister Hany Kadry Dimian stated that he expected growth during the current fiscal year (FY 2013-14) to range between 2-2.5 percent. During the first quarter of FY 2013-14, GDP grew by just 1 percent. [DNE, 3/22/2014]


US forces hand over seized oil tanker to Libya
The US Navy handed over to Libyan authorities on Saturday the Morning Glory oil tanker that had loaded crude oil at a port controlled by armed Libyan rebels. Libyan authorities boarded the tanker and detained three militiamen and the crew after the vessel anchored off the country’s coast, the state news agency and a Libyan navy spokesman said. Hours before the handover, at least sixteen people were wounded when rebels occupying the three eastern oil ports clashed with troops and attacked an army base, where pro-government forces had been preparing to break the rebel blockade. The Hassan al-Jaber Brigade withdrew from Ajdabiya’s Haniya military camp Saturday night after self-styled federalist leader Ibrahim Jadhran agreed that the brigade could take its weapons and equipment back to Beida. Two other units opposed to Jadhran remain at the camp. [Reuters, 3/23/2014]

GNC orders new elections for thirteen unfilled constitutional assembly seats
The General National Congress (GNC) has decided there will be fresh elections for the thirteen unfilled seats on the sixty-member Constitutional Committee and has given the High National Election Commission permission to set a date. Constitutional Committee elections took place on February 20, but voting did not take place in eighty-one polling centers because of violence, insecurity, blockades, and boycotts. Additionally, there was no attempt to hold elections in the two Amazigh sub-constituencies of Zuwara and Jebel Nafusa where no Amazigh candidates stood. Attempts to reorganize the disrupted elections six days later on February 26 were equally unsuccessful. It is believed that now that the GNC has agreed to the principle of consensus as demanded by the Amazigh and Tebus, there is a possibility of them agreeing to new polls. [Libya Herald, 3/23/2014]

Thinni reaches out to Tawerghans
Caretaker Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni met with members of the exiled Tawergha Local Council to look into the plight of Tawerghan refugees across the country. According to local council leader Abdurrahman Shikshak, the members discussed the humanitarian crisis facing Tawerghan refugees, whether Tawergha should have a municipality of its own, and the Tawerghans’ right to return home. According to Shikshak, al-Thinni was “very understanding” about their complaints and grievances, and “unlike [former Prime Minister Ali] Zeidan did not make any promises.” Some 40,000 Tawerghans fled their homes in August 2011 when the town was attacked by Misratan forces as revenge for having supported the assault on Misrata during the revolution. [Libya Herald, 3/23/2014]


Turkey downs Syrian warplane
Turkish fighter jets shot down a Syrian warplane on Sunday after it violated Turkish airspace, Turkey’s prime minister said. Erdogan praised the Turkish military for its response, as did President Abdullah Gul, according to a Turkish television report. Two Syrian warplanes entered the airspace over southern Turkey, but one turned back after the pilots were warned against entering by the Turkish Air Force, a statement posted on the military’s website said. When the other Syrian plane did not comply, it was shot down by a Turkish F-16 fighter jet. Syria condemned what it called a “blatant aggression” and said the jet was pursuing rebel fighters inside Syria. It said the pilot had managed to eject before the plane crashed. [NYT, Reuters, 3/23/2014]

Rebels capture town near Turkish border; Assad’s cousin killed in fighting
After three days of fighting, hard-line Islamic rebels captured a small town in northwestern Syria near the Turkish border on Sunday as part of their offensive in the rugged coastal region that is a bastion of support for President Bashar al-Assad. Hilal Assad, a relative of President Assad and commander of the pro-regime National Defense Forces in Latakia, was killed in the clashes. Fighters from an array of armed opposition groups, including militants from the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, seized the predominantly Armenian Christian town of Kassab and wrested control of a nearby border crossing to Turkey. Forces loyal to Assad have captured several towns near Syria’s border with Lebanon as part of a government offensive aimed severing rebel supply lines across the porous frontier and securing the border. Syria’s nineteen border posts are frequent sites of contestation. [AP, Reuters, AFP, 3/24/2014]

Brahimi rules out new Syria talks ‘for time being’
The international mediator on Syria said on Monday a resumption of peace talks in Geneva between Damascus and the opposition was “out of the question” for the moment. “A return to Geneva is out of question for the time being because the criteria have not been met,” UN and Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi said in Kuwait. 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. In a briefing to the UN Security Council earlier this month Brahimi accused Syria of delaying efforts to resume Geneva talks. [AFP, 3/24/2014]


Tunisia coordinates with Libya on abducted Tunisian diplomat case
According to the foreign ministry in Tunis, a Tunisian diplomat posted in Libya was kidnapped. Tunisian authorities are coordinating with their Libyan counterparts in ongoing investigations into the abduction which is one of a string of diplomatic abductions in the Libyan capital this year. The incident occurred on Friday, March 21, when kidnappers forced the embassy employee into their vehicle, which had stopped his car in the Ain Zara suburb of eastern Tripoli. Tunisia is urging Libyan authorities “to ensure the protection of all employees and agents of diplomatic missions and consulates in Libya.” [Reuters, Libya Herald, 3/24/2014]

Secretary general of Tunisian Islamist movement resigns
Ennahda Secretary General Hamadi Jebali has resigned from his position. Officials said on Monday that the movement has not made a decision yet to accept or refuse his resignation. Jebali’s plan to resign came after the resignation of several senior members of the Ennahda party, including Manar Skandarani and Reyad Sho’ibi, who announced their plans to establish new parties. Amidst speculations, the Ennahda spokesperson assured the press that Jebali’s resignation only concerns his position as secretary general and he remains a member of the party. [Middle East Monitor, 3/24/2014]

Tunisia cuts 2014 growth forecast to 2.8 percent
Tunisia’s government has cut its economic growth forecast to 2.8 percent for this year. According to Finance Minister Hakim Ben Hamouda these figures remain in line with the IMF’s forecast. “We see growth at 2.8 percent given the global economic situation and the context of the country’s transition,” Hamouda told reporters. “We have to be realistic.” The government still faces the challenge of reducing a wide budget deficit, securing enough external financing and tackling the subsidy reforms and public spending cuts demanded by its international lenders. [Reuters, 3/24/2014]


Sheikhs meet to discuss Gulf spat; refuse secret meeting with Saleh
Tribal sources reported former President Ali Abdullah Saleh attempted to organize a meeting with sheikhs from large tribal confederations, Hashid and Bakil, but the tribal leaders refused to attend. The meeting was to be held in secret during a broader dialogue in Sana’a about the ongoing Gulf Cooperation Council spat. Some sheikhs applauded the increased isolation of Qatar and the condemnation of the Houthis and Islah, a group linked to the Muslim Brotherhood. [Mareb Press (Arabic), 3/22/2014]

Two Mareb pipelines targeted over in two days
Yemeni tribesmen bombed Yemen’s main crude export pipeline on Saturday, forcing oil flows to be stopped. “The pipeline was attacked by tribesmen,” said an unidentified industry source. The demands of the tribesmen were not known, but in the past they have wanted relatives to be released from prisons or to protest against their unemployment. Another pipeline was destroyed early Sunday morning. [Reuters, Mareb Press (Arabic), 3/23/2014]

UK Ambassador: Southerners want jobs and security, not secession
Jane Marriott, the United Kingdom’s ambassador to Yemen, commented on a wide array of political issues in an interview with Gulf News. Talking about the Southern issue, she remarked that their key demands—jobs, infrastructure, and security—are identical to the demands of northerners, and that secession would not facilitate these demands. Marriott said economic reforms, like lifting fuel subsidies and cracking down on “ghost workers” are key steps to Yemen’s economic recovery, saying “the World Bank can free about $2.5 billion” a year with these reforms implemented. She declined to comment on the US drone strike program. [Gulf News, 3/21/2014]

Gunmen kill twenty soldiers in Hadramawt security checkpoint attack
Suspected militants killed twenty members of Yemen’s security forces in a dawn raid on a checkpoint on Monday in an attack officials said bore the hallmarks of the local branch of al Qaeda. The Yemeni interior minister suspended senior security officials in the eastern province of Hadramawt where the attack took place and ordered an immediate investigation. A local official said the troops, who belonged to a paramilitary unit under the interior ministry, were mostly asleep when the raiders attacked the checkpoint. Some soldiers were reportedly kidnapped in the raid as well. [Reuters, Al-Masdar (Arabic), 3/24/2014]


Syria’s sectarian, factional fallout results in clashes in Tripoli, Beirut
Lebanese troops were deployed on Sunday after a number of casualties were reported in a predominantly Sunni Muslim area of Beirut. The fighting broke out before dawn between gunmen loyal to Shaker Barjawi, a Sunni Muslim who supports the Alawite president, and other Sunni Muslims who back the three-year uprising against Assad’s rule. The clashes come after continuing factional violence in the northern city of Tripoli that has left twenty-nine dead. On Monday, an influential Lebanese militant leader and cleric, previously thought to be dead, called for Sunni Muslims to defect from the army, in a tirade posted on YouTube likely to intensify sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shia in the country. [BBC, Reuters, The Daily Star, Reuters, 3/24/2014]

Palestinian factions seek to distance Lebanon refugee camps from crises
Armed Palestinian groups in Lebanon are putting the final touches on a memorandum of understanding aimed at insulating Palestinian refugee camps from conflicts in Lebanon and Syria. The memorandum will be announced during a news conference at the Palestinian Embassy and will be signed by Hezbollah, the Amal Movement, and Lebanese Army officials. The memorandum is the outcome of an initiative put forth by Islamic Jihad and will also be signed by Hamas, the Osbat al-Ansar group, and Sheikh Jamal Khattab, the spiritual leader for Islamist groups inside Ain al-Hilweh. In a rare showing of unity between the factions, Fatah has signed on as well. Tensions between the two Lebanese Shiite groups and Palestinian Islamist factions have escalated recently as both sides have different, conflicting stances on the conflict in Syria. [The Daily Star, 3/24/2014]

Bombing follows anti-discrimination protest in Bahrain
Thousands of Bahrainis demonstrated near Manama on Friday against what they described as sectarian discrimination in the Sunni-ruled kingdom. “No to discrimination,” chanted protesters; the protest was to coincide with the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. They carried posters of jailed opposition members, including the Sunni head of the secular Wa’ad party who is serving a five-year sentence. On Saturday, a bomb exploded on in a Bahraini village east of Manama causing minor injuries to a policeman. It was not immediately clear who planted the bomb or the extent of the damage. [Al-Jazeera, 3/24/2014]

Presidential campaign begins in Algeria as protesters call for boycott
Campaigning for Algeria’s election opened on Sunday with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika starting his race not with a speech or a mass rally, but with a letter. With questions lingering about the state of his health after a stroke last year, Bouteflika began his campaign writing to Algerians to say his condition would not stop him extending his fifteen years governing the North African state. The previous day, 5,000 protesters gathered in a sports stadium calling for a boycott of elections, denouncing Bouteflika’s bid, and demanding for reforms to a political system they see as corrupt. [Reuters, 3/24/2014]