Top News: UN Alarmed by Deadly Syrian Protest in Jordan Camp

The United Nations said Sunday it is alarmed at the “violent nature” of a demonstration in a massive Syrian refugee camp in Jordan that killed one person and wounded dozens. 

Saturday’s deadly protest in the sprawling Zaatari camp reverberated around the region as international aid agencies and host governments struggle to cope and manage millions of Syrians who have fled the three year conflict and sought shelter in neighboring Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. The protest started over a refugee family being held there after police detained them and a driver who tried to smuggle them out, the UNHCR said. Police allegedly fired tear gas and live ammunition, the statement said. Jordan is home to nearly 600,000 registered Syrians refugees, and the numbers grow daily. [Al-Arabiya, 4/6/2014]



Twenty-five dead, fourteen arrested amid Aswan tribal clashes
At least twenty-five people have been killed in clashes between rival families in the southern Egyptian city of Aswan since Friday. Fourteen people have been arrested over the clashes, while some sources say at least fifty-six people were wounded. The violence erupted late Friday after students from the feuding families scrawled insulting graffiti on the walls of a school, security sources said. One family is from the Nubian ethnic group and the other from the Arab Beni Helal clan, the sources said. Army spokesman Ahmed Ali said on his official Facebook page the army had helped to “contain the crisis” and there were “signs of involvement of the Muslim Brotherhood in the strife between the two tribes.” The prime minister and interior minister travelled to Aswan on Saturday afternoon to meet the governor and discuss plans to quell tensions, MENA reported. Meanwhile, Egyptian state television Monday said that the tribes reached a truce. Aswan Governor Mostafa Yousry told the state news agency that things are calm now in the Upper Egypt governorate. [DNE, Ahram Online, Reuters, 4/7/2014]

Egypt court upholds three-year sentence for Maher, Adel and Douma
The Cairo Misdemeanour Court of Appeals upheld on Monday a three-year sentence and EGP 50,000 fines against activists Ahmed Maher, Mohamed Adel and Ahmed Douma, rejecting their appeal. Mahmoud Belal, a lawyer with the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights, said that the verdict is final but that they can file an appeal at the Court of Cassation, adding however, that this process may take up to two or three years, by which time they would have completed their sentences. The three men appeared in court on Monday inside a metal cage wearing blue prison suits and chanting: “Down down with the army rule, our country will always be free.” Ahead of the Monday trial, Amnesty International had issued a statement calling for the “immediate and unconditional” release of the activists. [Ahram Online, DNE, Reuters, Aswat Masriya, Egypt Independent, AP, Mada Masr, 4/7/2014]

Egyptian law shielding state deals set to go to cabinet
A law banning third-party challenges to contracts signed by the Egyptian government will be sent to the cabinet by next week, trade and investment minister Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour said on Sunday. The law is intended to reassure and attract investors unnerved by a host of legal challenges made in particular to sales of property and companies by the Mubarak government, some of which have left those firms in legal limbo. “There won’t be a third-party appeal. The appeal will be left to parties to the contract,” Abdel Nour told reporters at a news conference. He said there would be exceptions, but declined to give details. [Reuters, 4/6/2014]

HRW calls on United States to delay military aid to Egypt
Human Rights Watch cautioned Washington against resuming military assistance to Egypt until its military-backed government ends alleged rights abuses and holds violators accountable. The New York-based advocacy group on Friday released a letter it had sent earlier in the week to US Secretary of State John Kerry, following comments indicating that he would make a decision on aid resumption in the coming weeks. Washington cut assistance to Cairo in October, withholding deliveries of tanks, fighter aircraft and other military equipment, as well as $260 million in cash aid after authorities used violence to put down protests following the ousting of Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s first freely elected president.[Reuters, Ahram Online, 4/4/2014]


Libyan militia agrees to give up four oil terminals
A powerful Libyan militia in the east of the country has agreed to hand back control of four oil terminals. They were captured by the militia and and shut down last summer with the demand to receive a share in oil revenues. This agreement comes after months of a tense standoff between the weak central government in Libya and the militias which came to a head when an attempt by the eastern militia to use a North Korean-flagged tanker to export oil from one of the seized terminals failed. This deal could help bolster the authority of the central government in the face of the country’s powerful militias. [AP, 4/7/2014]

Benghazi airport reopens after mass strike paralyzes eastern city
The Benghazi airport has reopened for international flights after it was closed when a general strike was held in the eastern city. The airport manager said an agreement had been reached but that local flights to and from the airport are still suspended. On Sunday, public and private sector staff, including oil workers, went on strike in the city, protesting worsening security and demanded the resignation of the General National Congress. Oil companies, universities and schools were closed as well, reportedly heeding a call by political groups for a day of “civil disobedience” to demand better security. [Libya Herald, Reuters, 4/7/2014]

EU to appoint special advisor on Libya
The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Catherine Ashton, has announced plans to appoint a special personal advisor on Libya in response to growing concerns about the situation in the country. She said that the advisor would engage specifically with Libyan authorities and “focus again on bringing international attention and bringing international actors together to try and support the needs of the Libyan people.” The appointee, to be named soon, will be based in Brussels, visiting Libya regularly. [Libya Herald, 4/5/2014]

CBL “has enough money for three years” without oil
The Central Bank of Libya (CBL) has enough reserves to fund Libya for another three years without earning any revenues from oil sales, according to the bank’s head of reserves. Musbah Alkari said the bank has more than $115 billion in foreign currency reserves. Citing additional sources of funding, such as commercial bank assets and private sector cash holdings at home, he dismissed reports that the country is running short of cash and is unable to fund projects. [Libya Herald, 4/6/2014]


Assad tells Russian ex-PM “active phase” of war over this year
Former Russian prime minister Sergei Stepashin, who recently met with Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, said the Syrian president told him that much of the fighting in the country’s civil war would be over by the end of the year. “To my question about how military issues were going, this is what Assad said: ‘This year the active phase of military action in Syria will be ended. After that we will have to shift to what we have been doing all the time—fighting terrorists’.” The comment adds to the growing “game over” narrative that the Assad regime is attempting to construct. On Monday, Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, said that Assad no longer faces the threat of being overthrown and will stand for reelection this year. [Reuters, 4/7/2014]

Blast kills at least thirty rebels in Homs; Violence continues in Damascus
At least thirty rebels including two field commanders were killed when a vehicle exploded in the central city of Homs on Sunday. A well-known Dutch Jesuit priest was also abducted and shot dead by unidentified gunmen in the besieged city of Homs on Monday. To the south, the capital Damascus saw heavy fighting as warplanes pounded an eastern suburb and a mortar strike hit the city’s heavily defended center, killing two people at the Damascus Opera House. At least five people including three children had also been killed in the Damascus suburb of Douma during shelling by government forces. [Reuters, The Daily Star, NYT, AFP, Naharnet, 4/7/2014]

Israeli official: Assad used chemical weapons in Damascus two weeks ago
Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons in Damascus two weeks ago, a senior Israeli defense official said Monday. The opposition in Syria reported two incidents in which the Assad regime used chemical weapons, both in Damascus and both two weeks ago. The Israeli security establishment has strong evidence pointing to the use of chemical materials in the Harasta neighborhood of eastern Damascus on March 27. The material is thought to be a neutralizing chemical that wounds people for several hours but is not fatal. [Haaretz, 4/7/2014]

Saudi Prince Bandar resumes intelligence post
Saudi security officials say Prince Bandar bin Sultan will return to the kingdom within days after two months abroad for surgery and will return to his position as intelligence chief, including control of the Syrian dossier. In his absence, Saudi Interior Minister Mohammed bin Nayef was in charge of both Syria and intelligence. Bandar has lead Saudi intelligence and strategic affairs in the Levant for a number of years. He is a former ambassador to the United States. [Daily Star, 4/7/2014]


Obama and Jomaa meet on Friday, US to provide loan guarantee
On Friday US President Barack Obama and interim Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa reaffirmed the strategic partnership between the United States and Tunisia. In a joint statement, the two leaders discussed the historic progress made in Tunisia. In the statement, Obama announced the administration’s intent to provide a second loan guarantee for $500 million to facilitate Tunisia’s access to international capital markets. At a news conference on Sunday, Jomaa emphasized the strong US support for Tunisia’s transition and the United States’ willingness to help Tunisia succeed as long as aid focuses on investments and serious reforms are introduced. [TAP, TAP, 4/6/2014, Tunisia Live, 4/7/2014]

Islamist militants arrested after bomb mishap
A group of Islamist militants were arrested on Sunday by Tunisian police after they accidentally exploded a bomb they were manufacturing as part of a planned attack on the country’s commercial city of Sfax. The eight suspected members, who belonged to the militant group of Ansar al-Sharia, were arrested as part of a raid in Sfax. Two of the suspects were injured in the explosion. Quantities of ammonium nitrate and raw materials used in triggering blasts were seized. [TAP, Al Arabiya, 4/7/2014]

Tunisia and Libya discuss Ras Jedir border crossing
On Friday, according to Medenine Governor Habib Chawat, the security situation in Ben Guerdane returned to normal after a week of protests in response to the closing of the Ras Jedir border crossing. On Sunday, Minister of Interior Lofti Ben Jeddou spoke on the phone with his Libyan counterpart Salah Mazek in order to coordinate on the reopening of the Ras Jedir border crossing. Caretaker President Moncef Marzouki also spoke with President of the Libyan General National Congress Nouri Abou Sahmin on Sunday on ways to ensure the reopening of the border crossing and improve security and economic conditions across the border. The border crossing was supposed to reopen on Sunday. [TAP, 4/6/2014]

Hundreds of Tunisians fighting in Syria
According to the ministry of the interior, 1,800 Tunisians are fighting in Syria. Tunisia has struggled to prevent its citizens from leaving the country to join the conflict. Tunisians travel to Syria via Europe or Libya. According to deputy minister Ridha Sfar, a forgiveness and repentance law, which was previously enacted in countries like Algeria and Italy, has been put into practice. He stated that “any Tunisian who does not have blood on his hands” can take advantage of this policy. In February, the ministry of the interior claimed to have prevented 800 Tunisians from going to Syria to fight in the war. [Tunisia Live, 4/4/2014]


Bomb wounds aide to senior military advisor in Yemen
An aide to General Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, a government military adviser, and three security guards were wounded when a bomb exploded near his car on Saturday morning. The wounded aide is the director of the office of al-Ahmar, who broke away from the army during the anti-Saleh protests and said he was siding with the demonstrators. Al-Ahmar’s First Armoured Brigade occasionally clashed with forces loyal to Saleh during the uprising. The general was taken on as a military adviser by Saleh’s replacement, President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi, in 2013. [Reuters, 4/5/2014]

Constitution committee to have draft ready by July
The first draft of Yemen’s next constitution will be ready by July, according to sources inside the Constitution Drafting Committee. The draft will be delivered to the National Commission charged with overseeing the implementation of the National Dialogue Conferences decisions. The Committee members are consulting with legal and constitutional experts from the United Nations, the United States, Germany, and France, as the drafting process moves forward. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), The National Yemen, 4/7/2014]

Mediation fails to secure stolen generators
Local mediation efforts failed to secure the release of generators being held by tribes in Shabwa province. The generators were stolen a month ago and are estimated to be worth two billion rials (USD$9.2 million). The generators were being shipped to Marib from Oman, a gift from one of the oil companies, to address the energy deficit. A tribal source claimed that talks fell through because local authorities continued to ignore tribesmen demands. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 4/7/2014]

Delays in Effort to Refocus CIA From Drone War
Though President Barack Obama promised last May to shift control over drone strikes from the CIA to the Pentagon, the change has come slowly to the CIA. A number of factors—bureaucratic turf fights, congressional pressure and the demands of foreign governments—have contributed to delays. A number of bungled drone strikes carried out by the military’s Joint Special Operations Command in Yemen led to a temporary ban drone strikes by the US military, which are launched from Djibouti. Officials said the ban came after a military drone strike in December killed a number of civilians who were part of a wedding procession Yemen’s South. The CIA continues to wage its own drone war in Yemen, launching the unmanned planes from Saudi Arabia. [The New York Times, 4/7/2014]


Violence, sectarianism continue to mar Iraqi elections
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has opened a new battlefront in Iraq that could threaten Baghdad. The latest clashes raise doubts over the capacity of security forces to repel militants. Anti-government fighters currently hold Fallujah and other pockets of territory. ISIS’s push into the Abu Ghraib area and a failed assault on a military camp sparked numerous clashes across the country. On Friday the government sent a draft law to parliament that would enact a state of emergency ahead of elections on April 30. The bill was submitted too late to be ratified, which one MP said demonstrated the government’s failure to deal with security. Critics accused Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki of manipulating sectarian divisions for political advantages, first by banning specific candidates from running and by intimidation of Sunni voters. Despite the insecurity and political turmoil, Maliki is determined to press ahead with elections. [AFP, 4/6/2014]

UN alarmed by deadly Syrian protest in Jordan camp
The United Nations said Sunday it is alarmed at the “violent nature” of a demonstration in a massive Syrian refugee camp in Jordan that killed one person and wounded dozens. Saturday’s deadly protest in the sprawling Zaatari camp reverberated around the region as international aid agencies and host governments struggle to cope and manage millions of Syrians who have fled the three year conflict and sought shelter in neighboring Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey. The protest started over a refugee family being held there after police detained them and a driver who tried to smuggle them out, the UNHCR said. Police allegedly fired tear gas and live ammunition, the statement said. Jordan is home to nearly 600,000 registered Syrians refugees, and the numbers grow daily. [Al-Arabiya, 4/6/2014]

Army arrests militia leaders in Lebanon as violence continues across the country
In a statement on Monday, the Lebanese Army said that  it arrested Ammar Ali Abdel-Rahman, commander of the Jabal Mohsen-Riva front, and Jalal Hasan Hajji, commander of the Jabal Mohsen-Barraneye front. Both have engaged in deadly clashes with their rivals in Tripoli. The military also raided two arms caches in Jabal Mohsen and confiscated large quantities of arms and military gear. President Michel Sleiman chaired a meeting with the country’s top officials to discuss the security situation ahead of a plan to restore law and order to the northern Bekaa region. Eight people were also killed and ten wounded in fighting on Monday between Palestinian factions in a refugee camp near Lebanon’s southern city of Sidon. [The Daily Star, 4/7/2014]

Jordan king to hold Syria talks in Russia on Wednesday
Jordan’s King Abdullah II is to travel to Moscow on Wednesday for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the Syrian conflict, the palace said. According to a palace statement, “The talks will focus on bilateral cooperation and Middle East developments, particularly the Syrian crisis.” King Abdullah has said the conflict in neighboring Syria and the rise of extremism there are his country’s primary concerns. [Naharnet, 4/7/2014]