Top News: UN Investigators May Release Syria War Criminal Lists

UN war crimes investigators said Friday that they were prepared to publish secret lists of alleged war criminals in Syria to help stem an “exponential rise” in human rights violations in the country.

The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, led by Paulo Pinheiro, said publishing the list would put “alleged perpetrators on notice” and could “serve to maximize the potential deterrent effect… and help to protect people at risk of abuse.” In its ninth report, published Friday, the commission detailed an array of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by the Syrian regime, ISIS, and other armed opposition groups. Syria’s permanent Envoy to the UN Bashar al-Jaafari said Saturday, “[the] commission is biased and was founded for political purposes and a hidden agenda which serves those who support terrorism in Syria, the state, and people.” [BBCAFPReuters, 2/21/2015]



Sisi tries to reassure Egyptians despite host of challenges
In a televised speech, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi addressed multiple issues: imprisoned youth, airstrikes in Libya, and the threat of Islamist militancy. On the Egyptian airstrikes on Libya, Sisi said the Egyptian army does not invade foreign territory but only responds to attacks against it. He touched upon the need for a joint Arab military force as the region faces increased Islamist militancy. In an indirect response to alleged leaks of senior army officials speaking negatively about Gulf countries, Sisi said rumors and psychological warfare are pillars are fourth generation wars. He hinted that his speech could be manipulated to harm relations with Gulf countries. Sisi promised to release youth who may have been wrongly jailed during the crackdown on the opposition since he took power in 2013. He also addressed the killing of at least twenty people during a football match and referring to the killing of Shaimaa al-Sabbagh, saying the responsible official would be held accountable. Sisi discussed the Egyptian economy with a focus on social justice, saying the state will contribute half a billion Egyptian pounds, along with the Long Live Egypt fund which he launched in 2013, to develop one of Cairo’s major slums. He assured the public of efforts to remove bureaucratic red tape and corruption which may deter investors and that a new unified investment law would be issued soon. He added that Egypt would abide by its international pledges to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, less than two weeks after Egypt signed a memorandum of agreement with Russia to build a nuclear power plant during President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Cairo. [Reuters, Ahram Online, SIS, Aswat Masriya, DNE, AFP, AP, 2/23/2015]

Commissioners say articles regulating parliament elections ‘unconstitutional’
The Supreme Constitutional Court’s (SCC) Board of Commissioners determined on Saturday that several articles in the laws regulating parliamentary elections are unconstitutional. The Board submitted its report the to the twelve judge panel. The advisory board issued its recommendations after reviewing six lawsuits brought against the House of Representative Law, Political Rights Law, and Parliamentary Constituencies Law. The SCC must issue its final verdict regarding the appeals before February 25, 2015. If the SCC finds that the House of Representatives law, political rights law, and parliamentary constituencies law unconstitutional, it would likely delay the upcoming parliamentary elections until the laws are amended. [Ahram Online, Egypt Independent, 2/22/2015]

Egypt court sentences prominent activist to five years in jail
The Cairo Criminal Court sentenced activist Alaa Abdel Fattah and his codefendant Ahmed Abdel Rahman to five years of maximum security prison on Monday, in their retrial for charges of illegal assembly. The remaining eighteen defendants received three years in prison. All defendants will pay a fine of EGP100,000 ($13,100), and were also ordered to be placed under probation for an amount of time equivalent to their jail terms. Defense lawyer Taher Abo al-Nasr said that they would appeal the ruling with the Cassation Court. [Ahram Online, DNE, Reuters, AP, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, The Guardian, 2/23/2015]

Social Solidarity Minister dissolves 169 NGOs in nine governorates
Social Solidarity Minister Ghada Waly announced on Monday the dissolution of 169 NGOs in nine governorates citing links to the Muslim Brotherhood. The decision was based on the Cairo Court of Urgent Matters’ ruling, which banned Muslim Brotherhood activities. The ministry has stated that it will only support active and effective NGOs and organizations that are committed to transparency, serve the local community and act as a key partner in development. The government recently enforced a Mubarak-era law that allows it to control all NGO activities and dissolve them without a court order when the ministry deems them noncompliant with the law. [Egypt Independent, Aswat Masriya, 2/23/2015]

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Libyan government seeks help from Arab states; Excludes Turkish firms from contracts
Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed al-Dairi of the Tobruk-based government warned that the threat of terrorism facing Libya has the potential to spread to Arab, African, and European neighbors. He said that Libya would turn to its ‘Arab brothers’ for help, given Western misgivings for involvement. He said that the Libyan government asked for supplies and weapons to battle Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants—not for Western boots on the ground—and that there should be no fear that the weapons would fall into the hands of extremists. The Tobruk government also announced it would try to end all contracts with Turkey because of what it views as that country’s support for the rival Tripoli-based government. [Libya Herald, Reuters, 2/23/2015]

Jihadists in Libya pose direct threat to Europe, says France
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said that jihadists in Libya pose a direct threat to Europe. He fears that the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) has established a new base in Libya not far from European borders. US Secretary of State John Kerry said that the international community would be united in the fight against ISIS and expressed confidence that in the coming weeks there would be a unanimous approach to a coordinated and effective response with respect to Libya. [Yahoo, Libya Herald, 2/22/2015]

Islamic State militants claim attacks on Iranian ambassador’s residence in Libya
Militants claiming loyalty to Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) said they were behind the attack on the residence of the Iranian ambassador in Tripoli. On Sunday, two bombs exploded at the gate of residence. There were no casualties. ISIS also claimed responsibility for a Grad rocket attack on the Labraq airport, which is the main gateway into eastern Libya and Beida, seat of the internationally recognized Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni, whose government forces have been battling Islamist militants. [Reuters, 2/22/2015]

Hassi claims Libya’s financial situation is healthy; Tripoli to pay monthly benefit
Omar al-Hassi, Prime Minister of the rival Tripoli government, said the country’s finances are healthy, claiming it can rely on many reserve funds for future expenses. He mentioned profits from previous years but did not specify them. Hassi also said that the Tripoli-based government will pay out a universal benefit of LD30 ($24) monthly to citizens in an apparent effort to reform the country’s subsidy system. A direct subsidy paid to individuals would keep the cost of fuel and basic foodstuffs closer to market prices and help curb smuggling across Libya’s borders. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 2/23/2015]

Tunisian journalists’ union condemns police attacks on journalists
The National Union of Tunisian Journalists released a statement denouncing the physical and verbal assault of four journalists by the security forces. The Union described the recent police attack on journalists as unprecedented and serious. It also warned that the war on terror can be used to restrict the freedom of speech in Tunisia and cited a journalist’s encounter with a police officer who accused the media of inciting terrorism while pointing a gun to his face. Prime Minister Habib Essid called upon his interior minister to investigate the assaults on media and expressed his support for freedom of the press. [Tunisia Live, 2/21/2015]


Turkish military enters Syria to evacuate soldiers, relocate tomb
Turkish forces entered Syria Saturday night to evacuate about forty soldiers who had been surrounded for months by Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants while guarding the tomb of Suleyman Shah, grandfather of the founder of the Ottoman Empire, on a site within Syria that Ankara considers Turkish sovereign territory. The action, which involved tanks, drones, reconnaissance planes, and several hundred ground troops, was the first incursion by Turkish troops into Syria since the start of the civil war. The military said no clashes took place during the operation, though one soldier died in an accident. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said in a statement that the operation was successful. The Syrian government said Sunday that Turkey’s “transgression unmasks the reality of the Turkish intentions and Turkey’s relationship with the Islamic State.” The Syrian Deputy Foreign said that Syria would react in a way it sees fit. The Iranian government said that Turkey’s “military interference makes the situation more complicated and only serves to destabilize security in the region.” [Reuters, The Daily Star, NY Times, 2/22/2015]

UN investigators may release war criminal lists
UN war crimes investigators said Friday that they were prepared to publish secret lists of alleged war criminals in Syria to help stem an “exponential rise” in human rights violations in the country. The Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria, led by Paulo Pinheiro, said publishing the list would put “alleged perpetrators on notice” and could “serve to maximize the potential deterrent effect… and help to protect people at risk of abuse.” In its ninth report, published Friday, the commission detailed an array of crimes against humanity and war crimes committed by the Syrian regime, ISIS, and other armed opposition groups. Syria’s permanent Envoy to the UN Bashar al-Jaafari said Saturday, “[the] commission is biased and was founded for political purposes and a hidden agenda which serves those who support terrorism in Syria, the state, and people.” [BBC, AFP, Reuters, 2/21/2015]

Syrian opposition groups announce plan to end war
The National Coordination Body for Democratic Change, a group of government-tolerated Syrian opposition parties, unveiled Sunday a document for ending the civil war, dubbing it a set of “agreements on the minimum.” The document urges “confidence-building measures” to be taken, such as the release of all political detainees and the kidnapped. The document says that negotiations should produce a unity government in which the regime, the opposition, and members of civil society take part. Priority should be given to holding dialogue, fighting terrorism, and reconstruction. [The Daily Star, 2/23/2015]

Suicide bomb kills four in Assad tribe’s hometown
A suicide bomber driving an ambulance killed four people on Saturday in an unprecedented attack on a hospital in Assad’s Qalbiyya tribe’s hometown al-Qardaha. The attack, the first explosion to hit the heart of the western town since the outbreak of the civil war, killed a nurse, a hospital employee, and two soldiers, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. According to Sham News, a group called “Assembly Supporting the Oppressed” claimed responsibility for the attack. A mausoleum containing the graves of Assad’s father and predecessor, Hafez, and brother Basel, is located in al-Qardaha. [AFP, 2/22/2015]

Syrian Kurds attack ISIS in northeast
The Syrian Kurdish militia People’s Protection Units (YPG) advanced against ISIS militants Sunday in two separate attacks in the northeastern province of Hasaka near the Iraqi border. In an attack backed by US-led air strikes, the YPG advanced to within three miles of Tel Hamis, an ISIS-controlled town twenty-two miles southeast of the city of Qamishli. In the second advance in the northeast, Kurdish fighters took two villages from ISIS at the Iraqi border, helped by heavy shelling from Iraqi Kurdish peshmerga forces on the other side of the frontier. The YPG had decided to launch the attack after ISIS reinforced its positions in the area with foreign fighters. [Reuters, AFP, 2/22/2015]


Yemen’s president taking steps to resume duties
On Saturday, President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi appeared to rescind his resignation after he escaped from Sana’a, saying in a statement that he was still president. He escaped to Aden which is outside the control of the Houthis and where pro-Hadi forces took control of several state buildings last week. Since parliament did not meet to accept his resignation, Hadi is still the president according to Yemeni law. Hundreds of thousands of Yemenis have gathered across the country to demonstrate their support. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) also stated that they support President Hadi’s legitimacy. [Reuters, Al Masdar, 2/23/2015]

Houthis threaten to place former cabinet on trial for treason
On Monday, Houthi rebels threatened to place former cabinet officials on trial for treason if they do not return to work. Monday’s threat came a day after the Houthis ordered the cabinet back to work. All seventeen cabinet members declined. In January, Houthis placed the cabinet under house arrest, which then resigned en masse to protest the Houthi takeover. [Marib Press, AP, 2/23/2015]

Yemen’s president asks for talks to be moved out of capital
Yemen’s President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi has demanded talks on the country’s political crisis be moved from Sana’a. Hadi expressed reservations about continuing the current negotiations in Sana’a in a conversation with UN special envoy, Jamal Benomar. The president renewed his commitment to the political transition process and UN-sponsored talks aimed at finding a solution to the worsening crisis in Yemen. He also welcomed a United Nations Security Council resolution on February 16 demanding the Houthis withdraw their forces and refrain from further unilateral actions. The Houthis rejected his demand Monday morning. [AFP, Al Masdar, 2/21/2015]

GCC statement unilaterally drafted
In the latest twist in the intrigue caused by two conflicting statements issued on the same day by the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a report suggested that the first stance had been drafted unilaterally by sources outside the Riyadh-based headquarters of the general secretariat. The statement that blasted Egypt over “false accusations that challenge facts” caused resentment among GCC states and led to Qatar withdrawing its ambassador from Cairo. [Gulf News, Asharq al-Awsat, 2/21/2015]

Bahrain arrests seven bombing suspects
Seven people suspected of involvement in deadly bombings targeting Bahrain’s security forces have been apprehended. The suspects were involved in two bombings in December that killed a policeman and a civilian, the prosecutor said. The office did not disclose when the group was arrested who its members are or when they might face trial. [Reuters, 2/23/2015]


Oil flows resume at Libya’s largest field
Libya’s largest oil field and a key oil port were brought back online Sunday. The resumption of oil flows from the Sarir oil field, which pumps about two-thirds of the country’s remaining output, was a rare piece of good news following renewed fighting and a string of attacks by Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) militants. Unknown militants sabotaged a pipeline carrying 185,000 barrels a day from Sarir to the Hariga terminal in eastern Libya last week. It has reportedly been repaired and will resume activities soon. Separately, operations restarted at the Zueitina terminal in eastern Libya, which had been shut for a year due to security concerns. [The Wall Street Journal, 2/22/2015]

Egypt’s president raises cigarette tax
Egypt is said to raise the sales tax on both local and imported cigarettes as it confronts a major budget deficit. The decision announced by presidential decree, increases a flat tax by 7 cents for a pack of less expensive cigarettes, while expensive brands will see an increase of at least 20 cents. A similar move last July raised prices 25 to 40 cents per pack. Egypt has seen a spate of tax hikes since last year as the government strives to bolster state revenues while cutting public spending to rein in a budget deficit, which reached 12.8 percent of GDP in the fiscal year ending June 2014. [NYT, Ahram Online, 2/22/2015]

Cheap oil cuts Kuwait nine-month budget surplus 26 percent
According to analysts at the National Bank of Kuwait (NBK), the country’s government budget surplus shrank 26 percent in the first nine months of this fiscal year as lower oil prices cut revenue sharply. The surplus totaled 10.6 billion dinars ($35.9 billion) between April and December, down from 14.3 billion dinars a year earlier. The plunge in oil prices since last June has squeezed state finances and if oil prices stay at current levels of $60 a barrel, Kuwait could run a budget deficit or come close to it. The NBK predicted the surplus for the full fiscal year ending in March would total 4.1 billion dinars, the smallest surplus in six years. [Reuters, 2/23/2015]

Yemen loses $1 billion in oil revenues in 2014
According to an official report issued by the Central Bank of Yemen, the country lost nearly $1 billion of its oil revenues over 2014, compared to 2013. The report explained that Yemen’s revenues from the value of oil exports fell to about $1.6 billion in the last year, compared with more than $2.6 billion in 2013, a dramatic decrease amounting to $989 million. The reasons for the decline lie mainly in the weakness productivity of Yemen, the drop in global oil prices and the exposure of oil pipeline Marib-Hodeidah to several sabotage attacks. [Saba, 2/21/2015]

Morocco inflation rises to 1.6 percent in January
According to the Moroccan High Planning Authority, Morocco’s consumer price inflation rose to an annual 1.6 percent in January from 0.4 percent in December as food and non-food prices increased. Food inflation was up 2.1 percent in the twelve months through January. The non-food price index rose 1.1 percent from the previous month. [Reuters, 2/23/2015]