Top News: UN report sees violations of Libyan arms embargo, ISIS expansion

In their annual report to the UN Security Council, which was released on Wednesday, the experts monitoring UN sanctions against Libya found an array of companies, individuals, and countries supplying arms to factions in Libya, breaking a long-standing arms embargo on the North African country. The experts called for the arms embargo to remain in place and be enforced. The report also said asset freezes and travel bans on individuals from the Qaddafi regime are regularly broken. United Nations sanctions monitors also said that the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) has expanded its control over territory in Libya and militants claim to defend for the North African state against foreign military intervention. They report that ISIS has successfully recruited marginalized communities in Sirte. The monitors also said Libya has become more attractive to foreign fighters who mainly arrive through Sudan, Tunisia, and Turkey. ISIS has increased its operational capacity in Sabratha and Tripoli through local recruitment and a “nationalistic narrative,” reinforced by foreign fighters. [WSJ, Reuters, AP, AFP, 3/10/2016]



Foreign Ministry criticizes EU parliament’s ‘undocumented’ claims of rights abuses
The Egyptian Foreign Ministry rejected on Thursday the European Parliament’s resolution on the death of Giulio Regeni, describing it as based on “undocumented media reports.” “It is unfortunate that ancient legislative institutions such as the European Parliament deal with accusations from undocumented media reports concerning Regeni’s murder as evidence to build resolutions upon,” Ministry Spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid said in a statement Friday. “Involving Regeni’s case in a resolution which tackles the human rights records in Egypt is rejected, especially as the investigations are still being conducted by the Egyptian authorities in cooperation with their Italian counterparts,” he added. Regarding forced disappearances, Abu Zeid stated that “it has been proven by the Egyptian authorities that the vast majority of the forced disappearance cases are suspects who are standing documented trials.” He added that “the Egyptian government respects and considers human rights values, and torture is a crime which is stated in Egypt’s constitution.” Some Egyptian MPs also criticized the EU resolution, including Bahaa El-Din Abu Shoqa, head of the Wafd Party’s parliamentary committee, and Salah Hassaballah, a member of the In Support of Egypt majority bloc. [Ahram Online, 3/11/2016]

MP to propose law preventing dissolution of parliament
Member of Parliament Mohamed Esmat Sadat said Thursday that he plans to propose a law guaranteeing the “stability” of the parliament in consultation with the Constitutional Court’s general assembly. The law, Sadat said, aims at preventing the dissolution of the legislative body. He added that the law does not aim to provide immunity to the parliament, but rather guarantee its ability to fulfill its role. Sadat pointed to the waste of funds spent both by the state, parties, and candidates as an unreasonable cost for a mistake in the legislation governing the elections. Sadat added that the dissolution of the parliament would be a violation of popular will. A lawsuit was recently filed calling for the parliament’s dissolution, on the grounds that several members of parliament refused to recognize the January 25 revolution. [Aswat Masriya (Arabic), 3/11/2016]

Amid tensions with Egypt, Hamas delegation going to Cairo
A delegation from Hamas will be going to Cairo from Gaza shortly for talks with Egyptian intelligence officials against the backdrop of allegations that implicate the movement in the assassination of Egyptian Prosecutor General Hisham Barakat in a car bombing in Cairo last June. News of the planned visit by the delegation was reported in Gaza on Thursday. This week, suspects in the Barakat assassination case are said to have admitted that they were trained for six weeks by Hamas members in Gaza. Earlier on Thursday, it was also reported that a smuggling tunnel under the Gaza-Egypt at Rafah had collapsed due to operations that the Egyptians have been carrying out in recent months to flood the area and put a stop to the smuggling. [Haaretz, 3/10/2016]

Iran’s charge d’affaires in Cairo says disputes with Egypt can be solved easily
The Iranian charge d’affaires in Egypt, Mahmoud Mahmoudian, told a group of Egyptian journalists in a rare meeting on Wednesday that Tehran’s disputes with Egypt could be solved easily by dialogue. In the meeting at his office in Heliopolis, Mahmoudian denied accusations that Iran wanted to spread Shiism in Egypt or in other Arab countries. Mahmoudian also said there are Iranian investors and companies willing to work in Egypt, which they consider a gateway to Africa. Regarding Tehran’s rocky relations with Saudi Arabia, the Iranian official said that his country was trying to rebuild a positive relation with Riyadh but claimed the kingdom has not reciprocated. Mahmoudian added that Iran was calling for a dialogue between Saudi officials and Houthis rebels, whom Iran backs in Yemen. [Ahram Online, 3/11/2016]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


Europe moves closer to imposing Libya sanctions
EU foreign ministers are considering sanctions on three Libyans they see as blocking UN-led efforts to form a government of national unity. Strongly backed by France, the travel bans and asset freezes will be discussed by ministers on Monday in Brussels. UN Special Envoy for Libya Martin Kobler will also attend, although he is not arguing in favor or against sanctions. The three under the threat of sanctions include  Nouri Abu Sahmain, the head of Libya’s General National Congress in Tripoli, Khalifa al-Ghwell, who heads Libya’s western government, and Aguila Saleh, the president of Libya’s internationally recognized parliament in Tobruk.  [Reuters, AP, AFP, 3/11/2016]

Algeria army recovers Stinger missiles from slain extremists
Algerian troops recovered six Stinger shoulder-fired ground-to-air missiles in an operation near the Tunisian border in which three suspected extremists were killed, the Defense Ministry said Friday. The missiles, made famous by their use in Afghanistan in the 1980s and Washington’s subsequent multimillion dollar program to buy them back to stop them falling into the hands of al-Qaeda, were seized along with an array of other weaponry. The operation took place in the El Oued province southeast of Algiers on Thursday evening. [AFP, 3/11/2016]


In Aleppo, five civilians killed in regime raids
On Friday, at least five civilians were killed by Syrian regime air strikes in a rebel-held neighborhood of Aleppo city, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said. “Friday’s toll is the highest in Aleppo city since the ceasefire came into force and it is the most serious violation in the city since the truce came into effect,” director of SOHR Rami Abdel Rahman said. The raids follow a lull in fighting brought by an unprecedented ceasefire that has largely held since coming into force on February 27. [AFP, 3/11/2016]

Syrian army aims for eastward advance with Palmyra attack
The Syrian army, backed by Russian airstrikes, aims to capture the historic city of Palmyra from the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) to open a road to the eastern province of Deir Ezzor in an offensive that got under way this week, a source close to the Syrian government said. The Russian air force has hit Palmyra with dozens of airstrikes since Wednesday, according to SOHR. Syrian government forces clashed with ISIS fighters about 4 miles from the ancient site that fell to the extremists last May. SOHR Director Rami Abdul-Rahman described it as a large-scale assault, calling it a “real operation to retake control.” The source close to Damascus said the aim was to “seize the road from Tadmur (Palmyra) to Deir Ezzor.” [Reuters, 3/11/2016]

Syrian opposition groups to attend Geneva peace talks
Syria’s Western-backed opposition groups said Friday that they will attend the UN-sponsored indirect peace talks with the Damascus government in Geneva, starting in two days time. The opposition groups, assembled under an umbrella known as the High Negotiations Committee (HNC), said in a statement that their participation in the Geneva talks starting Monday comes in response to “sincere” international efforts to end Syria’s war. HNC chief negotiator Riad Hijab played down expectations ahead of the Geneva talks. “We are not going to test the intentions of the [Syrian] regime,” he said. “We know what crimes they are committing.” The upcoming talks are to focus on new governance, a constitution and elections, UN envoy Staffan de Mistura said. The decision to go came after violence dropped following a truce brokered by Russia and the United States. [AP, Reuters, WSJ, NYT, 3/11/2016]

UN-monitored elections in Syria to start 18 months from March 14
Elections in Syria should be held in 18 months, the UN’s Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura said ahead of a new round of peace talks set to begin Monday. “The elections, both presidential and parliamentary, will be under UN observation,” he said. De Mistura said the first item on the agenda included an inclusive new government, followed by a new constitution and elections. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged the de Mistura to include Kurds in upcoming talks. Russia’s top diplomat argued that holding talks on forming a new ruling structure in Syria to prepare constitutional reform and elections without Kurds would be “a most serious infringement of the rights of a large and significant group living in Syria.” Kurds are allies both of the US coalition and Russia and control at least 15 percent of Syrian territory, Lavrov added. He lashed out at Turkey, saying, “Only the Turks are blocking the invitation of Kurds from the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD).” [AFP, Reuters, 3/11/2016]

NATO to boost surveillance on Turkey-Syria border
NATO is set to boost border surveillance to protect Turkey from possible threats from Syria. “We agreed with Turkey on February 11 to intensify, to increase surveillance of the border between Turkey and Syria; we are in the process of establishing this with Turkey in the best possible way,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told a joint news conference with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels on March 10. Adding that Turkey was the NATO ally most affected by the crisis in Syria, Stoltenberg said NATO already had assurance measures in Turkey, including planes, naval presence and patriot batteries, which allowed the alliance to monitor the situation on the Turkish-Syrian border. His comments came days after Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said during a visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels on March 7 that his country was seeking increased NATO support on the border with Syria. [Hurriyet, 3/11/2016]

For more in-depth Syria news and analysis, please visit SyriaSource.


Sadr supporters rally in Baghdad, press Abadi to form new cabinet
Tens of thousands of people rallied Friday in Baghdad, heeding a call from Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr to put pressure on Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi to proceed with his plan to form a cabinet of independent, professional ministers. As the demonstrators were gathering in central Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, state TV said Abadi had asked political blocs in parliament and influential social figures to nominate technocrats as ministerial candidates. On Wednesday, Sadr said, “[Abadi] should be given a chance to proceed with his reforms.” He cautioned the Prime Minister against yielding to pressure from political parties. This is the third consecutive Friday that Sadr’s followers have rallied in Baghdad to demand the replacement of Abadi’s ministers by technocrats not affiliated with political parties. [Reuters, 3/11/2016]

Captured ISIS chemical weapons chief turned over to Iraqi government
The capture of Sulayman Dawud al-Bakkar, also known as Abu Dawud, ISIS’s chemical weapons chief in Iraq, “removed a key [ISIS] leader from the battlefield,” the Pentagon said in a statement. Dawud allegedly reported on details about ISIS’s chemical weapons program, facilities, and other people involved in the production process. On Thursday, the US military transferred Dawud to Iraqi custody after using information he provided to conduct several air strikes against the group’s chemical weapons production facilities. Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said on Thursday that based on information provided the coalition is confident that the airstrikes “made a difference.” [Reuters, AP, 3/10/2016]

Iraq FM’s comments cause Saudis to walk out of Arab League meeting
The Saudi delegation at the Arab League stormed out of a meeting after Iraqi Foreign Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari defended the Shia Hashd Shaabi militia group, according to an Iraqi foreign ministry source. The source further explained that Jaafari’s speech rejected “speaking against Hashd al-Shaabi and other resistance groups [and] in his speech he said that Hashd Shaabi and [Lebanese] Hezbollah have preserved the dignity of the Arabs and those who call them terrorists are the terrorists.” [Reuters, 3/11/2016]


Government forces step up attacks to break Houthis’ siege of Taiz
Forces loyal to Yemeni President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi on Thursday took control of several key positions in Taiz after fierce clashes with Houthi militants and their allies. Colonel Mansour al-Hassani, a spokesperson for the Supreme Council, said that government forces have ousted the militants out of the mountainous positions of al-Aryal, al-Khawa, and al-Araneb. Hassani also said government forces are close to pushing the militants out of al-Douhi checkpoint, where they are confiscating food and medical supplies bound for the city. “These areas overlook the Douhi crossing, which makes us closer to breaking the Houthis’ siege,” Colonel Hassani stated. [Gulf News, 3/10/2016]

Obama says Saudi Arabia and Iran must shape ‘cold peace’
US President Barack Obama said on Thursday wars and chaos in the Middle East will not end until Saudi Arabia and Iran can find a way to “share the neighborhood” and make some kind of peace. “The competition between the Saudis and the Iranians, which has helped to feed proxy wars and chaos in Syria and Iraq and Yemen, requires us to say to our friends, as well as to the Iranians, that they need to find an effective way to share the neighborhood and institute some sort of cold peace,” Obama said. [Reuters, 3/11/2016]

Dubai official warns of clash of civilizations over Trump
A top security official in Dubai warned Friday of a “clash of civilizations” if US Republican candidate Donald Trump becomes president, the latest sign of disquiet across the Middle East over the businessman’s comments about Muslims. Trump refused to back away from his recent statement that “Islam hates the West” during a Republican debate Thursday night in Miami, which comes after he called in December for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. Lt. Gen. Dhahi Khalfan Tamim, deputy chairman of police and general security in Dubai, took to Twitter to respond. Referencing political scientist Samuel P. Huntington’s theory that future wars would be fought between cultures, Tamim warned that a Trump win could see him face ISIS group leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. “If Trump beats Hillary Clinton, that means that the scenario of the clash of civilizations created by Samuel will come to light at the hands of the candidate and al-Baghdadi,” Tamim wrote. [AP, 3/11/2016]


Tunisia mounts charm offensive to save tourism sector
Tunisia’s tourism heads are seeking to attract more visitors as the country’s tourism sector struggles following major terror attacks that took place last year. “Tunisia is safe,” Tourism Minister Selma Elloumi Rekik said at the ITB travel fair in Berlin on Thursday. “Of course there are some places that are dangerous. But there are areas that are 100 percent safe.” Tunisia has adopted a number of security measures since last summer, including hiring a security consultant to draw up a handbook for tourism-related operations like as hotels and museums. Tunisia is also cooperating more closely with Britain, France, and Germany on security measures as it seeks to attract more tourists. However, the Foreign Office in London still advises against all but essential travel to Tunisia. “The threat from terrorism in Tunisia is high. Further attacks remain highly likely, including against foreigners,” the office says. [Reuters, 3/10/2016]

India, Middle East countries in talks on oil-for-food scheme
India is in talks with countries in the Middle East for a scheme under which they can exchange crude oil for food. Indian Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said Friday that the country is in talks with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and several other countries for an oil-for-food program. Pradhan said, ‘[Middle East countries] can invest in the strategic oil storages we are building. They can also store their oil here, the condition being that the first right of use on two-third of oil stored would be of India.” Pradhan said that the UAE’s national oil company Adnoc has agreed to store crude oil in India. India imports 80 percent of its oil needs and about 60 percent of its oil imports are from the Middle East. In exchange, India “can get an assured export market for our farmers,” he said. [Reuters, 3/11/2016]

Egypt’s pound gains in black market; stocks end week of gains
The Egyptian pound strengthened on the black market after the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) eased restrictions on foreign-currency transactions. The pound traded at 9.684 per dollar, improved from 9.763 on Tuesday but still much weaker than the official rate of 7.830 per dollar. The CBE on Wednesday removed the withdrawal and deposit cap for companies that import basic commodities, a day after it removed limits for individuals. Meanwhile, Egypt’s stocks completed a trading week of gains on Thursday after the main index approached a three-month high amid foreign and local purchases. “The Central Bank’s new decisions to lift foreign currency caps on deposits and withdrawals by individuals and corporations have relatively bolstered the investors confidence toward banks,” Vice Head of Securities at the Cairo Chamber of Commerce Eissa Fathy said. [Bloomberg, 3/10/2016]

Glencore taps into Iraqi Kurdistan with $300 million oil deal
Glencore has paid Iraqi Kurdistan $300 million in an advance for oil as it seeks to compete with trading houses for profitable business despite disruptions and political instability. Glencore recently made a prepayment to the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), which will start allocating the company crude starting mid-year. Glencore’s oil trading division has come under increased pressure to generate more profit after a collapse in metal and coal prices damaged profit at its mining division. The KRG said on Monday it had received $100 million in February from a new prepayment commitment, without saying where it came from. [Reuters, 3/11/2016]