Top News: UN says Humanitarian Situation Deteriorating in Yemen

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said Thursday that half of the population of Yemen needs assistance. OCHA’s head, Johannes Van Der Klaauw, said at a press conference, “In Yemen, there are one million acutely malnourished children. It is the highest number after Afghanistan.” He continued by saying that 1.33 million people have been displaced, more than four times the amount that was projected by OCHA’s last figures from March 31. In addition, 14.7 million Yemenis—more than half the population—are in need need of some sort of humanitarian assistance, ranging from food insecurity issues to access to clean water. [UN News Centre, 5/15/2014]



Nearly 65,000 vote on first day of Egypt’s expat voting
Figures from the first day of expat voting in Egypt’s presidential elections showed that nearly 65,000 people turned out worldwide, according to Abdel-Aziz Salman, spokesman for the Presidential Elections Commission (PEC). The foreign ministry has said initial indicators from Australia and the Gulf states show long queues at polling stations. Several stations reported a large turn out on the second day of voting abroad. Egypt’s largest Islamist coalition urged expats to boycott the presidential vote and a week of peaceful protests against the election. Leftist presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi’s campaign said its overseas representatives have witnessed violations during the expat presidential voting currently taking place in 124 countries worldwide. Mona Amer, head of the expats committee in Sabbahi’s campaign, said the violations ranged from insulting his supporters to campaigning for presidential contender and former army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi inside the polling station. Opaque ballot boxes were found in numerous polling stations, violating transparency regulations stipulated by the Presidential Electoral Committee (PEC), said another Sabbahi campaign representative. [Ahram Online, Aswat Masriya, 5/16/2014]

Three lawyers defending AJE journalists quit case in protest
Three lawyers representing Al Jazeera English journalists currently on trial for terrorism-related charges suddenly stepped down on Thursday, accusing the Qatar-based satellite network of twisting the facts of the case to its own ends without regard for the defendants. The lawyer appointed to defend Australian journalist Peter Greste accused the Qatar-based satellite channel of spinning the case “to defame Egypt” without concern for their incarcerated staff members, tweeted Times reporter Bel Trew from the courtroom. Khaled Abu Bakr, who was hired to represent Al-Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy, also refused to participate in Thursday’s court session in protest against the prosecution’s stipulation that the defense lawyers pay a fee of EGP1.2 million to view video evidence against their clients, according to Fahmy’s brother. [Mada Masr, 5/15/2014]

Govt reportedly negotiates $9 billion in Arab aid for next fiscal year
A senior official at the finance ministry, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the government is negotiating with the three Gulf states a new aid program of $9 billion for the next fiscal year and right after the presidential elections at the end of this month. The official added that the Arab countries are willing to provide assistance to Egypt for an additional two or three years at the most. He also said that Egypt is negotiating with Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait a grant of $4 billion to meet the needs of petroleum products, such as diesel fuel, petrol, and mazut. According to other Egyptian officials, petroleum aid from Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Kuwait during the current fiscal year of 2013-2014 would reach $7.13 billion, of which $3.93 billion would arrive in the first half of the year and $3.2 billion in the second. [Egypt Independent, 5/15/2014]


Fierce clashes in Benghazi
Fierce clashes erupted in Benghazi Friday morning between Islamists and forces led by a retired general seeking to purge the city of terrorists, according to witnesses. They said that a group led by Khalifa Haftar, a former rebel chief in the 2011 revolution, was backed by warplanes that bombarded barracks occupied by the Islamist February 17 Brigade militia. As security continues to deteriorate, two members of the Saiqa special forces were assassinated by gunmen on Thursday. A third victim in a separate attack was Imam Mansour Abdelkareem al-Barassi who was targeted after prayers. The imam had served fifteen years in prison under former dictator Muammar Qaddafi and had a reputation for condemning all forms of violence. [Daily Star/AFP, 5/16/2014]

Sebha petrol queue clashes result in one dead and twelve wounded
One person died and twelve others were wounded in Sebha as clashes erupted between members of the Misratan-led Third Force and insurgents from the city’s al-Gurda district. According to a Third Force spokesman, clashes flared after a resident, refusing to wait in line at the petrol station, began firing a Kalashnikov when a Third Force soldier in charge of securing the area tried to force the man to respect the queue. Soldiers fired back, and the man died from injuries on the way to the hospital. Misrata’s Third Force was deployed to Sebha earlier this year when communal clashes between Tebu and the Awlad Suleiman tribe erupted. Although they have generally been successful in restoring order, residents of the al-Gurda district have begun taking up arms against them. [Libya Herald, 5/15/2014]

Libya joins EBRD in bid for bank funds
The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) voted Thursday in admitting Libya as a member country, a move that could see it eventually receive EBRD financing. According to a statement, any decision regarding granting recipient country status to Libya will be made separately “following a thorough assessment by the Bank of the political, economic, and operational environment in the country.” Libyan authorities last year sought EBRD membership as the country seeks to stabilize and grow its economy. However, an EBRD chief economist said that the bank could not begin investing in Libya unless “basic security” was in place. EBRD will now begin assessing what the country’s needs are in terms of economic reforms, as well as the political context. [AFP, 5/14/2014]

350 Egyptian truck drivers held hostage in Libya
According to the head of truck drivers in Kafr al-Sheikh, 350 Egyptian truck drivers have been taken hostage by Libyan militias. Families have filed missing persons reports and have asked the Egyptian foreign ministry to intervene and secure their release. The drivers were taken to the Libyan city of Ajdabiya and were allowed to contact their families, according to media reports. Various armed groups have targeted Egyptians over the last several months. In April, people demanding the release of relatives detained in Egypt took hostage fifty Egyptian truck drivers. [Mada Masr, 5/15/2014]


United States seeks to bypass Assad so more aid can reach civilians
Increasingly flustered with the inability of the United Nations to deliver aid to war victims in Syria, Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday that the United States was considering ways to increase the delivery of aid without the consent of President Bashar al-Assad’s government. “We are open to the idea of providing aid through any means that will get to the people who need it,” Kerry said after a London meeting on the Syria crisis that included his counterparts from ten Western and Arab countries. “It’s going through one gate, one entryway, and it’s going through Damascus and/or controlled by the Assad regime. That’s unacceptable.” Kerry’s comments were echoed in a statement from the Friends of Syria, which pledged in a joint communiqué to “step up efforts to deliver humanitarian aid.” That pledge directly challenges United Nations policy to deliver aid across Syria’s borders only with the consent of Assad’s government. [NYT, The National, 5/15/2014]

WSJ says Iran recruiting Afghans to fight for Assad
Iran has been recruiting thousands of Afghan refugees to fight in Syria, offering $500 a month and Iranian residency to help the Assad regime beat back rebel forces, according to Afghans and Western officials. The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) recruits and trains Shia militias to fight in Syria. Details of their recruitment efforts were posted this week on a blog focused on Afghan refugees in Iran and confirmed by the office of Grand Ayatollah Mohaghegh Kabuli, an Afghan religious leader in the Iranian city of Qom. “They [IRGC] find a connection to the refugee community and work on convincing our youth to go and fight in Syria,” said the office administrator of Ayatollah Kabuli, reached by telephone in Qom. Iran is also offering refugees school registration for their children and charity cards. [WSJ, 5/15/2014]

Kerry says he has seen raw data that suggests Syria used chlorine in gas attacks
Secretary of State John Kerry said on Thursday he had seen raw data suggesting that Syria used chlorine in gas attacks against its own people, though he said the data had not yet been verified. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has said Syria may have used chemical weapons involving chlorine in fourteen attacks in recent months. “I have seen the raw data that suggests that there may have been, as France has suggested, a number of instances in which chlorine has been used in the conduct of war,” Kerry told reporters in London. “If it has, and it could be proven, then that would be against the agreements of the chemical weapons treaty and against the weapons convention that Syria has signed up to.” [Reuters, AFP, 5/15/2014]

Rebel rocket fire kills thirteen in Aleppo
Rebel rocket fire hit a government-held neighborhood in the northern city of Aleppo Friday, killing at least thirteen people. State television reported that the toll in the Ashrafiyeh district has risen to thirteen, including women and children. Once the country’s economic hub, Aleppo has been divided by fighting since mid-2012. Regime war planes have waged an aerial offensive on the eastern, rebel-held districts, frequently dropping barrel bombs on the area. Opposition forces have also regularly fired rockets into the government-held part of the city, and clashes on the ground continue. [Naharnet, 5/16/2014]


Tunisia says it will issue $140 million sukuk in September
Tunisia’s finance minister announced Thursday that Tunisia will sell its first Islamic bond in September after months of delays, raising $140 million to boost dwindling currency reserves and help cover the budget deficit. The sukuk was delayed several times due to the stalled adoption of an Islamic finance law by parliament. [Reuters, 5/15/2014]

Interim prime minister contributes to national bond
The Office of the Prime Minister’s statement said 10 percent of the salaries of the prime minister, ministers, and secretaries of state under the month of May were deducted as a contribution to the national bond, according to the recommendations of the cabinet meeting held on May 2, 2014. An additional 10 deduction of these salaries was implemented as a voluntary contribution to the state budget, pursuant to the recommendations of the cabinet meeting. The operation, which will continue for a month, aims to mobilize 500 million dinars to meet part of the state budget’s needs for 2014. [All Africa, 5/15/2014]

Security meeting focuses on plan to create counterterrorism center
A security meeting was held Thursday to follow up on the plan to create a security center for counter-terrorism and organized crime. The center is intended to coordinate the actions of different stakeholders and improve efficiency of interventions. Chaired by interim-Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa, the meeting reviewed the experiences of several countries in the creation of similar structures. [All Africa, 5/15/2014]


Yemen in “open war” with al-Qaeda
In his first remarks since the army launched an offensive to dislodge al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) from its southern strongholds more than two weeks ago, Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi said his troops would go after the insurgents in southern, central, and northern provinces. The announcement comes as operations are being expanded from Abyan and Shabwa to Marib, Hadramawt, and Lahij. The defense ministry has announced that it has prevented reprisal attacks in Sana’a, including capturing attempted suicide bombers who originated in Syria. Some politicians expressed concern that military bases in the north have been left unguarded as soldiers have been pulled away to facilitate efforts in the south, leaving the north undefended against possible Houthi advances. A new security directive has banned tourists and diplomats from travelling without armed escorts. [Reuters, 5/16/2014]

Marib pipeline bombed
Armed tribesmen bombed a pipeline that connects an oil refinery in Marib province with the main main Ras Issa pipeline. The attack, which occurred early Friday morning, is the fifth attack of its kind in the past two weeks. [Al-Masdar (Arabic), 5/16/2014]

Southern leaders meet to prepare Southern Conference
A meeting attended by a number of Southern leaders, political and social figures as well as sheikhs, was held in Aden to discuss a the organization of a Southern Conference, whose purpose will be to set up a foundation for the liberation and independence of the south, and build of a sovereign, modern state. The chairman of the preparatory committee Sheikh Saleh bin Farid al-Awlaki affirmed that the creation of the Southern Conference is a popular demand among southerners and urged all southern parties and factions to participate. [Hona Hadhramout (Arabic), 5/16/2014]

Islah breaks ranks with JMP, calling for Hadi to hasten transfer of power
One of the main factions of the Joint Meeting Parties (JMP), Islah, has called upon President Hadi to hasten the transfer of power. In a letter posted on its website, Islah’s political editor derided the current transition process as stalled; it was set to expire early this year but was extended at the conclusion of the National Dialogue Conference. The editor pointed to the mounting crisis that surrounds the fuel shortage as well as the growing “chaos and unrest,” and furthermore accused the JMP of being complicit in the crises and the lack of change in the country. [Mareb Press (Arabic), 5/16/2014]


Algeria’s Bouteflika offers reforms to skeptical opposition
A government source said that the forty-seven proposed amendments to Algeria’s constitution included lifting controls on the media and giving parliament more ability to question government officials. Political parties received the draft and were invited to debate the reforms in June before they go to a constitutional committee and eventually a referendum. Both secular and Islamist opposition leaders have rejected President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s invitation to join the debate, dismissing it as a move to co-opt them rather than an attempt at real reform. “Two years ago, the regime called us to make proposals for a new constitution. They did not take into consideration any of our suggestions,” Abderazak Mokri, leader of the moderate Islamist party MSP, said this week. “This new invitation is just another way to fool the opposition.” [Reuters, 5/16/2014]

United States calls for Bahrain to condemn acts of violence
US Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs Anne Patterson has encouraged all sides in Bahrain to condemn acts of violence. Patterson, at the end of her two day-visit to Bahrain, underscored US encouragement of reform and reconciliation through the ongoing National Dialogue, an embassy statement said. She also commended King Hamad Bin Eisa Al Khalifa and Crown Prince Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa for supporting a National Dialogue process and wished them success in their efforts. [Gulf News, 5/15/2014]

Political battle continues in Baghdad as Fallujah campaign continues
Former Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi launched a fierce attack on the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) on Thursday, accusing its members of bias in favor of certain political trends. The leader of the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq (ISCI), Ammar al-Hakim, threatened a “decisive response” if the results of the elections were “illogical.” Thousands of civilians have fled Fallujah since last week after the Iraqi military intensified shelling in a new bid to crush a five-month old Sunni uprising that partially includes fighters from an al-Qaeda offshoot, killing scores of people in what residents describe as massive indiscriminate bombardment. The mortars, artillery and what residents call “barrel bombs” rained for at least seven days on Fallujah. Amid the intense fighting in Anbar, the United States has announced plans to sell $1 billion in arms to Iraq. [Reuters, Asharq al-Awsat; 5/16/2014]