Top News: UNESCO Chief decries “cultural cleansing” in ISIS video

Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO, described on Friday Islamic State’s (ISIS or ISIL) destruction of ancient statues and artifacts as “cultural cleansing” and a war crime that the world must punish.

ISIS released a video Thursday showing its militants smashing ancient statues to pieces with sledgehammers at the Mosul museum and using a jackhammer to deface a colossal Assyrian winged bull at the Nergal gate in the large archaeological park that lies in the city of Mosul. Bokova announced the creation of a “global coalition against the illicit traffic in cultural goods.” She has asked for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on protecting Iraq’s cultural heritage. [APAFP, 2/27/2015]



New decree tightens army’s grip on border city with Libya
The Egyptian cabinet issued an appendix to an earlier decree on Wednesday, with regards to the country’s political borders and tightening military control on the border with Libya. The addition to the November 2014 decree requires residents who moved to the western border city of Salloum after 1967 to obtain a written military clearance. It maintains that the Armed Forces has the sole authority to guard the country’s political borders. The decision exempts residents who have inhabited the area before July 1967, granting them permanent residency in Salloum with the exception of al-Hadaba (Plateau), the area of the city which is closest to the border. These residents will need to have their IDs checked. [Egypt Independent, 2/26/2015]

Egyptian prosecution imposes gag order on alleged police torture death
Egypt’s prosecutor-general on Thursday imposed a media gag order on the case of a lawyer who allegedly died after torture inside a police station in Cairo. In a statement, the prosecution said the decision was made to ensure the investigations into the case were secret. Earlier on Thursday the prosecution ordered the detention of two police officers for investigations into accusations that they killed Karim Hamdy inside a police station in Matariya. The officers belong to the interior ministry’s National Security Apparatus, which is responsible for investigating terror-related crimes. [Ahram Online, 2/27/2015]

Popular Resistance Movement claims Giza blasts
An obscure group calling itself the Popular Resistance Movement claimed responsibility for a wave of explosions in Giza on Thursday which left one dead and at least nine injured. The new groups have no apparent ties to Egypt’s main extremist organizations, based in the North Sinai. The Popular Resistance Movement signaled that the bombings were intended to sabotage a government-sponsored investment conference scheduled for next month. In statements posted on social media, the group said it struck Vodafone Egypt “in response to Vodafone International’s announcement that it will participate in the conference to sell Egypt,” and Etisalat “in response to the United Arab Emirates contribution to supporting the coup.” The group claims to have cells in the province of Minya and elsewhere but it is most active in Giza. [NYT, 2/26/2015]

Egyptian court dismisses steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz appeal against elections ban
An Egyptian court has rejected the appeal of steel tycoon Ahmed Ezz against his disqualification from standing in the upcoming parliamentary elections, state news agency MENA reported Friday. An administrative court in the governorate of Menoufiya dismissed the Ezz’s appeal, who was recently released from jail after serving a sentence for corruption, for failing to supply the necessary financial documents. [Ahram Online, 2/27/2015]

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NATO ready to advise Libya on security, eyes more drones
NATO’s chief said Thursday the alliance was ready to advise Libya’s government on defense and security issues, saying the deteriorating situation in the country is posing new security threats for Europe that require a more robust defense. Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg also told a news conference in Rome that the alliance plans to bolster its surveillance of the region by using drones based at the air station in Sigonella, Sicily, starting next year. [AP, 2/26/2015]

Libya Dawn said to accept need for ceasefire; Al-Thinni stops in Cairo for anti-terrorism talks
The Tripoli-based Joint Operations Room (JOR), comprised mainly of Libya Dawn militias, has accepted a ceasefire and joined the UN-brokered peace talks “in the interests of Libya,” recognizing the need for a political solution to the crisis. The announcement was made at a JOR meeting Thursday in Zuwara with UN representatives. It follows the House of Representatives decision to pull out of the dialogue following the Qubba bombings. Tobruk-based Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni stopped in Cairo while on his way to Russia to offer his condolences for the murder of Egyptian Christians beheaded on Libyan soil by the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). He held further talks on Egypt and Libya’s joint war against terrorist elements in Libya. [Libya Herald, 2/26/2015]

Libyan official calls on Tunisia to take a stand on Libya
The Libyan Minister of Culture and Media, Omar al-Gouiri, expressed his dismay with Tunisia’s Foreign Minister Taieb Baccouche’s statement regarding dual diplomatic representation in Libya. He considered Tunisia’s two consulates in the rival capitals Tripoli and Tobruk a recognition of not just the two governments, but also of what he described as the terrorists in Tripoli. Tunisian Foreign Minister, Taieb Baccouche’s office said he never spoke of recognition, but instead spoke of Tunisian diplomatic representation for both governments to protect the interests of Tunisians living in Libya and maintain relations with the Libyan people. [Tunisia Live, 2/26/2015]

Tunisian interior ministry reports arrest of thirteen terrorists, including five women, in Kasserine
The Tunisian ministry of interior announced that a joint investigation of a special terrorism unit and local authorities arrested thirteen people allegedly involved in terrorist acts in the Kasserine region. Among those arrested were five women belonging to the Katibet Okba Ibn Nafaa terrorist organization. The other suspects reportedly received training in Libya. [L’Economiste Maghrebin (French), TAP, 2/27/2015]


UNESCO Chief decries “cultural cleansing” in ISIS video
Irina Bokova, director-general of UNESCO, described on Friday Islamic State’s (ISIS or ISIL) destruction of ancient statues and artifacts as “cultural cleansing” and a war crime that the world must punish. ISIS released a video Thursday showing its militants smashing ancient statues to pieces with sledgehammers at the Mosul museum and using a jackhammer to deface a colossal Assyrian winged bull at the Nergal gate in the large archaeological park that lies in the city of Mosul. Bokova announced the creation of a “global coalition against the illicit traffic in cultural goods.” She has asked for an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council on protecting Iraq’s cultural heritage. [AP, AFP, 2/27/2015]

Nusra Front, former US-backed Hazm Movement at war in Idlib
The Nusra Front declared all-out war against a former US-backed Syrian rebel group in the north of the country, accusing it of kidnapping and killing several of its fighters. In a statement issued Wednesday, the al-Qaeda affiliate said the Hazm Movement, one of several rebel groups that have received weapons from Washington, was now a “direct target.” On Thursday, Hazm responded with its own almost identically announcement. Hazm alluded to the Nusra Front possibly colluding with the regime, saying in its statement, “The Syrian army advanced only through those areas that Nusra was stationed in.” Tension between the two groups has erupted periodically over the last three months. [The Daily Star, 2/27/2015]

Kurdish fighters advance on ISIS-held Syrian town
Fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) seized the eastern and southern outskirts Friday of a key Islamic State group stronghold in Syria’s northeastern al-Hasakah province. YPG fighters had entered Tal Hamis and captured parts of the town after six days of clashes with the militants. The Kurdish advance comes after days of fighting in which YPG forces have taken some 103 villages and hamlets in the area. Since the clashes began Saturday, at least 175 IS fighters have been killed by the Kurds and air strikes by the US-led coalition. [The Daily Star, AFP, 2/27/2015]

Syria domestic, exiled opposition agree crisis roadmap
Syria’s main domestic and exiled opposition groups said Friday they had agreed a joint draft roadmap for the first time, calling for a transitional governing body and an end to the conflict. The draft document comes after representatives from the exiled Syrian National Coalition (SNC) and the domestic National Coordination Committee for Democratic Change (NCCDC) met in Paris. Khalaf Dahowd, member of the NCCDC’s executive bureau, said the two sides had agreed a draft document based on UN Security Council resolutions on Syria and the Geneva Communique that emerged from peace talks in 2012. The SNC said in a statement that the document “specifies that the primary goal of negotiations with the Assad regime is to establish a civil, democratic, pluralistic system that ensures equal rights and duties for all Syrians.” [AFP, 2/27/2015]


Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Qatar move embassies to Aden
The ambassadors of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Qatar on Wednesday resumed their work in Aden, the Red Sea port city where Yemen’s President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi fled after escaping house arrest in Sana’a imposed by the powerful Houthi movement. The ambassadors’ move to Aden underlines Saudi Arabia’s support for Hadi, who fled to the port city last week after the Houthis forced him to announce his resignation and held him under house arrest in Sanaa for a month. [Reuters, Asharq al-Awsat, Al Masdar, 2/26/2015]

Houthi leader accuses Saudi Arabia of trying to divide Yemen
Abdulmalek al-Houthi, in an unusually combative speech Thursday that reflected frustration by the rebel movement at its deepening isolation, accused Saudi Arabia of financing armed opponents and trying to divide the country. The rebel leader complained about the expulsion of Yemeni workers from Saudi Arabia and accused its monarchy of trying to “exploit” President Hadi’s move to Aden while attempting to “to introduce the Libyan model and impose it on Yemen.” He also asserted that the Saudis were supporting anti-Houthi tribes in Marib. [NYT, Mareb Press, 2/27/2015]

Houthis collaborated with Saleh allied armed groups
After a UN probe revealed that former president Ali Abdullah Saleh colluded with the Houthi militants who took over Sana’a, Abdulmalek al-Houthi confirmed their cooperation in a speech Thursday. In January, Al Jazeera leaked a series of phone calls between Saleh and Abdul Wahid Abu Ras where they discussed how to coordinate military moves to facilitate taking over military camps and topple brigades. [Al Masdar, 2/26/2015]

Al-Qaeda gunmen kill four in southern Yemen
Gunmen ambushed a military truck during a night-time attack in a southern province killing all four soldiers in the vehicle, in a raid claimed by Yemen’s al-Qaeda branch. Yemeni security officials said the attackers surprised the soldiers late on Thursday with heavy gunfire while patrolling a street in southern Lahj province. They could not identify the attackers but al-Qaeda claimed responsibility on social media, according to SITE intelligence group. The province has seen increased activity by al-Qaeda militants and Shiite Al Houthi rebels, both of which oppose the government. [AP, Al Masdar, 2/27/2015]

Saudi Arabia and Egyptian leaders to meet to discuss Yemen crisis
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi will visit Saudi Arabia on Sunday, his first trip to the allied Gulf kingdom since King Salman Bin Abdul Aziz ascended to the throne last month. Saudi television reported, “The visit will be an opportunity to review the latest regional developments, mainly the deterioration [of the situation] in Yemen.” Fears are growing in Cairo and Riyadh that the Houthis will control strategic Red Sea shipping lanes, thus threatening Egyptian and Saudi maritime routes. [Gulf News, 2/27/2015]


IMF forecasts 3 percent growth for Tunisia in 2015
According to IMF representative to Tunisia, The growth rate in Tunisia will reach 3 percent in 2015, an increase with the respect to the 2.4 percent of 2014. According to IMF estimates, inflation will rise 5 percent in 2015 in Tunisia (compared to 4.9 percent in 2014) and the current account deficit will improve reaching -6.6 percent of the GDP (it stood at -8.9 percent last year). The global deficit will instead increase reaching -5.3 percent of the GDP. The IMF stressed that the decline of oil prices in international markets could represent an opportunity for Tunisia to improve its public deficit as most calculations were based on higher oil prices. [ANSAmed, 2/27/2015]

Libya needs international maritime force to stop illicit trade, say UN experts
Libyan authorities are unable to halt the illicit trade in oil or the flow of weapons in and out of the country, and they need an international maritime force to help, United Nations sanctions monitors said in a new report. The confidential report by the UN Security Council’s Panel of Experts on Libya will likely increase pressure on major world powers to consider intervention to stop the North African state from spinning further out of control. The panel said that UN exemptions aimed at enabling Libyan authorities to buy munitions to establish law and order have helped militias develop considerable arsenals. The panel also said the illicit export of crude oil and oil products was providing “funding to the ongoing conflict.” [Reuters, 2/26/2015]

Egypt could raise up to $2 billion in Eurobond issue
According to Egyptian finance minister, Egypt could raise as much as $2 billion through a Eurobond this year and expects economic growth of close to 7 percent in three years’ time. He clarified that a dollar-denominated Eurobond would be launched in June at the latest, but could come earlier. Talking about growth prospects, the minister confirmed he expected growth of at least 4 percent in the fiscal year ending in June and predicted a return to higher growth in the medium term. [Reuters, 2/27/2015]

AfDB praises Morocco’s economic performance
The Chairman of the African Development Bank (AfDB) praised the “satisfactory” economic performance of Morocco in recent years, despite the international crisis. He said that the country managed to maintain “pretty respectable” growth rates in recent years that have enabled it take up the challenges of youth employment and the diversification of its economy. The chairman also hailed how the “excellent” cooperation between Morocco and AfDB translated into significant commitments in all sectors. [Morocco World News, 2/27/2015]