Top News: US drone kills four suspected Al-Qaeda militants in Yemen

A US drone strike killed four suspected Al-Qaeda militants in a car in the southern Yemeni province of Shabwa on Friday, local officials and residents said. The car burst into flames and plumes of black smoke billowed above the main road where the drone struck. Al-Qaeda propaganda brochures were scattered along the ground by the road, local officials said. [Reuters, 3/4/2016]



Leading rights lawyer accused of managing ‘illegal organization’
Human rights lawyer and director of the United Group law firm Negad al-Boraie said Thursday he was interrogated for three hours on six charges including managing an illegal organization. According to a statement issued by United Group Friday, Boraie has been charged with establishing an unlicensed entity with the intent of “inciting resistance to authorities, implementing human rights activities without a license, receiving funds from the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), and deliberately spreading false information with the purpose of harming public order or public interest.” According to United Group, this is the fourth time Boraie has been questioned in connection with a complaint filed after he proposed an anti-torture law to the president’s office last June. Two judges, Assem Abdel Gabbar and Hisham Raouf, are also under investigation, accused of contributing to the drafting of the anti-torture law and participating in a workshop organized by United Group. The statement added that he was released to his residence pending investigation. [AMAY, DNE, 3/4/2016]

Doctors Syndicate says accountability condition for reconciliation with police
The Doctors’ Syndicate expressed approval of what it called “appeasement attempts” by security authorities to reconcile with the doctors community provided that legal accountability is ensured for police personnel involved in reported assaults on medical workers in recent months. “Whoever commits a mistake should be punished so that that mistake is not repeated,” Mona Mina, General Secretary of the Doctors’ Syndicate, said Thursday. Mina pointed to the detention of two police officers on charges of assaulting a doctor in Alexandria as a positive example. [AMAY, 3/4/2016]

Media initiative says 185 travel bans enforced since 2011
An Egyptian media initiative, Daftar Ahwal, announced that there have been 185 travel bans enforced in the period from February 11, 2011 to February 20, 2016. The group said that of the 185, 121 travel bans were enforced for political, religious, or rights reasons. Another 64 were banned from travel due to ongoing court cases, including members of former president Hosni Mubarak and former president Mohamed Morsi’s governments. The group also offered a breakdown of the cases saying that six occurred under the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, four under Morsi, 58 under then interim president Adly Mansour, and 117 under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. [Aswat Masriya (Arabic), 3/4/2016]

Giza Criminal Court acquits White Knights Ultras founders
The Giza Criminal Court, headed by Judge Moataz Khafaji, decided Thursday acquitted Sayed Moshageb and Ayman Abdul Hamid of charges of the “illegal” establishment of the White Knights. The pair faced a number of additional charges, including calling to suspend the constitution, preventing state institutions from exercising their work, disturbing public security, and threatening social peace. The Ultras White Knights issued a statement on their Facebook page, accepting the court’s verdict and calling for a reinvestigation of the Air Defense massacre, in which 20 Zamalek football fans were killed. The statement called for the release of all Ultras White Knights fans accused of involvement in the massacre. [DNE, 3/3/2016]

For more in-depth Egypt news, please visit EgyptSource


Kerry meets UN envoy for Libya, repeats support for unity government
US Secretary of State John Kerry met on Thursday with the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Libya Martin Kobler to discuss efforts to support a unified Libyan government, the State Department said. Kerry said Washington would continue to support Prime Minister-designate Fayez Serraj and the Government of National Accord ahead of a meeting in Tunis next week to discuss its establishment in Tripoli. He expressed his concern that, despite the efforts of a majority of Libyan leaders to seat this government, a small group of spoilers prevented a formal vote that would have endorsed the cabinet. [Reuters, 3/4/2016]

Italy says two hostages freed in Libya
Two Italian hostages who were kidnapped in Libya last July have been freed and are in the hands of the local council in the western Libyan city of Sabratha, but two other hostages are feared dead after clashes between Sabratha militias and Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL), according to the Italian government. Filippo Calcagno and Gino Pollicardo, who worked in Libya for construction company Bonatti, are “in good health,” the Foreign Ministry said on Friday. Two other hostages, Fausto Piano and Salvatore Failla, are believed to be dead, but their deaths are yet to be formally confirmed because the bodies of the two men have not been recovered. The four Italian workers were seized in July near the oil and natural gas complex of Mellitah, on the outskirts of Zuwara in western Libya. [AP, WSJ, NYT, Reuters, 3/4/2016]

EU foreign policy chief heads to Morocco after ties suspended
The European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini is heading to Rabat for talks on Friday, a week after Morocco suspended all ties with Brussels, a statement said Thursday. Morocco broke ties after a ruling by the European Court of Justice that a farm trade deal was illegal because it included the disputed region of Western Sahara. The European Union said last week it had appealed the ruling by the bloc’s top court. Mogherini will meet Morocco’s Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar. The European Court of Justice annulled the 2012 trade pact because it failed to explicitly refer to Western Sahara, leaving open the possibility that the accord would apply in the region. [AFP, 3/4/2016]

Tunisia cuts students’ sentences over homosexual activity
A Tunisian appeals court on Thursday reduced the sentence imposed on six students for homosexual activity from three years in jail to one month, their lawyer said. The court in the coastal city of Sousse ordered them to pay a fine of 400 dinars ($195) each but lifted a previous five-year ban on entering the central city of Kairouan. They were arrested in early December and were made to undergo anal examinations, according to their lawyers. After the verdict, 13 human rights groups called on Tunisia to decriminalize homosexuality by revising Article 230, and condemned the use of anal exams. According to Abderazzek Selmi, a member of the Tunisian LGBT rights group Damj, the outcome could have been much worse. However, he and the Shams LGBT rights group condemned the court’s decision, saying it was a violation of human rights. [AFP, Tunisia Live, 3/3/2016]


Syrian rebel group says government mobilizing to take more areas
The Syrian rebel group Jaysh al-Islam said on Friday government forces were mobilizing in an attempt to seize more opposition-held territory having already taken areas since a cessation of hostilities agreement came into effect on Saturday. “There are big violations by the regime and occupation of new areas, the use of all types of weapons, particularly planes and barrel bombs in some areas, and mobilizations to occupy very important strategic areas,” said Mohamad Alloush, head of the group’s political office. A Jaysh al-Islam statement stated, “Our confrontations with the Assad gangs did not stop, whether in the Ghouta, in Homs, or in Aleppo, and as far as we are concerned, the war effectively did not stop on the ground in the shadow of these violations.” The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported Friday that two air strikes hit the edge of Douma, a town in Eastern Ghouta southeast of Damascus where Jaysh al-Islam operates, for the first time since the ceasefire. [Reuters, 3/4/2016]

International leaders discuss Syria with Russia
The leaders of Germany, France, Italy, and the United Kingdom urged Russian President Vladimir Putin to build on the recent cessation of hostilities in Syria to pave the way for discussions on a more lasting peace in the war-torn country in Geneva next week during a conference call on Friday, the British government said. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Putin confirmed Russia’s commitment to the ceasefire during the call. “I would like to stress one more time that the commitment to hold the ceasefire was confirmed as a key message by the Russian president: only attacks on Daesh [ISIS] and al-Nusra Front,” Merkel said during a news conference with French President Francois Hollande. French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault hailed “real progress” in Syria but said peace talks cannot resume unless the ceasefire is fully respected and until all Syrians have access to aid. However, also on Friday French President Francois Hollande criticized Assad for scheduling elections in his war-torn country next month, calling the move “provocative” and “unrealistic.” On Thursday US Ambassador to Russia John Tefft met with Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov to discuss the ceasefire. [WSJ, Reuters, 3/4/2016]

United Nations says deal is near with Syria on aid
UN officials said they were on the verge of an agreement with the Syrian regime to get humanitarian relief flowing and to lift a ban on medical supplies to opposition-held areas. A senior UN official in charge of the region’s aid operations said aid delivery has improved since the ceasefire began, although UN workers in Syria disagree. Jan Egeland, an adviser to UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura, on Thursday described the lack of humanitarian access as a “symbol of the impotence of the international community.” He told reporters in Geneva that efforts were under way to streamline procedures required by the regime to deliver aid and that this would include a green light for medical supplies prohibited so far. “This could be the game-changer we’ve been waiting for a very long time,” he said. [WSJ, 3/4/2016]

EU outlines plan to save open borders, cajoles Turkey
The European Commission set out a timetable on Friday for restoring open borders in Europe by the end of the year as EU leaders cajoled Turkey to act to stop the flow of migrants fleeing conflicts in the Middle East and beyond. Ahead of an emergency European Union summit with Turkey on Monday, the EU executive announced the first payouts from a 3 billion euro ($3.3 billion) fund to help it cope with the roughly 2.5 million Syrian migrants on Turkish soil. It also said Turkey was making progress towards achieving eagerly sought visa liberalization for its citizens in the EU. In return, Brussels is demanding that Ankara crack down on people smuggling and take back all illegal migrants who do not qualify for asylum in the 28-nation EU. Meeting in Paris, the leaders of Germany and France agreed that refugees fleeing war in Syria should stay in the region and said their common objective was to put Europe’s frayed Schengen passport-free travel agreement back into operation. European Council President Donald Tusk, who will chair the summit, met Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Friday to press him for decisive action to stop the unbroken flow of migrants into Greece. [Reuters, 3/4/2016]

Istanbul hit by three more armed attacks Thursday
A service bus carrying judicial personnel, an armored police vehicle, and the official car of a university rector were attacked by unidentified assailants in separate incidents in Istanbul on Thursday evening, following an armed assault targeting a suburban police station which resulted in the killing of two female militants. The service bus was attacked along the TEM highway in the Tekstilkent neighborhood. No casualties were reported, but the bullets hit a police car escorting the bus. The armored police car was attacked by three assailants firing shotguns from inside a white car on Thursday in the Beyoglu district of Istanbul. The assailants then escaped on foot, leaving the car in the street. Officers and a police helicopter were dispatched in an effort to capture the suspects. Also on Thursday night, the official car of the Istanbul-based Fatih Sultan Mehmet University rector was attacked along the TEM highway. The driver of the car was injured in the attack. [Today’s Zaman, 3/4/2016]

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


Iraqi Prime Minister says Hashd al-Shaabi should participate in Mosul liberation
In response to an earlier vote by the Ninevah provincial council to exclude the Hashd al-Shaabi from the liberation of Mosul, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said on Thursday that “nobody can stop Iraqis from participating in the liberation of their land.” Instead, Abadi insisted that all Iraqis should participate in the operation and that sectarian interests should not trump “necessary military action.” [Rudaw, 3/3/2016]

Major operations in Anbar and Salahuddin provinces see liberation of many areas
In a statement released on Thursday, Iraqi Ministry of Defense announced that five villages in the north of Salahuddin Province have been liberated by the combined efforts of the Iraqi army, Anti-Terrorism forces, Federal Police, and Hashd al-Shaabi forces. Security forces also liberated the areas around the al-Tharthar Lake west of Samarra, and the combined forces of Iraqi security forces and Hashd al-Shaabi have reached the area of Um al-Asafeer. In a separate operation, Commander of Anbar Operations, Major General Ismail al-Mahalawi announced the arrival of military reinforcements from the army and tribal fighters to participate in the liberation of Khalediya Island, east of Ramadi. [Iraqi Ministry of Defense (Arabic), Al-Iraqiya (Arabic), 3/3/2016]


Yemen envoy calls on Security Council to pressure Yemeni parties to protect civilians
UN Special Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed on Thursday called on the UN Security Council to put pressure on all parties in the Yemeni conflict to protect civilians, facilitate relief efforts, and resume peace talks. Ahmed accused the Saudi-led coalition of carrying out indiscriminate attacks against millions of Yemenis, highlighting the attack on Fardhat Nahm camp near Sana’a on February 27 that killed 30 people, including six children. He also accused the Houthis of deliberately preventing humanitarian assistance from accessing the areas in need. [Al Masdar, 3/3/2016]

UN warns against slowing recent increase in aid flow to Yemen
The United Nations’ aid chief Stephen O’Brien on Thursday warned countries not to take any steps that would reverse the recent increase in emergency aid for Yemen moving through ports in the conflict-torn country. Last month O’Brien said that both the Saudi-led coalition and the Houthi militants were restricting humanitarian aid access in the country, where more than 80 percent of the people need help. “In recent months, there has been a significant increase of fuel and other life-saving imports through Yemeni ports, and it is critical that every effort be made by all member states concerned to encourage, and not hinder, that trend,” O’Brien told the UN Security Council. [Reuters, 3/4/2016]

Saudi crown prince to meet French president in Paris
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef will meet French President Francois Hollande on Friday to discuss “anti-terrorism” efforts and ways to boost security cooperation between the two countries. The expected talks come after Nayef, who is also Saudi’s interior minister, met with French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Thursday. The two spoke of increasing military drills and cooperation between Saudi Arabia and France. [Al Arabiya, 3/4/2016]

Russia warns of ‘very long’ war in Yemen
Russia warned Thursday the war in Yemen could grind on for a “very long time” because of the government’s insistence on conditions for a ceasefire. Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin, speaking to reporters after a UN Security Council meeting on the Yemen crisis, told reporters he was concerned that prospects for peace talks were dim. “We hear that the government does not want to have a ceasefire until there is a comprehensive settlement,” Churkin said. “This is a recipe for a very long conflict which will have even more dramatic results,” he said. [AFP, 3/3/2016]


IMF says in advanced talks with Tunisia over $2.8 billion
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Tunisia are in the advanced stages of talks over a $2.8 billion credit over four years to help support the country’s economic reform program. A visiting IMF delegation led by IMF Mission Head Amine Mati said Thursday that it would focus on finalizing Tunisia’s reform priorities and financing needs for this year. “Moving ahead with economic reform is crucial as the Tunisian economy confronts several significant challenges. Economic growth is held back by investors’ wait-and-see attitude and regional uncertainties,” the IMF said in a statement. “Additional financing will be needed to rebuild buffers, while at the same time correcting structural inefficiencies that lower Tunisia’s ability to create jobs and future growth potential.” Mati said the program will foster inclusive growth and reduce regional disparities. During the visit, the mission met with government and central bank officials, members of parliament, representatives from the private sector, trade unions, political parties, and civil society. [Reuters, Bloomberg, TAP, 3/3/2016]

Jordan is test ground for jobs program for Syrian refugees
A new trade deal with Europe, foreign investment, and public works are set to put 200,000 Syrian refugees to work in Jordan. In exchange for allowing Syrian refugees to work legally, Jordanian products will get easier access to European markets, which will create new investment and jobs and help thousands of Jordanian factories whose exports have plummeted recently. Jordan will also receive hundreds of millions of dollars in grants and cheap loans for development projects. The EU is to finalize the new rules before August, EU Ambassador to Jordan Andrea Matteo Fontana said. Greater access to Europe is intended to encourage investment in five industrial zones in Jordan, but investor response is hard to predict. “At the end of the day, this is a business decision from the private sector,” Fontana said. The plan calls for 150,000 jobs for Syrians to be created in the industrial zones and 50,000 in labor-intensive projects, such as building schools and water cisterns, he said. Coordinator of the International Labor Organization in Jordan Patrick Daru said he believes the job target could be reached in 36 months. [AP, 3/4/2016]

Devaluation pressure mounts on Egypt as pounds weakens on black market
The Egyptian pound slipped to its weakest rate on the black market this week, raising pressure on the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) to devalue the currency as firms complain of problems clearing imports and repatriating earnings. The CBE sold $38.8 million at a cut-off price of 7.7301 pounds to the dollar at its official auction on Thursday. However the black market rate weakened significantly, with traders quoting 9.50 pounds to the dollar against 9.30 to 9.34 on Tuesday. “There is a lot of demand to buy dollars but very little on offer. Those who have dollars are holding onto them and that is contributing significantly to the rapid leaps in price,” said one black market trader. “We think the latest moves suggest that a long-awaited devaluation of the pound may be just around the corner,” London-based Capital Economics said. Foreign reserves have also more than halved since January 2011, helping to prompt black market speculation against the pound. Egypt’s net foreign reserves increased slightly to $16.53 billion at the end of February from $16.48 billion in January the Central Bank of Egypt said Thursday. [Reuters, 3/3/2016]

Iraq to pay $2 billion in arrears to foreign companies
Iraq will pay foreign oil companies about $2 billion in remaining arrears for 2015 in April and expects to reach an agreement over contracts midway through the year, Deputy Oil Minister Fayadh al-Nema said. International firms like BP, Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil, Eni, and Lukoil operate in Iraq’s southern oilfields under service contracts and are paid a fixed dollar fee for additional volumes produced. The agreements are straining Baghdad’s finances as revenues fall due to low oil prices. Iraq is in talks with foreign companies to link the fees they receive for developing its fields to crude prices. “The new amended agreement will help to prevent inflating production costs and getting Iraq in debt,” al-Nema said. He said handing over drilling operations to Iraq’s state-run firm or replacing foreign workers with locals would reduce company costs. Nema also forecast Iraq’s output rise in 2016 would be “very modest” due to the reduced investment budgets of foreign contractors. [Reuters, 3/4/2016]