In a stepped-up response to Iranian backing of Shia rebels in Yemen, the Navy aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt sailed to the waters off Yemen to beef up security to join other US ships to intercept any Iranian vessels carrying weapons to the Houthi rebels. A massive ship that carries F/A-18 fighter jets, the Roosevelt is seen more of a deterrent and show of force in the region. On Monday, a Pentagon spokesman denied the ships were on a mission to intercept Iranian arms shipments. A senior official in the Iran-allied Houthi movement said that the movement of US warships into waters off Yemen escalates Washington’s role in a Saudi-led campaign against the group and aims at tightening a “siege” on the country. [APReutersThe HillAl-Masdar, 4/20/2015]



Egypt’s ex-president Morsi sentenced to twenty years in prison
Egypt’s ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi was sentenced to twenty years in prison and a five-year parole on Tuesday. He was convicted on charges of inciting violence, arresting protesters and physically abusing them, outside the Ittihadiya presidential palace in December 2012. Twelve other defendants, including Muslim Brotherhood leading figures Mohamed al-Beltagy and Essam al-Erian, and ex-presidential aides, also received twenty-year sentences on the same charges. Ali Gamal Saber and Abdel-Hakim Abdel-Rahman received ten-year sentences. The sentences can be appealed. Morsi and the fourteen other defendants were acquitted of committing premeditated murder and possessing ammunition. Judge Ahmed Youssef issued the verdict and sentence during a brief hearing, as Morsi and other defendants in the case stood in a soundproof glass cage. The court concluded its session by refusing to allow Morsi to address the judges and the public on the basis that “he had rejected the court, and questioned its legitimacy.” Muslim Brotherhood member and former minister under Morsi, Amr Darrag, said in a statement in Istanbul, “His trial has been a travesty of justice, which has been scripted and controlled by the government and entirely unsupported by evidence.” [Ahram Online, DNE, Reuters, AP, Aswat Masriya, Mada Masr, The Guardian, 4/21/2015]

Canada to issue passport to Al-Jazeera journalist Fahmy
The Canadian government said Monday it will issue a passport to Al-Jazeera English journalist Mohamed Fahmy who remains in Egypt on bail while awaiting trial on terror charges, reversing an earlier decision denying him one. Kevin Menard, a spokesman for Canada’s Immigration Minister, said they are “now in a position to issue Mr. Fahmy a passport despite ongoing legal issues and travel restrictions.” Fahmy, born in Egypt and a naturalized Canadian citizen, was freed from jail in February. He renounced his Egyptian citizenship last year as a condition of any future release from Egypt. Under his bail conditions, Fahmy must check in with police every day and cannot leave Egypt, as he is on a no-fly list. [Reuters, AP, The Guardian, 4/21/2015]

Al-Masry al-Youm reporters referred to investigation
Five al-Masry al-Youm (AMAY) reporters were transferred to investigations on Monday, just days after publishing a special report on alleged police violations. AMAY, a privately owned independent daily newspaper, published a seven-page special report on Sunday, repackaging a set of previously published reports on police violations against protesters, citizens, detainees, and even conscripts. “The reporters’ referral to investigations is nothing but an extension for the crisis,” newly elected Press Syndicate Head Yehia Qallash told Daily News Egypt. The front pages of AMAY and al-Dostour newspapers continued to criticize Egypt’s police Monday. Al-Dostour published on its front page the criminal record of its arrested journalist, arguing that he has not previously been arrested and had no criminal charges on his record. [DNE, 4/21/2015]

Egypt to host international conference on illegal immigration this month
Egypt will host an international conference next week in the tourist resort of Sharm al-Sheikh on solutions regarding illegal immigration. Several European and African countries, as well as international organizations, will take part in the conference held in light of the increasing number of victims drowning while attempting to immigrate every year. Deputy Foreign Minister Hisham Badr said on Monday that the conference would be held on April 23-24. Among the countries attending are Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea, South Sudan, the UK, France, Italy, Germany, and Malta. Commissioners from the European Union and the African Union, the United Nations, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration, and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime will also be present. [MENA, 4/20/2015]

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Bomb explodes at Spanish embassy in Libyan capital
A bomb exploded in front of the Spanish embassy in the Tripoli late on Monday. Nobody was hurt as Spain, like most Western and Arab countries, had pulled out its diplomats last summer, but some security personnel were inside at the time of the explosion. Pictures posted on social media showed some minor damage to the outer wall. Several Twitter accounts linked to the Libyan branch of the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack. [Reuters, AP, AFP, 4/21/2015]

Italy PM Renzi says military action in Libya not on the table
Foreign military intervention in Libya is not on the table as part of a possible solution to the growing seaborne immigration crisis, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said on Monday. He said that the only way to stop the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean to Europe was to block human traffickers that are organizing the perilous trips. The estimated death toll of a capsized ship carrying migrants from Libya is now up to 900, bringing the number of migrant deaths in the Mediterranean in 2015 to more than 1,500. As for military action, he added that it would only be possible if Libya’s warring factions first reached a truce. [Reuters, 4/20/2015]

Tunisia ‘to build electric fence’ along Libya border
Tunisia has begun erecting an electric fence along its border with Libya, amid growing fears that militants could move freely between the two countries. Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi spoke with French President Francois Hollande regarding the proposal during a recent visit to Paris. France will help finance the project by diverting 60 million Euros from Tunisia’s debt. The proposal calls for an electric fence along the entire border to decrease illicit trade, smuggling, and terrorist movement. [Libya Monitor (subscription), 4/21/2015]

Obama, Tunisia’s Essebsi to meet in wake of attack, elections
US President Barack Obama and Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi will meet in Washington next month to discuss security and economic issues, including the situation in neighboring Libya, the White House said in a statement on Monday. Among the topics discussed will be American security cooperation with Tunisia. According to the White House, the meeting is a gesture to underscore the United States’ longstanding friendship with Tunisia and support for the Tunisian people following their historic 2014 democratic elections. [Reuters, 4/20/2015]

“Homosexuality should not be criminalized,” says Ghannouchi
Ennahda movement leader Rached Ghannouchi has stated that homosexuality should not be criminalized in Tunisia, according to an interview with a French journalist. One of the co-founders of the Islamist party, Ghannouchi said that he does not approve of homosexuality, but that Islam does not spy on private lives and everyone should live the way they wish. Homosexuality is currently punishable with up to three years imprisonment, and a Swedish man was recently sentenced to two years in prison for homosexual activity. Despite Ghannouchi’s acceptance of legalizing homosexuality, he is opposed to gay marriage. [Tunisia Live, 4/20/2015]


Assad says no Iran troops in Syria, denies fresh chemical attacks
Bashar al-Assad said he had invited Hezbollah militants to fight alongside his regime but he denied the presence of Iranian troops in Syria in an interview with French television Monday. In the interview, Assad also denied being behind alleged chemical attacks in northwestern Idlib province last month and accused the United States of overseeing the creation of the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL). “The ISIS was created in Iraq in 2006 under the supervision of the Americans. ISIS came from Iraq to Syria because chaos is contagious,” he said, slamming France and other western nations for supporting the extremist jihadists by considering them the moderate opposition. [AFP, 4/21/2015]

Deraa rebels defeat regime attack
Syrian government troops and allied paramilitary forces launched a bid Monday to gain ground in the southern province of Deraa but were repelled by rebel militias in clashes that killed nearly thirty fighters from both sides, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Rebel sources and anti-regime media outlets said the surprise attack began early in the morning and targeted the town of Busr al-Harir, and ended with a regime retreat. However, the Observatory said the push by the regime had succeeded in cutting off rebel supply lines between rebels in Deraa province and areas to the north, including the rocky Lajat area, which is used by smugglers. The attack targeted the Amud Hawran rebel militia based in Busr al-Harir but several other Deraa-based groups, including Ahrar al-Sham and the Nusra Front, rushed in reinforcements to stave off the regime assault.[The Daily Star, 4/21/2015]

Turkey rescues thirty Syrian migrants from sinking boat
Turkey’s coast guard rescued thirty Syrians from a boat heading towards Greece after their vessel began to take on water in the Aegean Sea. The migrants had been trying to reach the Greek island of Kos from the Turkish resort of Bodrum but their boat started to take on water during a storm. The rescue operation came amid a surge in the numbers of migrants seeking to reach Europe, following the Mediterranean’s worst migrant disaster in which as many as 800 people drowned off Libya. [AFP, 4/21/2015]

ISIS claims execution of eleven pro-government fighters in Iraq
ISIS claims to have executed eleven pro-government fighters in Iraq, in a series of photographs shared online on Tuesday. The first picture shows masked men armed with assault rifles marching a line of orange jumpsuit-clad prisoners across a field. The captives are then shown kneeling in front of the gunmen with their hands bound. The final photographs show a row of bodies, face down in front of the militants with blood pooling on the ground. Text accompanying the photographs said the men were killed in Salahuddin province, north of Baghdad, the scene of fierce fighting last month in which government forces recaptured its capital Tikrit. Captions identified them as members of the Popular Mobilization Units, which have been fighting against ISIS alongside the army. [AFP, 4/21/2015]


US sends warships to block Iranian ships in Yemeni waters
In a stepped-up response to Iranian backing of Shia rebels in Yemen, the Navy aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt sailed to the waters off Yemen to beef up security to join other US ships to intercept any Iranian vessels carrying weapons to the Houthi rebels. A massive ship that carries F/A-18 fighter jets, the Roosevelt is seen more of a deterrent and show of force in the region. On Monday, a Pentagon spokesman denied the ships were on a mission to intercept Iranian arms shipments. A senior official in the Iran-allied Houthi movement said that the movement of US warships into waters off Yemen escalates Washington’s role in a Saudi-led campaign against the group and aims at tightening a “siege” on the country. [AP, Reuters, The Hill, Al-Masdar, 4/20/2015]

Iran says ceasefire could be reached today
Iran’s Deputy Foreign Minister said he was optimistic that a ceasefire in the Yemen conflict would be announced later on Tuesday, the Iranian Tasnim news agency reported. “We are optimistic that in the coming hours, after many efforts, we will see a halt to military attacks in Yemen,” Hossein Amir Abdollahian was quoted as saying by Tasnim. However, Yemeni Foreign Minister Riyadh Yassin on Monday rejected Iran’s offer to mediate a solution to the crisis in his war-torn country, insisting that Tehran-backed Houthi militiamen surrender. “Any mediation effort coming from Iran is unacceptable because Iran is involved in the Yemen issue,” Yassin said on the sidelines of an Arab-Turkish economic meeting in Kuwait City. The Minister said Yemen’s exiled government would not negotiate unless the Houthis and pro-Saleh forces lay down arms. Yassin said that Arab and other countries would take part in a meeting to study plans for the reconstruction of Yemen after the war. [AFP, Reuters, 4/20/2015]

Yemen violence leaves 944 dead, 3,487 injured, says WHO
The World Health Organization (WHO) announced Tuesday that violence raging in Yemen since late March has left 944 people dead and 3,487 injured. The UN health agency said the numbers came from health facilities in Yemen, but the true numbers are likely higher since many people are not making it to hospitals for treatment. The UN had previously estimated the toll to be at 767 deaths and 2,906 injured last Friday. The toll from Monday’s strike on a missile base in Sana’a is expected to continue to climb. After the attack, the health ministry reported at least 25 dead and 398 wounded. [AFP, 4/21/2015]

Obama, Abu Dhabi crown prince discuss need for military equipment
President Barack Obama met for more than an hour with Abu Dhabi’s crown prince on Monday and discussed the conflicts in Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Libya, and the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) need for military equipment. “The leaders discussed the ongoing need for expedited provision of essential military equipment and supplies to the UAE” in the context of the fight against Islamic State and US support for the Yemen operations, said Alistair Baskey, a spokesman for the White House National Security Council. Obama will meet with the leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council at the White House on May 13 and at the presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland, on May 14 to discuss the issues roiling the Middle East. [Reuters, 4/20/2015]


Iraq oil exports slip so far in April, still near record
Iraq’s oil exports have slipped so far in April to 2.92 million barrels per day (bpd), according to loading data and industry sources, although shipments remain close to a record high. If sustained, Iraq’s exports this month will be just short of the record of 2.98 million bpd set in March. Another strong month from Iraq adds to signs of continued high output from major members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. Meanwhile, British Petroleum (BP) has been lifting more crude oil cargoes in the past couple of months as payment for its work in southern Iraq. Low oil prices and the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL) have forced Baghdad to delay billions of dollars of cash payments it owes to international oil companies. [Reuters, 4/20/2015]

Libyan oil port Hariga shuts down due to strike by security guards
Libya’s eastern oil port of Hariga has closed due to a strike by security guards over salary payments. A tanker docked at the port has been forced to stop loading crude. The port’s security guards say they have not received their salaries for several months. Guards have repeatedly closed the port located in Tobruk near the Egyptian border over salary payments, disputes which were solved in the past within days or weeks. [Reuters, 4/21/2015]

Egypt targets $26 billion in tourism revenues by 2020
Egypt expects revenues from the tourism sector to reach $26 billion by 2020, as it implements a strategy to increase the number of tourists visiting annually to twenty million. The plan was presented to Prime Minister Ibrahim Mahlab by Tourism Minister Khaled Rami. Despite the instability, tourism contributes with 11.3 percent of the gross domestic product and is the source of 7 percent of foreign currency. Even though, tourism revenues rose to $7.5 billion throughout the year 2014, they remain well below the figures prior to the January 2011 uprising. Revenues reached $12.5 billion in 2010, which is often referred to as the “peak year” for tourism in Egypt. [Aswat Masriya, 4/21/2015]

Abu Dhabi to invest over $25 billion in offshore oilfields
Abu Dhabi plans to invest over $25 billion in the next five years on boosting its oil production capacity from offshore fields, a senior official of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company has said. The plan is part of the UAE strategy to increase crude oil output potential to 3.5 million barrels per day (bpd) by 2017-18. Current UAE production stands at around 2.8 million bpd. [Reuters, 4/21/2015]