Top News: Yemen warning closes UN offices in Sana’a

A warning of a possible attack in the part of Yemen’s capital where United Nations (UN) offices are located has prompted an order for staff to stay home on Thursday, a UN source said. “Staff of the UN mission and UN agencies have received instructions not to turn up for work on Thursday,” the source said. The source said it was a “precautionary measure following advice from Yemeni security authorities.” [Daily Star, 12/11/2013]


Interior Minister warns Brothers against disrupting referendum
Egypt’s Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim delivered a press conference on Wednesday in which he warned the Muslim Brotherhood against protests to disrupt the referendum on the new draft constitution, which is immanently expected. Ibrahim maintained, “The Brotherhood will not achieve their goal [of interrupting the referendum],” confirming that both the army and police forces would protect voters and safeguard polling stations. The minister delivered his speech against a backdrop of police crackdowns on widening student protests at universities across the country. [Mada Masr, 12/11/2013]

Over a dozen arrested for ‘protesting without notice’
Fourteen people are facing the charge of “protesting without notice,” among others, upon being arrested in Cairo during two separate incidents which did not involve protesting. Four young men were arrested in the vicinity of Haram, Giza on Tuesday while putting up posters against the newly-passed and highly-controversial Protest Law. They have since been released on bail. In a separate incident, ten Al-Azhar University students were arrested from a coffee shop on Monday; they also face the charge of protesting without a notice, among others. The Protest Law has garnered wide criticism from domestic as well as international human rights organizations since its issuance on November 24. Several political movements have also criticized the law. [DNE, 12/12/2013]

Ambassador James Moran: Egypt-IMF loan deal to unlock EU’s further aid
Ambassador James Moran, Head of Delegation of the European Union to Egypt, said the EU’s upcoming aid package to Egypt depends on obtaining a IMF loan, which would certify global trust in the Egyptian economy. Moran was delivering a keynote speech in a press conference held on Thursday regarding a €20 million aid package granted by the EU in cooperation with the German Agency for International Cooperation (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit -GIZ). [Amwal al-Ghad, 12/12/2013]

Tehran seeks close ‘regional cooperation’ with Egypt, says Iranian official  
Iran’s deputy minister of foreign affairs said Wednesday during a meeting with an Egyptian popular diplomacy delegation currently visiting Tehran that his country’s foreign policy was based on the presence of Egypt within the “regional equation.” “There are huge powers who don’t want to see a strong Egypt and work on weakening it. At this point Egypt should restore its leading position in the Arab world and face such foreign ambitions through cooperation with other countries in the region,” Egypt’s state-run news agency MENA quoted Hadi Soleimanpour as saying. Soleimanpour called for setting aside issues of disagreement and taking advantage of areas in which both countries can build a “strategy for Middle Eastern collaboration.” [Ahram Online, Shorouk (Arabic), AMA (Arabic), 12/12/2013]


Qaddafi’s son briefly appears in Libyan court
The son of Muammar Qaddafi briefly appeared before a militia-backed court in the western Libyan town of Zintan, but proceedings against him were adjourned until the end of February. Seif al-Islam Qaddafi has been held since the end of the 2011 civil war by a Zintani militia, which has refused to hand him over for a separate trial in Tripoli, where he is being tried in absentia for alleged crimes during the revolution. The weak central government has been unable to secure his transfer to the capital. Seif al-Islam is also wanted by the International Criminal Court in the Hague on charges of crimes against humanity. [AP, 12/12/2013]

Tebus lift Sarir blockade
Tebu protesters who have been blocking fuel supplies to the Sarir power station in eastern Libya have temporarily suspended their action and have lifted their blockage of the road from Ajdabiya to Kufra. The move follows a visit by a delegation, including Defense Minister Abdullah al-Thinni, Benghazi militia leader Ziad Belam, and Cyrenaican elders, to negotiate with the protesters. A founding member of the Tebu demonstration said they will resume their protests in a few days if the delegation does not come up with a solution. In a separate oil port closure case, an oil union denies reports that it has threatened to reclose terminals opened by Ibrahim Jadhran and his armed supporters. [Libya Herald, 12/11/2013]

Lack of arrests for crimes in Libya not our fault, says prosecution service
The justice ministry has defended itself against accusations that it is not doing enough to properly crack down on crime, saying the ministry is working properly but that the police and army are not implementing the law. Head of the attorney-general’s investigation department, Sadik Asour, stressed that combating crime requires interagency collaboration and said the office has been working on numerous cases, including the prime minister’s abduction and assassinations of security personnel. [Libya Herald, 12/11/2013]

Zidan says he hopes his government won’t be forced to take action to open oilfields
In an interview with euronews, Prime Minister Ali Zidan cited his interim government’s areas of success, including establishing an army and police force and integrating militias. Speaking to his government’s relationship with the legislature, Zidan said there is cooperation with the General National Congress and that the entities are “looking to get better convergence of views and ideas.” Rejecting federalism, Zidan nevertheless noted the government is looking to establish local administration in every region to ensure provision of services to the populace. The prime minister also stressed he hopes the oil sector disruption will be resolved peacefully. [euronews, 12/11/2013]


Top Western-backed rebel commander is forced to flee, says US officials
Islamist fighters ran the top Western-backed rebel commander in Syria out of his headquarters, and he fled the country, US officials said Wednesday. The Islamists also took over key warehouses holding US military gear for moderate fighters in northern Syria over the weekend. The takeover and flight of Gen. Salim Idris of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) shocked the United States, which along with Britain immediately froze delivery of non-lethal military aid to rebels in northern Syria. The FSA refuted the claim that Idriss has fled and lambasted the decision to halt non-lethal aid. The turn of events was the strongest sign yet that the US-allied FSA is collapsing under the pressure of Islamist domination of the rebel side of the war. It also weakened the Obama administration’s hand as it struggles to organize a peace conference next month bringing together rebels and the regime. [WSJ, 12/11/2013]

Iran, Saudi Arabia among thirty countries invited to Geneva 2
Iran and Saudi Arabia, which back opposite sides in Syria’s war, are among more than thirty countries slated to attend the long-delayed Geneva 2 peace conference next month. The January 22 meeting will actually be held at the lakeside Swiss city of Montreux because of a shortage of hotel rooms in Geneva, which will be hosting a luxury watch fair. The regime and the opposition will each send delegations to the meeting, and will hold bilateral talks hosted by UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi on January 24 in Geneva. Each delegation is supposed to submit the names of their nine-person roster to the United Nations by December 27, but composing the list could prove a daunting task for Syria’s opposition, which is riddled with internal divisions and increasingly at odds with powerful rebel groups fighting on the ground, many of which have rejected the conference. [AFP, 12/12/2013]

Syria opposition appeal for fuel as two children die of cold
The Syrian opposition appealed Thursday for emergency fuel deliveries to rebel-held areas, saying two children had “died of cold” as a winter storm gripped the region. The opposition National Coalition said that parents were unable to keep children warm in bombed out buildings as temperatures plummeted and snow carpeted many of Syria’s main battlegrounds. The forecast calls for more snow Friday. [AFP, 12/12/2013]

Coverage of war limited by spate of journalist kidnappings; Media implores rebel leaders
International news organizations called on rebel leaders on Wednesday to stop armed groups kidnapping journalists, saying dozens of abductions were preventing full media coverage of the civil war. In a letter to the opposition leadership, thirteen major news organizations said they estimated that more than thirty journalists were being held in Syria, seven captured in the last two months alone: “As a result of these kidnappings, a growing number of news organizations no longer feel that it is safe for their reporters and photographers to enter Syria and many have decided to limit their coverage of the war.” Asking opposition leaders to secure the release of journalists, the organizations said their staff accepted the risk of injury and death in reporting from war zones: “But the risk of kidnapping is unacceptable,” they said. “And the leadership is in a position to reduce and eliminate that risk.” Kidnappings are common in rebel-held northern areas around Aleppo, Idlib and Raqqa. [Reuters, 12/12/2013]


Assembly committee sets deadline for elections at end of 2014
Tunisia’s second post-revolutionary elections will occur before the end of 2014, according to the National Constituent Assembly (NCA) consensus committee. The deadline marks the latest date yet mentioned for Tunisia’s polls, which many had hoped would already have taken place. Second Deputy Vice President of the NCA Larbi Ben Salah Abid said, “all political parties in Tunisia are waiting for the Independent Electoral High Commission to finalize the date for the forthcoming presidential and parliamentary elections,” adding, “the deadline for the elections will be the end of next year.” [Tunisia Live, 12/12/2013]

Rights groups say draft constitution falls short of meeting international standards
In a statement, nearly fifty members of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) expressed deep concern about the failure of the National Constituent Assembly, after more than two years of discussions, to propose a draft constitution “that would protect the right to freedom of expression in line with Tunisia’s obligations under international law.” The statement addresses the fourth and most recent draft of the constitution, made public on June 1, 2013, and alleges the draft fails to conform to international standards in the area of freedom of expression and poses a threat to independent journalism. [TAP, 12/11/2013]

General transport strike cancelled
The general transport strike initially planned for December 12 has been cancelled, according to Secretary General of the General Transport Federation Mokhtar Hili, who relayed the update to state news on Wednesday. [TAP, 12/11/2013]


Hadramawt tribes give government deadline, call for withdrawal of troops
Tribes in Hadramawt gave the government ten days from Tuesday to withdraw military camps and checkpoints from the governorate, threatening to overthrow the government if their demands are not met. The threat was in response to the killing of a tribal sheikh at a checkpoint in Sayoun city last week. At a meeting on Tuesday attended by leaders of the Southern Herak demanding secession, tribal leaders also decided they would not allow security forces in the province unless they are native to Hadramawt. The tribal leaders said that they want locals to take on the task of protecting oil infrastructure themselves, rather than relying on the security forces of the “occupation.” [Yemen Times, Al Masdar (Arabic), 12/12/2013]

Yemen fulfills promise to create supervisory body for donors’ pledges
On Monday, in the presence of Yemen’s Planning and International Cooperation Minister Mohamed al-Sadi and British Minister for International Development Alan Duncan, Yemen’s government officially established an executive bureau to manage donations from foreign countries in support of Yemen’s transition. “The bureau was established to make sure the pledges that Yemen is supposed to receive are properly used in the field of public service and development projects,” said Hadi al-Arabi, the manager of new bureau. The “Friends of Yemen,” the group of foreign donor countries, have sought such an executive body since a meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in September 2012 in which the international community pledged $7.9 billion to Yemen. However, Yemen has received only a fraction of the money due to Yemen’s history of corruption and lack of transparency, something the new bureau is also supposed to remedy. [Yemen Times, 12/12/2013]

GCC urges NDC to yield decisions preserve Yemen’s stability and unity
The leaders of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) urged on Wednesday all Yemeni parties participating in the National Dialogue Conference (NDC) to give priority to the national interests of Yemen. This came in the closing statement issued Wednesday in Kuwait at the end of the two-day session of the GCC Supreme Council. The GCC leaders praised the efforts made by President Abdrabbo Mansour Hadi in managing the ongoing transitional stage in Yemen to implement the Gulf initiative, pledging to support him in improving Yemen’s security, development, and prosperity. [SABA, 12/11/2013]


Saudi Grand Mufti condemns suicide attacks
Saudi Arabia’s Grand Mufti, the highest religious authority in the country, has condemned suicide bombings as grave crimes, reiterating his stance in unusually strong language. The Saudi cleric, whose views influence many Sunni Muslims respectful of the kingdom’s strict version of Islam, denounced suicide attacks after al-Qaeda’s 2001 assault on US cities, but his latest comments recast the message in sharp terms. “Killing oneself is a grave crime and a grave sin,” Sheikh Abdulaziz Al al-Sheikh was quoted as saying by the Saudi Al Hayat newspaper on Thursday. “Those who kill themselves with explosives are criminals who are hastening their way to hell.” [Reuters/Ahram Online, 12/12/2013]

Kerry back to region to pursue faltering Mideast peace talks
US Secretary of State John Kerry headed back to the Middle East on Thursday, a week after his previous visit ended with Palestinian dissatisfaction over US security ideas for an elusive land-for-peace deal with Israel. Kerry, who has quipped that his frequent trips to the region have become a commute, planned separate meetings with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It will be the top US diplomat’s ninth visit to Israel since becoming secretary of state in February. Amid little public sign of progress in the negotiations, Kerry said he had presented Israel and the Palestinians last week with “some thoughts” on security arrangements in any future accord, but gave no details. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said talks on security arrangements would continue during this visit but other issues would be discussed as well. [Reuters/Ahram Online, 12/12/2013]

Algeria, Libya to bolster security cooperation
Chaos in Libya has prompted Algerian authorities to step up security presence along the border between the two countries and strive for better cooperation against terrorist threats. In press statements on Saturday following his meeting with Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki in Paris, Algerian Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal said he would visit Libya at the end of the month to discuss security coordination with Libyan officials. [Magharebia, 12/11/2013]

Image: (Photo: UNDP-Sanaa)