Hifter’s Libyan National Army seizes Islamist enclave in Benghazi
Turkey slams German spy agency for dismissing Gulen role in coup
Iran leader vows continued 'resistance' to US in Nowruz message


Airstrikes rock east Damascus after surprise rebel attack

Airstrikes pounded opposition-held positions east of Damascus today after rebels launched a surprise assault on regime forces in the capital, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The attackers, who include jihadists allied with the former al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, began their assault by detonating two car bombs in the Jobar district, according to observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman. The attack comes just days before UN-brokered peace talks are to resume in Geneva.


Saudi-led coalition calls on UN to take over supervision of Yemeni port

The Saudi-led Arab coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen called on Sunday for the United Nations to “immediately” take over supervision of the strategic port of Hodeida after 42 Somalis were killed off the Yemeni coast last week. The coalition has denied claims that one of its helicopters attacked the boat carrying refugees en route to Sudan. It said UN supervision would put an end to weapons smuggling and human trafficking through the port.


Anti-tax protesters rally in Beirut

Thousands of protesters flocked to downtown Beirut on Sunday to denounce proposed tax hikes to pay for higher government salaries, capping off three days of unrest. Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri addressed the protesters with vows to fight corruption and ensure transparency, but frustrated protesters shouted “thief” and threw empty water bottles at him. Hariri has promised to raise public sector pay in an effort to end political gridlock and pass Lebanon's first state budget in 12 years.

Also on Sunday, Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt announced that his eldest son, Taymour Jumblatt , would become head of the Progressive Socialist Party, perpetuating the tradition of dynastic politics in Lebanon. Jumblatt made the announcement at the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the assassination of his father, Kamal Jumblatt.


Saudi Arabia resumes oil shipments to Egypt

Saudi state-owned Aramco sent two oil shipments to Egypt on Friday and Saturday, Egyptian Petroleum Minister Tarek el-Molla announced Sunday. Another two deliveries are expected March 26-27. Saudi Arabia suspended oil shipments in October after Cairo voted in favor of a Russian draft resolution on war-torn Syria that did not call for an end to air strikes against opposition-held enclaves. The Saudis had previously agreed in April 2016 to supply Egypt with 700,000 tons of refined oil products every month for five years.


Gaza court issues death sentences for drug smuggling

A military court in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip on Sunday sentenced two Palestinians to death for drug smuggling, the Interior Ministry said in a statement. It is the first such punishment for drug offenses in the enclave, which does not have any laws on the books applying the death penalty for drug possession. Authorities have seized $1 million worth of drugs over the past few months.


Israel-Syria tensions escalate following aerial attacks

Israeli jets bombed a Syrian army base east of Damascus along with joint Syrian-Hezbollah positions overnight, Syrian media report. Other reports said an Israeli attack in the region of Quneitra killed a Hezbollah-backed Syrian militia leader. On Friday, Israel acknowledged for the first time that it had bombed Syrian targets, after anti-aircraft missiles were shot at its jets on their return home.


Turkey condemns Germany for allowing PKK rally

Turkey has condemned Germany for allowing some 9,000 flag-waving supporters of the banned Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) to march in Frankfurt on Saturday to celebrate Nowruz, the Persian New Year. The Turkish Foreign Ministry called the march “thought-provoking” given that Germany considers the PKK a terrorist group, and presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin “strongly” condemned German authorities. The march was allowed even though German cities have banned Turkish officials from rallying in favor of a referendum in April that would greatly expand the powers held by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.



Netanyahu advisers head for settlement discussions with Trump administration

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief of staff, Yoav Horowitz, and political adviser Jonathan Schachter are heading to Washington for discussions on West Bank settlements. They will be joining meetings between Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer and President Donald Trump’s representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, who just finished a round of talks in Israel, where Netanyahu told him that freezing settlement construction was a political non-starter.


Iraqi prime minister departs for Washington

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi left for the United States on Sunday for a meeting with President Donald Trump on the margins of a gathering of the anti-Islamic State coalition. It will be the first meeting between the two leaders since Trump took office. Abadi is also expected to meet with Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and key members of Congress.



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