The Blue and White party filed three bills Monday against Prime Minister Netanyahu. The first seeks to limit the prime minister to two terms, the second requires the removal of a prime minister or minister who has been indicted, and the third prohibits the president from tasking an MK under indictment from forming a coalition. Earlier, Yisrael Beiteinu MK Oded Forer presented a bill that allows the Knesset to hold a secret ballot during the transition period to end the term of office of a prime minister who is facing charges. Nevertheless, negotiations between Likud and Blue and White on a national-unity government began Monday before Blue and White leader Benny Gantz officially received the mandate to form a government from President Reuven Rivlin. Shas leader Arye Deri, who acts as a political adviser to Netanyahu, met with Blue and White MK Gabi Ashkenazi in another channel that could bear fruit.
Saudi Arabia's National Anti-Corruption Commission (Nazaha) announced Sunday night the arrest of 298 government officials on charges of bribery, embezzlement, and abuse of power involving a total of 379 million riyals ($101 million). Among those implicated are eight defense ministry officers suspected of bribery and money laundering regarding government contracts during the years 2005-2015. Saudi authorities also detained 29 interior ministry officials in the Eastern Province, including three colonels, a major general, and a brigadier general. Two judges were incarcerated for receiving bribes, along with nine officials accused of corruption at Riyadh's Almaarefa University, following a partial building collapse that caused deaths and injuries. Nazaha provided no names and few other details about the cases.
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Saudi Aramco said on Monday it was likely to sustain higher oil output planned for April through May, and that it was "very comfortable" with a price of $30 a barrel. Aramco said last week it would be raising its output in April to a record 12.3 million barrels per day in a fight for market share with Russia. CFO Khalid al-Dabbagh said Aramco was currently evaluating boosting its output potential by another 1 million bpd to 13 million bpd.
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On Monday, Saudi Arabia urged its citizens to stay at home to limit COVID-19's spread. Riyadh is considering suspending work for the private sector after doing so for the public sector, except health and security. The kingdom ordered the private sector to give two-week mandatory sick leave for pregnant women and employees with conditions that leave them vulnerable, state media reported.
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Russia's foreign ministry said on Monday that militants in Idlib province are not complying with the ceasefire brokered by Russia and Turkey, instead taking counter-offensive action in the region. According to earlier reports, Russia and Turkey were forced to cut short their first joint patrol under a ceasefire deal along the east-west M4 highway in northwest Syria on Sunday due to rebel provocations, the Russian Defense Ministry was cited as saying by Russian news agencies. The fighters from Tahrir al-Sham, an umbrella group comprised of several Islamist groups, and Hurras al-Din, a group that split from Tahrir al-Sham when it cut its ties to al Qaeda, used the period of calm after the ceasefire to regroup and rearm with foreign support, Russian news agency Interfax quoted the ministry as saying. The groups then launched a counter-offensive against Syrian government forces in Idlib. On Sunday, Russian state news agency TASS reported that jihadists had conducted six shelling attacks in Idlib and Latakia provinces. On the same day, hundreds of protesters blocked the M4 highway to prevent the first of the joint Russian-Turkish military patrols stipulated by the March 5 deal.
According to a readout, released Monday, of a Sunday call between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abd al-Mahdi, Pompeo said the US is prepared to act in self-defense if attacked in Iraq. Pompeo also called on the Iraqi government to fulfill its obligations protecting coalition troops working in the country to defeat ISIS and identify and hold accountable the groups responsible for a rocket attack last week that injured three US service members. On Sunday, the Department of Defense confirmed it had earlier carried out strikes against the Iran-backed Kataeb Hezbollah militia in retaliation for a rocket attack on March 11 that killed two US service members and a British medic.
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The Iraqi government has imposed a curfew in the capital Baghdad as of March 17 until March 24 to prevent coronavirus from spreading, the state news agency said on Sunday. At least 110 cases have been confirmed so far in Iraq, and 10 people have died. Read more here.
A military tribunal in Beirut on Monday ordered the release of Lebanese-American Amer Fakhoury, who has been held in the country for nearly six months on charges of working for the Israeli-backed South Lebanon Army (SLA) two decades ago, Lebanon's state-run news agency said. Fakhoury was ordered released because more than 10 years had passed since he allegedly tortured prisoners at an SLA jail. Fakhoury, who became a U.S. citizen last year, and is now a restaurant owner in Dover, New Hampshire, received support from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and other New Hampshire politicians, who have called for imposing sanctions on Lebanon to pressure Beirut to release him. It was not immediately clear if he will be set free, as he faces another case filed by former prisoners who say he tortured them. He has not been able to participate in his trial after being hospitalized with stage 4 lymphoma. Read more here.
China's ministry of foreign affairs on Monday urged the United States to lift sanctions on Iran immediately amid the Middle Eastern country's response to the coronavirus outbreak, tweeting: "Continued sanction on Iran was against humanitarianism and hampers Iran's epidemic response & delivery of humanitarian aid by the UN and other organizations." Iran has reported 14,991 infections and 853 deaths. Read more here.
Grand Ayatollah Hashem Bathaie Golpayegani, a member of the Assembly of Experts, died from COVID-19 Monday. Despite the mounting toll, many Iranians are shrugging off concerns about the virus. The streets of Tehran were bustling on Sunday, with many people out shopping in stores with little evidence of panic buying, despite officials calling on people to stay home. Read more here.
The deputy head of Sudan's Sovereign Council, Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, said his country would mediate a deal on an escalating dispute between Ethiopia and Egypt over Ethiopia's controversial dam on the Nile River. Dagalo's remarks, which were carried by Egypt's official news agency Sunday, came at the end of two-day visit to Cairo where he met Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Ethiopia claims that President Donald Trump is favoring Egypt in the dispute and rejected an American proposal that won Cairo's assent. Read more here.
Qatar said on Sunday it would ban non-Qataris from entering the country for two weeks as of Wednesday and announced measures to support the economy including providing 75 billion riyals ($20.5 billion) in financial incentives to the private sector. The government will also instruct state funds to increase their investment in the local bourse by 10 billion riyals and the central bank will provide additional liquidity to banks and encourage them to provide a six-month grace period on loan payments and private sector obligations. Other measures announced by government spokeswoman Lulwa Rashed al-Khater in a televised news conference include exempting food and medical goods from customs duties and exempting some sectors from paying utility fees for six months. Read more here.
To combat COVID-19, the Interior Ministry ordered the closure of cafes, sports and entertainment venues, swimming pools, concert and wedding venues, and some restaurants. NGO activities and gatherings will be postponed and mass prayers in mosques suspended. The ministry did not say how long the restrictions will last. Read more here.
Diplomatic sources quoted by the newspaper Assabah said that Morocco authorities recently withdrew from the UAE its ambassador, two consuls, and military attaché. Morocco did not officially announce the measures, which are attributable to worsening relations since Morocco announced its policy of "positive neutrality" in the crisis of the blockade on Qatar. There has not been a UAE ambassador in Rabat for more than a year. Read more here.
With 29 reported COVID-19 infections, Morocco will close eateries, cinemas, theaters, sports, public clubs, baths, and other entertainment venues starting from today over coronavirus fears, the Interior Ministry said. Markets, and shops selling necessary goods as well as restaurants offering a delivery service are exempt, the ministry said in a statement. It also suspended all international flights, closed schools, and banned gatherings of more than 50 people. Read more here.
Hamas authorities suspended all movement of people in both directions through the Gaza Strip's crossings until further notice except in emergency cases. Schools, universities and kindergartens also continue to be suspended until the end of March. Read more here.
United Arab Emirates
The National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority has decided to suspend services in all mosques and churches across the country starting Monday for a period of four weeks. It said the suspension will be reviewed four weeks from now. Read more here.
Micah Levinson is a Washington, DC resident fellow at the Middle East Forum.