Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif Friday accused the US of taking "several Iranian scientists hostage—without charge or on spurious sanctions charges—& not releasing them." He demanded their release and complained that they were not even granted medical furlough during the COVID-19 pandemic. The only proof Zarif offered was a Guardian article mentioning one Iranian scientist who remains in ICE custody, despite a federal judge in Cleveland dismissing fraud and trade secret theft charges against him last November, because the US revoked his original visa. Zarif tweeted these accusations on the same day that FBI Director Christopher Wray issued a statement saying that the agency will continue to investigate what happened to retired FBI agent Robert Levinson, who disappeared in Iran 13 years ago and is presumed to be deceased.
Hundreds of Iranians have died from ingesting methanol after rumors spread that it cures COVID-19. While the government places the death toll at around 300, an Iranian doctor assisting the health ministry estimated the real number is around 480 dead and 2,850 ill.
Oil prices continued their descent Friday after the Saudi Energy Ministry stated there is no "discussion [with Russia] of a joint agreement to balance oil markets." This came after Kirill Dmitriev, head of Russia's sovereign wealth fund, said, "We are in contact with Saudi Arabia and a number of other countries. Based on these contacts we see that if the number of OPEC+ members will increase and other countries will join there is a possibility of a joint agreement to balance oil markets." The price of WTI crude oil has fallen 66 percent since January.
A day after the Houthis and Yemen's internationally recognized government agreed to the first nationwide ceasefire since 2016, Saudi Arabia shot down Friday Houthi drones aimed at "civilian targets" in the Saudi cities of Abha and Khamis Mushait.
Houthi leader Abdel-Malek al-Houthi in a televised speech Thursday offered to repatriate five Saudi POWs in exchange for Riyadh releasing dozens of Hamas activists on trial in the kingdom for belonging to a "terrorist entity" and "supporting and financing a terrorist organization."
Baghdad proposed all international oil companies cut oilfield development budgets by 30 percent, but not reduce output. Iraqi government contracts with international oil firms operating in the country's southern oilfields stipulate that Baghdad receives a fixed dollar fee for volumes produced and then remunerates the firms for the cost of building projects.
After a several-week lull in fighting, clashes between the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) and Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA) escalated in the capital's southern suburbs, in an area between Sirte and Misrata, and in western Libya. LNA spokesman Ahmed al-Mismari wrote on his official Facebook page that LNA forces cleared the western regions of al-Assah, Riqdalin, and Zliten of GNA militias and Turkish-backed Syrian mercenaries.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that if the number of new COVID-19 cases does not decline in the next two days, a full lockdown will be necessary. He asked the Finance Ministry to report on the possibility of reducing economic activity to 10 percent until the end of Passover in a few weeks. This drastic proposal encountered opposition from outgoing Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who believes such a course would cause an "economic catastrophe," and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who only supports a lockdown for those over 65.
President Donald Trump called Prime Minister Netanyahu to congratulate him on the imminent formation of a new government.
To combat COVID-19, Turkey banned all international flights and imposed a travel ban on 30 cities, including Istanbul, Ankara, and Izmir. Travel between the cities will require permission from the local governor. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also announced that each province will set up a pandemic board chaired by the local governor and responsible for imposing additional restrictions to contain the virus.
To increase its market share as many airlines are grounding their fleets, Qatar Air pledged to maintain its regular flight schedule wherever airports are still operating and to ramp up capacity to enable travelers to return home ahead of quarantine orders.
Mohamed Hassan Arabi, a member of the Sudanese transitional government, said that lawmakers will change apostasy from a capital offense to one carrying a sentence that could include six months in prison, flogging, a fine, or a combination of all three. The same punishments would also apply to blasphemy.
Micah Levinson is a Washington, DC resident fellow at the Middle East Forum.