A day after President Donald Trump floated the idea of imposing tariffs on Saudi oil if Riyadh fails to stabilize oil prices, the kingdom on Thursday called for an emergency OPEC+ meeting. Trump tweeted that a conversation with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who earlier conferred with Russian President Vladimir Putin, leaves him hopeful that OPEC+ will cut output by approximately 10 million bpd.
Saudi Arabia's interior ministry imposed a 24-hour curfew on Thursday in Mecca and Medina until further notice, the only exceptions being for essential workers and residents seeking either food or medical care. Those seeking food and medical care must remain in their neighborhoods and may only go out between 6 AM and 3 PM.
Regarding Masoud Molavi Vardanjani's assassination in Istanbul last November, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted: "Reports that Iranian diplomats were involved in an assassination of a dissident in Turkey are disturbing but fully consistent with their assignments - Iran's "diplomats" are agents of terror and have conducted multiple assassinations and bomb plots in Europe over the past decade." Vardanjani was a former Iranian intelligence operative who fled in 2018 to Turkey, where he used social media to expose Iranian political corruption.
Four knowledgeable sources informed Reuters that Iranian government-sponsored hackers have attempted to break into the personal email accounts of World Health Organization (WHO) staff during the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the sources, who works for a large technology company that monitors for malicious cyber activity, said, "We've seen some targeting by what looks like Iranian government-backed attackers targeting international health organizations generally via phishing." However, WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said the organization still could not confirm the perpetrators of the phishing attacks. Iran is the epicenter of the pandemic in the Middle East, with 50,468 confirmed cases and 3,160 deaths. On Thursday, Iran's parliament announced that Ali Larijani, Speaker of the Parliament of Iran since 2008, had tested positive for the disease.
A court in Aden, the interim capital of the internationally recognized Yemeni government, opened a trial of 32 senior Houthis in absentia, including the movement's leader, Abdul Malik al-Houthi. The eight charges include endangering Yemen's independence and plotting a coup against the legal government.
On the pretext that the aid is inedible, the Houthis seized 3,300 flour stacks from the World Food Program (WFP) and threatened to confiscate an additional 175 tons of wheat. The WFP partially suspended aid to Houthi-controlled areas for two months last summer after accusing them of interfering with deliveries. The office of UN Envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths said Thursday that he is discussing "concrete steps" with the internationally recognized government and the Houthis to reach a ceasefire to facilitate COVID-19 relief efforts. On Wednesday, Mohammed al-Houthi, a member of the Houthi movement's Supreme Political Council, proposed that twelve countries mediate between them and the Saudi-led coalition. The twelve countries are: Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Sierra Leone, Russia, China, Japan, and Korea. He did not specify whether North Korea or South Korea was intended.
Likud and Blue and White sources said a coalition agreement will be finalized by Friday afternoon. While Likud compromised on Blue and White's Avi Nissenkorn serving as justice minister, Likud will retain the foreign ministry, which Netanyahu wants to give to former Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein. It increasingly looks like Yamina will join the opposition because it made receiving the education portfolio a red line and Likud reportedly agreed to give it to Blue and White MK Gabi Ashkenazi.
The cabinet Thursday evening decided only to permit Bnei Brak residents to leave the city to obtain vital medical treatment, for legal proceedings, to transfer a child from one parent to another, attend a funeral, or to fulfill the role of police officer, soldier, or medical personnel. Two IDF battalions will assist the police in enforcing the new restrictions. Under the plan, the government will relocate about 4,500 elderly, at risk residents to hotels while those aged 60-80 must remain at home.
On Wednesday, the Algerian embassy in Paris filed to sue the French state-owned France 24 television station for hate speech after Francis Ghilès, a researcher at the Center for International Relations in Barcelona, on Monday accused the Algerian government of diverting Chinese aid to a military hospital, instead of civilian ones, and of generally giving political officials and members of the military special treatment in receiving medical care in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Sudan is temporarily closing its embassy in Cairo after Sudanese expatriates, who claim to be stranded in Egypt since Sudan closed its borders last month, stormed the building in protest of not receiving financial support from the Sudanese government. The Egyptian military evicted the demonstrators. Khartoum denied that most of the people who stormed the embassy are stranded, asserting they are asylum seekers, lack passports, or for some other reason do not qualify for the housing and financial support sent to the approximately 1,200 Sudanese citizens in Egypt that the Sudanese government does acknowledge as stranded.
The Egyptian Medical Syndicate, the main association representing physicians, issued a statement condemning President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi's proposed increase in public sector doctors' remuneration as unacceptably low. According to Egypt Watch the infection allowance for doctors stands at 19 Egyptian pounds, around $1, while the infection allowance for banking sector employees is 500 Egyptian pounds ($32) and for judges 3,000 Egyptian pounds ($191).
Three doctors closely involved in COVID-19 testing said on condition of anonymity that the real number of confirmed cases is in the thousands, not the 772 infections and 52 deaths reported by the health ministry. Iraqi health ministry spokesman Saif al-Badr denied the higher figures.
The Sindh High Court Thursday overturned Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh's conviction for murdering Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, finding Saeed only guilty of kidnapping and sentencing him to 7 years imprisonment. Having already spent 18 years on death row, Saeed will likely be released for time served. However, Sindh province's prosecutor general, Faiz Shah, will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The Sindh High Court also acquitted three others serving life sentences for their role in the murder. After dropping out of the London School of Economics, Indian police arrested the British-born Saeed for kidnapping three Britons and an American on behalf of Kashmiri jihadists and New Delhi released him in a 1999 exchange after terrorists hijacked an Indian Airlines plane. In 2002, Saeed lured Daniel Pearl into the hands of his murderers by claiming to have arranged an interview for him.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum.