The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) claimed Thursday to have captured the town of al-Asaba, which is about 31 miles south of the capital, from Khalifa Haftar's Libyan National Army (LNA). GNA forces have won a string of victories in the past couple weeks due to Turkish air support and an influx of Turkey-affiliated Syrian rebels. Turkish drones neutralized Russian-made Pantsir air-defense systems at al-Watiya airbase, enabling GNA forces to seize it on Monday, while Turkish-supplied surface-to-air missile defense systems have limited the threat posed by UAE drones supporting the LNA. LNA airforce chief Saqr al-Jaroushi vowed Thursday to launch the "largest aerial campaign in Libyan history" with all Turkish positions now being "legitimate targets for our airforce." Al-Jaroushi's warning is not merely bluster, the Financial Times reporting Thursday that "UN experts are investigating the suspected deployment of at least eight Russian-made fighter jets to Libya in support of renegade general Khalifa Haftar." Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said in response to al-Jaroushi's statement, "In the event Turkish interests in Libya are targeted, this will have very grave consequences." Likewise, Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin warned that LNA attacks on Turkish positions would provoke heavy retaliation.
The leaders of the Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces met Thursday to discuss how to implement PA President Mahmoud Abbas's Tuesday declaration that the State of Palestine is "absolved" of its security ties with Israel and the US. The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), the Israeli Ministry of Defense unit responsible for – among other things – managing security cooperation with the PA, confirmed to Haaretz receiving a communication from the PA regarding the cessation of intelligence sharing. PA sources informed Haaretz that its security forces in Areas B and C of the West Bank began withdrawing Thursday evening to Area A, which is under full PA civil and security control. According to the 1995 Oslo II Accord, Area B is under PA civil control and joint Israeli-Palestinian security control. Even though Israel exercises full civil and security control in Area C, PA security forces were heretofore assisting Israel in enforcing COVID-19 restrictions there.
In another example of severing COVID-19-related cooperation, PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh Thursday refused 14 tons of medical supplies donated by the UAE because the aid traveled through Israel. An Etihad Airways cargo jet that landed Tuesday at Ben-Gurion Airport, representing the first commercial flight between the UAE and Israel, transported the aid.
Secretary General of the PLO Executive Committee Saeb Erekat announced Thursday that PA security services will stop sharing information with the CIA, but did not provide any specifics about how PA-US security cooperation will change.
Lebanon's Health Ministry Thursday registered 63 new COVID-19 cases, the largest single-day increase since the pandemic's outbreak. With the pandemic worsening a financial crisis that caused the Lebanese pound to lose more than half its value vis-à-vis the dollar since October, Lebanon's central bank starting next week will start providing dollars to subsidize food imports. Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab published an op-ed in the Washington Post warning that the former breadbasket of the Eastern Mediterranean runs "the risk of a major food crisis" and "over half of Lebanese households may not be able to afford to purchase food by the end of the year."
The separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC), which currently occupies Aden and large swathes of southern Yemen, agreed in Saudi-mediated peace talks to renounce its April 25 declaration of "self-rule" in the area under its control if the political commitments outlined in the November 2019 Riyadh Agreement are fulfilled. The Riyadh Agreement proposed forming a new government comprised of equal numbers of southerners and northerners. President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi's internationally recognized government is composed primarily of northerners. Fighting between the Saudi-backed Hadi government and the UAE-backed STC broke out in Abyan province after the April 25 declaration even though both parties are partners in the war against the Iranian-backed Houthis that control most of the country's west, including the capital. In addition to creating a power sharing government, the Riyadh Agreement required the STC to vacate the government buildings it seized from Hadi's government, a condition on which the STC is still unwilling to compromise.
Qatar Wednesday expanded its currency swap agreement with Turkey, initially established during Turkey's 2018 financial crisis, from $5 billion to $15 billion. Like other Gulf Cooperation Council members, Qatar pegs its currency to the US dollar. The Turkish lira faced record depreciation in recent weeks as the central bank burned through its foreign currency reserves and Ankara failed to reach a currency-swap agreement with the US, Japan, or the UK. Buoyed by yesterday's agreement with Doha, Turkey's central bank cut its benchmark interest rate for the ninth straight time on Thursday.
Qatar Petroleum (QP) CEO Saad al-Kaabi stated during a webcast organized by the US-Qatar Business Council that it will cut spending by 30 percent this year due to plummeting demand attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, he asserted QP, the world's largest liquefied natural gas (LNG) producer, will not cut gas exports despite lower demand and still aims to increase LNG output to approximately 110 million tons per annum by 2024 from 77 now.
Semi-official news agencies reported Thursday that Iranian Deputy Health Minister Qassem Janbabaei admitted more than 10,000 health care workers in the country have been infected with COVID-19. The official number announced earlier this week was 800.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó called Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi Thursday to reiterate that Budapest will "refrain from supporting statements that condemn Israel in both the EU and the UN." Austria and Hungary were the only EU states to oppose EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell threatening penalties if Israel unilaterally annexes parts of the West Bank allocated to it by the Trump peace plan.
The IMF approved Jordan's request for around $396 million in emergency financial assistance under the Rapid Financing Instrument to help address the country's balance of payment needs and allow for higher spending on healthcare, containment, and assistance to households and companies most affected by the COVID-19 crisis.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum