Weekly News 27th – 31st March 2017 | Mediterranean Affairs
Austria: Interior Minister Wolfgang Sobotka announced on Monday that Austria would begin relocation of asylum seekers from Italy and Greece, but out of obligation and not conviction. (ANSAmed)
Egypt: An Egyptian court has sentenced 56 people to prison over the capsizing of a migrant boat that killed more than 200 people in September.
They were given sentences of up to 14 years, and the convictions included murder, manslaughter and negligence.
The boat was bound for Italy when it sank eight miles (12km) off the Egyptian port city of Rosetta.
Some 450 migrants were estimated to have been crowded aboard, including around 100 trapped in its hold.
There were 163 survivors, mostly Egyptian. Syrian, Sudanese, Eritrean and Somali migrants had also been on board. (BBC)
Iraq: Civilians trying to flee the besieged Isis-held enclave in west Mosul are being shot dead by Isis and Iraqi army snipers as they try to cross the Tigris River, says an eyewitness trapped inside the city with his family. (The Independent)
Spain: A Spanish court has ordered the first criminal investigation into the actions of Syrian government officials during the country’s civil war.
The case involves a Spanish woman, born in Syria, who said her brother was tortured and executed by Syrian security forces in 2013. Judge Eloy Velasco ruled that Spain has the jurisdiction to investigate the allegations against nine members of the Syrian security and intelligence forces – the first time such a decision has been made. (BBC)
Syria: US-backed forces in Syria are resuming an offensive against ISIL fighters at a major hydroelectric dam, saying it is in no danger of collapsing amid conflicting claims over its integrity.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces’ (SDF) offensive was briefly suspended on Monday, a day after a senior Syrian government official warned that the Tabqa Dam had been damaged by US-led air raids and cited an increasing risk of catastrophic flooding.
ISIL had also issued warnings that the dam could collapse “at any moment”, releasing pictures showing what it said was the structure’s control room after it had been damaged by US air raids. The SDF later said engineers had entered the dam and found no damage or “malfunction”. (Al Jazeera)
Yemen: Almost half a million children are suffering from acute malnutrition in Yemen, 1,546 have been killed, 2,450 have been disabled, 1,572 have been recruited into armed forces and over two million are not in school, UNICEF reports. (ANSAmed)
France: Mr. Fillon’s wife, Penelope Fillon, will be investigated to determine whether she was complicit in misappropriating public funds and several related offenses, a judicial official said.
The decision, announced after she was questioned by magistrates, comes two weeks after Mr. Fillon was charged with embezzlement in the same case.
The allegations were reported by the satirical weekly Le Canard Enchaîné, which said Penelope Fillon had drawn about 500,000 euros, or about $540,000, in salary over eight years for working as an assistant to her husband when he was a lawmaker and later to the man who replaced him. It said there was little sign she had done any work. (The New York Times)
Iraq: A US army general has said coalition forces “probably” played a role in the 17 March air strike on west Mosul which may have killed more than 100 people
Lt Gen Stephen Townsend said the US had carried out air strikes in that part of Iraq on that day.
He said there was “at least a fair chance” the US was responsible, in “an unintentional accident of war.”
But he said it was also possible that so-called Islamic State (IS) had rigged the building with explosives. (BBC)
Migrant Crisis: Italian Parliament on Wednesday gave final approval to a decree on migrants featuring a measure to protect unaccompanied minors from being repatriated. The law gives those minors the same rights as the EU citizens of the same age. (ANSAmed)
Brexit: Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday sent formal notice of the country’s intention to withdraw from the European Union, starting a tortuous two-year divorce littered with pitfalls for both sides.
Speaking in Parliament, Mrs. May said she was invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, putting Britain on track to leave the European Union in 2019 and raising a host of thorny issues involved in untangling a four-decade relationship.
In addition to a welter of trade and customs matters, the Conservative government faces the prospect of a new independence referendum in Scotland.
Just before 12:30 p.m., Britain’s top envoy to the European Union, Tim Barrow, walked to the office of Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, and handed him a letter with the official notification. Mr. Tusk then posted on Twitter acknowledging receipt of the letter. (The New York Times)
Jordan: Arab leaders are convening near the Jordanian Dead Sea for the 28th annual summit of the Arab League.
Sixteen heads of states out of the 22-member confederation of Arab countries are expected to attend Wednesday’s meeting, including Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, president of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.
Highest on the agenda is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has been left on the back burner as repeated attempts to revive the remnants of a peace process have failed and the situation on the ground becomes ever more difficult to resolve. In addition to the Palestinian question, the agenda for the summit pledges to address the conflicts in Syria, Yemen, as well as Libya, Iraq, and Iran’s role in the region. (Al Jazeera)
Iraq: At least 15 people have been killed in a suicide car bomb attack on a police checkpoint in Iraq’s capital Baghdad, officials say.
They say more than 40 people were injured when the bomber detonated the vehicle – an oil tanker laden with explosives – at the checkpoint in the south of the capital.
No group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack. (BBC)
Iraqi forces say they are pushing into the Old City of Mosul and closing in on a key mosque despite fierce resistance from Islamic State (IS) militants.
Federal police chief Lt-Gen Raed Jawdat said officers were besieging the area around the Great Mosque of al-Nuri.
The building was where IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed the establishment of a “caliphate” in 2014.
Gen Jawdat said police had also retaken the Qadheeb al-Ban district and the al-Malab sports stadium, to the west. (BBC)
Israel: A Palestinian woman said to be the mother of a man killed last year attempted to stab Israeli police officers with scissors at the entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City on Wednesday before being shot dead, officials said. The Palestinian health ministry identified the dead woman as Siham Nimr, 49, from the Shuafat refugee camp in east Jerusalem. The Palestinian official news agency said Nimr was the mother of Mustafa Nimr, a 27-year-old shot dead by Israeli police in September. (The Guardian)
Migrant Crisis: Early on Wednesday the Golfo Azzurro, a humanitarian vessel, rescued about 400 migrants – mainly from Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Gambia and Bangladesh – including 16 women and two children.
They were found drifting in a wooden boat without power about 16 kilometers (10 miles) off the coast of Sabratha, the most frequently used departure point currently used by people smugglers in Libya, and will now be transported to Sicily. The Italy’s Senate voted to pass a decree that foresees new detention centers for migrants who are to be deported, cutting the length of the appeals process for those whose asylum requests have been rejected. The decree now goes before the lower house. (Reuters)
Crimea: Lawyers and human rights activists say Russian authorities in Crimea are increasingly imprisoning human rights activists in psychiatric hospitals and submitting them to psychological abuse.
Since the annexation of the region three years ago many ethnic Tatar activists who oppose the occupation have been arrested and subjected to abuse and imprisonment in outdated mental institutions. (The Guardian)
Serbia: he latest Demostat poll ahead of the Serbian presidential elections on April 2 show that Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic is likely to win in the first round with 56.2%. Following at a far remove, with 9.5%, is Luka Maksimovic, a young, eccentric candidate who goes by the name ‘Ljubisa Preletacevic Beli’, a play on words against those who shift political sides for personal gain. Former foreign minister Vuk Jeremic has 9.3% support, according to the poll, while the former ombudsman Sasha Jankovic would get 8.9% of votes and the ultra-nationalist leader Vojislav Seselj 8.8%.
The other six candidates have smaller shares, amounting to 7.3% combined. Turnout is expected to be around 57% and 18% of voters are still undecided. If a runoff is held, it will be on April 16, the day of both the Orthodox and Catholic Easter. (ANSAmed)
Spain: A Spanish court on Wednesday sentenced a young woman to jail for posting jokes on Twitter about the 1973 assassination of a senior figure in the Franco dictatorship.
Spain’s top criminal court, the National Audience, found Cassandra Vera, 21, guilty of glorifying terrorism and humiliating victims of terrorism and handed her a one-year jail term.
Vera published 13 tweets between 2013 and 2016 about the assassination of Admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, who was dictator Francisco Franco’s prime minister and heir apparent. He was killed in a car bomb attack in Madrid on 20 December 1973 carried out by the Basque separatist group Eta. (The Guardian)
Syria: Turkey says it has “successfully” ended its seven-month Euphrates Shield military campaign in northern Syria.
But Prime Minister Binali Yildirim did not rule out new military operations and did not say whether Turkish troops would now leave Syria.
Turkey launched the offensive last August to push Islamic State militants away from its border and also to stop the advance of local Kurdish fighters.
The Turkish government in Ankara has been angered by the willingness of the US to back Kurdish fighters in Syria. (BBC)
The number of refugees who have fled Syria for neighbouring countries has topped five million people for the first time since the civil war began six years ago, according to the UN’s refugee agency.
Half of Syria’s 22 million population has been uprooted by a conflict that has now lasted longer than the second world war, the figures released by the UNHCR show, with 6.3 million people who are still inside the country’s borders forced from their homes. (The Guardian)
Friday 31 March
Brexit: Nicola Sturgeon has told Theresa May there is “no rational reason” to block the Scottish government’s request for a fresh independence referendum in her official letter to the prime minister.
In the message seeking powers to stage that vote, Sturgeon said agreeing a deal on a referendum should be “a relatively straightforward process” given that both governments had already gone through it.
Citing a Scottish parliamentary vote on Tuesday to back her request for those powers, Sturgeon said she had a clear mandate to pursue a referendum based on Scottish traditions of “popular sovereignty”. (The Guardian)
Israel: Israel has approved the establishment of its first new Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank in two decades.
The security cabinet voted unanimously late on Thursday to begin construction on a hilltop known as “Geulat Zion”, near the Palestinian city of Nablus.
It will be used to house some 40 families whose homes were cleared from an unauthorised settlement outpost.
Palestinian officials have condemned the move and called on the international community to intervene. (BBC)
Syria: The United States has said that it is no longer focused on ousting President Bashar al-Assad as it seeks a new strategy to end Syria’s civil war.
American officials have been shifting away from their former insistence that he must go for some time, but now they have made it explicit. (Al Jazeera)