Weekly News 10 – 14 July 2017 | Mediterranean Affairs

Weekly News 10 – 14 July 2017

Monday, 10 July 2017

YEMEN: The cholera epidemic in Yemen is worsening, with 300,000 new suspected cases, according to the International Red Cross. The World Health Organization (WHO) said 41% of the new cases are children. More than 1,600 people have already died in the outbreak, and the country’s healthcare structures are overwhelmed. Doctors and nurses haven’t received their salaries in six months and WHO is paying incentives to medical personnel to create a network to handle the emergency (ANSAmed)

ISRAEL: Newly elected Labor Party leader Avi Gabbai said ”today a new path begins”, after he defeated his opponent in the second round of primaries. It was his first comment last night after he defeated rival Amir Peretz, a former defense minister and union leader, in a surprise win. (REUTERS)

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA: Huge crowds of mourners gathered at the Srebrenica memorial site for the commemoration of the 22nd anniversary of the mass killings of Bosniaks by Bosnian Serb forces, with relatives shedding tears as 71 more victims were finally laid to rest. The killings have been defined as genocide by international and Bosnian court verdicts, although Bosnian Serb officials and the government in Serbia reject the definition. Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic said on Tuesday however that the actions of the Bosnian Serb Army in Srebrenica in 1995 constituted a “great crime”. (Balkan Insight)

EGYPT: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi on Tuesday stressed to a delegation led by Senate defence committee chair Nicola Latorre Egypt’s “full commitment” to finding the killers of Giulio Regeni and underscored the “importance of continuing cooperation” between Egyptian and Italian prosecutors on the case, the MENA news agency said quoting spokesman Alaa Youssef. The agency said that Sisi and the delegation discussed “means to reactivate political relations between the two States”, referring to the current absence of an Italian ambassador in Cairo because of the Regeni case. (ANSAmed)

EUROPEAN UNION: Italy is calling on other States who take part in the Triton operation to also host migrants rescued at sea – in a ”regionalization of rescue operations”. This is the difficult mission pursued by the delegation led by border police director Giovanni Pinto today in Warsaw, where EU border agency Frontex is based. The meeting was requested by Pinto to the director of Frontex, Fabrice Leggeri, with the objective of ”establishing the groundwork for a review” of joint Operation Triton 2017 to obtain a ”wider involvement of member States in the management of rescue operations and more sustainable sharing of the burden”. The Agency for its part however recalled that the 2017 plan was approved by Rome and provides for Italy, the host country, to welcome the rescued migrants in its ports. (ANSAmed)

TURKEY: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is preparing his moves in the aftermath of the ”rebirth” of the Turkish opposition, as it was described by its leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu in front of hundreds of thousands of supporters who gathered in Istanbul. Although it was ignored by state-run and pro-government media, the largest protest since Gezi Park appears to be destined to open a new season in Turkish politics. While the number of participants of the Maltepe gathering is still being debated – the 1.5 million participants estimated by organizers was backed by estimates of the national chambers of engineers – Erdogan has challenged demonstrators. Over the past few hours, the government has released the program of commemorations for the failed coup last July 15. The week will be packed with events – a response by the president to the large crowds who attended the 430-km ‘march for justice’. However, the opposition is trying to invest in Sunday’s demonstration. Yesterday, Kilicdaroglu visited in prison his party’s MP Enis Berberoglu, whose arrest on June 14 led to the march from Ankara to Istanbul. (ANSAmed)

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

BERLIN PROCESS: European leaders have endorsed a plan to create a single economic area for the western Balkans but the volatile region has been told to show more commitment to democracy and the rule of law to join the EU. Brussels is seeking to counter the twin threats of democratic backsliding and instability on its doorstep with the promise of investment and EU membership. German chancellor Angela Merkel said at a summit in Trieste on Wednesday that Europe’s political stability was tied to the Balkans, adding that EU members had “a common duty to make sure these countries develop well, and slowly but surely move towards the EU”. (Financial Times)

Leaders from six western Balkan countries have agreed to form a common regional economic area at a summit in Trieste. It’s been proposed by the European Union as an extension of the already existing Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA), which is stepping stone towards full membership for the six countries of the region who are not yet members of the bloc. EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini: “All the six partners of the western Balkans clearly want to be more integrated in the European Union. The population in the region is clearly supporting the European Union perspective of their countries, and on the European Union side we are determined to keep the door open and guarantee that there is a future in our union for each of them. Once the right reforms are passed, we will be consistent on our side.” (Euronews)

ISRAEL: Israeli police investigating allegations of corruption in a $2bn deal with Germany to buy submarines and naval patrol craft have arrested the prime minister’s personal lawyer as well as several other of his associates. David Shimron, Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyer and cousin, was identified by police after being arrested with Mickey Ganor, who acted as an agent for the German ThyssenKrupp shipyard in the deal. Other individuals who have been questioned by police include Netanyahu’s former pick for his national security adviser and a senior naval commander. German authorities also are looking into the deal. Netanyahu has not been accused of any wrongdoing. (The Guardian)

MIGRATION: A new European code of conduct drafted by Italy for NGOs carrying out migrant rescues in the southern Mediterranean could cost thousands of lives, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said in a joint statement Wednesday “after having seen a draft of the document”. “Perversely, the proposed code of conduct for NGOs saving lives in the Mediterranean could put lives at risk,” said Iverna McGowan, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office. “Attempts to restrict life-saving NGO search and rescue operations risk endangering thousands of lives by impeding rescue boats from accessing the perilous waters near Libya”. The code is set to be adopted after Rome appealed to the EU, saying its ability to cope with the arrival of asylum seekers was at the limit after over 85,000 came via sea so far this year. There have been claims from some quarters in Italy that the rescues by NGOs are actually encouraging human traffickers. (ANSAmed)

In the margins of the Western Balkans summit in Trieste, Italy’s Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni criticised fellow EU member states on Wednesday (12 July) for leaving his country to grapple with the migrant crisis, despite pledges made by France and Germany. Gentiloni met with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Trieste before the annual Western Balkans summit. Italy took in more than 3,500 migrants rescued off the coast of Libya in just the past few days. (EURACTIV)

SYRIA: A convoy of refugees began leaving the Lebanese border region for Syria on Wednesday, a security source said, the second group to return under an agreement brokered by the Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah. The Lebanese army escorted around 250 people out of the border town of Arsal. The refugees headed for the Syrian town of Asal al-Ward across the border, northeast of Damascus. Several refugees told a Reuters photographer before a checkpoint manned by Hezbollah fighters they were eager to go back to their hometown after several years in squalid, makeshift camps in the border town of Arsal. “It’s been three years and we haven’t seen our families and relatives, said Abeer Mahmoud al Haj, in a van with her family members around her.  “May God return everyone to his country, there is no better than Syria.” (Reuters)

MALTA: The staunchly Catholic island of Malta has voted to legalise same-sex marriage. Parliament agreed to amend Malta’s marriage act, replacing words like “husband” and “wife” with the gender-neutral alternative “spouse”. It also replaced “mother” and “father” with “parent who gave birth” and “parent who did not give birth”. The change marks another major milestone for the island, which only introduced divorce in 2011. (BBC)

Thursday, 13 July 2017

FRANCE: French President Emmanuel Macron and US President Donald Trump gave a joint press Conference on Thursday as the US leader arrived to take part in Bastille Day celebrations. “The friendship between our two nations and ourselves is unbreakable,” Trump said after bilateral talks focused on joint US-French efforts to fight terrorism in the Middle East and Africa. The French president also acknowledged that sharp differences remain with Trump when it comes to the Paris climate agreement but noted that the US withdrawal from the Paris accord was one of Trump’s campaign promises. Trump seemed to indicate that his decision on the agreement was not final, saying: “Something could happen with respect to the Paris accords, let’s see what happens. If it happens, that will be wonderful, and if it doesn’t, that’ll be OK too.” (FRANCE24)

FAMINE: Seventeen million people in Yemen, or two-thirds of the population, are suffering from major food insecurity and of these, seven million are on the brink of famine, FAO director general José Graziano da Silva said in a briefing to the UN Security Council. In a video link from Geneva, he noted how conflict and violence in Yemen – “the largest humanitarian crisis today” – have disrupted agricultural livelihoods and are intensifying in some of the most food insecure and famine-risk areas. (ANSAmed)

DAESH: A leading human rights group urged Iraqi authorities to investigate allegations of abuse against alleged Islamic State fighters and their families, after videos surfaced of detainees being beaten and executed. Iraqi forces have arrested thousands of people in the former Islamic State stronghold of Mosul in recent months as the battle against the militants there reached its endgame. Four videos uploaded to the Internet this week appeared to show Iraqi soldiers or federal policemen abusing suspected militants. In one video, a man is beaten before being thrown off a cliff and shot on the ground below. (WASHINGTON POST)

EUROPEAN UNION: The EU on Thursday ordered Hungary to cease its crackdown on foreign-backed civil society groups – a measure that critics say targets the Budapest-born US billionaire George Soros. Separately, European Commission deputy head Frans Timmermans told Hungary’s government to respond within a month to criticism that the country’s new law governing higher education could shut down a Budapest university founded by the philanthropist. “We expect a reaction from the Hungarian authorities within a month,” Timmermans said. “If the response is not satisfactory, the commission can decide to go to the court.” (Deutsche Welle)

Friday, 14 July 2017

ISRAEL: Three gunmen opened fire at police near Jerusalem’s holiest site on Friday, wounding three Israelis, two of them critically, before the attackers were killed by security forces, Israeli police said. The gunmen arrived at the sacred site, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, and walked towards one of the Old City gates nearby, police spokeswoman Luba Simri said. “When they saw policemen they shot towards them and then escaped towards one of the mosques in the Temple Mount compound,” Simri said. “A chase ensued and the three terrorists were killed by police.” She said three firearms were found on their bodies. (Reuters)

EGYPT: Two Ukrainian tourists were killed and four other tourists wounded by an attacker with a knife at an Egyptian holiday resort in Hurghada, though the motive for the attack was still under investigation, Egypt’s Interior Ministry and security sources said on Friday. The ministry said a preliminary investigation showed the man appeared to have swam from a nearby public beach to access the holiday resort. (Reuters)

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