Weekly News 12 – 16 March 2018 | Mediterranean Affairs
Monday 12 March 2018
Iran: The BBC is making an unprecedented appeal to the UN to stop Iran from harassing its Persian service staff in London and their families in Iran.
It says Iran has stepped up a campaign of intimidation, including threats, arrests of relatives and travel bans.
Iran began targeting the BBC’s Persian service after the disputed 2009 presidential election, when Tehran accused foreign powers of interference.
The appeal will be made at a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.
Iran’s government has said the allegations are incorrect and accused BBC Persian of spreading false information to encourage the overthrow of the Iranian system. (BBC)
United Arab Emirates: Italian energy giant Eni is entering in the United Arab Emirates and ”in exchange” is giving Abu Dhabi a majority stake in the Egyptian Zohr gas field. The company obtained two long-term concessions in the UAE offshore worth 875 million dollars. It also sold for 934 million dollars 10% of the giant gas field off the coast of Egypt to UAE investment group Mubdala. (ANSAmed)
Russia: The Russian president faces a backlash after suggesting minority groups, including Jews, may be responsible for meddling in the 2016 US election.
Vladimir Putin made the comments during an interview with Megyn Kelly with NBC.
US lawmakers and Jewish groups are among those criticising him.
Some are publically asking US President Donald Trump to push Mr Putin for a clarification on what he meant when questioning whether certain groups were actually Russian.
Mr Putin was being asked about charges of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election after 13 nationals were charged by the US special counsel’s office last month. (BBC)
Slovakia: Slovakia’s Interior Minister Robert Kalinak has resigned amid a political scandal caused by the murder of a journalist and his fiancée.
Prime Minister Robert Fico is fighting to keep his government together after Mr Kalinak bowed to pressure from a coalition partner, the Most-Hid party.
Another coalition party called for elections should Mr Fico lose Most-Hid’s support.Slovakia’s President Andrej Kiska called for a “radical reconstruction” of the government or fresh elections last week to restore public faith, after all seven suspects arrested in connection with the murders were released without charge. (BBC)
Tuesday 13 March 2018
Syria: The Turkish military says it has surrounded the Kurdish-held city of Afrin in northern Syria, the focus of an offensive against a Kurdish militia.
A statement said troops and allied Syrian rebels had also captured “critically important areas”.
A Kurdish source confirmed that all roads into the city were now being targeted by Turkish shellfire.
Hundreds of civilians reportedly fled the city to nearby areas controlled by the Syrian government on Monday. (BBC)
Palestine: An explosion in the Gaza Strip has targeted the convoy of the Palestinian Prime Minister, Rami Hamdallah.
Mr Hamdallah was unharmed, but there are reports of some injuries.
President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the “cowardly targeting” of the convoy and said he held the militant group Hamas, which dominates Gaza, responsible.
Hamas said the attack was an attempt to damage Gaza’s security and “deal a blow to efforts to finalise reconciliation” between the main Palestinian factions. (BBC)
Wednesday 14 March 2018
Germany: Angela Merkel has been sworn in for a fourth term as German chancellor, after months of political wrangling that left her weakened. (BBC)
UK: The UK will expel 23 Russian diplomats after Moscow refused to explain how a Russian-made nerve agent was used on a former spy in Salisbury, the PM says.
Theresa May said the diplomats, who have a week to leave, were identified as “undeclared intelligence officers”. She also revoked an invitation to Russia’s foreign minister, and said the Royal Family would not attend the Fifa World Cup later this year.
Russia denies being involved in the attempted murder of Sergei Skripal.
Former spy Mr Skripal, 66, and his daughter, Yulia Skripal, 33, remain critically ill in hospital after being found slumped on a bench on 4 March. (BBC)
Syria: President Tayyip Erdogan said he hoped Turkey’s military and its rebel allies would completely capture the northern Syrian town of Afrin by Wednesday evening, a day after the armed forces said it had encircled the town. (Reuters)
Syria: Civilians in need of medical treatment left Syria’s besieged eastern Ghouta enclave for the second straight day on Wednesday under a medical evacuation agreement, a rebel official said. The United Nations says 400,000 civilians are trapped in eastern Ghouta with little food or medicine, and has called for the urgent evacuation of 1,000 people for medical reasons. (Reuters)
Thursday 15 March 2018
Italy: UNWRA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, needs ”446 million dollars for 2018” in an unprecedented financial crisis in its history, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres denounced on Thursday. Primary services like education, healthcare and food could be reduced or even cut off completely for about 1.7 million Palestinian refugees, he said, opening an UNRWA donors’ conference in Rome at FAO (ANSAmed)
Russia: Moscow has vowed there will be a swift response to the expulsion of 23 of its diplomats by Britain.
President Vladimir Putin would make a final decision and “won’t take long” to respond, his spokesman said. On Thursday, the leaders of France, Germany, the US and UK issued a joint statement on the attack, condemning the “first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since the Second World War”. (BBC)
Slovakia: In Slovakia, the fallout from the murder of a journalist has claimed a big political scalp.
Long-serving Prime Minister Robert Fico resigned on Thursday, leaving his deputy Peter Pellegrini to form a new government.
Fico had offered to quit on condition that his party be allowed to pick Slovakia’s next leader, in a move to stave off early elections.
He said he had stepped down to prevent chaos and secure stability.
But Fico vowed to stay on in politics as his party’s active leader. (euronews)
Syria: Thousands of civilians are reported to be fleeing a town in the besieged rebel-held Eastern Ghouta region of Syria, as government forces advance.
State television showed pictures of men, women and children carrying bags leaving the town of Hamouria, which has come under intense bombardment. At the same time, 25 lorries carrying food aid entered the town of Douma. (BBC)
Vatican State: The Vatican has admitted blurring part of a letter written by retired Pope Benedict XVI about his successor Pope Francis in a picture sent to the media.
The ex-pontiff writes in defence of Francis, saying critics are wrong to suggest he lacks theological clout.
In the visible text, Benedict praises a new series of books titled “The Theology of Pope Francis”.
But in the blurred part, he makes clear he has not read the volumes, which were written by high-profile theologians. The decision to alter the image has drawn criticism. (BBC)
Friday 16 March 2018
Egypt: Experts have already dubbed Egypt’s presidential election this month as a “sham”, and predict that President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi will undoubtedly win a second presidential term after eliminating any real political opposition. On Friday, March 16, Egyptians living abroad will be able to cast their vote in the 139 polling stations around the world, with the exception of Libya, Yemen and Syria. According to the World Bank’s latest figures, there are some 10 million Egyptian expats in various countries around the world. (Al Jazeera)
Syria: As many as 50,000 people have fled two separate offensives in Syria in recent days, activists say. At least 20,000 have fled Eastern Ghouta, near Damascus, where Russian air strikes are supporting Syrian government attempts to retake the area.
The rest fled the northern town of Afrin, where Turkey is fighting a US-backed Kurdish militia that it considers a terrorist group. Dozens of people were killed in air strikes on Friday, activists said. On Friday, the Syrian ambassador to the United Nations said the estimates of those who fled the rebel-held enclave of Eastern Ghouta could be twice as high as reported, with up to 40,000 leaving on Thursday alone. The number could not be verified. (BBC)
Russia: Russian President Vladimir Putin is “overwhelmingly likely” to have ordered the nerve agent attack on an ex-spy and his daughter, Boris Johnson has said.
The foreign secretary said “our quarrel is with Putin’s Kremlin, and with his decision” over the Salisbury incident.
Russia denies involvement and said the accusations against Mr Putin were “shocking and unforgivable”.
Meanwhile, the head of Nato told the BBC that Russia has underestimated the “resolve and unity” of the UK’s allies. (BBC)