Weekly News 13th – 17th March 2017 | Mediterranean Affairs
Monday, 13th March
European Crisis: The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has warned the Netherlands it will “pay the price” for a diplomatic stand-off after a Turkish minister was blocked from visiting her country’s consulate in Rotterdam and tensions between the two countries exploded in angry protests.
Erdoğan described the treatment of Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya, minister for families, as shameless and accused the Dutch of “behaving like a banana republic”. He called on international organisations to impose sanctions against the Netherlands but did not say if there would be direct repercussions from his country. (The Guardian)
Iraq: Iraqi forces are suffering fierce counterattacks in areas of Mosul recaptured from Daesh, soldiers say, and are barely holding the main government compound that they triumphantly declared cleared earlier this week. The fight to retake Mosul is the biggest operation Iraq’s security forces have launched since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion. In the five months since the battle began, the militants have fought bitterly against tens of thousands of Iraqi troops backed by airstrikes and advisers from the U.S.-led coalition. (The Washington Post)
Syria: The number dead from twin bombings targeting Shia pilgrims in Damascus has risen to 74, a rights organisation has said.
Among the victims of Saturday’s blasts were 43 Iraqi pilgrims who had come to the Syrian capital to visit Shia shrines in the famed Old City, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Sunday.
The British-based monitor said 11 bystanders and eight children were among those killed, as well as 20 members of pro-government security forces.
Syrian state television on Saturday gave a toll of 40 killed and 120 wounded by “two bombs detonated by terrorists”. Iraq’s foreign ministry said around 40 of its nationals had died. No group has so far claimed responsibility for the attack. (The Guardian)
A group of Daesh militia based in Raqqa has tried to make a coup against the leaders of Daesh, publicly accusing ‘Caliph’ Abu Bakr al Baghdadi to be responsible for the bad payment. During the attack at least 20 senior have been killed by suicide bombers. The pan-Arab television Al Mayadin, close to Iran, spread the news during the morning, citing social networks affiliated to Daesh and “local sources in Raqqa.” (Ansa)
Tuesday, 14th March
Brexit: Theresa May is planning a tour of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland in an attempt to build consensus before she triggers article 50 and embarks on the formal Brexit process, the Guardian understands.
It has been suggested that the prime minister and the Brexit secretary, David Davis, will also meet key business figures to discuss Britain’s approach to the EU negotiations.
Government figures have claimed there was always a plan to reach out to all parts of the United Kingdom, including responding to the Scottish government’s Brexit white paper, in the final two weeks of March before embarking on talks with the EU27. (The Guardian)
The Scottish Government will move to hold a second referendum on independence from the United Kingdom, the country’s First Minister has announced, blaming the UK Government’s lack of compromise over Brexit.
Nicola Sturgeon made the announcement in a speech on Monday morning at Bute House, as MPs in Westminster prepared to give Theresa May the power to trigger Article 50 and begin Brexit negotiations. (The Independent)
Serbia: Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano stressed the strong Italian economic presence in Serbia, noting there is still room to boost bilateral cooperation in the country. ”Last night I met with Italian entrepreneurs and had confirmation of how this country is a great attraction for investments. A lot was made but a lot still can be done to boost our presence”, Alfano told reporters this morning.
The minister added that during the meeting yesterday with Italian Ambassador Giuseppe Manzo, he presented to Italian entrepreneurs a new publication of the embassy that focuses on EU funding for businesses that want to invest in Serbia. ”It is another tool that the diplomatic economic system puts at the service of entrepreneurs”, observed Alfano, noting that ”business continuity is also an excellent headway for continuity in political and institutional relations”. (ANSAmed)
Syria: Aid deliveries have all but stopped for hundreds of thousands of Syrians living under siege, a medical group said Tuesday, raising the risk of death from starvation, malnutrition or a lack of basic medical care.
As Syria’s war enters its seventh year, President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have recaptured all the country’s major urban centers while continuing to pressure what remains of once sizable rebel-held enclaves around the capital, Damascus, despite a nationwide cease-fire. Physicians for Human Rights (PHR), a New York-based group monitoring humanitarian conditions in Syria, said the flow of lifesaving humanitarian supplies has slowed to a trickle since the start of the year. (The Washington Post)
Turkey: The Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has held the Netherlands responsible for the worst mass killing in Europe since the second world war as the row over Turkish ministers addressing pro-Erdoğan rallies in the country deepened.
In a speech televised live on Tuesday, Erdoğan said: “We know the Netherlands and the Dutch from the Srebrenica massacre. We know how rotten their character is from their massacre of 8,000 Bosnians there.”
The comments followed Turkey’s suspension of diplomatic relations with the Netherlands on Monday and Erdoğan twice describing the Dutch government as Nazis on Saturday after his foreign minister and family affairs minister were prevented from attending rallies.Turkey is holding a referendum on 16 April on extending Erdoğan’s presidential powers where the votes of Turkish citizens in EU countries will be crucial. (The Guardian)
Wednesday, 15th March
Netherlands: Dutch voters cast their ballots on Wednesday in a crucial legislative election, with pollsters predicting a close result and a fragmented parliament.
The vote, which has been overshadowed by a diplomatic row between The Netherlands and Turkey, has essentially come down to a tight race between Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s centre-right party and that of far-right, anti-Islam populist’s Geert Wilders.
Ahead of the vote, opinion polls showed Rutte’s liberal VVD narowly leading the race, and even if Wilders’ PVV emerges as the biggest party in parliament, it is unlikely to obtain the majority of the 150 seats enabling it to form a government. Most polls opened at 7.30am (06:30 GMT), while an initial exit poll was expected immediately after 9pm (20:00 GMT) when the last voting stations close.
Overall, some 13 million people are eligible to vote and 28 parties are competing for the 150 seats in the Dutch lower house of parliament. (Al Jazeera)
Refugees’ crisis: More refugees have died in the Mediterranean over the first nine weeks of this year compared with the same period in 2016, according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
From January 1 to March 9, at least 521 people drowned while attempting to cross the treacherous sea compared with 471 in the same period a year ago. At least another four refugees died on Friday, bringing the 2017 death toll to 525 people, according to IOM. The rising deaths came as the number of people making the dangerous crossing from Libya more than doubled, with 13,439 arriving in Italy compared with 5,273 a year earlier. (Al Jazeera)
France: The Republican presidential candidate, François Fillon, has been indicted on Tuesday morning in the case of suspicions of fake jobs offences. Convened by the examining magistrates, the Republican candidate has refused to answer to the interrogation and to read a statement. He has been charged with “embezzlement of public funds”, “concealment and complicity in the abuse of social assets” and “breach of the High Authority’s reporting obligations to the transparency of public life”. (Le Figaro)
Nigeria: Four female suicide bombers blew themselves up near a bus station in northeastern Nigeria early Wednesday, killing two people, the country’s disaster agency said.
The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) said the blasts occurred at about 1:15 am (0015 GMT) in the Usmanti area on the outskirts of Maiduguri, a city which has been hit by several similar attacks in recent weeks. Two men were killed due to the explosion while about 16 people were injured. Usmanti is near a sprawling camp for people who have been driven from the remote countryside by Boko Haram violence and, increasingly, the need for food.
The Islamist group has frequently used young women and girls as human bombs. (Ahram Online)
Syria: The “weaponisation” of healthcare in Syria, involving the targeted destruction of medical facilities and the killing of hundreds of healthcare workers, is unprecedented and has profound and dangerous implications for medical neutrality in conflict zones, according to an authoritative study.
“Syria has become the most dangerous place on earth for healthcare providers,” say the researchers involved. Their study of the attacks on healthcare in Syria since 2011, published by the Lancet medical journal, reveals that the death toll among medical workers is at least 814. Some of those health workers were tortured and executed. (The Guardian)
Thursday, 16th March
Brexit: Theresa May has moved to block a new Scottish independence referendum by saying “now is not the time” for another vote.
The Prime Minister said a repeat of the 2014 referendum was not appropriate because the country was already going through a huge change in terms of Brexit, and that Scottish people needed a fuller picture before taking any decision on the future.
But her move to block another vote for now creates an intense political stand-off with SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon, who will next week ask Scottish MSPs to approve her plans for a second referendum. (The Independent)
The Bill to give Theresa May the authority to start the Brexit process has been granted Royal Assent – to cheers from Conservative MPs. The landmark moment came after MPs threw out Lords amendments this week, after which peers agreed not to prolong the fight over the detail of the Article 50 Bill.
The Prime Minister is now free to trigger the exit clause, but is not expected to do so until as late as March 29.
That means negotiations are now not expected to get underway until June – cutting short the anticipated two-year window to reach an agreement. (The Independent)
France: A 17-year-old pupil has been arrested after a shooting at a high school in the southern French town of Grasse, in which several people were wounded.
The teenager, who was armed with a rifle, two handguns and two grenades, was a student at the Alexis de Tocqueville high school, where he allegedly opened fire, targeting the headteacher.
The interior ministry spokesman Pierre-Henry Brandet said eight people had been injured and it was too early to know the motive behind the attack.
Christian Estrosi, the rightwing head of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, said terrorism was “not at all” the line of investigation in the inquiry.
The French government had initiated an attack alert via smartphone in the wake of the shooting at Thursday lunchtime. Police cordoned off the area and residents gathered outside, along with several emergency vehicles. (The Guardian)
An employee of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was injured on Thursday when a booby-trapped parcel exploded at the organisation’s Paris office, according to police.
The device appeared to be “a firework, or a big firecracker, at any rate something more or less handmade, and certainly not in any way a bomb”, Paris police chief Michel Cadot told reporters near the scene of the incident in the centre of the French capital. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. Paris anti-terrorism prosecutors opened an investigation. (Al Jazeera)
Libya: The revolutionary brigades of Tripoli of Haitem Tajouri and those of Abdul Ghani Al-Kikli, known as Ghneiwa, loyal to the national unity government of Fayez Al Sarraj, have regained control today of the seat of the government of national salvation led by ex-Islamist premier Khalifa Ghwell inside the residential complex of the Hotel Rixos, the headquarters of the Libyan High Council of State, according to local media. (ANSAmed)
Marocco: The king of Morocco is to appoint a new prime minister after five months of talks on forming a coalition government ended in failure, the royal palace has announced. King Mohammed is expected to name another member of the Islamist Party for Justice and Development (PJD) to replace Abdelilah Benkirane. (Al Jazeera)
Netherlands: The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, has seen off a challenge from the anti-Islam populist Geert Wilders to claim a resounding victory in parliamentary elections widely seen as a test for resurgent nationalism before other key European polls.
With nearly 95% of votes counted and no further significant changes expected, Rutte’s centre-right, liberal VVD was assured of 33 MPs, by far the largest party in the 150-seat Dutch parliament, the national news agency ANP said.
Wilders’ Freedom party (PVV) looked certain to finish second, but a long way behind on 20 seats, just ahead of the Christian Democrat CDA and liberal-progressive D66, which both ended third with 19 seats. (The Guardian)
Syria: Suicide bombers killed dozens of people in the Syrian capital on Wednesday, the sixth anniversary of anti-government protests that devolved into one of the deadliest wars of the century.
Syrian state media said a first attacker detonated his explosives outside the largest courthouse in Damascus, known as the Justice Palace. Hours later, it reported that a second bomber had attacked a restaurant in the city’s Rabweh district, killing several people.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitoring group, put the death toll at 39, with more than 100 wounded. (The Washington Post)
Friday, 17th March
Lebanon: Military Prosecutor Judge Saqr Saqr Friday accused 17 people of joining Daesh and establishing a network to transfer money abroad from Lebanon to the extremist organization, a judicial source told The Daily Star. (The Daily Star)
Syria: Israeli and pro-Assad forces have had their most serious clash since the beginning of the civil war in Syria after Israeli military jets on an operation over Syria were targeted by anti-aircraft missiles.
Israeli said none of the aircraft was hit, but one of the missiles was intercepted north of Jerusalem by an Israeli missile defence system.
The first indications of the exchange of fire came in the middle of the night with air raid sirens in the Israeli-occupied Jordan valley and reports of an explosion, which was later confirmed as the sound of one of the missiles being brought down by Israeli air defences.
In its own account of the incident the Syrian army said that four Israeli jets had entered Syrian airspace, and that one had been shot down and a second hit, a claim denied in the Israeli military statement. (The Guardian)
At least 42 people were killed and dozens more wounded on Thursday in airstrikes on a village mosque in northern Syria, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
“The raids by unidentified warplanes targeted a mosque in Aleppo province during evening prayers, killing 42 people, most of them civilians,” said the head of the Britain-based Observatory, Rami Abdel Rahman.
“More than 100 people were wounded,” he said, adding that many were still trapped under the collapsed mosque in the village of Al-Jineh, just over 30km west of Aleppo.
The village is held by rebel and Islamist groups, but no jihadist factions are present. (The Guardian)
Yemen: Thirty-one Somali refugees were reportedly killed off the coast of Yemen late on Thursday when a helicopter attacked the boat they were travelling in, a coastguard in the Houthi-controlled Hudaydah area has said. Mohamed al-Alay said the refugees, carrying official UNHCR documents, were travelling from Yemen to Sudan when they were allegedly attacked by an Apache helicopter near the Bab el-Mandeb strait.
A sailor who had been operating the boat, Ibrahim Ali Zeyad, said 80 refugees had been rescued after the incident. (The Guardian)