Weekly News 18 – 22 September 2017 | Mediterranean Affairs
Monday, 18 September 2017
Brexit: British-European cooperation on tackling terrorism and crime will “fall well short of current capabilities”, increasing the risk for citizens across Europe, without a new security treaty post-Brexit, the UK government has said.
The government’s “future partnership paper” on security, law enforcement and criminal justice, published on Monday, outlines an “ambitious” model of cooperation outside the jurisdiction of the European court of justice. The Brexit paper says the alternative is to limit law enforcement cooperation to those areas where a precedent for cooperation already exists between the EU and other third countries. (The Guardian)
Palestine: Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah is planning to visit Gaza for talks after Hamas agreed to steps towards resolving a decade-long split with its West Bank-based rival Fatah.
Nabil Shaath, a senior adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, told journalists in the West Bank city of Ramallah that Hamdallah would meet Hamas officials in Gaza City and assert the government’s control over ministries as a first step towards implementing a larger agreement. Hamdallah has not visited Gaza since 2015, and a previous attempt at a unity government fell apart that year, with the two sides exchanging blame.
The head of the Arab League on Monday hailed the steps taken by Hamas and called for full reconciliation. (Al Jazeera)
Syria: Syrian troops battling Daesh crossed to the eastern bank of the Euphrates River in Deir Az Zor on Monday, securing their hold on the war-torn city but threatening a potential standoff with US-backed forces operating nearby.
Russian-backed Syrian forces are trying to tighten the noose on Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) fighters who are still inside the city on the river’s western bank.
The Syrian army sealed off Deir Az Zor on three sides as of Monday, but Daesh still controls eastern districts along the river, which both the group and civilians had used as an escape route. On Monday, elite Syrian forces crossed the river, Russia’s defence ministry said. (Al Jazeera)
Tuesday, 19 September 2017
Germany: Revelations over payments by Azerbaijan to European politicians have seeped into the German election as it emerged that a close ally of Angela Merkel allegedly received money from the authoritarian regime.
The revelations are embarrassing for the German chancellor who on Tuesday was due to campaign with Karin Strenz, a Christian Democrat member of parliament, in the Baltic port city of Wismar.
According to the Süddeutsche Zeitung , Strenz was paid between €7,000 and €15,000 (£6,000-£13,000) sent to her via a firm set up by Eduard Lintner, a former German MP and lobbyist for Azerbaijan.
Strenz has refused to comment and did not respond to emails from the Guardian. She is now under pressure to explain whether the payments may have influenced her voting record in Berlin and in the Council of Europe, where she is a member of the parliamentary assembly. (The Guardian)
Iraq: Iraqi forces are reported to have launched an operation to recapture the last stronghold of so-called Islamic State in the country’s western desert. Ana, 90km (55 miles) from the Syrian border, is one of three Iraqi towns in the Euphrates river valley held by IS. The Iraqi military source said the assault on Ana and its surrounding district was being supported by US-led coalition air strikes and military advisers on the ground. The launch of the Ana offensive comes as Iraqi forces prepare for an assault on Hawija, another IS stronghold 220km (135 miles) north of the capital Baghdad. (BBC)
Iraq: Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi has formally demanded the suspension of next week’s referendum on Kurdish independence. The Supreme Court also ordered that the poll must be postponed until questions over its legality were addressed.
Despite global opposition, the Kurdistan Regional Government backed the 25 September vote on Friday. Turkey started military exercises near its border with Iraq, and Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has warned the country will respond to any potential threats. (BBC)
UK – Saudi Arabia: British companies selling weapons have earned hundreds of millions of dollars by selling arms to Saudi Arabia during the ongoing war in Yemen, a report says.
New estimates released by the children’s charity War Child reveal that since the Saudi-led coalition began its intervention in Yemen, UK weapons companies including BAE systems and Raytheon have earned revenues exceeding $8bn from dealings with Saudi Arabia, generating profits estimated at almost $775m. The UK government, however, has received just $40m of corporate tax, the report said. (Al Jazeera)
Spain: Spanish police have seized posters, promoting a planned referendum on independence in Catalonia.
The controversial vote is planned for next month, but the Spanish central government has ruled it illegal. (Al Jazeera)
Wednesday, 20 September 2017
Israel: The Israeli army has announced it is closing border crossings with the West Bank and Gaza on Wednesday on the eve of Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year) that starts tonight. The routine measure will be in place until Saturday also based on the ”situation” on the ground, the army added. (ANSAmed)
Kenya: Kenya’s Supreme Court has blamed the country’s electoral commission (IEBC) for its decision to annul the re election of President Uhuru Kenyatta.
The judges said the 8 August poll was “neither transparent or verifiable”.
Deputy Chief Justice Philomena Mwilu said the IEBC did not verify the presidential results before they were announced.
Mr Kenyatta got 54% of the vote against opposition leader Raila Odinga’s 44%, according to the IEBC’s results. (BBC)
Spain: The Catalan president has accused the Spanish government of effectively suspending the region’s autonomy and declaring a de facto state of emergency. Police officers raided Catalan government offices on Wednesday and arrested 12 senior officials in a bid to stop an independence referendum being held in less than two weeks’ time.
Carles Puigdemont described the raids as a “a co-ordinated police assault” that showed that Madrid “has de facto suspended self-government and applied a de facto state of emergency” in Catalonia. On Wednesday morning, Spain’s interior ministry announced it was cancelling leave for all the Guardia Civil and national police officers tasked with preventing the referendum. In a statement, it said the affected officers would have to be available between 20 September and 5 October, but added the period could be extended if necessary. (The Guardian)
Syria: A US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters says it has driven Islamic State (IS) militants out of 80% of the northern Syrian city of Raqqa. The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced that its three-month-old assault was now in its “final stages”. On Wednesday, the SDF said its fighters had opened a new front on the northern edge of Raqqa, describing this as “a feature of the final stages” of the campaign. (BBC)
Thursday, 21 September 2017
Germany: Fears in Germany that voter apathy could boost the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) in Sunday’s election have driven Chancellor Angela Merkel and her main rival in final days of the campaign to urge their backers to go out and vote. Merkel’s conservative bloc slipped one percentage point to 37 percent and her main opponent, the Social Democrats (SDP), were unchanged on 22 percent. SPD leader Martin Schulz has also urged his supporters to vote, saying “everything is still possible”. (Reuters)
Iran: A rift between the Trump administration and Europe, over whether to stick to a nuclear agreement with Iran, deepened considerably on Wednesday after a meeting on the deal’s implementation at the United Nations in New York.
The US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, emerged from the meeting conceding that Iran was abiding by the letter of the 2015 deal, but he still insisted Tehran was not fulfilling the “expectations” of the agreement. He confirmed that Donald Trump had made a decision on whether to continue to stick with the deal or walk away next month.
The European Union foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, who was hosting the session of a multilateral joint commission on implementation, said there was no doubt the agreement was being kept and she warned that if any country broke it, it would be in violation of the UN Security Council resolution that enshrined the deal in international law.
Mogherini said that European states would continue to stick to the agreement even if the Trump administration violated it. “Iran will not be the first country to violate the agreement,” Rouhani said. “But it will respond decisively and resolutely to its violation by any party.”
On Wednesday, Trump told journalists he had made a decision on whether to withdraw certification of the 2015 nuclear deal by a congressional deadline of 15 October. (The Guardian)
Migration crisis: Over 100 migrants have been reported missing following a shipwreck off the coast of Libya, the Libyan Navy said, based on survivors’ reports. A Libyan Navy spokesman said that ”over 100 migrants were reported missing” after a boat sank in front of the country’s west coast. According to survivors, people on board were over 120. (ANSAmed)
Spain: Catalan leaders acknowledged on Thursday that plans to hold a referendum independence from Spain on Oct. 1 had been undermined by the arrest of senior regional officials and the seizure of campaign material by national police.
State police arrested Catalonia’s junior economy minister, Josep Maria Jove, on Wednesday in an unprecedented raid of regional government offices. (Reuters)
Turkey: An artillery shell from Syria hit Turkey’s southeastern province of Hatay on Thursday and Turkish border troops retaliated in kind.
There were no immediate reports of casualties or injuries, after the shell hit a rural area in the Yayladagi district of Hatay. (Reuters)
Friday, 23 September 2017
Germany: Opinion polls in Germany suggest Angela Merkel and her party are heading for a clear win in Sunday’s general election.
The German chancellor is unchallenged within her party, and her position among world politicians is equally high. (Al Jazeera)
Italy: The United Nations have “approved the Italian position” on Libya, Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano has said. “At last the stabilisation of Libya is high on the global agenda,” Alfano said.
“Further, we have a new UN envoy whose role needs to be strengthened,” he added. “Lastly, Italy has won the challenge of reconciling security and the defence of human rights.” Alfano also reaffirmed the need for the UN refugee agency UNHCR to be present in Libya alongside NGOs. (ANSAmed)
Migration crisis: Two years ago, the European Union asked member states to accept refugees seeking asylum in Italy and Greece in order to alleviate the pressure on those countries.
The relocation scheme has end on Friday. It was a test of European solidarity. But a total of only around 30,000 people were actually relocated, which is less than a fifth of the number the EU had hoped. (Al Jazeera)
Poland: The Polish government is demanding that Germany pay as much as a trillion dollars in compensation for the Nazi invasion during World War II.
It is a sign that after seven decades, the wounds from Hitler’s war have yet to heal. (video) (Al Jazeera)
South Sudan: The UN is worried that an election planned for next year in South Sudan could lead to more violence in the region.
It is calling for a dormant peace process to be revitalised before the vote is held. (video) (Al Jazeera)
Turkey: A prominent Syrian opposition activist and her journalist daughter have been found dead in Turkey, police say.
The bodies of Orouba Barakat, 60, and her 22-year-old daughter Halla were discovered overnight in their apartment in Istanbul’s central Uskudar district, after friends raised the alarm. Turkish media reported that Orouba had been investigating allegations of torture in prisons run by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. (BBC)
Yemen: Antonio Guterres, United Nations secretary-general, has urged world leaders at the UN General Assembly to do more to end the suffering. (video) (Al Jazeera)