Weekly News 20th- 24th February
Germany: According to information published by three German media outlets on Sunday, new draft legislation could see German authorities circumventing the consent of refugees and checking their cellphones in order to establish their identity. Germany’s Interior Ministry has declined to disclose any further details until a final decision has be made on what should be included in the bill – or even if it will be submitted to parliament. Access to mobile phones and other data carriers has been permissible since an amendment of the 2015 residence law. The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees (BAMF) currently needs the consent of asylum seekers, without which authorities are only able to see the contents of a phone with a court order – which is only granted if there is a suspicion of a criminal offense. (Deutsche Welle)
Italy: On Sunday ex-premier Matteo Renzi quit as head of the PD at a party assembly in order to trigger the process for a new congress, via which he is expected to seek a fresh mandate. Renzi said that he would not let the threat of a split “blackmail” him into backing down and not standing for the leadership again. Rossi, Puglia Governor Michele Emiliano and former PD House whip Roberto Speranza accused Renzi of creating the split by not taking account of the minority’s demands. In the meantime the blog of 5-Star Movement (M5S) leader Beppe Grillo on Monday called for early elections to be held in June, arguing that the Italian people’s patience was running out, with the ruling Democratic Party (PD) close to a major split. (Ansa)
Somalia: A large explosion ripped through a busy market on Sunday, killing at least 30 people and exposing the grave security challenges that Somalia’s new president faces.
Somali security officials said the bomb had been packed into a truck that a suicide bomber drove into the Kawo Godey market, near the center of Mogadishu, the capital. Somali officials blamed the Shabab militant group, which has been terrorizing the country for years, for the blast.
The attack, which occurred in the Medina area of Mogadishu, came just hours after Somalia’s president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, announced a new offensive against the Shabab. (The New York Times)
Syria: Four Russian servicemen were killed by a roadside bomb in western Syria last week, according to the Russian military.The defense ministry said in a statement that the Feb 16. attack had targeted a Syrian military convoy close to Tiyas, an air base from which Russian war planes have launched raids on Islamic State fighters in the ancient town of Palmyra. It was not possible to immediately verify the Russian statement, and the attack has yet to be claimed by militants in Syria. But the announcement underscored the growing toll that Syria’s conflict has wrought on Russian military and mercenary forces fighting on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. (The Washington Post)
War on terror: ISIS on Monday claimed responsibility for a suicide attack near Mosul it said was carried out by a British suicide bomber, the SITE Intelligence Group reported. “The martyrdom-seeking brother Abu Zakariya al-Britani — may Allah accept him — detonated his explosives-laden vehicle on a headquarters of the Rafidhi army and its militias in Tal Kisum village, southwest of Mosul,” the claim quoted by SITE said. The ISIS statement did not say when the bombing occurred. (The Daily Star)
France: Presidential candidate for France’s far-right National Front party, canceled a meeting on Tuesday with Lebanon’s Grand Mufti after refusing to wear a headscarf for the encounter. The press office for the Grand Mufti said that Le Pen’s aides had been informed beforehand of their requirement for her to wear head covering for the meeting. Le Pen has been visiting Lebanon as she seeks to bolster her presidential credentials. Opinion polls say Le Pen is likely to get the highest score in the first round of voting in April, but then lose to a mainstream candidate in the decisive second round vote in May. (The Jerusalem Post)
Food crisis: The UN has declared famine in parts of South Sudan and warned that Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria are also at risk. With the humanitarian system stretched as never before, hunger has reached unprecedented levels according to aid agencies. (The Guardian)
Italy: The European Commission will consider Italy to have not respected the debt rule unless it implements “credible” measures to take action to deliver an adjustment in its structural deficit of “at least 0.2% of GDP” by the end of April, the EC said in a debt report on Wednesday. It said that the decision to open an infringement procedure for “excessive deficit” will be taken on the “basis of the spring 2017 forecasts”, which are usually published in May. Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan is currently preparing a package of measures to try to raise around 3.4 billion euros in additional cash to avoid the infringement procedure. (Ansa)
Turkey: Women in the Turkish armed forces have been given the right to wear Islamic head scarves in a move that marks a significant cultural shift within an institution seen historically as the guardian of Turkey’s secular identity. The military was one of the last Turkish institutions to forbid the wearing of the hijab. The decision, made on Wednesday and announced by the Defense Ministry, highlights the transformation in the years since of both the military and society, where the head scarf has long been emblematic of the struggle between the country’s secular and religious factions. (The New York Times)
War on terror: Iraqi forces readied on Wednesday for an assault on Mosul airport after blitzing extremist positions in a renewed offensive to retake ISIS’ emblematic stronghold. Elite forces reinforced positions that were taken since a fresh push south of Mosul was launched on Sunday while hundreds of civilians fled newly recaptured villages.There were no major operations near Mosul on Wednesday, with Iraq’s new interior minister visiting the village and the defense minister also expected on the front lines. (The Daily Star)
Iraq: Iraqi forces seized control of much of Mosul airport on Thursday morning, marking an important moment in a push to recapture the city from Islamic State.
The advance into the airport, to the southwest of Mosul, will allow troops to use the large, sprawling area to launch operations into the fortified western suburbs, where several thousand of Isis’s most seasoned fighters have prepared defences. Aid organisations say as many as 750,000 civilians may still be in western Mosul. As many as half of Mosul’s remaining residents are thought to be under 18, and 160,000 have already fled the west of the city for newly erected refugee camps to the south. Iraqi forces have detained hundreds of military aged men as they have fled, in an attempt to weed out any Isis members among them. (The Guardian)
Marocco: The possibility of establishing refugee camps in North Africa for migrants intercepted in the sea “is not culturally acceptable” – ambassador of Morocco, Hassan Abouyoub, said during a forum taken by ANSA – the measure “is not appropriate” added the ambassador. (ANSA)
Syria: Russia is open to the concept of “safe zones” in Syria, but only if they are approved by Bashar al-Assad. Sergey Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said he had briefly discussed the US-backed plan with Donald Trump’s administration and was told specifics were still being worked out. Syria’s state news agency said that any attempt to establish safe zones in the country without coordination with Damascus would be a violation of national sovereignty. (The Independent)
Brexit: Italian Economy Minister Pier Carlo Padoan said Thursday that Brexit may not end up being an “isolated case,” arguing that the European Union risked “other departures” without a “drastic” change of strategy. Padoan was speaking in Paris, where is taking part in the Capital Markets Summit 2017. Rome has been calling for the EU to be less rigid in the application of its budget rules, adding that it is unfair that Brussels had not been equally strict with member States who have failed to do their bit to help Italy cope with the Mediterranean asylum-seeker crisis. (Ansa)
France: France’s far-right presidential front runner Marine Le Pen sounded a full-throated rejection of global trade deals and multilateral governance, defending in soaring terms Thursday the importance of cultural identity and national independence. In a keynote foreign policy speech in Paris, Le Pen offered withering criticism of the European Union and NATO and decried what she essentially described as Western meddling in countries like Iraq, Syria, Libya, Russia and Turkey that she claimed have increased instability, broken bilateral promises and betrayed the wishes of the people. She described France under her governance as a champion of “oppressed people, which speaks out for the voiceless and carries something powerful and great.”Le Pen’s address touched on some familiar themes, as she railed against the European Union, NATO and free trade. But she also waded into new territory – or at least offered new nuances – as she described forging a new relationship with Africa based on “frankness, respect and mutual cooperation.” (Deutsche Welle)
Iraq: Iraqi elite forces entered today in a district of Mosul-West, the first since the beginning of the offensive launched four months ago to take this city from Iraq to the Islamic State (EI) group. Sami al-Aridhi, a lieutenant in the elite Counter-Terrorism Unit (CTS), said his men had taken over a military base and a village south-west of Mosul and entered a residential area of the second city Of Iraq, which had been taken over by the IE in 2014. (Le Figaro)
Israel: Israel has denied a visa for a Human Rights Watch researcher while accusing the group of spreading “Palestinian propaganda”. A work permit request was filed for Omar Shakir, the group’s director for Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, in July but the refusal did not come for more than seven months.
A letter from Israel’s immigration authority said the application had been declined following a review, because of a recommendation by the country’s foreign ministry. (Independent)