Weekly News 23 -27 July 2018 | Mediterranean Affairs

Weekly News 23 -27 July 2018

Monday 23 July 2018

Iran: US President Donald Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have traded hostile warnings, amid rising tensions between the two countries.
Mr Trump tweeted Iran would “suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before” if it threatened the US. Mr Rouhani earlier said that war with Iran would be “the mother of all wars”. Washington is now re-imposing the sanctions, despite objections from the UK, France, China, Russia and Germany, who all signed the 2015 agreement.
But there are other flashpoints too. The US is deeply suspicious of Iranian activity in the Middle East and is an ally of Israel and Saudi Arabia, two of Iran’s foes.
In May, the US left a deal which curbed Iran’s nuclear activities in return for the lifting of international sanctions. (BBC)

Migration crisis: Italy is to allow migrant rescue ships to dock until the EU reaches a deal to distribute new arrivals.
Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero Milanesi said Italy would continue to accept vessels for five weeks while the EU renegotiated its existing policy.
Speaking on Monday after talks with his German counterpart, Heiko Maas, Mr Milanesi said Italy’s ports would remain open until a solution was reached to prevent “all rescued people from landing in one country”. (BBC)

Syria: The Syrian government has condemned the evacuation over the weekend of the White Helmets civil defence group from a war zone in the south of the country. Damascus described the move, carried out by Israel, as a “criminal operation” by “Israel and its tools”. Some 422 volunteers and family members were taken to Jordan via the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. It was feared that they would be persecuted by advancing government forces in southern Syria. Responding to the move on Monday, Syria’s foreign ministry said that “words of condemnation are not enough to denounce this despicable act”. It added that the White Helmets supported “terrorists” and that the world had been warned of the group’s “dangers”, according to Syria’s state news agency Sana. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s administration regards the White Helmets as agents of Western powers. His supporters, and his Russian allies, say the volunteers support the rebels and also have links to jihadist groups. But Mr Assad’s opponents see them as heroes for their rescue work in bombed, rebel-held cities. The White Helmets describe themselves as a volunteer workforce that acts to save people in Syria’s war zones. (BBC)

Tuesday 24 July 2018

Greece:  At least 60 people have reportedly died in wildfires in the Attica region around Athens, in Greece’s worst fire crisis in more than a decade. A local official gave the death toll to local media after flames devastated the seaside village of Mati. Rescuers found the bodies of 26 adults and children who apparently hugged each other as they died, trapped by the inferno just metres from the sea. His government has asked other European countries for helicopters and additional firefighters to help tackle the fires. Italy, Germany, Poland and France have all sent help in the form of planes, vehicles and firefighters, and Spain and Cyprus have offered Greece assistance, but with temperatures set to soar again, they are in a race against time to get the fires under control. (BBC)

Israel: Israel has shot down a Syrian warplane flying over its airspace over southern Golan, according to its military.
The Israel Defense Forces tweeted that two Patriot missiles were fired at the Syrian Sukhoi fighter jet, which it said was one mile inside Israeli airspace. Haaretz news website reports residents in north Israel saw interceptor missiles fired and heard explosions. Unconfirmed reports say that a pilot was killed. The shooting follows the day after Israel used its David’s Sling missile defence system for the first time. (BBC)

Wednesday 25 July 2018

Syria: The death toll in coordinated ISIS suicide bombings and shootings in southwestern Syria rose to nearly 250 overnight, more than half of them civilians, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Thursday. Wednesday’s attacks hit Sweida, a Druze-majority province mostly held by the regime which had remained relatively insulated from the country’s seven-year civil war. The death toll climbed steadily throughout the day and into the night, the Britain-based monitoring group, said. “The toll is now 246 people dead, including 135 civilians,” said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman. (Asharaq Al-Awsat)

Israel: Israeli jets and artillery on Wednesday attacked a site in Syria from where two rockets were launched which were thought to have landed in the Sea of Galilee, close to beachgoers, the military said.After air raid sirens sounded in the south of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, the army said rockets had been fired from Syria toward Israel. They appeared to be stray fire from the fighting inside Syria. Tensions had risen a day earlier after Israel shot down a Syrian warplane that it said had crossed into airspace above the Israeli-occupied Golan. However, Syrian state media said the plane was targeted by Israel while it was conducting raids in Syrian-controlled air space. There have been days of bombing as Russian-backed Syrian government forces advance on rebel-held positions near the 1974 ceasefire line with Israel. The holdouts include one pocket near the frontier held by a group affiliated to the Islamic State. (Reuters)

Egypt: The Trump administration has decided to unfreeze $195 million in military aid to Egypt which it had previously withheld because of concerns over Egypt’s human rights record, a U.S. State Department official said on Wednesday. The decision to allow Cairo to use the previously blocked funds is intended to recognize “steps Egypt has taken over the last year in response to specific U.S. concerns” and in the spirit of strengthening the partnership with Egypt, the official said (Reuters)

Thursday 26 July 2018 

Gaza: Israeli tank shells killed three Palestinian militants as violence flared on the Israel-Gaza border on Wednesday, four days after a truce that had been largely holding. An Israeli officer was also wounded by a Gaza sniper, the Israeli military said. Hamas, the armed Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, confirmed that the three Palestinians killed were its members but no militant group claimed responsibility for shooting at Israeli troops. The Israeli military said that militants had fired at its soldiers in the area of the southern Gaza Strip on Wednesday night, and that in response its forces were “targeting Hamas military posts”. Gaza residents said they heard many explosions. The military said an Israeli officer had suffered moderate wounds and was evacuated to hospital for treatment. The de facto truce between Israel and Hamas followed violence in which an Israeli soldier and four Hamas fighters were killed on Friday. (Reuters)

Spain: Approximately 800 migrants, arriving from Morocco, forced the barrier in the Spanish enclave of Ceuta today, climbing over the seven-meter double fence and engaging in a battle with the Moroccan police and the Civil Guard, which resulted in dozens injured. Subtitles that over 600 of them managed to enter Spanish territory. It is the biggest trespassing since, in February 2017, over 850 migrants managed to enter the enclave in four days. (ANSAmed)

Italy: Italian defense spending will come in at just 1.15 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) this year and will fall further in 2019, Foreign Minister Enzo Moavero Milanese said on Thursday, undercutting U.S. efforts to boost military budgets. U.S. President Donald Trump said earlier this month that other members of the NATO military alliance had promised big spending pledges after warning that Washington could withdraw its support for the partnership if Europe didn’t do more. Italian Defence minister Elisabetta Trenta recently said in an interview to Defence News that she had told U.S. national security adviser John Bolton that Italy aims to reach NATO’s defense spending target of 2 percent of GDP. (Reuters)

EU: The U.S. trade war with the E.U. appears to be off, at least for now. At a surprise news conference, President Trump and the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, above left, said they would work toward lowering tariffs and other trade barriers, temporarily defusing a battle that began with Mr. Trump’s tariffs on European steel and aluminum exports. Given Mr. Trump’s unpredictable negotiating style, it was not clear whether the agreement was a genuine truce or merely a lull in a conflict that could flare again. (The New York Times)

Turkey: Solidarity between Ankara and Moscow “makes someone jealous,” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said at a meeting with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Johannesburg, on the sidelines of the ongoing BRICS summit. The two leaders met for a one-on-one meeting late July 26 to discuss various issues, mainly Syria, bilateral ties, and the upcoming Tehran summit as part of the Astana process. The meeting lasted for 75 minutes. “Any kind of solidarity between us makes someone jealous,” said Erdoğan before the meeting. There has been improvement in all fields including political, military, economic, culture, and trade between the countries, Erdoğan said. (Hurriyet  Daily News)

Bosnia and Herzegovina: Mayors and councillors from Bosnian border towns staged a rare protest in the capital on Thursday, demanding the government do more to help them handle thousands of migrants camped out near their towns and cities. (Reuters)

Friday 27 July 2018

Greece: All the remains of the 86 people known to have died in the recent wildfires in Greece have been examined, the head of the medical staff of the morgue of one of Athens’ main hospitals said Friday. (ANSAmed)

Syria: The main leader of the Druze sect in Lebanon on Friday attacked the Syrian government for failing to stop an Islamic State massacre of Druze in Syria, saying it should have noticed the militants gathering to attack. “No one can tell me that the squadrons of many American, Russian and foreign planes did not see this gathering which suddenly took the regime by surprise and raided Jebel al-Arab,” said Walid Jumblatt. Islamic State’s assault on the city of Sweida and nearby villages in the Jebel al-Arab area on Thursday killed more than 200 people, many of them civilians. (Reuters)

Israel: One Israeli died and two were injured in a stabbing attack in the West bank settlement of Adam on Thursday night, Israeli sources have said. The victim was a 31-year-old father of two. The assailant, a 17-year-old Palestinian from a nearby village, was also killed. (ANSAmed)

Clashes erupted today on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount after Friday prayers at the al-Aqsa mosque. Palestinian websites reported that Israeli police had stormed the mosque complex and made use of tear gas. The WAFA news agency said that dozens of Palestinians had been injured, suffered tear gas inhalation or were injured by rubber-coated bullets shot by the police. (ANSAmed)

Tunisia: A ship carrying 40 migrants, including two pregnant women, has been stranded for two weeks in the Mediterranean, after four countries refused it permission to dock. The Tunisian-flagged offshore supply vessel, the Sarost 5, is currently three kilometers from Zarzis on the southeastern Tunisian coat, the ship’s second-in-command, Aymen Ourari, said. The ship is the latest to be caught up in the diplomatic deadlock over what to do with migrants rescued from the Mediterranean: Malta, France, Italy and Tunisia have all rebuffed requests for it to dock. (CNN)

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