Weekly News 5 – 9 June 2017 | Mediterranean Affairs
Monday, 5 June 2017
Malta: Malta’s Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has won the snap general election he called a month ago amid corruption allegations concerning his wife.
The full results have yet to be announced. But Mr Muscat claimed victory based on projections and the opposition’s Simon Busuttil conceded.Opinion polls in the run-up to the vote had suggested a 5% lead for Mr Muscat, who is now set for a second five-year term in office. (BBC)
Qatar: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain severed their ties with Qatar on Monday, accusing it of supporting terrorism and opening up the worst rift in years among some of the most powerful states in the Arab world . Iran — long at odds with Saudi Arabia and a behind-the-scenes target of the move — immediately blamed U.S. President Donald Trump for setting the stage during his recent trip to Riyadh.
Gulf Arab states and Egypt have already long resented Qatar’s support for Islamists, especially the Muslim Brotherhood which they regard as a dangerous political enemy. Sanctions include shutting down transport links, including closing borders, airspace and maritime territories, which led to fears of supply shortages.. (Reuters)
UK: After militants killed seven people and injured 48 in London, British Prime Minister Theresa May resumes campaigning on Monday just three days before a national election which polls show is much tighter than previously predicted.
Following the third militant attack in Britain in less than three months, May said Thursday’s election would go ahead and that Britain had been far too tolerant of extremism. (Reuters)
Tuesday, 6 June 2017
France: Police have shot a man who attacked an officer with a hammer outside the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris.
The man shouted “this is for Syria” during the attack, the interior minister said. Prosecutors have opened a terrorism investigation.
The officer suffered minor injuries. The suspect was wounded in the chest when another policeman opened fire. The man, who was being treated in hospital, has not been named. (BBC)
Israel: A Palestinian citizen of Israel was shot dead by a private security guard in the town of Kafr Qasim late on Monday night amid clashes between residents and the security forces.
The man was identified as Mohammed Taha, 21, a local resident who had joined hundreds to protest against the police in the Palestinian-majority town in Israel. (Al Jazeera)
Migration crisis: In total 71,418 migrants and refugees have arrived in Europe by sea since the start of the year and 1,650 people are known to have died during the crossing, according to the latest International Organisation for Migration figures released on Tuesday.
Approximately 85% of arrivals (60,388) were registered in Italy and the rest in Greece (7,443), Cyprus and Spain. This compares to 206,790 arrivals (of which 156,782 in Greece) and 2,512 deaths in the same period last year. (ANSAmed)
Syria: A US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters has launched an offensive to capture the jihadist group Islamic State’s Syrian stronghold of Raqqa.
The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said the assault began on Monday, with fighters advancing on several fronts.
The SDF, which says it is not aligned with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad or the rebel forces seeking to overthrow him, has driven IS from about 6,000 sq km (2,300 sq miles) of northern Syria since October 2015.
It has been gradually encircling Raqqa since November, at the same time as Iraqi pro-government forces have been driving IS militants out of the city of Mosul. (BBC)
UK: The third London Bridge attacker has been named as 22-year-old Youssef Zaghba, a Moroccan-Italian man.
Pakistan-born Khuram Butt, 27, and Rachid Redouane, 30, both from Barking were the other two attackers. (BBC)
British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Tuesday she would be willing to weaken human rights protections to make it easier to deport or curb the movements of suspected militants who there is not enough evidence to prosecute.
May said authorities needed to be able to do more, including to restrict the movements of suspected militants when police had enough evidence to suspect they presented a threat, but not enough to prosecute them. (Reuters)
Wednesday, 7 June 2017
France: Emmanuel Macron has created a counter-terrorism taskforce to improve the sharing of intelligence, as the government prepares to transfer certain special policing powers granted under France’s state of emergency into permanent law.
The creation of the taskforce under the authority of the presidential palace was one of Macron’s manifesto promises, and he intends to make the fight against terrorism a bigger focus of his presidency than his predecessors did. (The Guardian)
Iran: Armed attackers and suicide bombers have targeted two of the most important national symbols of Iran, leaving at least 12 people dead and throwing the country into a state of unease, amid already heightened regional tensions.
Wednesday’s attack on the national parliament and the shrine of the Islamic Republic’s founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini were “unprecedented” actions against state institutions in recent years. The armed group, Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), said its fighters carried out the attack.
All four suspects involved in the parliament siege are dead, and the three others at the Khomeini shrine were killed. (Al Jazeera)
Iraq: Top government officials and political parties in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Region have agreed to hold a referendum on independence on 25 September.
The date was set at a meeting in Irbil chaired by President Massoud Barzani.
A statement said voting would take place in the three provinces that make up the region, and “areas of Kurdistan outside the region’s administration”.
There was no immediate comment from Iraq’s central government, but it has urged Kurds not to hold a referendum.
Moves towards outright independence have historically been opposed by the governments of neighbouring Iran, Turkey and Syria, as well as by the US. (BBC)
Thursday, 8 June 2017
Iraq: The UN has received reports that 231 Iraqi civilians have been killed by so-called Islamic State while attempting to flee Mosul over the past two weeks.
At least 204 are believed to have been shot dead by militants during clashes with Iraqi security forces in the Shifa district last Thursday and Saturday.
The UN said it had noted a “significant escalation” in such killings.
There are also reports of between 50 and 80 civilians being killed in an air strike on the Zanjili area on 31 May. (BBC)
Italy: A bill for a new election law backed by the four biggest parties “is dead” its rapporteur, Emanuele Fiano of Premier Paolo Gentiloni’s Democratic Party (PD), said Thursday. The PD and the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement (M5S) had been rowing intensely over the bill for a system based on proportional representation with an entry threshold of 5%. The plan was also supported, in theory, by Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (FI) and the Northern League. (ANSA)
Qatar: Qatar is not ready to change its foreign policy to resolve a dispute with fellow Arab Gulf states and will never compromise, Qatar’s foreign minister has told Al Jazeera. Meanwhile, Qatar will respect the LNG gas agreements it has made with the UAE despite its cutting off relations with Doha, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman said.
He said Iran has told Qatar it is ready to help with securing food supplies and will designate three of its ports to Qatar, but the offer has not yet been accepted. (Al Jazeera)
UK: Polls have opened in the UK for the country’s second general election in little over two years after one one of the most tumultuous campaigns in recent decades.
A majority of voters on Thursday are expected to choose between Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party and Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition Labour Party.
Other choices on offer for the 45.7 million eligible voters include the Liberal Democrat Party, which wants to reverse a process for Britain to leave the European Union, or Brexit, and nationalist parties in Scotland and Wales.
Polls close at 10pm local time (21:00 GMT). Counting will take place overnight, and results are expected in the early hours of Friday. (Al Jazeera)
Yemen: The number of suspected cases of cholera resulting from a severe outbreak in Yemen has passed 100,000, the World Health Organization says.
A total of 798 deaths associated with the disease have been recorded in 19 out of 22 provinces since 27 April.
The charity Oxfam said the epidemic was killing one person almost every hour.
Yemen’s health, water and sanitation systems are collapsing after two years of war between government forces and the rebel Houthi movement. (BBC)
Friday, 9 June 2017
Spain: Catalonia’s long-awaited and bitterly controversial referendum on independence from Spain will be finally held on 1 October, the regional government announced on Friday, triggering yet another political and judicial showdown with Madrid.
The Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, said that voters in the unilateral referendum would be asked the question: “Do you want Catalonia to be an independent country in the form of a republic?”
But the Spanish government is implacably opposed to secession, arguing that it is a violation of the constitution, and has vowed to use all possible means to stop the referendum from being held. (The Guardian)
UK: Staff at a Jobcentre in Newcastle are being held by a man armed with a knife.
The armed man entered the premises on Clifford Street in Byker at about 08:00 BST. Several members of staff are thought to be held there, police said.
Police negotiators are at the scene and the roads around the premises have been closed as a precaution.
Northumbria Police said the man responsible was known to the Jobcentre and it was being treated as an isolated incident at this stage. (BBC)
With 649 of 650 seats declared, the Conservatives had won 318 seats. Though the biggest single winner, they failed to reach the 326-mark they would need to command a parliamentary majority. Labour had won 261 seats.
With complex talks on Britain’s divorce from the European Union due to start in 10 days, it was unclear who would form the next government and what the direction of Brexit would be. The DUP’s 10 seats could help them hit the 326 seats needed for a majority. It was considering a “confidence and supply” arrangement which would involve the DUP supporting a Conservative minority government on key votes in parliament but not forming a formal coalition partnership. (Reuters)