Weekly News 12 – 16 February 2018

Monday 12 February

 Afghanistan: A Taliban infiltrator has killed 16 pro-government militia fighters in Afghanistan’s Helmand province.
The attacker had been fighting alongside the militia for months before turning his gun on them on Saturday night, at a checkpoint in the Gereshk district. Local media said the Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack. The attacker managed to join the armed group after fleeing the checkpoint with weapons, TOLOnews reported. (Al Jazeera)

Hungary: A European parliamentary watchdog has called for tougher scrutiny of EU spending in Hungary, as concern grows among MEPs and transparency campaigners that a class of oligarchs with ties to the prime minister, Viktor Orbán, could use the EU “as a cash register”.
Hungary is on course to receive €25bn from the EU in the seven years to 2021, making it one of the largest per-capita recipients of the bloc’s economic development funds.
MEPs are increasingly worried that funds are going to Orbán’s family, friends and supporters, who are winning EU-funded infrastructure contracts with little competition – a red flag for anti-corruption campaigners. (The Guardian)

 Isis: ISIL’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is alive and being treated at a medical facility in northeastern Syria after being severely wounded in an air raid, a senior Iraqi official said.
The head of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) sustained serious wounds to his legs during air raids, Abu Ali al-Basri, Iraq’s intelligence and counterterrorism department chief, was quoted on Monday by the government-run al-Sabah daily as saying. (Al Jazeera)

Israel: US President Donald Trump has reiterated that the issue of Jerusalem is off the negotiating table after his decision to declare the city as the capital of Israel and move the US embassy to the holy city from Tel Aviv. In the exclusive interview with Israel Hayom, Trump also urged both Israel and Palestine to make “hard compromises” to reach a peace agreement, as he warned against Israeli settlements.
In a rare criticism of the Israeli leadership, the US president questioned Israel’s commitment to making peace with the Palestinians. (Al Jazeera)

Tuesday 13 February

Israel: Israeli police say that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should be charged over alleged bribery cases.
A police statement said there is enough evidence to indict Mr Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in two separate cases.
Speaking on Israeli television, Mr Netanyahu said the allegations were baseless and that he would continue as prime minister. (BBC)

Italy: Italy’s Five Star Movement (M5S) has been rocked by charges of hypocrisy and dishonesty after it emerged that some lawmakers – who pride themselves on the party’s hard line against corruption – have failed to abide by an internal policy relating to pay and expenses.
Luigi di Maio, the leader of M5S, promised to root out any “bad apples” and expel them after it was revealed that some lawmakers have failed to live up to a party pledge related to their salaries. The rule in question states that officials have to voluntarily pay back a portion of their salaries to a fund that supports small business owners. (The Guardian)

Palestine: A teenage Palestinian protester filmed slapping and kicking two soldiers outside her home has appeared before an Israeli military court to face various charges including assaulting security forces, incitement and throwing stones.
Ahed Tamimi, who turned 17 in jail last month, arrived on Tuesday morning for the first day of what could be a months-long trial, in what has become a symbolic case in the battle for international public opinion.
The judge ordered a closed-door hearing and ejected a large group of journalists who had gathered at the Ofer military base, despite a request by Tamimi’s lawyer for the media to be able to observe proceedings. (The Guardian)

Syria: At least two Russian fighters were killed in US air strikes in north-eastern Syria last week.
The fighters are said to have been hired by private military firms backing Syrian pro-government troops.
Russia has not confirmed the deaths that were first reported by US media, saying such reports should not be treated as “primary sources”. (BBC)

Wednesday 14 February

Hungary: Hungary’s nationalist government introduced legislation that would empower the interior minister to ban non-governmental organizations (NGOs) that support migration and pose a “national security risk”. The bill, submitted to parliament late on Tuesday, is a key part of Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s anti-immigration campaign targeting U.S. financier George Soros whose philanthropy aims to bolster liberal and open-border values in eastern Europe. (Reuters)

Israel: Key coalition partners said on Wednesday they would stick with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for now, pending a decision by the attorney general whether to indict him for bribery as recommended by police. It is now up to Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, a former military advocate general and ex-cabinet secretary who was appointed to the country’s top legal post by Netanyahu, to decide whether to file criminal charges.
A public debate has long been under way in Israel on whether Mandelblit, who has avoided interviews, might be reluctant to prosecute a sitting prime minister for the first time in Israeli history, especially one who promoted him through government ranks.
Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing in both cases filed by police. With political signals that the government remained solid, Israeli markets rose on Wednesday. (Reuters)

Syria: The rebel-held Syrian region of the Eastern Ghouta has received its first aid delivery in almost three months.
It comes after weeks of appeals from the United Nations to allow aid deliveries and the evacuation of hundreds of critically ill people.
About 400,000 people live in the besieged enclave, east of Damascus, under frequent artillery bombardment.
Wednesday’s aid delivery had enough food and supplies for 7,200 people, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said. But Wednesday’s aid delivery to the Eastern Ghouta was relatively small by UN standards. (BBC)

Thursday 15 February

Ethiopia: Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has resigned unexpectedly, saying he hoped to end years of unrest and political upheaval.
In a televised address, he said his resignation was “vital in the bid to carry out reforms that would lead to sustainable peace and democracy”.
Mr Hailemariam, who has led the country since 2012, also stepped down as chairman of the ruling coalition. (BBC)

Iraq: A global donor conference has pledged almost $30bn (£21bn) to help Iraq rebuild after the ravages of Islamic State, about a third of what the country estimates it will need long term.
The money is a mix of grants, loans and investment promises, with neighbours Kuwait, Turkey and Saudi Arabia among the biggest donors, along with nearby Qatar.
The US, which occupied Iraq from 2003 to 2011 and led the air war against Isis, was notable by its absence, however. Officials said in advance that Washington would not be pledging funds at the conference. (The Guardian)

Turkey: The US secretary of state has started a two-day visit to Turkey, where Rex Tillerson hopes to ease increasing tension between US and Turkish officials over the conflict in Syria.
A war of words between the NATO allies has escalated ever since Turkey launched a military offensive into the Afrin region of northern Syria last month in an effort to root out Kurdish YPG fighters, who figure among a US-backed coalition of armed groups. Earlier this week, Turkey demanded the US expel the YPG from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) coalition, which has been fighting Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Syria with support from the US. (Al Jazeera)

Friday 17 February

Brexit: The heads of the British, French and German intelligence agencies have called for continued security co-operation after the UK leaves the EU, in an unprecedented joint statement.
Meeting in Munich, they said their countries must jointly fight major security threats such as terrorism, illegal migration and cyber attacks. (BBC)

Ethiopia: A state of emergency declared in Ethiopia after the resignation of the country’s prime minister will last for six months, the minister of defence has said, as the goverment seeks to stem political unrest amid long-standing demands for greater freedoms.
The measure, which was first announced by state media after a cabinet meeting on Friday, includes a ban on protests and the dissemination of publications that could incite and sow discord. (Al Jazeera)

Syria: The US and Turkey, whose forces are at loggerheads in northern Syria, have agreed to try to defuse the crisis.
The Nato allies said joint teams would meet shortly to work through their diplomatic differences, including a dispute over the city of Manbij. Speaking at a joint news conference in the Turkish capital, Ankara, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu said working teams would tackle disputes which have led to heightened tensions between the two powers. (BBC)  

Turkey:  A Turkish court has sentenced six journalists to life in jail for alleged links to the July 2016 coup plotters.
The six were found guilty of links to US-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, blamed over the failed coup. The six sentenced journalists are Nazli Ilicak, Ahmet Altan, Mehmet Altan, Fevzi Yazici, Yakup Simsek and Sukru Tugrul Ozsengul. All six denied the charges. The Istanbul court found them guilty of “attempting to abolish the order prescribed by the Turkish constitution or to bring in a new order”, Turkish media reported. The court ruling was condemned by human rights groups, including the UN and OSCE representatives on media freedom. (BBC)