Weekly News 17 – 21 July

Monday, 17July 2017

Afghanistan: The number of civilian deaths in the Afghan war has reached a record high, continuing an almost unbroken trend of nearly a decade of rising casualties.
The number of deaths of women and children grew especially fast, primarily due to the Taliban’s use of homemade bombs, which caused 40% of civilian casualties in the first six months of 2017, according to UN figures released on Monday.
Child casualties increased by 9% to 436, compared with the same period last year, and 1,141 children were wounded. Female deaths rose by 23%, with 174 women killed and 462 injured.
US and Afghan airstrikes also contributed to the surge in civilian victims, with a 43% increase in casualties from the air, the figures showed. (The Guardian)

Iraq: Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is still alive, according to an Iraqi Foreign Ministry source as reported in recent hours by Saudi Arabian broadcaster al Arabiya, citing the ministry’s high director for security and anti-terrorism, Abu Ali al-Basri. (ANSAmed)

Migration crisis: EU foreign ministers have agreed to restrict exports of inflatable boats and outboard motors to Libya in a drive to curb the smuggling of migrants.
The restrictions will not apply to legitimate Libyan businesses, such as fishing crews, an EU statement said.
It is not clear how the EU will check that such exports do not end up in the wrong hands in the lawless country. (BBC)

Qatar: Qatar has accused its Gulf neighbours of breaking international law by hacking government websites and planting false information that helped cause a continuing diplomatic rift in the region.
According to the Washington Post, US officials discovered last week that ministers from the United Arab Emirates held a meeting on 23 May to discuss plans to hack Qatari government news and social media sites and post incendiary false quotes attributed to Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani. (The Guardian)

The United Arab Emirates has denied it was behind the alleged hacking of Qatar’s state news agency in May. (BBC)

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

Libya: The United Nations called on Tuesday for the Libyan National Army (LNA) which controls the eastern part of the country to investigate summary executions of prisoners. Its human right’s body and voiced concern at the fate of those still in their custody.  The LNA is pushing to expand its presence in central and southern Libya, where it has been vying for control with forces linked to the U.N.-backed government in Tripoli and other opponents. LNA leader Khalifa Haftar has gained ground with Egyptian and Emirati support, and Western states say Haftar must be part of any solution to Libya’s conflict. (Al Jazeera)

Poland: Surrounded by security guards and amid opposition deputies’ shouts of “shame” and “disgrace”, Poland’s parliament debated a bill on Tuesday that critics say would erode the independence of the judiciary.
The ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS), which has defied past accusations by critics including the European Union that its policies undermine media freedom and civil liberties, is seeking reforms it says will make the Supreme Court more accountable. The debate follows a bill passed on Friday that will end the terms of current members of the National Council of the Judiciary (KRS), one of main judiciary organs in Poland, and give parliament powers to choose 15 of its 25 members. That would deliver effective control to PiS with its large majority. (Reuters)

Syria: Mounting tensions between Kurdish and Turkish troops in northern Syria have threatened to open a new front in the country’s complex war. (Al Jazeera)

Turkey: Six people, including the director of Amnesty International in Turkey, were arrested by a court order on Tuesday for “helping an armed terrorist organisation”, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency news outlet.
They were among the 10 who were detained in Istanbul earlier in July during a workshop on Buyukada, an island near the city. (Al Jazeera)

Wednesday, 19 July 2017 

Morocco: Protesters in the Moroccan city of al-Hoceima are gearing up for what they hope to be a million-man march on Thursday, in the latest chapter of a steadily growing popular movement known simply as “Hirak” in the country’s northern Rif region. Spurred into action after the murder of a fishmonger crushed to death by local security forces in late October, the Rif-based popular movement has come to symbolise resentment towards a history of state neglect and violence in the poor coastal area. Protest organisers anticipate the march to be the largest demonstration since a solidarity march in the capital city Rabat last month drew more than 100,000 protesters, the most since the 2011 regional uprisings. (Al Jazeera)

Poland: The EU is on the brink of taking the nuclear option of stripping Poland of its voting rights in Brussels in response to plans by its rightwing government to “abolish” the independence of the country’s judiciary. Frans Timmermans, the first vice-president of the European commission, accused Warsaw of seeking to put judges under full political control as he warned that the EU was “very close” to triggering article 7, a never-before-used sanction in the treaties that allows a member state’s voting rights in the council of ministers to be suspended. Poland’s ruling rightwing Law and Justice party (PiS) has been in almost constant conflict with the European commission since it was elected. In recent weeks the Polish government has proposed a series of reforms that would give ministers power over the appointment of judges and members of the country’s supreme court. (The Guardian)

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Israel: Fresh rallies are planned in the Gaza Strip in solidarity with worshippers at al-Aqsa Mosque as Israel weighs whether to remove recently installed metal detectors at the compound. Thursday’s expected protests follow days of clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians across the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem over the new security measures introduced at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound. (Al Jazeera)

Turkey: Germany’s foreign minister has announced a significant “reorientation” of its policy towards Turkey after a human rights activist became the latest German citizen to be detained for alleged terrorist activity. Six people, including German human rights consultant Peter Steudtner and Amnesty International’s country director, Idil Eser, are awaiting trial in Turkey for allegedly aiding a terror group. Turkey has described Germany’s demand for the release of human rights activist Steudtner as unacceptable and an attempt to interfere with the Turkish judiciary. (The Guardian)

Kuwait: Kuwait is closing the Iranian cultural mission and related offices in the Gulf Arab state and reducing the number of Iranian diplomats stationed in the country, according to the official news agency, KUNA.

KUNA said on Thursday the move is related to the case of a “terrorist” cell broken up in 2015 that authorities allege had contacts with Iran and Hezbollah.

The KUNA report says the Iranian ambassador to Kuwait has been notified. (Al Jazeera)

Friday, 21 July 2017

Czech Republic: Senior Czech judges denounced a judicial overhaul in Poland as an attack on the rule of law on Friday, saying they could no longer stay silent over the changes in their neighbor.
Poland’s upper house of parliament was expected to pass a bill allowing parliament to appoint Supreme Court judges later on Friday, defying massed opposition protesters and the European Union, which has threatened sanctions.
Fellow central European power Hungary has stood by Poland’s rulers, saying the EU should not overstep its authority. (Reuters)

Israel: Israeli forces and Palestinians have clashed in East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank amid friction over a Jerusalem holy site.
Water canon and tear gas were fired after rioters threw stones and other objects outside the walls of the Old City, police said.
Clashes were also reported at the Qalandia checkpoint between Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Tensions have soared since two Israeli policemen were shot dead last Friday.
Three Israeli Arab gunmen killed the officers near the holy site know to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif and to Jews as the Temple mount. The gunmen were shot dead after being pursued into the sacred compound. (BBC)

Italy: A Sicilian mayor is seeking to block a ship chartered by a group of far-right activists attempting to disrupt migrant rescues in the Mediterranean.
Enzo Bianco, the mayor of Catania, has urged authorities in the port city on the island’s east coast to deny docking rights to C-Star, a 40-metre vessel hired by Generation Identity, a movement made up of young, anti-Islam and anti-immigration activists from across Europe, for its sea mission to stop migrants entering Europe from Libya.
The ship is expected to arrive on Saturday, and the group intends to launch its mission next week. The activists’ aim is to expose what they claim to be wrongdoing by “criminal” NGO search and rescue vessels, which they accuse of working with people smugglers to transport illegal immigrants to Europe. They also plan to disrupt the work of the crews by calling the Libyan coastguard and asking them to take migrants and refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean back to war-torn Libya. (The Guardian)