Weekly News 19 – 23 November 2018 | Mediterranean Affairs
Monday 19 November 2018
Khashoggi’s case: Germany has imposed European travel bans on 18 Saudi nationals suspected of involvement in the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, and confirmed its arms embargo against the regime in Riyadh.
The measures were announced by the German foreign minister, Heiko Maas, who told reporters in Brussels that the travel ban covered the 26-nation Schengen zone and had been issued in close coordination with France, which is part of the Schengen area, and the UK, which is not. (The Guardian)
Iran: Iran’s foreign minister has said his country will not only survive newly reimposed US sanctions but it will thrive.
The Trump administration announced sanctions this month covering banking, oil exports and shipping, aimed at forcing Tehran to stop what the US described as its “destabilising activities” in the Middle East. (The Guardian)
Israel: Benjamin Netanyahu has won a reprieve from the threat of early elections in Israel after a senior member of his cabinet announced he would not resign and break up the coalition government.
Naftali Bennett, the hardliner education minister, was widely expected to quit during a press conference on Monday morning but instead said in a surprise announcement that his Jewish Home party would give the prime minister another chance.
Bennett, a security hawk, had considered following Netanyahu’s defence minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who left the Israeli government to protest against Netanyahu’s decision to agree to a truce with the rulers of Gaza, Hamas. Bennett had threatened to bring down the government if he was not appointed defence minister, a portfolio Netanyahu gave to himself on Sunday. If the education minister had left, he would have stripped the prime minister of his parliamentary majority and triggered early polls. (The Guardian)
Tuesday 20 November 2018
Afghanistan: Dozens of people have been killed in a powerful suicide bomb blast that targeted a large gathering of top religious figures in Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul, according to officials. Wahid Majroh, health ministry spokesperson, said Tuesday’s explosion killed at least 50 people and wounded more than 70 others.
He added that the death toll could rise further as many of those injured were in critical condition. Najib Danish, interior ministry spokesperson, said “a suicide bomber detonated his explosives” inside a large wedding hall where hundreds of scholars and clerics had gathered to mark the birthday of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad. (Al Jazeera)
Italy: Italian authorities have ordered the seizure of the migrant rescue ship Aquarius after claiming that discarded clothes worn by the migrants on their voyage from Libya to Italy could have been contaminated by HIV, meningitis and tuberculosis.
Prosecutors from Catania, eastern Sicily, alleged that the waste was illegally labelled by the ship’s crew as “special waste” rather than “toxic waste”. The ship is operated by the charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and SOS Méditerranée. Prosecutors in Catania said: “If Aquarius would disembark to Italy, it will be immediately put under seizure.”
Nevertheless, the Italian authorities have placed 24 people under investigation for ‘‘trafficking and the illegal management of waste” (The Guardian)
Libya: Libyan authorities have used rubber bullets and tear gas to forcibly disembark more than 90 refugees and migrants who had refused to leave a cargo ship docked in the port of Misrata.
The Panama-flagged ship rescued them off the Libyan coast 10 days ago, as their boat began sinking, and brought them to Misrata. Once there, 14 disembarked willingly but, in the first documented case of its kind, the other 92 refused to leave. (Al Jazeera)
Yemen: As many as 85,000 children in Yemen may have starved to death in the past three years during its brutal war, an aid group reported on Wednesday.
Using data compiled by the United Nations, Save the Children evaluated mortality rates for untreated cases of severe malnutrition in children under five years old.
The humanitarian agency found some 84,701 children may have starved to death between April 2015 and October 2018 because of a lack of food. (Al Jazeera)
Wednesday 21 November 2018
Italy: The European Commission has taken the first steps to fining Italy over its national budget, saying it deviates from the EU’s fiscal rules and commitments made by the previous government.
The move comes as Italy, which received a European Commission request to adjust its 2019 budget to meet EU parameters, refuses to make any substantial changes.
The Commission said formal proceedings that could bring financial sanctions were “warranted”. In its report, the executive of the European Union said: “The opening of a procedure for excessive deficit based on the debt is therefore justified.” The next steps will be taken on December 3 and 4, when European finance ministers will meet to decide whether to act against Italy for violating a debt reduction rule (Al Jazeera)
UK: A British PhD student has been sentenced to life in prison after being found guilty of spying in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Matthew Hedges, 31, of Durham University, always denied the charge saying he had been conducting research. A court in Abu Dhabi has declared him guilty of “spying for or on behalf of” the UK government. His family claim the verdict is based on a false confession.
The PM said the UK was urgently seeking talks with the Emirati government.
Theresa May said Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt was “seeking a call with Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed”.
Mr Hunt said he was “deeply shocked and disappointed” by the verdict. (BBC)
Thursday 22 November 2018
UK: Theresa May has hailed the draft agreement on post-Brexit relations as “right for the whole of the UK” and insisted a deal “is within our grasp”.
London and Brussels have already agreed the draft terms of the UK’s exit from the EU on 29 March 2019. “The negotiations are now at a critical moment and all our efforts must be focused on working with our European partners to bring this process to a final conclusion in the interests of all our people,” said the PM. Tensions remain over some parts of the withdrawal agreement.
Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, has said his government is “annoyed” that the divorce agreement does not specify that Gibraltar’s future must be decided directly by officials in Madrid and London – and France is understood to have sought amendments to the wording on fishing rights in UK waters.
Mrs May said she had spoken to Mr Sanchez and was “confident that on Sunday we will be able to agree a deal for the whole of the United Kingdom family including Gibraltar” – and that the UK’s sovereignty over the territory was not under threat. (BBC)
Khashoggi’s case: A transparent and credible investigation into the killing of Khashoggi has not yet been completed, Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s foreign affairs chief, said on Thursday, after talks with Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
Speaking at a joint news conference with EU Commissioner Johannes Hahn and Cavusoglu in Ankara, Mogherini also said she was completely against any application of the death penalty. Denmark has decided to suspend approvals of weapon and military equipment exports to Saudi Arabia over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the situation in Yemen, its foreign minister said on Thursday.
The decision was taken after recent discussions with other foreign ministers in the European Union, he added.
The suspension also includes some dual-use technologies, a reference to materials that might have military applications. (Al Jazeera)
Tunisia: Tunisian civil servants have gone on strike around the country to protest the failure of negotiations with the government for wage increases, amid plunging buying power and soaring inflation.
About 650,000 public sector workers were joined by thousands of other people across Tunisia on Thursday to protest the government’s refusal to raise wages amid threats from international lenders to stop financing Tunisia’s tattered economy.
Thousands gathered in front of parliament with chants of “shame on the government” and calls to be given their “rights.” (Al Jazeera)
Yemen: The UN special envoy to Yemen is expected to arrive in the Yemeni city of Hodeidah as part of his renewed push for peace, as sporadic fighting continued in the strategic port city. Martin Griffiths is spearheading the biggest push in two years to get the warring parties to join the upcoming peace negotiations aimed at ending almost four years of devastating conflict. (Al Jazeera)
Friday 23 November 2018
UK: Theresa May has said the UK will not get a “better deal” from the EU if MPs reject the agreement she has struck.
She told a BBC phone-in that there would be just “more division and uncertainty” if Parliament voted against the agreement next month. But she declined to say whether the UK would be better off outside the EU, saying only it would be “different”.
A summit of EU leaders to sign off the deal will go ahead on Sunday despite “unresolved” issues over Gibraltar. (BBC)