Weekly News 02 – 06 October 2017 | Mediterranean Affairs

Monday, 02 October 2017

Syria: More than 10 people have been killed in apparently coordinated blasts in the capital of Syria, Damascus, according to several sources. A car bomb went off near a police station in Damascus’ al-Midan neighbourhood on Monday, shortly before two suicide bombers detonated their explosive belts. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

Syrian state TV blamed two suicide bombers for a “terrorist explosion” in al-Midan area while the pro-government Al Mayadeen TV channel said four fighters carried out the attack, killing more than 10 people. The fighters targeted the police station in al-Midan and clashed with police officers there. (Al Jazeera)

Palestine: Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah arrived in the occupied Gaza Strip on Monday, in the latest effort at national reconciliation between the West Bank-based PA and the Hamas government in Gaza. In a press conference upon his arrival, Hamdallah described the visit as a “historic moment” towards unity of the Palestinian people. The visit is Hamdallah’s first to Gaza in two years. Hamdallah will also be visiting the Shujayea neighbourhood, where the Israeli army committed a massacre during the 2014 war on Gaza. An Egyptian security delegation led by the Egyptian ambassador to Israel, Hazem Khairat, will be monitoring the reconciliation process. (Al Jazeera)

Tuesday, 03 October 2017 

Egypt: Thirty-two men and one woman have now been detained since rainbow flags were displayed at a pop concert in Cairo last month, according to activists. Anal examinations have been reportedly carried out on five of those arrested. The flag-raising provoked a public outcry and prompted the public prosecutor to order an investigation. Homosexuality is not explicitly criminalised under Egyptian law. But the authorities routinely arrest people suspected of engaging in consensual homosexual conduct on charges of “debauchery”, “immorality” or “blasphemy”. (BBC)

Israel: Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has backed legislation that would in effect annex settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories that are home to between 125,000 and 150,000 Jewish people. In comments made at a meeting of his Likud party at the large settlement of Ma’ale Adumim, Netanyahu said he would support the “Greater Jerusalem” bill. The bill would annex 19 settlements around Jerusalem, placing them within the city’s municipal boundaries.

The legislation, drawn up by Yisrael Katz, a member of Likud and minister in Netanyahu’s coalition, is expected to be introduced in the winter session of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. (The Guardian)

Iraq: The Kurdish leader and former Iraqi President, Jalal Talabani, has died at the age of 83, Iraqi state TV said. Talabani was a veteran of the Kurdish struggle for an independent state and founded the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in 1975. In 2005 he became Iraq’s first non-Arab president and he stepped down in 2014. Although the post of president is largely ceremonial, while in office he helped mediate disputes among the country’s many political and religious factions. (BBC)

Spain: Several thousand demonstrators gathered outside the Barcelona headquarters of Spain’s national police force on Tuesday amid strikes in protest at police violence during the disputed referendum on Catalan independence. As Madrid comes under growing international pressure to resolve its worst political crisis in decades, the crowd gathered in the Catalan capital, chanting “independence”, calling Spanish police an “occupying force” and urging them to leave the region. The protest came as several small labour unions and grassroots pro-independence groups urged workers throughout Catalonia to go on partial or full-day strikes. (The Guardian)

Wednesday, 04 October 2017 

Netherlands: The Dutch defence minister, Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, has resigned over the deaths of two soldiers during a training exercise in Mali in 2016.

The soldiers died when a mortar grenade exploded unexpectedly during target practice. A third was gravely injured.The Dutch Safety Board said last week that the military had been using old, defective grenades that had not been tested or stored correctly. In its report, it said the shells had been bought in 2006 “with the help of the US Department of Defence amid a pressure of time”. The defence ministry did not follow its own procedures to check they were safe.

She had been expected to play a key role in Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s new government. General Tom Middendorp, the top Dutch military commander, also stepped down over the failures. (BBC)

Spain: Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont has attacked Spain’s King Felipe VI for “deliberately ignoring millions of Catalans”, after a disputed vote was held on independence.

He accused the king of adopting the Spanish government’s position. King Felipe made a TV address on Tuesday night, calling Sunday’s vote illegal and undemocratic. (BBC)

Syria: Russia says one of its air strikes in Syria has critically injured the leader of an al-Qaeda-linked jihadist alliance and 12 of his field commanders. The defence ministry cited its sources as confirming that Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani lost limbs in the attack in the north province of Idlib on Tuesday.

The strike came after Russia’s military learnt where Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) commanders were due to meet, it added. The jihadi group denied the claim, in a statement on its Telegram message app. (BBC)

Syria: A Russian airstrike has killed 38 civilians as they tried to cross the Euphrates river to escape fighting in eastern Syria’s Deir ez-Zor province, a monitor has said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, based in Britain, said nine children were among those killed as they tried to cross the river aboard rafts, escaping from areas where Russian-backed regime forces are battling the Islamic State group. The monitor, which earlier gave a toll of 20 in the strikes, said the dead included an Iraqi family. (The Guardian)

Thursday, 05 October 2017

Egypt: Egypt’s Ambassador to Italy, Hisham Badr, on Wednesday evening said Italy and Egypt “have a lot to work on” in terms of protecting their “economic, political, and security interests, but also cultural interests”, speaking at an event in Rome organised by the Egyptian Tourism Board. (ANSAmed)

Iraq: Iraq’s prime minister Haider al-Abadi says its military has retaken Hawija, the main town in one of the last two enclaves of so-called Islamic State in the country. The jihadist group still controls large parts of the valley in the neighbouring Syrian province of Deir al-Zour, but it is under pressure there from Syrian pro-government forces and a US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters. (BBC)

Spain: Spain’s Constitutional Court has suspended next Monday’s session of Catalan parliament, in a bid to pre-empt a possible push for independence. Earlier Prime Minister Mario Rajoy warned Catalonia’s regional government against declaring independence after a disputed vote last Sunday. Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont had indicated that he could make such a declaration at next week’s session. (BBC)

Friday, 06 October 2017

Ireland: Irish voters would reject any move to legalise abortion in all circumstances up to 22 weeks, an opinion poll has found.

As the prime minister, Leo Varadkar, and his minority Fine Gael government prepare to frame an abortion reform referendum scheduled for next year, it has emerged that only 24% of voters are in favour of legalising terminations in nearly all cases.

According to an Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI poll published on Friday, 57% of the Irish electorate would favour allowing abortion in cases of rape, fatal foetal abnormalities and when there is a real risk to a woman’s life. A clear majority – about 70% – would vote in favour of repealing the eighth amendment to the Irish Republic’s constitution, which gives equal rights to a foetus and a pregnant woman. (The Guardian)

Migration crisis: Greece must speed up winter preparations at refugee camps on islands in the Aegean Sea where there has been a sharp rise in arrivals, the United Nations refugee agency said on Friday. Nearly 5,000 refugees, mostly Syrian or Iraqi families, crossed from Turkey in September – a quarter of all arrivals this year, UNHCR data shows. (Reuters)

Spain: The Catalan chief of police, Josep Lluis Trapero, is appearing before a judge in Madrid on suspicion of sedition against the state. His Mossos d’Esquadra force is accused of failing to protect Spanish national police from protesters ahead of the 1 October independence referendum. The Catalan vote last Sunday was declared illegal under Spanish law. The Catalan parliament plans to meet on Monday despite a Spanish Constitutional Court order suspending the session. There is speculation that the session will be used to declare independence, based on Sunday’s disputed vote. (BBC)

The Catalan government will defy the Spanish constitutional court by going ahead with a parliamentary debate to discuss Sunday’s referendum result and potentially make a unilateral declaration of independence, the region’s foreign minister has said. But Catalonia’s foreign affairs minister, Raül Romeva, insisted the debate would go ahead regardless of the court’s decision. (The Guardian)

UK: Some cabinet ministers privately agree Theresa May should step aside, a former Conservative party chairman has said, as pressure grows on the prime minister to call a leadership election.

Grant Shapps, who served as Tory chair for nearly three years, has emerged as the ringleader of a backbench plot to force May to step down. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the solution to the leadership crisis was not “to bury our heads in the sand”. Shapps said he had the support of about 30 MPs, including five former cabinet ministers, and suggested some cabinet ministers privately agreed but would be reluctant to back him because they were on the “payroll”. (The Guardian)

Yemen: The United Nations has added a Saudi-led military coalition to a blacklist of child rights violators for causing the deaths and injuries of hundreds of children in war-torn Yemen.

The alliance, assembled by Saudi Arabia in 2015, was added on Thursday to the UN chief’s annual list of shame for killing and maiming 683 children and for 38 verified attacks on schools and hospitals during 2016. The UN annual report on children in armed conflict noted, however, that the coalition had “put in places measures during the reporting period to improve the protection of children”. The blacklist also named the Houthi rebel group as being responsible for killing or maiming of 414 children. In total, the document highlights the killing of 502 Yemeni children. It also says that that 838 children were wounded in 2016. (Al Jazeera)