Weekly News 21 – 25 January 2019 | Mediterranean Affairs


Monday, 21 January 2019

Syria: The Israel Defense Forces say the overnight operation targeted the elite Quds Force of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, as well as Syrian air defences. The IDF rarely admits carrying out attacks inside Syria but it announced the start of Monday’s strikes on the Quds Force in a tweet. A statement issued later said Israeli fighter jets had hit munition storage sites, a site located in Damascus International Airport, an Iranian intelligence site and an Iranian military training camp. The Syrian military says it shot down most of the Israeli missiles but a monitoring group reported that at least 11 pro-government fighters were killed. The IDF says it acted after the Quds Force fired a rocket from Syria towards the occupied Golan Heights on Sunday. Iran, Israel’s arch-enemy, has sent thousands of military personnel to support Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s civil war. (BBC)

Yemen: The Arab coalition on Sunday said the Houthi militia are in possession of Iranian-made drones “Shahed 129” and are using residential areas to hide the aircraft. On Saturday night, the Arab coalition destroyed seven Houthi drone facilities in Sanaa in an airstrike. Addressing a press conference in Riyadh on Sunday, coalition spokesman Col. Turki Al-Maliki said the attack followed an extensive intelligence-gathering operation that monitored movements of the Houthi militia and helped identify the Iranian-backed group’s operational and logistical infrastructure. Targets included drone storage areas, manufacturing and repair workshops, and launch platforms, as well as training facilities for terrorist operations, he said. (Arab News)

Sudan: President Bashir on Sunday reiterated claims that foreign “agents” and Darfur region rebels are fomenting dissent. In a speech south of the capital on Sunday, the president blamed “infiltrators” for the killings. “There are some people among the protesters who are killing the demonstrators,” he reportedly said. Officials say 26 people have died in the protests, but rights groups say more than 40 have been killed. (BBC)

Mediterranean: At least 170 people are feared dead after they went missing from two separate shipwrecks on the Mediterranean Sea that left from Libya and Morocco, the United Nations said. “Some 53 people have died on the Alborán Sea, western Mediterranean, according to recent information from NGO sources,” the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said in a statement on Saturday. (CNN)

Afghanistan: The Taliban have launched a major attack on an Afghan military compound in central Maidan Wardak province, officials have said, with some putting the death toll at more than 100 people. This incident is the latest in a series of deadly attacks in recent months by the Taliban, which has seized control of about half of Afghanistan. The Afghan authorities said the attack started on Monday morning, when a US-made armoured Humvee vehicle was driven into the compound and blown up. Gunmen also opened fire, before being killed by security forces. (The Guardian)

Syria: A car bomb has targeted a joint convoy of US and allied Kurdish forces in northeastern Syria, marking the second attack against US forces in less than a week. There were no casualties in Monday’s attack in al-Shaddadi, a town in Hasakah governorate, according to US military Colonel Sean Ryan. (Al Jazeera)

Egypt: A court in Egypt sentenced a TV journalist to 12 months’ jail time on Sunday for “promoting homosexuality” after he interviewed a gay man, state-run media reported. Mohammed al-Gheiti was also accused of “contempt of religion” after inviting the guest onto his show, according to Egypt’s state-run Al-Ahram website. (CNN)

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

France: A barrage of vitriolic comments levelled at France and its president have pushed Franco-Italian relations to the brink as Italy’s ruling populist parties kick off their European election campaign with no holds barred. The gravity of the accusations levelled at France, a neighbour and ally that is also Italy’s second most important trade partner, has shocked many Italian observers and embarrassed top officials, including President Sergio Mattarella and his prime minister, Giuseppe Conte. (France 24)

Italy: France has summoned Italy’s ambassador after the Italian deputy prime minister accused the French of exploiting Africa and fuelling migration. On Sunday, Luigi di Maio called on the European Union to impose sanctions on France for its policies in Africa. He said France had “never stopped colonising tens of African states”. As Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte tried to soothe the row on Tuesday, highlighting the two countries’ “solid friendship”, right-wing Interior Minister Matteo Salvini appeared to intensify it, condemning France’s Emmanuel Macron as a “terrible president”. (BBC)

Germany, France: A follow-up pact to the Elysee Treaty marks the latest gesture of friendship between France and Germany. The new bilateral pact pledges deeper cooperation between the two nations and paves the way for EU reforms. French President Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday signed a new friendship treaty that is designed to deepen the Franco-German friendship, bring ties to a “new level” and improve the lives of citizens in both countries. The Treaty of Aachen will be the “foundation of cooperation between our countries,” said Merkel before the signing the new friendship pact. (Deutsche Welle)

UK: The scale of no-deal panic gripping major companies has been thrown into sharp focus by a series of damage-limitation announcements, as corporate Britain signalled it is running out of patience with Westminster gridlock. Sir James Dyson, the Brexit-backing billionaire, dealt a further blow to the government by revealing he is shifting his company headquarters to Singapore in a move that drew sharp criticism. (The Guardian)

Palestine: A Palestinian man has been killed in an Israeli air attack in eastern Gaza, according to the Gaza health ministry. Mahmoud al-Nabahin, 24, was killed while two other Palestinians were wounded, one of whom is in critical condition. According to local media, Tuesday’s attack was carried out moments after an Israeli soldier was wounded when a bullet hit his helmet. The Israeli military claims the bullet came from protesters inside the besieged enclave. (Al Jazeera)

Wednesday, 23 January 2019

Saudi Arabia: Gulf Arab economies will grow at a slower pace than previously forecast as oil output cuts, lower crude prices, and weaker global growth put pressure on regional economies. According to a quarterly Reuters poll of 22 economists, gross domestic product in Saudi Arabia, the largest Gulf Arab economy and the world’s largest oil exporter, will grow 2.1 percent in 2019 and 2.2 percent in 2020. Three months ago, the forecasts were for growth of 2.5 percent in 2019 and 3.0 percent in 2020. (Al Jazeera)

Yemen: According to the UN, about two-thirds of the population, 19 million, lack access to clean water in Yemen a, of the war-torn country do not have access to safe drinking water. Potable water has become increasingly hard to come by in Yemen since the war started in 2015, highlighted by the nation’s cholera outbreak. International aid agencies have asked for more help, as well as a long-term political solution, but millions of Yemenis are struggling as the conflict continues. (Al Jazeera)

Spain: A man is reported to be in a critical condition after being hit by a car as he was participating in a Madrid roadblock organized by taxi drivers. The open-ended taxi strike in Madrid entered its second day after the main industry associations and regional authorities failed to reach an agreement on more stringent regulations for online ride-hailing services such as Uber and Cabify. In Barcelona, taxi drivers continued a stoppage that began last Friday over new regulations covering VTC (vehicle for hire) licenses. Several violent incidents have been reported during the protests. More than 26,000 taxi drivers are participating in the stoppages in Madrid and Barcelona. (El País)

Palestine: Palestinians and activists have attempted to block a newly opened road in the occupied West Bank dubbed “apartheid road”. Dozens of protesters on Wednesday temporarily sealed the gates to the first operational section of the eastern ring road around Jerusalem. Two protesters have been arrested, and four others suffered injuries as Israeli forces attempted to reopen the road, local media reported. For Israeli settlers, the road has granted them quicker and easier access to and from the city. (Al Jazeera)

Thursday, 24 January 2019

EU: Amid growing pressure by Latin American presidents to recognise the self-proclaimed president of Venezuela, opposition leader Juan Guaidó, the EU remains reluctant to follow the steps of the US and instead called on Thursday for “free and fair elections”. (Euractiv)

Iran: Authorities arrested more than 7,000 dissidents last year in a sweeping crackdown that led to hundreds being jailed or flogged, at least 26 protesters being killed, and nine people dying in custody amid suspicious circumstances, according to Amnesty International. Those rounded up during violent dispersals of peaceful protests in what Amnesty called “a year of shame for Iran” included journalists, lawyers, minority rights activists and women who protested against being forced to wear headscarves. (The Guardian)

Italy: A special tribunal has recommended that Interior Minister Matteo Salvini face trial for refusing to let 150 migrants disembark last year from a rescue ship docked in Sicily, the far-right leader said on Thursday. The court, which reviews investigations involving government ministers, overturned a previous recommendation by prosecutors to drop the politically charged case. “I risk between 3 and 15 years in jail for having blocked illicit migrants from coming to Italy. I am speechless,” Salvini wrote on Twitter. “I ask the Italian people: Should I continue to be the minister, exercising my rights and duties, or should I

ask this or that court to (decide) immigration policy?” Following the court move, Italy’s upper-house Senate will now be called on to decide whether Salvini can be tried. (France 24)

Spain: Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez (PSOE) is being pressured to take a stand on the ongoing crisis in Venezuela. At the World Economic Forum underway in Davos, Switzerland, several Latin American leaders called on Sánchez to officially recognize Guaidó as the new president of Venezuela. Sánchez was told that backing from Spain could play a big role in determining the European Union’s position. Back home, several opposition parties have also asked the PM to show support for Guaidó. Sánchez is waiting for the EU to adopt a common position, but in the meantime he placed a telephone call to Guaidó to convey his “empathy for your courage” in this attempt “to represent the will of Venezuelans,” he told journalists in Davos. (El País)

Germany: German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that Berlin and the European Union support holding fresh elections in Venezuela after opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself the country’s interim leader. “We are not neutral,” Maas told DW’s Oliver Sallet in New York City, adding that Germany “stands on the side of Guaido” as Nicolas Maduro “is not a democratically legitimate president.” (Deutsche Welle)

Friday, 25 January 2019

Iraq: France’s yellow vest protests inspire Iraqi protesters. Iraq’s city of Basra has been facing protests against corruption and poor services for months. Demonstrators now say they want to get more organised and unite with other groups. Now, they are embracing a movement that began in France. (Al Jazeera)

Sudan: Sudan’s main opposition leader Sadiq al-Mahdi has called on President Omar al-Bashir to step down, throwing his support behind anti-government demonstrators that started nearly five weeks ago. “This regime has to go immediately,” al-Mahdi, 83, told hundreds of worshippers at a mosque in Omdurman on Friday, the twin city of the capital Khartoum, which has seen near-daily anti-government protests. Al-Mahdi said since protests erupted on December 19 “more than 50 people” had been killed in the crackdown.

Officials say 30 people have died in the protests, however, rights groups have put the death toll at more than 40. (Al Jazeera)

Greece: Greece’s parliament voted on Friday in favor of a deal to end a diplomatic dispute with the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) that has plagued relations for nearly 30 years. The Greek government had been under immense public pressure to back down from the agreement, which will allow its neighbor to change its name from the FYROM to the Republic of North Macedonia. Amid widespread protests, the Greek parliament has ratified a deal that would allow Macedonia to pursue EU membership. Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras hailed the ratification as a “historic day.” Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev sent his congratulations via Twitter. (Deutsche Welle)

Italy: Three years after the disappearance, torture and murder of Italian doctoral student Giulio Regeni in Cairo, Egypt is stonewalling Italy’s efforts to investigate. In November, Italian prosecutors officially named five members of Egypt’s security services as subject to investigation in the case of Regeni, who went missing on 25 January 2016 aged 28. But two months on, Egypt has barely acknowledged the development. (The Guardian)

Egypt: Egyptians are facing an unprecedented attack on freedom of expression. The Authorities detained at least 113 people in 2018 for peacefully expressing their views, Amnesty International said in a statement on Thursday. It added that the country has become more dangerous than at any time in recent history for anyone openly criticising the government. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi denies the existence of political prisoners in Egypt, arguing that everyone in detention is facing legal proceedings. (Al Jazeera)

Gaza: Qatar will adopt a new formula for getting aid into Gaza after the Palestinian enclave’s rulers Hamas rejected a cash injection over unacceptable Israeli conditions on allowing it through. The Qatari ambassador to the Gaza Strip, Mohammed al-Emadi, said on Friday his country would now channel millions of dollars in humanitarian projects “in full coordination with the United Nations”. A first package of agreements, worth $20m, will be signed with the United Nations on Monday, he told reporters in Gaza City. The latest development comes as fresh clashes erupted in the Gaza-Israel buffer zone between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces, leaving at least one person dead. (Al Jazeera)