Weekly News 21 – 26 May 2018 | Mediterranean Affairs
Monday 21 May 2018
Israel: Paraguay officially moved its country’s embassy to Jerusalem on Monday, with President Horacio Cartes in Israel for the ceremony, also attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Paraguay is now the third country to move its embassy to Jerusalem, following the United States and Guatemala. The inauguration ceremony took place at noon at the embassy’s new home in the Malkha technology park, which also houses the Guatemalan embassy. (Haaretz)
Iran: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said the US is imposing the “strongest sanctions in history” on Iran.
His Iranian counterpart said the US was a prisoner of its “failed policies” and would suffer the consequences. The secretary of state did not say what new measures Washington was contemplating but he described sanctions imposed last week on the head of Iran’s central bank as “just the beginning”. (BBC)
Italy: The country’s two populist parties – the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S), and the anti-migrant League – announced a joint agreement naming Giuseppe Conte, 53, a lawyer and M5S member, as the next leader of the eurozone’s third largest economy, after Matteo Salvini of the League, and Luigi Di Maio, of the M5S, ruled themselves out. Conte still requires the blessing of Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella, who met with Salvini and Di Maio on Monday evening. Given Conte’s lack of political experience, analysts on Monday said decisions on key ministerial positions would probably reveal the government’s intentions. (The Guardian)
Syria: The Syrian military has declared that it has taken full control of all areas around the capital, Damascus, for the first time in six years.
The announcement came after troops cleared Islamic State (IS) militants from the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp and the Hajar al-Aswad district.
Some jihadists are reported to have been evacuated by bus to eastern Syria. (BBC)
Tuesday 22 May 2018
Palestine: The Palestinians have asked prosecutors at the International Criminal Court to launch a full investigation into alleged Israeli human rights abuses. Foreign Minister Riad Malki submitted a so-called “referral”, which he said detailed evidence of crimes committed on occupied Palestinian territory. He is hoping to persuade the ICC to move beyond a preliminary examination which prosecutors started in 2015.
Israel dismissed Mr Malki’s move as a “cynical step without legal validity”.
Mr Malki’s submission to ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda came after more than 100 Palestinians were killed and 10,000 injured by Israeli troops during six weeks of protests along the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel. (BBC)
Wednesday 23 May 2018
Egypt: Abbas has been arrested by Egyptian authorities after an early morning raid at his home, the latest in a new wave of arrests since elections earlier this year.
Egyptian security officials confirmed his arrest on Wednesday, saying that the blogger, who is known for criticising the government, was taken from his home in a Cairo suburb. Abbas was detained on accusations that include disseminating false news and joining an outlawed group, added the official who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media. (Al Jazeera)
Lebanon: Parliamentarians in Lebanon overwhelmingly re-elected a politician with close ties to Hezbollah as speaker for a sixth term at the assembly’s first session since the May 6 parliamentary vote. Shia politician Nabih Berri, a main ally of the Iran-backed militia, received 98 votes out of the 128 parliamentarians on Wednesday. Berri has been the assembly’s speaker since 1992.
Elie Ferzli, another Hezbollah ally, was elected deputy speaker – reflecting a shift in Lebanon’s political landscape in favour of the armed group. The parliamentary election, the first in nine years, saw 917 candidates from multiple parties compete for Lebanon’s 128-seat national assembly.
The vote, devised under a new proportional list system that divided the country into 15 electoral constituencies, was marked by low voter turnout – 49.2 percent.(Al Jazeera)
Ukraine: Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, received a secret payment of at least $400,000 to fix talks between the Ukrainian president and President Trump, according to sources in Kiev close to those involved.
The payment was arranged by intermediaries acting for Ukraine’s leader, Petro Poroshenko, the sources said, though Mr Cohen was not registered as a representative of Ukraine as required by US law. The meeting at the White House was last June.
Shortly after the Ukrainian president returned home, his country’s anti-corruption agency stopped its investigation into Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort. (BBC)
Thursday 24 May 2018
Russia: The missile that downed a Malaysia Airlines flight over eastern Ukraine in 2014 belonged to a Russian brigade, international investigators say.
For the first time, the Dutch-led team said the missile had come from a unit based in western Russia. All 298 people on board the Boeing 777 died when it broke apart in mid-air flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. It was hit by a missile fired from rebel-held territory in Ukraine. Russia says none of its weapons was used. (BBC)
Sweden: Sweden has passed a new law saying that sex without consent is rape, even when there are no threats or force involved. The new law, due to come into effect on 1 July, says a person must give clear consent, verbal or physical.
Prosecutors will no longer need to prove violence or that the victim was in a vulnerable situation in order to establish rape. With the new legislation, approved in parliament by 257 votes against 38, Sweden joins other European countries like the United Kingdom and Germany where sex without consent is considered rape. (BBC)
Spain: The former treasurer of Spain’s governing People’s Party has been given a 33-year jail sentence over one of the country’s biggest corruption scandals.
The High Court in Madrid convicted Luis Barcenas of receiving bribes, money laundering and tax crimes.
The case centred on a secret campaign fund the conservative People’s Party ran from 1999 until 2005.
Barcenas was among 29 officials and businessmen convicted of securing bribes for municipal contracts.
The lynchpin, businessman Francisco Correa, was sentenced to 51 years in prison. (BBC)
Friday 26 May 2018
France: France has detained two former foreign intelligence agents on suspicion of spying for China, French media report.
The ex-DGSE agents are suspected of “extremely serious” treason on behalf of a foreign power, LCI news reports, quoting the French defence ministry.
Sources quoted by French media link them to China. French officials did not name the country concerned. One ex-agent’s wife is also under suspicion.
The suspects were charged in December, but this has only now come to light. (BBC)
Ireland: “Do you approve of the proposal to amend the constitution? The amended text would read: “Provision may be made by law for the regulation of termination of pregnancy”: this is what has been asked to Ireland’s voters to back the repeal of article 40.3.3, which since 1983 has effectively prohibited abortion in almost all cases. The exit poll suggested the victory for the Yes side in the referendum would be 68 per cent to 32 per cent.
As it stands, the Yes vote is now at 67.3 per cent. (The Irish Times)
U.K.: The Duke of Cambridge is to visit Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan in the summer.
His five day trip will begin in Amman, the capital of Jordan, on Sunday 24 June and end in Jerusalem.
He will also visit the Jordanian city of Jerash, Tel Aviv in Israel and the Palestinian city of Ramallah.
It will be the first official tour of Israel or the Palestinian areas by a member of the Royal Family on behalf of the British government. (BBC)
Saturday 26 May 2018
Egypt’s top administrative court ruled on Saturday that regulators must block the video file-sharing site YouTube for one month over a video that denigrates the Prophet Mohammad, a lawyer who filed the case told Reuters. A lower administrative court had ordered that the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology block YouTube, owned by Google, in 2013 over the video, but the case was appealed and its ruling stayed during the appeal process. The ministry at the time said it would be impossible to enforce the ruling without also disrupting Google’s Internet search engine, incurring potentially huge costs and job losses in the Arab world’s most populous country. (Reuters)
Lebanon: Lebanon expressed concern to Syria on Saturday over a new law aimed at redeveloping areas devastated by seven years of war, saying the initiative could hinder the return of many Syrian refugees to their homeland. Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil wrote in a letter to his Syrian counterpart Walid al-Moualem that the terms of “Law 10” could make it difficult for refugees to prove property ownership, and in turn discourage some from returning. (Reuters)