Weekly News 25 – 29 June 2018 | Mediterranean Affairs


Monday, 25 June 2018

Turkey: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was proclaimed the winner early Monday of a landmark election that ushers in a government system granting the president sweeping new powers and which critics say will cement what they call a one-man rule. The presidential vote and a parliamentary election, both held more than a year early, completed NATO-member Turkey’s transition from a parliamentary system to a presidential one, a process started with a voter referendum last year. “The nation has entrusted to me the responsibility of the presidency and the executive duty,” Erdogan said in televised remarks from Istanbul after a near-complete count carried by the state-run Anadolu news agency gave him the majority needed to avoid a runoff. (TIME)

Yemen: Forces backed by a Saudi-led coalition have killed eight members of Lebanon’s Hezbollah group in Yemen in battles with the Iran-aligned Houthis, the coalition said on Monday. (Reuters)

Migration: Nearly a thousand migrants were rescued on Sunday by the Libyan coastguard and ten bodies recovered from the sea. Mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, the 948 migrants had taken to sea in three inflatable boats with hopes of reaching Europe. Since last week almost two thousand migrants have been brought back to Libya. A few of the thousands of migrants in the North African state who have beeen determined to be refugees by the UN’s refugee agency have been sent to Niger on Libya’s southern border. (euronews)

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said Monday that hotspots for asylum seekers trying to enter Europe should be at Libya’s southern, rather than in Italy. “Reception hotspots in Italy? It would be a problem for Italy and for Libya itself because the death fluxes would not stop,” Salvini, who was on a visit to Tripoli, said via Twitter.Libyan Deputy Premier Ahmed Maiteeq uled out the prospect of the North African country hosting camps for asylum-seekers inside its territory. “We categorically reject (the idea of) camps for migrants in Libya,” Maiteeq told a joint press conference following with Salvini. “It is not allowed by Libyan law”. (ANSA)

European Union: The European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs (LIBE) recommended on Monday (June 25) triggering an Article 7 procedure against Hungary for breaching the fundamental values of the Union under Viktor Orbán’s rule. (Euractive)

Libya: Eastern Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar’s forces have handed control of oil ports to a state oil firm based in the east, a military spokesman said on Monday. If implemented, the move would create uncertainty for buyers of Libyan oil who normally go through state oil firm NOC in the capital Tripoli, the internationally-recognized entity. There was no immediate comment from NOC. In comments later confirmed to Reuters, Ahmed Mismari, spokesman of Haftar’s Libya National Army (LNA), said on television that no tanker would be allowed to dock at eastern ports without permission from a NOCentity based in Benghazi. (Reuters)

Tuesday 26 June 2018

Syria: Syrian state news agency SANA said two Israeli missiles hit in the vicinity of Damascus international airport in the early hours of Tuesday morning, without giving further details. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said Syrian air defense systems failed to intercept the missiles. The Britain-based war monitor said an explosion heard at 1 a.m. (2200 GMT Monday) near the airport was caused by missiles fired by Israeli planes from the direction of the Golan Heights. “It targeted weapons depots and warehouses belonging to non-Syrian militias loyal to the (Syrian) regime,” the Observatory said, adding it had no information about casualties or damage. Iran is a key ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and backs a number of militias, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah, fighting in support of Assad. Israel, concerned that Iran’s growing presence in Syria is a threat to its safety, has struck dozens of Iranian and Iran-backed positions in Syria over the course of the seven-year conflict. (Reuters)

Yemen: Air strikes and artillery fire killed 55 people near Yemen’s Hudaida, medical sources and residents said Tuesday, as the UAE insisted Houthi rebels pull out of the key port city. Hodeida port has been held by the Iran-backed Houthis since 2014, when the rebels drove the government out of the capital and seized control of territory across northern Yemen and the Red Sea coastline. On June 13, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and their allies in a pro-government regional coalition launched a major offensive to retake the port, through which nearly three quarters of Yemen’s imports flow. (The Daily Star)

European Union: The European Union will start accession negotiations with Albania and Macedonia, pending progress towards reforms, EU countries decided on Tuesday. The deal was confirmed to German news agency DPA by diplomatic sources after talks on Tuesday among the bloc’s European affairs ministers. Some member states expressed concerns about corruption and the rule of law in the two EU hopefuls. Others have pushed to bring the six Western Balkan countries into the EU fold to bolster the bloc’s influence in the region. Germany’s European affairs minister, Michael Roth, said that Albania and Macedonia have made “remarkable progress in the area of rule of law and the independence of the judiciary.” (DW)

Israel: Israel’s energy minister said on Tuesday after meeting Trump administration officials he is confident that the United States will not relax non-proliferation standards in any nuclear power deal it agrees with Saudi Arabia. Israel vehemently opposes any effort by the Saudi Arabia to relax “gold standard” non-proliferation limits on enriching uranium or reprocessing nuclear fuel in any deal between the two countries, Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s energy minister, told Reuters in an interview. (Reuters)

Cyprus: Cyprus said Tuesday it is examining an Israeli request to build a port facility on the island for the delivery of goods to Palestinians of the blockaded Gaza Strip. “There is no agreement on this issue” but “there is a relevant request that is under consideration”, deputy government spokeswoman Klelia Vassiliou told reporters. According to Israeli media, Israel’s Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman made the proposal for the Palestinian territory during a visit last week to the eastern Mediterranean island. Under the plan, a special pier would be constructed for cargo ships carrying goods bound for Gaza, around 400 kilometres from Cyprus. “They would be checked with the help of an Israeli monitoring mechanism to ensure that no weapons were being smuggled” into Gaza, controlled by the Islamist movement Hamas, the Jerusalem Post newspaper said. (The Daily Star)

Greece: Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras shrugged off the resignation of a lawmaker from his fragile governing coalition on Tuesday that left the government with a wafer-thin majority. “I am not worried at all,” he said after a member of parliament from his junior coalition partner quit in protest at an agreement struck with neighbouring Macedonia to resolve a dispute over the country’s name. (Reuters)

Wednesday 27 June 2018

Morocco: The Moroccan leader of protests over economic and social problems in the Rif region and the northern city of Al Hoceima was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Tuesday by a Casablanca court. Nasser Zefzafi, who is about 39 years old, was arrested in May 2017 and transferred to a prison in Casablanca after organising demonstrations in his hometown of Al Hoceima in what came to be called as “Hirak al Chaabi” in Arabic or “popular movement.” He was charged with undermining public order and threatening national unity. As part of the same verdict, Nabil Ahmijeq, Wassim El Boustani and Samir Aghid were also given 20 years in prison while three others received a 15-year jail sentence. (Reuters)

Libya: Unidentified armed men attacked the Tripoli residence of one of Libya’s deputy prime ministers hours after he expressed sympathy for a move by eastern factions to take control of oil ports, the justice ministry said on Wednesday. The house used by Fathi al-Majbari, part of the leadership of the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), was attacked late on Tuesday, triggering reports that he had been abducted. “He was not kidnapped or detained but there was a physical struggle,” said a source close to Majbari who asked not to be identified because of security concerns. “His guard is seriously wounded and is being treated in hospital.” The source said the attack was probably linked to Majbari’s written statement hours earlier expressing understanding for a move by the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) to hand oil ports to a parallel National Oil Corporation (NOC) in the east, rather than the internationally recognised NOC in Tripoli. (Reuters)

Turkey: Turkey accused the European Union on Wednesday of hypocrisy and inconsistency in a report that says Ankara is “moving further away” from the bloc and its membership bid is at a standstill. The report, endorsed by EU ministers in Luxembourg on Tuesday, came two days after President Tayyip Erdogan won a fresh five-year term, and with it sweeping new executive powers under a constitutional overhaul. The EU, concerned that Turkey is moving towards one-man rule, has not congratulated Erdogan on his victory, though the leaders of some member states including Germany and France have done so. The EU’s executive Commission said on Monday it hoped Turkey would remain a committed partner. (Reuters)

Italy/EU: Italy’s incoming right-wing populist prime minister has used his maiden speech to call for the lifting of sanctions against Russia, opening a rift with the country’s EU allies on the issue. Giuseppe Conte, who leads a coalition of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and far-right League, said his government would “promote a review of the sanctions system” in meetings with other EU leaders. (The Independent)

Palestina: It was one of the most politically sensitive visits yet undertaken by the prince, on a day which took him from the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv to the hilltop offices of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the occupied West Bank. William, who is second in line to the throne, received red-carpet treatment as he inspected an honour guard at the Muqata, Abbas’s headquarters. “My sentiments are the same as yours in hoping that there is a lasting peace in the region,” the prince told Abbas. (BBC News)

Malta:  Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said seven European Union countries had offered to share the burden of the migrants with Malta. The Lifeline ship, operated by German charity Mission Lifeline, arrived at about 1740 GMT. “Lifeline will be granted permission to enter a Maltese port, where procedures for identification, ascertaining their asylum eligibility, and distribution to other member states will start immediately,” Muscat told reporters earlier on Wednesday. “The Maltese government took the lead on a solution before the situation escalated to a humanitarian crisis,” he added, emphasising, however, that the small island nation was not legally bound to take in the vessel. (Reuters)

Thursday 28 June 2018

Turkey: President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ally Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahçeli agreed not to extend the state of emergency, local media reported. Erdoğan and Bahçeli discussed the emergency rule issue on June 27 during their first in-person meeting after the June 24 polls in which the “People’s Alliance,” formed by Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP), and the MHP won a parliamentary majority. The state of emergency was first imposed on July 20, 2016, five days after a bloody coup attempt in Turkey. It has been extended every three months since then. (Hurryet Daily News)

Lebanon: The repatriations come amid a row between the Lebanese government and the U.N.’s refugee agency, which Beirut accuses of trying to discourage refugees from returning home. UNHCR has rejected the charges. Lebanon hosts around 1 million registered Syrian refugees, or roughly a quarter of the population, and officials have warned the country can no longer afford the strain on the fragile economy. (The Washington Post)

Egypt/Italy: The investigation into the torture and murder of Giulio Regeni, the Cambridge doctoral student who was killed in Cairo more than two years ago, faced another setback this week after prosecutors said video surveillance of the metro station where he was last seen contained unexplained gaps and no images of the Italian student. (The Guardian)

France: France said a government offensive in southwest Syria carried the risk of destabilising the region and called on Russia to abide by commitments it had made last year to ensure a “de-escalation” zone in the area. “France is extremely concerned about the offensive conducted by the Syrian regime and its supporters in southwest Syria. These attacks carry a risk of escalation and regional destabilisation,” French foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said in a statement on Thursday. “France calls on Russia to enforce the commitments it made with regard to the ceasefire in southwestern Syria.” (Reuters)

Syria: The Syrian army battled rebels in an important town in southwest Syria on Thursday, a media unit run by its ally Hezbollah and a war monitor said, as intensifying air strikes killed dozens of people in the area. President Bashar al-Assad has sworn to take back every inch of Syria, and recapturing the southwest, one of the first hotbeds of the uprising against him, would leave rebels with only one remaining stronghold, in the northwest. (Reuters)

European Union: France and Italy reached a preliminary agreement on Thursday on a proposal on migration that would lead to processing centres in willing European Union states, although the deal lacked support from other EU states, officials said. French officials announced the initial deal after heated talks on migration at an EU summit in Brussels. But Malta, Spain and the Netherlands, who were initially said to be in favour, later rejected it, according to three diplomats. An Italian government source said Rome would accept the agreement on migrant centres only if all EU states accepted it and if those centres were set up in several EU states. Now most migrants coming from Africa arrive in Italy. Under the preliminary deal, ‘controlled centres’ would process asylum requests of migrants. A few minutes after the French diplomats reported the agreement, an Italian government source said Italy would still block an overall deal on migration if it did not include reform of EU asylum rules, known as the Dublin regulation, a sharing of responsibility and costs on rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean and more EU funds for Africa. (Reuters)

The EU leaders agreed “in substance” on Thursday (28 June) on a set of proposals to improve the World Trade Organisation, which should pave the way for finding common ground with US President Donald Trump and de-escalating the ongoing trade dispute. But Italy blocked their formal adoption until the migration issue was fully addressed. Part of the reforms discussed by the EU leaders at a summit in Brussels mirrored longstanding demands made by the US to modernise the WTO, including improving the Appellate Body. Washington had complained that the body is too slow in dealing with trade disputes, as the Boeing-Airbus case between Washington and the EU proved. (EurActiv)

Friday 29 June 2018

EU/China: China recognises that there are worries about its cooperation with Central and Eastern European countries, but is not seeking to undermine the European Union, a senior Chinese diplomat said on Friday ahead of a leaders’ summit in Bulgaria. China has courted central and eastern European states, including with annual summits, which has fed concern in Western European capitals that Beijing is seeking to divide the continent and complaints about Beijing’s push for control of joint investment projects. Speaking as Chinese Premier Li Keqiang gets ready to go to this year’s “16+1” summit between China and Central and Eastern European countries in Sofia next week, Vice Foreign Minister Wang Chao said he was aware of the concerns, and gave assurances of China’s support for European integration. (Reuters)

European Union: EU leaders reached a much-needed deal on steps to tackle migration after resolving a bitter row with Italy’s inexperienced prime minister. Extended talks lasted through the night and only wrapped up on Friday morning (29 June). Europe’s leaders got the bitter taste of what anti-system diplomacy, or creative disruption means. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who heads Italy’s month-old populist and anti-immigration government, took the entire summit as hostage. Conte blocked the summit conclusions in a bid to get his reluctant counterparts to share responsibility for asylum seekers landing on Italian shores. A summit ending without conclusions would have been a political disaster with unpredictable negative consequences for the EU bloc, so the stakes were high. (EurActiv)

The European Union has hardened its asylum policy, unveiling plans to set up processing centres in African countries to try to cut off the flow of migrants across the Mediterranean. Sebastian Kurz, the conservative Austrian chancellor in coalition with the far-right, hailed the change as a victory for anti-immigrant governments who blame the EU’s liberal asylum system for fuelling a migrant influx. “It seems as if today we will manage a shift in migration policy,” he said ahead of the summit. “That’s important because we have asked for a systemic change for years. For years we have demanded reductions in the number of people coming to Europe illegally. I think that is possible today.” (The Time)

Migration: The European Council reconfirms that a precondition for a functioning EU policy relies on a comprehensive approach to migration which combines more effective control of the EU’s external borders… This is a challenge not only for a single Member State, but for Europe as a whole. The European Council is determined… to prevent a return to the uncontrolled flows of 2015 and to further stem illegal migration on all existing and emerging routes. As regards the Central Mediterranean Route, efforts to stop smugglers operating out of Libya or elsewhere should be further intensified. The EU will continue to stand by Italy and other frontline Member States in this respect. (Reuters)

Libya: More than 100 migrants are feared to have drowned off Libya’s western coast after their overloaded boat capsized, coastguard officials said on Friday. (Reuters)