Weekly News 25 March – 29 March 2019 | Mediterranean Affairs


Monday, 25 March 2019

Yemen: This week will mark the fourth anniversary of the start of the war in Yemen, which has not only killed tens of thousands of people and devastated the country, but left the country’s economy in tatters. Yemen’s economy has shrunk by 50 percent since 2015. More than two-thirds of small and medium businesses have laid off half their employees, and the price of food has increased by 112 percent. (Al Jazeera)

UK: The organisers of Saturday’s march demanding a fresh EU referendum, estimated to have drawn a crowd of more than 1 million people, have told MPs that it was too big to ignore. The Put it to the People protest was one of the biggest demonstrations in recent British history. (The Guardian)

Israel: Seven people were wounded Monday in the early morning after a house in central Israel was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, prompting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cut short his visit to Washington and return to Israel. (Haaretz)

Algeria: A senior official from Algeria’s ruling National Liberation Front (FLN) has withdrawn his support for President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s proposal to hold a national dialogue conference aimed at getting the country out of the current political deadlock. Hocine Khaldoun, FLN spokesman, told the private Dzair TV network on Sunday that the conference – which would see the participation of opposition parties and civil society actors and is aimed at reforming the constitution – will “not solve the problem”. (Al Jazeera)

Tuesday, 26 March 2019

Syria: The Kurdish-led administration in northern Syria has called for the creation of an international court to try thousands of suspected members of the Islamic State (IS) group. One official, Abdul Karim Omar, told the BBC they were struggling to cope with the thousands who emerged from the last IS enclave of Baghuz, in the east. (BBC)

Algeria: The head of Algeria’s army, Ahmed Gaid Salah, called for Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika to be declared “unfit to rule” during a televised address on Tuesday. (Middle East Eye)

Israel: Israel has carried out strikes on Hamas targets in Gaza, after a rocket attack on a house injured seven Israelis. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said the office of Hamas’s political leader and the group’s military intelligence headquarters were among the targets. Gaza’s health ministry said seven Palestinians were injured. Militants later launched a barrage of rockets towards southern Israeli towns despite reports of a ceasefire, triggering further Israeli strikes. (BBC)

EU: The European Parliament has passed its copyright reform. After more than two years of lobbying that involved everyone from Lady Gaga to the head of YouTube, EU lawmakers voted on Tuesday to approve the controversial overhaul with 348 votes in favor and 274 against. The outcome will subject platforms like YouTube and Facebook to a set of new obligations to strike licensing deals that will be put to the test in coming months as EU countries transpose the directive into national law, a process that allows for some margin of interpretation. (Politico)

Netherlands: A Dutch art detective has said he has recovered a valuable painting by Pablo Picasso 20 years after it was stolen from a wealthy Saudi Arabian’s yacht in France. (The Guardian)

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Israel: A Palestinian rocket struck Israel and the Israeli military conducted an air raid in Gaza despite a ceasefire announced by Hamas, but the exchange of fire appeared to end overnight on Wednesday. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups said “the rocket that hit near Ashkelon was the work of an individual and the factions are committed to calm”. (Al Jazeera)

Yemen: A charity has condemned an air strike near a hospital in rebel-held north-western Yemen that killed at least eight people, five of them children. A missile hit a petrol station 50m from the entrance of the Kitaf rural hospital on Tuesday morning, according to Save the Children. The blast also injured eight people. It was not clear who was behind the attack, but a Saudi-led coalition is carrying out air strikes in support of the government in Yemen’s civil war. (BBC)

UK: British PM Theresa May made her final roll of the dice offering to resign if MPs back her Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, in another tumultuous and confusing day in Westminster. May told Conservative MPs at a meeting of the 1922 committee of backbench Tories that she should not lead negotiations with the EU on agreeing a new deal on trade and political relations. The UK Prime Minister would then formally announce her resignation shortly after the UK formally leaves the European Union on 22 May, paving the way for a six week leadership contest in her governing Conservative party. (Euractiv)  

Libya: An aid group has warned of a “desperate and dangerous situation” in the Mediterranean Sea after authorities in Italy vowed to close their ports to a ship reportedly hijacked by rescued refugees and migrants. Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Matteo Salvini, Italy’s far-right interior minister, identified the ship as Elhiblu 1 and said the crew had rescued some 120 people in Libyan waters. Salvini said the tanker initially headed back to Tripoli, Libya’s capital, but six nautical miles from port it suddenly changed course heading north. On Wednesday evening, it was halfway between the Libyan coast and Malta, he added. (Al Jazeera)  

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Palestine: Almost 20 Palestinian rights groups – both regional and international – urged the United Nations to protect Gazans who participate in the anniversary of the “Great March of Return” protests this coming Saturday. In a letter sent to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Wednesday, the groups went on to issue an 11-point list of recommendations for the UN, including beefing up monitoring of Israel’s use of force on the protests, demanding accountability and making sure Israel adheres to the Geneva Convention. (Middle East Eye)

Syria: The Syrian military said Israel on Wednesday launched raids on an industrial zone in the northern city of Aleppo, causing damage only to materials, while opposition sources said the attack hit Iranian ammunitions stores and a military airport used by Tehran’s forces. There was no immediate comment from Israel. The blasts caused an electrical blackout in Aleppo, the country’s second-largest city and a major industrial hub that bore the brunt of years of fighting and heavy Russian and Syrian aerial bombardment on its former rebel-held areas. (Al Jazeera)

Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia has temporarily released three female activists facing charges related to human rights work and contacting foreigners. Two sources told Reuters that three women had been released, and more would be freed on Sunday. Amnesty International and UK-based Saudi rights organisation, ALQST, named the women as Eman al-Nafjan, Aziza al-Yousef and Roqaya al-Mohareb. Saudi state media said the releases were only provisional. The three women are among 11 women on trial after being charged under the country’s cyber-crimes law, which can carry a sentence of up to five years in jail. (BBC)

Friday, 29 March 2019

Germany: The government has extended a ban on arms exports to Saudi Arabia for another six months, a spokesman said, “over this period no new export applications will be approved”. The ban, imposed after the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, has been criticised by European allies since it put a question mark over billions of euros of military orders, including a 10 billion pound ($13.27bn) deal to sell 48 Eurofighter Typhoon jets to Riyadh that would be led by Britain’s BAE Systems. (Al Jazeera)

Algeria: Anti-government protesters took to the streets of Algeria’s capital on Friday calling for the resignation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, as the embattled 82-year old’s loyalists began abandoning him. Rallies took place across the North African country, where protests broke out more than a month ago. The protests came in spite of a succession of loyalists deserting the president and calling for him to step down and make way for a government-led change of leadership. (Middle East Eye)

Egypt: A prominent Egyptian activist has been released from prison after serving a five-year sentence for organising an illegal protest, his family says. Alaa Abdel Fattah rose to prominence during the 2011 uprising against former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. He was arrested in 2013 for campaigning against the generals that ruled the country after Mr Mubarak’s resignation. (BBC)

UK: Theresa May hopes to bring her Brexit deal back to parliament again next week after it was rejected for a third time by MPs – and appears poised to trigger a general election if parliament fails to agree a way forward. Despite the embattled prime minister’s dramatic promise on Wednesday that she would hand over the keys to 10 Downing Street if her Tory colleagues backed the withdrawal agreement, parliament voted against it on Friday, by 344 to 286. (The Guardian)