Weekly News 26 February – 2 March 2018

Monday 26 February 2018

Israel: The Church of the Holy Sepulchre has announced it will reopen its doors after Israel decided to suspend legislation regarding collecting taxes from churches and their properties in Jerusalem. Following international pressure and rising protests from Palestinian Christians, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the formation of a committee to discuss the imposition of the property tax, or arnona, on Jerusalem’s churches.

The decision came following a meeting between Netanyahu and the Israeli mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barakat, and after one of the holiest sites in Christianity, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, closed its doors on Sunday in protest against the proposed legislation. (Al Jazeera)

Nigeria:  At least 1,130 civilians were freed, and 37 suspected Boko Haram militants were killed during a joint offensive by Cameroonian and Nigerian troops in communities around the Lake Chad region on Monday. In a statement on Tuesday, spokesman Colonel Onyema Nwackukwu said the offensives took place in border villages of Kusha-Kucha, Surdewala, Alkanerik, Magdewerne and Mayen, culminating in the destruction of several Boko Haram camps and seizure of weapons, including machine guns and anti-aircraft guns. Four improvised explosive devices were also destroyed. (Al Jazeera)

Syria: The BBC has learned that women are being sexually exploited by local men delivering aid on behalf of the United Nations and international charities inside Syria. Humanitarian workers told the BBC that so-called “local councils” in areas such as Dar’a and Queneitra would offer women extra bags of grain and lifts home in return for sex, or they would refuse to give any food at all. The UN said it was aware of the allegations and had taken action to improve protection against exploitation. (video) (BBC)

Tuesday 27 February 2018

Syria: A five-hour “humanitarian pause” called by Russia has come into effect in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta to allow civilians to evacuate the area that has been under continuous aerial bombardment.

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin had ordered a truce from 9am-2pm (7:00-12:00 GMT) on Tuesday, as air attacks and ground operations killed more than 550 civilians in the last eight days, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR). (Al Jazeera)

Yemen: The World Health Organization (WHO) has warned that Yemen’s cholera epidemic could escalate in the next couple of months.

Although the spread of the disease has been contained since its outbreak in 2016, expected rainfall in the coming months could lead to a surge in cholera cases, according to the UN agency. The disease spreads through water and food that has been consumed by a contaminated person and that is then passed on and shared with other people. (Al Jazeera)

Wednesday 28 February 2018

Israel: The doors of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem were officially reopened early morning on Wednesday after being shut for three days in protest of Israeli policies.

Adeeb Joudeh, the custodian of the keys, said that the church was reopened to the public at 4am local time. Following international pressure and condemnation by Palestinian Christians, Israel decided on Tuesday to suspend the legislation regarding collecting taxes from churches and their properties. (Al Jazeera)

Czech Republic: A court in the Czech Republic has released Salih Muslim, a former Kurdish Syrian leader, despite Turkey’s official request for him to be extradited.

Muslim, a prominent former leader of the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in Syria, was arrested in the Czech capital of Prague on Saturday at Turkey’s request. According to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency, the request for extradition recalls that a high court in Ankara had filed a case against Muslim for a deadly attack carried out in the capital in 2016. The charges against him include damaging national unity and integrity, deliberate murder, damaging public property and transferring dangerous materials, according to Anadolu. (Al Jazeera)

UK: The British government has rejected a proposal by the European Union on what to do with the Northern Ireland border after the UK leaves the EU.

Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday said the proposed creation of a “common regulatory area” between the EU and Northern Ireland would “threaten constitutional integrity by creating a customs and regulatory border down the Irish sea”. (Al Jazeera)

Slovakia: The young investigative reporter and his fiancée Martina Kusnirova were found shot dead in their home on Sunday; the first killing of a journalist in Slovakia’s history. Kuciak’s last article – published posthumously – alleges links between the Italian mafia and figures close to the Prime Minister, Robert Fico. Kuciak alleges that Italian businessmen with ties to the feared Calabrian organised crime syndicate the ‘Ndrangheta have settled in eastern Slovakia, and have spent years embezzling EU funds for this relatively poor region on the border with Ukraine.

These men, he alleges, have cultivated business links with senior officials, including people close to the prime minister. One, a former glamour model named Maria Troskova, was until Wednesday the prime minister’s “chief state adviser”. Another, Ms Troskova’s former boss Viliam Jasan, was secretary of Slovakia’s national security council. This is the first killing of a journalist in Slovakia’s history. Mr Fico has offered a €1m ($1.2m; £890,000) reward for anyone who comes forward with information about the case. (BBC)

Thursday 1 March 2018

Russia: Russia has developed a new array of nuclear weapons that are invincible, according to President Vladimir Putin. Giving his annual state of the nation speech, Mr Putin used video presentations to showcase the development of two new nuclear delivery systems that he said could evade detection. One video graphic appeared to show missiles raining down on the US state of Florida. The weapons he boasted of included a cruise missile that he said could “reach anywhere in the world”.  (BBC)

Slovakia: Slovak police say they have detained several Italian men mentioned in an explosive investigation by a journalist who was found shot dead last week.
Among them was a businessman who Jan Kuciak said had links to the mafia and contacts with figures close to Prime Minister Robert Fico.  Antonino Vadala, who owns several companies, and several relatives were among those taken into custody. (BBC)

Spain: Fugitive Catalan separatist leader Carles Puigdemont has said he is ending his bid to be reappointed president of Spain’s north-eastern region. He said he was stepping aside in favour of detained activist Jordi Sanchez. (BBC)

Friday 2 March 2018

Poland: Israeli and Polish diplomats have held talks in Jerusalem in an effort to resolve a row over Poland’s controversial new Holocaust law. The law, which came into effect on 1st March 2018, makes it illegal to accuse the Polish nation or state of complicity in the Nazi Holocaust. Israel says the law could criminalise some survivors whose testimony implicates Poles. (BBC)

Syria: Eight Turkish soldiers have been killed in fighting in the north Syrian region of Afrin, the military says. Another 13 were injured in the clashes on 1 March 2018, with several said to be in a critical condition. It is one of the bloodiest days for Turkish troops since they began a major offensive against Kurdish fighters in Afrin in January.

Meanwhile, the UN Human Rights Council is due to debate the situation in Syria’s besieged Eastern Ghouta area. More than 580 people have reportedly been killed in the rebel-held enclave near Damascus since the government and its allies intensified a bombardment on 18 February. (BBC)

Burkina Faso: Gunmen have launched an attack in the capital of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou, with the French embassy and a military headquarters the apparent targets. Burkina Faso’s government said four attackers had been killed at the embassy and three at the HQ. Witnesses reported seeing armed men getting out of a car and opening fire before heading towards the embassy. The situation at the embassy was now under control. It is unclear who is behind the violence.

Ouagadougou Mayor Armand Béouindé told France’s Le Monde newspaper that the attackers shot at the town hall and his office windows were shattered. “Apparently, it is a jihadist attack,” he said, but gave no further details (2 March 2018). (BBC)