Weekly News 3 – 7 December 2018 | Mediterranean Affairs


Monday, 3 December 2018

Yemen Civil War: Yemen’s Houthi group is expected to travel to Sweden as early as Monday for peace talks after the Saudi-led coalition approved the evacuation of some of their wounded for treatment, paving the way for negotiations to end the nearly four-year-old war. U.N. special envoy Martin Griffiths arrived in the Houthi-held capital Sanaa on Monday to escort the Houthi delegation, a U.N. source told Reuters. The Saudi-backed government has said it would follow the Houthis to the talks, the first since 2016. (Reuters)

France: French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe cancelled his appearance at the COP24 climate change summit in Katowice, Poland, on Monday, instead meeting with French political leaders to formulate a response to the violent ‘yellow vest’ protests. Philippe will announce new “measures” this week to defuse the crisis, which sparked the worst clashes in the capital since the uprising of May 1968. (France24)

Syria: U.S.-led war planes killed an Islamic State leader on Sunday in Syria responsible for executing hostages including an American. “Earlier today, coalition air forces conducted precision strikes against a number of ISIS leaders in southeast Syria. Those targeted included Abu al-Umarayn,” Brett McGurk said in a Tweet late on Sunday. Abu al-Umarayn was responsible for killing several prisoners including the U.S. aid worker Peter Kassig, who was captured by the group in Syria and beheaded in 2014, McGurk said. (Reuters)

Czech Republic: A Czech spy agency says it’s “obvious” that Russia was behind cyberattacks against the country’s foreign ministry, calling them the most serious case of cyberespionage to hit the European country. The agency known as BIS said in its annual report Monday the attacks were part of the Turla campaign by Russia’s FSB intelligence agency and APT28 campaign by GRU military intelligence agency. (Washington Post)

Spain: A far-right party has won 12 seats in the Andalucían regional parliament. Vox, a small but increasingly vocal party that opposes Catalan independence and has vowed to take a tough line on immigration and abortion, has become the first avowedly far-right group to win seats since Spain’s return to democracy following the death of Francisco Franco in 1975. (The Guardian)

Climate Change: The UN climate change summit begins on Monday with a warning that today’s generation is the last that can prevent catastrophic global warming, as well as the first to be suffering its impacts. Almost 200 nations were set to meet in Poland for two weeks, aiming to hammer out a vital agreement to turn the carbon-cutting vision set in Paris in 2015 into reality. (The Guardian)

US-Israel Axis: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s unusual trip to Brussels – the announcement in the morning and the flight in the afternoon to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – is an Israeli attempt to quickly utilize this diplomatic channel to deal with the increasing security problem in Lebanon. If this had been a meeting to coordinate positions before a military move, one assumes Netanyahu would have sent one of the security professionals (the Mossad chief, or the head of Military Intelligence) to speak with his American counterparts, and the meeting would not have been publicized. (Haaretz)

Tuesday, 04 December 2018

Israel: The Israeli military launched an operation Monday night to destroy cross-border tunnels constructed by Hezbollah, crossing the Lebanon border into Israel. The Israel Defense Force announced the discovery of the tunnels on Tuesday morning, saying it has started destroying them, dubbing the operation Northern Shield. (Haaretz)

Israeli forces killed a Palestinian man during a clash in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday, Palestinian officials said. The Israeli military said its troops opened fire during what it described as a violent riot. It did not mention any casualties. (Reuters)

France: French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe on Tuesday suspended planned increases in three taxes on fuel for a six-month period starting January 1 in response to nationwide protests against high pump prices and living costs. “This anger, you’d have to be deaf or blind not to see it or hear it,” Philippe said in an address. (France24)

Italy: Italian prosecutors have placed five members of Egypt’s security forces under official investigation for their alleged involvement in the disappearance of student Giulio Regeni, a judicial source said. (Reuters)

Migration: Fifteen migrants have died in a boat off the Libyan coast after spending 12 days at sea without food or water, an Egyptian survivor said on Tuesday. The owner of a beach chalet found the migrants washing up on the shore near the city of Misrata and called authorities, who brought them to the Red Crescent relief service and hospitals, residents said. “We were 25 migrants on a boat … We set off from (the western Libyan town of) Sabratah and we were at sea for 12 days without food and water,” the survivor said. “Fifteen have died.” (Times of Malta)

Belt and Road Initiative: China wants to deepen cooperation with the European Union, China’s President Xi Jinping said on Tuesday during a visit to Portugal, a country he said was an important link to Europe. Portugal has been one of Europe’s biggest recipients of Chinese investment in the past few years and Chinese companies have large stakes in the energy sector, banking, insurance and healthcare. (Reuters)

Wednesday, 05 December 2018

Brexit: Pro-EU campaigners celebrated twin victories on Tuesday that appeared to reduce sharply the chances of a no-deal Brexit and further eroded the authority of prime minister Theresa May. In dramatic scenes at Westminster, MPs backed a proposal that parliament should have a free hand to determine what happens next if they reject Mrs May’s compromise Brexit deal in a crunch Commons vote on Tuesday next week. (Financial Times)

Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal came under fire from allies and opponents alike on Wednesday after the government was forced to publish legal advice showing the United Kingdom could be locked indefinitely in the European Union’s orbit. The U.S. investment bank J.P. Morgan said the chances of Britain calling off Brexit altogether had increased (Reuters)

Turkey: Istanbul’s chief prosecutor has filed warrants for the arrest of a top aide to Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler and the deputy head of foreign intelligence on suspicion of planning the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The prosecutor’s office concluded that there is “strong suspicion” that Saud al-Qahtani and Ahmed Asiri, who were both removed from their positions following the murder, were among the planners of the murder, two Turkish officials said on Wednesday. (Al Jazeera)

A Turkish court on Tuesday (4 December) rejected an appeal by jailed pro-Kurdish leader Selahattin Demirtaş against his conviction for “terrorist propaganda”, his lawyer said, in a fresh blow to the prominent politician considered a potential rival to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. (EurActiv)

Germany: Veteran German conservative Wolfgang Schaeuble, a highly-respected figure in his party, has publicly backed Friedrich Merz, a former rival of Angela Merkel, to succeed her as head of the Christian Democrats (CDU) in a vote set for Friday. (Reuters)

Daesh: Islamic State is carrying out a rising number of kidnappings, killings and bombings in Iraq and fighting fiercely in Syria as the extremist group returns to its insurgent roots having been driven out of almost all the territory it once controlled. A recent US defence department report said an effective clandestine Islamic State organisation “appears to be taking hold”, four years after the group controlled swaths of Syria, as much as a third of Iraq, and declared a caliphate. (The Irish Times)

Thursday, 06 December 2018

Libya: Libya’s electoral commission has asked the government for $28.7 million, saying that without funding to boost its “zero” budget it cannot make plans to prepare for a vote on a new constitution and later elections. (Reuters)

Migration: European Union governments that refuse to host refugees could instead pay to be excused from the bloc’s system of sharing out migrants, France and Germany proposed on Thursday as they sought to end a long-running EU feud over migration. (reuters)

Western Sahara: The U.N. secretary-general’s envoy for Western Sahara has wrapped up the first talks in six years over the future of the territory mostly controlled by Morocco, saying the sides have agreed to meet again early next year. Former German president Horst Koehler, hailed “a first, but an important, step” toward resolving a decades-old standoff between Morocco and the independence-minded Polisario Front. (ABC News)

Brexit: Britain will be ready for a no deal Brexit by March next year but significant work will be required, Brexit minister Stephen Barclay said on Thursday. “Yes, we will be ready but significant work will be required,” Barclay told parliament. (Reuters)

Israel vs. Lebanon: The Israeli military said Thursday afternoon that it has discovered another tunnel dug by the terror organization Hezbollah and has asked the United Nations to help efforts to destroy it. The commander of the Israeli army’s Northern Command, Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick, asked the commander of United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Col, on Thursday to assist in neutralizing an attack tunnel being dug from Lebanon into Israeli territory. (Haaretz)

SAR Operations: Doctors Without Borders (MSF) says it has been forced to end rescue operations in the Mediterranean carried out by the vessel, Aquarius. The medical charity blamed “sustained attacks on search and rescue by European states”. Aquarius has been stuck in Marseille since its registration was revoked. (BBC)

Friday, 07 December 2018

France: Tourist sites in Paris are to close on Saturday amid fears of further street violence from “yellow vest” anti-government protests. Across France, 89,000 police officers will be on duty and armoured vehicles will be deployed in the capital, Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced. (BBC)

French police were today accused of heavy-handed tactics after a video emerged showing masked riot officers forcing more than 150 schoolchildren to kneel following a violent demonstration.

Images of the teenagers, many of them cuffed with plastic ties and others with their hands on their heads, emerged in advance of big demonstrations expected in Paris tomorrow. (The Times)

Israel: The resolution condemning Hamas, which was presented by the U.S. before the UN General Assembly on Thursday, fell short of the required two-thirds majority and failed to pass. (Haaretz)

Spain: Spain’s main opposition parties risk turning the Andalusia region into a “cradle of the far-right” if they rely on its support to take office, the government said on Friday, days after the surprise election of 12 far-right lawmakers to the regional parliament. (Reuters)

Germany: Angela Merkel bowed out as leader of her Christian Democrats on Friday with an emotional speech to her conservative party as it met to pick her successor who will move into pole position to become Germany’s next chancellor. (Reuters)

Syria: Turkey and the U.S. said Friday that the two countries hope to make concrete progress on the Manbij roadmap by end of the year. The Turkish-U.S. high level working group on Syria met for the third time in Ankara. The group included senior officials of Turkey’s Ministries of Foreign Affairs and National Defense and the U.S. Departments of State and Defense. A joint statement after the meeting said: “They committed to accelerated and concrete progress on the Manbij Roadmap by the end of the year. (anadolu)

Egypt: An Egyptian court has scheduled a hearing later this month on a petition demanding constitutional changes that would allow President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to seek re-election beyond his second term, state news agency MENA reported on Friday. (Reuters)

Greece: The leaders of Russia and Greece say they have overcome a rift over the expulsions of diplomats that have strained their traditionally friendly ties. Greece in July expelled two Russian diplomats amid allegations they helped fund protests against a deal between Greece and its northern neighbor Macedonia intended to pave the way for Macedonia to join NATO. (The Washington Post)