Weekly News 3 – 8 September 2018 | Mediterranean Affairs


 

Monday, 3 September 2018

Libya: Attempts to negotiate a new truce in Tripoli. Prime Minister Fayez al Sarraj’s Presidential Council has given a mandate to the militia Anti-Terrorism Force in Misrata, led by General Mohammed Al Zain, to enter the capital to organize a new ceasefire and end the violence in the southern suburbs of the capital.This after another difficult day, yesterday, with generalized clashes between various militias in the south of Tripoli, in particular in Ain Zara and Abu Selim, which recorded the death of two people in the district of Al Falah, within a refugee camp for internally displaced people in Tawergha. (ANSA)

Sweden: Sweden’s 7.3 million voters go to the polls on 9 September, electing a new parliament and government to succeed the Social Democrat-Green coalition of the prime minister, Stefan Löfven, which has run the country since 2014. (The Guardian)

Migration: The first seven months of 2018 saw refugees and migrants arriving in Europe at lower levels overall than in the previous two years, with increased arrivals in Spain and Greece but significantly lower arrivals in Italy – according to the latest Report released by the UNHCR. As with 2017, this year saw further efforts by European authorities to reduce irregular migration without sufficiently increasing access to safe and legal pathways for those in need of international protection. In the first half of the year, most refugees and migrants arrived in Europe via Greece where some 22,000 arrivals by land and sea were recorded up to the end of June compared to 17,900 in Spain and 16,600 in Italy in the same period. However, by the end of July, Spain had become the primary entry point to Europe with some 27,600 land and sea arrivals compared to 26,000 in Greece (by land and sea) and 18,500 in Italy in the same period. This was largely the result of high numbers of sea arrivals in Spain since June combined with reduced numbers crossing the sea to Greece in the same period. (ANSA)

Germany: Tens of thousands of people thronged to an anti-racism concert on Monday in protest against xenophobic mobs that ran rampage in the city of Chemnitz, as Chancellor Angela Merkel urged Germans to stand up against the far-right’s “message of hate and division.”

Chemnitz, in former communist Saxony state, was flung into the spotlight as far-right protesters went after foreign-looking people in violent demonstrations last week, in the shadow of the fatal stabbing of a man, allegedly by an Iraqi. (The Times of Israel)

Syria: U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday warned Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his allies Iran and Russia not to “recklessly attack” Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province, warning that hundreds of thousands of people could be killed. “The Russians and Iranians would be making a grave humanitarian mistake to take part in this potential human tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of people could be killed. Don’t let that happen!” Trump wrote in a tweet. (Reuters)

Tuesday 4 September 2018

Italy: Party leaders in the Italian coalition government signalled they will seek leeway from the EU to increase next year’s budget deficit, heading on a collision course with the European Commission and investors who want it cut. Following Fitch agency’s decision to lower the outlook on Italy’s debt rating on Friday (31 August), neither Matteo Salvini nor Luigi Di Maio – the heads of the League and 5-Star Movement respectively – backed away from promises to reduce taxes and boost welfare spending. (EurActiv)

France: French President Emmanuel Macron hopes to draw a line under a raft of troubles plaguing his 16-month-old presidency and to re-energize his economic reform drive with a cabinet reshuffle on Tuesday, Macron was forced into the move by the surprise exit of his former ecology minister, Nicolas Hulot, who said he despaired at what he felt were hollow commitments on environmental policy. (Reuters)

Syria: Talks between major powers this month on setting up a committee to lead constitutional reform in Syria will be a “moment of truth” for a credible political process, U.N. envoy Staffan de Mistura told reporters on Tuesday. De Mistura will hold separate sets of talks next week, one involving Russia, Turkey and Iran, and the other including the United States and Saudi Arabia, to discuss the makeup of the committee. (Reuters)

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

Israel: The Israeli army announced Wednesday morning that it had closed the Erez pedestrian crossing with the Gaza Strip. The decision – a military spokesman said – was taken after ”violent disorder in the area of the border crossing in which hundreds of Palestinian protestors took part” on Tuesday. The protestors, the spokesman added, ”threw stones and damaged the border crossing facilities on the Palestinian side.

As a result, the decision was made to close the crossing until the damage caused by the protestors is repaired.” Crossing through will be possible only for ”humanitarian cases approved on an individual basis”, he added.  (ANSAmed)

Turkey: Turkish military authorities in Syria’s Idlib have ordered the expansion of one of the main camps for displaced people at the border between Syria and Turkey, in light of the mass exodus of tens of thousands of Syrian civilians hit by the Russian, Iranian, and Syrian government offensive in Idlib. Local sources said intense work is underway on the edges of the Atme camp, which has been active in Syria since 2012 in the hills near the border between the two countries, and already hosts more than 40,000 people. (ANSAmed)

Syria: Turkey hopes a summit with Iranian and Russian leaders in Tehran on Friday will avert a Syrian government offensive on the rebel-held Idlib enclave and prevent a new influx of refugees to Turkey, President Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying. Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, resumed air strikes against insurgents in Idlib on Tuesday following weeks of bombardment and shelling by pro-Syrian government forces in an apparent prelude to a full-scale offensive against the rebels’ last major enclave. The leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran are due to meet on Friday in Iran and are expected to discuss the situation in northwestern Syria. Turkey, which backs rebels against Assad, has said an offensive on Idlib would be disastrous. Ankara is sheltering 3.5 million Syrian refugees. (Reuters)

Yemen: Thousands of Yemenis massed in the Houthi stronghold of Saada on Wednesday, calling for the prosecution of the Saudi-led coalition for an air attack last month that killed dozens of people, including 40 children traveling on a bus. (Reuters)

Libya: Libya plans to reopen within two days its only functioning airport in the capital Tripoli which has been closed because of fighting among rival groups, an official said on Wednesday. (Reuters)

EU elections: German Conservative Manfred Weber has thrown his hat into the ring, bidding to front the centre-right in European elections next year. The Bavarian heads up the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) grouping in the EU parliament. If he wins the backing of other member parties, he’d be a front runner to take over the top job of European Commission president next year, from Jean Claude Juncker. (Euro News)

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Migration: The Turkish Coast Guard on Thursday rescued 48 migrants in the Aegean Sea that had been on two boats at risk of sinking. The vessels had been heading towards Greek islands. One was carrying 19 people including 5 women and 8 children and was rescued in the Ildir gulf in Cesme, near the Greek island of Chios. Another intervention was carried out off Dikili, a few miles from Lesbos, to rescue the 29 migrants on a dinghy in distress. There were 17 Palestinian citizens, 7 Iraqis and 5 Syrians onboard, reports Anadolu. (ANSAmed)

Five migrants drowned and 193 were rescued in the western Mediterranean sea off the Spanish coast, the Spanish coastguard said on Thursday, after six rafts sank. Spain has become the main entry point for migrants fleeing Africa to seek a better life in Europe, overtaking Italy and Greece, as Italy’s new populist government refuses to admit rescue boats. (Reuters)

France: France must cut its dependence on U.S. components in its weapons systems to minimize Washington’s ability to block its arms exports, its defense minister said on Thursday. U.S. export control laws can be used to limit European weapons sales if even small components come from U.S. suppliers. That legislation was in place prior to Donald Trump’s presidency, but the industry has grown increasingly worried that his administration is acting to halt exports that might have been permitted in the past. (Reuters)

Luxembourg: French President Emmanuel Macron took a rare public dig at German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday by questioning her party’s ties with Hungary’s right-wing leader as the EU prepares for an election next year. He was speaking after talks in Luxembourg with the three Benelux prime ministers, who share his “progressive”, centrist agenda and came a day after Merkel backed a German ally to lead a conservative bid for the post of EU chief executive following a European Parliament election next May. (Reuters)

Libya: The Government of National Accord (GNA) announced Thursday that flights would soon be resuming from the Mitiga airport in Tripoli. The airport had been closed since Friday due to clashes between militias. The announcement was made on the Facebook page of the government media office. ”Ensuring the opening of the Mitiga airport, of all the streets in the capital and those connected to them” was the fifth of the seven points of agreement reached on Tuesday. (ANSAmed).

Friday, 7 September 2018

Syria: The Syrian government under Bashar al-Assad has the right to retake control of the entire country including the Idlib region, Russian president Vladimir Putin said at a summit on Friday in Tehran with Iran and Turkey. Putin added that, in Syria, ”the terrorists are only in Idlib” now. ”Our top priority is to eliminate terrorists entirely in Syria,” Putin said. ”Recently, with the assistance of Russian air forces, the southwestern part of the country has been liberated. The aim in this phase is to kick the fighters out of Idlib. Their presence is a direct threat to Syrian civilians and the inhabitants of the entire region.

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan instead said that ”no hasty move must be made in Syria with the excuse that it is part of a fight against ‘terrorism’.” The comment was in relation to the insistence by Iran and the Syrian government that in fighting Syrian opposition groups they are ”fighting terrorism”. (ANSAmed)

Gaza: A Palestinian protestor was killed Friday in Rafah, in the southern part of the Gaza Strip, during ongoing clashes with the Israeli army at the defensive barrier between Gaza and Israel. The incident occurred during the ‘March of Return’ held on Friday at the border. Palestinian media quoted medical sources as saying that the protestor, a 17-year-old named Bilal Mustafa Khafajah, was hit in the chest by an Israeli bullet. (ANSAmed)

France: French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel sought to put aside their domestic woes on Friday and advance their European agenda at a meeting in Marseille. The two leaders both face difficulties at home, with Macron hit by cabinet resignations and falling polling numbers and Merkel again under pressure over her immigration policy. “Germany and France have the same approach to problems,” Merkel told reporters. “We need to continue to work together for the sovereignty of Europe.” Merkel and Macron have both backed deeper defence links between EU nations and believe that Europe must stand up for itself in the face of US President Donald Trump’s aggressive nationalism. (France24)

EU enlargement: The latest round of EU-sponsored Kosovo-Serbia talks effectively collapsed on Friday (7 September) as Serbia’s president refused to sit down with his Kosovo counterpart, citing a ban by Kosovar authorities on his planned visit to the former Serbian province as a reason to reassess all relations with Pristina. The anti-climax came after speculation that the two leaders, Aleksandar Vučić and Hashim Thaçi, were edging towards a solution, possibly involving an exchange of territory. Normalisation of relations with Kosovo is a key requirement for Serbia’s EU accession talks but Friday’s setback made clear it would not be easy to reach. (EurActiv)

Libya: eneral Khalifa Haftar warned that, if elections in Libya will not be ”transparent” his army will make them ”abort”. In statements made Thursday and quoted by the website Alwasat, Haftar claimed he is the first to want a vote and that, in the event of proof demonstrating they are not ”transparent, the army will take action and make them abort”. Haftar then claimed that militia chiefs in Tripoli need to leave the capital and that a ”liberation” of the city with military means remains an ”inevitable option”. ”Tripoli’s militia chiefs can only leave. We have nothing left to do but to help them, through embassies, to live far from the Libyans”, Haftar told Benghazi’s tribe chiefs, according to Alwasat. (ANSAmed)

In his speech, the warlord criticized Italy saying “there are people who highly praise it despite their knowledge that Italy is as an enemy to us.” “Worshipping Italy and implementing their demands is a real problem,” he remarked. Haftar rejected the current draft constitution saying “it’s a disaster and must be substituted.” (The Libya Observer)