Weekly News 30 July – 3 August 2018 | Mediterranean Affairs


Monday 30 July 2018

Egypt: Egypt’s Bishop Epiphanius, Head of the Saint Macarius Monastery, was found dead on Sunday and was likely murdered. His body was found in the monastery he presided over in the Wadi Natroun area about 80 kilometers north of Cairo. (ANSAmed)

Italy: U.S. President Donald Trump praised Italy’s increasingly hard-line approach to immigration on Monday, at the start of a meeting with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte at the White House. “I agree very much with what you are doing with respect to migration, and illegal immigration, and even legal immigration,” Trump told Conte in the Oval Office. “He has taken a very firm stance on the border, a stance that few countries have taken. And frankly he is doing the right thing in my opinion.” (Reuters)

Syria: Since the beginning of the year, the UN Security Council’s monitoring and reporting mechanism (MRM) for six grave violations against children in armed conflict has verified more than 1,200 violations.  ”More than 600 children have been killed or maimed; more than 180 were recruited and used; more than 60 schools have been attacked, while over 100 attacks on hospitals and medical facilities or personnel have been verified,” a UN website reports. (ANSAmed)

Government forces are on the brink of seizing the last part of southwestern Syria still in rebel hands, having taken control of the border with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, a war monitor and a media outlet close to Damascus said on Monday. A military media unit run by Iran-backed Hezbollah, which fights alongside Damascus, said the Syrian army had secured the entire border with the Golan Heights. (Reuters)

Tuesday 31 July 2018

Migration: The United Nations say an Italian towboat which rescued more than 100 people in the Mediterranean and returned them to Libya may have been in breach of international law. A spokesman for the U.N. migration agency said it could not establish the location of the rescue, which is key to establishing migrants’ rights, although some other parties involved in the case have made contradictory assertions about the incident including where it took place. Spanish charity Proactiva Open Arms say the Asso 28, an oil rig support vessel rescued them from international waters on Monday and took them to Libya, their country of departure. Migrants rescued in international waters cannot be returned to a place where their lives are put in danger. (Euronews)

The Italian Coast Guard was not responsible for an incident in which 108 migrants rescued at sea by the Italian Asso 28 ship and brought back to Italy, Interior Minister and Deputy Premier Matteo Salvini said Tuesday in a Facebook post. He added that the operation was coordinated by the Libyan Coast and so Italy could not be blamed for taking migrants back to a port that is not considered safe, and that the Italian Coast Guard had not taken part in the operation, “as falsely claimed by foreign NGOs and a poorly-informed MP from a left-wing party”. (ANSAmed)

Israel: The popular Israeli daily Yediot Ahronot has carried a headline about the “racism epidemic” in Italy. The article focused on an attack on the Italian athlete Daisy Osakue, of Nigerian origins, who suffered an eye injury when an egg was thrown at her in Turin. The daily said that Italy is “in shock” and that incitement against refugees and migrants by far-right leaders of the government leads to violence. The criticism was directed mainly at Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, who – it claimed – is the de facto leader of the country. The author of the article noted with concern that he had recently tweeted a slogan originally used by former fascist leader Benito Mussolini: “Many enemies, much honor”. The article noted that it had come after he was criticized by the Church and human rights organizations. (ANSAmed)

Kosovo: Kosovo President Hashim Thaci ruled out on Tuesday partition of the country with Serbia along ethnic lines, an idea raised in Belgrade to settle a long-running dispute that is hindering both sides’ ambitions to join the European Union. Thaci is due to meet Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in Brussels after the summer break under an EU-sponsored dialogue which has made little progress in normalising relations between Belgrade and Pristina since it was launched in 2013. But Thaci dismissed suggestions that Kosovo, which has an ethnic Albanian majority but also a Serb minority, should be divided. Officials in Belgrade say partition, allowing Serbia to maintain control over northern Kosovo where ethnic Serbs form a majority, could be acceptable to both sides. (Reuters)

Syria: The Syrian army and its allies has taken full control of the Yarmouk Basin in southwestern Syria after routing Islamic State (IS) militants, the Hezbollah group’s al-Manar TV said on Tuesday. The basin borders Israel and Jordan and had been the last embattled pocket of the southwest after a sustained advance by President Bashar al-Assad’s forces into the longtime rebel stronghold. (Reuters)

Spain: Debate about immigration is hotting up in Spain as the country has become the Mediterranean’s most sought-after destination for irregular migrants travelling by sea, surpassing Italy and Greece. Politicians from the opposition People’s Party (PP) — who were ousted from power after a vote of no confidence toppled their former leader Mariano Rajoy on June 1 — have accused the new government of turning the country into the main European port of call for illegal migrants by creating a “pull factor” when it allowed the Aquarius rescue ship to dock in Valencia in June. (Euronews)

Tunisia: Tunisia has agreed to accept a boat carrying around 40 African migrants stranded for two weeks off the country’s coast after first allowing it to dock, the Red Crescent said on Tuesday. Monji Slim, an official of the Tunisian Red Crescent, said the boat will arrive on Wednesday morning in the southern port of Zarzis. (Reuters)

Wednesday 1 August 2018

Environment: This year’s Earth Overshoot Day is the earliest since environmentalists began marking the occasion. The day marks when humanity’s annual demand on nature exceeds what our planet can renew in that year. This year, it falls on Aug. 1 – one day earlier than in 2017, which fell on Aug. 2, and the earliest since our planet went into “overshoot” in 1970, which fell on Dec. 29. (Euronews)

Germany: Germany on Wednesday (1 August) resumed family reunifications for some refugees, drawing ire from leftist groups who said a cap of 1,000 people a month was too low and a far-right party opposed to immigration altogether. In 2016, the government suspended the right to bring in immediate family members for asylum seekers granted limited protection in a bid to ease the burden on social workers handling a record influx of a million migrants. The ban did not apply to asylum applicants granted full refugee status as they have a constitutional right to invite their families to join them. After big losses to an anti-immigrant party in an election last year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and their Social Democrat (SPD) junior coalition partners agreed on a compromise to partially lift the ban from 1 August 2018. (Euractiv)

Israel: Israel would deploy its military if Iran were to try to block the Bab al-Mandeb strait that links the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday. Iran has not threatened to block Bab al-Mandeb but has said it would block the Strait of Hormuz, at the mouth of the Gulf, if it were prevented from exporting its own oil. Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that Israel had “recently heard of threats to harm Israeli ships in the Red Sea.” He gave no further details. (Reuters)

Tunisia: An armed group robbed a Tunisian bank in the town of Kasserine near the Algerian border on Wednesday in an attack with a “terrorist background”, a Tunisian security official said. Eleven men, some armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles, had hijacked a car and four then stormed the bank and seized an unknown amount of cash, the official said. They later escaped. The security official had no further details. (Reuters)

Serbia: Members of the Interior Ministry (MUP) Ruma in Serbia’s northwest on Wednesday found two dead bodies on the side of a road in the village of Dobrinovci. The victims were migrants who died from injuries inflicted by firearms, the MUP announced. Pistol shell casings were found next to the bodies, “which indicates these people have been murdered,” the daily Blic said. Police officers are working to shed light on the case. A prosecutor has investigated the scene along with the police. (b92.net)

Thursday 2 August 2018

Israel: The IDF said it conducted an airstrike late Wednesday night killing seven Islamic State fighters who had crossed the 1974 ceasefire line into Israeli territory. The gunmen had made it some 200 meters (650 feet) past the “alpha line” but did not manage to reach the technical fence bordering the Israeli Golan Heights, IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus said, correcting an earlier army statement that said the “terror squad” had been in the Syrian Golan Heights when targeted. (The Time of Israel)

Russia will deploy its military police on the Golan Heights frontier between Syria and Israel, its defense ministry said on Thursday, after weeks of mounting volatility in the area. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s sweeping away of rebels in southwestern Syria has worried Israel, which believes it could allow his Iranian backers to entrench their troops close to the frontier. Underlining the tensions, Israel killed seven militants in an overnight air strike on the Syrian-held part of the Golan Heights, Israeli radio said on Thursday. (Reuters)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has cancelled a South American trip planned for next week due to the situation around the Gaza Strip, an Israeli official said on Thursday, as U.N. ceasefire talks pressed on. Netanyahu will convene his security cabinet on Sunday to discuss an emerging deal, brokered by the United Nations and Egypt, for long-term peace in Gaza, a second Israeli official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Netanyahu was due to travel to Colombia from Aug. 6-9.  (Reuters)

Syria: Syrian state media said late on Thursday that air defences had destroyed a “hostile target” west of the capital Damascus. “Our air defences confronted a hostile target and destroyed it west of Damascus,” the state news agency SANA said, quoting a military source. (Haaretz)

Migration: More than 10,000 migrants and refugees arrived in Greece from Turkey through the northern Evros river crossing in the first half of 2018, a non-governmental organization said on Thursday, a quicker pace of arrivals compared to 2017. (Reuters)

Friday 3 August 2018

Turkey: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu discussed bilateral relations and the international agenda on Thursday during a trip to Singapore, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Friday. The ministers spoke on the sidelines of a meeting of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the ministry said. (Reuters)

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu agreed on Friday to try to resolve a series of disputes, after relations between the NATO allies sank to their lowest point in decades. Their meeting in Singapore followed Washington’s imposition on Wednesday of sanctions on two Turkish ministers over the case of Andrew Brunson, a U.S. pastor on trial in Turkey for backing terrorism. (Reuters)

Terrorism: A suicide bomber attacked a Shi’ite mosque in eastern Afghanistan during Friday prayers, killing 25 people and wounding 40, police said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, but police said at least two men had entered the mosque in the city of Gardez in the province of Paktia where about 60 people were praying. The blast hit the Khawaja Hassan mosque. (Reuters)

Lebanon: Lebanon faces a political impasse three months after an election produced a parliament tilted in favor of the Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah, with no sign of compromises needed to form a unity government. Negotiations have run into a knot of complications, notably how Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri can form a government that reflects the result while satisfying Western and Gulf Arab concerns over Hezbollah influence. One senior politician said talks were in a state of “stagnation”. A senior official from another party said there was no indication of compromises and forecast a period of “meaningless movement”. The heavily armed Hezbollah, with allied parties and independents, won more than 70 of parliament’s 128 seats in the May 6 election, a reversal of Lebanon’s 2009 vote when groups with Western and Saudi support scored a majority. (Reuters)

Yemen: Yemen may be on the brink of a new cholera epidemic, with a heightened death rate due to widespread malnutrition, and the United Nations is hoping for a ceasefire in the north to allow for vaccinations, the World Health Organization said on Friday. “We’ve had two major waves of cholera epidemics in recent years and unfortunately the trend data that we’ve seen in the last days to weeks suggests that we may be on the cusp of the third major wave of cholera epidemics in Yemen,” WHO emergency response chief Peter Salama told reporters in Geneva. (Al Jazeera)