Weekly News 4 March – 8 March 2019 | Mediterranean Affairs


Monday, 4 March 2019

Saudi Arabia: The country has ruled out reopening the kingdom’s embassy in Syria, saying it is “too early” to restore diplomatic ties with President Bashar al-Assad’s government. The comments were made on Monday by Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir, who also said Saudi authorities would not take part in any reconstruction efforts in Syria without progress on a political process to end the country’s eight-year-old war. “The kingdom has always been keen on the integrity of the Syrian territory and the political solution,” al-Jubeir told. (Al Jazeera)

Algeria: Algeria’s veteran President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has defied protesters by confirming he will run again – but says he will not serve a full term. In a letter he said if he won April’s vote he would oversee a national dialogue leading to fresh elections that he would not contest. His decision to seek a fifth term in office sparked nationwide protests. Sunday saw new protests as a midnight deadline loomed for candidates to register. By nightfall young people were again marching in the capital Algiers despite the president’s offer. (BBC)

Saudi Arabia: The body of slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was likely burned in a large oven at the Saudi consulate general’s residence in Istanbul, an Al Jazeera investigation revealed. New details of the writer’s murder by a Saudi assassination team were reported in a documentary by Al Jazeera Arabic that aired on Sunday. Turkish authorities monitored the burning of the outdoor furnace from outside the premises as bags believed to be containing Khashoggi’s body parts were transferred to the Saudi consul’s home after he was killed inside the consulate a few hundred metres away. (Al Jazeera)

Egypt: Award-winning Egyptian photojournalist Mahmoud Abu Zeid, widely known as Shawkan, has been released in his country after more than five years in prison. The photographer, who was arrested while covering a crackdown on anti-military protests back then, was freed on Monday. He posted a picture on his Twitter with the hashtag “hello asphalt”, a phrase used by Egypt’s political prisoners when they get freed. (Al Jazeera)

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

UK: A man in Britain has become the second known adult worldwide to be cleared of HIV after he received a bone marrow transplant from a virus-resistant donor, his doctors said. Almost three years after receiving bone marrow stem cells from a donor with a rare genetic mutation that resists HIV infection – and more than 18 months after he came off antiretroviral drugs – highly sensitive tests still show no trace of the man’s previous HIV infection. (The Guardian)

Saudi Arabia: The US government said it has awarded arms manufacturer Lockheed Martin a $946m payment on behalf of Saudi Arabia for an advanced missile defence system. The contract, announced by the Pentagon in a statement on Monday, is the first instalment of what is expected to be a $15bn deal. Payment comes as members of Congress look to punish Saudi Arabia for its role in the war in Yemen and Khashoggi murder. (Al Jazeera)

Saudi Arabia: Saudi Arabia is using its counterterrorism laws to silence activists in violation of international law guaranteeing freedom of speech, United Nations human rights experts said. A panel event titled “Saudi Arabia – Time for Accountability” was held on Monday on the sidelines of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Counterterrorism laws and other regulations are “unacceptably wide and unacceptably vague”, said Fionnuala Ni Aolain, UN special rapporteur on protecting human rights while countering “terrorism”. (Al Jazeera)

UK: Counter-terror police are investigating three packages containing explosives found at Heathrow Airport, London City Airport and Waterloo station. The “small improvised explosive devices” were found in A4 postal bags, the Metropolitan Police said. The force’s Counter Terrorism Command is treating it as a “linked series” and “keeping an open mind” about motives. Irish police are assisting the Met as the Heathrow and Waterloo packages had Republic of Ireland stamps. (BBC)

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

UN: The UN human rights chief has warned of the threat posed by growing global inequality over income, wealth and access to resources and justice. “In recent months we have seen people across the world take to the streets to protest,” said Michelle Bachelet. Addressing the UN Human Rights Council, Ms Bachelet referred specifically to a recent wave of protests in Sudan, as well as protests in Haiti and France. She also warned of the “existential threat” of hate speech and xenophobia. (BBC)

Israel: Israel’s election committee banned a leftist Arab-Israeli coalition from running in parliamentary elections next month even as it approved two members of a far-right party who have been labelled as racist. The Central Election Committee on Wednesday prohibited both the Balad-United Arab List and Ofer Cassif, a member of another Arab-Israeli party, Hadash-Ta’al, from candidacy in decisions that rights groups said were politically motivated. (Middle East Eye)

Iraq: In Iraq, reconstruction remains a daunting obstacle to displaced people returning home. The government has allocated money and established commissions for people to file for assistance. But there is little sign of that money being used for reconstruction after years of war that devastated the country. (Al Jazeera)

Yemen: United States and European weapons are being used by the Saudi- and UAE-led coalition to kill and wound hundreds of civilians in Yemen, a new report by the Yemen-based Mwatana for Human Rights (MHR) has revealed. The organisation documented 27 unlawful coalition attacks from April 2015 to April 2018 that killed 203 civilians and injured at least 749. Of the 27 attacks, 22 likely involved weapons produced in the US, two attacks likely involved weapons produced in the United Kingdom, and three attacks likely involved weapons with parts produced in both the US and UK, the report said. (Al Jazeera)

EU: A European Union court has rejected a challenge by Hamas against its 2015 listing as a “terrorist” organisation, a decision that made the Palestinian group liable to EU sanctions. The EU General Court’s ruling was the latest rejection of Hamas’s efforts to be struck from an EU blacklist created in 2001 – a list based on a UN resolution following the 9/11 attacks in the United States. “In today’s judgment, the General Court looks into each of the arguments made by Hamas and rejects them in their totality,” the Luxembourg-based court said in a statement on Wednesday. (Al Jazeera)

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Syria: Human rights lawyers have filed the first cases against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. The lawsuits were submitted on behalf of 28 Syrian refugees in Jordan who say they were forced to flee the country. The legal teams are calling on the ICC to investigate possible crimes against humanity committed since Syria’s civil war began in 2011. (BBC)

Palestine: A 15-year-old Palestinian boy was killed by Israeli soldiers on Wednesday during an evening protest near the Israeli fence east of the Gaza Strip. According to the Gaza ministry of health’s spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra, the teenager was identified as Saif al-din Abu Zeid, who was shot in the head by an Israeli sniper east of the besieged enclave. Six other protesters were wounded by Israeli forces and were taken to Shifa Hospital for treatment. (Al Jazeera)

Algeria: President Abdelaziz Bouteflika has warned of a risk of “chaos” amid mass protests against his plans for re-election. In a letter published by Algeria’s official APS news agency, 82-year-old Mr Bouteflika praised demonstrators for “peacefully expressing their opinions”. But he also urged “vigilance” against possible infiltration of the protests by “domestic and foreign” forces. (BBC)

Russia: Turkey will not go back on its agreement to buy S-400 missile defence systems from Russia, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Wednesday, adding that Ankara may subsequently look into buying S-500 systems. Turkey has repeatedly said it is committed to buying the Russian missile defense system, despite warnings from the United States that the S-400s cannot be integrated into the NATO air defence system. The US State Department said on Tuesday that Washington had told Turkey that if it buys the S-400 systems, the United States will have to reassess Ankara’s participation in the Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter program. In an interview Erdoğan said it would be “immoral” for Turkey to turn back from its deal with Russia. (Euractiv)

Italy: Italy is set to become the first member of the ‘Group of Seven’ most powerful nations to join China’s  infrastructure plan “One Belt, One Road” (OBOR), despite the heightened scrutiny of Beijing’s investment in Europe. Italy is in talks with the Chinese government to sign a memorandum of understanding and become a member of the investment initiative, also labeled as New Silk Road, later this month. (Euractiv)

Friday, 8 March 2019

Algeria: Algerian women were out in full force in a mass protest in the capital on Friday, as the movement against President Abdelaziz Bouteflika’s reelection campaign continues to grow in the North African country. Tens of thousands of people rallied in Algiers against Bouteflika’s bid for a fifth term in next month’s election, undeterred by a large police presence. Women of all ages took to the streets for the protest, dubbed the “March of 20 Million”, which coincided with International Women’s Day. Many marched with Algerian flags and flowers in their hands. (Middle East Eye)

EU: EU interior ministers on Thursday failed to conclude an overhaul of the bloc’s migration policy, meaning that under the Juncker Commission, no further progress can be expected on a dossier expected to take centre stage at the European elections. After the proposal of a package of laws to overhaul the European asylum system, five of the seven laws have been agreed. However, EU member states have been deadlocked for more than a year on the most important one: the planned harmonisation of the bloc’s asylum procedures and the controversial question of relocation quotas for refugees across the bloc. “It is the official day to conclude that there’s no agreement on asylum,” an EU diplomat told reporters in Brussels. (Euractiv)

UK: A mother has been jailed for 11 years after becoming the first person in Britain to be convicted of female genital mutilation in a landmark case. The 37-year-old woman was found guilty of cutting her three-year-old daughter. A further two years were added to her sentence for possessing indecent images and extreme pornography. Campaigners welcomed the ruling, describing it as a “watershed moment” that sent a strong message the crime would not be tolerated. (The Guardian)

UE: Mark Zuckerberg has put Facebook on a collision course with European regulators. The CEO wrote Wednesday in a lengthy blog post that he plans to integrate WhatsApp, Instagram and Messenger, making it easier for users to communicate across the Facebook-owned platforms. The plan is likely to run into stiff opposition in Europe, where sweeping privacy rules were imposed last year and regulators have already warned Facebook against sharing data between its companies. (CNN)

Spain: Spain made world headlines last year when it staged a general strike on March 8, International Women’s Day. Around 5.3 million women observed the walkout, according to the unions, while hundreds of thousands of people joined marches on the streets of 120 Spanish cities that day. One year later, another “feminist strike” and more than 500 street demonstrations have been called in Spain for today. In Madrid and Barcelona, students are planning a march at noon, and wider demonstrations are scheduled in both cities in the evening. (El País)