Weekly News – Monday 6 February

IRAQ: a survey of about 6,000 women from the Kurdish region of northern Iraq found out that Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) has fallen sharply. Almost half of the women interviewed had undergone FGM, while the data falls to 11% in the case of their daughters. On the International Day of Zero Tolerance for FGM, Hannah Wettig, coordinator of the Stop FGM Middle East Campaign said that FGM may be ‘eradicated in one generation if efforts continue’. FGM is condemned internationally as a major rights abuse, worldwide an estimated 200 million women have been affected by FGM. (The Daily Star)

SYRIA: the Syrian government troops have cut off the last supply route of the stronghold of so-called Islamic State (IS) in the city of al-Bab. Meanwhile, Turkish-backed rebels advanced from the north of the city thus surrounding IS fighters. According to the British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, al-Bab represents the largest stronghold of the armed group in Aleppo province. Airstrikes also contributed to the closure of the last routes that connects al-Bab with other IS strongholds such as Raqqa and Deir Az Zor provinces. (Al Jazeera)

TURKEY: Turkish police have arrested 400 suspected Isis terrorists in a series of raids as part of a crackdown on terror across the country. At least 60 suspects were detained in the capital Ankara, while 150 were arrested in Sanliurfa province near the Syrian border along with scores of others across the country during the past week, as security forces carried out the raids. The arrests come a month after an Isis member carried out a terror attack at a nightclub in Istanbul, killing 39 people and injuring dozens more, in what was the first Isis-claimed atrocity to take place in Turkey. (Independent)

EGYPT: Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano said on Monday that cooperation between Egypt and Italy to resolve the issue of the Italian researcher Giulio Regeni, who was murdered in Egypt last year, is “essential” for bilateral ties. Italy, according to Alfano, is “evaluating the development of judicial cooperation” with authorities in Cairo, “which, for us, is essential for the continuation of a certain kind of relationship with Egypt”. Regeni, 28, went missing in the Egyptian capital on January 25, 2016, on the heavily policed fifth anniversary of the uprising that ousted former strongman and president Hosni Mubarak. (Al-Masry Al-Youm)

FRANCE: Marine Le Pen has formally launched her presidential campaign, promising to put France first by freeing it it from the “tyrannies” of globalisation, Islamic fundamentalism and the European Union. Le Pen vowed on Sunday to shut down radical Islamist prayer centers. Le Pen said Islamic fundamentalism was a “yoke” France could no longer live under. Muslim veils, mosques and street prayers were cultural threats “no French person … attached to his dignity can accept”; radical Islamist prayer centres would be closed down and hate preachers expelled. (The Guardian)

SERBIA: If a referendum were to be held tomorrow with question “Do you support Serbian membership in the EU?”, 47% of the Serbian citizens would be in favour, 29% would be against, 15% would not vote, and 9% would not know what to answer. These are the results of the last public opinion poll called “European Orientation of Serbian Citizens” which was conducted by Serbian European Integration Office in December 2016. The poll was carried out in compliance with the Eurobarometer standards, and 1,054 respondents older than 18 took part in it. (ANSAmed)

 EU: EU foreign ministers at a meeting on Monday called for “dialogue” in Libya and in a declaration at the end of the summit — the Council conclusions — suggested that EU sanctions against opponents of the Tripoli government could be dropped if “necessary to help support peace, stability and security in Libya.” In a press conference after the foreign ministers’ meeting, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini was asked why Haftar was not mentioned by name in the Council conclusions. “I can mention Haftar, obviously,” Mogherini said, adding that the EU wants “to facilitate a dialogue between Prime Minister al-Sarraj and General Haftar”.“This is a work we support; we see the need for all players in Libya to try and find their common ground to unite the country,” she added. (POLITICO)

ASTANA – Representatives from Russia, Turkey and Iran have kicked off a technical meeting in Kazakhstan’s capital Astana to discuss details of the implementation of the Syrian ceasefire agreement. The meeting comes two weeks after the three countries reached an agreement in Astana to create a trilateral mechanism aimed at monitoring breaches of a fragile truce established in late December and paving the way towards UN-led peace talks in February. The talks spotlighted sharp differences between Moscow and Tehran over the possible future participation of the United States and also excluded Gulf states, both major backers of armed opposition groups in Syria. (Al Jazeera)

Tuesday 7 February

Syria – Syrian authorities have killed at least 13,000 people since the start of the 2011 uprising in mass hangings at a prison north of Damascus known to detainees as “the slaughterhouse,” Amnesty International said in a report on Tuesday. It covers the period from 2011 to 2015, when Amnesty said 20 to 50 people were hanged each week at Saydnaya Prison in killings authorised by senior Syrian officials, including deputies of President Bashar al-Assad, and carried out by military police. The report referred to the killings as a “calculated campaign of extrajudicial execution”. (Independent)

Belgium: The European Court of Justice’s top adviser affirmed that EU states must issue entry visas to people at risk of torture or inhuman treatment. The advice comes after a Syrian family was denied visas by Belgium, which argues it is not obliged to admit everyone from a war zone. Critics said that if the Court accepts the finding, this could open up a new path for migrants to reach Europe, however, as the Belgium’s immigration minister pointed out, the advice is not binding. (BBC)

Iraq: The United Nations (UN) reported that about 30,000 people have returned to Mosul after that the Iraqi forces declared the eastern part of the city fully liberated. The western part, home to an estimated 750,000 people is still under control of Daesh. According to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, a steadily increasing number of people have returned the city. The operations to drive IS militants out of Mosul have begun last October; since 2014 the city is controlled by Daesh and about 190,000 have been displaced in the past years. (The Daily Star)

Israel: the Knesset passed a bill late on Monday that retroactively legalises thousands of settlement homes in the Occupied West Bank. Commentators said that this move legitimises theft but also ends any prospect for a two-state solution. The “Regulation Bill” was voted with a 60 to 52 majority and it immediately drew wide condemnation. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas affirmed that the law is an aggression against Palestinian people and violates international law. Three Israeli NGOs and many Palestinians intend to petition the Supreme Court to cancel the law. The bill applies to about 4,000 settlement homes. (Al Jazeera)

Wednesday 8 February

Germany: Germany together with France have commented the declining possibility of a two-state solution in Palestine. The German foreign minister affirmed that with the new bill approved by the Knesset “trust in the Israeli government’s commitment to the two-state solution” had been “fundamentally shaken”. The new law which legalises Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank has attracted strong criticism. (The Guardian)

Palestine: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas affirmed that Palestine could end security cooperation with Israel if the ramp-up of Israeli settlement continues. After the retroactively approved “Regulation Bill”, which legalised 4,000 home units in the occupied West Bank, Mr. Abbas said that if the colonisation continues, he would have no other choice other than suspending cooperation. Mr. Abbas said this in a state meeting with the French President Francois Hollande, who also showed concern over the recently approved bill. (The Daily Star)

Morocco – The Superior Council of Ulemas, the highest religious authority in Morocco, has opened the possibility for conversion to other religions. According to rules active in all Muslim countries, apostasy is punishable by death. It’s also forbidden for those from different faiths to share their faiths among Muslims. The Moroccan Ulemas’ fatwa, titled “The Way of the Erudite”, overcomes one of the crucial points of Islam, in line with a country that has always respected religious pluralism and that, at the behest of King Mohammed VI, has decided to wage war on extremism. (Morocco World News)

Libya: The Tobruk-based Libyan House of Representatives said Wednesday that it considers a recent Memorandum of Understanding signed between the Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni and Chairman of the Presidential Council of Libya Fayez Al-Serraj to be null and void. The anouncement was made by the Tobruk parliamentary body itself in a statement through the Al-Wasat website, which said that the presidential council and its president did not have jurisdiction to make such choices on the basis of the constitution and judicial sentences. ”An issue like that of clandestine migration, ” the statement said, ”is one of the important issues linked to the choice of the Libyan people through the representatives that they elected democratically through voting, and not the interests of individuals that do not have the trust of the House of Representatives, which is the legitimate power, nor the interests of European countries, and especially the Italian Republic.” Italy, it continued, ”is trying to get rid of the burden and the dangerous problems caused by clandestine migration at the security, economic and social level in exchange for a bit of material support that it is forced to offer to reduce the number of illegal migrants.” (ANSAmed).

Thursday 9:

Israel: Daesh claimed responsibility for rockets fired on the southern province of Israel in the town of Eliat. The Egyptian affiliate of IS, known as the Sinai Province, has launched several attack on Israel in the past. Four of the seven rockets were destroyed in flight by Israel’s anti-missile system. No missile caused any dead or injured. (Middle East Monitor)

The Israeli Parliament has approved a controversial law legalizing Israeli settlements built on private Palestinian land in the West Bank. Tension in the house was very high. Labor opposition leader, Isaac Herzog, warned that the approval would lead Israel to face the International Criminal Court in The Hague and that the Israeli prime minister would be responsible for this. The objective of the measure – following the clearing of the illegal Jewish settlement of Amona ordered by the Supreme Court – is to ”regularize the settlements of Judea and Samaria (West Bank) and allow their continued stabilization and development”. (ANSAmed).

Trump seems to have made a U-turn as regards Israel’s settlements growth. The US President, in contrast to what he said just a week ago, said that an enlargement of settlements is not the best option for a viable peace. However, he said he is still intended to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, although recognising that this may not be an easy move. (The Guardian)

Libya: European diplomats are engaging in efforts to persuade Moscow not to support the renegade Libyan General Haftar, leader of the Tobruk Parliament in the eastern part of the country. Haftar refused to work together with the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) set up in December 2015 in an effort to unite the country under one rule. Haftar has sought help from Russia to fight so-called Islamic State (IS), however EU diplomats fear that he could join what has been described as Vladimir Putin’s axis of secular authoritarians in the Middle East alongside Syrian president Bashar al-Assad and Egyptian president Abdel Fatah al-Sisi. Talks with Moscow are led by Italy whose foreign minister Angelino Alfano will meet with Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov for a second time on February 16. (The Guardian)

Palestine: after that Israel was hit by rockets coming from the Sinai Peninsula, two missiles hit a tunnel on the Gaza strip defying Israeli blockade. Two persons were killed and five more injured, it is not clear who is responsible for the attack, however Ashraf al-Qedra, Gaza’s health ministry spokesperson, affirmed that an Israeli warplane launched the missiles along the Palestinian-Egyptian borders. Gaza has been under a decade-long siege imposed by Israel following Hamas’ election victory and subsequent takeover of the enclave in 2007. Since 2013, Egypt has largely shut off its border with Gaza although it has recently eased some border restrictions. (Al Jazeera)

Italy: the Italian government presented two decrees on immigration and security. The immigration decree wants to accelerate the waiting time for the asylum process and speeding deportations of those whose request is rejected. With an emergency decree, the government decided to cut the number of possible appeals to an asylum ruling. Furthermore, it erases the Identification and Expulsion Centres, which have been object of debate for the conditions of refugees and for their efficacy, and substitutes them with repatriation centres, one for each of the country’s regions. In addition, the decree allows municipalities to proceed with the employment of refugees for unpaid social utility jobs. (La Repubblica)

Syria: a powerful Syrian extremist group known as Jund al-Aqsa, has made rapid gains against factions of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Jund al-Aqsa group claims to be stemming from al-Qaeda branch in Syria. However, in the past it has affirmed to be allied with Fateh al-Sham, formerly the Nusra Front, which conversely rejected any allegations of alliance. Jund al-Aqsa has captured this week weapons and bases from groups operating under the FSA and has detained dozens of rebel fighters according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. (The Daily Star)

Assad refused Trump’s plan for safe areas for civilians in Syria. He added that safe areas can only be established when you have stability and security and not when “you have a flow of terrorists backed by the neighbouring countries or Western countries”. Civilians do not need safe zones and it is more viable to build stability than creating safe areas, he said. Assad also lamented the fact that civilians have left the country because of terrorists and because of the sanctions imposed by Western countries, which, according to him, contribute to worsen the Syrian situation. (L’Orient Le Jour)

Belgium: The European Court of Justice’s top adviser affirmed that EU states must issue entry visas to people at risk of torture or inhuman treatment. The advice comes after a Syrian family was denied visas by Belgium, which argues it is not obliged to admit everyone from a war zone. Critics said that if the Court accepts the finding, this could open up a new path for migrants to reach Europe, however, as the Belgium’s immigration minister pointed out, the advice is not binding. (BBC)

Iraq: The United Nations (UN) reported that about 30,000 people have returned to Mosul after that the Iraqi forces declared the eastern part of the city fully liberated. The western part, home to an estimated 750,000 people is still under control of Daesh. According to the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, a steadily increasing number of people have returned the city. The operations to drive IS militants out of Mosul have begun last October; since 2014 the city is controlled by Daesh and about 190,000 have been displaced in the past years. (The Daily Star)

United Nations – UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres intends to nominate former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad to take the place of Martin Kobler as special envoy for Libya and head of the UNSMIL mission. UN diplomatic sources told ANSA on Thursday that Guterres had made the intention known in a letter sent to the Security Council chief. Fayyad was PM from 2007 until 2012, while from 2002 to 2005 he was finance minister. (ANSAmed)

Friday 10 February

Israel: Trump seems to have made a U-turn as regards Israel’s settlements growth. The US President, in contrast to what he said just a week ago, said that an enlargement of settlements is not the best option for a viable peace. However, he said he is still intended to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, although recognising that this may not be an easy move. (The Guardian)

Italy: the Italian government presented two decrees on immigration and security. The immigration decree wants to accelerate the waiting time for the asylum process and speeding deportations of those whose request is rejected. With an emergency decree, the government decided to cut the number of possible appeals to an asylum ruling. Furthermore, it erases the Identification and Expulsion Centres, which have been object of debate for the conditions of refugees and for their efficacy, and substitutes them with repatriation centres, one for each of the country’s regions. In addition, the decree allows municipalities to proceed with the employment of refugees for unpaid social utility jobs. (La Repubblica)

Syria: a powerful Syrian extremist group known as Jund al-Aqsa, has made rapid gains against factions of the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Jund al-Aqsa group claims to be stemming from al-Qaeda branch in Syria. However, in the past it has affirmed to be allied with Fateh al-Sham, formerly the Nusra Front, which conversely rejected any allegations of alliance. Jund al-Aqsa has captured this week weapons and bases from groups operating under the FSA and has detained dozens of rebel fighters according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. (The Daily Star)

Assad refused Trump’s plan for safe areas for civilians in Syria. He added that safe areas can only be established when you have stability and security and not when “you have a flow of terrorists backed by the neighbouring countries or Western countries”. Civilians do not need safe zones and it is more viable to build stability than creating safe areas, he said. Assad also lamented the fact that civilians have left the country because of terrorists and because of the sanctions imposed by Western countries, which, according to him, contribute to worsen the Syrian situation. (L’Orient Le Jour)

France: Four people have been arrested in and around the southern French city of Montpellier on suspicion of planning an imminent terrorist attack in France. Police and judicial sources said those in custody included a 20-year-old man and his 16-year-old girlfriend, both known to authorities for connections with radical Islam, and said the attack had been due to take place in Paris. Police found TATP explosives and other bomb-making materials in the man’s home, the sources said. The interior ministry confirmed that explosives had been found. France, which will hold the first round of a presidential election in just over 10 weeks’ time, remains on high alert over possible Islamist militant attacks. (The Guardian)

Turkey: President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan approved constitutional amendments on Feb. 10 that will bring drastic changes to the country’s political system, including a shift to an executive presidential system from the current parliamentary system, clearing the way for a referendum to be held on April 16. The constitutional amendment will bestow strong powers on the president, who will exercise all the authorities of the prime minister and cabinet and possess the authority to issue decrees, appoint vice presidents and cabinet members from outside the parliament and hold the title “head of the state,” which will enter the constitution as a term for the first time since it was used for Kenan Evren, Turkey’s former coup leader and seventh president, as part of a provisional article in the 1982 Constitution. (Hurriyet Daily News)

Turkish police detained at least 12 people and fired tear gas to disperse hundreds more protesting outside Ankara University against the dismissal of dozens of professors, police sources and Reuters witnesses said.Up to 1,000 people including academics had tried to gather at the campus on Friday, some inside and others on surrounding streets, but police blocked the entrance, firing tear gas and rubber bullets. Dozens of academics at the university were sacked this week, among more than 4,400 largely civil servants dismissed in the latest purge of a nationwide crackdown following a failed coup last July. Turkey has removed or suspended more than 125,000 people and formally arrested 40,000 since the attempted coup, in which rogue soldiers tried to overthrow President Tayyip Erdogan, killing more than 240 people. (Reuters)