Weekly News 6 – 10 May 2019 | Mediterranean Affairs


Monday, 6 May 2019

Palestine: There has been a lull in hostilities in the Gaza Strip after Palestinian militants said that a ceasefire with Israel had been agreed. It comes after a weekend during which Palestinian militants launched hundreds of rockets into Israel prompting retaliatory air and artillery strikes. At least four Israelis and 25 Palestinians were killed. Israel has not confirmed the truce, but its military has lifted emergency measures in place in southern Israel. The violence flared up on Friday during a protest against the blockade of Gaza. (BBC)

Turkey: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan strongly condemned an Israeli attack on Anadolu Agency office in the Gaza Strip on May 4. “We strongly condemn Israel’s attack against Anadolu Agency’s office in Gaza,” Erdoğan said on twitter and added: “Turkey and Anadolu Agency will continue to tell the world about Israeli terrorism and atrocities in Gaza and other parts of Palestine despite such attacks.” Israeli warplanes hit the building with at least 5 rockets after warning shots. No injuries or death were reported. (Hurriyet)

Iran: The United States is deploying a carrier strike group and a bomber task force to the Middle East to send a clear message to Iran that any attack on US interests or its allies will be met with “unrelenting force”. Amid rising tensions between Washington and Tehran, US National Security Advisor John Bolton said on Sunday that the deployment of the USS Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group to the US Central Command region was a response “to a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings”. (Al Jazeera)

Turkey: Abdullah Ocalan, the imprisoned leader of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), said on Monday that any peace deal in Syria involving the Syrian Democratic Forces should be sensitive to Turkey’s concerns, and called for a resolution to the country’s conflict based on “democratic negotiations” rather than violence. Ocalan’s comments came in a statement released by his lawyers on Monday after they had been permitted to see the PKK leader for the first time since 2011 on 2 May for one hour. The statement, signed by Ocalan and three other PKK inmates being held in prison on Imrali island in the Sea of Marmara, was earlier delivered to his lawyers by Turkish authorities. (Middle East Eye)

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Iran: Iran labelled the US announcement that it was deploying a naval strike group to the Middle East to deliver the Islamic Republic a message as “psychological warfare”. The dismissal on Monday came a day after John Bolton, US national security adviser, said Washington was sending the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group and a bomber task force as a “clear and unmistakable message” that it will retaliate against any attack on its interests or its allies by Iran. (Al Jazeera)

Turkey: Turkish authorities have scrapped the result of a vote for Istanbul mayor that was lost by the candidate backed by the president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in response to calls by his AK party for a rerun. In a move that hit the lira and drew opposition accusations of “dictatorship“, the high election board (YSK) ruled that a fresh Istanbul mayoral contest must be held on 23 June. The AK party representative at the board, Recep Özel, said the decision was based on unsigned results documents from the 31 March poll and the fact that some ballot box officials were not civil servants. (The Guardian)

Iraq: US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unscheduled, fleeting visit to Iraq, amid growing tensions with Iran. Mr Pompeo cancelled a trip to Berlin to meet Iraqi leaders during a four-hour stop in the capital Baghdad. He told the leaders that the US did not “want anybody interfering in their country”, and asked them to protect US troops in Iraq. The visit came days after the US deployed an aircraft carrier, USS Abraham Lincoln, to the region. (BBC)

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Syria: At least 15 civilians, including children, have been killed in Syria’s northwest region as Russian-backed government forces continued air raids and shelling in the last rebel-held territory in the country, according to activists and volunteer medics. Three children were among five civilians killed when an air raid hit three homes and a vegetable market in the village of Ras al-Ain in Idlib’s eastern region on Tuesday afternoon, said Ahmed Sheikho, a spokesman for Syrian Civil Defence.  At least 20 others were also wounded, he added. (Al Jazeera)

UK: Despite talks with the opposition Labour Party to try to find an alliance to get the Brexit withdrawal agreement through Parliament, British Prime Minister Theresa May’s deputy David Lidington conceded on Tuesday there was not enough time left to get the deal through the assembly. “It is regrettably not going to be possible to finish that process” before May 23, Lidington said in a statement, promising to make the delay “as short as possible. “May deeply regretted the move, her spokesman said. (Deutsche Welle)

Germany: Manfred Weber and the Netherland’s Frans Timmermans — the two leading contenders to be the next European Commission president — went head-to-head in a televised debate in Germany on Tuesday. Climate change, taxes, terrorism and migration led the discussion between Weber, a vice-chairman of Bavaria’s Christian Social Union, and Timmermans, previously vice-chairman of the EU Commission. According to recent polls, the European People’s Party, a bloc of conservative parties to which Weber belongs, is likely to remain the strongest party in the next parliament with 24%, while the Social Democrats would keep their share of the vote at 20%. (Deutsche Welle)

Iran: President Hassan Rouhani has announced that Tehran is pulling out of key commitments under a 2015 international nuclear deal, a year after it was abandoned by the United States. Rouhani said Iran would keep enriched uranium stocks in the country rather than sell them abroad and threatened to resume production of higher enriched uranium if world powers did not protect its interests against US sanctions. (Middle East Eye)

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Iran: US President Donald Trump has raised the pressure on Iran on the day Tehran said it was suspending some commitments to a landmark nuclear agreement. Mr Trump signed an executive order imposing sanctions on Iran’s metals industry – its second biggest export earner after oil. But he also said he hoped to meet Iran’s leaders to work out a deal. (BBC)

Germany: The United States ambassador to Germany on Thursday accused the German government of pursuing a hypocritical policy toward the NATO military alliance. “It seems hypocritical to say that we should reform NATO while not aiming for the 2%,” Richard Grenell told Bild newspaper, referring to an alliance goal of spending at least 2% of gross domestic product (GDP) on defense. Grenell and US President Donald Trump have repeatedly criticized Germany’s long-standing reluctance to increase its defense budget. The ambassador also said Germany had learned the wrong lesson of “we don’t like war, we’ll stay out” from its experience in World War II. (Deutsche Welle)

Saudi Arabia: Three individuals with ties to slain Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi have recently been given security briefings, after security agencies determined they could be “the targets of potential retaliation from Saudi Arabia”, TIME reported. The US magazine said on Thursday that the CIA was the source of the threat warnings that have been given to “friends and colleagues” of Khashoggi. The three individuals given security briefings in recent weeks are Iyad el-Baghdadi of Norway; Omar Abdulaziz of Canada, and a third, US-based person who was not identified, TIME said. (Middle East Eye)

Iraq: A suicide attack has killed at least four civilians and wounded six others in a Shia area of Iraq’s eastern Baghdad, according to security sources and witnesses. A suicide bomber detonated his explosive belt late on Thursday in a market in Sadr City, a suburb of Baghdad, the sources said. (Al Jazeera)

Friday, 10 May 2019

Iran: Donald Trump has offered Iran direct talks, saying its leaders should “call me” and suggested the US would help revive the country’s economy as long as Iran did not acquire nuclear weapons. The impromptu offer by the US president, if serious, represents a dramatic lowering of the bar set by his administration for lifting extensive sanctions, including an oil embargo. (The Guardian)

Migration: At least 70 people drowned on Friday when their boat sank in international waters off the Tunisian coast, and 16 were saved, the state-run Tunis Afrique Presse agency said. The boat sank 40 nautical miles off the coast of Sfax, south of the capital Tunis, it said. The UN migration agency put the death toll at at least 50, the Reuters news agency reported. Interior ministry spokesman Sofiene Zaag said however around 75 people are believed to have been on board the Italy-bound boat when it departed Libya. (Middle East Eye)

EU: European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Thursday (9 May) that the EU should “concentrate on immediate and urgent” climate policies for 2030 rather than a proposed 2050 target defended by eight EU countries to reach net-zero emissions. Speaking to reporters at the end of an informal summit in Romania, Juncker was asked whether the meeting between EU-27 leaders had relegated climate change down the political agenda. (Euractiv)

Palestine: Israel lifted a ban on Friday on Palestinian fishing boats operating off the Gaza Strip, ending a measure imposed during a deadly flare-up of violence earlier this month. The fishing union in the Gaza Strip confirmed the lifting of the ban, saying the new limits imposed by Israel were 12 nautical miles in the southern half of Gaza and six nautical miles in the north. Zakaria Bakr, an official with the fishing union, said a number of boats began fishing on Friday, the first in the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. The measure is seen as a first step in implementing a fragile truce meant to avert a new conflict between Israel and Palestinian armed factions. (Al Jazeera)