Weekly News 05 – 09 February 2018 | Mediterranean Affairs
Monday 05 February
Belgium: The sole surviving suspect from the 2015 Paris terror attacks refused to speak any further in a Belgian court, where his trial over the gunfight that led to his arrest began on Monday.
Salah Abdeslam said he would not respond to questions from the judge
Abdeslam and his suspected accomplice Sofien Ayari, 24, are accused of possessing illegal weapons and the attempted murder of police officers in a terrorist context.
The men allegedly fought a gun battle with officers who raided the flat where they were holed up, in the Molenbeek district of Brussels.
The Belgian prosecutor, Kathleen Grosjean, said she was seeking the maximum of 20 years’ imprisonment for each of them.The trial in Brussels was adjourned until Thursday. (BBC)
Syria: Nearly two dozen civilians have been killed just outside of Damascus in a Syrian government-led offensive targeting rebel-held areas, a war-monitor group said.
Air strikes on Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of the Syrian capital, killed at least 23 people on Monday, the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.
The Observatory said at least 70 people were also wounded in the attacks, which the group said were carried out by Syrian forces and their Russian allies. (Al Jazeera)
Syria: The Turkish military has suffered the deadliest day in its offensive against Kurdish militias inside northern Syria, with seven soldiers killed.
Five of the troops died when their tank was attacked in the Afrin region. The military said in a statement that the US-backed YPG attacked the tank in Sheikh Haruz, north-east of Afrin city.
Two other soldiers were killed earlier, the military said, one in Afrin and another on the Turkish side of the border in an attack blamed on the YPG. (BBC)
Palestine: An Israeli settler has been stabbed and killed in a knife attack outside an illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank.
The attack in the district of Salfit on Monday afternoon, on the main road near the Ariel settlement, was reportedly carried out by a Palestinian man who fled the scene, according to Israeli media. Hamas, in the Gaza Strip, welcomed the stabbing attack. (Al Jazeera)
Turkey: The Netherlands has formally withdrawn its ambassador to Turkey and said no new Turkish ambassador will be accepted in The Hague.
The decision marks the deepening of a row that began when the Dutch barred Turkish ministers from campaigning among the Turkish diaspora in 2017.
The Dutch diplomat has not been allowed to enter Turkey since March.
The Netherlands foreign ministry also said that it had “paused” talks on resolving matters with Turkey. (BBC)
Tuesday 06 February
Iran: Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has called on Turkey to stop its military operation in the northern Syrian enclave of Afrin, saying it will only result in more deaths on both sides.
In a wide-ranging press conference on Tuesday, the Iranian leader said his government believes “a military foreign intervention should be based on the authorisation of the host country and its people”. The government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which is aligned with Iran, has condemned the Afrin operation. (Al Jazeera)
Palestine: A Palestinian has been killed in clashes with the Israeli army in the city of Nablus in the occupied West Bank, according to medical sources.
Khaled Walid Tayeh, 22, from Iraq al-Tayeh near Nablus, succumbed to his wounds on Tuesday after being shot in the chest, staff at al-Najah Hospital told Palestinian news agency Wafa.
At least 40 others were injured in the violence, which broke out after Israeli soldiers entered the city in order to carry out arrests. (Al Jazeera)
Wednesday 07 February
Germany: Germany is set to emerge from months of political deadlock after Angela Merkel’s conservatives (CDU/CSU) finally agreed a coalition deal with the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD).
Negotiators have agreed on the division of key ministries – one of the last hurdles towards forming a government.
It could end more than four months of wrangling since inconclusive elections in September. (BBC)
Lebanon: Lebanon’s Higher Defence Council has given orders to prevent Israel from building a border wall on Lebanese land, amid rising tensions over land and maritime boundaries.
Lebanese leaders have said Israel’s actions are threatening the stability of the border region.
Israeli officials did not immediately respond. Israel has previously said that the wall and a disputed Mediterranean gas field were on its territory. (Al Jazeera)
Palestine: A funeral has been held for a 22-year-old Palestinian killed by Israeli forces during a Wednesday night raid.
The raid was in search of a suspected murderer of an Israeli settler, but Israeli authorities did not find the alleged assailant.
According to Palestinian medical sources, about 110 people were wounded in the raid. (Al Jazeera)
Thursday 08 February
Syria: Syria has accused the US of carrying out a “brutal massacre” with a bombing attack in Deir al-Zour province.
The overnight air and artillery strikes killed an estimated 100 pro-government fighters near the Euphrates river, according to the US.
It claimed a right to self-defence, saying it was responding to an attack on its coalition forces.
The Pentagon said Russian mercenaries were also killed, but Russia denies having personnel in the area.
The strikes happened in the Middle Euphrates Valley, which serves as an informal demarcation line in eastern Syria. The government controls the western side and the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) the east. (BBC)
Syria: Residents of the besieged Syrian enclave of eastern Ghouta have endured a further day of relentless bombardment by the government of Bashar al-Assad, a campaign that has so far killed more than 200 people and left a ceasefire deal that lasted months in tatters.
The bombardment continued despite international pleas for a countrywide ceasefire to alleviate “extreme” suffering in Syria, where the violence has been renewed after failed peace talks earlier this month. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said 59 civilians, including 15 children, had been killed on Thursday alone in eastern Ghouta, , endured a devastating sarin gas attack in 2013 and was once the bread basket of the nearby capital, Damascus. (The Guardian)
Friday 09 February
Egypt: Egypt has launched a massive offensive against Islamic militants in the Sinai peninsula, seeking to end a bloody conflict that has killed hundreds of civilians and soldiers in recent years.
A military spokesman said the operation would cover large parts of Sinai plus parts of the Nile delta and the western desert, where other militants have waged attacks.
Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a former general, ordered the military to defeat militants in north Sinai within three months after , the deadliest such incident in the Arab world’s most populous country.
The offensive, which involves the army, navy, air force, border patrol and police, takes place weeks before the presidential election in which Sisi is seeking a second term. and set to win comfortably, despite anger over austerity measures and persistent unemployment. The success or failure of the military offensive will most likely not affect the result. (The Guardian)
Germany: Martin Schulz, the leader of Germany’s Social Democratic party, has announced that he will not take up a ministerial post in the next coalition government, despite gaining key roles for his party from Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union.
Schulz, who was rumoured to be heading for the foreign ministry after agreeing a coalition deal with the CDU on Wednesday, said in a statement that he feared the upcoming SPD membership vote, which is required to approve a renewed “grand coalition”, could be “endangered by the discussion surrounding my person”. (The Guardian)
Libya: At least two people have been killed and scores wounded in a bombing at a mosque in Libya’s eastern city of Benghazi, according to medical sources.
The casualties were caused by two suspected improvised explosive devices which went off at the Saad Ben Obadah mosque during Friday prayers.
Mutaz al-Mu’tri, Benghazi’s security directorate spokesperson, said two bomb bags had been used in the attack, according to Libya’s 218 tv news channel.
Medics told Reuters news agency that at least two people were killed and 55 were wounded. Local media news reports put the number of those injured at 129. (Al Jazeera)