Med ministers urge EU to deepen ties to tackle migration roots

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Sunday, 21st April 2024.

Ministers from five Mediterranean nations on Saturday urged the EU to “deepen” bilateral agreements with migrant countries of origin and increase funding to tackle the root causes of migration. Meeting on Gran Canaria Island, interior and migration ministers from the so-called MED5 nations – Malta, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, and Spain – discussed the new migration and asylum pact adopted by the European Parliament on 11th April. Years in the making, the deal involves a sweeping reform of the bloc’s asylum policies that will both harden border procedures while forcing all 27 nations to share responsibility for migrant arrivals. The reform was spurred by the massive influx of migrants in 2015, with its provisions taking effect in 2026.

Hailing the pact as “historic”, Spanish Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska said there was “still a long way to go” and that the solution lay in “prevention” and addressing the root causes of migration “at its source”. “The key to migration management lies in bilateral cooperation,” he told a news conference, urging the European Commission “to deepen and broaden partnerships and agreements with third countries” to stem flows of irregular migrants. “But we believe there is room for improvement and the commitment should also focus on increasing European funds and flexible financing tools destined for such cooperation,” he said.

Under current EU rules, the arrival country bears responsibility for hosting and vetting asylum-seekers and returning those deemed inadmissible, which has put southern frontline states under huge pressure, fuelling far-right opposition. The new EU pact, which includes building border centres to hold asylum-seekers and sending some to outside “safe” countries, has been denounced by migrant charities and NGOs, with Amnesty International warning it would “lead to greater human suffering”.

Malta voiced its position that it regards the agreement as failing to reach the right balance between solidarity and fair sharing of responsibility between Member States in this field. Owing to its geopolitical location and other realities, the smallest EU country feels the agreement fails to give the necessary guarantees that its needs will be fully met, and will not translate into a just and effective system able to withstand current and future challenges.

Israel to reprimand envoys of countries that voted for Palestinian UN bid

Israel will summon ambassadors of countries that voted for full Palestinian UN membership “for a protest talk” today, a foreign ministry spokesman said. It came after the Palestinian Authority said it would “reconsider” its relationship with the United States after Washington vetoed the Palestinian membership bid earlier this week. Thursday’s vote saw 12 countries on the UN Security Council back a resolution recommending full Palestinian membership and two – Britain and Switzerland – abstain. Only the United States, Israel’s staunchest ally, voted against, using its veto to block the resolution.

On Saturday, Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Oren Marmorstein said the ministry “will summon for a protest talk the ambassadors of the countries that voted in the Security Council in favour of upgrading the status of the Palestinians in the UN”. AFP quotes him as saying in a post on X : “The ambassadors of France, Japan, South Korea, Malta, the Slovak Republic and Ecuador will be summoned tomorrow for a demarche, and a strong protest will be presented to them. An identical protest will be presented to additional countries. The unambiguous message that will be delivered to the ambassadors: a political gesture to the Palestinians and a call to recognise a Palestinian state, six months after the October 7 massacre, is a prize for terrorism.” The draft resolution called for recommending to the General Assembly “that the State of Palestine be admitted to membership of the United Nations” in place of its current “non-member observer state” status, which it has held since 2012. The majority of the UN’s 193 member states – 137, according to a Palestinian count – have recognised a Palestinian state.

US renews controversial surveillance tool

US lawmakers on Saturday approved the renewal of a powerful electronic surveillance tool that enables US intelligence agencies to conduct electronic surveillance without seeking a judicial warrant. Senators voted 60-34 shortly after midnight to pass the Bill, and the White House said President Joe Biden will “swiftly sign the bill into law”. The programme is widely used by American intelligence agencies abroad, but criticised by civil liberties organisations. It has been denounced by privacy and civil liberties advocates. In particular, it allows them to sweep up communications, including phone calls and emails, of non-Americans anywhere outside of US territory. That includes communications from US citizens to foreigners targeted for monitoring.

Erdogan urges Palestinian unity after meeting Hamas chief

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged Palestinians to unite amid Israel’s war in Gaza following hours-long talks with Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh in Istanbul on Saturday, his office said. It was the first meeting between Erdogan and a Hamas delegation headed by Haniyeh since Israel began its military offensive in the Gaza Strip. Haniyeh’s visit to Turkey took place three days after he met Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan in Doha.

Erdogan said Palestinian unity was “vital” following the talks, which Turkish media reports said lasted more than two and a half hours. “The strongest response to Israel and the path to victory lie in unity and integrity,” Erdogan said, according to a Turkish presidency statement. As fears of a wider regional war grow, Erdogan said recent events between Iran and Israel should not allow Israel to “gain ground and that it is important to act in a way that keeps attention on Gaza”. NATO member Turkey has denounced Israel’s offensive in Gaza following Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel and called for an immediate ceasefire.

Israel-Turkey “Shame on You!” tirade

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz condemned the meeting, writing on X: “Muslim Brotherhood alliance: rape, murder, desecration of corpses and the burning of babies. Erdogan, shame on you!”. In response, Oncu Keceli, spokesman for the Turkish foreign ministry retorted: “It is the Israeli authorities who should be ashamed. They have massacred nearly 35,000 Palestinians, most of them women and children.”

“US seeks mew Israeli-Saudi ties deal”

The US administration is considering a new deal to persuade Israel to recognise Palestinian statehood in exchange for normalising ties with Saudi Arabia, as officials work to orchestrate a post-war plan for Israel and the Palestinians. The deal would see Israel accept Palestinian statehood in exchange for a fruitful relationship with Saudi Arabia – one of the region’s most powerful nations and rival to Shia-majority Iran. According to a report in The Wall Street Journal, the White House is enticing Riyadh into an agreement with a three-pronged deal that includes a formal defence deal with Washington, assistance in acquiring civil nuclear power and the US taking greater steps to pave the way for a Palestinian state. US officials cited in the report say that such a deal is in the “final stages of negotiating”. Israel is believed to have desired Saudi friendship for some time; Tel Aviv knows it would bring it regional edge in the face of threats from Iran, which maintains a rivalry with Sunni Muslim majority Saudi Arabia.

The report says that US officials are hoping the joint response to the recent attack on Israel, which saw Tehran launch hundreds of missiles and drones over Israeli skies, will serve as an incentive for Saudi Arabia to benefit from what could be greater security cooperation against Iran. Israel, with support from American, British and Jordanian air forces, took out some 99 per cent of the air attacks launched by Iran last weekend. Saudi Arabia has maintained for some time that the creation of a Palestinian state must be part of any deal with Israel. In September last year, in a rare interview, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said that “the Palestine issue” is an integral part to formalising relations with Israel.

Israel’s defence against Iran attack cost over $1bn

Israel spent over $1 billion on its defence to intercept Iran’s flurry of drone and missile strikes last weekend, a former Israel economic adviser to the army revealed on Sunday. “The cost of defence was estimated at between four and five billion shekels ($1.08 to $1.35billion),” General Reem Adminaoch said, as quoted by the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth. “One Arrow missile used to intercept an Iranian ballistic missile costs $3.5 million, while the cost of one David Sling missile is $1 million, in addition to the sorties of aircraft that participated in intercepting the Iranian drones,” he said. “I am only talking about interception to what the Iranians launched and not injuries that were marginal this time.”

Yehoshua Kalisky, a senior researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies think tank in Tel Aviv, told The Wall Street Journal that the costs “were enormous” and comparable to what Israel had spent during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. It is not known how much Iran spent on its attacks, though ballistic missiles in the country can cost up to $99,937 (€93,780), The Guardian said. Iran launched around 350 missile and drone strikes at Israel.

Ukraine launches drones barrage against Russia

Ukraine launched a series of drone attacks into Russia targeting its energy infrastructure, according to Moscow’s Defence Ministry on Saturday. Russian air defences intercepted and destroyed 50 drones across eight regions; in the western Belgorod region near the Ukrainian border 26 drones were shot down. The areas where drones were reportedly downed included the Bryansk, Kursk, Tula, Smolensk, Ryazan, Kaluga regions, and around Moscow.

The Russian Defence Ministry claimed to have shot down a Ukrainian Sukhoi Su-25 fighter jet, although details were not provided and this information could not be independently verified. While Ukrainian officials typically refrain from commenting on attacks on Russian territory, many of the drone strikes appeared to specifically target Russia’s energy infrastructure. Vladislav Shapsha, the head of the Kaluga region, reported that a drone attack caused a fire at an electrical substation. Fires were also noted at fuel and energy complexes in Bryansk and Smolensk, according to Alexander Bogomaz and Vasily Anokhin, respective governors of these regions.

Ukrainian drone attacks on Russian refineries and oil terminals have intensified in recent months, increasing their targeting on Russian territory. Ukrainian weapon experts have been increasing their development in drones, as Kyiv tries to keep up in their fight against Russia, compensating for its gaps whilst it awaits for much needed US military aid.

US aid package will “exacerbate global crises” – Moscow

Moscow yesterday slammed the approval by the US House of Representatives for an $95 billion aid package to Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan, saying “the allocation would exacerbate global crises”. Foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called the aid for Kyiv “direct support for terrorist activities” and said aid to Taiwan represented “interference in China’s internal affairs”. Support for Israel represents “a direct path to an unprecedented worsening of the situation in the region,” Zakharova added.

Earlier Saturday, Russia’s presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the decision to provide aid to Ukraine “will further enrich the United States of America and ruin Ukraine even more, by killing even more Ukrainians because of the Kyiv regime,” state news agency TASS reported. Lawmakers in the US House of Representatives passed legislation in a rare Saturday session that provides aid to Ukraine and Israel, bolsters Taiwan while also threatening a ban on TikTok if it fails to divest from Beijing.

The Bills provide $60.84billion to address the conflict in Ukraine, including $23million to replenish US weapons, stocks and facilities; $26billion for Israel, including $9.1billion for humanitarian needs, and $8.12billionn for the Indo-Pacific, including Taiwan.

Zelensky’s thanks

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky expressed his thanks, saying US lawmakers moved to keep “history on the right track”. “The vital US aid Bill passed by the House will keep the war from expanding, save thousands and thousands of lives, and help both of our nations to become stronger,” Zelenskiy said on X. It was unclear how quickly the new military funding for Ukraine will be depleted, likely causing calls for further action by Congress.

US military aid vote “defends Western civilisation” – Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday the approval by the US House of Representatives of billions of dollars in new military aid showed strong support for Israel and “defends Western civilisation”. A total of US$13 billion in military assistance has been allocated for America’s historic ally in its war against Hamas, despite growing international concern for the fate of civilians in Gaza. In a post on X, Netanyahu said: “The US Congress just overwhelmingly passed a much appreciated aid Bill that demonstrates strong bipartisan support for Israel and defends Western civilisation. Thank you friends, thank you America!” Israel’s foreign minister, Israel Katz, posted on X: “The vote on the Israel aid package, with an overwhelming bipartisan support, proves the strong ties and strategic partnership between Israel and the US, and sends a strong message to our enemies. I hope it passes the Senate soon with strong bipartisan support.”

Thousands join anti-Israel government protests

Thousands of Israeli demonstrators took to the streets yesterday to call for new elections and demand more action from the government to bring the hostages held in Gaza home, in the latest round of protests against Prime Minister Netanyahu. The protests have continued as the war in Gaza moves through its seventh month and amid growing anger over the government’s approach to the 133 Israeli hostages still held by the Islamist movement Hamas. Surveys indicate that most Israelis blame Netanyahu for the security failures that led to the devastating attack by Hamas fighters on communities in southern Israel on October 7. Israel’s longest-serving prime minister has repeatedly ruled out early elections, which opinion polls suggest he would lose, saying that to go to the polls in the middle of a war would only reward Hamas.

Protests over mass tourism in Spain’s Canary Islands

Thousands of protesters have taken part in demonstrations against mass tourism in Spain’s Canary Islands. The archipelago, which includes Tenerife, Fuerteventura and Gran Canaria, is a popular destination for British tourists, but the islands are struggling to cope with the influx of visitors. In 2023, around 14 million foreigners visited the islands in the Atlantic which have a population of just 2.2 million. Despite decades of mass tourism, the Canary Islands remain poor compared to other regions of Spain and the average salary of workers is one of the lowest in the country. Residents living in the holiday destination say too much tourism is damaging the environment, driving down wages and squeezing locals out of the housing market. Some local people say they have been forced to sleep in their cars or even in caves.

Maxwell Azzarello dies after self-immolation outside Trump trial

Maxwell Azzarello, the man who set fire to himself outside the court where Donald Trump is on trial has died. He was rushed to hospital in a critical condition but was later pronounced dead, New York Police Department said. Azzarello, from St Augustine in Florida, had joined a designated protest area for pro and anti-Trump demonstrators on Friday. He walked into the park across the street from the New York courthouse where the former US President is on trial, throwing flyers into the air. A full jury of 12 people and six alternates had been seated in Trump’s hush money case just minutes earlier, drawing the first criminal trial of a former US president a step closer to opening statements.

Photo: MIGUEL BERROCAL

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