WELLINGTON - A continent two-thirds the size of Australia has been found beneath the south-west Pacific Ocean, scientists reported in the journal of the Geological Society of America.
The land mass of 4.5 million square kilometers (1.74 million square miles) is 94 percent underwater and only its highest points - New Zealand and New Caldeonia - poke above the surface.
"It's rather frustrating for us geologists with the oceans being there," said Nick Mortimer, a geologist at GNS Science in Dunedin, New Zealand.
"If we could pull the plug on the oceans it would be clear to everyone we have mountain chains and a big high-standing continent above the ocean crust."
Mortimer was lead author of the paper titled "Zealandia: Earth's hidden continent" which says the new discoveries prove what had long been suspected.
"Since about the 1920s, from time to time in geology papers people used the word 'continental' to describe various parts of New Zealand and the Catham Islands and New Caledionia," Mortimer said.
"The difference now is that we feel we've gathered enough information to change 'continental' to the noun, 'continent'."
Mortimer said geologists early in the previous century had found granite from sub-antarctic islands near New Zealand and metaphormic rocks on New Caledonia that were indicative of continental geology.
If the recent discovery is accepted by the scientific community, cartographers will probably have to add an eighth continent to future maps and atlases.
"The paper we've written unashamedly sticks to empirical observations and descriptions," Mortimer said. "The litmus test will really be if 'Zealandia' appears in maps and atlases in five or 10 year's time.""Zealandia" is believed to have broken away from Australia about 80 million years ago and sank beneath the sea as part of the break up of the super-continent known as Gondwanaland.

Europe

BUCHAREST - French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have cautioned against an escalation in the dispute over Iran's nuclear deal after Tehran said it would stop abiding by parts of the deal and U.S. President Donald Trump said he was open to talks with Iranian leaders.

Tehran on May 8 said it had stopped observing limits on its nuclear activities agreed under the 2015 deal until they find a way to bypass renewed U.S. sanctions. The same day, the U.S. envoy for Iran, Brian Hook, accused Tehran of resorting to "nuclear blackmail."

Macron, speaking in Romania ahead of an EU summit on May 9, told reporters that "Iran must remain in this agreement, and we must do everything we can to ensure that it stays in."

He urged the agreement's signatories not to "get caught up in any escalation" and to "jointly watch over our collective security."

For her part, Merkel said the EU wants to avoid an escalation, adding that Tehran must recognize that it is in its own interests to remain committed to the nuclear deal.

"Our hand remains outstretched at this point; we want to continue to push for a diplomatic solution," Merkel said after the EU meeting.

Trump did not address Iran's latest move. But he told reporters at the White House that he wants the Iranian leadership to contact him.

"What I would like to see with Iran, I would like to see them call me," Trump said.

Amid rising tensions between the two countries, Trump said Washington was not looking for a conflict with Tehran.

"I want them to be strong and great, to have a great economy," Trump said, adding that "we can make a fair deal."

Macron said the landmark 2015 deal curbing Iran's nuclear ambitions is "a good agreement" but added that it should be completed with other pacts governing Iran's missile development and its potentially destabilizing role in the Middle East.

His statement came shortly after the European Union and three European powers issued a joint declaration urging Iran to respect the deal.

The EU's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, and the foreign ministers of Britain, France, and Germany said they still backed the accord but rejected "ultimatums" from Tehran to keep it alive.

"We reject any ultimatums and we will assess Iran's compliance on the basis of Iran's performance regarding its nuclear-related commitments" under the agreement, the European statement said.

Iran has said its move was in response to the sweeping unilateral sanctions that Washington has reimposed since it quit the agreement one year ago. The reimposing of sanctions has dealt a severe blow to Iran's economy.

The EU powers say they "regret the reimposition of sanctions" by the U.S. and remain "determined to continue pursuing efforts to enable the continuation of legitimate trade with Iran."

They were "determined to continue pursuing efforts to enable the continuation of legitimate trade with Iran" in an effort to keep the deal afloat, the statement added.

But it said that Iran must at the same time "implement its commitments under the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) in full as it has done until now and to refrain from any escalatory steps."

AB/

BERLIN - European countries said on Thursday they wanted to preserve Iran’s nuclear deal and rejected “ultimatums” from Tehran, after Iran relaxed restrictions on its nuclear program and threatened moves that might breach the 2015 international pact.

Iran’s announcement on Wednesday, related to curbs on its stockpiling of nuclear materials, was in response to U.S. sanctions imposed following President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of the United States from the accord with Tehran a year ago.

Iran’s initial moves do not appear to violate the accord yet. But President Hassan Rouhani said that unless the world powers which signed the deal protect Iran’s economy from U.S. sanctions within 60 days, Iran would start enriching uranium beyond limits set in the agreement.

“We reject any ultimatums and we will assess Iran’s compliance on the basis of Iran’s performance regarding its nuclear-related commitments ...,” read a statement issued jointly by the European Union and the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany, co-signatories of the deal.

“We are determined to continue pursuing efforts to enable the continuation of legitimate trade with Iran,” they said, adding that this included getting a special purpose vehicle aimed at enabling non-dollar business with Iran off the ground.

In response, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a Twitter post that EU countries should uphold their obligations in the nuclear deal with Iran and normalize economic ties despite U.S. sanctions, “instead of demanding that Iran unilaterally abide by a multilateral accord”.

The nuclear deal required Iran to curb its uranium enrichment capacity to head off any pathway to developing a nuclear bomb, in return for the removal of most international sanctions. A series of more intrusive U.N. inspections under the deal have verified that Iran is meeting its commitments.

Iran has always denied that it was seeking a nuclear weapon and says it wants to abide by the nuclear deal.

The Trump administration argues that the nuclear deal was flawed because it is not permanent, does not address Iran’s missile program and does not punish Iran for what Washington considers meddling in regional countries.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo alluded to that in a statement on Thursday.

“To date the regime’s default option has been violence, and we appeal to those in Tehran who see a path to a prosperous future through de-escalation to modify the regime’s behavior,” Pompeo said.

“Our restraint to this point should not be mistaken by Iran for a lack of resolve,” Pompeo said.


TRUMP RENEWS TALKS APPEAL


Trump, who has previously expressed a willingness to meet Iranian leaders to no avail, on Thursday renewed that appeal in an impromptu news conference at the White House.

“They should call. If they do, we’re open to talk to them,” Trump said.

He also said he could not rule out a military confrontation given the heightened tensions. Trump declined to say what prompted him to deploy the USS Abraham Lincoln carrier group to the region over what was described as unspecified threats.

In an MSNBC interview, the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations Majid Takht Ravanchi said: “All of a sudden he decided to leave the negotiating table ... What is the guarantee that he will not renege again?”

He dismissed U.S. allegations of an Iranian threat as “fake intelligence” comparing it to the run-up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The commander overseeing U.S. naval forces in the Middle East told Reuters on Thursday that American intelligence showing a threat from Iran will not prevent him from sending an aircraft carrier through the vital Strait of Hormuz, if needed.

“I am not in a war-plan footing and have not been tasked to do so,” U.S. Vice Admiral Jim Malloy, commander of the U.S. Navy’s Bahrain-based Fifth Fleet, said in a phone interview. “However we are absolutely ready to respond to any aggression against the United States, partners in the region, or our interests.”

The Trump administration has ratcheted up sanctions this month, effectively ordering all countries to halt all purchases of Iranian oil or face their own sanctions.

The move creates a dilemma for Washington’s European allies which say they share its concerns about Iranian behavior but think the Trump administration’s tactics are likely to backfire.

The European allies believe Trump’s campaign to isolate the Islamic Republic plays into the hands of Tehran hardliners and undermines pragmatists within the Iranian leadership who want to open the country up to the world.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday called for the nuclear deal to be extended to cover other issues of concern to the West, such as Iran’s regional policies and ballistic missiles, rather than jettisoned.

“Leaving the 2015 nuclear agreement is a mistake because it is undoing what we have already done. That’s why France is remaining and will remain a part of it and I deeply hope that Iran will remain,” Macron said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the EU wants to avoid an escalation in the dispute and Tehran must recognize that it is in its own interests to remain committed to the deal.

European countries have tried to develop a system to allow outside investors to do business with Iran while avoiding falling foul of U.S. sanctions. But in practice this has failed so far, with all major European firms that had announced plans to invest in Iran saying they would no longer do so.

A spokesman for Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation said on Thursday Tehran’s goal was to bring the agreement “back on track”.

But Tehran has also maintained that it will leave the deal, known as the JCPOA, unless it receives more economic support as envisaged by the 2015 pact.

“We have not left the JCPOA so far, but we have put such a move on our agenda and that would happen step by step,” Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi was quoted as saying by state-run PressTV on Wednesday night.

Supporters of the nuclear deal, including Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama and European allies, say the pact extends the time it would take Iran to make a nuclear weapon if it decided to do so, and guarantees that it would be caught.

Lifting sanctions, they argue, would show ordinary Iranians the benefits of cooperating with the world and make it more difficult for hardliners to roll back reforms.

 

By Gabriela Baczynska and Luiza Ilie

SIBIU, Romania - Fighting climate change, safeguarding the rule of law and finding a modern model for growth must be at the heart of the European Union, the bloc’s leaders agreed in Thursday talks meant to show unity despite the damage from Brexit.

However, their informal gathering in the Romanian town of Sibiu did not produce clear decisions on how to achieve the ambitious goals, underscoring divisions in the EU along multiple fault lines and setting up battles ahead.

The leaders of all members except Britain met on Europe Day in Sibiu, which has German and Hungarian roots, 15 years after the EU’s expansion east finally consigned to history the Iron Curtain that had divided Europe since World War Two.

Ahead of European Parliament elections on May 23-26, the 27 leaders also had a first look at assigning the bloc’s most powerful jobs later this year.

“In 15 days, some 400 million Europeans will choose between a project ... to build Europe further or a project to destroy, deconstruct Europe and return to nationalism,” Macron told the gathering.

“Climate, protection of borders and a model of growth, a social model... is what I really want for the coming years.”

On climate change, France and eight other EU countries proposed getting to “net-zero greenhouse gas emissions” by 2050 and the bloc will now fight about how to frame and finance any transition to more environmentally-friendly policies.

“Nothing has changed when it comes to divides and different opinions about it,” said the chairman of the talks, European Council President Donald Tusk who used to be the prime minister of Poland, one of the biggest EU stallers on climate reforms.

“What is new is this very fresh and energetic pressure,” he said of youth protests growing in Europe to demand radical action to safeguard the planet. “There is no future for politicians without this sensitivity and imagination.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, mindful of her country’s powerful car industry, refused to endorse the French-led proposal entirely but backed spending a quarter of the EU’s next joint budget for 2021-28 on climate and energy efficiency.

A report released on Thursday by the World Wide Fund (WWF) and Global Footprint Network sharply criticized the EU, saying its members consumed the Earth’s resources faster than they can be renewed.

The leaders pledged to protect the rule of law at a time when the governments in post-communist members Poland, Hungary and Romania stand accused of undercutting democracy.

Divided over issues ranging from democratic standards to migration, the EU is grappling with the prospect of Britain’s departure, a wave of populism, and external challenges from China to Russia to the United States.

It is also lagging behind in areas from artificial intelligence to cyber security, and is scrambling to keep alive a troubled nuclear deal with Iran.

But the leaders signed off on a declaration promising to “defend one Europe”, “stay united, through thick and thin” and “always look for joint solutions” ahead.


TOP JOBS UP FOR GRABS


Tusk announced another summit on May 28, two days after the European Parliament vote, to let the national leaders agree on appointing new people to hold the EU’s top roles until 2024.

This will involve fierce horse-trading over names to head the European Council, which brings together national leaders, the executive European Commission, the European Parliament, the European Central Bank and the joint diplomatic service.

All five posts are up for grabs later this year and the outgoing European Parliament has already picked its favorites for the Commission job including a conservative German, Manfred Weber, and a Dutch socialist, Frans Timmermans.

Many national leaders, however, want to keep control of the opaque process to themselves.

Agreement on top roles took three summits the last time round but Tusk said he wanted the new leadership in place in July and was ready to go for a majority vote if unanimity was missing.

Hungary’s eurosceptic Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras spoke against Weber.

He did, however, get the backing of Merkel and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. Macron, the leaders of Luxembourg and Lithuania opposed the idea of following the parliament’s choice.

Other names in the hat include Brexit negotiator Frenchman Michel Barnier, or Margrethe Vestager, Denmark’s current commissioner who imposed hefty fines on global tech giants Google and Apple.

 

 

 

Rovaniemi, Finland - The participants at the Arctic Council meeting in Finland's far northern town of Rovaniemi have failed to issue a final declaration reportedly due to a U.S. refusal to mention climate change.

At the start of the council's 11th ministerial meeting, Finnish Foreign Minister Timo Soini said the final joint declaration was "off the table" and would be replaced by ministerial statements. He provided no explanation.

According to participants, member states were unable to reach an agreement, with the United States alone refusing to mention climate change in the final text.

Temperatures in the Arctic region are rising twice as fast as in the rest of the world, prompting the accelerated melting of the polar cap and opening huge untapped energy and mineral resources to commercial exploitation.

This is the first time the Arctic Council, which has been holding ministerial meetings every two years since 1996, failed to present a final declaration.

The meeting was supposed to come up with a two-year agenda to balance the challenges of climate change with sustainable development.

"The hang-up here right now is America making it hard to make a final agreement," Sally Swetzof of the Aleut International Association, one of six organizations representing the Arctic's indigenous peoples, told the media.

The Arctic Council consists of the United States, Russia, Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden.

In a speech in Rovaniemi on the eve of the meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said President Donald Trump's administration "shares your deep commitment to environmental stewardship" in the Arctic. But he said collective goals were not always the answer.

"They are rendered meaningless and even counterproductive as soon as one nation fails to comply," he said.

Pompeo also criticized China, which holds observer status, and Russia, slamming their "aggressive behavior" in the Arctic.

 

 

Mediterranean

GAZA - The military wing of the Palestinian Hamas resistance movement says it successfully "overcame" Israel's so-called Iron Dome missile system during its recent confrontation with the Tel Aviv regime thanks to its new rocket-launching tactic.

Abu Obeida, a spokesman for the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, said in a social media post on Monday that the fresh rocket-launching tactic had overwhelmed the so-called Iron Dome missile system, leading to the deaths and injuries of numerous Israelis in two days.

"The Qassam Brigades, thanks to God, succeeded in overcoming the so-called Iron Dome by adopting the tactic of firing dozens of missiles in one single burst," he said.

"The high intensity of fire and the great destructive ability of the missiles that were introduced by the Qassam [Brigades]… succeeded in causing great losses and destruction to the enemy," Obeida noted.

Israeli aerial assaults on Gaza prompted the most intense fighting between the regime and the Palestinian resistance fighters since Tel Aviv's bloody war on the blockaded enclave in 2014.

In retaliation, the Palestinian fighters fired around 700 rockets from Gaza into the occupied territories, killing four Israeli settlers and injuring at least 80 others over the weekend.

In the course of Israel's seven-week war in 2014, five Israelis died and 67 others were wounded.

Israeli media reported that the "Iron Dome" intercepted only 240 of the projectiles, adding that some 35 rockets and mortar shells had struck populated areas over the course of Saturday and Sunday.

In an interview with The Jerusalem Post, former head of Israeli military intelligence's research department, Yaakov Amidror, revealed that the "Iron Dome" had failed to intercept all the missiles launched from Gaza due to a number of reasons.

According to him, one of the key issues was that some of the rockets were launched from a very close range, giving the Israeli system next to no time to react and intercept them.

He added that in general the rockets launched from the Gaza Strip are not unique and are "within the capabilities of the Iron Dome."

Another reason for the failure, the military expert explained, is the system's peculiar design, which makes it ignore missiles aimed at areas it deems empty or uninhabited.


'Israel changed rules of engagement in Gaza'


Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed that the Tel Aviv regime changed the rules of engagement in Gaza in the past few days.

"We have changed the rules of the game, and Hamas understands this very well. With that, it is clear that this is not the end of the campaign, and I therefore gave instructions to prepare for what will come next, and gave directives to leave armored and artillery forces around the Gaza Strip," he said.

Netanyahu further said Israel had officially renewed its old policy of targeted killings of "senior terrorists," a term he used in referrence to members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad resistance groups, and claimed that the Tel Aviv regime had killed "dozens of them" over the weekend.

On Sunday, the Israeli military specifically targeted a Hamas member in Gaza, Hamed Ahmed Khudari, by bombing his car, marking the first targeted killing since the 2014 Gaza war.

The fresh Israeli aggression killed 27 Palestinians and wounded dozens of others in the attacks. Two pregnant Palestinian women and two infants were among the dead.

The two-day Israeli onslaught also demolished or damaged hundreds of Palestinian homes in Gaza.

The conflict came to a halt on Monday following a ceasefire between the two sides. Tensions erupted on Friday after the killing of four Palestinians, two in an Israeli air raid on Gaza and two during the regime's live fire at anti-occupation protests.

Meanwhile, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that although the recent flare-up in Gaza had come to an end, the wider conflict would continue.

"The resistance managed to deter" the Israeli military, he said, according to Israeli Kan public broadcaster.

"Our message is that this round is over, but the conflict will not end until we regain our rights," he said.

The ceasefire, however, has angered Israelis, who say they are tired of having to run to shelters.

"In a month, in two weeks, in a month and a half, it will all happen again – we achieved nothing. I think Israel needs to strike them very, very hard so that they learn their lesson," said Haim Cohen in Ashdod, located 25 kilometers north of the Gaza Strip.

In Ein Hashlosha, a kibbutz about a mile and a half from Gaza, Meirav Kohan, 46, said she was shocked and disappointed at the truce.

"This is a war of attrition" she said, adding the Tel Aviv regime "is not looking for a long-term solution to bring us peace. There's no policy. We're just pawns in a game."

Israel says its warplanes targeted some 350 sites in the Gaza Strip. The tiny coastal territory has been under Israeli land, air and sea blockade for over a decade.

 

 

GENEVA - A lack of health funding in Gaza means 1,700 people shot by Israeli security forces may have to have amputations in the next two years, Jamie McGoldrick, the U.N. Humanitarian Coordinator for occupied Palestinian territory, told reporters on Wednesday.

McGoldrick said 29,000 Palestinians had been wounded in protests in the past year, and 7,000 of them had gunshot wounds, mostly in the lower legs.

“You’ve got 1,700 people who are in need of serious, complicated surgeries for them to be able to walk again,” McGoldrick said.

“These are people who have been shot during the demonstrations and who are in need of rehabilitation, and very, very serious and complex bone reconstruction surgery over a two year period before they start to rehabilitate themselves.”

Without those procedures, all these people are at risk of needing an amputation, he said.

The U.N. is seeking $20 million to fill the gap in health spending.

A lack of funding to the World Food Program and UNRWA, the U.N. humanitarian agency that supports Palestinians displaced by the 1948 war of Israel’s founding, also meant there could be an interruption of food supplies for 1 million people.

“If that stops, there is no alternative for people to bring food in from any other sources, because they don’t have purchasing power,” McGoldrick said.

WFP spokesman Herve Verhoosel said a severe lack of funds meant WFP had cut aid for 193,000 people this year in the West Bank and Gaza, with 27,000 getting nothing and the rest getting only $8 per month instead of the usual $10.

Some 2 million Palestinians live in Gaza, the economy of which has suffered years of Israeli and Egyptian blockades as well as recent foreign aid cuts and sanctions by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas’ West Bank-based rival.

People’s prospects were “precarious”, McGoldrick said. Gaza families averaged $4,000 of debt, while salaries averaged $400 per month, but 54 percent of the population was unemployed.

The health system was impoverished, with unpaid salaries and dilapidated equipment, and many medical professionals had left if they could find opportunities elsewhere.

One teaching hospital was now only teaching trauma medicine, McGoldrick said, but the doctors on the ground did not have the technical ability to carry out the treatment required for the people at risk of amputation.

There have already been 120 amputations, 20 of them in children, in the past year, he said.

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ari Rabinovitch

GAZA/JERUSALEM - A surge in deadly violence in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel petered out overnight with Palestinian officials reporting that Egypt had mediated a ceasefire on Monday ending the most serious spate of cross-border clashes for months.

The latest round of fighting erupted three days ago, peaking on Sunday when rockets and missiles from Gaza killed four civilians in Israel. Israeli strikes killed 21 Palestinians, more than half of them civilians, over the weekend.

Two Palestinian officials and a TV station belonging to Hamas, Gaza’s Islamist rulers, said a truce had been reached at 0430 a.m. (0130 GMT), apparently preventing the violence from broadening into a conflict neither side seemed keen on fighting.

Israel did not formally confirm the existence of a truce with Hamas and its allied Gaza faction Islamic Jihad, militants that it, like much of the West, designates as terrorists.

Officials in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government spoke in more general terms of a reciprocal return to quiet, with one suggesting that Israel’s arch-enemy Iran - a major funder for Islamic Jihad - had been behind the Gaza escalation.

Suffering under renewed U.S. sanctions and Israeli strikes against its military assets in Syria, Iran may have seen stoking Palestinian violence as a way of telling Israel, “we will get back at you through (Islamic) Jihad and Gaza”, Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz told the Israeli radio station 90 FM.

Israel’s military said that more than 600 rockets and other projectiles - over 150 of them intercepted - had been fired at southern Israeli cities and villages since Friday. It said it shelled or carried out air strikes on some 320 militant sites.

The violence abated before dawn, just as Gazans were preparing to begin the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Rocket sirens in southern Israel, which had gone off continuously over the weekend, sending residents running for cover, did not sound on Monday and there were no reports of new air strikes in Gaza.

Egypt and the United Nations, who have served as brokers in the past, had been trying to mediate a ceasefire.


LEVERAGE


The violence began when a sniper from the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad fired across Gaza’s fenced border at Israeli troops on routine patrol, wounding two soldiers, according to the Israeli military.

A Palestinian man is seen through the rubble of an apartment block that was hit by an Israeli air strike, in the northern Gaza Strip May 6, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
Islamic Jihad accused Israel of delaying implementation of previous understandings brokered by Egypt in an effort to end violence and ease the economic hardships of blockaded Gaza.

This time both Islamic Jihad and Hamas appeared to see some leverage to press for concessions from Israel, where annual independence day celebrations begin on Wednesday and with the Eurovision song contest due to kick off in Tel Aviv - the target of a Gaza rocket attack in March - next week.

Some 2 million Palestinians live in Gaza, the economy of which has suffered years of Israeli and Egyptian blockades as well as recent foreign aid cuts and sanctions by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas’ West Bank-based rival.

Israel says its blockade is necessary to stop arms reaching Hamas, with which it has fought three wars since the group seized control of Gaza in 2007, two years after Israel withdrew its settlers and troops from the small coastal enclave.

One of Islamic Jihad’s leaders in Gaza said on Sunday that the group was trying to counter efforts by the United States to revive peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East team has said it will unveil its peace plan in June, after Ramadan is over. Peace negotiations have been moribund since 2014.

“What the resistance is doing now is the most important part of confronting Trump’s deal. We all have to get united behind the decision by the resistance to fight,” Islamic Jihad’s Jamil Eleyan said in a statement.

Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus said that over the past few weeks Islamic Jihad had been trying to perpetrate attacks against Israel in order to destabilize the border. “This isn’t some local initiative, it is part of a strategic choice to escalate matters,” Conricus said.

During the eight-year civil war in Syria, Iran’s military has built a presence there backing President Bashar al-Assad.

Israel regards Iran as its biggest threat and has vowed to stop it from entrenching itself in Syria, its neighbor to the north, repeatedly bombing Iranian targets in Syria and those of allied Lebanese Hezbollah militia.

Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton said on Sunday the administration was deploying a carrier strike group and bombers to the Middle East in response to troubling “indications and warnings” from Iran and to show the United States will retaliate with “unrelenting force” to any attack.

 

 

GAZA - Israel killed two Hamas militants in air strikes on Gaza on Friday, and two Palestinian protesters were killed in clashes with Israeli forces along the enclave’s border.

The strikes were a response to gunfire from southern Gaza that wounded two Israeli soldiers, the Israeli military said.

Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the Palestinian enclave, said two members of its armed wing had been killed and three wounded when Israel bombed one of its positions in central Gaza.

Later on Friday, two Palestinians shot by Israeli troops while taking part in weekly protests along the border died of their wounds, Gaza health officials said.

The Israeli military said some 5,200 Palestinians had amassed along the frontier, but did not immediately provide further comment.

The protesters are demanding an end to a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt, and want Palestinians to have the right to return to land from which their families fled or were forced to flee during Israel’s founding in 1948, which Israel rejects.

More than 200 Gazans have been killed by Israeli troops since the ‘Great March of Return’ started on March 30 last year, according to Gaza health officials. An Israeli soldier was also killed by a Palestinian sniper.

Egyptian mediators, credited with brokering a ceasefire after a Hamas rocket attack north of Tel Aviv in March set off a burst of intense fighting, have been working to prevent a new escalation.

Hamas said in a statement on Thursday that its Gaza chief, Yeyha Al-Sinwar, had traveled to Cairo for talks on efforts to maintain calm along the border and alleviate Palestinian suffering.

Some 2 million Palestinians live in Gaza, whose economy has suffered years of blockades as well as recent foreign aid cuts. Unemployment stands at 52 percent, according to the World Bank.

Israel says its blockade is necessary to stop weapons reaching Hamas, which has fought three wars with Israel in the past decade.

Cairo’s mediation had helped persuade Israel to lift some restrictions on the movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza and expand the Mediterranean zone where Gazans can fish.

But Israel scaled back the zone this week in response to rocket fire from Gaza, a spokeswoman for its military liaison agency with the Palestinians said.

Palestinian militants fired a barrage of rockets toward Israeli cities and villages on Saturday, drawing air strikes from Israeli aircraft, the Israeli military said.

There were no reports of Israeli casualties as many of the rockets were intercepted and rockets alerts sent residents running to their shelters.

The flare-up followed the killing in an Israeli air strike on Friday of two militants from the Islamist Hamas group which rules Gaza.

 

 

 

North Africa

By Hamid Ould Ahmed

ALGIERS - Tens of thousands of protesters demanding the removal of Algeria’s ruling elite gathered in the capital Algiers for a 12th successive Friday, defying attempts by the army to ease tensions ahead of presidential election.

The demonstrators are pushing for radical change by seeking the departure of senior figures, including politicians and businessmen, who have governed the North African country since independence from France in 1962.

“They all go,” read a banner held up by protesters draped in national flags gathered in central Algiers, which has seen a succession of large anti-government marches since Feb. 22.

“We will not give up. The battle will continue,” said a 37-year-old school teacher, marching with his wife and two children.

The demonstration was peaceful but smaller than those that have shaken Algiers over the past weeks. This is the first protest since the start of the holy month of Ramadan.

Thousands of protesters also took to the streets in other cities, including Oran, Tizi Ouzou and Constantine, chanting anti-government slogans, witnesses said.

After 20 years in power, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika quit on April 2 under pressure from protesters and the army, but demonstrations have continued, seeking the removal of all officials belonging to the old guard and the introduction of political reforms.

Protesters are also demanding the resignation of interim president Abdelkader Bensalah, the head of the upper house of parliament who has replaced Bouteflika for 90 days to oversee a July 4 presidential election.

The army, the north African country’s most powerful institution, has sought appeasement by meeting a number of protesters’ demands including launching anti-graft probes against people suspected of misuse of power and public funds.

Last week, Bouteflika’s youngest brother, Said, and two former intelligence chiefs were placed in custody by a military judge over “harming the army’s authority and plotting against state authority”.

At least five businessmen, including the country’s richest man, Issad Rebrab, who is active in food industry and sugar refining, have been detained for alleged involvement in corruption scandals.

 

 

 

By Aziz El Yaakoubi

DUBAI - The United Arab Emirates said on Thursday that “extremist militias” were controlling the Libyan capital which its ally Khalifa Haftar is fighting to capture from forces allied to Libya’s internationally recognized government.

The UAE, along with Egypt, support Haftar who they see as a bulwark against Islamist militants in North Africa. A 2017 U.N. report said the Gulf Arab state has provided his eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) with military and logistical support.

Haftar’s offensive launched more than three weeks ago to seize Tripoli has all but wrecked U.N.-backed efforts for a peace deal between the rival factions to end eight years of conflict.

“Priority in Libya (is) to counter extremism/terrorism and support stability in long drawn out crisis,” UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said in a Twitter post.

“Abu Dhabi agreement offered opportunity to support the U.N.-led process. Meanwhile extremist militias continue to control capital and derail search for political solution.”

Abu Dhabi, which has voiced support for U.N. peace efforts, last February hosted talks between Prime Minister Fayez Seraj and Haftar, the military commander of Libya’s eastern half, where the two agreed on the need for national elections.

The assault by the LNA, the biggest military confrontation in Libya since the 2011 toppling of leader Muammar Gaddafi, stalled on Tripoli’s stoutly defended southern outskirts last week. But fighting has intensified again, with both sides using artillery.

The U.N. report issued in June 2017 said Haftar’s forces had received aircraft and military vehicles from the UAE, which also built up an air base at Al Khadim, allowing the LNA, which is allied to a parallel government based in the eastern city of Benghazi, to gain air superiority by 2016.

A Gulf source has told Reuters that the UAE had provided logistical support to Haftar to safeguard Egypt’s security following cross-border militant attacks.

“Today, he (Haftar) is his own man and trying to achieve his own goals,” the source said.

Since the Tripoli offensive began, 376 people have been killed in the fighting, including 23 civilians, and 1,822 wounded, 79 of them civilians, according to latest United Nations figures. More than 45,000 people have fled their homes.

By Tom Westcott, Freelance journalist and regular contributor to The New Humanitarian

22 April 2019


‘Libyans feel they are now facing the same future as Syria or Yemen’

As fighting on the outskirts of Libya’s capital heads into its third week and shows no signs of abating, the casualty count is rising, some aid organisations are moving expatriate staff out of the country, and it’s only getting worse for civilians on the ground.

“Humanitarian needs are growing by the day,” said Rabab al-Rifai, communication coordinator for the International Committee of the Red Cross in Libya. “A large-scale escalation of violence in an urban area like Tripoli, which counts over one million inhabitants, could have dramatic consequences. The situation in and around the city has evolved rapidly over the past two weeks, and fears of yet another protracted conflict are on the rise.”

Violence broke out in the southern and southeastern outskirts of Tripoli a fortnight ago, as the Khalifa Haftar-led Libyan National Army (LNA), loyal to the country’s eastern-based governing bodies, launched an offensive to take control of the city from the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA).

The battle – the latest in a complex series of civil conflicts that followed the 2011 ouster of Muammar Gaddafi – comes on the back of years of UN-led efforts to broker a settlement between rival Libyan governments.

The World Health Organisation says 254 people have been killed and 1,228 wounded, while more than 32,000 people have been displaced since 4 April, including some 7,300 children.

This weekend saw several airstrikes in Tripoli, shortly after US President Donald Trump reportedly expressed support for Haftar, and the UN now says humanitarians can’t access some parts of the city due to clashes and shelling.


Growing needs, limited access


In addition to distributing food and other essentials to displaced people across the city, the ICRC is bringing supplies for treating the war wounded to hospitals in the city and field hospitals further out, said al-Rifai.

The dramatic escalation in medical needs has put a burden on aid agencies and hospitals, given that Libya’s crumbling healthcare system is already often unable to handle basic care.

Médecins Sans Frontières said its “teams have remained on the ground responding to medical needs”, including delivering aid to shelters for displaced people and supplies to three hospitals.

The UN says it is also delivering food, medical supplies, and other items, but residents of the capital’s southern suburbs, which have seen some of the most sustained fighting and are hard for humanitarians to enter safely, said little help had reached them.

“We have seen no visible movement of international organisations in our area, although some local organisations helped people,” said Mohamed, a resident of a village south of the capital recently taken by the LNA.

Libyans have been mobilising via social media, requesting blood donations and encouraging their fellow citizens to offer spare rooms to people who have had to flee their homes.

Fadiel Fadel, a Tripoli-based civil society activist, criticised the delivery of humanitarian aid by international organisations as “very weak, even with all these people fleeing”.


Detained migrants thrust onto front lines


Migrants and refugees remain in serious danger.

The UN’s refugee agency said on Friday that it had moved a total of 539 refugees away from the fighting and evacuated 163 on a flight to Niger, but it still estimates that more than 3,000 migrants and refugees, including children, are in detention centres near front lines.

“Over 3,000 refugees and migrants trapped in detention centres are at a severe risk of being caught in the crossfire,” said MSF’s field communication coordinator Jason Rizzo. “These people are unable to seek safety on their own, and their provision of food, water, medical care, and other essential services has deteriorated from already poor levels seen before the fighting.”

Three detention centres are in the direct vicinity of fighting, while several others in Tripoli’s south and southeastern suburbs are now dangerously close to the clashes.

“The Qasr bin Gashir detention centre is now on the other side of front lines in an area of active fighting, and our medical teams have been unable to reach the nearly 900 people who are trapped there,” Rizzo said. “MSF is calling for all refugees and migrants in Tripoli detention centres to be immediately evacuated out of the country due to the severe life-threatening risk amidst the worsening conflict.”

There are an estimated 670,000 migrants and refugees in Libya, and those who are not in detention and have been displaced by the violence in Tripoli “continue to face discrimination… [in accessing] collective shelters”, according to the UN.


International withdrawal


Within days of the outbreak of violence, international organisations began pulling their expatriate staff out of Tripoli due to safety concerns, although some remain on the ground.

Safa Msehli, information officer for IOM, the UN’s migration agency, said that “as it stands IOM maintains its operations in Libya,” but added that the security situation remained unpredictable.

“Although local staff are still active, international presence has been seriously minimised and all non-essential staff… have already been evacuated,” said a Libyan employee of a major international NGO, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media. “You can’t blame them,” the NGO employee added, noting that the agencies were likely looking to avoid an international crisis or a rescue mission.

The point was reinforced by ICRC’s al-Rifai. “There is no doubt that our strength lies in our Libyan colleagues, who have been working to respond to the needs of the populations over the past two weeks in various parts of Tripoli,” he said.

The international community has been in this position before. During Tripoli’s last major outbreak of violence, a five-week militia-led conflict in 2014 that left civilian infrastructure and the international airport destroyed, most major NGOs and Western embassies pulled out of Libya.

Five years later, much of the aid operation is still headquartered in Tunisia, and a return to Libya since mid-2017 has been slow and cautious.

Although NGO press officers refer to current staff movements to Tunisia as “temporary”, the earlier exodus left many Libyans feeling abandoned by the international community, and now they are concerned the shift is a sign they are in for a repetition of the ruinous 2014 conflict.

“Libyans are not happy about the withdrawal of embassies and international NGOs, which many view as caring about themselves but not Libyans,” said Fadel. “I’m not exaggerating when I say Libyans feel they are now facing the same future as Syria or Yemen.”



The New Humanitarian, 22 April 2019

GENEVA - The United Nations (UN) has warned against the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Libya as fierce fighting rages on between rival forces for control of the capital, Tripoli.

UN humanitarian coordinator for Libya Maria do Valle Ribeiro issued the warning in an interview with AFP late Sunday, amid clashes that continue in and around Tripoli between forces loyal to Libya's internationally-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) and those allied with the so-called Libyan National Army (LNA) led by renegade general Khalifa Haftar.

"As long as the situation continues, even if it just stagnates and continues like this, we can expect to see a continuing deterioration," Ribeiro told AFP. "When we see the use of air power, the indiscriminate shelling of densely populated areas, it is very difficult to be optimistic."

The UN official made the remarks after the GNA reported that air raids by the LNA had killed four people and wounded 20 others in Tripoli a day earlier.

"We continue to call for a respect of civilians, we continue to call for humanitarian pauses and most of all we continue to hope that the situation can return to a more peaceful settlement of the crisis," Ribeiro said.

The UN official also voiced concern over a breakdown in basic services, including electricity and water supplies, and said more relief funds were needed for the oil-rich African country.


GNA decries UN 'silence' on Haftar attacks


Separately on Sunday, the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord held the UN Security Council responsible for refraining from taking action regarding attacks carried out by Haftar's forces on the Libyan capital.

The GNA "holds the UN mission and Security Council responsible for their silence and complacency towards the actions of the criminal Haftar," the government said in a statement.

It went on to say that since the Libyan renegade general failed to make progress on the ground, he has resorted to seek support from "foreign air forces to strike civilians and the unarmed in the city".

Libya has been divided between two rival governments - the House of Representatives based in the eastern city of Tobruk and the GNA headed by Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj in Tripoli.

The 75-year-old Haftar who enjoys the loyalty of a group of armed militia and backing from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt has taken upon himself to protect the government in Tobruk.

Armed forces and militia loyal to the GNA have been fighting back.

Libya's crisis began to escalate on April 4 when forces loyal to Haftar launched a deadly campaign to invade and conquer Tripoli.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has recently said that intensified fighting for control of Tripoli was turning the densely-populated residential areas of Tripoli into "battlefields."

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the fighting has so far killed at least 278 people and wounded more than 1,300 others. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) also reported that about 39,000 people have been displaced by the clashes.

Libya has been the scene of increasing violence since 2011, when former dictator Muammar Gaddafi was toppled from power after an uprising and a NATO military intervention.

His ouster created a huge power vacuum, leading to chaos and the emergence of numerous militant outfits, including the Daesh terrorist group.

 

 

Research Papers & Reports

By Ted Reinert, Brookings, 08 May 2019


Between May 23 and May 26, citizens of the (for now) 28 countries of the European Union will elect 751 members to the European Parliament. Together, the national contests will send representatives from dozens of parties to be sorted into at least seven somewhat unwieldy party groups, influence the composition of the European Commission slated to take office in November, and shape EU policy in a treacherous period. There are dozens of subplots, from the ambiguous political loyalties of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the likely return to public office of 82-year-old former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi as a member of European Parliament (MEP) for Forza Italia.

The election results will have immediate national political implications.

With Brexit delayed amidst gridlock and indecision in U.K. Parliament, the British electorate will have a chance to weigh in at the ballot box for the first time in two years. Nigel Farage’s new platform, the Brexit Party, will contend with Labour and the Conservatives to top the polls. Meanwhile, ChangeUK, formed by centrist defectors from Labour and the Conservatives, represents a new offering.
French President Emmanuel Macron will be looking for a show of strength for his La République En Marche (LREM) to buttress his reform agenda after months struggling with the Yellow Vests protests; Marine Le Pen’s National Rally will be looking to send the opposite signal.
A bad result for Germany’s Social Democrats, nationally and in simultaneous state elections in their stronghold of Bremen, could weaken an unenthusiastic grand coalition in Berlin and hasten the end of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s political career.
Italy’s governing Five Star Movement and League both aim to form new party groups around themselves, with the League’s far-right European Alliance of Peoples and Nations looking rather more successful than Five Star’s more abstract group.
Poland’s opposition has a chance to make political gains ahead of national elections in the fall in which it will try to dislodge Law and Justice (PiS), which has systematically weakened checks and balances since returning to power with an absolute majority in 2015.
At the European level, the three largest groups—the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), the center-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), and the liberal Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) in partnership with LREM—are together estimated to win something like 55 percent of the seats.

So nationalists are unlikely to win the European election or choose the new EU executive. But they will have a stronger presence and stronger influence than in the past.

The main groupings are themselves somewhat fractured and include problem children. The EPP has wrestled for years with the inclusion of Fidesz, the authoritarian-minded party of Viktor Orbán, in its ranks. Under external and internal pressure ahead of the European Parliament elections, it suspended Fidesz. President Trump, however, will welcome Orbán to the White House next week at the height of the campaign. Meanwhile, the S&D has frozen relations with Romania’s ruling Social Democrats (PSD), which has been doing its best to block the country’s former chief anti-corruption prosecutor Laura Codruţa Kövesi from leading the new European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO).

These elections are the second in which Europe is seeing a race between lead candidates nominated for the Commission presidency by the different party groups, known as the Spitzenkandidat system. This approach directly links the European Parliament elections to the subsequent formation of the EU’s executive, but doesn’t have universal buy-in. While the EPP’s Jean-Claude Juncker won the job this way in 2014, it may not work this time for Manfred Weber, a member of the Bavarian Christian Social Union who has led the EPP in the Parliament for five years, or Frans Timmermans, first vice president of the European Commission and the candidate of the S&D. A broader governing coalition may require a compromise candidate, and Macron has tried to position himself to be king- or queen-maker.

The postponement of Brexit to October 31 means that determining the basic framework of future economic relations between the European Union and the United Kingdom and preventing the return of a hard border to the island of Ireland will continue to dominate the EU agenda as the new Parliament takes office and the new executive is formed. Given British and continental hesitation to allow the default no-deal exit, the knotty problem could yet be kicked further down the road.

 

By Ted Reinert, Brookings, 08 May 2019


Between May 23 and May 26, citizens of the (for now) 28 countries of the European Union will elect 751 members to the European Parliament. Together, the national contests will send representatives from dozens of parties to be sorted into at least seven somewhat unwieldy party groups, influence the composition of the European Commission slated to take office in November, and shape EU policy in a treacherous period. There are dozens of subplots, from the ambiguous political loyalties of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to the likely return to public office of 82-year-old former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi as a member of European Parliament (MEP) for Forza Italia.

The election results will have immediate national political implications.

With Brexit delayed amidst gridlock and indecision in U.K. Parliament, the British electorate will have a chance to weigh in at the ballot box for the first time in two years. Nigel Farage’s new platform, the Brexit Party, will contend with Labour and the Conservatives to top the polls. Meanwhile, ChangeUK, formed by centrist defectors from Labour and the Conservatives, represents a new offering.
French President Emmanuel Macron will be looking for a show of strength for his La République En Marche (LREM) to buttress his reform agenda after months struggling with the Yellow Vests protests; Marine Le Pen’s National Rally will be looking to send the opposite signal.
A bad result for Germany’s Social Democrats, nationally and in simultaneous state elections in their stronghold of Bremen, could weaken an unenthusiastic grand coalition in Berlin and hasten the end of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s political career.
Italy’s governing Five Star Movement and League both aim to form new party groups around themselves, with the League’s far-right European Alliance of Peoples and Nations looking rather more successful than Five Star’s more abstract group.
Poland’s opposition has a chance to make political gains ahead of national elections in the fall in which it will try to dislodge Law and Justice (PiS), which has systematically weakened checks and balances since returning to power with an absolute majority in 2015.
At the European level, the three largest groups—the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), the center-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (S&D), and the liberal Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) in partnership with LREM—are together estimated to win something like 55 percent of the seats.

So nationalists are unlikely to win the European election or choose the new EU executive. But they will have a stronger presence and stronger influence than in the past.

The main groupings are themselves somewhat fractured and include problem children. The EPP has wrestled for years with the inclusion of Fidesz, the authoritarian-minded party of Viktor Orbán, in its ranks. Under external and internal pressure ahead of the European Parliament elections, it suspended Fidesz. President Trump, however, will welcome Orbán to the White House next week at the height of the campaign. Meanwhile, the S&D has frozen relations with Romania’s ruling Social Democrats (PSD), which has been doing its best to block the country’s former chief anti-corruption prosecutor Laura Codruţa Kövesi from leading the new European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO).

These elections are the second in which Europe is seeing a race between lead candidates nominated for the Commission presidency by the different party groups, known as the Spitzenkandidat system. This approach directly links the European Parliament elections to the subsequent formation of the EU’s executive, but doesn’t have universal buy-in. While the EPP’s Jean-Claude Juncker won the job this way in 2014, it may not work this time for Manfred Weber, a member of the Bavarian Christian Social Union who has led the EPP in the Parliament for five years, or Frans Timmermans, first vice president of the European Commission and the candidate of the S&D. A broader governing coalition may require a compromise candidate, and Macron has tried to position himself to be king- or queen-maker.

The postponement of Brexit to October 31 means that determining the basic framework of future economic relations between the European Union and the United Kingdom and preventing the return of a hard border to the island of Ireland will continue to dominate the EU agenda as the new Parliament takes office and the new executive is formed. Given British and continental hesitation to allow the default no-deal exit, the knotty problem could yet be kicked further down the road.

 

By Constanze Stelzenmüller, 09 May 2019


Editor's Note: While at times weak or problematic, recent criticism of Germany hints at the larger truth that Germany must begin to understand the responsibility it bears in Europe and on the world stage in order to confront the challenges that face it, argues Constanze Stelzenmüller. This post originally appeared in the Financial Times.

 

North Korea, China, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela: America currently has disputes with a lot of countries. Europeans, meanwhile, have done quite well at keeping their heads down. A U.S.-EU trade truce is still holding. And NATO’s 70th anniversary festivities in Washington came and went in early April without tweet fireworks from the president threatening U.S. withdrawal.

There was one notable exception to this queasy peace, however: Germany.

At a think-tank event during the NATO celebrations, vice-president Mike Pence castigated Germany for its inadequate defense spending and for being a “captive of Russia.” A few weeks later, presidential daughter-in-law Lara Trump opined on Fox Business that Angela Merkel’s welcome of refugees in 2015 had been Germany’s “downfall” and “one of the worst things to ever happen” to the country.

Germany is, in fact, having a bit of a moment in the roiling imagination of the Trumpian nationalist right. It has been denounced as “selfish” and “America’s worst ally” by Ted Bromund, a scholar at the Heritage Foundation. Jakub Grygiel, until last year a member of the State Department’s policy planning staff, called it “a source of fear and resentment.” And Michael Anton, a former senior White House adviser for strategic communications, just published an essay on the “Trump Doctrine” which contends that the EU is “a fraud” and Germany “treats the EU as a front organization.”

Then of course there is President Trump himself, who has a famously bad chemistry with Chancellor Merkel and, in the words of the New Yorker magazine, an “obsession” with her country. It certainly features regularly in his tweets.

But even Brookings scholar Robert Kagan—who is a colleague and a friend, and, more importantly, neither a nationalist nor a Trumpian—recently chimed in on the topic with an essay in the magazine Foreign Affairs. He notes that today’s Germany is a product of specific characteristics of the postwar order: the U.S. security commitment to Europe, free trade, democracy promotion, and multilateralism—all of which are being questioned by the Trump administration. And Kagan worries that a failure of the European project might see the return of the “German question.”

Where to start? It’s a wild guess, but I suspect Ms. Trump probably hasn’t visited Germany lately. If she had, she would have found that its efforts to come to grips with the influx of more than a million refugees nearly four years ago have had mixed results. Deporting those who can’t claim asylum has been a struggle, and so has integrating those who can stay. But a remarkable 400,000 now have jobs or are in training. “Downfall” is a term most Germans associate with 1945, not 2015.

As for the new prophets of nationalism, their grasp of European history and politics is sketchy and riddled with errors. There also seems to be some confusion about what version of Germany they would prefer to the current one. Presumably, it should be less liberal, and less powerful. But they seem to dislike it both when it’s being liberal (by taking in refugees) and when it’s acting out of national self-interest (as with the Nord Stream 2 Russian gas pipeline, for example). And if its power is the bigger problem, wouldn’t a diminished or isolated Germany negatively affect Europe’s economic health? Wouldn’t that make it more difficult for it to take on a greater defense burden?

Kagan, in contrast, genuinely admires Germany’s democratic transformation and hopes that it lasts “forever.” But remember all that ordnance dropped by the Allies during the second world war now dormant in German soil? “Think of Europe today,” he writes, “as an unexploded bomb, its detonator intact and functional, its explosives still live.” It’s a troubling choice of metaphor, because it questions the reality of homegrown change and agency in postwar Europe. If America leaves, the jungle returns. And, with it, the undead ghosts of European and German history.

But a weak or problematic critique can point to a stark truth. No nation has profited more handsomely from the postwar European order than Germany. None has a greater interest in preserving it. The Berlin Republic shows little sign of understanding the responsibility it bears, and the urgency of the challenge.

The real risk to Europe’s prosperity and safety is not an aggressively selfish Germany, but one that is in denial, or else seeks to hedge against a bullying and erratic America with the help of authoritarian powers like Russia and China.

 

By Eric Rosand, 06 May 2019


Editor's Note: Religion plays a much greater role in policy responses to counter violent extremism than the research indicates it should, writes Eric Rosand. This piece was originally published as part of a series by Georgetown University's Berkley Center on Religion, Peace, and World Affairs.

 

As dozens of countries develop national frameworks for countering violent extremism (CVE), they now have the benefit of research to help guide their strategies and policymaking. But despite this more sophisticated understanding of the multiplicity of factors that fuel radicalization and recruitment, policies and programs to counter violent extremism are too often driven by political factors and other considerations rather than data and other evidence. Nowhere is this more apparent than when it comes to the role of religion in CVE, where religion plays a much greater role in policy response than the research indicates it should.


What Does the Research Show?


There is little empirical evidence that religion (or ideology) is a main motivator for violent extremism; radicalization is primarily a social issue that can provide opportunities for drivers that are more fundamental, but often less visible. Case studies have typically implicated non-religious and non-ideological grievances such as corruption, injustice, economic inequality, and political discrimination. Those who are recruited into militant groups or radicalized to extremist violence are typically not motivated by religion, but rather view religion as way to address their grievances and deliver the promise of adventure, belonging, or becoming a hero.

This is not to suggest that religion and ideology are not a factor, particularly after an individual has become radicalized or “indoctrinated.” Rather, it is recognizing that it is typically a small part of the violent extremism and thus CVE story.


Research Smesearch…


Despite these findings, religion is the focus of far too many CVE policies and programs of governments in countries in the Gulf and in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). Emphasis is typically placed on promoting “moderate” or “peaceful” interpretations of Islam. This includes cracking down on (non-violent) religious groups that the ruling elite view as espousing extremist views, and this is often done with the support or encouragement of Western governments, which are at the same time funding much of the research on CVE and calling for more evidence-based, data-driven CVE policies and programs.

For example, despite the U.S. State Department and USAID’s emphasis on data and analytics and championing of a global network focused on generating and sharing more local research on the drivers of violent extremism (RESOLVE), U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, like his boss, subscribes to an overly simplistic view that the “twisted,” “radical Islamist” ideology lies at the root of the jihadi violence and that the problem would be solved if more political and religious leaders would “denounce” it. This view largely mirrors those of governments in the MENA and Gulf regions, which are replete with close U.S. counterterrorism partners and countries facing threats of extremist violence within their borders.

A cursory review of the CVE sections in the most recent U.S. State Department Country Reports on Terrorism underscores how most MENA and Gulf countries’ CVE efforts focus almost entirely on religion or ideology, despite the existing evidence and data on what drives violent extremist recruitment and radicalization.

The section on Egypt highlights the work of Dar Al-Iftaa, an official body that issues religious edicts, trains muftis, and leads on CVE messaging in religious channels. It notes how the Supreme Council for Media Regulation issued a list of 50 religious scholars authorized to curb aberrant fatwas and to counter extremist and radical ones. The report on Algeria notes steps to “de-politicize” and “de-ideologize” mosques and how the government monitors mosques for security-related offenses and prohibits the use of mosques as public meeting places outside of regular prayer hours. The Morocco section focuses on the work of the Rabita Moammadia of Ulamas, a council of 47 Muslim clerics that issues fatwahs to discredit religious interpretations promoted by violent extremist groups and coordinates with the Ministry of Religion to develop youth-centric CVE programs. It touts the work of Mohammad VI Institute for Training of Imams, which, often with Western donor support, trains imams from countries in the Sahel and beyond, focusing on delivering a “moderate religious curriculum to create community religious leaders that disrupt Islamist ideology.”

Saudi Arabia’s entry is dominated by counter-ideology efforts, whether through the Center for Ideological Warfare or the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology (or Etidal in Arabic) that President Donald Trump helped inaugurate in May 2017. Apart from noting its hosting of Hedayah, the international CVE center of excellence in Abu Dhabi, which focuses its attention outside the region, the UAE section is similarly focused on religious- and ideology-focused CVE initiatives.


Why Does Politics Trump Evidence When It Comes to Religion and CVE?


So what accounts for this incongruence? Politics too often trumps evidence when it comes to CVE, particularly in this part of the world.

First, (over)emphasizing religion and ideology (as well as foreign policy issues) conveniently allows the focus to remain on the behavior and propaganda of the violent extremists and not on socioeconomic or political conditions in a society where the government might bear some responsibility. As Rice University’s Annelle Sheline has noted, certain governments prefer to emphasize religious or ideological reasons to ignore or obscure their own failures, such as lingering governance deficits that might include lack of service delivery and corruption.

Second, as H.A. Hellyer has argued, religion and ideology are attractive targets for political leaders and policymakers looking for simple solutions to a challenge: they want to demonstrate to their supporters that they understand the threat and are doing something about it, even if misguided.

Third, for much of the nearly two decades since 9/11, the United States and, albeit to a lesser extent, other governments in the West have prioritized the building and strengthening of counterterrorism cooperation with Muslim-majority countries. During this period, the main areas of focus have been on a) intelligence sharing; b) military and law enforcement cooperation; and c) getting “moderate” religious leaders and institutions in the Muslim world to speak out against “warped” interpretations of Islam that were used by some to justify some extremist violence. Whereas the first two areas involve some form of collaboration between the West and Muslim-majority countries, when it comes to the religious dimension, for legal and other reasons, the West has been essentially dependent on Muslim-majority countries for action. Injecting evidence and data on the actual drivers of violent extremism in counterterrorism and CVE dialogues with these countries—particularly given what this means in terms of government (mis)behavior—risks undermining the broader security relationship with them.

Imagine the challenges of trying to build a global coalition to defeat the so-called Islamic State if the United States had sought to include a focus on addressing the structural drivers of violent extremism and what is fueling the feelings of marginalization, exclusion, alienation, and unfair treatment that can make individuals susceptible to ISIS and other extremist propaganda? This helps explain why 74 countries in the global coalition have focused all of their CVE attention on “countering Daesh’s propaganda.”

Although we can expect the ever-growing body of evidence-based, contextualized research on the drivers of violent extremism to shed more light on the limited role that religion and ideology are playing, we should not be so naïve as to expect that this will influence the degree to which these issues are featured in CVE policies and programs.

 

Africa

PRETORIA - The African National Congress was set to easily win South Africa’s election on Saturday but with a lower vote share reflecting anger at corruption scandals and racial inequalities that remain entrenched a generation after the party took power.

With 99.9 percent of voting districts counted following Wednesday’s election, the ANC led with 57.5% of the vote. The main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) was on 20.79% and the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) had 10.78%

It would be the worst electoral performance by the late Nelson Mandela’s former liberation movement, which has governed South Africa uninterrupted since the country’s first free election marked the end of white minority rule in 1994.

The ANC’s victory will secure it enough seats in parliament to give President Cyril Ramaphosa another five years in office but may leave him short of ammunition to battle party rivals who oppose his reforms to galvanise the economy and counter graft.

The ANC had not previously won less than 60% of the vote in a national election. Two results are still to come from nine provincial polls also held on Wednesday.

Ramaphosa, who replaced scandal-plagued Jacob Zuma as president in 2018, had sought to re-engage ANC voters whose support was eroded by faltering efforts to address corruption, unemployment and disparities in housing, land and services.

AB/

By Nafisa Eltahir

DUBAI - After spearheading the rallies that toppled former President Omar al-Bashir, Sudan’s main protest group is now locked in a stand-off with the country’s new military rulers that is testing its clout as a political force.

The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA) gained widespread support during more than four months of protests and it has helped win a string of apparent concessions from the military council that took over from Bashir on April 11.

But as the unionists and activists in the SPA try to chart a course to full-fledged democracy, they are coming up against a powerful rival that has shown little sign yet that it is willing to move aside for a civilian-led transition.

Frustrated by a lack of progress, the Declaration of Freedom and Change Forces (DFCF), a broad coalition of opposition groups headed by the SPA, called on Wednesday for a campaign of civil disobedience to crank up the pressure on the military.

“We have all options open from now on,” Ahmed Rabie, an influential SPA member, told Reuters. “If (the council) insists on holding on to power, we are going to consider this a military coup, and we will escalate our tactics, peacefully.”

The SPA has said such a campaign would likely focus on mass strikes, which have been successful in previous uprisings in post-independence Sudan. Strikes called by the SPA before Bashir’s fall met with limited success, but workers may be less cowed following his removal.

It may also call for a boycott of non-essential goods and public services in a bid to starve the government of tax revenue, and intensify rallies and sit-ins across Sudan.

The biggest ongoing sit-in, which began on April 6 outside the Defence Ministry in Khartoum, has become the focal point of the uprising.

The Transitional Military Council (TMC) has said it will not use force to end the sit-in. But the SPA could be undermined by maneuvering due to its lack of political experience.

“The politicking is starting. This is a terrain that the professionals association might not be as well-equipped for as it seems,” said Sudanese analyst Magdi el-Gizouli.


CONCESSIONS


To try to placate protesters the TMC replaced its first head after one day, dismissed senior allies of Bashir, announced anti-corruption measures and moved to restructure security and intelligence agencies.

Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes in Darfur, is in prison in the capital Khartoum.

But while the DFCF wants a transitional body led by civilians to steer a four-year transition, the TMC has indicated that it wants to retain overall control of any joint military and civilian sovereign council.

As talks between the two sides have dragged on, the SPA has accused the military leaders of expanding their powers.

The TMC has said it is open to more dialogue and that elections could be held after six months if there’s no agreement on an interim government - well ahead of the end of the council’s planned two-year transition.

The SPA’s civil disobedience could put pressure on the military council given Sudan’s economic vulnerability. The country is already suffering from spiraling inflation and shortages of cash and basic goods.

But its rivals in the TMC have powerful and wealthy backers.

The TMC’s leaders, Lieutenant General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and General Mohamed Hamdan Dagalo, have ties to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which together promised Sudan $3 billion to support the central bank and provide fuel, wheat and medicine.

Dagalo, commonly known as Hemedti, controls the feared Rapid Support Forces, which fought in Darfur and are participating in the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen. They are also deployed across Khartoum.

“This is an army establishment and they don’t want to lose control,” said Sudanese writer and commentator Reem Abbas. “There’s a lot of things at stake: resources, land, immunity for war crimes.”


SHADOW UNIONS


The SPA, by contrast, was formed in 2016 from unofficial parallel trade unions outside the state apparatus representing doctors, lawyers, journalists and other professions.

It was campaigning for higher wages when demonstrations against Bashir, triggered by a deepening economic crisis, spread across Sudan from Dec. 19 and propelled the SPA into the role of protest coordinator. It has since expanded to include more than 20 unions.

The SPA’s non-political image was key to its success in ousting Bashir after three decades in power, said Rabie, a high school physics teacher from the Haj Yousif neighborhood on the outskirts of Khartoum.

Despite its large following, the SPA says it will not become a political party. It has no leader or strict hierarchy and, until recently, operated largely underground.

That could leave a vacuum.

Under Bashir, opposition parties’ activities were limited and membership dwindled. Analysts say they still have much work to do to become effective political forces.

The opposition also faces a challenge presenting a united front. The DFCF is made up of a wide range of political parties, civil society associations and armed groups from across Sudan and they have already made conflicting statements about their approach to the negotiations.

Many protesters believe the SPA shouldn’t be negotiating with the military at all, chanting: “Civilian rule is the decision of the people.” The SPA has sought to reassure them, saying it will act as a guarantor of the revolution and democracy during the transition.

“We always work hard to get democracy in this country and then we lose it,” said Rabie, who was jailed from Jan. 4 until shortly after Bashir’s downfall. “We worked hard to get it, and, God willing, we can protect it.”

 

 

By Mfuneko Toyana and Wendell Roelf

JOHANNESBURG/CAPE TOWN - The African National Congress faced its toughest electoral test on Wednesday as it sought to reverse a slide in support from voters frustrated by graft and racial inequalities a generation after it won power in South Africa’s first all-race poll.

South Africa is holding parliamentary and provincial elections amid frustration with a lack of progress 25 years after Nelson Mandela’s ANC swept to power at the end of white minority rule in 1994.

Queues built up at polling stations through the morning. Some polling stations around Johannesburg opened late or did not have voting materials.

Officials have said the results could be announced on Saturday.

The national election is the first under President Cyril Ramaphosa, who replaced scandal-plagued Jacob Zuma as head of state in February 2018 after four years as his deputy.

Opinion polls suggest the ANC will again win a majority of the 400 seats in the National Assembly, but analysts have predicted its margin of victory will fall.

“I’m a member of the ANC but I didn’t vote for them this time,” said construction worker Thabo Makhene, 32, in the commercial hub of Johannesburg.

“They need to catch a wake-up. The way they run the state, mishandling state funds, they’ve lost their morals.”

Pete Mokokosi, a 77-year-old pensioner, said he felt South Africans needed change, a better economy, education and jobs.

“The weather changes everyday, why can’t we?” he said as he waited to vote in Soweto.

In Cape Town, Anneke du Plessis, 43, who works at a media company, said her vote was to end corruption.

“We have to unite and stop this downward spiral. This is the most important vote since 1994,” she said.

Some voters said they would back the ruling party.

“They have made mistakes before but this time we have the right man,” said Alpheus Zihle, 69, a pensioner in Alexandra township in Johannesburg who said he would vote for the ANC.


ECONOMY IN FOCUS


The ANC’s biggest challengers are the main opposition party the Democratic Alliance (DA) and the leftist Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF).

The ANC won 62 percent of the vote in 2014’s parliamentary election, down from 2009 and far short of its best result, 69 percent in 2004 under President Thabo Mbeki.

Analysts have put that falling support down to corruption allegations against government officials, a slowing economy with one of the highest unemployment rates in the world, and demands from black citizens for more equitable distribution of land.

Ramaphosa - who became ANC leader after narrowly defeating a faction allied with Zuma - has promised to improve service delivery, create jobs and fight corruption. But his reforms have been held up by divisions and opposition within his own party.

“Reforms will remain at best one-step-forward, one-step-back and so potential growth will not rise,” Peter Attard Montalto, head of capital markets research at Intellidex, said in a note.

Africa’s most industrialized economy grew at an estimated 0.8 percent in 2018 after recovering from a recession in the first half of the year when a drought hit farming, although blackouts at power utility Eskom continue to drag on activity. Growth is forecast at 1.5 percent this year.


PARTY LEADERS VOTE


The center-right DA won 22 percent of the parliamentary vote in 2014. It appointed its first black leader Mmusi Maimane in 2015 and made headlines by leading coalition victories in local government elections in Pretoria and Johannesburg a year later.

But splits within the party could see its support wane.

“Fear says to us let’s stick with what we know, hope says let’s bring change,” Maimane said after casting his ballot in the township of Soweto in Johannesburg where he grew up.

The EFF’s leader Julius Malema, a fiery orator who formed the party in 2013 after he was expelled from the ANC, cast his vote in the northern city of Polokwane.

“If you need change, the EFF is the way to go,” said Malema, whose party won 6 percent of the vote in 2014, making it the third-largest presence in parliament.

It wants to nationalize mines and banks, and played a key role in holding Zuma to account for spending state money on non-security upgrades to his private residence.

Hundreds of people covered in blankets and coats in the chilly winter morning gathered outside a polling station in Soweto, where Ramaphosa cast his vote.

“We’ve made mistakes, but we are sorry about those mistakes, and we are saying our people should re-invest their confidence in us,” the president said. “We are going to correct the bad ways of the past,” he said.

JUBA - The South African government on Monday signed an oil production agreement with South Sudan, signalling intent to pump money into Juba’s nascent petroleum industry that has almost stalled over conflict.

The deal known as the Exploration and Production Sharing Agreement (EPSA) will see Pretoria’s state-owned Strategic Fuel Fund (SFF) granted permission to explore oil in an area known as Block B2, which is in the wide oilfields of the Muglad basin that straddles both Sudan and South Sudan.

The exploration is to take about six years and SFF will enter a joint venture with local petro company Nilepet for aerial exploration, seismic tests as well as drill wells when oil is found.

Last year, South Africa’s Department of Energy pledged to invest $1 billion into South Sudan’s petroleum industry, with the aim of securing affordable energy supplies for South Africa.

The countries are now in talks to set up a 60,000 barrel per day refinery to supply oil products to the local market in South Sudan, as well as to secure exports to Ethiopia and other neighbouring countries.

The B2 area includes productive parts of the Muglad Basin and is part of the 120,000 kilometre square block Block B which was split into three in 2012.

There has been much interest in South Sudan’s Block B acreages since the entry of Oranto Petroleum to Block B3 in 2017.

Much of South Sudan’s oil and gas blocks are yet to be fully explored and resources assessed.

South Sudan has the third-largest oil reserves in sub-Saharan Africa, estimated at 3.5 billion barrels, with just 30 percent of the country explored.

The deal, coming at a time South Sudan is facing uncertainty over the transitional government of national unity, protected the social pillars of oil production.

The South African firm will be required to train local people for oil production and management, give back to hosting communities and ensure local women benefit from their work.

A dispatch from Juba issued after the signing ceremony celebrated the agreement as one way to foster stability for a country that hasn’t known peace since independence in July 2011.

“We expect to discover more oil and help us boost our economy,” said Petroleum Minister Ezekiel Lol Gatkuoth who signed the agreement with South Africa's Energy Minister Jeff Radebe.

“The SFF’s commitment can help us raise production levels which have fallen recently.”

South Sudan’s oil production peaked to 350,000 barrels per day but dipped to under 150,000 as conflict forced producers to abandon wells.

Mr Radebe said the deal would strengthen energy security for South Africa.

“We are bullish about this strategic opportunity into Block B2. It provides South Africa with a chance to further strengthen its energy security while entering one of the top three most lucrative onshore oil and gas markets in Africa. Investment is key to guaranteeing the economic progress of South Sudan,” Mr. Rabede said

As officials prepare for a transitional government, the local Petroleum ministry says it expects the production to rise from 270,000 barrels per day.

The products are often exported in crude form through the pipeline to Sudan.

According to the deal’s legal advisors Centurion, the arrangement means South Sudan could be involved in exploring more oil fields.

“The potential discoveries can be quickly and cheaply tied into existing infrastructure,” said NJ Ayuk, CEO of Centurion Law Group.

“South Sudan’s ability to attract, retain, and leverage energy investment is key for an inclusive and sustainable economic growth,” Mr Ayuk, also Executive Chairman of continental lobby African Energy Chamber said in a dispatch on Monday.