Moroccans eye Spanish enclave across tiny border

Penon de Velez de la Gomera, a peninsula within Spanish territory, off the coast of Morocco’s Al-Hoceima national park. (AFP)
Updated 16 July 2017
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Moroccans eye Spanish enclave across tiny border

BADES, Morocco: It is one of the shortest land borders in the world: A few dozen meters of plastic cord across a sandbank separate Morocco from the tiny Spanish enclave of Penon de Velez de la Gomera.
Wooden boats lie amid nets worn by seawater at the foot of the imposing mini-peninsula, home to a Spanish military base.
“Don’t approach the string!” a Moroccan soldier shouted from a pillbox, his helmet askew.
“They might shoot you with plastic bullets,” he said in a lower tone of voice, before retreating to the shade of his wooden shelter on a slope facing the Mediterranean.
Penon de Velez de la Gomera is one of seven Spanish enclaves on the northern coast of Morocco, which claims sovereignty over all of them.
The best known are Ceuta, which overlooks the strategically vital Strait of Gibraltar, and Melilla, further to the east.
But a string of islets remain under Spanish control, including several occupied by Spanish forces.
These tiny leftovers of Spain’s once vast empire have been a source of tension between Morocco and its former colonial occupier.
One of them, Perejil — known to Moroccans as Leila — was at the heart of an angry spat between the two countries 15 years ago this week.
A handful of Moroccan soldiers briefly took over the outcrop just 200 meters off the coast in 2002. The incident ended with a bloodless intervention by Spanish commandos.
But today, the topic of Madrid’s enclaves receives little attention. Local press reports say “things have changed,” and the two are now close partners.
“Here we don’t have any real problem with the Spaniards, even though it’s as if our village is occupied,” said Hamed Aharouch, 27.
Aharouch sat on a plastic chair outside his fisherman’s hut in the hamlet of Bades, a stone’s throw from the Spanish base.
Perched at the end of a dusty track criss-crossing the mountains of Al-Hoceima national park, Bades seems to lie at the end of the world.
The Spanish peninsula, 87 meters at its highest point, dominates the bay, an enchanting cove of blue waters hemmed in by rocky slopes.
Spain’s gold and red flag flies above the fortress which its forces have held since the 16th century.
Military helicopters fly in to a landing pad part way down the slope, and below it, a guard peered from an observation post.


HRW: Egypt fight against Daesh threatens humanitarian crisis

Updated 23 April 2018
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HRW: Egypt fight against Daesh threatens humanitarian crisis

  • Human Rights Watch said the offensive has left up to 420,000 residents in four northeastern cities in urgent need of humanitarian aid
  • Daesh group has killed hundreds of soldiers, policemen and civilians, mainly in its North Sinai stronghold but also elsewhere in Egypt

BEIRUT: Egypt’s military operations against an affiliate of the Daesh group in North Sinai is threatening to spark a humanitarian crisis, Human Rights Watch said on Monday.
The offensive launched on February 9 “has left up to 420,000 residents in four northeastern cities in urgent need of humanitarian aid,” said the New York-based organization.
The campaign “has included imposing severe restrictions on the movement of people and goods in almost all of” North Sinai, HRW said in a report.
“Residents say they have experienced sharply diminished supplies of available food, medicine, cooking gas, and other essential commercial goods.”
The authorities conducting the campaign, dubbed “Sinai 2018,” have also banned the sale of gasoline for cars in the area “and cut telecommunication services for several days at a time,” the report said.
Human Rights Watch also said authorities had “cut water and electricity almost entirely in the most eastern areas of North Sinai, including Rafah and Sheikh Zuwayed.”
“A counterterrorism operation that imperils the flow of essential goods to hundreds of thousands of civilians is unlawful and unlikely to stem violence,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the organization’s Middle East and North Africa director.
“The Egyptian army’s actions border on collective punishment,” she added.
Since the launch of the offensive, the military has distributed images of forces providing humanitarian assistance to people living in the area.
According to the military, residents support the campaign and many have come forward with useful information to help the authorities neutralize the militants.
Security forces have stepped up efforts to quell attacks by an Egyptian militant group that later declared allegiance to Daesh since Islamist president Muhammad Mursi was deposed in 2013. Mursi was forced out by the military, following mass protests against him.
The group has killed hundreds of soldiers, policemen and civilians, mainly in its North Sinai stronghold but also elsewhere in Egypt.
More than 100 militant and at least 30 soldiers have been killed in the ongoing operation, according to army figures.