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.


Egypt flooding sparks fury

Cars drive through a flooded street after a flash flood affected Cairo, Egypt, on Thursday. EPA
Updated 11 min 35 sec ago
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Egypt flooding sparks fury

  • Homes in the Fifth Settlement, one of the capital’s most affluent districts, were flooded on Tuesday and Wednesday
  • The public reacted angrily to what they regarded as incompetent management by officials

CAIRO: Extreme weather brought Cairo to a standstill this week with severe flooding that caused buildings to collapse. 

Homes in the Fifth Settlement, one of the capital’s most affluent districts, were flooded on Tuesday and Wednesday and hit by power cuts lasting hours. Motorists on Cairo’s busy ring road were forced to sleep in their cars after being stranded for more than eight hours.

And in Alexandria, Egypt’s second city, a man died when a billboard on the popular coastal promenade blew away and fell on him.

Trains were delayed because of heavy rainfall and the police rescued 30 students from the Hayah International Academy after they fell down a mountain during a trip to the Wadi Degla nature reserve.

The public reacted angrily to what they regarded as incompetent management by officials.

Rain caused extensive damage to Area Ragy’s home in the Fifth Settlement when water poured through the ceiling.

“Everything is ruined in my flat. Home appliances don’t work any more and I don’t know how I’m going to pay for the damage,” said Ragy, a 28-year-old housewife. “I kept calling 122 (the police emergency number) but they did not even answer. Who should I call then when something like that happens? We were stuck with no one to give us any kind of support. No one is telling us anything. People are always on their own.”

The city’s sanitation authority set up a hotline but claimed that it had received no complaints, however residents said that they were unable to reach anyone from the authority because the chief and his deputies had their mobile phones switched off.

Others complained about the lack of equipment to pump water and mud from streets built without storm drains, and posted pictures of themselves stuck in traffic with ankle-deep water inside their cars.

“My kids and I could not get home to Maadi (south Cairo) and had to sleep in our car,” Ahmed Abdel-Latif, a 32-year-old civil engineer, told Arab News. “The kids kept crying and I couldn’t do anything for them. We did not move a meter for two hours, and we are talking here about a wealthy neighborhood that is maybe less than ten years old ... This is how our modern roads look.”

Traffic police commander Abdellah Rashad confirmed that the road from Cairo to Ain Sokhna was also closed for 60 kilometers due to “heavy rain.”

People posted photos of the collapsed ceiling at the relatively new Point 90 mall near the American University as an example of the “weak infrastructure” of the high-priced buildings in the Fifth Settlement.

“The best place for agriculture now is the Fifth Settlement,” said one Facebook post. Another read: “Villas for sale with sea view.” 

In the absence of any help from officials, activists launched their own information-gathering system using the hashtag #Kalak_Kajra_Jadidah (“so this is new Cairo”). 

Mohamed Arfan, the minister of administrative supervision, made a surprise tour of the New Cairo area on Wednesday night and quizzed workers at the electricity station about the reasons for the power cuts. He said that the city had to be better prepared in future to avoid a repeat of the disaster.

Sanitation authority officials have been called in to explain themselves as part of an inquiry into why there was apparently so much negligence.