Pope expresses support for detained fishermen in Libya

Relatives of 18 fishermen detained in Libya and Marco Marrone the owner of one of the boats seized, are seen during a protest demanding the release of the sailors, in front of parliament, in Rome, Italy. (Reuters)
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Updated 19 October 2020

Pope expresses support for detained fishermen in Libya

  • Italian newspapers have reported that Gen. Haftar wants Italy to hand over four Libyan nationals convicted of human trafficking in return for freeing the fishermen

VATICAN CITY: Pope Francis expressed support on Sunday for 18 fishermen held in Libya, weighing in on a standoff between Italy and the administration of Khalifa Haftar, one of the North African country’s two rival leaders.
“I want to say a word of encouragement and support for the fishermen who have been held in Libya for more than a month, and for their families (who) are hoping to be able to embrace their dear ones soon,” Francis said at his weekly blessing in St. Peter’s Square.
Libyan patrol boats detained two Sicilian fishing boats on Sept. 1 for allegedly fishing in territorial waters and brought the crews to Benghazi in Libya. The crews, made up of Italians and Tunisians, were accused of operating in Libya’s territorial waters.
The fishing grounds have been disputed since 2005, when Libya’s then ruler, Muammar Qaddafi, unilaterally extended Libyan territorial waters to 74 nautical miles offshore from 12. Haftar, who controls eastern Libya, is trying to enforce this.

FASTFACT

Italian newspapers have reported that Gen. Haftar wants Italy to hand over four Libyan nationals convicted of human trafficking in return for freeing the fishermen.

Italian newspapers have reported that Gen. Haftar wants Italy to hand over four Libyan nationals convicted of human trafficking in return for freeing the fishermen. Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told parliament on Thursday that such an exchange would be “unacceptable.”
The Italian minister pledged to bring home the fishermen.
“Our fishermen are being held by a Libyan party not recognised by the Italian government, the European Union or the United Nations,” Di Maio told the Senate during question time. “It is our aim to bring them home as soon as possible,” he said.
Concern has mounted in Italy over the fate of the men – eight Italians, six Tunisians, two Indonesians and two Senegalese.
Di Maio said the men appeared to have been detained over the alleged violation of a “protected fishing zone,” an area of sea extending 74 miles from the coast and unilaterally claimed by Libya in 2005 as its own.
Benghazi authorities passed the case to the military prosecutor’s office on Sept. 31 because the incident took place in what is considered a military zone, Italy’s parliamentary relations minister Federico D’Inca said last week.
The area is also a fishing ground for the gambero rosso, or red prawn, a crustacean prized by gourmet chefs and which can sell for up to €60 a kilo at the fishmongers.

Detention, attacks
Families from Mazara del Vallo, on the west coast of Sicily, have been fishing the prawns since the 1900s.
“The area has been the site of numerous incidents (over the years), from the interception and seizure of fishing boats to the detention of crews, and even attacks” by Libyan vessels, Di Maio said. The Italian media has dubbed it “the prawn war.”
Di Maio said he had called on those “who have particular influence on Benghazi” for help, including his counterparts in France, the US, the UAE and Russia. “We are monitoring the fishermen’s health daily. They are well. They are not being held in a prison but an independent structure, they have no contact with prisoners, they are being treated well,” he said.
But the fishermen’s families believe the men are being held as a bargaining tool and will only be released in exchange for four Libyan footballers.
The Libyans were arrested in Sicily in 2015 and sentenced to 30 years in jail for people trafficking, after a court found them guilty of locking migrants below deck on a rough sea crossing to Italy in which 49 people died.
Their lawyers claim they were asylum seekers fleeing the conflict-torn North African country.
D’Inca told parliament that “the reported request to swap the fishermen with four Libyan citizens jailed in Italy has neither been confirmed not formally made.”
Francis also called for talks to bring peace to Libya, which is divided between Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) and the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA).


Pan-Arab poll: Biden better for region, but must shun Obama policies

Updated 10 min 48 sec ago

Pan-Arab poll: Biden better for region, but must shun Obama policies

  • Majority of respondents to Arab News/YouGov survey consider neither candidate good for region
  • Findings show strong Arab support for Trump on Iran but not on Jerusalem embassy move

RIYADH: Nearly half the respondents in an Arab News/YouGov poll conducted in 18 Middle East and Africa (MENA) countries believe neither candidate in the upcoming US elections will necessarily be good for the region.
Of the rest, 40 percent said Democratic Party candidate Joe Biden would be better for the region while 12 percent said the same thing about incumbent President Donald Trump. But a key takeaway of the poll is that if Biden, who served as vice president to Barack Obama until 2017, wins the White House race, he would be well advised to shed the Obama administration baggage.
When asked about policies implemented in the Middle East under the Obama administration, the most popular response (53 percent) was that the Democratic president left the region worse off, with another 58 percent saying Biden should distance himself from Obama-era policies.
The study surveyed a sample of 3,097 respondents online to find out how people in the MENA region feel about the Nov. 3 US elections.

Opinion

This section contains relevant reference points, placed in (Opinion field)

Containing Iran was found to be one of the top four issues that respondents wanted the next US president to focus on. Strong support for Trump both maintaining a war posture against Iran and imposing strict sanctions against the Tehran regime was noticed in Iraq (53 percent), Lebanon (38 percent) and Yemen (54 percent), three countries that have had intimate regional dealings with Iran.
President Trump’s 2017 decision to move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem proved overwhelmingly unpopular, with 89 percent of Arabs opposing it. Surprisingly, in contrast to most other Arabs, Palestinian respondents inside the Palestinian Territories indicated a greater desire for the US to play a bigger role in mediation with Israel.
Arab opinion was largely split on the elimination this year of Iran’s regional “satrap” Gen. Qassem Soleimani, with the single largest proportion of respondents from Iraq (57 percent) and Lebanon (41 percent) seeing it as a positive move, as opposed to those in Syria and Qatar, where most respondents — respectively 57 percent and 62 percent — saw it as negative for the region.

Iran also figured in the list of perceived threats to US interests, although well behind white nationalism (32 percent) and China (22 percent). The other critical challenges for the US as viewed by Arabs were cybercrime, radical Islamic terrorism and climate change.
For a country that touts itself as an ally of the US, public attitudes in Qatar were found to be surprisingly out of sync with US objectives in the Middle East. The perception of radical Islamic terrorism, Iran and Islamist parties as the “three biggest threats facing the region” was much softer in Qatar compared with the region as a whole.
It came as little surprise that three quarters of respondents want the next US administration to make it easier for people from Arab countries to travel to the US. The figure for Lebanon, for instance, was even higher, 79 percent, underscoring concerns that many young Arabs are actively trying to leave the region.
Among other findings, Arabs remain overwhelmingly concerned about such challenges as failed government (66 percent) and the economic slowdown (43 percent).
Close to half of the respondents (44 percent) would like to see the next US president focus on empowering young people in the Arab region and solving the Arab-Israeli conflict (44 percent), followed by containing COVID-19 (37 percent), reining in Iran and Hezbollah (24 percent), quashing radical Islamic terrorism (24 percent) and tackling climate change (17 percent).