Tunisia to receive €1bn from EU to combat people smuggling and bolster economy

Tunisia to receive €1bn from EU to combat people smuggling and bolster economy
Migrants are stopped by Tunisian Maritime National Guard at sea near the coast of Sfax during an attempt to get to Italy. (AP/File)
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Updated 15 July 2023
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Tunisia to receive €1bn from EU to combat people smuggling and bolster economy

Tunisia to receive €1bn from EU to combat people smuggling and bolster economy
  • European Commission’s president and the prime ministers of Italy and the Netherlands will travel to Tunisia on Sunday to sign off on a memorandum of understanding, newspaper says
  • The EU is eager to sign the agreement to show authorities in member states in which migration is a major political issue it is working to reduce number of people crossing borders

DUBAI: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and the premiers of two EU member states will travel to Tunisia on Sunday to finalize a deal worth more than €1 billion ($1.12 billion) that aims to combat people smuggling and human trafficking, and help boost the country’s ailing economy.
Citing unnamed sources, The Guardian newspaper reported on Friday that the prime ministers of Italy and the Netherlands will join the head of the commission to sign off on a memorandum of understanding with the Mediterranean country.
The trip comes a month after the three European leaders reportedly flew to Tunisia to propose a €900m package of financial assistance, with a further €150 million to support reforms ordered by the International Monetary Fund.
The follow-up trip will come shortly after a number of European parliamentarians warned against handing Tunisia the deal on a “silver plate” amid growing fears of a “breakdown” in the country’s democracy.
As part of the package, a further €105m would be allocated as part of a new partnership to fight people-smuggling and human trafficking, and prevents the tragedies of migrants who drown while trying to reach other countries in the hope of a better life.
After the Tunisian president Kais Saied’s announcement that his country would not be Europe’s “border guard,” the EU has been eager to stress the wider economic benefits of the package in a bid to end an impasse in negotiations.
The Guardian said the EU was eager to sign the memorandum to show member states in which migration has become a major political issue that it is working to reduce numbers of people crossing borders.
This month, Mark Rutte, prime minister of the Netherlands, said he would quit politics after upcoming elections because the Dutch government had collapsed in a disagreement over migration.
The agreement with Tunisia has been heavily criticized by some members of European parliaments.
“It was not right that Tunisia should be given €1 billion on a silver plate. That cannot happen,” said French MEP Mounir Satouri.
Matjaz Nemec, a Slovenian MEP for the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, said: “The European Union cannot be part of, or complicit in, the breakdown of Tunisian democracy by President Saied. We need all European institutions united in our call that the money released needs to be conditioned on full respect for human rights, democracy and, of course, rule of law.”
The EU package includes a comprehensive air-transport agreement that could help boost tourism and a €150 million digital cable link to Europe to support research and education.
Under a compromise deal worked out last month, new legislation on processes for asylum seekers will allow individual countries to decide whether Tunisia should be considered a safe country for migrants.
 


Blinken asks Israeli defense minister to avoid Lebanon escalation

Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (REUTERS)
Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (REUTERS)
Updated 5 sec ago
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Blinken asks Israeli defense minister to avoid Lebanon escalation

Secretary of State Antony Blinken. (REUTERS)

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken called Monday for efforts to avoid further escalation in Lebanon in talks with Israel’s defense minister.
Blinken “underscored the importance of avoiding further escalation of the conflict and reaching a diplomatic resolution that allows both Israeli and Lebanese families to return to their homes,” State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said.
 

 


Israeli military confirms death of hostage held in Gaza

Israeli military confirms death of hostage held in Gaza
Updated 4 min 44 sec ago
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Israeli military confirms death of hostage held in Gaza

Israeli military confirms death of hostage held in Gaza
  • Israeli authorities had previously confirmed Alatrash, a sergeant major in the Israeli military’s Bedouin Trackers Unit, was taken hostage on October 7

JERUSALEM: The Israeli military on Monday confirmed the death of a soldier held hostage by Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip for nearly nine months since Hamas’s October 7 attack.
In a separate statement the Hostages and Missing Families Forum said that Mohammad Alatrash was killed during the October attack on southern Israel and his body taken captive by Hamas militants.
Israeli authorities had previously confirmed Alatrash, a sergeant major in the Israeli military’s Bedouin Trackers Unit, was taken hostage on October 7.
Alatrash, 39, is survived by two wives and 13 children, the forum said in a statement.
“The Families Forum will continue to support and stand by the family during this difficult time and until his remains are returned to Israel,” it said.
The Hostages and Missing Families Forum meanwhile released a video showing the kidnapping of three other hostages on the day of the Hamas attack.
It showed Hersh Goldberg-Polin, Or Levy and Eliya Cohen being seized, loaded in a pick-up truck and driven away to Gaza by armed militants, some chanting “Allahu Akbar (God is Greatest).”
Goldberg-Polin is seen drenched in blood after part of his left arm was blown off in the attack.
In April, he appeared in a proof-of-life video released by Hamas in which he said the captives were living “in hell.” His left arm had been amputated below the elbow.
“The shocking abduction video of Hersh, Or and Eliya breaks all of our hearts and re-emphasizes the brutality of the enemy whom we have sworn to eliminate,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement after the release of the latest footage.
“We will not end the war until we return all ... of our loved ones home.”
Alatrash’s death raises the toll from Hamas’s attack to 1,195, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
Palestinian militants also took 251 people hostage in the attack, 116 of whom remain captive in the Gaza Strip, according to Israel.
Of those, the military says 42 are dead, including at least nine soldiers.
Israel’s retaliatory invasion and bombardment of the Gaza Strip has resulted in the deaths of at least 37,626 people, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.


Jordan police say they detonated explosives hidden in a warehouse in capital

Jordan police say they detonated explosives hidden in a warehouse in capital
Updated 16 min 25 sec ago
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Jordan police say they detonated explosives hidden in a warehouse in capital

Jordan police say they detonated explosives hidden in a warehouse in capital
  • Security officials said the incidents were terror-related based on the quantities of explosives found

AMMAN: Jordanian security forces said they uncovered and detonated explosives hidden in a commercial warehouse in an industrial area southeast of the capital Amman on Monday that security sources say were part of an Iran-linked plot to destabilize a key US ally.
Witnesses earlier said security forces had sealed the Abu Alanda area in a wide scale security operation two days after authorities announced they had detonated explosives uncovered in another location in the capital. The authorities said the explosives found on Monday were hidden by the same group of suspects who stored the explosives uncovered on Saturday in a crowded residential area close to a military airport used by US army planes. The authorities, who have not disclosed who was behind the storing of munitions or whether arrests have been made, say they will reveal details once the investigations are completed.
Over the past year, Jordan has said it has foiled many attempts to smuggle weapons by infiltrators linked to pro-Iranian militias in Syria, who it says have crossed its borders with rocket launchers and explosives, adding that some of the weapons managed to get through undetected.
Iran has denied being behind such attempts.
Security sources say some of the arms are bound for the neighboring Israeli-occupied West Bank, adding that they have arrested several Jordanians linked to Palestinian militants.
Security officials said the incidents were terror-related based on the quantities of explosives found. They said it is linked to Iran’s clandestine efforts to recruit agents to undertake sabotage acts within the kingdom to destabilize a key ally of Washington in the region.
Jordan has over 3,500 American troops stationed in several bases and, since the war between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza erupted in October, it has been increasingly targeted by Iranian-backed groups operating in neighboring Syria and Iraq.


1 in 5 in Gaza go days without eating, UN report says

1 in 5 in Gaza go days without eating, UN report says
Updated 44 min 32 sec ago
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1 in 5 in Gaza go days without eating, UN report says

1 in 5 in Gaza go days without eating, UN report says
  • More than 495,000 people in region facing catastrophic levels of acute food insecurity

LONDON: More than 495,000 people in Gaza, representing one in five of the enclave’s population, are now facing catastrophic levels of acute food insecurity, characterized by extreme lack of food, starvation, and exhaustion, according to a forthcoming UN report.

The latest “Special Snapshot” of Gaza from the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification will be published on Tuesday, The Guardian reported.

The UN report will also reveal that more than half of Gaza’s households have had to sell or exchange clothes to buy food, as the risk of famine remains high across the territory following recent violence.

Israeli authorities have tight control over entry into Gaza, and movements require military permission. Rubble has damaged the roads, fuel is in short supply, and power and communication networks are barely functional.

At the start of the war Israel imposed a complete siege on Gaza, which has only been gradually eased under US pressure. The war has significantly reduced Gaza’s ability to produce its own food.

The IPC noted that food deliveries and nutritional services to northern Gaza increased significantly in March and April, preventing a famine and improving conditions in the territory’s south. However, the situation has deteriorated again as a result of renewed hostilities, and the risk of famine remains in the Gaza Strip as long as the conflict continues and humanitarian access is limited, according to a draft report obtained by The Guardian.

More than half of households reported frequently running out of food at home, and more than 20 percent go entire days and nights without eating, The Guardian reported. The most recent trajectory is negative and highly unstable. If this trend continues, the improvements seen in April may be quickly reversed.

UN agencies and aid organizations report difficulties in reaching Kerem Shalom border crossing due to ongoing fighting, Israeli restrictions, coordination issues with the army, and the breakdown of law and order.

Although the IPC has not officially declared a famine — which requires a stringent set of conditions — the situation in Gaza is dire. Stage 5 hunger, which affects 22 percent of Gaza’s population, is comparable to famine conditions.

A formal famine declaration requires 20 percent of households to have an extreme lack of food, 30 percent of children to suffer from acute malnutrition, and at least two adults or four children per 10,000 people to die each day.

Volker Turk, the UN high commissioner for human rights, has said that Israel’s restrictions on humanitarian aid into Gaza may constitute the war crime of deliberate starvation. The World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization have warned that by the middle of July, more than 1 million people could be dead or starving.

A joint statement from Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief, and the European Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarcic said: “The crisis in Gaza has reached another breaking point … The delivery of any meaningful humanitarian assistance inside Gaza has become almost impossible and the very fabric of civil society is unraveling.”

Ahead of the release of the IPC’s report on Gaza, Kate Phillips-Barrasso, vice president of global policy and advocacy at Mercy Corps, said: “People are enduring subhuman conditions, resorting to desperate measures like boiling weeds, eating animal feed, and exchanging clothes for money to stave off hunger and keep their children alive.

“The humanitarian situation is deteriorating rapidly, and the specter of famine continues to hang over Gaza … Humanitarian aid is limited … The international community must apply relentless pressure to achieve a ceasefire and ensure sustained humanitarian access now. The population cannot endure these hardships any longer.”
 


Away from home, Israeli evacuees wait as Hezbollah tensions spike

Away from home, Israeli evacuees wait as Hezbollah tensions spike
Updated 56 min 50 sec ago
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Away from home, Israeli evacuees wait as Hezbollah tensions spike

Away from home, Israeli evacuees wait as Hezbollah tensions spike
  • The spike in violence during the ongoing Gaza conflict has re-ignited fears of a wider war between long-term foes Israel and Hezbollah, a Hamas ally

TIBERIAS, Israel: Yarden Gil opens a reinforced metal door to enter the northern Israeli kindergarten where she works, which doubles as an underground shelter against rockets fired by Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.
She is among tens of thousands displaced from the border area by the ever-present threat of Hezbollah attacks and, increasingly, the fear of an all-out war against the powerful Iran-backed militant group.
Gil, 36, and her family have left their home in Yiftah, a kibbutz community just a few hundred meters (yards) from the Lebanese border. She said there they lived so close to the border that they could often hear incoming rockets before the sirens started wailing.
They now live in a single room in a hotel 50 kilometers (30 miles) to the south, near the city of Tiberias on the shores of the lake known as the Sea of Galilee.
“We really don’t have independence here,” said Gil, charging that the Israeli government is “not doing enough for us to be able to go back to our home and be secure.”
Dozens of northern Israeli communities have been rendered ghost towns as the Israeli military and Hezbollah have traded near-daily cross-border fire, ending a period of relative calm since a 2006 war.
The spike in violence during the ongoing Gaza conflict has re-ignited fears of a wider war between long-term foes Israel and Hezbollah, a Hamas ally.
The border clashes have killed at least 93 civilians in Lebanon and nearly 390 others, mostly fighters, according to an AFP tally.
Eleven civilians and 15 soldiers have been killed on the Israeli side, according to the military.
Israel said early last week it had approved military plans for an offensive in southern Lebanon. Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah responded with a warning that nowhere in Israel would be safe in the event of war.
With Israel focused on the Gaza war after Hamas’s surprise October 7 attack, a return home is all that is on the minds of evacuees from northern communities languishing in hotels turned state-funded shelters, away from home.
The authorities have repeatedly extended accommodation arrangements, which are now set to expire in August.
Some evacuees have moved out of the hotels, to elsewhere in Israel or abroad.
“That’s our new reality: instability,” said Iris Amsalem, a 33-year-old mother of two from the border community of Shomera who is now staying in a Galilee hotel.
“We want peace. We want security.”
Only a few Israelis have remained on the border, defended by civilian units and military forces.
Deborah Fredericks, an 80-year-old retiree staying at a five-star hotel with hundreds of other evacuees, played the tile-based game of Rummikub next to a gleaming pool and palm trees in front of the lake.
“It’s really funny because I’m in the middle of a war but I’m on holiday,” she said.
“I want to go back, but it won’t be for a while. It’ll be when they say I can. You can’t do anything about it.”
Others feel they have been abandoned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government as it prioritizes the Gaza war.
“No one communicates with us, no one! No one came to see us!” said Lili Dahn, a resident of the border town of Kiryat Shmona, in her 60s.
Gil, the kindergarten teacher, said parents had to set up their own schooling for their children after they fled their kibbutz, which has suffered damage from rockets and in fires caused by the strikes.
“The government is responsible for our security and I expect them to be more interested in what happened to us,” she said, adding that some of her fellow kibbutzniks have moved as far away as Canada and Thailand.
Netanyahu has pledged to return security, and civilians, to the north.
Some evacuees said they believe a war against Hezbollah is only a matter of time.
Sarit Zehavi, a former Israeli army intelligence official who lives near the border, said her greatest fear was that a potential ceasefire would allow Hezbollah “to preserve its capabilities and launch the next massacre,” like Hamas did.
Gil’s husband, Ewdward, 39, also said he feared a similar assault to the October 7 attack on southern Israel.
“It happened in the south,” he said. “Who’s telling me that now it won’t happen in the north?“
Helene Abergel, a 49-year-old Kiryat Shmona resident who is living at a Tel Aviv hotel, said: “A war must happen to push Hezbollah away from the border.”
In her family’s single room, Gil had a defiant message for Hezbollah.
“They can break our houses,” she said. “They can burn our fields. But they cannot kill our spirit.”