Diplomatic Briefing

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Newsline: British diplomats attacked during evacuation from Libyan embassy

A convoy evacuating British diplomats from the civil war beginning to engulf the Libyan capital Tripoli came under fire in a botched car-jacking attempt. The convoy had been ordered to take diplomats not regarded as vital to current operations to neighbouring Tunisia as Libya succumbs to fighting between armed factions. The American embassy was evacuated en masse on Saturday under substantial air cover from fighter jets and military transport planes carrying marines. But as the British convoy left the outskirts of Tripoli on Sunday morning it met an “unofficial checkpoint”. It refused to stop and was attacked before escaping. The occupants were all safe, the British ambassador, Michael Aron, said. “All embassy personnel are safe and accounted for and there were no injuries,” a spokesman said. “In light of travel restrictions in and around Tripoli, we are reducing the number of staff at the embassy but we don’t comment on the details of staff security. The embassy remains open for core business.”


Newsline: Embassies call on their citizens to get out of Libya

France, Britain, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and the United States have called on their citizens to get out of Libya. “The situation is extremely unpredictable and uncertain,” the German foreign ministry said. “German nationals are at increased risk of kidnapping and attacks.” The Dutch government said its departure request to its estimated 70 citizens in Libya was “urgent”. “Forty Dutch citizens registered with the embassy in the capital Tripoli have… been warned by email and SMS,” said a foreign ministry statement. The Dutch embassy, comprising five diplomats and ten local staff, is preparing for “temporary closure” after assisting citizens who choose to leave, added the statement. The United States evacuated staff from its Libyan embassy under air cover on Saturday as they faced a “real risk” from fierce fighting around Tripoli airport, US Secretary of State John Kerry said. The airport was closed on July 13 following clashes between armed groups in the area. Britain later updated its advice to warn against travel to Libya, and told those already there to leave. “Due to the ongoing and greater intensity of fighting in Tripoli and wider instability throughout Libya, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to Libya,” the ministry’s website said. Britain’s embassy will remain open but with reduced staff, and its ability to provide consular assistance “is very limited,” the Foreign Office said. Czech, Maltese and Austrian foreign ministries have ongoing advice not to travel to Libya. Sweden, Denmark, Finland and Norway have all also advised against travel, while Sweden has also told its citizens to leave the second city of Benghazi. Spain’s foreign ministry “very strongly” recommends that all Spaniards leave Libya “immediately” and Switzerland has warned citizens that it would find it difficult to rescue them should the situation deteriorate. Belgium on July 16 told nationals to leave the country “immediately” and Turkish citizens were advised to leave on July 24, a day before its government suspended operations at the Tripoli embassy. Austria, Italy and Portugal have all warned nationals against travelling around the country, with Austria saying that the risk of terrorist attack was particularly high in Benghazi.


Newsline: Aruba frees Venezuelan diplomat wanted in US on drugs charges

A Venezuelan former intelligence chief who had been arrested in Aruba on US drugs charges has been freed. Hugo Carvajal was declared ‘persona non grata’ by the Dutch foreign minister. Carvajal was freed late Sunday after being arrested last week in Aruba, which is part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, as he arrived to serve as Venezuela’s consul general on the Caribbean island. He was detained at the request of US prosecutors, who want to try him over alleged drug crimes and helping Colombia’s Marxist FARC guerrillas. Carvajal served as military intelligence chief under the late Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, from 2004-2011. At the time of his arrest, Carvajal’s diplomatic status had led to confusion as to whether he was entitled to immunity from prosecution. Aruban authorities had argued that did not have immunity because he had yet to be accredited by the Netherlands. That was cleared up at a press conference in Oranjestad, Aruba’s capital, late on Sunday, when it was announced that Carvajal did indeed have immunity. However, it was also announced that the Dutch foreign minister, Frans Timmermans, had declared the retired general ‘persona non grata’ – a term used by governments to remove diplomats. “The fact is that Mr. Carvajal was granted diplomatic immunity, but is also considered persona non grata,” said Aruban Justice Minister Arthur Dowers. Dowers said Carvajal was arrested because he had arrived on a diplomatic passport but had not yet been accredited by the Dutch authorities to serve as a diplomat on the island. Officials decided to act on the US detention request because of an international treaty between Washington and the Netherlands. US officials were “very disappointed” with the decision to free Carvajal, Aruban Justice Minister Dowers said.


Newsline: US evacuates embassy staff from Libya due to militia clashes

The US says it has temporarily evacuated its staff from the Libyan capital Tripoli over security concerns. Staff, including marine guards providing security to the embassy, have been transferred to Tunisia “due to the ongoing violence resulting from clashes between Libyan militias,” it adds. It comes amid fierce clashes between rival militias in the capital, with intense fighting at Tripoli airport. Secretary of State John Kerry says violence in Libya presents a “very real risk” to US embassy staff. Libya has been gripped by instability since the 2011 uprising, with swathes of the country controlled by militias. With no army, Libya’s central government has increasingly lost control over the country to rogue and powerful militias in the last two years.


Newsline: Saudi ambassador lashes out over report of ties to Israel’s assault on Gaza

Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the UK has hit out at claims by a British news website that the assault by Israel on Gaza has been encouraged by both Egypt and the Gulf state. In the piece entitled ‘Attack on Gaza by Saudi Royal Appointment’ by Middle East Eye editor David Hearst, the journalist claimed that both Arab countries were backing the crackdown on Hamas, that the kingdom would help fund the rebuilding of Gaza after the group had been ejected, and that Saudi and Israeli military intelligence officials met regularly. In an open and unusually strong letter to Hearst, published on the embassy’s website, Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf Al Saud said that “it is hard to believe that such utter rubbish, such baseless lies, could be written by someone who purports to be an editor of any kind”. The letter went on to say that Saudi Arabia would do “all it can to support the Palestinian people” and questioned whether the Israeli assault on the coastal enclave amounted to genocide. As of Sunday morning, 1,050 mainly civilian Gazans, have been killed in the 20-day conflict with Hamas. On the Israeli side, 42 soldiers and three civilians have died. The US, Egypt and the UN have been trying to broker a permanent ceasefire between the two sides, but only temporary humanitarian truces have been observed so far.


Newsline: Russian ambassador to London strikes aggressive tone

The Kremlin was not responsible for supplying weapons to separatist rebels accused of bringing down Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine, Russia’s ambassador to London has said. Alexander Yakovenko said claims by Kiev and Washington that Moscow and the pro-Russia separatists were behind the downing of the plane did not “hold water”. Speaking at a news conference at the Russian embassy, he warned that any attempt by the West to impose further sanctions against Russia would be seen in Moscow as evidence of a “cover-up”. In comments apparently designed to goad Western governments and their Ukrainian allies, Mr Yakovenko said the case against Russia and the separatists had been largely built on photographs and messages from social media sites which had since “proved to be forgeries”. While he insisted that Russia was not trying to prejudge the outcome of an international investigation into the causes of the crash, he said Moscow’s own evidence suggested that there were Ukrainian missile systems in the area at the time.


Newsline: Japanese protest outside Israeli embassy in Tokyo

Scores of Muslims living in Japan along with Japanese citizens gathered near the Israeli embassy in Tokyo on International Quds Day to condemn the military action by Israel against the people of Gaza. Many people feel that the Japanese government is ignoring what they say are war crimes against Palestinians, so they decided to send a message to Israel expressing their anger. With many governments not willing to publicly condemn what many see as war crimes, demonstrations like these continue to grow in size and frequency. Eventually, demonstrators were allowed to read a message to Netanyahu in front of the embassy.



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