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WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration announced Monday that it will expand flights to Cuba and lift Donald Trump-era restrictions on remittances that immigrants can send to people on the island.

The State Department said in a statement that it will remove the current $1,000-per-quarter limit on family remittances and will allow non-family remittances, which will support independent Cuban entrepreneurs. The U.S. will also allow scheduled and charter flights to locations beyond Havana, according to the State Department.

“With these actions, we aim to support Cubans’ aspirations for freedom and for greater economic opportunities so that they can lead successful lives at home,” the State Department added. “We continue to call on the Cuban government to immediately release political prisoners, to respect the Cuban people’s fundamental freedoms and to allow the Cuban people to determine their own futures.”

The policy changes come after a review that began soon after a series of widespread protests on the island last July.

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Turkey Seeks Guarantees Over Potential NATO Membership for Sweden, Finland

Ankara said it is not against enlargement of the alliance but has security concerns over the two countries

By Kristina Jovanovski/The Media Line

 Sweden’s parliament confirmed on Monday that it will request NATO membership amid fears that Turkey could delay the Nordic country, along with Finland, from joining the military alliance. But analysts have told The Media Line that Ankara is unlikely to veto their applications.

Turkey is seeking concessions from the two countries whose governments have said they want to join NATO following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

There are fears over the prospect that Turkey could block Finland’s and Sweden’s applications to join NATO, after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that he did not have a positive opinion on them becoming members of the alliance.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Sunday that he met with the foreign ministers of Sweden and Finland.

He criticized the two countries for what he said was their support for terrorist organizations and limits imposed on selling arms to Turkey.

“Countries which give support to terror or [implement] such policies about us we believe should not be NATO members,’’ Cavusoglu said.

Officials in Finland said on Sunday that they would be willing to talk with Erdogan about the concerns.

Turkish officials have pointed to what they say is the presence in Europe of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a militant group in Turkey that is recognized as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

The PKK has launched a decades-long insurgency in Turkey. Earlier this month, Turkey launched a military offensive in Iraq to attack Kurdish militants. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Sunday that he spoke with Cavusoglu about Ankara’s concerns and was “very confident” a consensus would be reached on Finland’s and Sweden’s bids for membership.

Kristian Brakel, head of the Turkey office for the Heinrich Böll Foundation, told The Media Line that Turkey’s stance could undo the good will that it has built with the USsince the invasion of Ukraine.

‘’I think it could backfire,’’ he said. ‘’What we see now might put a dent in this rapprochement that we have seen.”

Turkey’s relations with Washington had plummeted in recent years, most notably over Ankara’s purchase of Russian weapons. 

However, the war in Ukraine has moved Turkey closer to its NATO allies.

Ankara has spoken out against Russia’s invasion and supplied Ukraine with armed drones, and implemented the 1936 Montreux Convention, limiting Moscow’s access to the Black Sea.

Last month, US President Joe Biden reportedly asked congressional leaders to approve a sale of equipment for F-16 fighter jets to Turkey, underscoring both the warming of tiesbetween the US and Turkey and the fact that Ankara must win over other branches of government in Washington to fully reap the benefits of improved relations.

Brakel also said that Turkey’s position could have been a signal to the Kremlin that Turkey is not completely siding with those opposed to Russia.

Turkey has sought to maintain a balancing act during the war in Ukraine between its alliance with NATO and the need to continue ties with Russia, which it relies on for energy, trade and tourism. 

Ankara has not joined in sanctions against Russia that its Western allies have imposed and has hosted talks with Russian and Ukrainian officials.

Moscow has significant leverage over Turkey in Syria where the two countries support opposing sides.

Russia could pose security risks for Turkish soldiers or spark a refugee crisis if it attacks areas close to the Syrian-Turkish border where many internally displaced Syrians have sought refuge.

Ryan Bohl, a Middle East and North Africa analyst with RANE/Stratfor, told The Media Line that he believes Turkey’s objections to the Finnish and Swedish NATO bids is partly meant to appeal to a domestic audience ahead of national elections scheduled for next year. 

Erdogan’s popularity has slipped amid an economic crisis and rising consumer prices in Turkey.

Bohl says that Turkey may also believe its demands could decrease the perceived support for Kurdish militants in Europe, consequently limiting an insurgency in the southeast.

“They want to get something that they can take home to their voters for next year, a win against the PKK and showing that they can force the NATO alliance to bend to their demand, show that they’re strong,’’ Bohl told The Media Line.

The analysts both believe Turkey is unlikely to veto the bids in the end because the backlash would be too strong. Admission of Finland and Sweden to NATO requires the unanimous support of all 30 member states.

Soon after Erdogan said he has concerns over the possible membership of Finland and Sweden, many took to social media to suggest kicking Turkey out of NATO.

One tweet suggesting NATO trade Turkey in for Sweden and Finland garnered more than 5,400 ‘likes.

‘’If they vote no, I think that would cause a serious disruption in the alliance and potentially lead to something of a diplomatic crisis,’’ Bohl said.

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Israel’s Governing Coalition Split Over Calls to Amend Nation-State Law

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked says Right will veto Defense Minister Gantz’s proposal to passequality bill

By Adi Koplewitz/The Media Line

The Israeli government is quarreling over propositions to anchor equality as a constitutional value via a new basic law.

In lieu of a formal constitution, Israel’s parliament has over the years passed a series of “basic laws” that serve as the country’s de facto constitution, defining the roles of the state’s principal institutions, as well as the rights of citizens.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced Sunday he would bring an equality bill to theMinisterial Committee on Legislation next week, in the hopes of securing government backingfor a basic law ensuring equality for all citizens.

Knesset member Eitan Ginzburg from Gantz’s Blue and White party said the party intends topropose the bill on Sunday. The bill has been discussed by the Knesset in the past but has nevergained the necessary support of 61 members to pass as a basic law in the 120-member chamber.

Gantz’s announcement comes after Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman, head of the Yisrael Beitenu party, tweeted: “There’s a strong contradiction between the current version of the nation-state law and the praise of [Druze special forces officer Lt. Col.] Mahmoud Kheir el-Din, a heroof Israel who fell in combat. We have an opportunity to fix this law and pass the Declaration ofIndependence as a basic law.”

Kheir el-Din, who was killed in the Gaza Strip in 2018 and whose name was only recentlyreleased for publication, expressed strong opposition to the nation-state law shortly before hisdeath.

Liberman expressed objections to the current text of the nation-state law, whose full title is BasicLaw: Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People, saying it enshrines the inferior legal statusof Druze and other minorities. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party,retweeted Liberman’s statement, adding, “I agree with every word.”

In July 2021, the Supreme Court majority agreed that the law merely declares the obvious thatIsrael is a Jewish state and that this does not detract from the individual rights of non-Jewishcitizens, especially in light of other laws that ensure equal rights for all.

Support is rising in Israel for making equality a law-protected right, either by amending the nation-state law or by passing a new law. And yet the bill’s chances of passing into law are slim.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party, responded to Gantz’s and Liberman’s statements, saying, “I suggest coalition members stop thinking about trying to change basic laws. It’s not going to happen. … If needed, Yamina will use its right of veto. We should focus on the challenges ahead.”

Shaked’s office, in a response to an inquiry from The Media Line, commented: “Basic lawsrequire a consensus of all parties. These are not part of the coalition agreements, and thereforetrying to pass them in such a complex coalition is nothing but a spin.”

Liberman’s office commented on Shaked’s statement, saying it “hopes to work on the bill inconsensus.”

Shaked declined to explain the ideology behind her objection to the bill. In 2019, she explained that the law can’t be changed, as it is designed to prevent the Supreme Court from intervening in the government’s policy against illegal immigrants and asylum-seekers.

The idea of an equality bill has long been under debate by Israeli governments.

First proposed in 1995, supporters intended it to be part of Israel’s basic laws dealing with human and civil rights, but it never passed. In 2018, when the nation-state law was discussed in parliament, some of its critics feared it would pave the way for legally enshrining discrimination against non-Jewish minorities, who make up around 25% of Israel’s population.

“Passing the bill won’t have too much of a concrete effect on Israeli legal reality,” said Prof. Yuval Shany, a senior research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute who holds the Hersch Lauterpacht Chair in Public International Law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“Israel’s Supreme Court already acknowledges equality as a human right to some extent, as it ispart of the right to dignity. There is still a gap between the current situation and making equalitya constitutional value, but it’s quite minor,” Shany said.

“However, there are still some reasons to make the legislative effort. One of them is the legalstatus of court decisions, which could change. We’re seeing it now with abortions in the US theSupreme Court [is apparently about to cancel] a previous decision, and reality changed. A rightis better protected when there is a law securing it,” he continued.

Shany, an expert on international law and human rights, has been an advocate of an equality bill for several years now. His part in the efforts to pass the legislation includes writing legal research papers and meeting with members of parliament to discuss the matter. Despite his doubts about the bill’s concrete effects on the judicial system if it passes, he still believes it is important.

“The main reason to pass the bill, in my opinion, is educational. After the nation-state lawpassed, we were left with a very strong legal status for the Jewish majority in Israel, but with noequivalent securing minority civil rights. Basic laws represent the ideological identity of a state,and this law could be a good answer to the nation-state law,” Shany said.

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