Egyptian officials to monitor protests on Gaza border
The BBC reports that European powers have said they remain committed to the Iran nuclear deal but that they “reject any ultimatums” from Tehran to prevent its collapse. Iran announced on Wednesday that it had suspended two commitments under the 2015 accord in response to the economic sanctions the US reimposed last year. It also threatened to step up uranium enrichment if it was not shielded from the sanctions’ effects within 60 days. The EU, UK, France and Germany noted “with great concern” Iran’s move. The EU’s foreign policy chief and the foreign ministers of France, Germany and the UK stressed that the JCPOA was “a key achievement of the global nuclear non-proliferation architecture, which is in the security interest of all”. “We strongly urge Iran to continue to implement its commitments under the JCPOA in full as it has done until now and to refrain from any escalatory steps,” a joint statement issued on Thursday said. “We reject any ultimatums and we will assess Iran’s compliance on the basis of Iran’s performance regarding its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA and the NPT (Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons).”
The Guardian reports that Donald Trump has offered Iran direct talks, saying its leaders should “call me” and suggested the US would help revive the country’s economy as long as Iran did not acquire nuclear weapons. The impromptu offer by the US president, if serious, represents a dramatic lowering of the bar set by his administration for lifting extensive sanctions, including an oil embargo. “What I’d like to see with Iran, I’d like to see them call me,” Trump said. He pointed out the Iranian economy was in a shambles as a result of the pressure from the US. “What they should be doing is calling me up, sitting down and we can make a deal, a fair deal,” Trump said. “We just don’t want them to have nuclear weapons. It’s not too much to ask. And we would help put them back into great shape.”
In the Financial Times, Najmeh Bozorgmehr and Monavar Khalaj argue that ordinary Iranians are on edge as the stand-off between Tehran and the US intensifies. Whilst Rouhani’s move on the nuclear deal has rattled many ordinary Iranians, they write, it has played well with politicians, impatient with the US after the reimposition of sanctions and unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear treaty last year. “Rouhani’s smart and diplomatic move has not only calmed down hardliners but has made reformists happy that Iran [has] put more pressure on Europeans without dragging the country into a war,” said Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a former reformist vice-president.
The Economist leads with an editorial on the, “brewing conflict between America and Iran”, arguing that both sides need to step back.
In the Guardian, Simon Tisdall writes: “Trump’s foolish Iran policy only makes war more likely”, arguing that Iran’s rulers now face impossible choices as a result of unrelenting US hostility, which has one aim – regime change.
The Independent reports that the United Nations has warned Gaza is on the verge of a “humanitarian catastrophe” and 1 million Palestinians could soon go hungry. The budget of the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency (UNRWA) is expected to dry up “in a month” and is in desperate need of additional funds, UN officials told the Independent. The UN estimates that an extra $20m is needed to plug an otherwise imminent health crisis. “The worst-case scenario is we would not able to continue to feed half the population of Gaza,” Elizabeth Campbell, director of UNRWA’s Washington DC office told the newspaper.
Reuters reports that Palestinian Foreign Minister, Riyad al-Maliki has told a meeting at the United Nations, attended by the US Middle East peace negotiator Jason Greenblatt, that the United States seems to be crafting a plan for a Palestinian surrender to Israel instead of a peace deal. “We cannot afford not to engage with any peace efforts, but the US administration efforts cannot be characterized, nor can qualify, as peace efforts, unfortunately,” al-Maliki told the informal meeting of members of the UN Security Council on Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territory. “All indicates thus far that this is not a peace plan, but rather conditions for surrender and there’s no amount of money that can make it acceptable,” he said.
In the Independent, David Schneider writes: “Here’s how to talk about Israel without sliding into antisemitism”. Of course there are legitimate reasons to criticise Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s treatment of Palestinian people, he writes, but it’s shocking, he adds, how often antisemitic language is used to do so.
The Telegraph reports that the Assad regime in Syria have vowed they will crush the Syrian rebellion once and for all in the province of Idlib, saying there will be “no green buses” like the ones that allowed rebel fighters to evacuate after past defeats. After eight months of relative quiet following a Russian-Turkish ceasefire deal, Syrian regime forces and their allies have launched a fierce air and ground assault on Idlib, the last remaining province in opposition hands. Nearly 80 civilians, including 23 children, have been killed and 12 hospitals have been targeted by Russian and Syrian regime warplanes in the last ten days, according to the White Helmets rescue group. Around 3 million civilians are trapped in Idlib, which is dominated by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), a jihadist group linked to al-Qaeda. Aid groups warn of mass civilian casualties and vast refugee flows if Assad’s forces launch an all-out assault. Syrian regime troops and allied militias have so far focused their ground offensive on the southern edge of the province and this week captured the strategic town of Kafr Nabudah. It is not yet clear if Bashar al-Assad’s forces are trying to seize complete control of the province or have more limited aims, like recapturing two key motorways which connect Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, to the Mediterranean coast. Vladimir Putin, who has strongly backed Assad, said last week that he was not ruling out a full-scale attack but he believed it was “inadvisable” for now. Moscow is also cautious about angering Turkey, which has troops in Idlib and is vehemently opposed to an attack.
Yediot Ahronoth reports that demonstrations at the Gaza border will take place today. In order to supervise what happens in the Gaza Strip, senior officials from Egyptian intelligence entered the Gaza Strip from Israel yesterday. The Egyptian delegation is scheduled to meet with Yahya Sinwar and the leadership of Hamas in Gaza in order to oversee the understandings for a truce arrangement between Hamas and Israel. The Egyptians are also scheduled to closely monitor the demonstrations in order to prevent the situation from deteriorating again.
Kan Radio reports that the South of Israel is in a high state of alert against the backdrop of the first Friday of Ramadan. Israel is expected to expand the Gaza Strip’s fishing zone to 12 nautical miles again today. The Office of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories said that the fishing zone was enlarged as a humanitarian gesture in order to keep the situation from deteriorating, based on the policy of distinguishing between terrorists and the uninvolved population. The crossings with the Gaza Strip that were closed due to the fighting in the south will remain closed. Fuel will be sent to the Gaza Strip via the Kerem Shalom crossing.
Maariv reports that senior officials from Hamas and Islamic Jihad said that the marches of return and the breaking of the siege on Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip would continue today. Concurrently, the higher committee of the marches of return said that there would be a general strike in the Gaza Strip on 15 May 15: “In order to send a message to Israel and the international community on Nakba Day: we will neither forgive nor forget.” The higher committee called on the public to go to the camps of the marches of return in the five permanent hotspots near the border fence and observe the 71st anniversary of Nakba Day with various activities. The article in Maariv writes that the London-based newspaper Al-Arabi al-Jadeed reported that Israel had warned Hamas that if its military wing continued to develop surface-to-sea missiles, Israel would resume its policy of targeted killings, because that would change the balance of power in the region. The report also stated that Israel had referred to the new Badr 3 missile, which Islamic Jihad developed and which is capable of carrying a 250-kilogram warhead and detonating 20 meters above the landing site and causing greater damage.
Yediot Ahronoth quotes Islamic Jihad leader Ziyad al-Nakhalah who said he believed that it was possible that a military clash with Israel would erupt this summer. “I foresee that as part of the attempts to disarm the Palestinian factions in Gaza, war will break out during the summer.” Commenting on last week’s hostilities, Nakhalah said further that if the fighting had continued, rockets were supposed to have been fired on Tel Aviv within hours, adding that the last round was only a “live fire exercise” in preparation for a larger conflict.
Tal Lev Ram in Maariv reports that the IDF has placed a concrete wall on the spot on Route 34 where Moshe Feder was killed in his car by a Kornet missile in the latest escalation in the security situation in the south. There are a number of spots and short sections along the Gaza perimeter that stretch for dozens and hundreds of meters where the highway is exposed to fire from the Gaza Strip. The IDF issued a statement saying, “Route 34 is a main traffic artery for the Gaza periphery communities. Continuously closing it would undermine everyday routine in the towns in the western Negev. Areas that are exposed to threats are closed in times of emergency and in keeping with situation assessments.”
Kan Radio reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s defence attorneys have still not coordinated with the attorney general to schedule a date for his hearing, even though the Attorney General made it clear to them that they had to coordinate a date by today if they wanted one. The lawyers had asked the Attorney General before Independence Day for an extension to set a date for the hearing. Attorney General Mandelblit made the evidence available to the figures involved about a month ago, but Netanyahu’s representatives have not yet come to collect it.
Writing in Maariv Ben Caspit argues that: “The Iranian announcement that its commitment to the nuclear agreement has been decreased, was predicted by the IDF Intelligence Branch in the middle of last year as an option that the ayatollahs might take. The announcement also includes the possibility that Iran could return to uranium enrichment. It proves the fact that Iran is indeed collapsing, and Trump is indeed bringing the ayatollah regime to its knees.” Caspit adds that: “On the face of it, this is Binyamin Netanyahu’s dream scenario. Only one question remains open: Will the scenario continue to materialize as a dream, or will it turn into a nightmare at some point…If they continue to collapse, the Iranians are capable of changing their policy and carrying out a quick and powerful breakthrough to the bomb. This is a highly dangerous situation. They have the potential to do this, on condition that they are willing to pay the price. Will the West (meaning the Mossad and the IDF Intelligence Branch) discover this breach in time? Will President Trump give the only order that can block such a breakthrough, in other words, an immediate and massive air strike? Will the Iranians open the gates of hell in such a situation, meaning fire everything they have to fire at the oil states, and instruct Nasrallah to empty his stockpiles at us?”
Anshel Pfeffer in Haaretz writes that the Iranian announcement and threat were: “Issued mainly for appearances sake and in the by now rather forlorn hope that the European signatories of the JCPOA – Germany, France and Britain, may still find a way to allow a few European countries which have not yet left, to continue doing business with Iran,” adding that “Iran’s leaders, by threatening the deal, are playing in to Trump’s hands and doing exactly what he wants them to do. They could also be giving Bolton exactly the excuse he is looking for.”
Yediot Ahronoth reports that although Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that “Khan al-Ahmar will be removed very soon,” the High Court of Justice decided last week that the eviction would be postponed to next month, at the very least. This is after the state filed a request for a postponement, in which it asserted that the reason was that a government had not yet been formed and it was not clear what the policy on this issue would be. The petition to carry out the eviction was filed by the Regavim NGO, and this is the sixth time that [the eviction] has been postponed.