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Media Summary

Iranians chant ‘death to Theresa May’ in anniversary march

The BBC reports that the UN is urging the warring parties in Yemen to give it access to a vast stores of grain that is desperately needed in a country on the brink of famine. Aid workers have not been able to reach the Red Sea Mills, on the frontlines in the port of Hudaydah, for five months. It holds enough grain to feed 3.7 million people for a month, but the UN says it is now “at risk of rotting”. The Yemeni government and the rebel Houthi movement agreed a ceasefire around Hudaydah in December. But they have yet to implement a UN-brokered plan under which opposing fighters should be redeployed to locations outside the area. Hudaydah, which has been controlled by the Houthis since 2014, is the principal lifeline for two-thirds of Yemen’s population. Up to 80 per cent of the humanitarian aid, fuel and commercial goods on which they depend are delivered through the port. On Monday, the UN’s special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, and Emergency Relief Co-ordinator, Mark Lowcock, warned that the urgency of getting access to the Red Sea Mills facility south of the port was “growing by the day”. “The World Food Programme (WFP) grain stored in the mills – enough to feed 3.7 million people for a month – has been inaccessible for over five months and is at risk of rotting,” they said in a joint statement.

The Times leader focues on Iran in 2019, four decades after the revolution. It reads: “The regime is driving its people to despair.” The article concludes by saying: “At some stage young people in Iran will have had enough of this corrupt, suffocating theocracy and will want to throw it out. It is important that those wanting change do not fall for the regime’s lies about America and Britain and when they do oust their leaders they are sympathetic to the West. An Iran that can rejoin the world community is something to be wished for.”

The BBC, Independent, Guardian and the Times report on Iranians marching through Tehran to mark the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. The BBC reports that on Monday, tens of thousands of Iranians braved the snow in Tehran to mark their country’s 1979 revolution. Crowds gathered in Azadi (Freedom) Square, where President Hassan Rouhani delivered a speech. He insisted Iran’s military might and missile programme would continue to expand despite Western objections. The Guardian reports that state television showed crowds carrying Iranian flags in cold rainy weather, shouting: “Death to Israel, Death to America” – trademark chants of the revolution. “The presence of people today on the streets all over Islamic Iran … means that the enemy will never reach its evil objectives,” a defiant President Rouhani said, decrying a “conspiracy” involving Washington. A pre-prepared resolution was read out ahead of Rouhani’s speech that proclaimed “unquestioning obedience to the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei” and called US President Donald Trump an “idiot”. In a tweet that he also sent out in English and Farsi, Trump said the revolution had been a complete failure. “40 years of corruption. 40 years of repression. 40 years of terror. The regime in Iran has produced only #40YearsofFailure. The long-suffering Iranian people deserve a much brighter future”. The Times reports that chants of “Death to Theresa May” rang out on the streets among those marching. Torrential rain hampered ritualistic efforts to burn American and Israeli flags, which were alight only briefly before the flames were extinguished, leaving puddles of blackened fabric and ash. However, the downpour failed to silence the crowds, who added the Queen’s name to the list of foreign figures, along with President Trump and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, to be denounced.

In the Times, Catherine Philp writes that the celebrations in Iran “ring hollow for the middle classes”. Philp discusses what Iran calls the “burnt generation”: those who were children or not yet born when the seismic events of 1979 shook their country and the Islamic world. They were born at a time when the middle class was still the majority in Iran and education was highly prized. In the years since, however, Philp argues that Iran has gone through several rounds of economic turmoil and mismanagement that has forced hundreds of thousands of people to leave their home country in search of opportunities abroad.

The Guardian reports that aid agencies have begun to pull out of Idlib province in Syria, “in the face of new terror threat”. In Syria’s Idlib province, the dust has largely settled after last month’s dramatic takeover of the area by al-Qaida-linked fighters. As a result, however, international organisations have withdrawn aid and support for schools and hospitals – and Idlib’s three million residents are beginning to feel the pinch. Idlib, the last pocket of Syria that remains outside President Bashar al-Assad’s control, was spared an assault by the regime and Russia last autumn, after an 11th hour truce brokered by Moscow and Ankara. The ceasefire has more or less held – but hinged on the disarmament and withdrawal of the Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) umbrella group of hardline fighters from a buffer zone. Instead of retreating, however, HTS grew bolder, and on 10 January declared it had forced other armed groups in the area into a surrender deal, effectively cementing its control of the entire province. And since HTS is considered a terrorist organisation by most of the international community, concerns over aid funding being diverted by the group has led several major donors to cut desperately needed funding to the area.

In the Telegraph, Josie Ensor reports from the Al-Hol Camp in Syria, the ‘Camp of Death’ where British mothers and children struggle to survive in legal limbo. Some 25,000 people have fled the last of ISIS territory in Deir Ezzor province since December, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), nearly triple what aid agencies had been prepared for. Most of them end up in al-Hol, a desolate field on the edge of what was once ISIS’s self-proclaimed caliphate, now controlled by the Western-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Some 3,100 foreign women and children, including around 20 Brits, are being held by the SDF in al-Hol and nearby Roj camp. They have been separated from their husbands, who are being detained in prisons around northern Syria.

The Independent and the Times report that Ilhan Omar, a first-term Democrat congresswoman from Minnesota, was forced to apologise last night for tweets about the influence of an American organisation that supports Israel, which drew accusations of antisemitism and a sharp rebuke from Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker. Following calls from fellow Democrats for her to apologise, Omar has since posted a message on her Twitter account acknowledging the backlash. “Anti-semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-semitic tropes,” Omar said. “My intention is never to offend my consitutents or Jewish Americans as a whole … I unequivolally apologise.” Before the apology, a statement from Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and other members of House Democratic leadership said anti-Semitism had to be called out “without exception”. “Legitimate criticism of Israel’s policies is protected by the values of free speech and democratic debate that the United States and Israel share,” the statement read. “But Congresswoman Omar’s use of anti-Semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters is deeply offensive. We condemn these remarks and we call upon Congresswoman Omar to immediately apologise for these hurtful comments.”

Reuters reports that Acting US Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan arrived in Baghdad on Tuesday for an unannounced trip that he said would emphasise the importance of Iraqi sovereignty and broach the issue of the future of US troops there. The visit comes after President Trump said this month that a US presence in the country was needed to observe Iran. In his first trip to Iraq, Shanahan is set to meet with Iraqi officials, including Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi. “We are in Iraq at the invitation of the government and our interests are to build Iraqi security capability,” Shanahan told reporters travelling with him. “I want to hear first-hand from them about concerns, the political dynamics that they are facing and then based on that we will obviously factor that into our planning.” Shanahan will also discuss the withdrawal of US troops from Syria with US commanders.

In Bloomberg, Ivan Levingston writes: “Israel’s Mueller holds key to Netanyahu’s fate”. This month, Attorney General Avihai Mandelblit is expected to announce whether he intends to indict Netanyahu in a tangle of corruption cases that have raised painful questions about the state of Israeli politics and the future of a deeply divided country. The stakes are high, with the potential to end the political career of a man who has steered Israel for 13 years and is seeking a fifth term in elections on April 9. While all of Israel’s prime ministers over the past 20 years have come under investigation, no sitting leader has ever been charged. “We’re moving into uncharted territory,” said Yuval Shany, vice president for research at the Israel Democracy Institute. “At stake is whether the prime minister is treated like an ordinary citizen.”

All the Israeli media report on the results of the Labor Party primary in which Itzik Shmuli and Stav Shaffir, both veterans of the popular social protest movement in the summer of 2011, won first and second place.

Yediot Ahronoth’s Ben-Dror Yemini writes that: “This might prove to be a turning point, since the voter turnout in the Labor Party primary was higher than expected. It is too soon to say whether the Labor Party has picked itself up off the floorboards. But it can afford to smile. The Labor Party’s top ten is far more representative than the top ten in the Likud and in Gantz’s party. That is definitely a good beginning. And that is certainly cause for optimism among the Labor Party supporters.” He adds that: “No one has any clear idea as to the intrinsic weight and the potential contribution as parliamentarians of several of the people at the top of the Gantz-Yaalon list, some of whom are unknown to the public. One thing that is clear, alternatively, is that the top ten people on the Labor Party’s list is comprised mainly of parliamentarians with a proven track record. So which is the better choice?”

In Haaretz, Chemi Shalev writes: “The Israeli Labor Party indicated on Monday night that reports of its death, as Mark Twain once said, were exaggerated. Labor hopes the jubilant atmosphere that prevailed at Tel Aviv’s Fairgrounds, where the party faithful gathered to hear the results and congratulate the winners, will be remembered as a turning point in its fortunes. If their critics are right, however, the festive night will probably end up being compared to a gala ball on the Titanic.” Shalev adds that: “Labor’s list of top notch parliamentarians is mostly identified with social and economic issues, which could allow the party to differentiate itself from Benny Gantz’s security-focused list; On the other hand, Labor’s list lacks national security gravitas, with the exception of Peretz, whose brief sojourn as defence minister during the 2006 Lebanon War garnered mixed reviews.”

Israel Hayom reports that intensive talks were recently held between Labor Party MKs and Meretz leaders on forming a joint list that would not be headed by Avi Gabbay. According to the report, nothing final was agreed but both sides decided to step up the pace of talks immediately after the primary on the assumption that many Labor Party MKs, who would not make it into the top five slots, would support a merger for fear of not being re-elected to the next Parliament on Labor’s list. Senior sources said that no name has been given to the joint list, but that the name would not include either Meretz or Labor, so as to create the impression of something new. According to the involved sources, recent polls found that such a list could win double-digit seats.

Maariv and the Times of Israel report on a battle over reserved slots in Likud. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he was giving up one of the reserved spots for a candidate of his choice on the Likud list, following pressure by several lawmakers who had been hurt by the move. Likud members had approved Netanyahu’s request to reserve the 21st, 28th and 36th spots for candidates of the premier’s choice. But some members petitioned against the move, including Netanyahu loyalists David Bitan and Miki Zohar, as well as MK Sharren Haskel. Netanyahu said Monday he was giving up the 21st slot, saying his decision was “out of respect for MKs David Bitan and Miki Zohar”.

Haaretz and Yediot Ahronoth report on comments by Netanyahu yesterday who said: “I won’t opt for a government with Gantz. I’ll first form the following coalition — a national Likud government, a right-wing government.” Netanyahu also reiterated his call for parties on the Right to merge, saying it was necessary in order to avoid losing the election. He said: “The Jewish Home, Otzma Leyisrael, Eli Yishai, the National Union Party have to unite in order to save the right-wing bloc six to seven seats.” The Israel Resilience Party, led by Benny Gantz, said in response: “We will form a Zionist government of hope and unity that will replace Bibi.”

Yediot Ahronoth reports that Gantz visited the home of Ori Ansbacher yesterday to offer his condolences. On the way, he toured the Etzion Bloc. Gantz visited Kibbutz Kfar Etzion and the Etzion Bloc Heritage Centre and wrote in the visitors’ book: “The bloc was a strategic, spiritual, settlement and security asset — and it will remain one for all of Israel’s eternity! With gratitude, appreciation and great love, Benny Gantz.”

Kan Radio News reports that Syrian officials said that IDF tanks and an unmanned aerial vehicle fired last night at the Quneitra area near the border. They said the Israeli military fired at a deserted hospital and a nearby observation post. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the attack was directed at areas in which Hezbollah and Iranian militias loyal to the Syrian regime are active and that four militiamen were injured. The IDF did not comment.

Commenting in Israel Hayom about the upcoming Warsaw Conference, Oded Granot suggests that the conference: “Appears to reflect a strategic shift in President Trump’s Middle East strategy. After a number of unilateral steps, such as its withdrawal from the nuclear agreement with Iran and the decision to withdraw troops from Syria, this time, perhaps for the first time, there is an open American attempt to recruit a large coalition against the Iranian threat.”

Israel Hayom reports that Venezuelan President Guaido told the paper that he intends to restore relations with Israel.