ISIS leader survived coup and fled to desert
The BBC, Telegraph, the Times, Financial Times and Guardian report on the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a preliminary UN report on the killing and accusations that the country’s Crown Prince threatened the murder a year before it happened. The BBC reports that a UN expert has said Saudi Arabia “seriously curtailed and undermined” Turkey’s ability to investigate the murder of Jamal Khashoggi. A preliminary report says it was 13 days before Turkey was allowed into the consulate where the journalist was killed. UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard, who is leading an international inquiry into the murder, visited Turkey between 28 January and 3 February. The preliminary report says Khashoggi “was the victim of a brutal and premeditated killing, planned and perpetrated by officials of the State of Saudi Arabia”. Turkey’s ability to investigate this murder though was “seriously curtailed and undermined by Saudi Arabia’s unwillingness, for some 13 days, to allow Turkish investigators access to the crime scenes.” While the murder took place on 2 October, authorities only got access to the consulate on 15 October, and not to the residence there until 17 October – which in particular affected the forensic investigation, she wrote. Ms Callamard also attacked Saudi Arabia’s trial of 11 suspects in the case, saying it raises “major concerns” about transparency and fairness. “I have requested an official country visit to Saudi Arabia so that the authorities there can directly provide me with relevant evidence,” she wrote. The fact Khashoggi’s body still has not been found is causing “even greater suffering” to his loved ones, the report adds. The final report will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in June. The Guardian reports that according to a US media report, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince told a senior aide he would go after Jamal Khashoggi “with a bullet” a year before the dissident journalist was killed. US intelligence understood that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was ready to kill the journalist, although he may not have literally meant to shoot him, according to the New York Times.
The BBC reports that two French journalists who were held by Islamic State militants in Syria have given evidence against a man accused of murdering four people at the Brussels Jewish Museum in May 2014. “I’ve absolutely no doubt that Mehdi Nemmouche, who is here now, was my jailer and torturer in Syria. I knew him as Abou Omar,” said Nicolas Hénin. Ex-captive Didier François agreed. The defendant, 33, denies murdering an Israeli couple, a local worker and a French volunteer at the museum. While his lawyer accepts that he travelled to Syria, he argues that case will be tried later in a French court and has nothing to do with the Jewish Museum attack.
In the Times, Richard Spencer and Hannah Lucinda Smith write about ISIS in Syria, arguing that: “It may be over for the caliphate, but ideology has already spread”. It is not the end for hundreds of ISIS fighters surrounded in eastern Syria or the thousands who have already escaped, they write.
The Guardian reports that intelligence officials believe that ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi survived a coup attempt last month launched by foreign fighters in his eastern Syrian hideout, and the terrorist group has since placed a bounty on the main plotter’s head. The incident is believed to have taken place on 10 January in a village near Hajin in the Euphrates River valley, where the jihadist group is clinging to its last sliver of land. Regional intelligence officials say a planned move against Baghdadi led to a firefight between foreign fighters and the fugitive terrorist chief’s bodyguards, who spirited him away to the nearby desert.
The Financial Times reports that Egypt is attempting to rein in a population boom, with Cairo launching a family planning programme aimed at cutting the birth rate. The family planning programme involves poster campaigns, television advertising, home visits by social workers and clinics handing out contraceptives. The government has also decided to stop disbursing some benefits to poor families beyond the second child. The aim is to reduce the fertility rate from 3.5 children per woman to 2.4 by 2030. Meeting that target would mean 8m fewer births over the next decade.
In the Telegraph, Celia Walden writes a profile on Farah Palavi, the last Empress of Iran. In Paris, where the 80 year old now lives, she reflects back on her past and discusses the extraordinary collection of art she amassed for her country. The former Empress also comments on modern day Iran, saying: “Thinking of my home country now splits my heart in two. There’s so much poverty: children are begging in the streets and sleeping on graves. That just didn’t happen in our time. People don’t have enough to eat, workers are not being paid, and there’s so much corruption that journalists and artists are being thrown into prison, tortured and hanged.” Women, she says, have also suffered. At the time of her 1967 coronation, the Empress felt that what she was doing “was for all women. Because in our time women were active in all sorts of different areas. At one point, the number of Iranian women going to university was more than the men.” But they “are now abused and disrespected and have had their rights taken away,” she adds. “And yet they’re so incredibly brave”.
In the Financial Times, Laura Pitel and Ayla Jean Yackley report that London investigators have shone a light on the murder of Tahir Elci, a Kurdish human rights lawyer shot dead in Diyarbakir in the east of the country three years ago. His friends and family took a step closer to justice on Friday as a London-based team of investigators said that he was killed by one of two policemen during a chaotic firefight that erupted around him as he called for peace in a city sinking into conflict. Campaigners say the two officers, who gave witness statements but were never interviewed as suspects, must now be held to account. “We hope this report will create public pressure on the prosecutor to finish the investigation and ensure Tahir Elci’s death does not remain among the files of unsolved murders,” said Gamze Yalcin, a member of the Diyarbakir Bar Association commission working on the case. The Turkish government did not respond to a request for comment on the report’s findings. Turkey has a long history of unresolved murders and disappearances, from the mysterious 1948 killing of the author Sabahattin Ali on the Turkish-Bulgarian border to the murder in 2007 of Hrant Dink, an Armenian journalist whose teenage assailant was jailed. The trial of state officials accused of complicity drags on to this day.
The Spectator and the Guardian report on this year’s Eurovision song contest taking place in Israel. In the Spectator, Toby Young writes on the “hypocrisy of Ken Loach’s Eurovision boycott”. Young writes that: “The signatories of the Guardian letter are just useful idiots, having their strings pulled by an Islamist terrorist organisation committed to the destruction of Israel, as well as die-hard old communists like Corbyn, with their fanatical hatred of the West and its allies. If the BBC heeds their demand to boycott Eurovision I will cancel my licence fee.” The Guardian reports that ten Australian artists, including the indie band Sheppard, Indigenous duo Electric Fields and singer-songwriter Kate Miller-Heidke will this weekend vie for the right to represent Australia at the 2019 Eurovision song contest. “But what has in the past been a frothy showbiz event, seen by many as a kitschy celebration of song and international community spirit, has taken on a political edge amid growing calls for an artistic and broadcaster boycott because it is being held in Israel. The host city of Tel Aviv has become the target of activists who object to Israel’s occupation of Palestine. The song contest is traditionally held in the country of origin of the previous year’s winner.”
Reuters reports that according to the Iranian-aligned Houthis on Thursday, talks on a UN -sponsored prisoner swap in Yemen’s war could drag on for months if the Saudi-backed government denies the existence of thousands of Houthi fighters in captivity.
The Israeli media reports on the Israel Resilience Party list for the 9 April elections. After Benny Gantz and his number two former Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon the top slots will include; Orit Farkash-Hacohen, Former Chairperson of the Electricity Authority. Chili Tropper, Educator, high-school principle and expert advisor for the former Minister of Education. Yoaz Hendel, Chairman of The Institute for Zionist Strategies and publicist. Michael Biton, Former Mayor of Yeruham. Miki Haimovich, TV presenter and a social and environmental activist. Meirav Cohen, leader of the fight for compensation for the elderly and Zvi Hauser, Netanyahu’s former Cabinet Secretary. Yediot Ahronot quotes a high ranking figure on Gantz’s list saying: “He’ll build in the territories at least as much as Netanyahu.” While Maariv exposes allegations from Gantz’s brief spell working in the private sector, claiming he has: “Zero leadership skills, zero managerial capabilities.”
Israel Hayom has published a new election poll that predicts Likud will win 29 seats, Israel Resilience Party 17 seats, Yesh Atid 11 seats, Joint List 9 seats, United Torah Judaism 7 seats, New Right 6 seats, Meretz 6 seats, Shas 5 seats, Labor 4 seats, Gesher 4 seats. According to this poll Kulanu, Israel Beiteinu, Arab Movement for Renewal, and Jewish Home would not win any seats.
If Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience Party, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Gabi Ashkenazi were to run on a joint list the poll predicts that they would win 35 seats, Likud 29 seats, Joint List 9 seats, United Torah Judaism 8 seats, New Right 5 seats, Meretz 5 seats, Shas 4 seats, Kulanu 4 seats. If the Israel Resilience Party merges with Yesh Atid, the Jewish Home merges with the National Union, and the Labor Party merges with Meretz the poll predicts Likud would win 30 seats, Israel Resilience Party and Yesh Atid 30 seats, Labor and Meretz 10 seats, Joint List 8 seats, United Torah Judaism 7 seats, Jewish Home and National Union 6 seats, New Right 5 seats, Shas 4 seats, Gesher 4 seats.
Yediot Ahronot reports that Transport Minister Yisrael Katz yesterday sided with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his battle against Gideon Saar, who came fourth in the Likud primary. Katz commented on Netanyahu’s allegation that Saar was plotting against him saying: “There are so many people who want to prevent Netanyahu from being Prime Minister and not through the polling stations. And when there is information about this that is brought to the Prime Minister, I believe him. He is very troubled by the possibility of a vacuum”. When asked whether Netanyahu’s scenario was groundless, Katz said: “We have to examine this. It’s no small thing when a Prime Minister says such things. There is no possibility that this is a manipulation.”
According to Maariv the talks between Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience Party and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid on a merger have run into quite a few hurdles. A Yesh Atid source is quoted saying: “Gantz doesn’t want MKs with experience. They want MKs fresh from the wrappings.” Yesh Atid is starting to have doubts about the ability of the two parties to merge. “Benny Gantz said that he supports disengagement; we’re not there at all,” said the source, thereby joining the Likud’s attack on Gantz. “If we can get 12 to 14 seats, maybe would be better off on our own. Why give up our values?” On the other hand, Israel Resilience Party sources said: “As the final date for submitting the Knesset lists on February 21 approaches, the party leaders will become more realistic. They will look at the polls and at the situation and make a decision based on that. There is no point in merging now when we don’t know what will come of it.” On Sunday, Yesh Atid’s pollster, Mark Mellman, will show the party’s MKs the findings of an in-depth poll that was conducted last week for the party. Israel Resilience Party members stressed last night that mergers with various parties were still being examined and that it was studying the various options.
Yediot Ahronot reports that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is expected to ban politicians from posting joint photos with Israel Defence Forces (IDF) soldiers on social media in order to promote their election campaign. Prime Minister Netanyahu, who also serves as the Defence Minister, as well as members of his ruling Likud Party and members of other parties will not be allowed to use photos with IDF troops on their private Facebook and Twitter pages. They will also not be allowed to appear with the troops on billboards, however, the Attorney General is expected to allow posting photo ops on official social media platforms.
Maariv reports the New Right’s new recruit, from the world of football: Alona Barkat, the owner of Hapoel Beer Sheva, alongside Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, said: “I’m happy and thrilled and grateful for the opportunity to join the New Right. This is a team of dreamers and believers that takes action and fulfils. We will do great things for the Jewish people. When Ayelet and Naftali came to me with their proposal, I was surprised. I deliberated at length because of what I do today. I want to effect social change. Hapoel Beer Sheva is my life’s work. Mainly because of the amazing fans, people who taught us what love without boundaries is and giving unconditionally. Israel needs social change, we all feel this. We must take action so that every child in Israel knows that every dream is possible.”
Kan news reports that the US is preparing to launch its Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt are scheduled to visit Oman, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar at the end of the month in order to present the economic aspects of the peace plan and to mobilise support.
Kan news reports that Senior Palestinian Authority (PA) official Hussein al-Sheikh issued an official statement to Israeli security officials saying that the PA would refuse to accept the tax money that Israel collects for it if the funds that are earmarked to pay the salaries of prisoners and the families of terrorists were deducted from it. A Palestinian source said that the PA would order Palestinian banks not to accept the money if Israel did not transfer the sum in full ($100 million per month). Another senior PA official said that the PA was considering suing Israel in international courts if it deducted sums from the tax money. Kan Radio reports that Israel recently transferred the tax money to the Palestinian Authority without deducting the terrorists’ salaries.
Yediot Ahronot reports on comments by Danny Danon, Israel’s UN ambassador who accused international observers in Hebron of acting as “a violent, biased” force and defended the government’s suspension of their mandate—and the US support for Israel’s action. Danon said that instead of maintaining order and neutrality, the observers “used violence, created friction with the civilian population, and interfered with security forces.” On Wednesday the US blocked an Arab-backed Security Council statement put forward by Indonesia and Kuwait expressing regret at Israel’s action, recognising the observer mission’s “efforts to foster calm in a highly sensitive area,” and calling for protection of Palestinian civilians.
All the media report that the naked body of an 18 year old woman with stab wounds to her chest was found just outside of Jerusalem last night. The body was found at Ein Yael, southwest of Jerusalem, not far from the Biblical Zoo. Police suspect the woman was murdered and have opened an investigation. The Shin Bet security service is also involved in the probe. Police are also trying to determine whether the body belongs to the young woman who was reported missing Thursday afternoon, and for whom searches had already begun.