Israel and Hamas agree 6 month ceasefire
The BBC reports that Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has dismissed US President Donald Trump’s “genocidal taunts” and warned him not to threaten the country. Amid rising tensions, Trump tweeted on Sunday: “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran.” Zarif said the US President should look to history. “Iranians have stood tall for millennia while aggressors all gone… Try respect – it works!” Iranian state media reported on Monday that the country had increased by fourfold its production of low-enriched uranium, which was limited to a 300kg stockpile by the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers. Behrouz Kamalvandi, spokesman for the Atomic Energy Organisation of Iran (AEOI), said Iran would “go beyond the 300kg limit in the not too distant future”. Writing on Twitter on Monday, Iran’s Foreign Minister said the US President was being “goaded” by what he called the “B Team” – a reference to US National Security Adviser John Bolton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Trump “hopes to achieve what Alexander [the Great], Genghis [Khan] & other aggressors failed to do… #EconomicTerrorism & genocidal taunts won’t ‘end Iran’,” he added.
In the Independent, Borzou Daraghi asks: “Iran and the US have been at war for 40 years – so what is different this time?” Daraghi argues that conflict is the two countries’ default setting. Fears of a full-on war between the US and Iran have spiked in recent days. But the two countries and have been locked in a low-simmering conflict for decades.
In the Guardian, Peter Westmacott, the former British Ambassador to the US, writes on rising tensions between the US and Iran: “To defuse this crisis the US must start talking to Iran”. As Washington raises the stakes, argues Westmacott, the risk of a misunderstanding is high – and it could lead to a new conflict in the Middle East.
The BBC and Telegraph report that Al Jazeera has suspended two journalists over a video they produced that denied the facts of the Holocaust. The BBC reports that the Qatari state-funded broadcaster had published the video on its online AJ+ video service in Arabic. During World War Two, six million Jewish people were systematically killed by the Nazis. Al Jazeera’s video said this number had been exaggerated and “adopted by the Zionist movement”, and that Israel is the “biggest winner” from the genocide. Its narrator also asked, “why is there a focus only on them?” – referring to the Jewish victims – before claiming that the community uses “financial resources [and] media institutions” to “put a special spotlight” on Jewish suffering. The video was published on the AJ+ Twitter and Facebook pages on Friday evening local time, with a caption asking: “What is the truth of the Holocaust and how did the Zionist movement benefit from it?”
The Times reports that Russian and Assad-regime forces have resumed heavy bombing of rebel-held territory in Idlib, killing five children and other civilians, after the rebels rejected a ceasefire offer. Pro-regime forces made the offer after meeting fierce resistance during a six-week ground incursion into the rebel pocket. Rebel sources told The Times that Turkey had allowed the delivery of more Tow anti-tank missiles to the jihadist-led forces fighting the advance. Turkish-backed militias operating in a separate Syrian territory directly controlled by Ankara also sent reinforcements, the rebels said. The decision threatens recent co-operation between Turkey and Russia, which has been heralded as the last hope to bring a political solution to the war.
In the Financial Times, Chloe Cornish writes that Baghdad is failing to deal with a looming identity crisis, with at least 45,000 children raised under the Islamic State not officially existing.
The Guardian reports that friends who planned their journey to Syria on TripAdvisor have each been jailed for 14 years for preparing to join Islamic State. Safwaan Mansur and Hanzalah Patel, both 22, used the travel review site to check out an area near the Syrian border before travelling to Turkey in 2016 and 2017. Prosecutors claimed the men tried to explain away their travel plans as an “innocent camping holiday”. The pair were sentenced at Birmingham crown court on Monday after they were convicted of preparing for terrorist acts in support of ISIS. On their first trip to Turkey, in 2016, the pair took a 24-hour bus to Hatay province, an area near the Syrian border described in court as a “transit area” to the country. Mansur claimed he went there to “have a look” like “lots of other tourists”.
The Times reports that hostile state actors including spies are to be targeted under Home Office plans to update espionage and treason laws, the Home Secretary announced. Sajid Javid said that he is planning a new espionage bill, including updating Britain’s 650-year-old treason law and requiring foreign agents to register, as takes place in Australia and the United States. He also said that the tempo of terrorist activity was increasing, with 19 attacks foiled in Britain in the past two years.
Reuters reports that on Monday, hundreds of members of the US Congress signed a letter to President Donald Trump arguing that the United States should remain engaged with the conflict in Syria, saying they were “deeply concerned” about extremist groups in the country. “As some of our closest allies in the region are being threatened, American leadership and support are as crucial as ever,” said the letter, signed by nearly 400 of the 535 members of the House of Representatives and Senate.
The Times reports that Turkey has issued warrants for the arrest of 249 foreign ministry officials in another purge nearly three years after a failed coup. Ninety-one staff have already been detained in police operations across 42 provinces. The chief prosecutor’s office in Ankara said yesterday that it initiated the operations as a result of investigations into irregularities in the foreign service entrance exams. More than 150,000 civil servants have lost their jobs and about 77,000 are in prison facing criminal charges in connection with the coup attempt in July 2016, in which a group of officers attempted to commandeer military conscripts to overthrow President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his government. The latest action targets junior staff who entered the foreign ministry between 2010 and 2013, with the purge having previously ensnared high-level diplomats. All the diplomats wanted under the latest order are accused of receiving advance copies of civil service exam papers, a tactic that is believed to have been systematically used by the followers of Fethullah Gulen, the cleric accused by Erdogan of orchestrating the coup attempt.
The Independent reports that Lebanese security forces have used heavy water cannons on anti-austerity protests in the capital city, as the government faces a looming fiscal crisis. Over 100 protesters gathered outside the Government House in downtown Beirut shouting “thieves, thieves”, as the Cabinet met for its 16th session to reach agreement on controversial budget cuts. Protesters pushed back against police lines and set fire to tyres outside the building. The government’s planned budget cuts have unleashed a wave of public discontent, amid leaks that austerity could target public wages, services and social benefits.
The Guardian reports that the failure of Britain’s “broken select committee system” to mount a new inquiry into UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia has prompted a group of MPs, arms sales analysts and former army officers to form its own citizens committee to argue against the multibillion-pound weapons contracts. The new citizens committee on arms sales (CCAS), meeting in Westminster on Tuesday, is due to take evidence from Yemeni human rights campaigners speaking from the capital Sana’a as well as a former UK brigadier to the Saudi capital, Riyadh, who has previously claimed the UK is breaking its own rules by selling arms for use in Yemen. The meeting came as MPs from the all-party parliamentary group on Yemen wrote to the Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, imploring him “to use every available tool to put pressure on our allies in the UAE and Saudi Arabia to bring about an end to the conflict. The UK has a strong relationship with Saudi Arabia and this must be used”.
Reuters reports that on Monday, Saudi Arabia said it had intercepted two missiles in Mecca province fired by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis, who earlier denied having targetted Islam’s holiest site. A Saudi coalition spokesman said, “Royal Saudi Defence Forces spotted aerial targets flying through restricted areas in the provinces of Jeddah and Taif and dealt with them as required by the situation.”
In the Guardian, Anna Stavrianakis writes: “Why are MPs thanking Jeremy Hunt for his efforts towards peace in Yemen?” She argues that the UK government’s attempts to justify arms exports to the Saudi-led coalition are becoming ever more absurd.
Israel’s Channel 12 News reported last night that Egypt has brokered a six-month cease-fire agreement between Israel and Hamas. According to that report, Hamas have agreed to stop violent disturbances near the border fence, maintain a security strip of about 300 meters from the fence, end the night-time clashes and stop flotillas off the Gaza coast. In return, Israel has agreed to expand the Gaza fishing zone to 15 miles, promote UN projects to create jobs, transfer medicine and civilian aid and start negotiations about electricity, the border crossings and health care. Maariv reports that security officials were surprised by the report and that Israeli and Palestinian officials have both denied that any cease-fire agreement has been reached. However, Army radio this morning reported that Israel has extended the Gaza fishing zone to 15 nautical miles.
Maariv reports on the government bill to lift the cap on ministers and deputy ministers, which passed its first reading in the Knesset plenum yesterday. 65 MKs from the prospective coalition voted in favour of the bill, 54 voted against.
Opposition MKs attacked the bill, saying that it would cost the state hundreds of millions of shekels. Blue and White leader Benny Gantz said: “Increasing the number of cabinet ministers is another tool in the toolbox of political bribery…That tool isn’t going to be used for the benefit of the citizens of the country, but for the purpose of saving interested parties from their political and legal [problems].” Gantz appealed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “To you, Bibi, I’m saying: be a man and stop. You’re going too far. We won’t let this pass. The street won’t let this pass. This simply isn’t going to work.” Yair Lapid said: “What we’re now seeing isn’t coalition negotiations; it’s a bribery deal. It has no other name. Bribery. A party representative comes in, asks for budgets; Netanyahu asks for immunity in return. A Likud member comes in, wants to be a minister; Netanyahu wants him to commit to helping him avoid prison. Another representative comes in, wants coalition funds; give immunity, you’ll get money. That’s bribery. That’s criminal. That’s selling the country.” Minister Ofir Akunis (Likud), who presented the bill to the Knesset plenum, rebuffed the opposition’s attacks, saying: “The first change to Basic Law: Government was made by the Labour Party in order to establish Ehud Barak’s left-wing government. Only one time was Basic Law: Government maintained, in 1996, in Netanyahu’s first government. Under Sharon, in the name of disengagement and his U-turn to the left, that was permissible. That’s why Ariel Sharon’s cabinet was able to have 30 ministers and ten deputy ministers. Under Yitzhak Shamir and Shimon Peres there were more than 20 cabinet ministers too. Were they corrupt? Did they bribe politicians? Certainly, the answer is negative. The people spoke clearly and unequivocally in the elections in favour of establishing a national government under MK Binyamin Netanyahu.” Akunis concluded: “I’d urge you, even if it’s hard, to respect the people’s will and, as Begin said, to ‘get used to it.’”
Yediot Ahronot reports extracts from Ilan Ramon’s diary. Sixteen years after the Israeli astronaut died in the Columbia disaster, new pages were published from the diary. Ramon wrote about the routine of working on the space shuttle, described the spectacular scenes from the endless sky and told of his longing for his wife and children. The pages were cleaned and preserved and were kept at the Israel Museum. The diary is now on display in a special exhibition. A total of 34 pages from the diary written by Ilan Ramon on his journey to space survived the Columbia shuttle disaster, some of which are written in pen or pencil, some printed and some empty, managed to overcome impossible conditions – the fire at a temperature of 5,000 degrees, Minus 50 degrees into the atmosphere – and fell from a 70-kilometer altitude on Texas soil, where they were lying on the ground for months, exposed to the effects of the weather and the pests until they were found by NASA personnel. At first, NASA officials thought the pages were technical documents, but when they were given to Ilan’s widow, Rona Ramon, she discovered that this was a personal diary written by her husband. The Columbia disaster occurred on 1 February 2003, when the shuttle returned to Earth from a space mission and as a result of an explosion, disintegrated immediately after entering the atmosphere. All seven crew members died in the disaster.
Israel Hayom reports speculate over the formation of the government, suggesting it will only be formed at the last minute. This morning the paper reported “An unusual spectacle was spotted yesterday outside Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman’s Knesset office: representatives of MK Avigdor Lieberman, with whom Litzman has been at odds, was seen entering and leaving Litzman’s office. The purpose of those meetings was to try to resolve the crisis over the military conscription law.” The law is currently the central issue standing in the way of forming the next coalition government. No solution had been found as of yesterday. Yisrael Beiteinu officials said that the Ultra-orthodox want to make to make substantive changes to the law, and that there was no chance that those changes would be approved. In the paper’s view, despite the differences between the two parties that have yet to be bridged, sources on both sides sounded optimistic yesterday. “The moment the issue of conscription is resolved, everything else will fall like dominos. If Yisrael Beiteinu receives four of the five demands that were presented by Lieberman—the Interior Committee, the pensions, ending the DNA testing and an agreement about security issues—Lieberman will be able to compromise on the conscription issue,” said one source who has been involved in the negotiations.
Haaretz and Yediot Ahronot report that the coalition’s candidate for state comptroller is Mataniah Engleman, the director of the Council for Higher Education and a former director general of the Technion. His candidacy was presented last night at the last moment to the Knesset secretariat. Yediot Ahronot notes that Prime Minister Netanyahu withdrew his support for Attorney Michal Rosenboim at the last minute. The opposition’s candidate for state comptroller is Maj. Gen. (res.) Giora Romm. The MKs will vote for state comptroller in two weeks in a secret ballot.