Israeli tourists advised to leave Sinai after terror alert
The BBC, Guardian, Telegraph and the Times report that US President Donald Trump has decided to end exemptions from sanctions for countries still buying oil from Iran. The BBC reports that the White House said waivers for China, India, Japan, South Korea and Turkey would expire in May, after which they could face US sanctions themselves. This decision is intended to bring Iran’s oil exports to zero, denying the government its main source of revenue. Iran insisted the sanctions were illegal and that it had attached “no value or credibility” to the waivers. The Times reports that the move will put further economic pressure on the already embattled Islamic Republic, but will also cause ructions with Turkey, a NATO ally, and key trading partners such as China, with whom Trump is already locked in dispute. China and India are the biggest single customers of Iranian oil, and even before the decision was confirmed Beijing reacted angrily. Chinese dealings with Iran were “reasonable and legitimate, which thus deserve respect”, Geng Shuang, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said.
In the Financial Times, Anjli Raval and Ed Crooks ask: “What does the end of the US waiver on Iran’s oil exports mean”. The article addresses whether the US really can reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero, whether the market is prepared to meet the shortfall, how the rest of the OPEC group will react, what this move means for oil prices, and whether it could adversely hit the US economy.
In the Guardian, Mick Dumper asks: “Is Benjamin Netanyahu about to go rogue in Jerusalem? All the signs are there”. Dumper argues that flushed with election success and politically tooled-up US President Donald Trump’s support, the Israeli Prime Minister now has the holy Islamic sites in his sights. As the election posters are removed, says Dumper, the great concern emerging in Palestinian East Jerusalem is that Netanyahu is politically strong enough, with both a new mandate and an increasingly compliant US administration behind him, to allow him to act with greater impunity with regard to the Christian and Islamic holy sites of the city.
The Independent reports that an investigation has been launched in Israel, into reports that Israeli soldiers shot a Palestinian teenager as he attempted to avoid arrest, despite the fact he was already handcuffed and blindfolded. The incident is believed to have taken place last week after a group of youths had thrown stones at troops. Osama Hajahjeh, 16, said he was unarmed and walking home from a funeral in the West Bank village of Tekoa when he was grabbed by soldiers.He claimed he became confused as they bound him while shouting in Hebrew and Arabic, leading him to walk away before he was shot high in both legs.
The Financial Times reports that Christian pilgrims are fuelling a tourism boom in Israel. Tourism in Israel is booming, with numbers nearly doubling in the past decade to more than 4m in 2018. And Christian visitors are an ever-growing share. The country’s tourism ministry estimates that 75,000 Christians have journeyed to Israel to take part in the Holy Week celebrations that led up to Easter. Most tread the familiar circuit of sites: Nazareth, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, the Jordan River and the Sea of Galilee. But a growing number — particularly evangelical Christians such as the Faroese who place emphasis on the text of the Bible and the lands in which it takes place — are venturing to less-travelled sites located in and around West Bank settlements.
Jewish News reports that a Labour MP has apologised for sharing a video which he claimed was of Israeli soldiers beating a Palestinian youth – but which was actually actually of Guatemalan troops. Grahame Morris came in for criticism on Monday after posting a video on Twitter showing a young man being beaten, and claiming it was personnel from the IDF. He tweeted: “Marvellous, absolutely marvellous the Israeli Army, the best financed, best trained, best equipped army in the world caught on camera beating up Palestinian children for the fun of it. May God forgive them. What would Jim Royle say on an Easter Monday.” Twitter users were quick to point out that the video he shared was not of Israeli soldiers, but Guatemalan troops, as reported by Al Jazeera in August 2015. Luke Akehurst, Director of We Believe in Israel said: “The last thing a conflict as sensitive and complex as the Israel/Palestinian one needs is fake news like this, smearing Israel with videos of abuse from Guatemala, and throwing in quasi-religious references.”
The BBC, Telegraph and the Times report that Egyptians began voting on Saturday in a three-day referendum on the proposed constitutional amendments that would keep President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi in power until 2030. This comes days after they were approved by a sweeping majority inside parliament. “Say yes to stability and security,” reads one banner in central Cairo. The new amendments will extend the presidential term from four to six years, and the president can only be re-elected once. But Sisi is being given special treatment. Not only will his current term be extended to six years, but he will be allowed to run for a third term as an exception. The Times reports that the final results will not be confirmed until Saturday.
The BBC reports that according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Islamic State militants have killed 35 Syrian pro-government forces in desert attacks in recent days. The UK-based monitoring group says the militants attacked in Homs and Deir al-Zour provinces. IS media has spoken about the alleged attacks, but Syrian officials have not confirmed them. It comes weeks after reports some IS militants had fled into the desert from Baghuz – their last stronghold. The area was declared “freed” by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on 23 March.
The Independent reports that the United Nations has urged the international community to take responsibility for the children of their citizens who joined ISIS in Syria, as thousands remain stranded in unsafe camps. An estimated 30 British children are currently languishing in camps across the Kurdish-held north of the country, most of whom emerged with their parents from the ISIS caliphate in its dying days. The British government has so far refused to repatriate any of its citizens who went to join ISIS, citing security fears. Separating the children from their parents would also raise legal questions. The UN’s humanitarian envoy for Syria warned on Thursday that some 2,500 foreign children stuck in the camps are in desperate need of help, and made a “special plea” to the international community to take responsibility for their own citizens.
Reuters reports that on Monday, the leader of the Houthi movement in Yemen said that Houthi forces have missiles that could be fired at Riyadh, Dubai and Abu Dhabi should violence escalate in the main Yemeni port city of Hodeidah, where a fragile ceasefire is now in place. Houthi forces regularly fire missiles into southern Saudi Arabia and occasionally aim for targets such as the capital Riyadh or facilities of state oil company Saudi Aramco. Most missiles have been intercepted by the Saudi military.
The Financial Times reports that, according to the country’s state television, authorities in Algeria have arrested several business leaders as part of a widening crackdown on the ruling circle of former president Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who was forced out this month after weeks of popular protests. The four Kouninef brothers, whose family owns a large construction group, were arrested on Monday in connection with an investigation into corruption that includes failing to honour contracts with the state and abuse of influence, the station reported. The fifth businessman named by state television as having been arrested was Issad Rebrab, head of Cevital, the country’s largest industrial group. Unlike the other four, he is known for his opposition to Bouteflika.
In the Israeli media Yediot Ahronoth reports on its front page that the Government Counter-Terrorism Bureau has advised all Israelis in Sinai to leave immediately and for people who had plans to go, to cancel them. Israelis have been advised to leave Sinai due to the threat of terrorist attacks. “The intelligence community constantly monitors Sinai. We know it well and we are in command of the material. The warning for Sinai is very serious,” said one security official. “Just two weeks ago there was a terror attack by ISIS in a place called Ein Moussa, near the Suez Canal, near a tourist site and hotels. It’s the same distance from Taba. If they want to reach places where there are Israelis, they can. It’s a sophisticated organisation … there are still cells, activists and threats in Sinai. These are terrorist organisations that are very well armed and we know that ISIS talks quite a lot about going after Israeli tourism. They know that thousands of Israelis go to Sinai on Passover and, regretfully, the Israelis post pictures and texts on social media. The terrorist organisations know about the large number of Israelis who are in Sinai and they’re easy targets for them.” Twenty thousand to 30,000 Israelis are estimated to be currently on holiday in Sinai.
Kan reports that Syrian army forces have been entering the buffer zone with Israel in the Golan Heights, violating the 1974 armistice agreement signed between the countries. The public broadcaster published footage of what it says are soldiers standing “meters” from the border fence, adding that the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) has complained to the UN observer force who are on the border.
Haaretz reports that Israeli officials are concerned about the growing number of Democratic presidential candidates who are promising to reverse President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal last May. The concern relates to the possibility the US will re-enter the nuclear agreement, which the Israeli Government strongly opposed when it was signed in 2015, and the prospect of Israel becoming too involved in internal American politics during a tense and divisive election campaign. Officials who have spoken with Haaretz in recent weeks described a “political nightmare scenario” in which Israel is dragged into the presidential race because Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials will make comments about the Iran deal, at the same time as Trump and the eventual Democratic nominee will spar over its fate. In recent months, six Democratic presidential contenders with a realistic shot of fighting for the nomination have publicly announced their support for re-entering the deal: Bernie Sanders (Vermont), Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts), Kamala Harris (California) and Amy Klobuchar (Minnesota), as well as Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (Hawaii) and former Obama cabinet secretary Julián Castro.
Senator Bernie Sanders said on Monday that Israel is currently run by a “right-wing, racist government”. During an appearance on CNN, Sanders said that he supports Israel’s right to exist and considers himself pro-Israel but doesn’t support the policies of Prime Minister Netanyahu. “As a young man I spent a number of months in Israel. I worked on a kibbutz for a while,” Sanders said in response to a question on his views regarding the Jewish state. “I have family in Israel. I am not anti-Israel. But the fact of the matter is that Netanyahu is a right-wing politician who, I think, is treating the Palestinians extremely unfairly.” Sanders continued: “The US gives billions of dollars in military aid to Israel. I just believe that the US should deal with the Middle East on a level-playing-field basis. In other words, the goal must be to try to bring people together and not just support one country, which is now run by a right-wing and, dare I say, racist government.”
Ynet reports that the Trump administration is offering rewards of up to $10m each for information that disrupts the finances of Hezbollah. The state and treasury departments say the money will be paid to people who provide information such as the names of Hezbollah donors and financiers, bank records, customs receipts or evidence of real estate transactions.
Yediot Ahronoth reports on the United Right’s conditions for joining a Likud-led coalition, which include demands that the next government apply Israeli sovereignty to the Jewish settlements in the West Bank. In terms of future legislation, the Union of Right-Wing Parties intends to demand that the coalition pass the override clause into legislation and amend the immunity law so that it reverts to the iteration that existed until 2005. The proposed amendment, which has been advocated repeatedly by MK Bezalel Smotrich, would grant every MK immunity from prosecution automatically. If the attorney general wants to have any MK’s parliamentary immunity lifted so as to allow him or her to be indicted and prosecuted, a majority of the members of the Knesset’s House Committee and subsequently the Knesset plenum will have to vote in favor of lifting that immunity. That amendment, if passed into legislation, would allow Netanyahu to avoid being indicted for the entire duration of his term.
Yediot Ahronoth also reports that the list of demands had caused friction between the leader of the Jewish Home Rafi Peretz and the leader of National Union, Betzalel Smotrich. Kan Radio reports this morning that the tension appears to have been resolved. Senior Jewish Home figures called on Peretz to split from the National Union because of what they called Smotrich’s excessively independent activity in negotiations with the Likud on forming the government. Peretz spoke with Smotrich last night with Jewish Home sources saying that Smotrich apologised and promised to coordinate with the Jewish Home chairman.
Discussing the coalition negotiations, Matti Tuchfield in Israel Hayom states that: “One central issue is at the heart of the current coalition negotiations – forming an anti-indictment coalition. A government currently is being formed with 65 MKs who will enable the prime minister to continue to serve regardless of his legal situation. This might be achieved by legislation that will prevent an indictment, and it might be achieved by means of agreement — either written or unwritten — that none of the factions will quit if and when he is indicted. That is the central issue that is on the negotiation table, regardless of whether it is explicitly or implicitly present. For the time being, that effort appears likely to succeed.”
Yediot Ahronoth and Haaretz report that the IDF has launched an inquiry into an incident that occurred last Thursday in which a 16-year-old Palestinian was shot in the back by soldiers. In the course of clashes in the area of Tekoa, the teenager was arrested, handcuffed and blindfolded but, at a certain stage, he tried to flee, with his eyes still covered and was shot in the thigh whilst his back was to the soldiers. The young man was subsequently taken by the residents to a hospital in Bethlehem. The IDF did not arrest him after he was injured. The IDF Spokesperson’s Office issued a statement: “There were violent disturbances last Thursday near the village Tekoa that included massive stone-throwing at IDF forces and at Israeli cars, which endangered the lives of citizens and the troops. The soldiers responded with crowd control measures and also arrested one of the people causing the disturbances, who tried to flee after he was arrested. He was caught close by and a short time later tried to flee again. The soldiers conducted a pursuit, during which they shot at his lower body. The force extended immediate medical treatment. The incident will be investigated.”