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Media Summary

RAF says it killed one civilian in four years of ISIS air strikes

Reuters reports that on Wednesday, Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu said that country’s navy could take action against Iranian oil smuggling, urging world powers to foil any effort by Tehran to evade US sanctions. The Israeli leader told naval officers that Iran was still resorting to clandestine measures to ship fuel that it first used prior to a 2015 nuclear deal easing Western sanctions on its oil sector. “Iran is trying to circumvent the sanctions through covert oil smuggling over maritime routes, and to the extent that these attempts widen, the navy will have a more important role in blocking these Iranian actions,” Netanyahu said. “I call on the entire international community to stop Iran’s attempts to circumvent the sanctions by sea, and of course, by any (other) means.” It was not clear how Israel would stop such shipping activities or whether it would risk direct confrontation at sea with Iranian vessels. The Israeli navy, whose largest vessels are missile corvettes and a small submarine fleet, is mostly active in the Mediterranean and Red seas. According to maritime experts, Iranian oil smuggling methods have included changing the names of ships or flag registries, switching off location transponders on ships and conducting ship-to-ship transfers offshore and away from large trade hubs.

The BBC reports that the UK Ministry of Defence has said the RAF killed or injured 4,315 enemy fighters in Iraq and Syria between September 2014 and January this year. Yet the MoD says only one civilian was killed in the airstrikes, according to figures released to the charity Action on Armed Violence (AOAV). Of those harmed, 4,013, or 93%, were killed, and 302, or 7%, were injured. The MoD said its data came from “the best available post-strike analysis” – video and photos taken from the air. The data from the MoD, obtained following a Freedom of Information request from AOAV, says: In Iraq, 2,994 were killed and 235 wounded. In Syria, 1,019 died and 67 were hurt. They were killed by bombing raids from Typhoons (37%) Tornados (31%) and Reapers (32%). But the AOAV, a research charity, says it believes civilian deaths have been under-reported, as 1,000 targets were hit by the RAF during its bombing campaign in the cities of Raqqa and Mosul.

The Guardian  and Independent report that Syrian refugees who fled to Jordan after being tortured and witnessing massacres have submitted dossiers of evidence to the international criminal court in a novel attempt to prosecute President Bashar al-Assad. The Guardian reports that although Syria is not a signatory to the court, based in The Hague, lawyers in London are relying on a precedent set by the ICC in extending jurisdiction to the crime of forcible population transfers. There have been numerous efforts to persuade the ICC to act on allegations that the Assad regime committed war crimes through the use of chemical weapons and the mass murder of detainees. They have all failed so far because prosecutors in The Hague have not accepted they have jurisdiction to act. In May 2014, the UN security Council debated a draft resolution to refer Syria to the ICC. Thirteen of its 15 members voted in favour, but it was vetoed by Russia and China. Assad has dismissed leaked photographs of thousands of numbered corpses taken by a Syrian defector, codenamed Caesar, as “fake news”. The latest submission has been coordinated by the London barrister Rodney Dixon QC, of Temple Garden Chambers, working with solicitors Stoke White. The IICC’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, is being asked to open a case against senior Syrian officials, including Assad, for crimes against humanity committed during the civil war in Syria.

The BBC reports that, according to a US-backed militia, about 400 Islamic State militants have been captured trying to escape the last piece of land the group holds in Syria. A Syrian Democratic Forces commander said the jihadists were caught overnight as they attempted to slip out of Baghuz with the help of smugglers. Hundreds of others have surrendered and been evacuated from the village with thousands of civilians in recent days. It comes after US forces and the SDF stepped up their bombardment of Baghuz. Once the village is taken, the US and its allies are expected to formally declare the end of the “caliphate” proclaimed by IS in 2014.

The Independent reports that Iraq’s president has warned that ISIS still proves a threat to his country. Barham Salih also cautioned that security in his oil-rich, war-ravaged nation remained fragile. At the opening of a security and economy conference on Wednesday in the northern Iraqi city of Sulaymaniyah, Salih said it was “unacceptable” for other countries to use Iraq to settle their scores. “The victory against ISIS was an important one and we cannot downplay it,” Salih said. “But this was a battlefield and military victory. The caliphate has been eliminated. But there are still sleeper cells and extremist groups along the Syrian border,” he added. He concluded: “The danger and the risk of ISIS hasn’t been eliminated.”

The Telegraph reports that hundreds of children in Iraq have been charged with links to terrorism, many of them based on confessions obtained through torture, a human rights group has found. Iraqi and Kurdish authorities are detaining approximately 1,500 children, 158 of whom have been charged with alleged affiliation to Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil), according to a new report by Human Rights Watch. The report claims the prosecutions are often based on dubious accusations and forced admissions. The 52-page report, entitled “Everyone Must Confess’: Abuses against Children Suspected of ISIS Affiliation in Iraq,” criticised what it described as a deeply flawed screening process that often leads to detention and prosecution of children regardless of whether they have any involvement with Isil, or the extent of that involvement.

In the Guardian, professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York, Peter Beinart presents a long read titled: “Debunking the myth that anti-Zionism is antisemitic”. He writes that all over the world, it is an alarming time to be Jewish – but conflating anti-Zionism with Jew-hatred is a tragic mistake.

The Times reports that Labour’s official Jewish affiliate signalled its determination to stay and fight antisemitism within the party last night after a Jewish MP “begged” its members not to quit. The Jewish Labour Movement (JLM) held extraordinary general meetings in London and Manchester to consider whether to disaffiliate from the party it has been formally tied to since 1920. Indicative votes suggested an overwhelming majority present did not want to secede, although a final decision will not be taken until the society’s AGM early next month.

The Times reports that America’s top general in Europe has warned that President Erdogan’s purchase of a Russian missile defence system could jeopardise NATO security and lead to new US sanctions on Turkey. General Curtis Scaparrotti, the head of US forces in Europe, told a Senate hearing that the Russian S-400 system, which Ankara is in the process of buying, cannot be integrated into NATO’s own air defence systems, meaning that it could be used to track the alliance’s own jets. “It presents a problem to our aircraft, but specifically the F-35,” General Scaparrotti said, adding that the sale “puts at risk NATO cohesion and our longstanding and mutually beneficial US-Turkish defence industrial co-operation”. The F-35 fighter jet has been developed by Lockheed Martin with funding from the US government and other NATO allies including Turkey. Ankara has already taken delivery of two of the new F-35s and plans to order up to 100. Congress has blocked the transfer of the remainder until the issue of Turkey’s S-400 purchase is resolved.

Reuters reports that retired General John Abizaid, US President Donald Trump’s nominee to be ambassador to Saudi Arabia, defended the US-Saudi relationship on Wednesday as lawmakers accused the kingdom of a litany of misdeeds and criticised its crown prince as going “full gangster.” Senators at Abizaid’s confirmation hearing including Trump’s fellow Republicans as well as Democrats condemned the kingdom’s conduct in the civil war in Yemen, heavy-handed diplomacy and rights abuses. Among those were the torturing of women’s activists and a US citizen and the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The Times reports that, according to a human rights group, one of Iran’s best-known lawyers has been convicted on a range of charges after defending women who refused to wear headscarves and could face a lengthy jail term. Nasrin Sotoudeh has repeatedly defended women protesters in Iran, and served a previous three-year term. On this occasion she was arrested in June last year after taking up the cases of women who staged several weeks of protests in which they stood in public places and removed the head-scarves that Iranian law demands. She refused to appear in person before the Revolutionary Court where she was arraigned, after she was prevented from appointing her own lawyer to represent her, according to the Centre for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), a US-based pressure group. It has now been informed that she has been convicted, though her husband, Reza Khandan, says that she has not received either the charges for which she was found guilty or the sentence in writing. Mr Khandan himself was sentenced to six years in prison in January.

The Israeli media is dominated by the Central Elections Committee decision to approve the candidacy of Jewish Power representatives Michael Ben-Ari and Itamar Ben-Gvir, to disqualify the Jewish candidate on the Hadash list, Ofer Cassif, and the entire Balad-Raam list, but rejecting the petition to disqualify Hadash-Taal. On Tuesday, the Attorney General advised disqualifying Ben-Ari but allowing the Balad party to run.

Several commentators criticise what they see as a double standard at work in the AG’s recommendations. Writing in Yediot Ahronoth, Ben-Dror Yemini argues that “The attorney general was right in his opinion about Michael Ben-Ari. His racist comments justify his disqualification. But in contrast, his opinion regarding Balad is a masterpiece of legal sophistry.” He adds that: “Disqualifying parties is enshrined in the constitutions of most countries in Europe. An Islamist party in Turkey was disqualified, even though it was a ruling party, and Batasuna, a Basque party in Spain, was disqualified because it refused to condemn terrorism, among other reasons. The European Court of Human Rights upheld the disqualifications, even though the disqualified parties are less extremist than the ones that the High Court of Justice and the attorney general refuse to disqualify in Israel.”

Shlomo Pyuterkovsky in Yediot Ahronoth writes: “If there is a law, then it should be implemented equally and not based on anyone’s ideological preferences. You can’t void one of the grounds for disqualification under the law (denying Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state) and then insist on upholding the other grounds (calling for racism). It justifiably gave the impression of a double standard, and the attorney general came by the attacks on him honestly.” However, Pyuterkovsky argues that: “The entire debate should never have taken place. In the State of Israel, there should not be a law that enables a Knesset list to be disqualified based on the positions of its members, and candidates should not be disqualified. It is the voters who should be able to decide who sits in the Knesset.”

In Maariv, Avishai Grinzaig criticises the Attorney General for recommending disqualifying Jewish Power but not Balad. “We can understand the attorney general’s position not to disqualify Balad based on past precedents of the High Court of Justice and based on the fundamental right to vote and to stand for election. We can also understand the attorney general’s position to consider Ben-Ari’s comments racist that justifies disqualifying him under the law, but the two decisions, made at the same time by the same official, attest to distortion and to discrimination that cry out to heaven.”

In Haaretz, Chemi Shalev writes about Benny Gantz’s party suggesting a: “Party led by three former generals who made their name fighting the enemy on the battlefield and exerting military control over millions of disenfranchised civilians would automatically be stereotyped, in any other context, as militarist, authoritarian and a threat to liberal values. But this is Israel, where three gruff generals who lead a hitherto non-existent party…are the dream team on which most leftists, liberals, peace supporters and human rights activists – not to mention Israeli Druze and Arabs – are pinning their hopes.” He adds that: “Any former chief of staff, never mind three of them together, makes it much harder for Netanyahu to deploy his favourite weapon of maligning his opponents as leftist defeatists en route to treachery, although this hasn’t prevented him from trying.”

Kan Radio and Maariv report on tension in Gaza and southern Israel. The Israeli Air Force attacked several Hamas targets including a Hamas military compound in the southern Gaza Strip in retaliation for firing Katyhusha rockets and explosive balloons into Israel yesterday. No one was reported injured in the Gaza Strip.  A 15-year-old Palestinian sustained critical injuries in clashes on the border with the Gaza Strip yesterday.

Haaretz reports efforts to reach a compromise with Jordan in the Temple Mount Crisis. Kan Radio reports that a temporary solution to the Golden Gate crisis on the Temple Mount appears to have been found. A senior Jordanian official said Israel would authorise the Waqf to bring construction material that was needed for maintenance work and renovations into the compound as part of the deal. He said that there were no disagreements about the need for maintenance and renovations because they were technical matters. The Jordanian official said that worshippers would not be allowed into the Golden Gate compound in any case once the work began.

Kan Radio reports that last night the IDF demolished the home of Asem Barghouti, who carried out a terrorist attack in Givat Assaf approximately three months ago, in the village of Kobar near Ramallah. Two soldiers from the Netzah Yehuda battalion were killed in the attack while guarding the local hitchhiking post.