Saudi Arabia preparing to release female activists
The Guardian and Independent report that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that Israel is “not a state of all its citizens”, in a reference to the country’s Arab population. The Guardian reports that in comments on Instagram, the Prime Minister said all citizens, including Arabs, had equal rights, but he referred to a deeply controversial law passed last year declaring Israel the nation state of the Jewish people. “Israel is not a state of all its citizens,” he wrote in response to criticism from an Israeli TV presenter, Rotem Sela. “According to the basic nationality law we passed, Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people – and only it. “As you wrote, there is no problem with the Arab citizens of Israel. They have equal rights like all of us and the Likud government has invested more in the Arab sector than any other government,” he said of his right wing party. As the comments caused waves in Israel, Netanyahu again spoke of the issue at the start of a cabinet meeting. He called Israel a “Jewish, democratic state” with equal rights, but “the nation state not of all its citizens but only of the Jewish people”. Netanyahu has been accused of demonising Israeli Arabs, who make up about 17 per cent of the population, in an attempt to boost right wing turnout in elections due on 9 April.
In the Telegraph, Raf Sanchez writes that former IDF chief Benny Gantz is silently rising in the polls as Benjamin Netanyahu “destroys himself”.
The Independent reports that Netanyahu’s tactical fear-mongering campaign against Israeli opposition is drawing accusations of incitement. Ahead of 9 April elections, Netanyahu has zoned in on prominent Arab lawmaker Ahmad Tibi. The Israeli leader, slumping in the polls after the dramatic announcement of his pending corruption indictment, is portraying Tibi as a threat to national security in a charged campaign that critics say questions the loyalty of the country’s Arab citizens. Using his own nickname, Netanyahu has been repeating a campaign mantra: “Bibi or Tibi.” The snappy slogan, eagerly parroted by his hard-line allies, highlights Netanyahu’s efforts to paint his challengers as weak “leftists” conspiring with Arab Israelis and a hostile media to oust him. Tibi said he is concerned about what he views as Netanyahu’s attempt to demonise Israel’s Arab minority. “He is delegitimising the Arab parties, the Arab lawmakers and the Arab public in general,” he said. He added: “He’s trying to transmit that it is either me, the supposed patriotic Jewish leader, or the Arabs will take over the country and decide who will be the prime minister. And he portrays this as a nightmare.”
Reuters reports that economist Mohammed Shtayyeh, a member of the West Bank’s dominant Fatah party, was named Palestinian Prime Minister on Sunday in what the rival Hamas group that runs Gaza called a blow to unity efforts. The appointment was announced six weeks after Rami al-Hamdallah tendered his resignation from the post and the resignation of his unity government to President Mahmoud Abbas, underscoring the failure of Hamas and Fatah to implement a power-sharing deal. Speaking to Palestine Television, Shtayyeh said he would immediately begin consultations with factions belonging to the Palestine Liberation Organisation, which Abbas heads, on forming a new cabinet.
The BBC, Times and Guardian report that the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) have launched another assault on the Islamic State group’s last enclave in Syria. The BBC reports that the head of the SDF media office, Mustafa Bali, tweeted to say their troops were in “direct violent clashes”. Islamic State militants are centred in the town of Baghuz in eastern Syria. 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.
On BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme, Mishal Hussein presented the programme live from Lebanon in a refugee camp close to the Syrian border.
The BBC reports that UK Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt has said, it was too dangerous to send British officials to rescue Shamima Begum’s baby son in Syria. The child died in a refugee camp after his mother, who joined ISIS in 2015, was stripped of UK citizenship. The boy was a UK citizen – but Hunt told the BBC that any rescuers’ lives would have been at risk in the camp. “The mother chose to leave a free country to join a terrorist organisation,” he said. Speaking on The Andrew Marr Show, the Foreign Secretary confirmed that Jarrah, who was three weeks old, was a British citizen even though his mother was not. But he said that – although several journalists had reached the camp and spoken to Ms Begum: “We have to think about the safety of the British officials that I would send into that warzone. Shamima knew when she made the decision to join Daesh, she was going into a country where there was no embassy, there was no consular assistance, and I’m afraid those decisions, awful though it is, they do have consequences,” he said.
The Times and the Guardian report that Jeremy Hunt said that the government is now looking at ways of bringing the children of British fighters in Syria back to the UK. The Times reports that Hunt said he was working with Penny Mordaunt, the International Development Secretary, on how children could be safely returned. “We have been looking at how we can get in touch with these children, how we can find a way to get them out”. With regards to the case of Shamima Begum’s child, Hunt said that “sadly in this case, it wasn’t possible.”
The Telegraph reports that a former Irish soldier who once worked on the official plane of the Irish Taoiseach has been captured by US-backed forces in Syria under suspicion of joining ISIS. Lisa Smith, a 37-year-old woman from Dundalk, was a member of the Irish Defence Force until 2011 but quit after converting to Islam and then moved to Syria in 2015 following the collapse of her marriage, according to Irish media reports. She is reported to have been detained along with her two-year-old son by forces in northern Syria in recent days as US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces close in on the last scraps of territory held by the Islamic State. Members of Ms Smith’s family told the Irish Independent newspaper that Ms Smith had got in touch last month asking for money to aid her escape to Turkey, prompting them to reach out to the Irish government for help. “I just want to get her home,” the relative said.
Reuters reports that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani sharply criticised US military intervention in the Middle East on Monday as he began a first official visit to Iraq, aimed at shoring up Tehran’s influence and expanding trade ties. The visit also sends a strong message to Washington and its regional allies that, in the face of US sanctions, Iran still plays a dominant role in Iraqi politics. Prior to his departure, Rouhani said Shi’ite Iran was determined to strengthen brotherly ties with its neighbour, Iranian state television reported on Monday. Those ties “cannot be compared to Iraq’s relations with an occupying country like America, which is being hated in the region,” the semi-official Mehr news agency quoted him as saying before he left. During the three-day visit a series of agreements will be signed in energy, transport, agriculture, industry and health, Iran’s state news agency IRNA said. “We are very much interested to expand our ties … particularly our transport cooperation,” Rouhani said at Tehran’s Mehrabad airport.
The Times reports that authorities in Saudi Arabia are believed to be preparing to release some or all of the female activists they have detained since May, as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman seeks to salvage his international reputation. At least two women have been made to sign applications for a pardon before court hearings into their cases, the brother of one of them has disclosed. The Times has also learnt that Jeremy Hunt was told to expect “good news soon” when he raised their cases on a visit to Riyadh at the beginning of this month. “What happened is very unusual,” said Walid al-Hathloul, brother of Loujain al-Hathloul, who was one of the most prominent campaigners for women’s right to drive. “But there are some signs they are going to release her.” Ms Hathloul, 29, was one of a number of campaigners, ranging from young professionals to veteran academics, arrested in May last year, a month before the decision to drop the ban came into effect.
The Guardian reports that an attempt to smuggle a Babylonian treasure into Britain has been foiled after it was seized at Heathrow airport. The inscribed cuneiform stone antiquity, which is about 30cm high, had been looted from Iraq. Dating from the second millennium BC, it is worthy of the world’s greatest museums and valued at hundreds of thousands of pounds. A Border Force officer’s suspicions were raised by a declaration that the cargo contained a “carved stone for home decoration” made in Turkey and valued at “300” in an unspecified currency.
The Times reports that Kosovan intelligence services illegally extradited six Turkish citizens on orders that were likely to have come directly from President Erdogan of Turkey through President Thaci. An investigation by a Kosovan parliamentary committee has revealed the extent of Erdogan’s pursuit of political opponents overseas, and how Ankara used a security agency that acted without the knowledge of Ramush Haradinaj, the Kosovan Prime Minister. The Turkish men were legally resident in Kosovo when they were arrested one year ago. They were immediately extradited to Turkey, where they have been imprisoned in the notorious Silivri prison outside Istanbul. Five are linked to the Gulen movement, a religious network that Erdogan believes was behind the unsuccessful coup attempt in July 2016. The sixth was wrongly arrested in a case of mistaken identity, but was deported even though the Kosovan security services knew that they had the wrong man. Pakistan, Azerbaijan, Senegal and Mongolia are among 21 states that have answered Mr Erdogan’s calls to deport suspected Gulenists to Turkey.
All the Israeli media report the exchange on Instagram between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Rotem Sela. Ben Caspit in Maariv argues that: “The Likud has turned the Arab Israelis into a whip that is supposed to spur the Knesset seats into galloping back to the place they came from: Bibi’s bathtub. But it turns out that there are still some people here who have a hard time hearing that.” He adds that: “The average Israeli encounters Arab Israelis nearly everywhere—in pharmacies, garages, hospitals, shopping malls, open-air markets, university campuses and restaurants. Most of those encounters are positive. There is a lot more coexistence here than seems to us. It is a far cry from what our politicians—and theirs—like to present. Fortunately, there are still people here who have a hard time with the collective, organised, systematic exclusion of those people who live with us and among us from the circle of legitimacy.”
Kan Radio reports that a Gaza Health Ministry spokesperson said that a Palestinian man who was injured in the head by tear gas that was fired by IDF soldiers in the weekly protest demonstrations on the border fence has died of his injuries. The man was injured three weeks ago in clashes east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. Discussing events in Gaza, Amos Harel in Haaretz writes that: “Israel’s rhetoric is hardline, but its actions less so. The comparatively few Palestinian casualties at the past few Friday demonstrations along the Gaza-Israel border are further evidence of the Israel Defence Forces’ increasing restraint. This restraint is meant to prevent escalation. But Netanyahu’s public warning is meant to ensure that Hamas doesn’t interpret Israel’s caution as license to run wild, which would ultimately provoke a harsher Israeli response that could lead to war.”
Israel Hayom claims that senior sources in the Palestinian Authority said the Palestinian leadership would prefer Gantz and the Blue and White Party rather than another term in office for Benjamin Netanyahu. Another senior Palestinian leader confirmed that the clear conclusion that had been reached at a recent situation assessment meeting that was held in Abu Mazen’s office in Ramallah and which was attended by the rais himself, was that Ramallah would prefer if the party headed by Gantz and Lapid were to be the next governing party in Israel, “despite the fact that they aren’t Meretz and Peace Now’s leaders”.
Maariv reports that the Yisrael Beiteinu Party intends to petition the Central Elections Committee against polls that do not include his party as one of the options. The public was recently inundated with messages inviting them to take part in an election poll that does not give Yisrael Beiteinu as one of the options. Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman is dismissive of today’s polls, which indicate that his party is hovering near the electoral threshold. He has repeatedly argued that many polls are conducted online and that their results are misleading because they fail to sample people who don’t use the internet. He also says that the polls on cell phones allow respondents to choose all the parties except Yisrael Beiteinu. In a statement the party said: “The exclusion of the party from the poll paints a distorted picture for potential voters and that is why we will submit a petition. Yisrael Beiteinu is demanding the Central Elections Committee intervene in this activity, which distorts transparency, and that it ban polls that do not show all the parties.”
Haaretz publishes a feature on Moshe Feiglin, whose party, Zehut, is described as: “The Jewish Supremacist, pro-marijuana party tipped to be in Israel’s next parliament. Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut party combines libertarian, free-market sentiments with a religious settler ethos. It’s a vision that imagines a ‘biblical Wild West in the Middle East’ — and is proving popular with both extremists and hipsters”.
Yediot Ahronoth, Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post write that IDF Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, has dismissed five officers in the Paratroopers Brigade, including a battalion commander, after a soldier drowned on a night time training exercise in January. Kochavi has also cancelled the upcoming appointment of the deputy commander of the 35th Brigade and has dismissed an additional four commanders.
I24 news reports that an Israeli military court on Sunday agreed a plea bargain for three IDF soldiers from an ultra-Orthodox battalion convicted last week of beating two Palestinian prisoners. They were formally charged on Thursday with aggravated assault, which is likely to result in 190 days in prison, a demotion in military rank and probation. The IDF said last month that five soldiers from the IDF’s ‘Netzah Yehuda’ unit stand accused of “striking the Palestinians with slaps, punches and bludgeons while they were handcuffed and blindfolded, causing them serious injuries.”