Turkish President shows film of New Zealand Mosque shootings at election rally
On the BBC, Yolande Knell writes that economic protests in Gaza are exposing cracks in the rule of Hamas. In Gaza, says Knell, it is no surprise to hear complaints about the terrible living conditions – after all, the World Bank describes a local economy in “free fall” with 70 per cent unemployment among young people. Knell argues that what has been extraordinary in recent days is that large crowds of Palestinians have been turning out on the streets to voice their frustration and even criticise Hamas – the militant Islamist group which rules the strip with an iron fist. Messages by the 14th March Movement – which has the slogan “We want to live” – began to appear on social media last week. “It’s a peaceful, popular youth movement,” says Moumen al-Natour, one of the organisers, in his Facebook message. “We’re not political and we don’t want to change political systems. We just want to get our rights. We want jobs, we want to live. We want equality, dignity and freedom”. On Thursday and the days since, hundreds of demonstrators have turned out in nine locations in Gaza’s city centres and refugee camps.
The Telegraph reports that Hamas has arrested dozens of people and left many with serious injuries as its riot police crackdown on the largest protests against the group in Gaza in years. Hundreds of Palestinians took to the streets for four consecutive days to protest the high cost of living and the disastrous economic situation inside Gaza. Demonstrators chanted: “We want to live” and shared the slogan on social media. Hamas police armed with batons attacked demonstrators in several cities and chased protesters into their homes to arrest them. Several online videos appeared to show officers clubbing unarmed protesters. Security forces also fired live rounds into the air to scatter the crowds.
In the Guardian, Ian Black writes about: “Why Israel is quietly cosying up to Gulf monarchies”. After decades of hostility, says Black, a shared hatred of Iran – and a mutual fondness for Trump – is bringing Israel’s secret links with Gulf kingdoms out into the open. Black concludes that the attitudes of Gulf governments have clearly changed. But the bottom line, he writes, is that Israel has failed to provide the incentives required for the Saudis and their allies to come out of the closet, to allow them to reconcile geopolitical logic with popular sentiment, because it has not offered anything approaching an acceptable deal for the Palestinians.
Reuters reports that on Monday, UN war crimes investigators called on Israel to stop its snipers using lethal force against protesters on the border with Gaza, as the anniversary approached of the start of demonstrations there last year in which 189 Palestinians were killed. The Commission of Inquiry said Israel should investigate the shooting of more than 6,000 people, far beyond the criminal inquiries it has announced into 11 killings. “The most important thing for the government of Israel is to review the rules of engagement immediately and to ensure that the rules of engagement are according to accepted international law standards,” the Commission’s chairman Santiago Canton told the Human Rights Council. Israel says the UN council is biased, and it boycotted the day-long debate, while hundreds of Israel supporters rallied outside the United Nations in Geneva, including senior US officials.
The BBC reports on the death of two Israelis after an attack by a Palestinian man in the West Bank on Sunday. The military said a man stabbed to death a soldier at an intersection near the Jewish settlement of Ariel before stealing his rifle and shooting a civilian and another soldier. The civilian died of his injuries on Monday while the second soldier remains in a serious condition in hospital. Israeli forces are searching for the attacker, who fled the scene in a car. Roadblocks have been set up around several nearby Palestinian villages and settlements have been told to keep their gates closed.
Reuters reports that on Monday, Iran and Syria demanded the United States withdraw its troops from Syria, and the Damascus government threatened to defeat Washington’s Kurdish allies by force if they did not submit to the return of state authority. The Iranian and Syrian military chiefs were speaking after a meeting in Damascus that also included their Iraqi counterpart, who gave a political boost to President Bashar al-Assad and Tehran by announcing the Syrian border would soon be reopened. Their remarks point to the risks of a new escalation in Syria after the defeat of Islamic State, with Assad seeking to retake the two major territories outside his control, and the United States working to curb Iranian influence. Standing alongside his Iraqi and Syrian counterparts on live television, Iran’s armed forces Chief of Staff Major General Mohammad Baqeri said the three countries were “united against terrorism” and coordinating at a high level. “The only card remaining in the hands of the Americans and their allies is the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), and it will be dealt with through the two methods used by the Syrian state: national reconciliation or the liberation of the areas that they control through force,” Syrian Defence Minister General Ali Abdullah Ayoub said.
The Guardian reports that an estimated 7,000 women and children from more than 40 nations, including the US, UK, Australia and Europe, are living in tense and chaotic conditions in camps in north-eastern Syria, where they are “not wanted” due to their supposed affiliation with Islamic State. Among them are hundreds of unaccompanied or separated children, some just babies as young as five months, according to aid groups and other sources. To ease potential tension among the many groups, the foreign nationals – hailing from countries as varied as Indonesia, Kyrgyzstan, Somalia and Trinidad and Tobago – have been segregated into separate annexes in two of the three camps, which include Ain Issa, al-Roj and the severely overcrowded al-Hawl centre, where Shamima Begum’s baby son died just under a fortnight ago. “The message that they are not wanted is growing stronger,” said UNICEF’s regional director for the Middle East, Geert Cappelaere. “They are not wanted in the camp. They are often not wanted in their countries of origin, still waiting for third countries to come forward and offer resettlement.”
Reuters reports that US-backed fighters besieging the last shred of Islamic State territory in eastern Syria said on Tuesday they had captured 157 mostly foreign fighters as they tracked efforts by jihadists to escape the enclave. “Our units monitored a group of terrorists, trailed them and captured 157 fully militarily equipped terrorists,” a statement by the SDF militia said.
In the Financial Times, Laura Pitel reports on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s struggle to lift flagging business in Turkey. The country is in recession, says Pitel, but with banks loath to lend and bankruptcies on the rise the president has few options.
The Times reports that Turkey’s President Erdogan has played footage of the New Zealand mosque massacre at election rallies that are broadcast live on television. The Turkish leader, whose AK Party is battling to keep control of the country’s big cities in local elections on March 31, showed the attacker’s video on big screens during rallies in Istanbul and the nearby city of Tekirdag on Sunday. They included moments when the shooter fired on worshippers at the al-Noor and Linwood mosques in Christchurch. At least 50 people were killed in the attack and three Turks were among the wounded.“We hear about attacks targeting our citizens and their foundations, mosques and businesses in Europe on a daily basis,” Erdogan told supporters. “They target Turkey because they see us — with our history, civilisation, culture and faith — as a representative of all the values they attack.”
The BBC and the Times report that Italy’s La Scala opera house is to return more than €3 million (£2.5m) to Saudi Arabia after a funding plan with the kingdom triggered a public backlash. The BBC reports that the deal would have allowed the Saudi culture minister a seat on the board. Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is under close scrutiny after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October. The partnership plan was criticised by rights groups and politicians. “We have unanimously decided to return the money,” opera house president Giuseppe Sala, who is also the mayor of Milan, told reporters after a board meeting on Monday. He added: “We’ll go back to scratch today. We’ll see if there are other opportunities for collaboration.”
The Guardian and Independent report that Yemen is continuing to experience a steady stream of violence, claiming at least one life every eight hours – despite the agreements reached between the internationally recognised government and the Houthis at talks in Sweden just over three months ago. The Guardian reports that according to figures compiled by two international aid agencies, in some areas of the country the number of casualties, far from falling, had doubled where the conflict was flaring up. Figures show three people have died in Yemen every day since the agreements were signed in mid-December. More than 231 civilians have been killed across the country, by airstrikes, shelling, snipers or landmines. A third of those fatalities were in Hodeidah governorate, despite the ceasefire there – 56 of those were children. According to figures collected by the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), civilian casualties in Hajjah and Taiz alone have more than doubled since the Hodeidah ceasefire and Stockholm agreement came into effect, with 164 and 184 people killed in each city respectively.
The Times reports that vandals have desecrated a new Holocaust memorial in Greece, the latest incident in a spate of antisemitic attacks in a country that had one of the largest and longest enduring Jewish populations. The memorial in Trikala, central Greece, was erected four months ago to commemorate 50 local Jews who died in Auschwitz. It was spray painted last weekend, days after municipal workers had cleaned up graffiti from an attack late last month. The World Jewish Congress condemned the attack and said that repeated targeting of Jewish monuments in Greece had become worrying. Data released by Greece’s leading Jewish council yesterday showed a near fourfold increase since 2016, when four attacks were reported.
In the Israeli media Yediot Ahronoth, Maariv, Haaretz and Israel Hayom report the funeral of father of 12, Rabbi Ahiad Ettinger, who was killed on Sunday in a shooting attack in the West Bank.
Haaretz and Israel Hayom report that the court is to hold another hearing to consider Benjamin Netanyahu’s request to allow donations to fund his legal defence while Yediot Ahronoth, Maariv and Haaretz comment on new details relating to Case 3000. Prime Minister Netanyahu admitted to making 16 million shekels in 2010 from selling his stocks in a company called SeaDrift. That company belonged to his uncle Nathan Milikowsky and made millions providing steel components to none other than ThyssenKrupp, which has in turn made billions from manufacturing Dolphin submarines for Israel.
Kan Radio reports that Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz said that if he became prime minister, he would form a state commission of inquiry into the submarine procurements affair and the allegations of corruption. Moshe Yaalon, who was Defence Minister when the deal was approved, said it was incumbent upon the Prime Minister to explain what happened when he decided to increase the number of submarines and why he signed a contract with the German Chancellor when no one in the Navy had demanded it.
In Yediot Ahronoth, Nahum Barnea argues that while Gantz and his colleagues have not found the smoking gun that entangles Netanyahu in the naval vessels affair: “The naval vessels affair enables them to dictate the agenda, not just react to Netanyahu’s initiatives; and the main thing is, they realise that calling attention to this subject embarrasses Netanyahu. Most likely no voters will shift their vote to them because of this affair, but sometimes, even a political rival’s embarrassment is something to cling to.” Barnea continues with a series of weighty questions regarding the affair: “Is the NIS 16 million that Netanyahu received in exchange for his shares in the company that did business with the German shipyard related to his decisions in the naval vessels affair? Why did Netanyahu hide the shares deal, which was made when he served as opposition leader, from the public? Why did he want to enlarge the submarine fleet beyond five, the number that the IDF General Staff, the Israel Navy and the National Security Council said was needed? Why did he switch from procuring the ships from South Korea, which were meant to protect the natural gas fields, to the German shipyard? Why did he do this behind the defence minister’s back? Why did he decide to procure anti-submarine ships, contrary to the security establishment’s understanding of what was needed? This purchase was shot down by the defence minister, Yaalon. Why did he give the go-ahead for Germany to build submarines for Egypt whose quality was close to that of the submarines being built for Israel, and why did he deny that he did this? Whether it is possible that the person closest to him, attorney David Shimron, was working for ThyssenKrupp, the German shipyard, and using his influence to arrange a generous contract for it for maintenance of the naval vessels?”
Also in Yediot Ahronoth, Alex Fishman argues that new developments in Case 3000 – that Amos Gilad testified that it was the Prime Minister who personally gave Germany the go-ahead to sell advanced submarines to Egypt; and that Netanyahu held shares with his cousin in the steel company that was sold to ThyssenKrupp – must be investigated. “The possibility that the Prime Minister of Israel acted at the very least in a conflict of interests in procurement deals that have an impact on national security is troubling.”
Kan Radio reports that IDF troops arrested several unarmed Palestinians who crossed the fence in the southern Gaza Strip yesterday. They were taken for questioning by the security forces. The security officer for the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council, Eyal Hajbi, said that the terrorist hotspots and bombs had multiplied. He said that Hamas had ordered the Palestinians after the demonstrations in Gaza to concentrate their efforts on March 30, the anniversary of the start of the riots.
Israel Hayom reports on recordings aired from Benny Gantz who said that he hasn’t ruled out forming a Government with Netanyahu.
Yediot Ahronoth reports that against the backdrop of Michael Ben-Ari’s disqualification by the Supreme Court, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked presented her “100 days plan,” and fiercely attacked the legal establishment, prompting a public and political uproar. Shaked said that if she were to continue as justice minister, she intended to make drastic changes, among them: abolishing the Judges Selection Committee, holding a public hearing for candidates to the Supreme Court, passing the override clause in its full format, letting ministers represent themselves in court (even if their legal advisers are opposed) and passing the legal advisers bill. “The High Court of Justice carried out a revolution, it made the elections almost meaningless, the people were replaced by ‘the enlightened public,’” Shaked accused. Yesterday the New Right put up posters facing the Supreme Court building that read, “Shaked will defeat the High Court of Justice. Bennett will defeat Hamas.” Opposition Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich of the Labour Party condemned Shaked, saying: “Her anarchistic and irresponsible plan is not meant to influence the legal establishment but rather to erase it entirely.”
Maariv reports that in a last-minute bid to enable Michael Ben-Ari to run in the elections, National Union Chairman Bezalel Smotrich is calling for a special Knesset recess session to pass an amendment to the law that will make it possible to retroactively overturn Ben-Ari’s disqualification by the Supreme Court. The idea is to abolish section 7A of Basic Law: Knesset that makes it possible to disqualify candidates if their actions, goals and comments reject Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state, if they incite to racism and if they support armed struggle against the State of Israel. Political sources said yesterday that the chances of this happening were “very slim to negligible.”