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Media Summary

UK asks US to lift Iran sanctions to aid coronavirus crisis

BBC News reports that the official death toll in Iran from the coronavirus has risen to 1,135, after 147 new deaths were reported in the past 24 hours. The Guardian reports that the UK is privately pressing the US to ease sanctions on Iran to help it fight the growing coronavirus outbreak, after the Iranian embassy in London appealed for sanctions to be lifted and warned the country’s hospitals were badly overstretched. The Guardian, the Associated Press andReuters report that Iran is to pardon 10,000 prisoners, including political ones, in honour of the Iranian new year on Friday, according to state TV. The Telegraph reports that Britain should help Iran tackle its coronavirus epidemic to build trust in pursuit of the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and other dual nationals jailed by the regime, her husband has said.

The Times and the Financial Times report that crude oil prices fell to their lowest level since 2003 as global over supply deepened with one analyst warning prices could even turn negative, as Saudi Arabia and Russia continued to ramp up production to lower prices. Reuters reports that US senators raised pressure to stop the price war that is sinking global oil prices on Wednesday, as they held talks with the kingdom’s US envoy and separately urged President Trump to impose an embargo on oil from the two countries. The Associated Press reportsthat Saudi Arabia is to cut spending by 5%, or about $13.3 billion, to offset the impact of plunging oil prices and the effects of the new coronavirus on its economic outlook and deficit.

The Independent reports that Israeli surveillance firm NSO, accused by WhatsApp of creating spyware that hacked phones, has developed new technology to map the spread of the coronavirus by tracking patients’ mobile data. Reuters reports that Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday that lockdown orders would be issued unless people stepped up compliance with guidelines urging them to stay at home to help halt the spread of the coronavirus in Israel. The Associated Press reports that Netanyahu is facing growing accusations that he is exploiting the crisis to entrench himself in power and undermine the country’s democratic foundations.

The Telegraph reports that Israeli settlements in the West Bank have expanded rapidly since the beginning of the Trump administration, an activist group has claimed.

The Financial Times reports that the chairman of the Joint List Faction of Arab Parties, Ahmad Tibi, may become part of a Gantz-led coalition government that would remove four-time premier Benjamin Netanyahu.

The Times reports that the new leader of Islamic State was officially named last night as former member of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Amir Mohammed al-Mawlinew, who led the torture and slaughter of thousands of Yazidis.

The Guardian reports that Egyptian security forces arrested the Booker-shortlisted novelist Ahdaf Soueif and three other women after they staged a protest demanding the release of prisoners over fears of a coronavirus outbreak in the country’s overcrowded jails.

The Independent reports that coronavirus-induced isolation and lockdowns are putting LGBT+ people in the Middle East at risk, campaigners have warned, as government measures to combat the pandemic compromise access to private or safe spaces.

In the Financial Times, David Gardner says the coming weeks may finally spell the ‘end of the road’ for Benjamin Netanyahu, as Benny Gantz and the Arab Joint List try to construct a governing coalition.

In The Times, Anshel Pfeffer writes that coronavirus has thwarted ‘fevered attempts to take power in Israel’, as Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud party continue to use the crisis as an ‘excuse’ to cling to power.

In The Times, Bob Palmer writes that many oil firms are in a ‘precarious state’ heading into the Saudi/Russian-driven crisis, after many companies ‘streamlined’ operations after the price crash of 2014.

The Israeli media reports that 592 people now have the coronavirus with six in a serious condition. Immigration Authorities have announced that travellers who are not citizens or residents will not be able to enter Israel. Exceptions will be made for those whose lives are based in Israel. Internal Security Minister Gilad Erdan predicted that the country was heading towards a “full shutdown” warning “this is an inevitable decision.”

The Israeli media report implementation of the mass surveillance technology used to trace the movements of coronavirus carriers. Yesterday, 400 people received a text message to say that they came into contact with an infected person and must self-quarantine. The electronic tracking program, which is based on Shin Bet security service technology used for tracking terror suspects has faced harsh criticism, including by political leaders, and its legality is currently being challenged in the High Court. The Shin Bet Director clarified that the information will be provided directly and exclusively to the Health authorities, who will be the only ones using the information in order to save lives.

Israel Hayom reports cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) to limit the spread of coronavirus. A joint headquarters has been set up to combat the virus. According to PA government spokesman Ibrahim Milhem “Our shared borders and relations do not leave room for hesitation over the need to take severe measures and cooperate on the highest levels to prevent the spread of the virus”. The PA said that there are 44 confirmed cases in the West Bank. Three new cases were discovered near Bethlehem prompting the Palestinian security forces to impose a curfew on the town. Also on Wednesday, Israel imposed a closure on the West Bank as part of the effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus. However, 70,000 Palestinians who have work permits in Israel have been allowed to remain and work inside Israel for the next two months.