US tells UK to repatriate and prosecute ISIS fighters
The BBC and Guardian report that the head of Sunni Islam’s highest seat of learning has urged the Middle East’s Muslims to “embrace” local Christians. Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, the grand imam of al-Azhar in Egypt, told an interfaith meeting in Abu Dhabi attended by Pope Francis that Christians were “our companions”. He also called on Muslims in the West to integrate into their communities while maintaining their identities. In his speech, Pope Francis called for a halt to wars in the Middle East. The head of the Roman Catholic Church, who is on his first official visit to the Arabian peninsula, said the “fateful consequences” of violence could be seen in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and Libya. Sheikh Ahmed and Pope Francis addressed a gathering of religious representatives at the Abu Dhabi Founder’s Memorial on Monday night after signing a “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together”. The document calls on leaders of the world to work together to “spread the culture of tolerance” and to “intervene at the earliest opportunity to stop the shedding of innocent blood and bring an end to wars, conflicts, environmental decay and the moral and cultural decline the world is presently experiencing”. It also includes a strong condemnation of those using God’s name to justify violence. “God, the Almighty, has no need to be defended by anyone and does not want His name to be used to terrorise people,” it states.
In the Times, Richard Spencer reports on the Pope’s historic visit to the UAE. The Pope will today preside over a Mass for 135,000 people in the Sheikh Zayed stadium, Abu Dhabi, the first display of public Christian worship there. Activists have criticised the Vatican over the visit, accusing it of “popewashing” the UAE’s record on human rights. In a letter to the Pope, Human Rights Watch pointed to the jailing of academics for “peaceful criticism” and criticised the UAE’s role in Yemen.
The Telegraph reports that the US has called on countries like Britain to bring home and prosecute citizens suspected of fighting for ISIS as pressure grows to deal with captured foreign fighters before American troops leave Syria. Around 2,000 jihadists are being held in prisons across northern Syria by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Kurdish-led fighting group which has pushed ISIS back with the help of Western airpower. Among them are two British members of “The Beatles” squad, who murdered several Western hostages on camera, as well as at least other four other British men and seven women. Around 12 British children are also being held. In a statement released on Monday, the US State Department said countries had a responsibility to take their citizens out of SDF custody and bring them home to stand trial. “The US calls upon other nations to repatriate and prosecute their citizens detained by the SDF and commends the continued efforts of the SDF to return these foreign terrorist fighters to their countries of origin,” the statement said.
The BBC and Guardian report that Iraq’s President Barham Saleh has rebuked Donald Trump over his comments that he wanted to maintain a US military presence there to watch Iran. The BBC reports that Trump told CBS on Sunday he intended to keep an “incredible” base being used by US troops to combat ISIS “because I want to be looking a little bit at Iran”. Saleh said on Monday that the US had not asked Iraq’s permission to do so. “It should stick to fighting terrorism and not pursue other agendas”, he added. There are an estimated 5,000 US military personnel in Iraq authorised to train, advise and assist Iraqi security forces in their fight against ISIS, which has not fully controlled any territory in the country for more than a year.
Reuters reports that the Republican-led US Senate backed largely symbolic legislation on Monday that broke with President Trump by opposing plans for any abrupt withdrawal of troops from Syria and Afghanistan. The Senate voted 70-26 in favour of a non-binding amendment, drafted by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, saying it was the sense of the Senate that Islamist militant groups in both countries still pose a “serious threat” to the US. The amendment acknowledged progress against ISIS and al Qaeda in Syria and Afghanistan but warned that “a precipitous withdrawal” could destabilise the region and create a vacuum that could be filled by Iran or Russia. It called on the Trump administration to certify conditions had been met for the groups’ “enduring defeat” before any significant withdrawal from Syria or Afghanistan. Before the vote, McConnell said he introduced the bill so the Senate could “speak clearly and directly about the importance of the” missions in Afghanistan and Syria. Passage was expected, after the Senate voted to advance it in a procedural vote last week. After concerns from some Democrats, the Senate approved a change to the bill making it clear the amendment was not intended to be a declaration of war or authorisation to use military force. The vote added the amendment to a broader Middle East security bill making its way through Congress. The Senate voted 72-24 to advance the broader bill in a procedural vote on Monday after the amendment vote. To become law, however, the bill would need to pass the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, where it is unlikely to move without significant changes because of concerns about a provision addressing the “Boycott, Divest and Sanction” movement concerned with Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
The Daily Mail reports that nearly 100 Ethiopian Jews landed in Israel on Monday in the first wave of new immigration since the Government said last year that it would let some of the 8,000 remaining community members join relatives in Israel. Local Ethiopian community members welcomed the newcomers after years of delays. Israel recognises the community’s Jewish roots but does not consider them fully Jewish, so they require special approval to immigrate that has not always been forthcoming.
Reuters reports that Iran has dismissed EU criticism of its missile programme, regional policies and human rights record on Tuesday, highlighting their increasingly testy relationship as both sides seek to salvage a troubled nuclear deal. Iran’s comments came a day after the bloc criticised the Islamic Republic’s ballistic missile tests and expressed concern at Iran’s role in growing Middle East tensions. The EU has promised to abide by the 2015 nuclear deal under which Iran agreed to limit its atomic work in exchange for sanctions relief, even after US President Donald Trump abandoned the accord because it did not cover Iranian military activities.
All the Israeli media report ahead of the Likud primary elections being held today. Former minister Gidon Saar is the focus of attention after he gave interviews last night to both Channel 12 and Channel 13, where he accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of “twice manufactured and spread a false libel. One time at his birthday party, and a second time at the party inaugurating the Likud’s studio. That was manufactured in order to attack me on the eve of the primary… A persecution campaign has been waged against me for two years.”
Maariv notes the response on Facebook by the Prime Minister’s son, Yair Netanyahu, who wrote: “Dear Likudniks! I remind you that my father warned against Ruby Rivlin and no one on the right understood why, and in the end it turned out that he was right. It’s no coincidence that Channels 12, 13 and all the rest of the left wing media praise and extol Gidon Saar. They know who’s on their side. Rubi Rivlin is only waiting until after the elections in order to refuse to assign my father the task of forming the government, even if the Likud wins, and instead to assign the [task of] forming the government to his good friend, Gidon Saar. We won’t let them!” Saar said last night: “I feel sad about that young man. I won’t get into a debate with the prime minister’s son. I trust that the Likud members won’t vote in keeping with dictates. I trust their judgment.” The paper notes Saar took pains to continue to voice his support for him. “The prime minister is the Likud’s candidate for prime minister and I stand behind him, as I always have,” said Saar. “I will recommend to the president to task only Benjamin Netanyahu with forming the government. Only if I am elected by a majority of the Likud members will I form the government. Until that happens, I am a loyal soldier of the Likud and the Likud’s path, which is above personal issues.” Yediot Ahronot notes: “We thought we’d already seen everything in the Likud’s internal races, but this really is without precedent… A targeted killing operation at high noon in front of 120,000 eyewitnesses, the very same registered Likud members who are going to decide at the polling stations today whether they buy the prime minister’s allegations about a plot that was hatched by Saar, or whether they reject them.”
Maariv follows Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid on the campaign trail. Lapid gave a speech at a Movement for Quality Government conference, where he said: “Netanyahu wants to be in power in order to be saved from the investigations. From his perspective, if he isn’t in power, he’s going to end up in prison. What’s truly important isn’t Netanyahu, me or Gantz. What’s truly important is that the government spend less on itself and more on daycare centres and on the self-employed. What’s really important is that the government not cause good Israelis to hate one another. We aren’t like that. We’re here together. We must not be silent in the face of incitement; we must not be silent in the face of corruption. We need to stand up to it with a knife between our teeth.”
Haaretz includes a poll that shows, a week after Benny Gantz’s maiden speech swept the centre-left away and sent the new candidate soaring in the polls, the “Gantz effect” seems not to be fading, but neither is it gathering speed. The Haaretz poll predicts that Likud will win 30 seats, Israel Resilience 22 seats, Yesh Atid nine seats, New Right seven seats, Joint List seven seats, Jewish Home six seats, United Torah Judaism six seats, Labour five seats, Arab Renewal five seats, Shas five seats, Kulanu five seats, Yisrael Betainu five seats, Meretz four seats, and Gesher four seats.
Yediot Ahronot includes a poll that was conducted after the Druze protest against the Nation-State Law. It concludes that more than 50 per cent of the Jewish public in Israel is opposed to the law or thinks that it should be amended. The poll also finds that 75.2 per cent of the Jewish public thinks that civilian equality must be enshrined in a basic law; 42.6 per cent believe that this should be within the framework of the current Nation-State Law and that it should be amended; 32.6 per cent think that civilian equality must be enshrined in the framework of a separate law. Only 10 per cent of the public think that civilian equality should not be enshrined in law, and 52.7 per cent said that the words “democracy and equal rights for all citizens of the state” should be added to the current law. Just slightly more than one-fifth of the public, 22.4 per cent, is opposed to adding these words. About 25 per cent of respondents said that they had no definitive position on the subject. The poll further shows that 61 per cent of the Jewish public in Israel believes that the democratic nature of the state should be the on the same level as its Jewish identity.
Kan radio news reports that Israeli soldiers deployed at the Jalame roadblock near Jenin last night shot dead a Palestinian assailant who threw explosive charges at them. Another assailant sustained moderate injuries. No soldiers were hurt.
Haaretz report that around 80 members of the Falash mura community arrived in Israel from Ethiopia last night. The Government decided last October to allow a total of 1,000 Falash mura into Israel, out of a total of 8,000 who are waiting to make Aliyah. The Falash mura are descendants of Ethiopian Jews who converted to Christianity, often under duress, centuries ago, and identify as Jews. This is the first group of immigrants to arrive in Israel as a result of the cabinet decision to bring 1,000 of those still waiting in Addis Ababa and the Gondar provinces in Ethiopia. Dozens of the arrivals are the parents and siblings of Ethiopian immigrants already living in Israel.