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Media Summary

Abbas postpones Palestinian elections

BBC News, The Telegraph, The Independent, The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times and The Associated Press report on the stampede that left at least 44 people dead in Israel. Tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews were gathered to attend a religious festival at the foot of Mount Meron in north-east Israel.

BBC News and The Associated Press report that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas announced that the Palestinian Parliamentary elections slated to take place next month have been postponed. Abbas cited a dispute over voting rights for Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem as the reason. Speaking to Palestinian TV, Abbas said: “Facing this difficult situation, we decided to postpone the date of holding legislative elections until the participation of Jerusalem and its people is guaranteed. Jerusalem will not be compromised, and our people in Jerusalem will not give up their right to exercise their democratic rights.” Hamas, which has been expected to perform well in the elections, called the decision a “coup”.

The Economist writes about the lengths Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas go to hold onto power. The paper notes that the two “have ruled for so long that it is hard to imagine other people in their places. Yet neither is looking very secure at the moment. Mr Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel since 2009, is struggling to form a new government, as the opposition inches closer to a deal that would unseat him. Mr Abbas, the Palestinian president since 2005, is increasingly unpopular. Were he to hold a free and fair election, as he promised to do this year, he would probably lose. Could both men soon be out of a job?”

BBC News reports that Iran has ordered members of the minority Bahai community to bury their dead at a site  previously used as a mass grave for political prisoners executed in 1988. At least 10 new holes were dug at the site. Iran’s Bahai community is routinely harassed, prosecuted, imprisoned, and regarded as members of a heretical sect.

BBC News and The Telegraph report that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said his country wants its relationship with Iran to “prosper and grow”. Speaking to Al Arabiya, the crown prince said he was working with regional and global partners to find solutions to Iran’s negative behaviour, namely its nuclear programme and support of Houthi rebels in Yemen. Reuters reports that a spokesman for Iran’s foreign ministry welcomed the remarks from the crown prince. According to the ministry: “Iran and Saudi Arabia … can enter a new chapter of interaction and cooperation to achieve peace, stability and regional development by overcoming differences.”

The Times reports that ongoing nuclear talks in Vienna have hit a roadblock after Iranian state media published comments from a senior official demanding that US President Joe Biden lift all the sanctions imposed by the Trump administration. According to the official, the US must compensate Iran for losses incurred as a result of Trump’s sanctions and roll back all sanctions that prevented Iran from benefitting from the JCPOA nuclear deal in its entirely. The unnamed official also said the Biden administration must give up the clause that allows the US to revoke the deal unilaterally.

The Independent reports that the number of children attempting or committing suicide in northwest Syria has surged. According to Save the Children, the number of suicides at the end of 2020 jumped by 90 per cent compared with the first quarter of the year. In the last three months of 2020, 246 suicides and 1,748 attempted suicides were recorded, with almost one in five of the cases involving a child under the age of 18. Save the Children has warned of a dire mental health crisis, saying it was “desperately alarming”.

The Times reports that a 12-year-old British girl trafficked to Syria, who was raped and impregnated by ISIS fighters is among 50 women and children stranded in the Roj and Al Hol refugee camps. Nearly two thirds of British women detained in northeast Syria were coerced, with many of them being under 18 when they were trafficked to Syria.

The Guardian reports that Iraq’s Kurdish parliament plans to establish a special court to prosecute accused ISIS members. The legislation, which was drafted with support of the United Nations, will initially deal with crimes committed in Iraq but could also be used to try ISIS members detained across the Middle East. The United Nations body supporting the legislation said that it “looks forward to its adoption as soon as possible”.

The Times reports that the UAE has changed its policy regarding children born out of wedlock. Unmarried women who become pregnant will no longer need to marry or seek an abortion outside the country. These women previously faced deportation or jail, but the changes were announced as the country introduced social reforms driving the country towards secularism.

Yiannis Baboulias writes for The Spectator about the coronavirus crisis facing Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He argues: “There was some hubris in Erdogan’s early declarations of victory against the virus last year. The ‘common view both domestically and internationally is that Turkey will become one of the star countries of the world that will be reshaped in the wake of the pandemic,’ Erdogan said last summer … Erdogan bears a huge amount of responsibility for the country’s desperate situation. Critics point to the rallies he held in enclosed spaces with few Covid measures in place earlier this year as evidence he did not take the pandemic seriously. Erdogan himself boasted that one of the events was ‘packed to the brim’.”

All the Israeli media continues to cover the ongoing coalition talks as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s mandate to form a government ends on Tuesday night. Yediot Ahronot focuses on the efforts of the anti-Netanyahu bloc (‘bloc for change’): “In the past two days, the talks were greatly accelerated between Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid, but behind the scenes there are quite a few differences of opinion and gaps that are delaying the formation of the coalition. The Yamina chairman posed a clear ultimatum yesterday, and made it clear in the talks that if the justice, education or interior portfolios were to be in the hands of the Labour Party or Meretz — that would be a red line that would prevent a government of change from being formed.” The papers also note the disagreements over timing. According to Haaretz, “Yamina and New Hope are hoping to reach an understanding before Netanyahu’s mandate to form a government expires, possibly as soon as Saturday – but Yesh Atid is opposed to this. Yamina and Yesh Atid have therefore marked next Tuesday as the date by which they hope to reach an agreement.”

Maariv reports that Yisrael Beiteinu is insisting that the ‘bloc for change’ coalition pass a bill to limit a prime minister to two terms only, without exception. They are also pushing for another bill that states an MK who has been indicted for criminal activity cannot form a government. Yisrael Beiteinu believes that this is not an ad hominem bill, but a matter of principle, and it insists that it be passed without any amendments.

All the papers cover Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to postpone their upcoming elections in June. Haaretz notes that Abbas blamed Israel for “uncertainty about whether it would allow them to proceed in East Jerusalem as well as in the West Bank and Gaza”. The papers quote Abbas on Palestinian TV saying: “We have decided to postpone the election until the participation of our people in Jerusalem is guaranteed… as soon as Israel agrees, we’ll hold the election within a week … this isn’t a technical issue, but rather a fundamental political one.” Israel Hayom reports that Israel’s security apparatus was waiting to gauge the Palestinian public’s response to Abbas’ announcement, and security officials are not ruling out a possibility that Hamas, which will be disappointed if the elections are cancelled, will renew the violent weekly riots at the Gaza border fence, or even regular rocket attacks against Israel. The IDF is also prepared for possible rioting in Judea and Samaria, as well as renewed lone-wolf terrorist attacks.

Ynet reports that Israel has re-opened the Gaza Strip’s fishing zone, which they closed earlier this week in response to the rocket fire towards Israel. According to the IDF, the resumption of “routine” policy towards Gaza, “is subject to the continuation of peace and… security stability”. Last weekend over 40 rockets were fired from Gaza towards Israel, causing light damage in communities near the border.

Yediot Ahronot covers the meeting yesterday between US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the head of Mossad, Yossi Cohen, along with Israel’s Ambassador to the US, Gilad Erdan. Cohen is thought to have relayed Israel’s “deep concern” about Iran’s nuclear activities. According to the paper, the Israeli delegation stressed Israel’s “freedom to operate” against Iran as it sees fit. With a similar message, Israel Hayom quotes Minister for Intelligence Eli Cohen: “A bad deal will send the region spiralling into war… anyone seeking short-term benefits should be mindful of the longer-term. Israel will not allow Iran to attain nuclear arms. Iran has no immunity anywhere. Our planes can reach everywhere in the Middle East – and certainly Iran.”