Assad regime braces for new US sanctions
The BBC World Service reports that Turkey yesterday announced the last-minute postponement of a visit by the Russian foreign and defence ministers for discussions that had been expected to focus on ending the fighting in Libya. Ankara and Moscow support opposing sides in the conflict: The Turks support the government based in Libya’s capital, Tripoli, while Russia backs renegade General Khalifa Haftar – who in recent weeks has suffered a series of major defeats. The Turkish-backed government has pushed Haftar’s forces far back into eastern Libya and it may well want to carry on advancing and seizing ground. But earlier this week, Russia said it shared with Turkey a desire to create conditions for talks and reconciliation.
The Times reports on the imminent arrival of new US sanctions on Syria this week, suggesting that President Basher Assad will face the biggest test of his regime for years as the economy is already on the verge of collapse. The US Ceasar Act, which bears the codename of a police defector who smuggled out 55,000 photographs of tortured and murdered protesters, will extend penalties beyond officials and companies already sanctioned by the US and EU to firms doing business with them. It is expected to have a devastating effect on any international will to invest in rebuilding the country. The report notes that protests have begun to resurface in regime-controlled areas over the recent weeks.
The Times reports that an Iranian judge and former prosecutor notorious for jailing journalists and later accused of corruption by Tehran has been arrested in Romania. Gholamreza Mansouri is said to have handed himself in to the Iranian embassy in Bucharest, following outrage over reports that he was receiving medical treatment in Germany. Mansouri was a prosecutor at Tehran’s main prison for political prisoners, Evin, and was promoted to judge at Iran’s press court because of his loyalty to the regime. He is said to have jailed 20 journalists in one day in 2013. The Iranian judicial authorities confirmed that they would seek his extradition, but a court in Bucharest has banned him from leaving the country.
The Telegraph leads with the allegations that Iranian authorities have arrested at least 77 individuals of the Baha’i community in recent weeks. The Baha’i International Community (BIC) said the individuals have been arrested, summoned to court, tried, sentenced and imprisoned in the last month “under baseless accusations and for no reason other than a deep-seated antagonism to the Baha’i Faith”. The Baha’i faith, which was originally founded in Iran, is seen as heretical by the Islamic Republic. Baha’i shops and cemeteries have been vandalised and some of its followers blocked from universities and jobs.
The Guardian reports of new protest in Lebanon over the weekend as hundreds of demonstrators gathered in cities angered by the deepening economic crisis. Lebanon’s prime minister, Hassan Diab, condemned the violence and what he termed efforts to mount a “coup” against the government and manipulate the value of the Lebanese pound. Local media said the exchange rate had tumbled to 6,000 Lebanese pounds to the dollar on the black market at one point Friday, compared to the official peg of 1,507 in place since 1997. President Michel Aoun has announced that the central bank will implement measures from today, including “feeding dollars into the market”, in a bid to support the Lebanese pound.
The Associated Press leads with reports that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has asked an Israeli oversight committee to allow a 10 million shekel ($2.9 million) donation from Spencer Partrich, a Michigan-based real estate magnate, to fund his legal defence. Complicating the matter, Partrich a witness in one of the cases against the Prime Minister. The committee has asked the country’s attorney general for his opinion on the matter. The request for financial aid from a friend is not illegal in Israel. Last month, Netanyahu’s trial on charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes opened in a Jerusalem court. It is scheduled to resume next month.
In the Israeli media, Kan Radio News reports that a 26-year-old with no underlying health problems has died from the coronavirus. He had recovered, but then his situation deteriorated because of a heart problem. He is the youngest victim of the coronavirus. The Health Ministry announced last night that 83 people were diagnosed with the disease over the weekend – the first time since 6 June that the number of daily cases dropped below 100. The drop is explained by the smaller number of tests performed on the Sabbath, about half of those done on weekdays. Of the 3,380 active cases, there are 33 patients in serious condition, with 24 on ventilators.
Maariv focuses today on the very explicit threatening letter received by Supreme Court Justice Anat Baron in her home mailbox. The Courts Administration issued a statement saying that this was the direct result of the ongoing and unbridled incitement against the judicial branch and its judges. In a lengthy commentary, Ben Caspit pins the blame on dozens (if not more) of organised, disciplined and firebrand WhatsApp groups that are loyal to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The quantity of curses, defamation and incitement in them is impossible to measure, Caspit writes. He adds that “Criticism of the justice system is appropriate. The justice system should be criticised.” But, “when you turn the judges, the State Attorney’s Office and the prosecutors into traitors, into people who endanger the Jewish state, as leading us to another Holocaust, as trying to destroy Israel from within, you turn them into fair game.”
Haaretz notes that the Israel Police said on Sunday it has begun an investigation into the attack of a Palestinian man by a group of settlers in Hebron on Friday. Video footage shows an Israeli soldier coming to the aide of the Palestinian man. The police chief of staff praised the behaviour of the soldier who “prevented the injury of a Palestinian civilian,” and noted that “nationalist violence is a crime that must be prevented, denounced, and dealt with in the fullest extent of the law,” said a joint statement by the police and army on Sunday.
Yediot Ahronot reports that Israel has agreed to transfer $50m of Qatari aid into the Gaza Strip and continue the social projects started by the Gulf states in exchange for Hamas’ pledge to stop incendiary balloon terror. The agreement was apparently mediated by Qatari envoy to Gaza, Mohammed al-Emadi, and UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Nickolay Mladenov. The aid will be delivered at some point this week. The agreement comes after Palestinian militant groups in Gaza last week resumed their preparations of sending balloons attached with flammable material or explosives attached into Israel.