Balkan arm sales fueling conflict in Middle East
The BBC leads with the letter signed by more than 1,000 parliamentarians from 25 countries in Europe which strongly opposes plans by Israel to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. More than 240 signatories are legislators in the UK, including the Conservative Party’s former leader Lord Howard, former EU commissioner Lord Patten and Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones, a former counter-terrorism minister who previously chaired the UK’s Joint Intelligence Committee, and 35 members of Labour’s current front bench, including shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy. The letter warns that allowing annexation to pass “unchallenged” would encourage other states with territorial claims to “disregard basic principles of international law”. It stops short of explicitly calling for sanctions against Israel if the move takes place.
Hannah Lucinda Smith writes in The Times that weapons made in eastern Europe and sold to Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the UAE have turned up in the hands of militia in Yemen and fighters on all sides of the Syrian war. The report notes many of the arms sales between countries such as Serbia and Iraq or the UAE. Saudi Arabia is the biggest buyer of Balkan weaponry, purchasing £750m between 2012 and 2016. The report warns that the Balkan arms trade is likely to grow further as the prospect of EU membership fades, and as the bloc fails to enforce its own rules on arms exports.
The Financial Times reports that the US action under the newly-passed Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act has so far been limited and, at least in the short-term, has hit Syrian civilians. According to the report, “among the 39 individuals and entities sanctioned in the first wave … the most high profile were already on US sanctions lists, including Mr Assad and Syrian tycoon Muhammad Hamsho. And of the new targets only nine were sanctioned using the Caesar legislation, including companies registered in Austria and Canada. The rest were designated using executive orders.”
The Telegraph reports that Tauqir Sharif, a British aid worker who was stripped of his UK citizenship, was arrested in northwest Syria on Monday by the Jihadist group known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). The reason for his seizure remains unclear. Sharif, 32, from Walthamstow travelled to Syria in 2012 with his British wife and founded the organisation Live Updates from Syria, which works with orphans and widows and raises awareness of the humanitarian catastrophe. Sharif had his citizenship revoked in 2017, after he was assessed to be “aligned with an al-Qaeda-aligned group,” rendering him stateless and effectively stranded in Syria.
The Independent focuses on several missiles that were fired from Houthi rebels toward Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, with one reaching as far as the Saudi capital Riyadh. Two large explosions sounded above Riyadh at dawn, while smoke billowed into the sky during the barrage, which the Houthis claimed had “pounded” the Saudi defence ministry and a military base. The attack comes as violence erupted in Yemen following the expiry last month of a ceasefire brokered during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Guardian leads with the comments from the UN Secretary General who has expressed hope that Israel will hear global calls and will not go ahead with annexation of parts of the West Bank, which it says would undermine a two-state solution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. António Guterres told the Associated Press the UN has been consistently conveying the message “that annexation would be not only against international law but it would be a major factor to destabilise the region”.
In a comment piece in The Times, Roger Boyes argues that the Libyan civil war is spreading its toxins across Europe. Boyes writes that “migrants from sub-Saharan states are queuing up for an illegal passage across the Mediterranean; but asylum seekers, among them the suspect arrested over the Reading attacks, may harbour hidden traumas.”
The Telegraph, Financial Times and the Independent report that Saudi Arabia has closed the Hajj to foreign travellers for the first time in modern history. More than a million Muslims will have to wait until next year after the kingdom this year’s event would be “very limited” due to the coronavirus pandemic. The pilgrimage has been a noted hotbed of transmission of diseases in the past and many come back with a ‘hajj cough’ picked up from fellow visitors.
All the Israeli media focus on the continuing rise of coronavirus cases. This morning new restrictions on public movement will begin in the city of Elad and several neighbourhoods in Tiberias and last for a week, after their designation as “restricted areas” by a special ministerial committee because of the surge in the confirmed coronavirus cases there. The Health Ministry announced last night that 459 new cases had been recorded in the previous day. Forty are in serious condition, among whom 27 are on ventilators. The number of people who have died of the coronavirus has risen to 308. Since the start of the week, 814 new patients have been diagnosed across the country. The rate of infection in the past 24 hours is the highest daily rate since April 22.
Kan Radio News reports that Syria has accused Israel of carrying out several several airstrikes last nights which killed two Syrian soldiers and five members of pro-Iranian militias. Al-Arabiya reported that a large shipment of Iranian weapons arrived yesterday morning a military base in Sweida, southeastern Syria, that was attacked. Two other targets were attacked on the eastern outskirts of Hama. According to a report by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the attacks targeted weapons and ammunitions storerooms that serve the pro-Iranian militias as well as a command base. A third site that was attacked, according to that report, was a military base in the Deir ez-Zor area, not far from the Iraqi border.
All the Israeli media report on the Finance Committee’s decision yesterday to grant Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request to receive a retroactive exemption from taxes that he paid between 2009 and 2017, for the costs [that were borne by the state] of maintaining his private home in Caesarea and the upgraded state car that was issued to him by the state. The Prime Minister’s Office asserted that Netanyahu paid income tax for payments, services and benefits that he had received in those years by virtue of his role as prime minister, whereas previous premiers had been exempted from paying taxes. According to a report in Ma’ariv, Netanyahu is expected to receive an estimated £140,000 windfall as a result. Members of the opposition were severely critical of the decision to grant the tax exemption.
Kan Radio News reports that President Reuven Rivlin has condemned the attack on Channel 12’s Amnon Abramovitch, who was filming at a right-wing demonstration against the High Court of Justice at the Tel Aviv Museum. Abramovitch was forced to leave the scene with a police escort, after he was met with curses and threats. President Rivlin wrote on Twitter: “No journalist should have to require protection while doing his job, no matter what his [political] positions are. Don’t shut your eyes. This isn’t our way.” Alternate Prime Minister and Defence Minister Benny Gantz also condemned the verbal attacks on Abramovitch.