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Media Summary

Despite low death rate, Jordan feels economic impact from coronavirus

All the UK media cover the huge explosion in Beirut yesterday. The BBC, The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian, The Independent, The Financial Times and Sky News all offer running commentary on fallout from the explosion that has killed at least 100 people. Lebanon’s Prime Minister has called for a day of mourning on Wednesday and said those responsible would pay the price. He tweeted that the explosion was caused by more than 2,700 tonnes of ammonium nitrate left unsecured at a warehouse near the city’s port for six years.  

Writing in The Telegraph, Josie Esnor says “Lebanon had borrowed up to its eyeballs and it was only a matter of time before the bubble burst … many in Lebanon had predicted an explosion, though few could have imagined it would come in the form of the 2,750-tonne blast that would devastate half the city.”

The Financial Times focuses on how the Palestinian leadership lacks the traditional economic tools of a state to sufficiently respond to the economic fallout from the coronavirus. The paper says the Governor of the Palestine Monetary Authority, Azzam Shawwa, is helpless as he watches with envy central bankers across the globe deployed their full arsenal of tools to support their nations through it. The Palestinian leadership in does not control its own currency — the economy operates on a mix of Israeli shekels, Jordanian dinars, and some dollars and euros — has negligible foreign reserves and cannot borrow from international markets.

The BBC and The Telegraph report on the Israeli airstrike in Syria after four men attempted to plant explosives at the perimeter of the Israeli-Syrian border late on Sunday. Monday’s attack targeted “observation posts and intelligence collection systems, anti-aircraft artillery facilities and command and control systems” in Syrian army bases in Qunaitra, the IDF said. Syrian state media acknowledged the strikes, reporting unspecified “material damage” at military outposts near the capital Damascus. Lt Colonel Jonathan Conricus, a senior spokesman for the IDF, told the Telegraph: “It actually isn’t very unusual for us to acknowledge or take responsibility for strikes in Syria, especially not when it was in response to an attack against Israel.” He added that Israeli forces remained on high alert and were anticipating another attack by Hezbollah fighters in the north. Meanwhile, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that dawn air raids on the city of Boukamal, near the Iraqi border in the northeast, had killed 15 people.

The Times focuses on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on Jordan. The paper says that despite having been spared the worst — only 11 people are reported to have died — the country, long seen as a symbol of relative stability in the Middle East, is suffering the consequences of the pandemic. While tourists are not coming to Petra, cash has dried up from one of the country’s other significant resources — remittances from engineers, managers and waiters working in the Gulf who suddenly now find themselves unemployed.

The Guardian reports on the conditions of deportation centres in Saudi Arabia. The investigative report interviews several inmates of al-Shumaisi, a huge complex designed to hold 32,000 undocumented migrant workers. It has four grey-walled wings for male inmates, two for females and one for children. Detainees are held in a crowded series of bunk bed-filled halls, which each hold around 80 people. Smartphones are confiscated from the migrant workers when they arrive, preventing them from documenting their living conditions. “We are packed as animals. We sleep on metal beds with no mattress, no proper sanitation,” one inmate told the Guardian through a translator. “We drink water from the toilet. If you have money you can buy clean water. If don’t have any, you just take dirty water from the toilet.”

In the Israeli media, Kan Radio News says the coronavirus cabinet is expected to approve new public restrictions today in cities, towns and villages that suffer high morbidity. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and National Security Council Director Meir Ben-Shabbat support taking restrictive measures, including a full lockdown and/or a night-time curfew, to bring down the infection rate. Alternatively, Coronavirus Czar Professor Ronni Gamzu and several coronavirus cabinet ministers are in favour of taking more proportional measures that are reflective of the morbidity data. According to the Health Ministry, the number of people in Israel who have died of COVID-19 now stands at 561. The number of Israelis who are currently sick with COVID-19 is around 25,000, out of whom 341 are in hospital in a serious condition and 99 are on ventilators.

Ma’ariv reports that despite Netanyahu’s public remarks about the importance of passing the budget before 25 August, many in the political establishment believe the Prime Minister is heading toward new elections. A senior United Torah Judaism (UTJ) official told Ma’ariv: “We were faithful to Netanyahu; we gave him unlimited credit — and he intends to betray us by seriously considering going for elections. If we get to that situation and the Knesset is dissolved, we won’t be silent and we’ll draw the requisite conclusions.” Agriculture Minister Alon Schuster (Blue and White) said: “Netanyahu’s insistence on a one-year budget, in spite of the agreements that he signed, is meant to do one only thing—to preserve the political establishment’s instability. We insist that he is capable, despite everything, of keeping the agreement he signed.”

Commenting in Yediot Ahronot, Yuval Karni argues that the budget is being used as a pretext by Netanyahu to advance his political goals. Karni writes: “Even the people most suspicious of Netanyahu didn’t believe that the political dirty tricks would start a few weeks after the unity government was born, which in any case entered the world as a breach birth. Netanyahu can violate the agreement in another six months, maybe even a year, a moment before turning over the keys, and no one would get worked up. But to topple a government and lead Israel to elections for the fourth time, three months after the government was established? Does anyone believe that we’ll drag an entire country to an unnecessary election over [a disagreement over having] a budget for four months or for 15?”

Israel Hayom provides a primer on the override bill that will be put to a preliminary vote in the Knesset plenum today. The bill would allow the Knesset to circumvent Supreme Court rulings that overturn laws and to make the legislation valid for five years in spite of the fact that the Supreme Court struck it down. The passage of the bill depends on how the Likud faction votes. Its members support this legislative initiative, but the Likud’s coalition agreement with Blue and White stipulates that there will be no supporting bills that are unacceptable to all of the coalition factions. There is no chance of mustering a majority without the Likud’s support, and Shas and United Torah Judaism have already announced that they will oppose it.