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Media Summary

Explosions reported near Iranian nuclear site

Tom Bateman writes for the BBC about the drastic impact Israeli annexation will have on the lives of West Bank Palestinians. To the Palestinians, Bateman writes, Israeli annexation “means the loss of vital land for a future state and a death blow to dreams of self-determination”. He also quotes Israeli Brigadier General Yossi Kuperwasser who believes the numbers of Palestinians caught in any unilateral application of sovereignty would be “negligible”. Kuperwasser says many could receive Israeli residency in the interim and suggests the Palestinian leadership should engage with the Trump administration.

The Guardian reports on Israel bringing back its track and trace system after a surge in confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The Knesset voted to reimpose the controversial tracking system run by the government’s domestic security agency, the Shin Bet, over objections from the agency itself.

The Economist leads with the ongoing discussion overIsrael’s annexation of West Bank territory. The authors claim that “talk of annexation shows how badly the peace process has failed … far from being a show of strength, it smacked of desperation”. The piece goes on to say that what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “does matters less than the fact that he might do it”. Netanyahu has made no serious moves towards applying sovereignty since the start of his term as Prime Minister, so his decision to move forward at this time may have more to do with distracting from his ongoing corruption trial and coronavirus pandemic than it does with redrawing Israel’s borders.

BBC News reports that Iran’s coronavirus death figure may be five times higher than current reports. According to official statistics, there were over 6,400 cases of excess mortality (people dying above what would normally be expected) during winter – more than 5,000 higher than the confirmed coronavirus deaths in the same period. The country has 215,000 recorded cases of the virus and 10,000 deaths since the outbreak earlier this year.

The Telegraph and Reuters report on a large explosion that took place at a gas storage facility in an area known for housing a sensitive military site. Social media users reported seeing a bright orange light in the early hours of Friday morning, according to Fars News Agency. Western security officials believe the explosion took place at a military site where Iran has carried out nuclear bomb tests, but Iranian officials have denied such claims. Spokesman Davoud Abdi said the explosion took place at the ‘public area’ of Parchin, adding that the blaze was under control and there were no casualties.

Reuters reports that Iraqi forces raided the headquarters of a powerful Iran-backed militia in Baghdad on Thursday evening. Iraqi forces detained more than a dozen members of the group. The raid targeted the Kataib Hezbollah faction, a group which the US has claimed was responsible for firing rockets at US bases in Iraq.

Writing in The Telegraph, Hannah Lucinda Smith reports on the latest warning from Lebanon’s President about an “atmosphere of civil war” amid ongoing economic protests which have turned sectarian. As the Lebanese pound plummeted over recent weeks, the country has seen numerous demonstrations. Recently, these demonstrations turned into clashes between Shia Muslims and Christians – echoing fault lines of the civil war throughout the 1970s and 1980s. Meanwhile, the Financial Times reports that the International Monetary Fund has warned the Lebanese Central Bank (Banque du Liban) that it has accumulated losses of as much as $49bn, which threaten to derail bailout talks.

Kan Radio News reports that a US official said that in the round of talks held this week in the White House, no decision had been made on the next steps in implementing President Donald Trump’s plan and the annexation planned by Israel. The official added that the special US envoy Avi Berkowitz, mapping committee member Scott Leith and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman were due to arrive in Israel this weekend to continue the work.

All the Israeli media report that Mossad Director Yossi Cohen visited Jordan recently and met with King Abdullah. They discussed Jordan’s opposition to the government’s intention to apply Israeli sovereignty in the Jordan Valley. Cohen relayed messages from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the King of Jordan, the goal of which was to reduce the tension in bilateral relations.

Maariv reports Hamas military wing spokesman Abu Obeida threatened Israel yesterday, declaring, “The resistance views annexation as a declaration of war on our people. We will make the enemy bite its nails with regret in wake of this criminal decision, with Allah’s help. The dissipating illusion constitutes an important turning point in the history of the Palestinian people and the Palestinian dream of freeing the prisoners and imposing the will of the resistance.” Defence Minister Benny Gantz commented at yesterday’s ceremony for the end of a pilot training course, “I suggest that the leaders of Hamas remember that they will be the first to pay for their aggression.”

Israel Hayom reports on a large explosion in Iran last night, with Iranian officials and Arab media giving conflicting reports as to its cause. ​Saudi media outlet Al Arabiya reported that the explosion took place at a military base in Parchin, east of Tehran, hedging it may have been a gas explosion, but speculation on social media claimed that the blast was the result of a power plant outage or a malfunction in the process of disposing of a large number of munitions. Other reports speculated that something else could have happened in Parchin, where the local military base is suspected of housing a nuclear facility. Iranian Defence Ministry spokesman Davoud Abdi told state TV that the explosion took place at an Iranian gas storage facility in an area that “houses a sensitive military site” near Tehran. He insisted the explosion took place in the “public area” of Parchin, as opposed to the military site in the city, adding that the fire was under control and there were no casualties. He did not give any information about the cause of the blast. But videos and photos posted on social media and aired by Arab media showed a massive explosion sending a bright orange flash into the night’s sky and followed by large plumes of smoke, suggesting there may be more to the incident.

Haaretz reports that Israeli officials are preparing for the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) decision on whether it can open an investigation into potential war crimes committed by Israel in the Palestinian Territories “within days.” The paper explains, “the decision, which they expect will be made public shortly, will come after a years-long process in The Hague to determine the extent of the Court’s jurisdiction in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.  In late May, the ICC asked the Palestinian Authority (PA) to clarify whether the Oslo Accords were still in effect, given Ramallah’s decision to pull out of all agreements with Israel amid talks of annexation. PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas later confirmed this was the case, but stressed that it shouldn’t affect the legal process at the ICC.  Israel’s position is that the PA does not satisfy to the court’s requirement that only sovereign countries can confer criminal jurisdiction. Israel argues that the case presents a disputed political issue.”

Maariv includes an interview with former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman who sharply criticised the prime minister and the new government on security issues, saying, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is crushing the security establishment and dragging us all to the edge of the abyss.” Lieberman said, “Let’s start with Iran, they already hold eight times the amount of enriched uranium they are permitted according to the nuclear agreement, they are enriching the uranium to a higher level than they are permitted, they are rushing to nuclear [capability], and about a month ago, they successfully launched a spy satellite. What is Netanyahu doing in this regard? Was there a security cabinet meeting? Is there a plan? Hezbollah is now building a plant for precision-guided missiles in Lebanon. That was Qassem Soleimani’s legacy—instead of smuggling precision-guided missiles, to equip Nasrallah with independent capability to produce precision-guided missiles, and to export the production of precision-guided missiles to Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and more. So they are rushing in that direction. And what are we doing?”