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Media Summary

Iran admits “human error” to blame in Ukrainian plane downing

The BBC, The Financial Times, The Guardian and The Times report on the Civil Aviation Organisation of Iran (CAOI) blaming “human error” and poor military communication for the accidental downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane in January. All 176 people on board were killed when the plane was hit by two missiles shortly after take-off in Tehran. Iran initially denied responsibility for the incident. According to excerpts in the CAOI’s report, the passenger plane travelled in a normal flight corridor, but the air defence unit that targeted it had recently moved and failed to calibrate its equipment correctly. As a result, it misidentified the civilian plane as a hostile object.

The BBC and The Telegraph report on the protests in Tel Aviv square on Saturday night. The BBC describes the demonstrators as “mainly young … wearing masks but not observing social distancing”. The Telegraph puts the number of protesters at 80,000. The event was organised by small businesses, self-employed workers and performing artists’ groups, who said money they are due from government support schemes has not been paid.

The Telegraph and The Independent report that the first British ISIS fighter is believed to have died in the custody of the Syrian Democratic Forces in Syria. Ishak Mostefaoui was reportedly shot when trying to escape jail in Hassakeh, which houses over 5,000 ISIS prisoners from 28 countries in cramped conditions. Neither his death nor the circumstances surrounding it have been confirmed but rumours of Mostefaoui’s death appear to be circulating from pro-ISIS Telegram channels. He was among seven students from the University of Westminster, where he was studying economics, who travelled to Syria. Also among them was Mohammed Emwazi, better known as “Jihadi John”.

The Times leads with the story of a Russian-Syrian business network that has been accused of using Moscow front companies, tax havens in British overseas territories and European countries to transfer millions of dollars around the world for the Assad regime. The network is said to have helped the secretive organisation developing the regime’s chemical weapons to acquire raw materials and equipment, according to an investigative report being published today.

The Financial Times leads with the allegations from Lebanon’s former top finance civil servant who has accused bankers of “smuggling” up to $6bn out of Lebanon since October, circumventing controls introduced to stem capital flight as the country plunged into its worst financial crisis in 30 years, according to the country’s former top finance civil servant. Alain Bifani, who stepped down two weeks ago as the director-general of public finance, told The Financial Times that banking sector data showed $5.5bn-$6bn had been “smuggled outside the country” by “bankers who would [not allow] every other depositor to take $100”. He reached the estimate based on his interpretation of the figures and consultation with Lebanon’s banking control authority, he said.

In The Guardian, Sam Bahour argues that despite Israeli annexation being “kicked down the road,” the EU should recognise a Palestinian state as a way “to underscore their commitment to the two-state solution as the only viable solution, countering Israel’s annexation plans by clearly demonstrating adherence to international law – not to mention EU law – and not the ‘law of the jungle’ of prolonged military occupation”.

The Independent reports that Russia scored a victory for its ally Syria on Saturday by forcing the UN Security Council to limit humanitarian aid deliveries to the country’s mainly rebel-held northwest to just one crossing point from Turkey, a move that Western nations say will cut a lifeline for 1.3 million people.

The Israeli media report on that the Israeli Air Force (IAF) on Sunday unveiled a special squadron, which contains all the special forces of the aerial warfare branch, consolidating them under one command. The army says the new 7th Aerial Special Forces Wing will include search-and-rescue Unit 669, Shaldag commando unit and outfit that builds airfields behind enemy lines. The move aims “to increase the operational effectiveness of the units. The wing will function as a complementary and unique component to IAF activities through special depth, routine and emergency operations”.

Ma’ariv reports that ultra-Orthodox ministers and politicians have accused the police of acting more strictly against Haredi demonstrators while it displays lenience toward secular demonstrators in Tel Aviv. The issue of selective enforcement toward the religious sector came up at the cabinet meeting yesterday. Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (Shas) demanded that all the criteria be made public for a decision to impose a lockdown on any neighbourhood or community in order to prevent a sense of discrimination. In the wake of the allegations, Netanyahu will meet today with Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, Deri and other MKs to discuss the restrictions in Haredi cities and neighbourhoods.

The Israeli media report on the new reported strategic accord between China and Iran that could see Beijing invest in up to “$400bn” over the next 25 years in return for discounted oil. Excerpts from the Strategic Accord, published yesterday in the New York Times and has to be approved by Iran’s parliament first, detailed how Beijing would expand its economic involvement in a variety of fields, including banking and infrastructure, such as rolling out Iran’s 5G network. The deal would also encompass military cooperation, including weapons development, combined training and intelligence sharing in order to combat “the lopsided battle with terrorism, drug and human trafficking and cross-border crimes,” The New York Times reported.

Writing in Ha’aretz, Zvi Bar’el says the Russian veto at the UN Security Council to all border crossings between Turkey and Syria to continue to let in aid for Syria’s Kurdish regions and areas under rebel control, is Moscow’s new means of pressure to break the Syrian Kurds’ close connection with the US and Syria’s Idlib province, where some 50,000 militia fighters are based. Bar’el adds: “As in the other chapters of the Syrian civil war, now too, American forces in northeast Syria will have abased hard time with Russia’s economic blockade of the area unless Washington decides to clash directly with the regime forces”