IS claims responsibility for Baghdad suicide bombings
BBC News, The Telegraph, The Independent and The Guardian report on the two suicide bombings that killed at least 32 people in Tayaran Square, a second-hand clothes market in Baghdad. A statement from ISIS’s news agency said Shia Muslims were the target of the attack. Over 100 people were wounded in the attack, the biggest suicide bombing in the country for three years. According to the Iraqi interior ministry, “The first suicide bomber said he was sick, asked for help, gathered people around him and detonated the bomb. The second suicide bomb detonated as soon as others gathered to help the victims of the first bomb.”
The Associated Press reports on an Israeli strike in Syria. According to Syria’s news agency, an unnamed official said the attack took place early this morning. The planes were spotted flying over Lebanon before striking targets in neighbouring Syria. A Syrian military official said the attack targeted areas near Hama Province, adding air defence units shot down most of the missiles.
BBC News and Reuters report on the corruption trial of Israeli businessman Beny Steinmetz, a former diamond magnate. Steinmetz is facing corruption charges over alleged bribes to public officials in Guinea, with the goal of controlling the country’s iron ore deposits. Swiss prosecutors indicted Steinmetz in August 2019 and are seeking a five-year prison term and 50 million Swiss francs in fines. A Swiss criminal court is due to issue a ruling this afternoon.
Lyse Doucet writes for BBC News about the challenges President Joe Biden’s administration will face in the Middle East. Along with facing a different Middle East than the one he left as Vice President in 2017, Biden must also account for changes at home: “A newly elected US Congress, with many foreign policy veterans, is already signalling that it wants a greater say. In the Middle East that will mean everything from any deals with Iran; an end to US military support enabling the Saudi war in Yemen; Israeli-Arab peacemaking; to concerns over Saudi Arabia’s human rights policy, including the detention of dissidents and the stubborn stain of the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi.”
The Guardian features reader letters in response to B’Tselem’s accusation that Israel is running an apartheid regime. Joshua Rowe writes, “Israel is a reluctant occupier, and all they need do (as was offered to them immediately after the 1967 war) is to renounce and abandon their traditional hatred and belligerence, and declare genuine peace. The day they do that, they will have a state, peace and prosperity.” Dr Tony Klug writes, “Israel’s only defence against the accusation of apartheid is that its hold over the West Bank is a temporary occupation. If this is not its case, it doesn’t have a case. Even if it were its case, after some 53 years it would be running perilously thin.”
The Economist reports on the growing relationship between Qatar and Turkey: “The seeds of their friendship were planted in the early 2000s, when Turkish contractors poured into Doha, Qatar’s capital, to help with a building boom. Since then the countries have drawn closer, spurred on by ideology, business and isolation. Turkey, which is big and cash-strapped, counts on Qatar for financial support; Qatar, which is small and rich, relies on Turkey for protection.”
Reuters reports on a tweet sent by Iran’s Supreme Leader which depicted a golfer, resembling former President Donald Trump, being targeted by a drone in retaliation for the assassination of Qassem Soleimani. Text on the image quoted remarks made by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in December saying, “revenge is certain”. This follows a tweet sent by the Supreme Leader in mid-December in which he wrote: “Those who ordered the murder of General Soleimani as well as those who carried this out should be punished. This revenge will certainly happen at the right time.”
All the Israel media report on the violence last night in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak. Police officers arrived to enforce coronavirus regulations when dozens of yeshiva students encircled and attacked a police car with detectives in it, broke its windows and punctured the tires. Several students tried to force open the car doors. A female police officer sustained light injuries. After the attack, clashes ensued in several locations across the city. Residents blocked roads and set fire to tires and rubbish bins. The police responded with crowd-control measures and arrested six suspects. It is still not clear whether the police arrested the rioters who attacked the three police officers in the car. According to Kan Radio News the police activity in the city continued until 3:00 AM. Prime Minister Netanyahu is quoted saying: “I firmly condemn the violence against forces of the Israel Police who were on duty in Bnei Brak and I support the law enforcement agencies who are there to ensure compliance with the Health Ministry’s life-saving directives. We will be firm against people who break the law, first and foremost, against people who raise their hand against our policemen and women. I call on all of Israel’s citizens, without exception, comply with the directives!” Channel 12 News quotes ultra-Orthodox (Shas) Minister of Interior Aryeh Deri, who said, “The terrible violence in Bnei Brak by a number of rioters against the police who came, as their duty, to enforce the lockdown, was grave and infuriating. These rioters must be arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. We must comply with the directives and save lives.” The Bnei Brak municipality also issued a statement: “The municipality condemns the violent incident this evening against the Israel Police. We are in a life and death situation and we must do everything to prevent infection from spreading and the risk this poses to life.”
Channel 12 News reports that the COVID-19 reproduction number in Israel has dipped below 1 for the first time since the country launched its vaccination drive, suggesting that the pandemic may be starting to recede. However, Sima Kadmon in Yediot Ahronot warns: “With more than 4,200 dead, with variants spreading like mushrooms after a rain… something appears to have gone wrong here. Even if the ‘R’ is dropping…. it is unlikely whether at the end of March, to be precise, on March 23, we will be in a post-pandemic situation. Not from the health perspective, and certainly not from the economic perspective. The Israeli public will not fill the theatres, the restaurants will not be filled with diners and the small businesses will not be flourishing. If Netanyahu had hoped that by Election Day, the public would go in droves to the polling stations with a sense of relief and gratitude, it’s not certain that that will happen.” According to the latest data from the Health Ministry, 220 Israelis have died since the beginning of the week, 14 of them on Thursday alone, taking the national coronavirus death toll to 4,232. There were 4,914 new cases of coronavirus out of some 55,000 tests, meaning 9 per cent of all tests came back positive. There are 1,156 Israelis hospitalised in serious condition, 315 on ventilators. However, over 2.4 million Israelis have already received the first dose of the vaccine and about 800,000 have received the second jab. These figures constitute 27 per cent and 9 per cent of Israel’s population, respectively. Maariv reports that the 5,000 coronavirus vaccines from Russia, which were supposed to be handed over to the Palestinian Authority this week, still have not been transferred to it, and as of last night no new date for their handover has been coordinated.
Haaretz covers the latest report by the Welfare Ministry that two million Israelis are living below the poverty line. The ministry found that every fifth Israeli is poor. Just over 900,000 children live below the poverty line, constituting 45 per cent of all the poor in Israel. As a result of the coronavirus, the standard of living in Israel dropped by the highest rate in 20 years.
Kan Radio News reports that according to the official Syrian news agency, Israel attacked targets in the Hama area in north western Syria. According to the report, the missile strike was conducted from airspace over the Tripoli area in Lebanon. A Syrian army source said that Syria’s air defence systems had succeeded in shooting down most of the missiles.
In election news, all the Israeli media cover the former Likud minister and MK, Benny Begin has joined Gideon Saar’s New Hope Party. Begin, the son of the former Likud leader and prime minister, Menachem Begin, will be a candidate on the party’s list for the Knesset. Maariv includes its latest poll: The Likud receives 31 seats, New Hope 16, Yesh Atid 16, Yamina 11, Joint List 10, Shas 8, United Torah Judaism 8, Yisrael Beiteinu 7, Meretz 5, Blue and White 4, and The Israelis 4. The poll also asked, “Who is more suitable for the post of prime minister?” In separate head-to-head choices: Netanyahu—43 per cent, Saar—40 per ce t, Don’t know—17 per cent. Netanyahu—41 per cent, Bennett—33 per cent, Don’t know—26 per cent. Netanyahu—54 per cent, Lapid—32 per cent, Don’t know—14 per cent.