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Media Summary

Israeli police begin manhunt after six prisoners escape Gilboa Prison

The BBC reports that one-year-old twin girls who were born conjoined at the back of their heads have seen each other for the first time after undergoing rare separation surgery in Israel. The 12-hour operation at the Soroka Medical Centre in the city of Beersheba last week took months of preparation, and included the scalp grafts for both. It was the first time such an operation was conducted in Israel, and the 20th worldwide.

The Times reports that the Syrian regime and the US are prepared to co-operate on a plan to rescue Lebanon’s electricity supply, in an indication of another shift in Middle East politics led by President Joe Biden. Syria was “ready to help” with the plan to import Egyptian gas via Jordan and Syria, a Damascus official said after a visit by Lebanese ministers. The proposal, announced to the surprise of regional observers last month by Dorothy Shea, the US ambassador to Lebanon, would involve the partial lifting of US sanctions on Damascus.

The Telegraph and Reuters report that the last pocket of resistance in Afghanistan, the Panjshir Valley, has been “completely captured” by Taliban forces. “With this victory, our country is completely taken out of the quagmire of war,” Taliban chief spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said in a statement on Monday. Afghanistan’s last major bastion of resistance to Taliban rule had been on the brink of falling after the militants claimed to have taken key parts of the Panjshir Valley from an anti-Taliban coalition.

Afzal Amin writes in The Times on what is next for a post-Afghanistan NATO. Amin argues that while NATO “has been a supremely successful organisation which has prevented major war since its formation in 1949. The catastrophe which has now befallen us in Afghanistan is also of historic proportions, of our own making, and the numerous risks arising from it are serious”.

Libyan authorities have released Saadi Gaddafi, a son of the former leader Muammar Gaddafi who was ousted and killed during a 2011 uprising, a Libyan official source and a unity government source said on Sunday, according to The Telegraph. He immediately departed on a plane to Istanbul, the official source said. Saadi Gaddafi fled for Niger during the NATO-backed uprising, but was extradited to Libya in 2014 and has been imprisoned since then in Tripoli.

The Financial Times reports that World powers who are trying to contain the fall-out of the Taliban’s seizure of Afghanistan have turned to the tiny gas-rich state of Qatar, long a link between the West and the Islamist group. The US’s regional military headquarters in Qatar has become the fulcrum of the last-minute American exit and the Gulf state has been a staging post for the evacuation of tens of thousands of Afghan refugees.

In the Israeli media, all the broadcast media focus on the six Palestinian security prisoners who broke out of Gilboa Prison in northern Israel last night. A manhunt involving a large number of IDF, Border Police and Shin Bet forces has been mounted, while the IDF has deployed more troops to the border with the Palestinian Authority and the Jalame border crossing. The prisoners — one of whom is Fatah’s Zakariya Zubeidi from Jenin, along with five other Islamic Jihad operatives including Mahmoud el-Areida, the leader of the Islamic Jihad prisoners in Gilboa Prison — are believed to have dug a tunnel out of Wing 2 beneath the prison wall. It is believed that a vehicle was waiting for the escaped prisoners that then drove them to the West Bank. The tunnel the six security prisoners used to escape Gilboa Prison had been dug over a number of years. Security officials said that the prisoners capitalised on the relatively lower number of prison guards on duty ahead of Rosh Hashanah. The Prisons Service’s intelligence officers had had information about possible rioting in one of the prisons, but that chatter appears to have been a diversionary tactic that was designed to conceal the planned prison break by the six prisoners. Police Services are moving all prisoners from Gilboa Prison to other facilities in the country, Kan reports. Gilboa Prison was first opened in 2004 in response to a shortage of prison space for dangerous terrorists and is considered one of the highest security prisons in Israel.

Maariv reports on the reaction from right-wing MKs to the Foreign Ministry’s request to the High Court of Justice to give the new government an additional six months before evicting the residents of Khan al-Ahmar so as to prevent international political damage. The motion filed yesterday said that “significant progress has been made in the work on drafting an arrangement,” and asked to be permitted to submit additional documents to the court. Agriculture Minister Oded Forer (Yisrael Beiteinu) said: “It’s no secret that we think that it should have been removed. There’s a prime minister and a defence minister in this government, and this issue is under their purview. The right thing is to remove [Khan al-Ahmar], but there isn’t a majority for doing that in this government.” Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel (New Hope) also commented on the issue, saying: “I’ve heard complaints that have been made by Netanyahu supporters about Khan al-Ahmar. That’s interesting since I recall that he promised that it would be removed within a matter of days, and that didn’t happen. It’s my opinion that it should have been removed yesterday, a year ago and two years ago.”

In Israel Hayom, Amnon Lord writes that back when Naftali Bennett “was still a right-wing Zionist, he, his partners and his followers ascribed symbolic importance to Khan al-Ahmar as if it were Jerusalem, an icon of Zionism and Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel. The stance [the new government has] taken on Khan al-Ahmar is a direct continuation of the past decision to ignore court orders [to demolish the site and to evict the residents]. That is part of a surprising phenomenon in this new government. This government is far more left wing than one might have anticipated, and the elements in it that were supposed to be nationally-minded and right wing has completely evaporated.”

Walla reports that the Labour Party has started pressuring Prime Minister Naftali Bennett into moving ahead with the egalitarian prayer area at the Western Wall – the prayer area that is designated as a place where Reform and Conservative Jews can pray. Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai sent a letter last week to Bennett asking him to put the issue of the Western Wall arrangement on the agenda of the next cabinet meeting. Constitution, Law and Justice Committee Chairman MK Gilad Kariv also asked the prime minister to hold a meeting with the leaders of Jewish movements and organisations and to appoint a liaison in the Prime Minister’s Office for the mixed prayer areas at the Western Wall until the arrangement is implemented.

Yediot Ahronot reports that after three months of a consistent rise in the number of seriously ill and people testing positive daily for COVID-19 — which just last week set a new record of more than 11,000 — the new year will begin this evening with cautious optimism: the percentage of people testing positive has dropped from 8.4 per cent last week to 5.5 per cent last night and the number of people hospitalised in serious condition has fallen from 751 last week to 677 last night. The medical experts put this shift primarily down to the third vaccine booster shot, but also cite the stricter Green Certificate Program criteria and the campaign to test school children as helping to decrease the infection rate.

Maariv notes that Foreign Minister Yair Lapid will leave for a quick official visit to Russia immediately after the Rosh Hashanah holiday and will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. This is to be the first meeting between the two foreign ministers since Lapid assumed office. Several weeks ago, the outgoing National Security Council director, Meir Ben-Shabbat, and his successor, Eyal Hulata, visited Moscow. They met with Secretary of the Security Council of Russia Nikolai Patrushev, with whom they discussed the situation in Syria. The issue of Israeli airstrikes in Syria is expected to be at the centre of Lapid’s meetings in Moscow, along with other issues, such as the Iranian nuclear programme and bilateral issues.

Israel Hayom reports that President Herzog had to intervene over a disagreement between the office of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi and the Prime Minister’s Office. The report says tensions erupted after Egypt forbid Naftali Bennett’s political adviser, Shimrit Meir, from being part of the upcoming Israeli delegation to Egypt. Egyptian sources said that Meir had been the chief editor of the Arabic language American-Israeli news website called Al Masdar, which “contained propaganda against the Egyptian government and against President Sisi personally”. The Egyptian source noted: “The Israelis even stressed the fact that now [before the High Holidays] was a time for repentance and atonement and said that leaving the Israeli adviser behind would spark a public debate in Israel that was liable to cast a pall on the visit.”