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Media Summary

Israel’s Supreme Court rules in favour of same-sex couple surrogacy rights

The Times and The Guardian reports on the cyberattack on Iran’s rail and transport system last week with information boards being manipulated to warn of delays to trains “due to a cyberattack”. The semi-official Fars news agency reported “unprecedented chaos” at stations across the country on Friday as fake messages of delays and cancellations appeared. It was not immediately clear who was behind the attacks, which were played down by officials who said that train services had not been affected.

Reuters notes Israel’s Supreme Court has ruled that current legal restrictions barring same-sex couples from becoming parents through surrogacy were unlawful and must be lifted within six months. The country’s LGBTQ+ community praised yesterday’s decision as a breakthrough after several years of demanding to be allowed to pursue surrogacy, which is already accessible to heterosexual couples and single women in Israel.

The Financial Times writes about a new movement emerging in the next generation of Palestinian activists that echoes the same values of equality that fuel global campaigns such as Black Lives Matter. Activists have said the new movement, which is leaderless and without a defined vision of the future beyond securing equality and justice for all Palestinians, gained momentum after May’s conflict in Gaza.

The Telegraph reports that human rights activists in Saudi Arabia, including Loujain al-Hathloul, were sexually assaulted and tortured while detained in prisons, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch. Ms al-Hathloul, who was among a number of people arrested during a 2018 crackdown on human rights figures by the Saudi authorities, has long maintained that she was tortured after her arrest in 2018 with water boarding, electric shocks and threats of rape. But following her conditional release from detention in February, a Saudi appeals court rejected that claim. An anonymous guard who spoke to Human Rights Watch has now said she was touched inappropriately and verbally abused, however.

The Guardian notes that Israel is offering a booster shot of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine to adults with weak immune systems, but says it is still weighing up whether they should be given to the general public. The spread of the Delta variant has fuelled a rise in the number of new infections from single digits a month ago to around 450 a day, leading the government to fast-track its next Pfizer shipment.

While repatriation debates rage on, Shamima Begum, Hoda Muthana and other foreign wives of ISIS wait in legal limbo. A new documentary, ‘The Return’, tells their stories so we might better understand what went wrong, and what we can still do right, says Stephen Applebaum in the Independent.

Just weeks after Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was re-elected in a poll widely seen as farcical, some smaller European countries are tentatively warming their relations with the regime, writes the Financial Times.

In the Israeli media, Israel Hayom reports that a delegation of senior security officials will leave Israel this week for Cairo in hope of reaching a long-term truce arrangement with Hamas. Disagreements remain on the method of delivering Qatari funds to the Gaza Strip as well as linking any reconstruction work in Gaza to a truce arrangement on the return of the MIAs and captives. This morning Israel has agreed to expand the fishing zone off the Gaza Strip coast from nine to 12 nautical miles. Exports of agricultural and textile products will also be permitted into Israel, and imports of medical equipment, fishing equipment and raw material for industry and textile will be allowed into Gaza from Israel. These steps were approved by the political echelon and are contingent on continued quiet.

Kan Radio News reports that Foreign Minister Yair Lapid met last night in Brussels with High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell. Lapid wrote on Twitter that he had discussed with him the importance of relations between Israel and the EU, mainly from the economic aspect, and thanked him for his invitation to be the main guest today at the EU’s meeting of foreign ministers. Earlier Lapid met with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and they discussed the issue of Israel’s MIAs and hostages in the Gaza Strip.

In political news, Maariv leads with yesterday’s announcement by United Arab List (UAL) MK Walid Taha who said his party would not participate in Knesset votes on several bills until the government implemented several decision relating to Arab society that appear in the coalition agreements. The potential crisis was averted several hours later after cabinet ministers held a rushed telephone vote in which they decided to remove the Department for the Social-Economic Development of Bedouin Society and the Bedouin Development and Settlement Authority from the Economy Ministry’s purview and to place it under the Welfare Ministry’s purview instead. A spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office said that the change had been made in keeping with “coalition agreements that were signed before the government was formed”. The crisis itself may have been resolved, but the underlying tensions continued to hover in the air, an indication of what might lie in store further down the road.

A commentary in Israel Hayom describes yesterday’s events as “swift capitulation” by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. “The United Arab List’s threat to go on parliamentary strike was successful, and they got what they wanted. This time, that might have been a commitment that was made to them when the government was first established, but as soon as that relationship of extortion was established, there is no reason to expect it to stop there. Suspending demolition orders and other enforcement is already happening on the ground, and it doesn’t take a huge leap of the imagination to guess what the next stages are going to include. UAL’s representatives have learned an important lesson: the Bennett government caves to pressure. The protection racket is a success, and Bennett will keep on paying more and more.”

Kan Radio News reports that Pfizer has agreed to move up the date of the next shipment of vaccines to Israel from September to early August, meaning that anyone in Israel who wishes to receive a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine will be able to do so. The pandemic advisory team last night recommended to give vaccines to children under age 12 who have severe pre-existing medical conditions. The majority of the team also supports giving a third dose to the elderly. Health Ministry Director General Prof. Nachman Ash said that no new restrictions would be imposed as long as the number of people in serious condition were to remain low. However, if the infection rate were to continue to rise, then restrictions would be imposed in another two months on the size of weddings and other events at which there is a high risk of infection.

Yediot Ahronot publishes a commentary that calls for a ban on large gatherings, a bigger drive to vaccinate the 500-000 to 1m over 50s who are unvaccinated, a safe return to the opening of the new school year, and clearer instructions for the public to act cautiously. “Prime Minister Bennett, who has not yet shown any overly impressive commitment to the battle against the pandemic, also joined the party and announced, in the spirit of the last government, that an agreement had been reached with Pfizer to move up the next shipment, even though that has the subject of talks that have been underway for weeks and, factually, has not been finalised. Vaccines need to be the top priority for the next while. As we’ve learned, a high enough level of immunity among the population provides a defensive wall that facilitates a safe return to normal life. But to get the most out of the vaccines, we have to stop hearing people promising who superbly they work and start adopting a different attitude towards them.”

A new poll published in Maariv by the Israel Democracy Institute shows that Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is perceived by the public as being the most powerful person in the coalition, ahead of Prime Minister Bennett. United Arab List Chairman MK Mansour Abbas comes in third place, after Lapid and Bennett. The poll found that 46 per cent of the public believes that the current government will remain in office for at least one year, whereas 45 per cent believe that the chances of that happening are low. A majority of people who voted for parties that comprise the current coalition government believe that the government will remain in power for longer than a year, with the exception of people who voted for Yamina and the UAL.