Looted Iraqi and Syrian antiquities sold on Facebook
The BBC reports that Facebook is being used by networks of traffickers to buy and sell looted antiquities from Syria and Iraq. Private groups also discuss how to illegally excavate ancient tombs, according to research by academics. Facebook says it has removed 49 groups following the BBC’s investigation. The BBC has also seen evidence that antiquities are still being smuggled from Iraq and Syria into Turkey, despite a police clampdown and the retreat of the Islamic State group. People use the groups to exchange ideas on how to dig up sites. One writes about an excavation that is under way and warns of the dangers of tomb collapse and suffocation. There are also “loot-to-order” requests. In one case Facebook administrators ask for Islamic-era manuscripts to be made available in Turkey.
In the Financial Times, Roula Khalaf writes that US pressure and the tactics of President Donald Trump are boosting Qasem Soleimani, a commander in the Revolutionary Guard and putting him on track to be the country’s next president. If he’s not president in two years, adds Khalaf, he will be more powerful still — as the kingmaker deciding on the next supreme leader, the highest position in the Islamic republic.
The BBC reports on US sanctions in Iran, presenting six charts which show how hard the sanctions have hit the country. This includes economic growth in Iran, Iran’s oil output, oil exports from the country, the valuation of the rial, inflation, and incomes.
Reuters reports that on Wednesday, Iran’s Oil Minister hit out against the use of oil sanctions “as a weapon” by the United States and the damage it was doing to OPEC. “Those who use oil as a weapon against two founding members of OPEC are disturbing the unity of OPEC and creating the death and collapse of OPEC and the responsibility for that is with them,” Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh said in a speech at an oil and gas conference in Tehran.
On the BBC, Security Correspondent Frank Gardner writes on Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, asking: Why is it so difficult to track down the IS leader?
In the Independent, Richard Hall writes: “Lebanon’s labour minister likens kafala system to ‘modern day slavery’ – but can he stop the abuse?” For decades, migrant domestic workers in Lebanon have complained of rampant abuse at the hands of their employers. Stories of unpaid wages, being locked into the homes where they work, of violence and sexual assault are all commonplace. The underlying cause of these abuses has been known for just as long: the kafala (sponsorship) system – labour rules that tie the legal residency of migrant domestic workers to their employers. But the country’s new labour minister – an internationally renowned lawyer with no background in politics – has vowed to change that. In an exclusive interview with the Independent, Camille Abousleiman details plans to introduce changes to the current system, which he likens to “modern-day slavery”. “It needs to change. It’s not an acceptable system for the 21st century,” Abousleiman, who took up the role in February, told the newspaper. “It’s a form of modern slavery, in its extreme” he added.
The Guardian reports that a coroner’s court has heard that a British couple who died on holiday at a hotel in Egypt may have suffered the effects of an infectious biological agent or toxic chemicals. John Cooper, 69, and his wife, Susan, 63, died suddenly on 21 August last year after becoming ill while staying at the Steigenberger Aqua Magic hotel in the Red Sea resort of Hurghada. A preliminary expert report from Dr Nick Gent, a senior medical adviser at Public Health England, suggested that neither radiation, natural causes, carbon monoxide nor food poisoning caused the couple’s deaths. While the cause of death is still unknown, Gent’s view pointed towards an “infectious biological agent or toxic chemicals” as the most likely explanation.
Reuters reports that Saudi news agency SPA said late on Wednesday, that the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen raided an air base adjoining Sanaa’s airport. The raids targeted drone maintenance sites, a communications system and locations of drone experts and operators, SPA quoted coalition spokesman Colonel Turki al-Maliki as saying. “The terrorist, Iran-backed Houthi militia have transformed Sanaa airport into a military barracks and a place to launch drones to carry out terrorist attacks that threaten regional and international security”, al-Maliki said.
The Independent reports that on Holocaust remembrance day, an Israeli social media campaign, ‘Eva Stories’ has aimed to bring to life the memory of the Holocaust through documenting one girl’s final months. The Instagram trailer opens with a bubbly teenager called Eva appealing to viewers to follow her Instagram page, where she documents her life, loves and friendships through boomerang videos and selfies. But very quickly the story changes. Shaky footage shot by the teen shows Nazi soldiers marching into her town and later storming her home. Soldiers round up her family. The account is based on a real-life Hungarian Jew: 13-year-old, Eva Heyman. Before she was killed in Auschwitz in 1944, she documented the final few months of her life in a personal diary that was only discovered years later. ‘Eva Stories’ is the brainchild of Israeli tech multimillionaire Mati Kochavi and his daughter Maya, who, from Wednesday afternoon, began posting dozens of clips to the @Eva.Stories Instagram account.
All the Israeli media report on Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel. A two-minute siren sounded at 10:00, at which point the official state ceremony at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem began. Other ceremonies will be held across Israel throughout the day.
Haaretz reports on President Reuven Rivlin’s speech last night at Yad Vashem. He said that no interest or considerations of realpolitik could justify a disgraceful alliance with racist individuals and organisations that did not recognise their past and which renounced their responsibility for the crimes of the Holocaust. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed how: “The extreme right, the extreme left and extremist Islam agree on only one thing: hatred of the Jews” adding that: “This hatred is expressed in despicable attacks on worshipers at synagogues, as took place a few days ago in San Diego and before that in Pittsburgh; in the desecration of Jewish cemeteries and in the publication of caricatures and article dripping with hate, even in newspapers considered respectable.” Netanyahu added: “Israel will not present its neck for the slaughter…To those who seek to wipe us out, I say, precisely from this place: We have returned to the stage of history, to the front of the stage… We have beaten our enemies in the past, and with God’s help we will beat you.”
Kan Radio reports that Red Colour alerts sounded in the Sdot Negev Regional Council and the Shaar Hanegev Regional Council this morning. The IDF Spokesperson’s Office issued a statement that two missiles were fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel. The Air Force attacked a Hamas military compound in the northern Gaza Strip last night in response to incendiary kites and balloons that were flown into Israeli territory yesterday. A combat jet and another aircraft attacked a number of targets inside the compound.
Maariv reports this morning that coalition negotiations are now being conducted on two separate planes: between the Likud’s negotiating team and representatives of the prospective coalition partners on the one hand, and directly between Prime Minister Netanyahu and some of the coalition party leaders on the other. Yediot Ahronoth reports this morning that Netanyahu offered Moshe Kahlon the Foreign Ministry instead of the Finance Ministry. According to that report, Netanyahu wants to remove the budgets department from the Finance Ministry and to place it more directly under the Prime Minister’s Office. “Kahlon was a strong finance minister with a lot of power. We don’t want to repeat that,” said one source in the Prime Minister’s office.
Yediot Ahronoth writes that efforts by Natan Eshel, a senior member of the Likud’s coalition negotiating team, to persuade Blue and White’s Omer Yankelevich to defect from her party and to join the Likud are likely to fail as Yankelevich says she intends to remain in the Blue and White Party. MK Yankelevich wrote on Facebook: “I believe in Benny Gantz’s path. In his leadership, his path and the new discourse that he is trying to instill in Israeli society… I am motivated by a moral social mission. My conscience and faith alone guide me in my social and political activity. That is how it has been until now and that is how it will be moving ahead in every field and issue that I encounter. Therefore, any option of ugly political trading of the above kind doesn’t exist in my worldview.”
Haaretz reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman have expressed reservations to IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi about the appointment of IDF Spokesperson Gil Messing. Israel Hayom assesses that the Chief of Staff will not be able to appoint Messing as IDF Spokesperson. Gil Messing acted as a police agent during the Yisrael Beytenu corruption investigation in 2015, secretly recording his friend and fellow spokesman, Ronen Moshe, as well as then-foreign minister Avigdor Liberman. Maariv also reports on the story, quoting Messing who said he “acted out of a sense of good citizenship”.
Israel Hayom reports that Sweden’s socialist government has continued to take anti-Israel measures, this time by tightening its relations with boycott organisations. Earlier this week a public meeting was held between the state secretary to Sweden’s minister for foreign affairs, Annika Söder, and leaders of Al-Haq, an organisation that stands at the forefront of the effort to create an international boycott against Israel. The paper writes that Al-Haq played a prominent role in pushing for the Irish Parliament to pass legislation to boycott Israel and also lobbies to have senior Israeli officials prosecuted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.