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Media Summary

Palestinian Authority holds rare meeting with Hamas

BBC News,  The TimesThe TelegraphThe Independent, and The Guardian report that weeks after the Beirut port blast, signs of life have been detected under a pile of rubble. Rescuers continued to search through rubble after a search dog may have discovered a survivor 30 days after the explosion. Using thermal imaging equipment, the rescue team detected two people under a pile of wreckage with one appearing to show signs of life. Although rescue efforts were initially suspended overnight, volunteers continued to work by hand.

The Financial Times reports on rebuilding efforts in Beirut following the devastating blast that killed over 200 people last month. Chloe Cornish writes that: “It is a grim undertaking, led by volunteers and private individuals in the absence of support from the bankrupt and discredited Lebanese state. The country’s leaders have largely failed.” Cornish adds that it took international intervention from French President Emmanuel Macron for the country to choose a new prime minister, and that even before the blast the country faced its worst economic crisis in 30 years – which has only been exacerbated due to the devastating explosion of inadequately-stored ammonium nitrate.

Reuters reports that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas held a rare meeting with rival Palestinian faction Hamas yesterday in light of normalisation between Israel and the UAE. The meeting was held through video conference with Abbas in Ramallah and Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh and Palestinian Islamic Jihad Secretary General Ziyad al-Nakhalah in Beirut. Abbas urged the factions to form a national leadership, adding that “Our meeting comes at a very dangerous stage, in which our national cause faces various plots and dangers,” while Haniyeh said: “We must succeed in ending the division and building a unified Palestinian position. At this stage, failure is forbidden”.

BBC News reports that US President Donald Trump has asked Iran to overturn a death sentence given to Navid Afkari, a champion wrestler who took part in protests two years ago. Afkari was handed the sentence over the murder of a prison guard, but his confessions were extracted under torture. Trump tweeted: “To the leaders of Iran, I would greatly appreciate if you would spare this young man’s life, and not execute him”.

The Independent reports that Iranian authorities have stepped up suppression “of dissidents and civil society to alarming levels,” fearing a renewed wave of anti-government protests over the country’s handling of the coronavirus crisis and the economic damage it has caused. Activists and scholars say, “the goal of the repression is to terrorise dissenting Iranians”. In recent weeks, Iranian authorities handed down death sentences to peaceful protesters, increased mass arrests, raped up torture inside detention centres and stepped up disappearances.
The Economist reports that Egypt is looking to prosecute millions of non-voters amid government concern over low turnout, even for its sham elections.

The Associated Press reports that Bahrain will allow Israeli flights to and from the UAE to use its airspace. The announcement came soon after Saudi Arabia announced it would allow Israel to use its airspace for such flights. However, both countries made the announcement without directly naming Israel.

Israel Hayom reports that Hezbollah yesterday reiterated its threat to carry out a revenge attack against Israel within the next two weeks, and defence officials believe they will try implementing its plan of action before the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah), on September 18. Consequently, the IDF is remaining on high alert along the Lebanese border. According to the paper, the assessment within the army, particularly following Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah’s speech last Sunday, is that Hezbollah is determined to carry out an attack before the upcoming High Holiday. While IDF officials cannot predict the exact nature of such an attack, they have not ruled out the prospect of rocket fire in the Har Dov sector, an infiltration attack, anti-tank missile fire, small arms fire and more.

All the Israel media report Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit told a conference of the Israel Bar Association that the Prime Minister did not have to declare himself incapacitated due to the impending court case. However, he would have to adhere to a conflict of interest arrangement, as the Prime Minister undertook in a statement to the High Court of Justice. Yediot Ahronotquotes Mandelblit saying, “The indictment was filed against the citizen, Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu, and attributed to him personally, and not against him as prime minister. The indictment was certainly not filed against a political party, God forbid… As I told the Supreme Court – his tenure as prime minister on trial is possible under a very clear conflict of interest arrangement, which prevents the incumbent from influencing his personal criminal affairs by exercising his governmental powers.  Such a conflict of interest arrangement will guarantee a complete separation between the tenure of Mr. Netanyahu as prime minister and the powers conferred on him within this framework and his personal handling of the criminal proceedings in his case.” Mandelblit  added, “There is no political prosecution system in the State of Israel. I firmly reject the attempt to turn defence claims regarding legal proceedings, whose place is in court, to claims of political persecution that are thrown into the ether out of a clear goal to delegitimise the entire process. I said it before and I’ll say it again, we are not against a specific person, we are for revealing the truth.”

Kan Radio News and Haaretz cover a New York Times report that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secretly gave his approval for the US to sell F-35 jets to the United Arab Emirates, although he publicly voiced his opposition to the move. Officials familiar with the negotiations said that Netanyahu had lied when he said that he opposed the arms sale to the UAE. After meeting with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Netanyahu stopped saying that he had opposed the deal, which reportedly also includes electronic warfare planes and unmanned aerial vehicles. Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer denied the New York Times report.

Haaretz reports that the agreement with the UAE has revealed 25 years of quiet diplomatic relations. The paper notes, “unlike in the cases of Jordan and Egypt, where largely defence officials manage the relationship while civilian ties are neglected, Israel’s Foreign Ministry slowly and quietly build productive civilian ties with the UAE alongside the security relationship.” The paper quotes Eliav Benjamin, head of the ministry’s coordination bureau, who is responsible for ties with Arab and Muslim states that don’t have official relations with Israel. “It all began after Oslo, when Shimon Peres came and told us, ‘Start opening the door to the Arab world.”  That’s when the contacts started. We opened a dialogue with them in Washington, New York and Abu Dhabi, with senior officials’ blessing. Slowly and quietly. A dedicated team was built and we were on the phone with them. At first, most of the activity was economic, with the goal of it spreading to the diplomatic sphere as well. In 2002, there was a breakthrough when they wanted to establish a diamond exchange in Dubai and saw the Ramat Gan exchange as a model. We held many talks with them about this, and dozens of Israeli traders started working there.  Today, more than 40 are registered. Every year there’s a big jewellery fair, and you can see quite a few religious Israelis there. That was one of the first anchors. We also invested in helping with agricultural development and water.”