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Media Summary

Protests in Tunisia for second consecutive night from restless youth

The BBC leads with a report on Yemen and how the country, into a six-year civil war, is preparing for a second wave of COVID-19. One doctor tells the BBC how she battled the pandemic alone after her colleagues fled the hospital.

The Times reports on the dramatic impact the Arab Spring has had on the Tunisian currency. In the ten years since President Ben Ali was toppled, turning Tunisia from a police state into a democracy, the dinar has lost half its value against the dollar. A gram of gold is now sold for up to 180 Tunisian dinars compared with 60 to 70 in 2010. Abdel Monème Khoudjet al-Khil, vice-president of the Head Office for the Jeweller Artisans, a state authority, said: “They’re selling [jewellery] to pay for water bills and electricity — even to eat.”

The Financial Times notes that Tunisian police clashed with violent youth for a second night on Sunday, after protests erupted in several cities including some districts of the capital Tunis and the coastal city of Sousse. The explosion of fury was sparked by the alleged mistreatment of a shepherd by a policeman in the northern town of Siliana, but the youth in Tunisia, who faced in 2020 soaring unemployment rates of 36.5 per cent, have failed to prosper in the country after the fall of Ben-Ali’s regime.

The Independent and The Telegraph report that the family of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe say the imprisoned Iranian-British national is expected to be freed from Iran in seven weeks after concluding her sentence. Yesterday, the UK announced it had stepped up talks on securing her release. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that the UK has “intensified” negotiations with Iran to release Zaghari-Ratcliffe, adding that they were “pushing very hard” to free her. Richard Ratcliffe told The Telegraph that he had recently asked the UK government to “seek assurances” from the Iran that she will be released at the end of her sentence and that it won’t be the start of a “new game” by the Iranians.

The Guardian reports that the E3 – Germany, France and the UK – have voiced deep concern over Iran’s plans to produce uranium metal, warning that Tehran has “no credible civilian use” for the element. “The production of uranium metal has potentially grave military implications,” the foreign ministers said in a joint statement on Saturday. Iran had signed up to a 15-year ban on “producing or acquiring plutonium or uranium metals or their alloys” under the JCPOA nuclear deal in 2015.

The Independent follow a report in Israel about an ultra-Orthodox rabbi who told his followers to avoid getting a COVID vaccine because it can “make them gay”. Israeli media reported that Rabbi Daniel Asor, who has amassed a large online following, also claimed inoculation efforts were part of a “global malicious government” trying to “establish a new world order”. However, the paper notes that Asor has been contradicted by statements from leading Orthodox rabbis who have called on their followers to come forward for a coronavirus jab.

The Associated Press writes that Israel has struck a deal with Pfizer, promising to share vast troves of medical data with the international drug giant in exchange for the continued flow of its highly demanded vaccine. Israel is set to become the first country to vaccinate most of its population, while providing valuable research that could help the rest of the world. Critics say the deal raises major ethical concerns, including privacy violations and a deepening of the global divide that enables wealthy countries to stockpile vaccines as poorer populations.

Writing in The Spectator, Jake Wallis Simons surveys the unexpected relationship between Shia Iran and Sunni Al Qaeda. Simons writes, “From the beginning, Iran’s attitude towards the Al Qaeda émigrés was to ‘keep your enemies close’. The regime held the terrorists under constant surveillance and imprisoned them on several occasions.”

The Israeli media focuses on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaigning efforts on the Arab citizens of Israel. Netanyahu held a Zoom meeting with more than 20 Arab mayors last night. According to a report in Maariv, Netanyahu to present a plan “in the next few days” to fight the crime and violence that has risen in Arab society in recent years, describing that as part of his commitment to Israel’s “national security”. Commenting in Israel Hayom, Matti Tuchfeld writes: “As in all similar previous cases, that meeting sparked a stormy debate within the Arab sector over whether to cooperate with Netanyahu or to boycott him because of his past actions and statements. As more time passes, the proponents of engaging in dialogue with the prime minister have continued to confer increasing legitimacy on a person who just a few months ago was considered to be an illegitimate person [Netanyahu], and that has torn the Joint List to shreds.”

Maariv also reports on a clash between Netanyahu and Defence Minister Benny Gantz over Israeli developments in the West Bank. Last week Gantz announced his intention to advance large-scale Palestinian construction in Area C of the West Bank. Yesterday, it was reported that Netanyahu tried to circumvent Gantz by asking an envoy from his office, Lior Farber, to contact the Civil Administration to have it stop the Palestinian construction plans. Gantz is quoted by Maariv as saying in the cabinet meeting: “I will not allow the prime minister’s intervention in the work of the army and the Civil Administration. I won’t allow [my] authority to be circumvented by the Prime Minister’s Bureau. The committee’s activity is under the defence minister’s purview and there are accepted work protocols. If the prime minister wants to raise reservations, he knows my number.” Gantz is also refusing to legalise retroactively the illegal settlement outposts. Hundreds of residents of the settlement outposts protested outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on Sunday, and called on Gantz and Netanyahu, “stop your political wars on our backs and our families’ backs and legalize the young settlements”.

Yediot Ahornot dedicates its coverage to the latest coronavirus developments. One report says, “As of last night, there were 1,177 people hospitalised in serious condition in Israel, more than 350 of whom are in critical condition, and 300 of whom are on ventilators. In the previous wave, the healthcare establishment raised a red flag when it was approaching 800 such patients. This situation is the outcome of the state’s failures in handling the pandemic, which allowed the number of sick continue to climb for several weeks undisturbed and then, very belatedly, took steps to stem the approaching catastrophe. But there is another reason, one that is less well-known, for the situation: the executives running the hospitals, which have seen their revenues plummet this past year as a result of the crisis, have adamantly refused to reduce their non-urgent activity and free up more staff for treating COVID-19 patients. For that reason, some of them refuse to accept patients who are transferred to them from overloaded hospitals, which forces them to open more COVID-19 wards.”

Kan Radio News reports that the lockdown in Israel, which is scheduled to end on midnight on Thursday, is likely to be extended until Sunday at least. The Health Ministry wants to extend it by a week. Prime Minister Netanyahu is leaning toward supporting extending the lockdown if the infection rate remains high. In any event, there is no intent to begin lifting restrictions before the weekend, since there are more gatherings at that time.

Another report in Yediot Ahronot describes another phenomenon in Israel about the blurred boundaries between politics and coronavirus. It says, “We have seen an interesting trend in the last few days, a trend that has been warmly embraced by the Likud’s campaign head-quarters: citizens who have received the COVID-19 vaccine are interviewed and publicly praise Prime Minister Netanyahu for his achievement.” The paper goes on to say, “The problem is not the cynical use that Netanyahu has made of the vaccines for his election campaign. The problem is that political considerations have informed the decisions made in managing the coronavirus crisis.”

Kan Radio News reports that the Prime Minister’s defence counsel will today submit their answer in writing to the charges against Netanyahu to the Jerusalem District Court. The answer is likely to be long and detailed and also include complaints about the way in which the investigation was conducted and the way the case has been managed. Netanyahu is set to give his answer verbally to the court on 8 February.

Maariv notes that Shas Chairman and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri launched his party’s election campaign yesterday in a Zoom meeting with hundreds of activists from across Israel. Deri said that he and Shas would endorse Netanyahu for Prime Minister. Deri went on to promise to “bring New Hope Chairman Gideon Saar and Yamina Chairman Naftali Bennett back into the right-wing camp. I pledge, without an oath, to bring Gideon Saar my friend and Naftali Bennett my friend, to bring them back into the right-wing camp. There is going to be a large right-wing government headed by Netanyahu, and Shas will be strong.”