Media Summary

Qassem Soleimani statue vandalised hours after unveiling

BBC News reports that seven Palestinians have been killed in a crash between a minibus and a truck in the West Bank. Three other Palestinians are badly injured and there are concerns the death toll could rise further. The roads in the area where the crash occurred are known to be hazardous.

The Telegraph reports that in a rare act of defiance, a statute of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani was set on fire. The statue was vandalised just hours after it was unveiled in a town near Esfahan. The statue was built to commemorate the Iranian general who was assassinated by the US two years ago.

The Associated Press reports that yesterday, thousands of Iranians across the country commemorated the mass funeral of 250 victims of the Iran-Iraq war in what the paper calls “a testament to the brutal conflict’s widespread scale and enduring legacy 35 years later”.

The Economist reports on how sexual assault allegations against Chaim Walder, a prominent figure in Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community, are testing the leaders of the community. Walder shot himself at the end of December after he was accused of sexually assaulting women, girls and boys. The paper notes that efforts by Rabbis to “control the narrative” around Walder have not been working.

A video report from The Independent explains what is ‘flurona’ as Israel reported a rare case of a young woman infected with both COVID and the flu. The health ministry is currently studying the case to determine whether it may cause a more serious illness.

The Economist reports on how Salafists in Saudi Arabia are growing unhappy by the many reforms enacted by Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman. The paper writes that the group “fume that Prince Muhammad has broken an alliance between them and the House of Saud dating back three centuries. The prince has curtailed the powers of the religious police, who can no longer force shops and restaurants to close five times a day for prayer, or prevent men and women from greeting each other with kisses on the cheek”.

All the Israeli media predominately cover the death of a 4-year-old child yesterday by a stray bullet while playing in a playground. Ammar Hujayrat was found unconscious in the Bedouin town of Bir al-Maksur in the north of Israel. Four suspects were identified and detained. The police are investigating the possibility that the shooting was aimed at a construction worker involved in another conflict. Haaretz interviewed Husam Kamel, a witness, who said: “There is a suspicion that the shooting was aimed at one of the vehicles of one of the workers who previously worked in the area of the playground, and one of the bullets apparently struck the toddler. People in the town cannot believe what happened, we are not used to situations like this. The residents are in a panic, and there is a lot of anger about what is happening.”

All the Israeli media also cover the deadly road accident yesterday in the Jordan Valley where eight Palestinian workers were killed. Kan Radio News reports this morning that the Palestinian Authority has declared a day of mourning. According to the initial investigation, the driver who was transporting the workers had failed to give the right of way to a truck that was coming from the north. Defence Minister Benny Gantz sent his condolences to the families of the deceased and thanked the Israeli first responders who helped treat and evacuate the wounded and the dead. Yediot Ahronot quoted a paramedic who said: “When we arrived at the scene the sight was shocking. We saw a truck and a private vehicle crushed on the side of the road. Ten injured, of whom seven were injured in critical condition with some outside the vehicle and some trapped in the vehicle. We did a quick initial triage on the spot and performed medical examinations, together with an IDF medical force, provided medical treatment and performed resuscitation operations, at the end of which we were forced to determine the deaths of seven of the injured.”

All the papers report on Deputy Economy Minister Yair Golan (Meretz) who yesterday gave an interview to Knesset TV where he called the settlers in the illegal outpost of Homesh “subhuman”. MK Golan said: “They riot in Burka, they destroy gravestones, they are committing a pogrom. We, the Jewish people, who suffered from pogroms throughout history, do this to others? We desecrate gravestones? These are not human beings. They are subhuman. They are contemptible people and are the worst of the Jewish people.” Golan added, “They must not be given any backing. They must be removed forcibly and law and order must be reinstated. This nationalist and extremist rampaging will be disastrous for us.”

Yediot Ahronot notes that fellow members of the coalition criticised MK Golan’s terminology, and even his fellow party members in Meretz did not support him. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that “Yair Golan’s comments about the Homesh settlers are shocking, are generalisations and border on blood libel. The settlers in Judea and Samaria are the pioneers of our time”. MK Golan responded on Twitter to the prime minister, “I was referring to the grave desecrators, to the people who destroy property. How else would you describe such people? The time has come to tell the truth: this is not our Judaism.” Leader of Opposition Benjamin Netanyahu called on Bennett to fire Golan. Last might, in an interview with Channel 12 News, Golan said: “I regret the remark, which may have included a problematic wording.  It was said in an emotional state and out of anger.”

Maariv covers the ongoing nuclear talks in Vienna and suggests that “the countdown to the signing of the nuclear agreement has begun”. According to the report there has been a change in Tehran’s position, which so far has not been in a hurry to reach an agreement. At the same time, the Iranians continue to threaten Israel: “If they attack, they will pay a very heavy price”. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian told Al-Jazeera that talks in Vienna were heading in the right direction, but Iran demanded the removal of sanctions imposed on it by former US President Trump and guarantees that no further sanctions would be imposed. In parallel, Iran’s talks with Saudi Arabia are developing positively, and that Iran is ready to return to normalise relations immediately. The paper also notes Foreign Minister Yair Lapid spoke with the US Secretary of State yesterday.  According to a statement from the US State Department, the two discussed the challenges that Iran poses to the two countries.

In the commentary in Yediot Ahronot, Sima Kadmon reflects on the stormy confrontation in the Knesset earlier in the week. She writes, “It isn’t nice to see a prime minister lose his temper, forced to stand with his back to the Knesset rostrum with opposition members cursing and jeering him. But it’s far more unpleasant to see a former prime minister who ducks out while the plenum erupts like a high school sporting auditorium, leaving behind the fire that he started in the opposition benches. The name of the game for Netanyahu nowadays is delegitimisation. Bibi is trying to do to the Knesset what he did to the police commissioner, the police, the State Attorney’s Office, and the courts: to erase the new government’s legitimacy in the public. The remarks that Bennett made to MK Orit Struck after the violent, unrestrained, and heavy-handed scene that took place in the plenum on Wednesday were quoted frequently. ‘Get out of my sight,’ he told her. Struck, it must be said, has been enjoying every moment of this and made the incident out to be further proof that the former director general of the Yesha Council had crossed a line. Yet reality is much simpler in this case too. Immediately after that incident, Bennett said, ‘The woman came towards me without a mask and was spreading Omicron from ten centimetres away. So I told her to get away from me. I had enough quarantine last week’.”