Rise in Gaza suicides
The BBC has produced a short video detailing the rise of suicides in Gaza. According to the Palestinian Center for Conflict Resolution, 30 people have taken their lives in 2020 alone, and a further 600 have attempted suicide. Tough living conditions and a lack of freedom of expression under Hamas rule are believed to be factors.
The Guardian reports that witnesses at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial will give testimony up to three times a week starting in January. Such regular court appearances and potentially explosive testimonies could present a further image problem for the Israeli leader, who is fighting fresh public discontent and regular protests over his handling of a recent surge in COVID-19 cases, says the paper.
The Telegraph, Associated Press,The Guardian, BBC, Independent reports that the UAE’s historic first mission to Mars has begun after a successful lift-off in Japan. The Hope probe is now on a 500-million-km journey to study the planet’s weather and climate. The prove is due to arrival in February 2021 to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the UAE’s formation. Emirati and US engineers and scientists worked alongside each other to design and build the spacecraft systems and the three onboard instruments that will study the planet.
The Associated Press notes that Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has been admitted to a hospital in the capital, Riyadh, for medical tests due to inflammation of the gallbladder, the kingdom’s Royal Court said Monday in a statement carried by the official Saudi Press Agency. The 84-year old King has not been seen in public in recent months due to social distancing guidelines and concerns over the spread of the coronavirus inside the kingdom, which has one of the largest outbreaks in the Middle East. He has been shown, however, in state-run media images attending virtual meetings with his Cabinet and has held calls with world leaders, including as recently as Saturday with Kuwait’s ruling emir.
Iran has halted the executions of three men who were sentenced to death over anti-government protests last year, according to one of their lawyers reported in The Guardian and BBC. The Supreme Court has agreed to grant a request for a retrial. UN experts say the men confessed under torture and were subjected to “unfair trials”. The Associated Press notes that Iran has executed a man convicted of providing information to the US and Israel about a prominent Revolutionary Guard general later killed by a US drone strike.
The Times and Independent focus on two new explosions in Iran at a large energy plant and a factory, the sixth and seventh such incidents in the past month. The first blast yesterday morning hit the Islamabad thermal electricity plant in the central province of Isfahan. Nobody was injured and power was disrupted for two hours. The Iranian regime has mostly passed off the explosions as industrial accidents but speculation is growing that they are acts of sabotage.
The Financial Times leads with comments Iraq’s finance minister who has warned of “severe security consequences” if its economy is not “restructured radically”, as the coronavirus crisis wreaks havoc on business and an oil price crash hits state revenues. Ali Allawi, Harvard and MIT-educated, says “issues which were buried because of large and growing oil revenues are now crystallising,” referring to bloated spending and a monthly wage bill of $5bn for its vast public payroll. This includes payments for what he estimated are 300,000 “ghost” or fictional employees.
A long read in The Financial Times focuses on Turkey’s regional power game over Mediterranean gas reserves. Competing claims in the region have left Ankara isolated as its efforts to stall projects threaten billions of dollars in investment. The report says Egypt and Israel are collaborating their efforts to ensure gas investments in the East Med are profitable.
All the Israeli media report on the new start of new social distancing restrictions agreed by cabinet and set to be approved by the Knesset this week. Restaurant owners met yesterday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and with Finance Minister Yisrael Katz and warned that closing restaurants would lead to the collapse of the restaurant sector. The restaurateurs said that they expected Prime Minister Netanyahu and Finance Minister Katz to reply by this morning to their demand not to close them.
Kan Radio News reports that the newly formed economic cabinet will meet today to discuss how to allocate the NIS 6bn stimulus plan declared by the Prime Minister last week. Finance Minister Katz is opposed to attempts to make an exception for singles so that they would not receive the grant. He wrote on Twitter that this would badly harm soldiers and university students and many others who have contributed and still contribute to the State of Israel’s resilience and its economy. Blue and White Chairman Benny Gantz wants half of the grant, NIS 3bn, to go to the weaker sectors.
Ma’ariv notes that Netanyahu’s stimulus plan to give money to every Israeli regardless of their financial situation was heavily criticised by the Governor of the Bank of Israel, Prof. Amir Yaron. “In the current situation, we should improve the package of steps so that they are focused. We must not think that we can increase spending and increase the deficit unlimitedly. The crisis is liable to worsen, particularly in the fall and winter, and we have to save our ammunition, both in financial terms and in terms of the trust we enjoy in the markets,” Yaron said.
Yediot Ahronot’s economic correspondent, Sever Plocker, adds in his article the reasoning of Netanyahu’s new stimulus plan by his economic advisor. Prof. Avi Simhon explained in reply to the criticism of the plan that the original intent had indeed been not to give grants to the upper three deciles, but that since “speed was critical, it was better to give money even to those who don’t deserve it and not to delay the money to those who would collapse without it”. Plocker writes that this “is and was an imaginary choice and is resolvable”.
The Jerusalem Post reports that the Hungarian Foreign Minister, Péter Szijjártó, is scheduled to visit Israel today to sign a deal on space research. Szijjártó will only visit Jerusalem, where he will meet with Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and Science Minister Yizhar Shay. Hungary and Israel have tight ties and the country is considered to be a very “close friend” of Israel, Avi Nir-Feldklein, the head of the Foreign Ministry’s Europe department, told reporters on Sunday.
Haaretz reports that Israel is close to appointing a head to lead the battle against the coronavirus. Prof. Gabi Barbash, best known recently as the Channel 12 News health analyst, has been asked to manage the campaign against the virus. Barbash has two clear advantages: Lots of relevant experience – he has been director of Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital and Health Ministry director-general – and public recognition stemming from his frequent media appearances. The formal announcement of his appointment was being delayed Sunday, as officials struggled to define the scope of his authority and whether he answers directly to the Prime Minister or the Health Ministry.
All the Israeli media report that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) managed to control a drone that hovered over the Israeli-Lebanese border, landing it successfully in Israel on Sunday. In a statement, the IDF confirmed that “IDF troops spotted a drone infiltrating Israeli airspace from Lebanon. The drone was monitored by the forces who deployed various means [to stop it].” Following the infiltration, Lebanon’s National News Agency reported that the drone was for commercial use, and belonged to a Lebanese singer. Israeli defence officials have accused Hezbollah of using ostensibly civilian tools, including drones, to conduct reconnaissance along the border. The event comes after a number of infiltration attempts in recent weeks by migrant workers attempting to enter Israel.