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Media Summary

Saudi Arabia to build world’s longest, tallest and fastest rollercoaster

BBC News and The Independent report that the UAE will reopen trade with Qatar next week. The move comes days after the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt ended their embargo with Qatar. Anwar Gargash, the UAE’s minister of state for foreign affairs, said certain elements like airlines, shipping and trader could be restored in the coming days, but that other issues may take longer than a week to restore. Gargash added: “We have a very good start… but we have issues with rebuilding trust.” He specified issues like Iran and Islamist groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

The Independent reports on the Saudi Arabian city of Al-Ula, the historic city where the agreement to end the Qatari embargo was signed. The paper notes that “the ancient city, in Saudi Arabia’s north-western Medina region, was once an important crossroads on the vast incense trade route which spanned from the Mediterranean to India and northern Africa. Its population is now little more than 5,000, but the Saudi kingdom sees it as a key cultural and tourism attraction and has drawn up plans to turn the site and its historic walled city into the world’s largest living museum.”

The Telegraph reports that Saudi Arabia has unveiled plans to build the world’s fastest, longest and tallest rollercoaster as part of the country’s push to attract tourists. According to plans, the rollercoaster will reach speeds of 155 miles per hour (250 km/h). This project is part of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s “Vision 2030” strategy.

The Guardian reports that a court in Baghdad has issued a warrant for the arrest of US President Donald Trump over the assassination of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. Al-Muhandis was the deputy head of an Iraqi pro-Iran paramilitary organisation and was killed in the US drone strike that targeted Qassem Soleimani.

The Guardian reports on a Turkish initiative to preserve its fairytales. The paper notes, “The oral folktales of the Anatolian plateau are a remarkable blend of storytelling motifs and traditions, drawing on the Arabian Nights and Brothers Grimm, as well as Kurdish, Persian, Slavonic, Jewish and Romanian influences… a mammoth academic project called Masal is collecting and indexing a goal of 10,000 stories to preserve for future generations.”

Richard Spencer writes for The Times about why Saudi Arabia ended its blockade of Qatar. He writes: “With Mr Biden promising to take tough action against Saudi Arabia over a multitude of perceived sins, from the war in Yemen to the murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a lifting of the blockade after he took office would look like conceding to pressure. By acting while Mr Trump was still in office, MBS [Mohammed bin Salman] allowed Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and Middle East envoy, to take some credit, as a parting gift to a friendly outgoing administration, and present himself as a reasonable actor to incoming officials.”

The Economist reports on the increased difficulties facing Syrian refugees in Lebanon, including the country’s attempts to deport the refugees. The report concludes that “without a real change in Syria, the refugees scattered across the region (and in Europe) are probably there to stay. And as long as Mr Assad is in power, no real change is expected.”

All the Israeli media cover the stricter lockdown that came into force at midnight last night. The entire school system will return to remote learning, with the exception of special education. All places of employment and the entire commercial sector have been closed, aside from essential businesses. Delivery services will continue, but pickup is not allowed. People may stray no further than 1,000 metres from home and it is prohibited to stay in someone else’s home. Flights are allowed for essential needs only. Restrictions on gatherings have been intensified, with five people allowed in indoor areas and ten people in outdoor areas. Israel Hayom leads on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declaration that all residents of Israel age 16 and over will be able to be vaccinated against coronavirus by the end of March. “Israel will be the first country in the world to emerge from the coronavirus,” Netanyahu said. “As part of the agreement with Pfizer, we decided that Israel will be a global model state for the rapid vaccination of an entire country. To this end, we have brought forward the arrival of the vaccines and also increased their number. We truly are a light onto the nations,” he added. The paper also quotes Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, who said yesterday, “Eighteen percent of the population has already received the first dose of the vaccination and whose medical staff is already inoculated. Seventy percent of the at-risk population is already vaccinated, and we are the first country to achieve that, too.” Channel 12 News reports that the Israel Police are going to be stricter in implementing the lockdown this time around. Anyone caught violating quarantine will be fined 5,000 shekels (£1,155). Refusing a police officer’s order to disperse will result in a 1,000 shekel (£231) fine. Whilst being in a public place or business that is forbidden from opening or praying in violation of the guidelines will incur a 500-shekel (£115) fine, along with not wearing a mask outside.

Kan Radio News reported that the IDF has warned a Syrian army brigade commander that he was putting himself and his soldiers in unnecessary danger by cooperating with Hezbollah. The IDF dropped leaflets in southern Syria naming the Syrian officer and emphasizing that Hezbollah has brought only devastation and instability to the area. The IDF decided to take this course of action because the brigade commander in question has been permitting Hezbollah’s men to use the Syrian army’s posts and providing them with intelligence against the IDF.  Haaretz reports that according the UK based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, 15 people were killed and injured in an Israeli strike in southern Syria, on Wednesday night, the third such strike in nearly 10 days. According to Syrian state TV missiles targeted Iranian revolutionary guard bases in southern Syria. According to the paper, “Western intelligence sources say Israel’s stepped up strikes on Syria in the last few months are part of a shadow war approved by the United States and part of the anti-Iran policy that has undermined in the last two years Iran’s extensive military power without triggering a major increase in hostilities.”

Maariv includes its latest opinion poll, the Likud receives 28 seats, New Hope: 18, Yesh Atid-Telem: 14, Yamina: 13, Joint List: 10, Shas: 8, United Torah Judaism: 7, Yisrael Beiteinu: 7, The Israelis: 6, Meretz: 5, Blue and White: 4 seats. The paper continues to speculate that Netanyahu is considering placing an Arab candidate in a realistic slot on the Likud list. Some polls that were recently conducted at the prime minister’s request show that this could give the Likud two seats from Arab voters. Netanyahu is also thinking about how to strengthen the Likud’s presence among the Russian speaking public, a direct challenge to Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu Party.