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Media Summary

Saudi Crown Prince accused of sending hit squad to kill former intelligence officer

The Guardian, The Times, and BBC News report that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, was accused of sending a hit squad to Canada to kill Saad al-Jabri, a former Saudi intelligence officer. Jabri fled to Canada three years ago and has been under security protection in Toronto since then. Jabri is suing the crown prince for damages relating to an “attempted extrajudicial killing”. Court documents show the group tried to enter Canada just two weeks after journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, but were turned away by border agents. The lawsuit alleges that members of the hit squad sent to kill Jabri were involved in Khashoggi’s murder.

BBC News, The Times, The Guardian, and The Financial Times report on French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit to Beirut following Tuesday’s deadly blast. The French President was the first foreign leader to visit the country since the explosion and he toured the site of the blast and the hardest hit neighbourhoods across the city. Macron described the explosion as a “metaphor for Lebanon’s current crisis,” whilst calling for an international investigation into the blast. He promised that “aid would not go to corrupt hands,” saying that “the priority is unconditional aid and support for the population”. He added that an international aid conference for Lebanon would convene shortly to ensure aid was sent directly to relief organisations. While he said he would “never interfere in Lebanese politics” he expressed the need for a “new political order” in the country.

The Independent, BBC News and The Guardian report on clashes between anti-government protestors and security forces in Lebanon’s capital. Demonstrators gathered to express their anger over Tuesday’s devastating blast, blaming government negligence for the death of at least 137 people, injuries of over 5,000 and for leaving more that 250,000 without habitable homes. Officers tear gassed dozens of people near parliament after a small group of protesters burned objects and threw rocks at police officers. The latest protests come after months of demonstrations over the country’s economic crisis, sectarian rule and unemployment.

The Times, The Telegraph, The Independent, and BBC News examine how 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate came to be stored at a warehouse in the Beirut port without any safety measures for more than six years. The Lebanese government has yet to name the source of the material, but reports show that the same amount of the chemical arrived in the port city in November 2013 on a Moldovan-flagged cargo ship. The Rhosus, a Russian-owned cargo ship, set sail from Georgia with the ammonium nitrate destined for a factory in Mozambique. After failing a safety inspection in Beirut, the ship was impounded. The ship’s owner, Russian businessman Igor Grechushkin, refused to pay docking fees or take any interest in the dangerous cargo. Port authorities then transferred the ammonium nitrate to a warehouse near the grain silos. Subsequently, documents circulated online appeared to show that customs officials sent letters to a judge of ‘Urgent Matters’ in Beirut seeking guidance on how to sell or dispose the material at least six times from 2014 to 2017.

The Telegraph reports on a growing fears of coronavirus spreading through the Al-Hold refugee camp after three health workers tested positive. The camp is home to thousands of refugees displaced from territory in Syria formerly occupied by ISIS. The camp also houses former ISIS members and their families. UN officials said a contact tracing process was ongoing.

Kan Radio News reports that last night the Israeli Air Force (IAF) attacked an underground Hamas target in the northern Gaza Strip in response to the release of explosive and incendiary balloons yesterday into Israel. The balloons caused at least five fires; one particularly large fire broke out in the Be’eri Forest, consuming around 74 acres. In the Arad area, police sappers defused a balloon connected to an explosive charge. Last night, the release of explosive balloons continued, and many explosions were heard in the Gaza perimeter. Defence Minister Benny Gantz reiterated that Israel would not tolerate any violation of its sovereignty or any harm to the residents of southern Israel. Shortly after the IAF strike, Gantz wrote on Twitter that it must be understood in Gaza that only returning the bodies of Israeli soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul and maintaining a state of calm would lead to economic growth in the Gaza Strip. If the terror organisations have not yet understood this, anyone who puts Israel to the test will be severely harmed.

All Israeli broadcast media reported this morning sirens were heard across northern Israel, that proved to be a false alarm. Meanwhile the army is  remaining on alert and continuing its operational deployment in the north. This was decided yesterday by the chief of staff following a situation assessment meeting.

All the Israeli media cover the ongoing political tension within the coalition between the Likud and Blue and White. Yediot Ahronot reports the latest development is Blue and White preventing the cabinet meeting from being convened on Sunday. The paper explains, “according to the coalition agreement, the Likud and Blue and White both have a veto right over the cabinet’s agenda…. Blue and White figures suspect that Netanyahu plans to pull a fast one on Sunday and bring before the cabinet a one-year budget for approval… Likud figures charge Blue and White of seeking to cause a blow-up: “According to the rules, the prime minister can bring the one-year budget for approval without their consent, and he can disregard the coalition agreement. The whole drama they have created, which will lead to a cancellation of the cabinet meeting, only fuels the fire but will not really prevent a one-year budget from being presented.” According to Blue and White sources. “They are blatantly breaking the agreement and signalling unequivocally that we’re headed for elections. Are we wrong to demand what we are entitled to?”  Ma’ariv includes its latest poll asking, if elections were held today, for which party would you vote?  The Likud receives 32 seats, Yesh Atid-Telem: 18 seats, Joint List: 16 seats, Yamina: 12 seats, Blue and White: 11 seats, Shas: 10 seats, Yisrael Beiteinu: 8 seats, United Torah Judaism: 8 seats, Meretz: 5 seats.

According to Yediot Ahronot, Likud sources say that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is unofficially trying to form a new right-wing party to run in the next elections. The party will be headed by his close associate Haim Bibas, the current chairman of the Federation of Local Authorities and the mayor of Modiin. The paper explains that if Netanyahu cannot count on the entire right-wing bloc to support him, he needs to find another way to reach 61 seats. The new party would look to garner support from people who are disappointed in the Likud, mainly because of the coronavirus crisis. It will attract moderate right-wing voters who voted for Blue and White and block votes from going to other parties.

Israel Hayom reports that US Special Envoy for Iran, Brian Hook, announced yesterday that he is stepping down from the post.The paper notes the timing, “just as the United States tries to moves ahead with a major diplomatic effort that would extend a UN arms embargo against Iran…. a day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US would call for a UN Security Council vote next week on a resolution to indefinitely extend the embargo, which is due to expire in October.”  The paper further notes, “That resolution is expected to fail, setting the stage for a showdown between the US and the other Security Council members over the re-imposition of all international sanctions on Iran.” Pompeo said in a statement that Hook “has been my point person on Iran for over two years and he has achieved historic results.” Hook will be replaced by Elliot Abrams, a noted security hawk, who is currently the US special envoy for Venezuela.