Media Summary

Syrian colonel sentenced to life in prison in landmark case

BBC News, The Financial Times, The Telegraph, The Independent, The Guardian and The Times all report on the conviction of a former Syrian colonel who was linked to the torture of over 4,000 people during Syria’s civil war. A German court sentenced Anwar Raslan to life in prison for crimes against humanity in what has been called a historic trial. This marks the first time a court held the Assad regime responsible for state sponsored torture in Syria and could set a precedent for similar cases. Such cases are likely to be seen in countries like Germany, which have adopted the principle of ‘universal jurisdiction’.

A video report from BBC News examines the Al-Khatib prison in Syria, the location where Anwar Raslan was linked to the torture of over 4,000 people. A former prisoner, Wassim Mukdad, speaks about his time in prison and the interrogations he endured after he was captured for protesting the Assad regime.

Richard Spencer writes in The Times about the time he was detained in Damascus and questioned by Anwar Raslan. He writes: “His questioning was lengthy and meticulous. He took notes, which I had to sign before I was allowed to leave, returning incongruously to the Four Seasons Hotel, an echoing, empty chamber of luxury in what was already by April 2012 a city of misery.”

The Times reports on how the collapsing Turkish lira may bring down the country’s President. The paper notes that “the Turkish president’s disastrous response to an inflation crisis has stirred up anger at his authoritarian rule”

BBC News reports on an Iranian spy network in Israel focused on recruiting women. Israel’s internal security agency says that four Jewish women of Iranian descent were recruited by someone claiming to be a Jewish man living in Iran. According to the report, “the women were allegedly paid thousands of dollars to take photos of sensitive sites, monitor security arrangements, and make connections with politicians”.

Jonathan Sacerdoti writes in The Spectator about how the tree planting scandal in Israel’s Negev could potentially bring down Israel’s coalition government, and concludes: “It’s unlikely, however, that anyone in the coalition will allow that to happen; there’s no appetite for another election right now, especially not one triggered by tree planting.”

All the Israeli newspapers front pages are dominated by the death of two IDF officers, killed on Wednesday night because of misidentification and friendly fire. The incident occurred when two groups of soldiers set out separately from the Nebi Musa training base to look for stolen equipment without prior coordination. After the two soldiers were misidentified, a gun battle ensued and the pair were shot and killed by a fellow soldier. The two officers killed were both company commanders in the Egoz commando unit – 28-year-old Maj. Ofek Aharon and 26-year-old Maj. Itamar Elharar. The papers quote Prime Minister Bennett who said: “The two commanders had dedicated their best years to the security of Israel and defending our homeland. The entire people of Israel mourns for them. The IDF is investigating the difficult incident and the necessary lessons will be learned.” Amos Harel in Haaretz calls it an “extremely grave blunder that no extenuating circumstances can explain”.

On the latest in coronavirus, Kan Radio News reports this morning that Israel’s first cases of the new sub-variant of Omicron were diagnosed last week. Approximately 20 cases have been diagnosed in two labs. According to the available knowledge, the new sub-variant BA.2 has more mutations than the original Omicron variant BA.1 and global researchers fear that it is more virulent. People have also been diagnosed with the new sub-variant in several European countries, Canada, and Australia. Health Ministry officials have said that there is currently no evidence that the sub-variant behaves differently to Omicron.

Yediot Ahronot notes Prime Minister Bennett’s warning that in his assessment “there are about 150,000 new infections per day. In three to four days, the rate will be 300,000 a day. That is the nature of exponential growth. That is why I’m worried”. According to Health Ministry data, there are roughly 260,000 active COVID cases, the highest since the pandemic’s outbreak. There were about 183,000 Israelis in quarantine yesterday, more than 100,000 of them school pupils. On Wednesday, 48,095 people tested positive for COVID, a record number, and yesterday’s number is expected to cross the 50,000 mark. The number of people hospitalised in serious condition rose yesterday by 40 and is now 287, of whom 84 are in critical condition. Prof. Salman Zarka briefed the media yesterday and promised to shorten the waiting time for PCR test results for high-risk groups. Regarding the possibility of tighter restrictions, Zarka said: “I can’t promise that there won’t be a lockdown. When I talk about a lockdown, I mean a lockdown like the first one. I’m talking about a lockdown in which people don’t go farther than 100 meters from home. But I believe that together, we won’t reach that place.”

All the Israeli media cover the continued rioting in the Negev, despite the compromise that was reached earlier in the week. According to Yediot Ahronot, about 2,000 Bedouins demonstrated yesterday. They blocked the road and threw stones at police. While dispersing the disturbance, 12 people were injured, and three were taken to Hospital. In an unusual step, the police used tear gas that was sprayed from a drone to disperse the demonstrators.

Maariv reports that Prime Minister Bennett spoke yesterday with Russian President Putin to wished him a happy new year. The two leaders discussed a range of issues, primarily relating to regional security. The Prime Minister’s Office said: “Against the backdrop of the nuclear talks in Vienna, the Prime Minister stressed the importance of a strong and determined stance against Iran’s progress in the nuclear project.  President Putin invited Prime Minister Bennett and his wife to visit St. Petersburg, following his invitation during the Prime Minister’s visit to Sochi. The Prime Minister replied that he and his wife would be pleased to pay the visit.”

Israel Hayom notes that the Iranian Foreign Minister met earlier this week with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Doha. Based on a report in Iranian media the foreign minister condemned “the child-killing Israeli regime” that the West supports. He also stressed Iran’s complete support for Palestinian resistance groups against “the occupation of the Zionist regime”. Haniyeh thanked Iran for its support to the Palestinians and called for a united front of Islamic, Arab and other countries against Israel.

Channel 12 News covers a right-wing protest last night in Jerusalem. Thousands of people demonstrated outside the government compound to mark the one-month anniversary of the shooting attack in which Yehuda Dimentman was shot and killed near Homesh in the northern West Bank. The demonstrators called not to demolish the yeshiva in Homesh where Dimentman studied. Settler leader Yossi Dagan called to topple the current government and form a fully right-wing government.