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Media Summary

Thousands of children remain stranded in Syrian refugee camps

BBC News and The Times report that Saudi princess Basma bint Saud and her daughter have been released after being detained in March 2019 for unknown reasons. There is speculation Basma’s detention was related to her advocacy on humanitarian causes and constitutional reform along with close links to former Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who is under house arrest. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is suspected of being personally involved in Basma’s imprisonment as it was his security guards that arrested her and brought her to his palace for a meeting.

The Financial Times reports on how Saudi Arabia has turned to regional partners to help replenish its arsenal of Patriot missiles which could run out in months. The air defence missiles have been critical in countering missile and drone strikes from the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. The US has encouraged Saudi officials to seek missiles from other Gulf states as it “may be a faster alternative” to a US arms sale.

The Independent reports on how thousands of foreign children remain trapped in Syrian refugee camps, with no hope of going home. Tens of thousands of children are estimated to be living in conditions the UN says is akin to torture. The paper notes that so far, the UK has only repatriated seven children, all unaccompanied without their parents.

In an interview with The Guardian, Academy Award winning Iranian director Asghar Farhadi describes how the media has tried to ‘destroy’ him. He has been accused by the West of being pro-government while at the same time being told to never return to Iran. He tells the paper: “It’s always from the hardliners and their media – I’ve been criticised for giving an ‘unrealistic image’ of the country. And I really don’t agree.”

Reuters reports that the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem has said radical Israeli groups are threatening the presence of Christians in the Holy City. Patriarch Theophilos III said: “Our churches are threatened by Israeli radical fringe groups. At the hands of these Zionist extremists the Christian community in Jerusalem is suffering greatly. Our brothers and sisters are the victims of hate crimes. Our churches are regularly desecrated and vandalised. Our clergy are subject to frequent intimidation.”

All the Israeli media cover the continued spread of the Omicron variant. Yediot Ahronot headlines the unreliability of antigen tests. The paper further notes the recent change in testing protocol, that introducing home testing was meant to shorten the long lines at PCR testing stations, however due to their inaccuracy it had the opposite result. In addition, there is a shortage of home antigen tests, despite Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announcing at yesterday’s cabinet meeting that test kits would be handed out for free to school students. Bennett said: “Every child in Israel—in kindergarten and elementary school, as well as the teaching staff—will receive three testing kits in the next few days.”

Maariv leads on comments by Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman who said yesterday that the state would help businesses hurt by the coronavirus in a targeted manner, but there would be no handing out of gifts or election bribery. He said that the majority of businesses in Israel were in excellent shape. Lieberman also said that he had visited a restaurant in Modiin and did not see a single empty table. He said that in the industrial zone, everything was full to bursting. Yediot Ahronot reports on the response from other ministers at yesterday’s cabinet meeting. Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz raised the need to compensate businesses that have been hurt. “A lot of people have been financially hurt by the pandemic, and people in long quarantine must be compensated, as well as businesses that have been hurt because of an absence of workers and customers,” he said. Economy Minister Orna Barbivai said “the finance minister’s policy of no compensation has caused the public to feel pressured,” and Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper talked about the distress of the sectors under his responsibility.

Last night Channel 12 News included polling that showed 63 per cent of the public views the government’s handling of the Omicron wave as bad, as opposed to 34 per cent who believe the pandemic was being managed well. When asked to rate the performance of various ministers, including the prime minister, health minister, education minister and finance minister, the results were all similar in their overwhelming disapproval.

Nadav Eyal writing in Yediot Ahronot notes the government is using the British model, “the very same Britain that had 150 fatalities just the other day. That decision isn’t as reckless or ludicrous as it sounds. Like the British, the Israeli population is relatively well-vaccinated, including with booster shots. As opposed to the British, the population here is relatively young. Government officials have made a calculated gamble that the hospitals won’t be pushed beyond the brink. They may very well be right. That has been discussed at length in the past two months. But the Israeli public’s expectation was that if those are the working assumptions, and if Israel does undergo mass infection that affects millions of people, the government would have a working plan as well. For the time being, it doesn’t look like that plan has failed. It has become evident that there neither is nor ever was a plan.”

Israel Hayom reports that as of yesterday nearly all restrictions on international travel have been lifted and foreign tourists are starting to arrive in Israel again. The paper quotes Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov saying: “The tourism industry is a national asset of the State of Israel, and we have to revive it. That isn’t going to happen immediately, but we’re on the right track and I’m optimistic. It’s clear to all of us that the coronavirus is here to stay, and it is important that we know how to manage risks and lead a normal life alongside it. That way, the industry, which provided a livelihood to hundreds of thousands of families and yielded tens of billions of shekels in revenues for the state’s coffers, will get back to work.”

Haaretz reports on the decision yesterday by the ministerial committee for legislation to revisit for a second time a controversial bill preventing Palestinians who married Israelis from living with their spouses in Israel.  The bill was first voted on last summer, but the government failed to pass it, leading to its first expiration since it was introduced in 2003. The proposal was approved (except for Meretz Minister Tamar Zandberg) while Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai (Labour) abstained. The bill will now proceed to the Knesset, but it is not clear whether the government has a majority. 

Maariv reports that the trial of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu will resume this morning. The court will hear the testimonies of Netanyahu’s former senior aide, turned state witness Nir Hefetz. The paper also notes that Netanyahu’s office announced yesterday it had received another letter threatening to kill his wife Sarah and son Yair Netanyahu. Last month security was removed from Netanyahu and his two sons. A few days earlier, Netanyahu posted a video on social media in which he exposed threats to his life and the lives of his family and called for their safety to be maintained.

Yediot Ahronot reports that Netanyahu, his wife, and eldest son, will appear in a Tel Aviv court today for a hearing in his libel suit against former prime minister Ehud Olmert. The Netanyahu family are suing Olmert for libel, demanding more than NIS 800,000 (£188,000), after the latter called his family “insane”. Olmert has demanded a psychological analysis of the Netanyahu’s as part of his defence.