Turkey and Russia send Syrian fighters to Libya
The Guardian reports on the short visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Israel today. The report says that Washington has been coy around why such a visit was necessary, announcing the trip in a one-paragraph statement that gave no hint of any urgent agenda. It said the men would discuss “US and Israeli efforts to fight the Covid-19 pandemic, as well as regional security issues related to Iran’s malign influence”. The report also notes that the visit takes place as speculation grows over EU countries, including France, Ireland and Belgium, considering threatening punitive economic measures if Israel violates international law by unilaterally claiming sovereignty over land it occupies.
BBC News reports that Lebanon has imposed a “total” shutdown after experiencing a resurgence in reported coronavirus cases. The curfew will start on the evening of 13 May and stay in place until the morning of 18 May. Prime Minister Hassan Diab said more than 100 new infections had been recorded in the past four days, accusing some of “negligence and lack of responsibility” for ignoring government guidelines on social distancing. The country has 870 confirmed cases according to Johns Hopkins University, and 26 deaths due to the virus.
In The Times, Richard Spencer writes that battle-hardened fighters from Syria have been recruited as mercenaries by Turkey and Russia to fight on both sides of the conflict in Libya. He notes that unlike back home, it is the former rebels sent by Turkey to bolster the UN-recognised government who are beating the Assad loyalists fighting for the Russian-backed warlord Marshal Khalifa Haftar. A Syrian rebel fighter who spoke to The Times said he was being paid $2,000 (£1,630) a month — more than he had earned in the past two years as a member of the Sultan Murad brigade, part of the Turkish-backed force that controls a strip of northern Syria.
The Telegraph reports on the death of a 20-year-old in Basra, southern Iraq, within hours of thousands of protestors returning to the streets to mount protests against the Iraqi government demanding an end to corruption and Iranian interference in their country. The report claims that the perpetrators were members of a militia group named “Thar Allah”, which is believed to be a new Shia militia seeking to advance Iranian interests in the country.
The Financial Times writes this morning that Iraq’s new prime minister faces daunting task to stabilise country. Mustafa al-Kadhimi has to deal with domestic grievances and a proxy Iran-US war, which has threatened to stoke further conflict and fuelled demands from Baghdad for Washington’s withdrawal from the country. A test looms in June, when Baghdad and Washington will open talks to renegotiate their strategic relationship. Washington has signalled its approval of Kadhimi by extending a much-needed sanctions waiver for the import of Iranian gas and electricity for 120 days, four times as long as the last extension.
The Guardian and the Financial Times note that Saudi Arabia’s state-owned oil company, Saudi Aramco, has posted a 25 per cent dip in profits following the collapse of global oil markets triggered by the coronavirus pandemic. The paper says the fall in crude prices has wiped billions of dollars from Aramco’s market value, just months after the company’s controversial market float late last year. Saudi Arabia said on Monday it would deepen its planned production cuts by a further 1m barrels of oil a day from next month, to 4.8m barrels a day, to help drive oil prices up from around $30 a barrel.
All the Israeli media report on the funeral yesterday evening of IDF Staff Sgt. Amit Ben Ygal, who was killed by a head wound from a stone that was thrown from the rooftop of a home during an operational duty in a village called Yaabad in the West Bank before dawn. Kan Radio News report that IDF troops re-entered Yaabad in search for the assailants who threw the stone, which resulted in a confrontation between young locals and the soldiers. One local young man was reportedly injured by IDF gunfire. At least 12 suspects were arrested in the village and were taken for further questioning. Yedioth Ahronoth’s Yossi Yehoshua reports that whereas Palestinian violence against Israeli soldiers had waned for a time with the spread of the coronavirus, it has seen a gradual resurgence. Yehoshua notes that Ben Ygal is the first IDF soldier to have been killed on operational duty in the West Bank in 2020.
The Israeli media also focus on developments with the establishment of the new rotation government. Blue and White leader Benny Gantz formally tendered his resignation as Knesset speaker last night, whilst Tourism Minister Yariv Levin resigned his post ahead of his expected election as Gantz’s successor. Kan Radio News says it is unclear whether it will be possible to swear in the new government tomorrow at 13:00 as planned, as 48 hours is required by law to elapse on Gantz resigning before a new Knesset Speaker can be elected. Maariv reports on speculation over who will be assigned a cabinet position in the next government. For Likud, Yuli Edelstein is reported to be the next Health Minister, Yisrael Katz is expected to be appointed Finance Minister and Amir Ohana has been tapped for Public Security Minister. Miri Regev, who wanted to succeed Gilad Erdan in the Public Security Ministry, is expected to serve as Transport Minister instead. Zeev Elkin is reported to remain Environmental Protection Minister and Ofir Akunis will serve as the regional cooperation minister in the new government. For Blue and White, Gabi Ashkenazi will be the Foreign Minister for the first half of the government’s term. Avi Nissenkorn is expected to be the next Justice Minister, Chili Tropper will be Culture Minister and Alon Schuster will be agriculture minister. Pnina Tamano-Shata will serve as Immigrant Absorption Minister, while Merav Cohen will have the Social Equality portfolio and Michael Biton will be the Minority Affairs Minister. Omer Yankelevich is expected to be appointed either the Diaspora Affairs Minister or the chairwoman of a Knesset committee. Orit Farkash-Hacohen and Assaf Zamir are expected to take the tourism and science portfolios, whereas Labour Party MKs Amir Peretz will serve as the Economy Minister and Itzik Shmuli as the Welfare Minister.
Kan Radio News reports that the number of people in Israel who have died of the coronavirus now stands at 260, after two more people died yesterday. The Health Ministry reported 20 new confirmed coronavirus cases yesterday. The total number of cases has risen to 16,529, with 66 in serious condition and 55 on ventilators. Haaretz reports that Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman Tov submitted his resignation yesterday. Bar Siman Tov, who has led the ministry’s response to the coronavirus crisis, said in his letter of resignation: “We must not take these accomplishments for granted. The work is not yet finished. Israel bought previous time to prepare for a possible second wave of the virus, and the health system is overburdened even in normal times.” There had been reports of a rift between Health Ministry and Finance Ministry officials over the speed of easing the restrictions of the lockdown.