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Media Summary

UK academic takes legal action against UAE over imprisonment

BBC News and The Guardian report that Israeli President Reuven Rivlin has tasked Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid to try and form a government after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s mandate expired on Tuesday night. The Independent speculates whether this signals the end for Netanyahu, who has been in power for 12 years and is the country’s longest serving prime minister.

BBC News, The Telegraph and The Financial Times report that Matthew Hedges, the UK academic jailed in the United Arab Emirates for six months in 2018 has launched legal action. Hedges was detained after being accused of working for MI6. In his legal claim, the academic claims senior security officials tortured him, keeping him in cuffs, questioning him for hours and giving him a cocktail of drugs. Hedges writes in The Times: “The UAE authorities have refused to answer the complaint that was submitted to them through the UK Foreign Office. It is clear they have no interest in finding out who was responsible for my abuse.” He is seeking between £200,000-£350,000 in damages.

The Independent reports that new data from Israel shows that two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine can provide 95 per cent protection against infection. According to newly released data 56 per cent of Israel’s population has received both doses of the vaccine. The data from the country is the first example of real-world results outside the confines of a medial trial. The data also found that a just one dose of the vaccine provides 58 per cent protection against infection, 76 per cent protection against hospital admission and 77 per cent protection against death.

The Associated Press reports that a 16-year-old Palestinian was killed in clashes with Israeli forces in the West Bank according to Palestinian health officials. Saeed Yusuf Muhammad Oudeh was identified as the teenager killed near the city of Nablus. Meanwhile, the Israeli government announced the death of 19-year-old Yehuda Guetta who was killed in a drive by shooting in a busy intersection in the West Bank. This morning, Israel’s Shin Bet security service said they had apprehended the Palestinian suspected of the shooting. Muntasser Shalaby was arrested by Israeli forces in the village of Silwad. Local media reported that Shalaby had no known ties to military groups and held US citizenship.

Borzou Daragahi writes for The Independent about the threat that lawyers and human rights defenders are facing in Turkey. He says: “Advocates describe wave upon wave of campaigns targeting attorneys and human rights defenders. They see it as a hollowing out of the country’s frayed, fragile democratic norms. The result has been fear, intimidation and a stifling of civil society.”

In the Israeli media, one Israeli who sustained critical injuries in the terrorist attack at the Tapuah junction on Sunday has died of his injuries. Yehuda Guetta, 19, from Jerusalem, attended the yeshiva in Itamar. His funeral will be held at 11:00 AM in Jerusalem. Last night security forces captured the terrorist who murdered Guetta and injured two of his colleagues. SWAT team combatants arrested Muntasir Shalabi in a house owned by his family in the village Silwad north of Ramallah. Shalabi, a 44-year-old resident of Turmous Aya, did not belong to any terrorist organisation, as far as is known. He holds American citizenship and returned from a long stay in the US about a year ago.

Kan Radio reports that Palestinian Islamic Jihad has threatened to retaliate if Israel does not stop the eviction on residents of Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, echoing early comments from Hamas this week. Hundreds of residents of Sheikh Jarrah demonstrated last night over the imminent eviction and five were arrested. Islamic Jihad also cited in its statement the killing of a young Palestinian man in a clash with IDF troops in the West Bank and said that his blood had not been spilled in vain. Earlier, Palestinian sources reported that a 16-year-old boy had been killed by IDF fire at the entrance to the village Odala, south of Nablus.

Walla follows reports from Syria that Israel carried out airstrikes overnight in the southern province of Quneitra. Syrian state media said there were no reports of casualties. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which relies on an extensive network of sources on the ground, said the strikes targeted the Syrian Army’s 90th Brigade and regime military positions in north Quneitra, near the Israeli-held Golan Heights. The strikes came a day after one civilian was killed and six others injured in similar attacks in the north-western region of Latakia, a bastion of President Bashar al-Assad’s Alawite minority.

All of the papers focus heavily on the news that President Rivlin has handed the mandate to form a government to Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, after Prime Minister Netanyahu failed in his quest to form a working coalition. In Yediot Ahronot, Nahum Barnea writes: “The partners in the pro-change bloc all agree in principle about the range of issues that the new government must address. The government will refrain from making decisions about issues on which the right and left disagree. That arrangement will be enough to get that government sworn into office. But it will have a harder time dodging those issues on the day after, when it faces Israel’s day-to-day challenges and in the face of provocations mounted by other political players.”

Maariv’s Ben Caspit writes: “The prize for best move yesterday belongs to Gideon Saar. He cleaved through the Gordian knot. The question is whether Saar is emotionally primed for another such move. The same question applies to [Yisrael Beiteinu leader] Avigdor Lieberman. As [Ayelet] Shaked said in the recording, ‘Saar and Liberman are convinced that Netanyahu is a danger to the State of Israel.’ Incidentally, they are not the only ones who are convinced of that. If he is indeed a danger, then Lieberman must consider suspending his boycott of the Haredim and Saar must consider suspending his boycott of the Arabs. The pro-change bloc will have 61 seats if those boycotts and ostracisms can be postponed for a bit. Israel is like a bottle of pink champagne whose cork has rotted and is stuck.  It is bubbling, fizzing, soon is about to burst. Someone has to loosen the cork and let the country begin to heal. Someone has to show courage and to act on the premise that Israel is more important than its leaders.”

Also in Yediot Ahronot, Nadav Eyal argues that yesterday’s turn of events for Lapid was overshadowed by Yamina MK Amichai Chikli, who publicly said he could not join his party in agreeing to a unity government with left-wing parties. Eyal writes: “In his current situation, Bennett is vulnerable. On the one hand, he doesn’t have the mandate and is being accused by Netanyahu’s supporters of preventing a government from being formed (that isn’t true; Netanyahu was unable to form a government because of Smotrich’s refusal to sit with the United Arab List). On the other hand, it isn’t entirely clear whether he has the strength to form an alternative government. Bennett’s statement yesterday afternoon may have been inspired, but politics is a game of power. If Bennett’s goal was to create the impression of internal dissent in an attempt to extract further concessions from the rest of the pro-change bloc, he deserves an Oscar for his performance. A new government can be sworn into office next week. However, if the aversion to doing so within the Yamina faction is genuine, that is an existential crisis for Bennett.”

National Security Council Chairman Meir Ben-Shabbat will hold a meeting today to decide how to allocate Israel’s surplus vaccines. As Kan Radio reports, the initiative meant to give 20,000 doses to various countries in the world without discussing the matter has been stopped. Attorney General Mandelblit only learned of the matter after it was reported and demanded that the matter be discussed. Up until now, Netanyahu has refrained from convening the security cabinet to address the matter. Israel is leaning toward approving giving the vaccines to the Palestinians as well.