Media Summary

UN rapporteur calls for Iranian officials to be charged over Ukrainian airliner crash

The BBC reports a German court is expected to decide today if a Syrian man who fled his country’s civil war was an accomplice to crimes against humanity. Eyad al-Gharib is alleged to have assisted the torture of Syrians as a government intelligence officer. Another Syrian, Anwar Raslan remains on trial. Both recieved asylum in Germany but were arrested in 2019. It is the first such trial over alleged atrocities committed by President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

The Guardian and Reuters reports that Agnès Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, has called for high level Iranian officials to be charged for the shooting down of a Ukrainian commercial airliner in January 2020. In a new report, Callamard describes the killing of the 176 people aboard as a “profound and serious indictment” of the country’s civil and military authorities.

The Times follows comments by the supreme leader of Iran who has threatened to enrich uranium to 60 per cent purity, close to that required for nuclear weapons, despite President Biden’s offer last week of negotiations. Last night the International Atomic Energy Agency said that it was “deeply concerned” by the possible presence of nuclear material at an undeclared site in Iran.

The Independent reports that Jerusalem’s Western Wall is getting a face lift after two millennia of wear and tear. Israeli conservationists have begun mending the cracks and filling out the battered surfaces of the stones that show the scars from more than two thousand years of scorching sunlight and torrential rain.

The Telegraph looks at how the UK can adopt Israel’s “green pass” system that was introduced last Sunday and can be used by those who have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, as well as patients who have recovered from the virus. The British Prime Minister has tasked Michael Gove with examining how these passports could be used to smooth the exit from lockdown, while being mindful of issues such as exclusion and privacy.

The Times publishes a comment by Roger Boyes who asks whether the Russian President could be a peacemaker in the Middle East. He writes, “What seems to be happening is that Putin is expanding his role as a Middle East power player, exploiting the gap left by the withdrawal of the US from the region.”

The Independent reports that President Joe Biden is set to call Saudi Arabia’s King Salman ahead of the public release of an intelligence report about the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The call will be the first between the two leaders since President Biden entered the White House in January.

The Guardian notes how Yazidi survivors of ISIS brutality have been pushed further into the margins by the pandemic after being forgotten for vaccines, jobs, justice and a return home.

Daniel Finkelstein writes in The Times that the University of Bristol should end the tenure of Professor David Miller after his most recent comments that “Britain is in the grip of an assault on its public sphere by the state of Israel and its advocates” is obviously hysterical. And calling the BBC’s Emma Barnett “one of the most energetic Zionist campaigners in British public life”.

In the Israeli media, many of the papers this morning comment on the news that Israel will provide some 100,000 vaccine doses to several countries and the Palestinians in the coming weeks. The list of countries has not yet been finalised, but will include several African countries that have renewed ties with Israel in the recent past. It will also expected to include Italy, Honduras and the Czech Republic. The Prime Minister said that in the past month there has been a limited number of vaccine doses that have gone unused, so it was decided to make a symbolic gesture to Palestinian medical teams and to several countries that have asked for them. Defence Minister Benny Gantz criticised Netanyahu’s decision to give vaccine doses to foreign countries, saying the Prime Minister was selling supplies paid for by Israeli taxpayers without oversight.

The cabinet has agreed to impose a night-time curfew over the Purim holiday between Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights from 8:30 PM until 5:00 AM. During the curfew the public will be prohibited from entering the home of another person and from straying more than one kilometre from home. Local and intercity public transportation will be suspended. Groups of up to 10 people will be permitted to gather in closed structures, and up to 20 people in open areas. Traditional Purim parades, parties and conventions will be forbidden. The curfew was imposed in light of rising infection rates over two days since the lifting of lockdown restrictions. 4,677 people tested positive on Monday, accounting for 7 per cent of all tests. The number of patients hospitalised in serious condition also spiked, to 853, and 23 Israelis died of coronavirus the same day.

However, there is a question over police enforcement. Kan Radio says police will be unable to enforce restrictions on large gatherings held in private homes because coronavirus laws do not provide for allowing officers to enter private homes in order to enforce the restrictions. Up to now, police officers have relied on their authority to enforce public disturbance laws to enter private homes in order to break up large gatherings. But the public disturbances law does not include Purim. At the same time, the police plan to prevent planned parties from being held in event halls or industrial zones. They are gathering information about the parties from social media networks.

Maariv reports on the debate in cabinet over the decision to enforce a night-time curfew. Coronavirus Czar Prof. Nachman Ash said that there were 200 confirmed cases in people aged 60 and over, 10 per cent of whom became seriously ill. But he added that in another week there will be about 600 patients in serious condition. Gantz said: “I think we have to tighten the restrictions we give ourselves on Purim. We might have to lockdown on Purim, but we’ll all be able to celebrate the Passover Seder.” Prime Minister Netanyahu criticised the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee’s decision to cancel requirements for quarantine hotels. “This is scandalous. There is no other word for this irresponsible decision. I mention it here because there is no rational justification for this. We’ve brought down the numbers, there is no choice. We will not allow the various mutations [of the virus] to get here.”

Two polls — the one by Channel 12 News from yesterday evening and the other by Kan Radio this morning — show that with just under a month until the general election, the anti-Netanyahu bloc has a narrow but clear majority, whereas the Likud, despite being the front-runner by a large margin, has no path to forming a government as long as Netanyahu is at its helm. However, both polls show Meretz and the Religious Zionist Party as polling just over the electoral threshold, and the Economic Party and the United Arab List polling just beneath the same threshold, leaving the door open to other outcomes as well.

The Supreme Court will hear petitions today on the Central Election Committee decision to disqualify Ibtisam Mara’ana, who ranks seventh on the Labour Party’s election slate, from the upcoming elections. Meanwhile, Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Liberman has called on Gideon Saar, Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett to sign an agreement to form a unity agreement that would work together following the election to secure a transfer of power.

Maariv comments on yesterday’s announcement that the Likud, UTJ and Shas signed a loyalty pledge to work together towards forming a right-wing government headed by Netanyahu. However, the Religious Zionists Party, headed by Bezalel Smotrich, refused to sign the document. A party representative said: “We have no intention of signing the ‘loyalty oath’ that has proved to be meaningless in the past and which isn’t going to lead to the creation of a right-wing government. Our only loyalty is to our path and values, and we will only be part of a government that gives expression to them.” Shortly after, the Likud published the surplus vote agreement the party had signed with the Religious Zionist Party, which included a commitment by the right-wing party not to support any candidate for prime minister other than Netanyahu. This resulted in a public rebuke by Smotrich.