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Media Summary

US reinforces troops in eastern Syria

The BBC reports that Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has warned the US it “faces defeat” in its move to reimpose UN sanctions on the country as European allies called the unilateral declaration legally void. In a televised speech, Rouhani said Iran would “give a crushing response to America’s bullying”. The Trump administration announced over the weekend that UN sanctions were being reimposed under the mechanism of the JCPOA nuclear deal, which the US has quit. The Guardian notes that the UK, France and Germany said the US had no power to carry out such a move, setting up a major legal clash that could lead to Washington imposing sanctions on its European allies.

The Times notes that Iran’s currency has sunk to its lowest level after the US announced its intention to enforce the return of UN sanctions, despite international objections and claims of bullying by Tehran. Iran’s currency has weakened 30 per cent since June and is worth about a tenth of its value in 2015, when Tehran signed the JCPOA nuclear deal with world powers to limit its nuclear activities.

The Financial Times writes that world leaders who invested heavily in their relationship with the Trump administration are now having to consider the possibility of a Joe Biden win.

The Telegraph and The Guardian write that the US military has sent half a dozen armoured vehicles “with fewer than 100 soldiers” on a 90-day mission to reinforce its troops in eastern Syria, less than a month after four US soldiers were injured during an altercation with Russian troops in the area. “The United States does not seek conflict with any other nation in Syria, but will defend Coalition forces if necessary,” said Captain Bill Urban, a spokesman for the US military’s Central Command.

The BBC reports that the UAE’s central bank failed to act on warnings about a local firm which was helping Iran evade sanctions. According to leaked documents – known as the FinCEN Files – Dubai-based Gunes General Trading processed £110m in suspicious transactions through the UAE financial system in 2011 and 2012. The activity was flagged by a British bank, but the firm was able to continue using local financial institutions. In 2016, the US said it was involved in a major sanctions-busting scheme. Gunes General Trading ended operations within the last two years.

The Telegraph notes that following the historic peace deal between the UAE and Israel, Jews in the Gulf state have been given licence to practice their religion for the first time. The paper says Rabbi Levi Duchman, the only resident rabbi in the UAE, is used to preaching to just a handful who feel safe enough to be open about their faith in the conservative Gulf kingdom. But in recent weeks he has looked on in delight as his synagogue teems with new life.

The Financial Times reports how the coronavirus has stopped all tourism in Nazareth, Israel’s largest Arab city, where posters plastered on shuttered storefronts depict a flatlining red graph and the words “no tourism, no life”. Six months into the pandemic Nazareth — a beacon for Christian pilgrimage from across the globe — is struggling as visitor numbers plummet.

The Guardian leads with London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan coming under pressure by human rights groups not to attend a G20 urban summit hosted by Saudi Arabi, as part of the Kingdom’s chairmanship of this year’s G20 summit. Among the mayors slated to attend include, Berlin’s Michael Müller, London’s Khan, New York’s Bill de Blasio, Paris’s Anne Hidalgo, Rome’s Virginia Raggi as well as the mayors of Los Angeles and Madrid. The human rights groups call on the mayor not to attend unless Saudi Arabia takes immediate and clear steps to ending its human rights abuses, including by releasing its prisoners of conscience and providing proper accountability for the murder of Khashoggi in October 2018.

Coronavirus cases are rising among refugees in Middle East as the global pandemic pushes the most vulnerable deeper into poverty, writes the Independent’s Bel Trew. The true rate of infection among the 18 million people displaced in the region is unknown because of a chronic lack of testing. But UN data shows that well over a thousand have been confirmed to have COVID-19 in refugee camps in Jordan, Syria, Iraq, the Palestinian Territories and Lebanon.

All the Israeli media focus on the second lockdown currently enforced in the country. Kan Radio News reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and top Health Ministry officials want to stiffen the restrictions that went into effect on Friday. The coronavirus cabinet is scheduled to be convened tomorrow, following consultations that are to be held today. Among other things, Netanyahu is contemplating restricting work in the private sector and intensifying the restrictions for open-air markets and for places where people congregate. However, he faces opposition from Finance Minister Yisrael Katz. The full cabinet will be convened this afternoon discuss an economic plan in response to the lockdown. Among other things, the cabinet ministers will discuss the proposal to cut their salaries and the MKs’ salaries and give grants to businesses that continue to employ workers.

The number of people testing positive for the coronavirus has continued to climb and, as of yesterday, a total of 187,396 people in Israel had tested positive for COVID-19, among whom 52,262 who are currently sick. Health Ministry data show that the number of people in serious condition has risen to 643 and the number of people on ventilators stands at 170. The number of people in Israel who have died of the coronavirus has continued to rise and now stands at 1,256. An IDF Intelligence report notes that since the start of September, the rate of the increase in morbidity has stood at 5 per cent every day. The report further notes that enforcement against large gatherings in red localities has been flawed.

Ma’ariv reports about the state of the public’s compliance — or the lack thereof – of lockdown restrictions. On the first day of the holiday the police handed out 1,448 tickets for violating the regulations. Among them, 566 were issued to citizens who were caught without masks. Some 805 people who had left home for prohibited purposes were also given tickets by the police. There was a significant rise in the number of tickets given out in the second day of the holiday, when the police issued 2,802 tickets, including 629 for people without masks and 2,044 who had left home without valid cause. Tel Aviv District Police fined a restaurant NIS 5,000 for defying emergency guidelines by opening for business. In Haifa, the police were called to the Vishnitz community in the city to disperse an illegal congregation near the synagogue.

One of the more prominent public events that were held in violation of the lockdown was a Rosh Hashanah protest meal on Friday evening by anti-Netanyahu demonstrators in Jerusalem. According to Yediot Ahronot, senior health officials criticised the event saying, “It’s scandalous… this lawlessness is prohibited, even in terms of the political struggle. It’s just chutzpah.” Despite the criticism, the protests continued last night. More than 3,000 demonstrators gathered at Paris Square in Jerusalem near the Prime Minister’s Residence. The demonstrations last night were the first to be held since the police, the Health Ministry and the Justice Ministry announced the new guidelines for demonstrations during the lockdown, which have yet to be approved and therefore were not enforced. Demonstrators are to be divided into groups of no more than 20 people, are required to maintain reasonable distance between the groups, and a distance of at least two meters between each person in the groups.

Commenting in Yediot Ahronot, Ben-Dror Yemini describes those protests as an “own goal,” writing: “The protest is becoming an embarrassment…  when the demonstrators at the main protest sites disregard the instructions, when they don’t maintain distance, it’s a bit hard for them to say that they are protesting in the name of the rule of law and of values… Any serious person and any serious organisation that takes part in the protest must ask themselves: are what we are demanding from Netanyahu — to stop the incitement, to stop the corruption and to stop the cynicism — are we doing the same thing ourselves? Are we winning over the people who are on the fence or are we pushing them away? Do the festive meal and the beach parties contribute anything to the protest or are they nails in its coffin?”

Sever Plocker, also in Yediot Ahronot, writes that the spread of the coronavirus has given rise to two groups of people in Israel: denial of the pandemic and denial of its severity. “The first group exists only on the fringes of the fringes, in circles that subscribe to benighted conspiracy theories. In contrast, there are far too many people who deny the severity of the coronavirus, and the damage that they are causing to the fight against the pandemic is therefore much greater and much deeper.” Plocker goes on to say: “… in addition to the denial phenomenon, there is a unique political twist: [playing up] the severity of the coronavirus is a malicious plot by Netanyahu with the goal of delaying his having to appear in court for his trial, scheduled for December. The prime minister, according to this conspiracy theory, engineered the panic because it serves him personally. It is therefore permissible — ideologically and morally — to violate the instructions of the latest lockdown, which is full of holes.”

Israel Hayom notes that Honduras aims to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv by the end of 2020. Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez said on Twitter: “To strengthen our strategic alliance, we spoke to arrange the opening of the embassies in Tegucigalpa and Jerusalem, respectively. We hope to take this historic step before the end of the year, as long as the pandemic allows it.” The Central American nation has signalled in the past that it may move its embassy to Jerusalem. Israel currently has no embassy in Honduras but opened a diplomatic office there last month.

Walla News reports that Sudan is set to become the next country to normalise the ties with Israel.   US, Emirati and Sudanese officials will hold a meeting in Abu Dhabi today.  The White House National Security Council’s senior director for Gulf Affairs, Middle Eastern Affairs Directorate, Brig. Gen. Miguel Correa, is expected to represent the US. According to Sudanese sources, the government of Sudan is asking the US for a range of economic benefits in return. These include, more than $3 billion in humanitarian assistance and a commitment by the US and the UAE to providing Sudan with economic aid over the next three years. In addition to economic aid, the Sudanese government wants the Trump administration to remove Sudan from the State Department’s state sponsors of terrorism list.