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Media Summary

West slams Syrian presidential election as not fair or free

BBC News and The Telegraph report that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has won the country’s presidential election with 95.1 per cent of the vote. Parliamentary speaker Hammouda Sabbagh announced the results yesterday, claiming that voter turnout was close to 79 per cent. Opposition parties called the election a farce. Meanwhile, the US and European countries said the election was not free or fair. The Independent reports that al-Assad cast his ballot in the town of Douma, a former rebel stronghold that was the site of a chemical weapons attack in 2018.

Ido Vock writes for The New Statesman about how Syria’s presidential election is “a sham exercise in a ruined country” noting that “democratic politics is meaningless in the roughly two-thirds of Syria governed by Assad’s regime”.

The Times reports that Russia has sent three nuclear capable bombers to Syria, as it continues to extend its airbase in the country. The paper notes that President Assad would have agreed the move “but possibly with reluctance … he remains uneasily dependent on the whim of Russia and his other main benefactor, Iran”.

BBC News and The Times report that the UN Human Rights Council voted to investigate the violence in the recent escalation between Israel and Hamas along the Gaza border. The move to investigate was approved by 24 votes to 9.

The Financial Times reports how Egypt has cemented its role as a power broker in the Middle East. In successfully negotiating the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, the country has proved its importance to the US. The paper contrasts the role of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in mediating between Israel and the Palestinians, noting that “Washington’s acknowledgment of Cairo’s importance in halting the violence makes clear the limits of the ‘historic peace agreement’ between the United Arab Emirates and Israel last year … unlike the UAE, Egypt has not only a long history of mediation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but also shares borders and security interests with both Israel and Gaza, the Palestinian territory controlled by Hamas”.

The Economist reports on how “the Holy Land looks ever more like one unequal state” as the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is failing. The paper notes: “The question of how to divide this land has been more or less answered, yet the parcelling out to two states has not come. Instead, it remains under Israel’s control — a single state in which Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians living a stone’s throw from each other hold very different rights and face very different prospects.”

Jessie McDonald writes for The Guardian about “the pointless death of another West Bank teenager”. McDonald says: “The Palestinian prisoners’ rights group Addameer estimates that about 700 Palestinian children are arrested by Israeli forces every year and that there are 160 inmates under-18 in Israeli prisons. Children have also occasionally been arrested by the Palestinian Authority, which conducts its own crackdowns on opposition activists and has been accused of torturing prisoners, including minors.”

The Times reports that Iran-backed Shia paramilitaries have attacked Baghdad’s Green Zone. The Popular Mobilization Forces stormed the area over the arrest of an anti-American militia leader. The Iraqi army was forced to send in tanks to contain the situation.

The Times reports that Iran has banned all cryptocurrencies for four months due to crippling power outages. The report notes that, “In one embarrassing photograph, a visiting Chinese delegation was shown sitting in the dark in the foreign ministry with Mohammad Javad Zarif, the foreign minister, after the lights went out. In another, people were filmed dangling helplessly from the top of an amusement park ride that had ground to a halt.”

In the Israeli media, all the papers focus on what may happen during the remaining five days of Yair Lapid’s mandate to form a government. Lapid met yesterday with Yamina leader Naftali Bennett and discussed forming a government for the first time since Bennett announced that the possibility of forming a government with left-wing and Arab parties was off the agenda. Yediot Ahronot reports that “the political figure who to a great extent will determine whether Israel is headed towards forming a government or a fifth election is person ranked number two in Yamina, Ayelet Shaked. While she objects in principle to forming a pro-change government with left-wing parties, people in Yamina and in the pro-change bloc believe that Shaked has ‘mellowed’ and internalised this possibility, inter alia, after realising that there will not be any defectors and that there is no chance of forming a right-wing government.” Yesh Atid and New Hope stated yesterday that they had reached understandings in the coalition negotiations and that they would continue the talks. It is believed that Saar decided to resume negotiations after realising that forming a government together with Bennett was a serious possibility.

Also in Yediot Ahronot, Sima Kadmon turns he attention to next week’s elections for Israel’s new president between Buji Herzog and Miriam Peretz. She writes: “We should bear in mind that a president also has a role in the diplomatic arena. The president meets state leaders from all over the world, he or she meets with leaders and Jewish community heads abroad. Every high-ranking guest who comes to Israel meets with the president, sometimes before any other Israeli leader. So let’s not be sanctimonious; Herzog will be a much better player in the international arena and in promoting Israel’s positions around the world. He has the connections, the experience and the ability. So it’s true that you would prefer Peretz as an important and influential educational figure, with a great deal of warmth, embraces and kisses. But in reality, that is not the job.”

Maariv reports that since the inter-communal violence in Israel this month, 1,590 people were arrested, including 183 Jewish citizens. 1,299 of the detainees were adults, and 291 were minors. 1,093 of the detainees were released. Fifteen indictments were filed for actions with racist motivation. In nine indictments, terrorist offenses were attributed to the defendants. Most of the charges in the indictments refer to disturbing the public order, assaulting police officers, stone throwing and more. During a stormy meeting yesterday of the Special Committee on Arab Society Affairs, chairperson MK Mansour Abbas said, that along with a condemnation of the acts of violence, “tens of thousands of Arab citizens went out to stage a legitimate protest against the use of force in al-Aqsa Mosque and the intention to evict Arab families in Sheikh Jarrah”. The Israeli Police told the committee that there is between 8,000 and 10,000 illegal weapons in the Arab sector in Israel. Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai said: “We are in the midst of Operation Law and Order, which is achieving its goal — bringing to justice those who took part in rioting and in the violent and criminal events of the past weeks. We will continue the operation next week too, with an emphasis on arresting the lawbreakers and finding illegal weaponry.”

Walla News conducted a special interview with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on his recent visit to the Middle East. Blinken said that during his meetings with Israeli leaders this week, he warned that moving forward with a series of evictions of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem could spark renewed “tension, conflict and war.” “We raised the concerns that we have on all sides with actions that in the first instance could spark tension, conflict and war and also ultimately undermine even further the difficult prospects for two states,” the Biden administration’s top diplomat said. Blinken clarified that the decision to reopen the US Consulate in Jerusalem, which was closed during President Trump’s term, will not impact the US’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. “Opening the consulate is also in Israel’s interest because that way we can promote issues that are important to Israel,” he said. Blinked also reiterated that the stabilisation of the ceasefire in Gaza and the construction of infrastructure to reduce tensions in the West Bank and Jerusalem were the priorities of his administration. “A ceasefire is not just an end in itself … it is also a means of creating a space that will make it possible to improve the situation a little bit.”

Haaretz notes that UTJ MK Yaakov Litzman, housing minister and former health minister, is expected to be indicted for obstruction of justice and breach of trust for involvement in preventing the extradition of Malka Leifer, an ultra-Orthodox educator wanted in Australia for alleged sex crimes against her students. The Justice Ministry said yesterday that Litzman will face trial unless he convinces the Attorney General of his innocence in a pre-indictment hearing. Despite the charges against him, the police’s recommendation to indict Litzman for a separate count of bribery was not accepted by the Attorney General. Litzman’s office said that “throughout his years of public activity, Minister Litzman has worked on behalf of all segments of society, without discrimination and strictly according to the law. We believe in Minister Litzman’s full innocence and welcome the decision to clear Minister Litzman of a bribery accusation.”

Yediot Ahronot reports that Defense Minister Benny Gantz has extended Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi’s term by a fourth year. Gantz reached an agreement in principle with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit whereby, in view of the special security situation, the decision could be confirmed by the cabinet even if an alternative government were formed. Kochavi gave a speech yesterday at the IDF Command & Staff College, summarizing the results of the operation and answering Sinwar: “Although Hamas took the initiative with the rocket fire, it immediately became reactive and pursued. The balance of achievements concluded with an unmistakable advantage for the IDF, and Hamas, which started the war as the ostensible defender of Jerusalem, ended it as the destroyer of the Gaza Strip.”