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Media Summary

Yemen’s warring sides begin prisoner swap of more than 1,000 people

BBC News, The Guardian, and The Telegraph report that more than 600 Houthi rebels and 400 pro-government prisoners are expected to be released over the next few days in the largest prisoner exchange between warring sides in Yemen. This follows the release of two US hostages freed by the Houthis on Wednesday after 240 pro-Houthi prisoners were allowed back into the country from Oman. The swap has been overseen by the UN and International Committee of the Red Cross. On the first day of the exchange, 700 prisoners were released on seven flights over a 12-hour operation. The prisoner release has raised hopes of renewed peace talks, which have stalled since December 2018.

Speaking about the prospect of Israeli-Saudi normalisation, Reuters reports that Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said yesterday that “the focus now needs to be on getting the Palestinians and the Israelis back to the negotiating table. In the end, the only thing that can deliver lasting peace and lasting stability is an agreement between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” adding that normalisation is unlikely any time soon.

The Economist reports that Dubai’s new residence visa for well-off over-55s is the latest scheme to boost its sputtering economy, which is expected to contract by 11 per cent this year. The new visa scheme requires applicants to buy a property worth 2m dirhams (£420,000). Dubai does not rely on oil and gas for revenue but instead has built a service-heavy economy: “The city can feel like a frenetic construction site: new hotels to draw more tourists, who create more jobs for migrant workers, all of which means more demand for malls and apartments.” The pandemic has impacted the city’s growth, with tourism practically collapsing over the last couple months.

Gonul Tol writes for BBC News about Turkey’s growing involvement in conflicts abroad and why its “military engagements have stretched from Syria across the Mediterranean”. The country has launched three military operation in Syria, sent supplies to Libya, expanded operations against the PKK in Iraq, and most recently came to the aid of its Turkic allies in Azerbaijan. The country’s “global military footprint is the most expansive since the days of the Ottoman Empire”. Gol argues that this expansion is rooted in the country’s new foreign policy doctrine in the making since 2015, which is “deeply suspicious of multilateralism and urges Turkey to act unilaterally when necessary”. It is anti-Western, anti-imperialist, believes the West is in decline and challenges the Western-dominate WWII order, thus aiming to cultivate closer ties with countries like Russia and China.

The Independent reports that a new Human Rights Watch (HRW) reports calls for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian President Vladimir to face sanctions for their involvement in war crimes in Syrian’s northern province of Idlib. The HRW report investigates 46 attacks that killed hundreds of civilians in the province and identifies 10 senior Syrian and Russian military officials who may be implicated in war crimes from those attacks.

Richard Spencer writes in The Times about the difficulties that Syrian refugees in Lebanon face, especially following the August blast in the country’s capital. According to the UN, 23 of the 40 Syrians killed in the Beirut blast were registered refugees. There is growing concern that the 200,000 Syrian refugees living in Beirut, will sink further into poverty following the blast.

All the Israeli media cover the decision by the coronavirus cabinet to ease the lockdown from Sunday. Among the measures; it will be permitted to leave home with no restrictions on distance and to meet with other people as long as the restrictions on assembly are not violated. Kindergartens and businesses that do not have reception hours will be able to reopen, and restaurant customers may pick up their orders themselves. The nature reserves, national parks and beaches will also reopen, and people may pray at the Western Wall in pods. The coronavirus cabinet decided that the restrictions would be reinstated if the eased lockdown backfires and morbidity increases. A meeting to discuss red cities has been rescheduled for Saturday night. Ben Gurion Airport will open at midnight for outbound flights after having operated in a limited format in recent weeks. The morbidity from the coronavirus has continued to decline. Approximately 1,000 new cases were diagnosed as of last night and the rate of positive tests had gone down to around four percent. The number of patients in serious condition has dropped to 742, the same number as two and a half weeks ago.

Haaretz and Israel Hayom report that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has decided not to begin a criminal investigation into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s stock affair. The Attorney General also decided that the new allegations against Netanyahu about his alleged involvement in the affair of the submarines and naval vessels did not warrant opening a criminal investigation into him, which is also the position of the State Attorney’s Office and the police. The probe of the stock affair focused on the suspicion that the prime minister did not submit a complete and full report to the state comptroller about shares that he owned in a corporation in which his cousin Nathan Milikowsky was a partner. Netanyahu made a very large sum of money by selling the shares.

According to Yediot Ahronot, Blue and White has decided to move up the deadline for dismantling the partnership with the Likud. The party’s leaders, Gantz, Ashkenazi and Nissenkorn, have decided that if the state budget for 2020-2021 is not brought to the cabinet for approval within two weeks, the partnership with the Likud will be over for all practical purposes and the Blue and White faction will act independently in the Knesset and in the cabinet. “Netanyahu wants to procrastinate with the budget for only one reason: to see if his situation among the public improves in relation to the pandemic, and then to decide accordingly whether to hold elections or not,” said a top Blue and White figure. “We don’t intend to let him procrastinate because of his political plans. If the state budget is not brought to the cabinet to be approved within two weeks, this will mean that Netanyahu does not want to pass a budget.”

Maariv reports the security establishment is pushing for a long term arrangement with Hamas in Gaza and it has been holding talks and meetings in the last few weeks with Qatari representatives. Contrary to the past, Israel is now attempting to formulate a plan that will more effectively make use of the Qatari money for large infrastructure projects and not merely to “buy time” for a short while, but rather projects that will achieve longer term stability.

Ynet reports that US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs David Schenker yesterday met with Lebanon’s Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri. On Wednesday, Schenker helped mediate talks between Lebanon and Israel over their disputed maritime border, their first talks for 30 years. A joint statement released Wednesday by the US State Department and Jan Kubis, the UN special coordinator for Lebanon, said the Israeli and Lebanese teams “held productive talks and reaffirmed their commitment to continue negotiations later this month.” Ynet notes, “Israel and Lebanon have no diplomatic relations and are technically in a state of war. They each claim about 860 square kilometres (330 square miles) of the Mediterranean Sea as being within their own exclusive economic zones. Israel has already developed a natural gas industry elsewhere in its economic waters, and Lebanon hopes oil and gas discoveries in its territorial waters will help it overcome their economic and financial crisis.”

Maariv includes its latest polling, asking; If elections to the Knesset were held today, for whom would you vote? Likud receives 28 seats, Yamina: 21 seats, Yesh Atid-Telem: 17 seats, Joint List: 14 seats, Blue and White: 9 seats, Shas: 9 seats, Yisrael Beiteinu: 9 seats, United Torah Judaism: 7 seats, Meretz: 6 seats. They asked, do you want Netanyahu to step down from political life? Answering, yes: 54 per cent, no: 36 per cent.  According to the paper, a breakdown of the voting patterns in the poll found that 28 per cent of respondents who voted Likud in March 2020 and 57 per cent of those who voted Yamina want Netanyahu to leave politics.  They also asked, do you believe that Netanyahu is capable of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic? With no: 55 per cent and yes: 39per cent. The poll was conducted by panel4all on October 11-12, 2020 among 1,033 respondents from a representative cross-section of adult Israeli society. The margin of error is 3.1 per cent. The poll was conducted over the telephone and online.