Bloodshed and disturbing stories out of Syria take the lead in Friday’s papers, as the dailies attempt to outdo one another in the grotesqueness of their reportage.
Syrian rebels and President Bashar Assad’s regime traded accusations on Thursday of whose troops stood behind a deadly attack on a Damascus university, Israel Hayom reports. The mortar attack on the school cafeteria left 15 dead, and the paper notes that “Syrian television broadcast images from the scene of the attack which showed blood stains between the books and notebooks.”
The paper also reports on the defection of 170 Syrian Army soldiers and officers, stationed near the Israeli border, to the rebels.
Columnist Boaz Bismuth writes about how the Syrian rebels are united against Assad but divided amongst themselves, referring to battles between Islamist and secular opposition fighters in northern Syria. The religious and secular rebel groups, he says, receive varying support from different countries. “With an opposition like this, and a world like this, why is it surprising that Assad still survives?”
Maariv runs a brief story and a shocking photo of “the Kalashnikov kid,” a 7-year-old Syrian who has taken up arms (and cigarettes) against the Assad regime. It claims with absolute certainty that Ahmed is one of the youngest Syrian rebels.
The paper also quotes Israeli security sources, who say that the country would — on no terms — agree to let Syrian refugees enter Israel, even though they confirmed that the IDF has set up a field hospital near the Syrian border for treating injured civilians.
“Setting up the field hospital was done for humanitarian reasons only,” the paper quotes a security source as saying. “We will not let in refugees like Turkey has done.”
Ben-Dror Yemini writes that, now that the word is out that Israel is providing humanitarian aid, “it’s expected that the numbers will grow.”
“If Israel sends a field hospital to Haiti, on the other side of the globe, there’s no reason that it should turn its back on the injured situated a walking distance away. It’s a humanitarian matter,” he says. “And as always, all of Israel’s humanitarian aid will be received with the Pavlovian response: fig leaf.”
The big story in Yedioth Ahronoth is about a deadly Passover car crash, which killed the mothers of two families and put five of their six children in the hospital.
Farther back, on Page 6, the paper gets down to brass tacks and discusses the Finance Ministry’s call for budget cuts. Senior officials in the treasury told the paper that “the threats [to Israel] have reduced; it’s possible to cut back on defense.”
The paper notes that, while the defense establishment warns of new threats on the Syrian and Egyptian borders, the country’s financial directors are calling for cutbacks because the conventional threats posed by the Syrian and Egyptian armies are diminished. The paper reports that Finance Minister Yair Lapid met with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to discuss the possibility of cutbacks to the military, and that Lapid seeks to scale back spending to Ya’alon’s department by NIS 5 billion.
Haaretz would appear to disagree with those controlling the purse strings, too. Its front page shows a map of the Golan Heights with a large bull’s-eye on the northern towns of Kiryat Shmona, Metulla, and the Syrian border town of Quneitra. The daily chronicles the changing situation in Syria and its impact on Israel.
While most of the story focuses on the new army field hospital on the border, Amos Harel also mentions the growing chaos in Syria: the fact that rebels control, he claims, 65-75% of the country, and that Syria is breaking down into sectarian-controlled zones.
However, “the new situation doesn’t really bother Israel,” he says, noting that an IDF division was just moved from the Syrian to the Lebanese border.
The English edition of the Haaretz report leaves out the second half of the original Hebrew, where the author notes that Golan residents are reporting increased rebel activity along the Israeli border. Also left out of the English version was Harel’s statement that “behind the scenes there is disagreement among the Israeli brass” about the situation in Syria. GOC Northern Command, Maj. Gen. Yair Golan, called for a security zone in southern Syria and permitted the entry of the first humanitarian aid victims. Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz now requires the entry of all Syrians to pass through him directly.
Harel’s bottom line, and the bottom line in Jerusalem: “The situation’s bad, but the alternatives will likely be even worse for Israel.”
In a not-so-subtle jab at profligate defense spending, Yedioth reports that Ya’alon took an IDF helicopter to his daughter’s wedding in southern Israel’s Arava Desert two weeks ago. It notes that, 11 years ago, he did the same in a Black Hawk helicopter as chief of staff. Haaretz’s political cartoon also pokes fun at the defense minister. Ya’alon dangles from a helicopter over a wedding chuppah and tells the pilot, “Wait for me, I’m going to jump.”