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Miss Universe 'photo-bomb' highlights Israel-Lebanon tensions

The Miss Universe spat has been raging since the weekend, but shows no sign of abating
The controversial 'selfie' has caused a stir on social media

A photographic scandal that broke on Saturday is still making waves in Lebanon, after a Lebanese beauty queen claimed she had been “photobombed” by her Israeli counterpart.

The alleged photobombing - a term for when one person enters a photograph being taken by someone else undetected - took place as contestants gathered in Miami for the Miss Universe Pageant.

Doron Matalon, representing Israel at the competition, posted a picture of herself posing next to her Lebanese counterpart, Saly Griege, as well as the Slovenian and Japanese competitors.

Griege then faced a storm of criticism back home in Lebanon from citizens angry to see her getting friendly with Matalon, with some calling for her crown. 

Israel and Lebanon, are still technically at war, although things have been mainly quiet since their most recent war in 2006.

However, on Sunday an Israeli airstrike targeted the Lebanese group Hezbollah, that is fighting alongside forces loyal to Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, and has faced off against Israel in recent statements.

The attack killed the son of the group’s former military leader – his funeral on Monday was attended by thousands in a southern suburb of the Lebanese capital Beirut.

With relations between the countries at a low ebb, the Miss Universe photo controversy could not have come at a worse time.

Facing a barrage of negative comments from fans back home, Griege announced that she had been ambushed by the Israeli candidate, insisting that she had been careful to avoid Matalon during the competition.

“Since the first day of my arrival to participate in Miss Universe, I was very cautious to avoid being in any photo or communication with Miss Israel [who tried several times to take a photo with me],” Griege wrote on her Facebook page.

“I was having a photo with Miss Japan, Miss Slovenia and myself, [when] suddenly Miss Israel jumped in, took a selfie and put it on her social media.”

One of Griege’s forerunners, Huda al-Turk, was stripped of her Miss Lebanon title in 1993 after she was seen posing for a picture with Miss Israel.

The hashtag #AWordforMissLebanon in Arabic was still trending on Twitter on Monday, days after the scandal originally broke, with many taking to social media to express their views.

One commentator pointed out that the Miss Universe controversy has caused more outcry in Lebanon than the fact that Lebanese Foreign Minister Gabril Bassil joined Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a mass unity rally in Paris on 11 January.

Miss Universe, the organisers of the international competition, have since commented on the scandal, saying it is “unfortunate”.

Matalon, the Israeli candidate accused of hijacking Griege’s photo, also responded, calling the affair disheartening.

“[It] doesn’t surprise me, but it still makes me sad. Too bad you cannot put the hostility out of the game,” she said. 

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