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Miss Israel and Miss Lebanon appear in a selfie, sparking a new Mideast conflict

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There is breaking news in the Middle East.

“Miss Lebanon’s selfie with Miss Israel sparks uproar.”

That was Monday morning’s headline in The Daily Star, a Lebanese newspaper.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz went with: “Asymmetrical warfare: Did Miss Israel photobomb Miss Lebanon?”

In case you didn't know, preparations for the 63rd Miss Universe beauty pageant are underway in Miami. It appears that many selflies are taken during this period.

Miss Lebanon had had her photograph taken with Miss Switzerland, Miss Bolivia, Miss Panama, Miss Kosovo, Miss Lithuania, Miss Nicaragua, Miss Croatia, Miss Italy, Miss Malaysia, Miss Georgia and many, many other Misses.

But not Miss Israel.

Until Jan. 11, that is, when Miss Israel, Doron Matalon, posted a selfie on her Instagram account showing her smiling beside a smiling Miss Lebanon, Saly Greige.

The question people in Lebanon are now asking: Was their representative really smiling? The Agence France-Presse correspondent in Beirut wrote that Miss Lebanon “appears to be gritting her teeth.” The Daily Star reported that criticism of the photograph was trending on social media over the weekend and that the offending selfie “did not go unnoticed in Lebanon, with some demanding that Greige be stripped from her title for mingling with the citizen of an enemy state.”

Lebanon and Israel have technically been at war since Israel's creation in 1948. Travel between the two countries is banned; there is no trade nor diplomatic relations; the border is closed and patrolled by U.N. peacekeepers. Occasionally, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah or Lebanese Armed Forces and Israeli soldiers shoot at each other, but it is mostly quiet. Though not always. On Sunday, a presumed Israeli airstrike killed six Hezbollah members and an Iranian general in Syria. Be that as it may, Miss Lebanon said she was not fraternizing with the enemy. She claims she was photobombed by Miss Israel.

"Since the first day of my arrival to participate to Miss Universe, I was very cautious to avoid being in any photo or communication with Miss Israel," Greige wrote in English on her Facebook page. But Miss Israel was kind of pushy, she alleged. "I was having a photo with Miss Japan, Miss Slovenia and myself, suddenly Miss Israel jumped in, took a selfie, and put it on her social media," Griege wrote.

Miss Israel responded to the affair with a note on her Facebook page: “It doesn't surprise me, but it still makes me sad.”

“Too bad you cannot put the hostility out of the game, only for three weeks of an experience of a lifetime that we can meet girls from around the world and also from the neighboring country,” Miss Israel wrote in English and Hebrew.

Along with official swimsuit shots, the Miss Universe folks issued a statement noting, "It is unfortunate to know a photo of four smiling women from different parts of the world, working together at an event, could be misconstrued as anything other than what it is, a celebration of universal friendship, which the Miss Universe pageant is all about."

Alas, the website “Missology,” which is dedicated to analyzing beauty pageants, reported that this is not the first time Middle East passions have roiled the contest: “In 2006, Gabrielle Bou Rached of Lebanon and Israel’s Anastacia Entin ran into trouble after they revealed that they have established personal friendship despite, at that time, the Israeli air force are [sic] bombing some parts of Lebanon.”