Israeli undercover unit breaks up Palestinian protest

Undercover Israeli police arrest a Palestinian demonstrator during clashes following protests in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on Wednesday. (AP)
Updated 13 December 2017
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Israeli undercover unit breaks up Palestinian protest

RAMALLAH: An Israeli undercover unit infiltrated a Palestinian protest on the outskirts of Ramallah on Wednesday before dispersing it by firing into the air.
AFP journalists witnessed the operation during the protest by around 100 to 150 Palestinians, including some who threw stones at Israeli soldiers, near a military checkpoint in the occupied West Bank.
The operation saw a few dozen soldiers move from further down the street toward the crowd.
Suddenly, several men wearing keffiyehs or balaclavas, including one with a Palestinian flag wrapped around his head, pulled out pistols.
One threw a smoke grenade while others fired in the air. The army then rapidly moved toward the remaining protesters, who fled.
Medics on the scene said three Palestinians had been injured during the protests.
Israel’s military had not immediately responded to a request for comment.
Rare video footage of the operation was captured by an AFP journalist.
Israeli forces regularly carry out such operations against stone-throwing protests in which agents pretend to be demonstrators before turning on the crowd.
Such agents are referred to by Palestinians as mustarabeen, a word used to refer to those who disguise themselves as Arabs.
Wednesday’s protest was part of demonstrations and clashes that have occurred in the Palestinian territories since US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital a week ago.
Four Palestinians have been killed so far in clashes or Israeli airstrikes in response to rocket fire from Gaza. One Israeli has been seriously wounded in a stabbing attack in Jerusalem.


US, allies set to evacuate Syrian aid workers from southwest

Updated 20 July 2018
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US, allies set to evacuate Syrian aid workers from southwest

  • US officials say the United States is finalizing plans to evacuate several hundred Syrian civil defense workers and their families from southwest Syria
  • Two officials familiar with the plans said Thursday that the US, Britain and Canada are spearheading the evacuation that would transport members of the White Helmets group to transit camps

WASHINGTON: US officials say the United States is finalizing plans to evacuate several hundred Syrian civil defense workers and their families from southwest Syria as Russian-backed government forces close in on the area.
Two officials familiar with the plans said Thursday that the US, Britain and Canada are spearheading the evacuation that would transport members of the White Helmets group to transit camps in neighboring countries. From there, they will be sent to third countries, including Britain, Germany, the Netherlands and possibly Canada, according to the officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter.
The officials, and a member of the White Helmets who is due to be evacuated from Quneitra province, said the operation appears to be imminent as the Syrian army continues to gain ground in its latest offensive. The White Helmets, who have enjoyed backing from the US and other Western nations for years, are likely to be targeted by Syrian forces as they retake control of the southwest, according to the officials.
The officials said planning for the evacuation has been taking place for some time but accelerated after last week’s NATO summit in Brussels.
“These are hard hours and minutes,” the White Helmets volunteer in Quneitra said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear for his life. “This is the worst day of my life. I hope they rescue us before it is too late.”
The evacuation is expected to take place from Quneitra, which straddles the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and where the civil defense team is trapped. It is the last sliver of land still outside government control in the region.
Since the government offensive began in June, the area along the frontier with the Golan Heights has been the safest in the southwestern region, attracting hundreds of displaced people because is along the disengagement line with Israel demarcated in 1974 after a war. The Syrian government is unlikely to fire there or carry out airstrikes.
Negotiations are also ongoing to evacuate armed rebels and their families who don’t want to accept the return of the rule of Bashar Assad’s government to Quneitra, which the rebels have controlled for years. The fighters will be evacuated to the northern part of Syria, where the opposition still holds sway.
Except for that sliver of land, the southern tip of the southwestern region lies along the border with Jordan and the Golan Heights and is occupied by a Daesh-affiliated group. The area is expected to be the target of the next government advances and the civil defense teams don’t operate there.
The White Helmets are not without controversy. They only operate in opposition-held areas, where government services are almost non-existent and aerial bombings are recurrent. Syrian government supporters accuse them of being politically affiliated with the rebel groups. Russia and the Syrian government have repeatedly accused them of staging chemical attacks in opposition areas, a charge that has never been proven.
They have continued to receive US support even as President Donald Trump presses ahead with his plans to withdraw all American forces from Syria as soon as Islamic State forces are routed.
In June, the State Department freed up a small portion — $6.6 million out of some $200 million — in frozen funding for Syria stabilization programs to keep the White Helmets operating through the end of this year.
In other parts of Syria, where government control has been restored, civil defense volunteers have almost always evacuated to other opposition-controlled areas. It is not clear why this time they will be evacuated out of the country.