US tells Palestinians they are shutting PLO office in Washington

The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Office is seen in Washington, DC. (AFP)
Updated 10 September 2018
0

US tells Palestinians they are shutting PLO office in Washington

  • The United States will close the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) mission
  • Senior official Saeb Erekat said: “We continue to call upon the International Criminal Court to open its immediate investigation into Israeli crimes.”

RAMALLAH: The US has notified the Palestinians it’s closing their mission in Washington, a senior official said Monday, the latest in a series of American blows to the Palestinians.
The Trump administration notified the Palestinians last year it will shutter their office in Washington unless they enter serious peace talks with Israel.
“We have been officially informed that the US administration will close our embassy in Washington as a punishment for continuing to work with the International Criminal Court against Israeli war crimes,” Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said.
“This is yet another affirmation of the Trump Administration’s policy to collectively punish the Palestinian people, including by cutting financial support for humanitarian services including health and education,” he said.
The move comes after several financial measures the Trump administration has taken toward the Palestinians.
The US has announced it is ending its decades of funding for the UN agency that helps Palestinian refugees, slashing bilateral US aid for projects in the West Bank and Gaza and cutting funding to hospitals in Jerusalem that serve Palestinians.
A provision in a US law says the PLO mission must close if the Palestinians try to get the International Criminal Court to prosecute Israelis for crimes against Palestinians.
Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in November that the Palestinians crossed that line two months prior.
Although the Israelis and Palestinians are not engaged in active, direct negotiations, Trump’s administration has been working to mediate a peace deal that would end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Led by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a senior aide, White House officials have been preparing a peace proposal they intend to put forward at an unspecified time.
Trump has promised to pursue the “ultimate deal” between the Palestinians and Israel. However, such a deal is unlikely given Palestinian mistrust of his administration.
The Palestinians were angered by Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the US Embassy there. They have since rejected the US as peace broker.
The Palestine Liberation Organization is the group that formally represents all Palestinians. Although the US does not recognize Palestinian statehood, the PLO has maintained a “general delegation” office in Washington that facilitates Palestinian officials’ interactions with the US government.
The United States allowed the PLO to open a mission in Washington in 1994, a move that required then-President Bill Clinton to waive a law that said the Palestinians couldn’t have an office. In 2011, under the Obama administration, the United States started letting the Palestinians fly their flag over the office, an upgrade to the status of their mission that the Palestinians hailed as historic.
There was no immediate comment from Israeli government officials.


Cybersecurity firm: More Iran hacks as US sanctions loom

Alister Shepherd, the director of a subsidiary of FireEye, during a presentation about the APT33 in Dubai Tuesday. (AP)
Updated 20 September 2018
0

Cybersecurity firm: More Iran hacks as US sanctions loom

  • The firm warns that this raises the danger level ahead of America re-imposing crushing sanctions on Iran’s oil industry in early November.
  • Iran’s mission to the UN rejected FireEye’s report, calling it “categorically false.”

DUBAI: An Iranian government-aligned group of hackers launched a major campaign targeting Mideast energy firms and others ahead of US sanctions on Iran, a cybersecurity firm said Tuesday, warning further attacks remain possible as America reimposes others on Tehran.

While the firm FireEye says the so-called “spear-phishing” email campaign only involves hackers stealing information from infected computers, it involves a similar type of malware previously used to inject a program that destroyed tens of thousands of terminals in Saudi Arabia.

The firm warns that this raises the danger level ahead of America re-imposing crushing sanctions on Iran’s oil industry in early November.

“Whenever we see Iranian threat groups active in this region, particularly in line with geopolitical events, we have to be concerned they might either be engaged in or pre-positioning for a disruptive attack,” Alister Shepherd, a director for a FireEye subsidiary, told The Associated Press.

Iran’s mission to the UN rejected FireEye’s report, calling it “categorically false.”

“Iran’s cyber capabilities are purely defensive, and these claims made by private firms are a form of false advertising designed to attract clients,” the mission said in a statement. “They should not be taken at face value.”

FireEye, which often works with governments and large corporations, refers to the group of Iranian hackers as APT33, an acronym for “advanced persistent threat.” APT33 used phishing email attacks with fake job opportunities to gain access to the companies affected, faking domain names to make the messages look legitimate. Analysts described the emails as “spear-phishing” as they appear targeted in nature.

FireEye first discussed the group last year around the same time. This year, the company briefed journalists after offering presentations to potential government clients in Dubai at a luxury hotel and yacht club on the man-made, sea-horse-shaped Daria Island.

While acknowledging their sales pitch, FireEye warned of the danger such Iranian government-aligned hacking groups pose. Iran is believed to be behind the spread of Shamoon in 2012, which hit Saudi Arabian Oil Co. and Qatari natural gas producer RasGas. The virus deleted hard drives and then displayed a picture of a burning American flag on computer screens. Saudi Aramco ultimately shut down its network and destroyed over 30,000 computers.

A second version of Shamoon raced through Saudi government computers in late 2016, this time making the destroyed computers display a photograph of the body of 3-year-old Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi, who drowned fleeing his country’s civil war.

But Iran first found itself as a victim of a cyberattack. Iran developed its cyber capabilities in 2011 after the Stuxnet computer virus destroyed thousands of centrifuges involved in Iran’s contested nuclear program. Stuxnet is widely believed to be an American and Israeli creation.

APT33’s emails haven’t been destructive. However, from July 2 through July 29, FireEye saw “a by-factors-of-10 increase” in the number of emails the group sent targeting their clients, Shepherd said.