Israel to free Palestinians, build more settlements

Israel to free Palestinians, build more settlements
Updated 27 December 2013

Israel to free Palestinians, build more settlements

Israel to free Palestinians, build more settlements

JERUSALEM: Israel will announce plans for new settlement construction next week, coinciding with the release of a third batch of Palestinian prisoners as part of peace talks, an official said Thursday.
Palestinians have warned repeatedly that settlement building destroys the fragile US-brokered peace talks that resumed in July after a three-year hiatus.
“The Israeli government will announce tenders for new construction in the West Bank and in east Jerusalem which will coincide with the release of a third group of Palestinian prisoners,” the official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The comments come days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to push ahead with settlement construction despite calls for restraint by US Secretary of State John Kerry and the European Union.
“We will not stop, even for a moment, building our country and becoming stronger, and developing... the settlement enterprise,” Netanyahu told members of his rightwing Likud party last week.
Kerry, who has been fighting for the survival of the peace talks, urged Netanyahu earlier this month “to exercise maximum restraint in announcing new construction” Haaretz daily has reported.
Israel is due to release 26 Palestinian prisoners on Sunday, in line with commitments to the US-backed peace process which also called on both sides to negotiate for nine months.
Israel agreed to free 104 Palestinian prisoners and has already released 52 in two separate batches. A third group is to be freed on December 29 and the last inmates are to walk free in March 2014.
The previous releases in August and October were accompanied by Israeli announcements of fresh construction on land the Palestinians want for a future state, provoking Palestinian fury.
In October plans for 1,500 Jewish settler homes in Arab east Jerusalem came to light almost immediately after Israel began freeing the second batch of 26 Palestinian prisoners.
Israel had likewise announced construction of more than 2,000 new settler homes in August, when it freed the first group of detainees.
Palestinian officials have angrily said Israeli settlement plans destroy the peace process and the international community has also denounced past construction moves.
Israeli media Thursday suggested that the new construction push is aimed at pacifying Netanyahu’s coalition partners following a surge of violence along the Israel-Gaza border and in the West Bank.
Maariv daily quoted an unnamed top official as saying Netanyahu had initially agreed to US and EU appeals to delay by two to three weeks the announcement of the new constructions.
But Netanyahu apparently changed his mind under pressure from his coalition partners so as not to send out a “signal of weakness” to the Palestinians from Israel, Maariv said.
Mass-selling Yediot Aharonot added that Netanyahu was once again trying “to pacify the rightwingers” in his coalition.
Cross-border exchanges between Israel and Gaza have increased in recent days, and Israel has said it holds the coastal enclave’s Palestinian Islamist rulers Hamas responsible for the unrest.
Netanyahu criticized Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas for failing to condemn the latest surge in violence, including the death of an Israeli man shot while repairing the border fence with Gaza on Tuesday.
“The terrorist attacks of recent days against Israelis are the direct result of incitement to hatred in the press and broadcast in Palestinian schools,” Netanyahu said in a statement Wednesday.
He added he was “disappointed that president Abbas has not yet condemned the recent terrorist acts as one would expect from a partner in peace negotiations.”
The Israeli army has retaliated to the fatal shooting of the Israeli man by launching tank and air strikes on the Gaza Strip that killed a toddler and wounded six other Palestinians.


Critic of Palestinian Authority dies after violent arrest

Critic of Palestinian Authority dies after violent arrest
Updated 40 min 44 sec ago

Critic of Palestinian Authority dies after violent arrest

Critic of Palestinian Authority dies after violent arrest
  • Nizar Banat was a harsh critic of the PA, which governs parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank
JERUSALEM: An outspoken critic of the Palestinian Authority who was a candidate in parliamentary elections called off earlier this year died after Palestinian security forces arrested him and beat him with an iron rod on Thursday, his family said.
Nizar Banat was a harsh critic of the PA, which governs parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, and had called on Western nations to cut off aid to it because of its authoritarianism and human rights violations. Earlier this week, another prominent activist was detained by the PA and held overnight after criticizing it on Facebook.
The crackdown on dissent comes as the internationally-backed PA faces a growing backlash from Palestinians who view it as corrupt and increasingly autocratic, a manifestation of a three-decade-old peace process that has yet to deliver an independent state.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who was elected to a four-year term in 2005, has little to show after more than a decade of close security coordination with Israel. The 85-year-old leader has been powerless to stop the expansion of Jewish settlements, home demolitions, evictions in Jerusalem and deadly Israeli military raids, and was largely ignored during the recent unrest in Jerusalem and the 11-day Gaza war.
Western nations nevertheless view the PA as a key partner for rebuilding Gaza, which is ruled by the militant Hamas group, and eventually reviving the moribund peace process.
Ammar Banat, a cousin of the deceased, said around 25 Palestinian security forces stormed the home where Nizar was staying, blowing out doors and windows. They beat Nizar with an iron bar and sprayed pepper spray in his eyes before undressing him and dragging him away, Ammar told a local radio station, citing two other cousins who were present during the arrest.
In a brief statement, the Hebron governorate said Nizar’s “health deteriorated” when Palestinian forces went to arrest him early Thursday. It said he was taken to a hospital where he was later pronounced dead.
Representatives of the European Union and the United Nations called for an independent investigation, and Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh later announced the formation of an investigative committee. He said a doctor chosen by the family would participate in the autopsy and the family would be invited to provide testimony.
Around 100 protesters gathered in the West Bank city of Ramallah and tried to march to the PA’s headquarters. Palestinian security forces halted them and fired tear gas as scuffles broke out.
In early May, gunmen fired bullets, stun grenades and tear gas at Nizar Banat’s home near the West Bank city of Hebron, where his wife was inside with their children. He blamed the attack on Abbas’ Fatah party, which dominates the security forces, saying only they would have access to tear gas and stun grenades.
“The Europeans need to know that they are indirectly funding this organization,” he told The Associated Press in May in an interview at a home where he was hiding out. “They fire their guns into the air at Fatah celebrations, they fire their guns in the air when Fatah leaders fight each other and they fire their guns at people who oppose Fatah.”
He said prominent Fatah supporters were waging an incitement campaign against him on social media in which they accused him of collaborating with Israel, which most Palestinians view as treason. He denied the accusation, and Hamas and another militant group condemned what they referred to as his “assassination” by PA forces.
More recently, he had criticized the Palestinian leadership over an agreement in which Israel sent the PA a shipment of coronavirus vaccines that were soon to expire in exchange for fresh doses the Palestinians expect to receive later this year. The PA called off the agreement after it faced a wave of criticism on social media. Israel said the doses it sent were safe and effective.
The European Union’s delegation to the Palestinians wrote on Twitter that it was “shocked and saddened” by Banat’s death and called for a “full, independent, and transparent investigation.” The United Nation’s Mideast envoy, Tor Wennesland, also called for an investigation into the incident, saying that the “perpetrators must be brought to justice.”
Earlier this week, Palestinian security forces detained a prominent activist and held him overnight after he took to Facebook to criticize the PA’s arrest of another individual. Issa Amro is an outspoken critic of both Israel and the PA, and has been detained by both in the past. he also criticized the PA over the vaccine exchange.
A recent poll showed plummeting support for Abbas, who canceled the first elections in 15 years in April when it looked like his fractured Fatah party would suffer another humiliating defeat to Hamas. The militant group drove out forces loyal to Abbas when it seized power in Gaza in 2007.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Abbas when he visited the region after the Gaza war last month, and the Biden administration is working to improve US relations with the PA after they fell to an all-time low under President Donald Trump.
The European Union has provided hundreds of millions of dollars in direct aid to the PA over the years. Earlier this week, the EU signed an agreement to provide $425 million in loans to the PA and Palestinian banks to help them cope with an economic crisis exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

UK paratroopers dropped into Jordanian desert in military exercise

UK paratroopers dropped into Jordanian desert in military exercise
Updated 45 min 11 sec ago

UK paratroopers dropped into Jordanian desert in military exercise

UK paratroopers dropped into Jordanian desert in military exercise
  • Aim is to ‘demonstrate our capabilities and commitment’ to Mideast nation
  • Ministry of Defence: Jordan is key partner in region

LONDON: British paratroopers have taken part in military exercises with Jordanian counterparts to “demonstrate our capabilities and commitment to Jordan.”

The 150 soldiers, flying from the Royal Air Force base at Akrotiri in Cyprus, were dropped into the desert outside Amman from 800 feet from two C-130 Hercules aircraft. 

The troops, from the 16 Air Assault Brigade, then simulated an attack on a town by foreign adversaries. 

The unit was acting as part of the UK’s Global Response Force (GRF), which features “air manoeuvre and combat aviation” to reduce global response times to emerging crises around the world. 

Brig. James Martin, the brigade’s commander, said Britain retains strong ties with states in the Middle East and North Africa “which are vital to UK prosperity and security.”

Britain’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) said Jordan is a key partner in the region, and exercises such as this will help expedite the MoD’s “future soldier” concept, allowing the UK to strike, intervene and assist allies across the globe.

Armed Forces Minister James Heappey said the joint exercise “is a showcase of the GRF’s impressive ability to operate across multiple domains and in harsh environments. They are the soldiers of the future, ready to tackle changing threats around the world.”

The Royal Navy Carrier Strike Group, meanwhile, took part in its first operations as part of Operation Shader, flying F-35Bs from aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth against Daesh targets in Syria and Iraq.


US linguist sentenced to 23 years for exposing classified information to Hezbollah

Lebanese-American Mariam Taha Thompson was sentenced to 23 years in prison on Wednesday after she admitted to turning over classified national defense information to Hezbollah. (AFP/File Photo)
Lebanese-American Mariam Taha Thompson was sentenced to 23 years in prison on Wednesday after she admitted to turning over classified national defense information to Hezbollah. (AFP/File Photo)
Updated 24 June 2021

US linguist sentenced to 23 years for exposing classified information to Hezbollah

Lebanese-American Mariam Taha Thompson was sentenced to 23 years in prison on Wednesday after she admitted to turning over classified national defense information to Hezbollah. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Lebanese-American Mariam Taha Thompson, 62, worked for a US Special Operations task force in Iraq and had top secret clearance
  • Thompson started speaking with a Lebanese co-conspirator with Hezbollah ties in 2017 and later developed romantic feelings for him

CHICAGO: Lebanese-American Mariam Taha Thompson was sentenced to 23 years in prison on Wednesday after she admitted to turning over classified national defense information to Hezbollah, designated by the US as a terrorist organization based in Southern Lebanon.

Thompson, 62, from Rochester, Minn., was a contracted linguist for a US Special Operations task force in Iraq and had top secret clearance. She agreed to plead guilty in exchange for leniency, a US Justice Department official said in a statement.

According to court filings, Thompson acknowledged that she passed information to a Lebanese man who she believed would pass the sensitive information to Hezbollah agents. Her contact sought to obtain detailed information on individuals who may have been involved in the Jan 3, 2020 assassination of Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force Commander Qasem Suleimani. 

“Thompson’s sentence reflects the seriousness of her violation of the trust of the American people, of the human sources she jeopardized and of the troops who worked at her side as friends and colleagues,” John Demers, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s national security division, said in a statement

“That Thompson passed our nation’s sensitive secrets to someone whom she knew had ties to Lebanese Hezbollah made her betrayal all the more serious. Thompson’s sentence should stand as a clear warning to all clearance holders that violations of their oath to this country will not be taken lightly, especially when they put lives at risk.”

Thompson admitted that, beginning in 2017, she started communicating with the Lebanese man using a video-chat feature on a secure text and voice messaging application. Over time, Thompson developed a romantic interest in her co-conspirator.

She learned that the unindicted co-conspirator had a family member who was in the Lebanese Ministry of the Interior and also had strong ties with Lebanese Hezbollah.

In December 2019, while Thompson was assigned to a special operations task force facility in Iraq, the US launched a series of airstrikes in Iraq targeting Kata’ib Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed foreign terrorist organization. These airstrikes culminated in a Jan. 3, 2020 strike that resulted in Suleimani’s death, as well as the founder of Kata’ib Hezbollah, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.

Following Suleimani’s death, the unindicted co-conspirator began asking Thompson to provide “them” with information about the human assets who had helped the US target Suleimani. Thompson admitted that she understood “them” to be Lebanese Hezbollah, including an unnamed high-ranking military commander.

After receiving this request for information in early January 2020, Thompson began accessing dozens of files on human intelligence sources, including names, personal identification data, background information and photographs of the human assets, as well as operational cables detailing information the assets provided to the US government.

She used several techniques to pass this information on to the unindicted co-conspirator, who told her that his contacts were pleased with the information and that a Lebanese Hezbollah military commander wanted to meet Thompson when she came to Lebanon.

When she was arrested by the FBI on Feb. 27, 2020, Thompson had used her access to classified national defense information to provide her co-conspirator with the identities of at least eight human assets, at least 10 US targets, along with multiple tactics, techniques and procedures. Thompson said she knew the classified national defense information she provided could risk the lives of US sources and troops.

“The defendant’s decision to aid a foreign terrorist organization was a betrayal that endangered the lives of the very American men and women on the battlefield who had served beside her for more than a decade,” acting US attorney Channing Phillips for the District of Columbia said.

“Let today’s sentence serve notice that there are serious consequences for anyone who betrays this country by compromising national defense information.”

FBI officials who worked with the Justice Department said the information Thompson provided to her Lebanese contact put the nation's security at risk.

“By knowingly distributing classified information that would be passed onto a designated foreign terrorist organization, Mariam Thompson put our national defense in danger,” assistant director Alan Kohler Jr. of the FBI's Counterintelligence Division said.

“The men and women of the FBI will continue to work tirelessly to defeat hostile intelligence activities targeting the US and hold those who assist our adversaries accountable.”


Canada: Decision to down Ukraine flight PS752 was made by senior Iranian official

Canada: Decision to down Ukraine flight PS752 was made by senior Iranian official
Updated 24 June 2021

Canada: Decision to down Ukraine flight PS752 was made by senior Iranian official

Canada: Decision to down Ukraine flight PS752 was made by senior Iranian official
  • The Canadian forensic report stated that Iran ignored some risks, which led to the accident
  • The report also added that the Islamic Republic failed to provide sufficient explanations

DUBAI: Canada’s final report on the downing of the Ukrainian plane said the decision was made by a senior Iranian official, Al-Arabiya TV reported.
The Canadian forensic report stated that Iran ignored some risks, which led to the fatal accident on Jan. 8, 2020.
The report also added that the Islamic Republic failed to provide sufficient explanations for the downing of the plane, which killed all 176 people on board.
Earlier in June, Ukraine’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman said they refused Iran’s proposal to pay $150,000 as compensation for each victim of the PS752 plane victims.
Oleg Nikolenko said compensation to families was an important step to justice, but first the full truth behind the circumstances of the plane crash were needed.
“Only then can we talk about the compensation. The specific amount should be set with the agreement of all the governments of the states whose citizens died in the plane crash, and [should] not [be] a unilateral decision,” one of the country’s biggest TV news channels TSN quoted him.


Yemeni minister says government has control of Marib

Yemeni minister says government has control of Marib
Updated 24 June 2021

Yemeni minister says government has control of Marib

Yemeni minister says government has control of Marib
  • Muammar Al-Eryani said Houthis are still recruiting children
  • Loyalist officials told AFP that pro-government forces had repelled Houthi attacks north of the city

DUBAI: Yemen’s Information Minister said Marib was “invincible” and warned that Houthis who tried to enter would be arrested, state news agency Saba New reported on Wednesday.
Muammar Al-Eryani said Houthis are still recruiting children.
“The Houthi militia are again deploying thousands of their militants, including tribesmen and children recruited from the summer radicalization centers for suicide missions at all fronts of Marib,” the report quoted him as saying.
Fighting between Yemeni loyalists and Houthi rebels seeking to take the strategic northern city of Marib has left 90 fighters killed in two days, pro-government military sources said on Tuesday.
The Iran-backed Houthi militia on Monday night mounted a fresh assault on the internationally recognized government forces in Al-Mashjah and Al-Kasara areas, west of Marib, triggering heavy clashes that continued until Tuesday afternoon and claimed the lives of dozens of combatants.
The Ministry of Defense said dozens of Houthis were killed in the fighting and that they lost a significant amount of military equipment.
Loyalist officials told AFP that pro-government forces had repelled Houthi attacks north of the city in clashes that left 63 rebels and 27 loyalist fighters dead since Monday.