Gaza organizers cancel protests along Israel border

Palestinian medics carry a wounded demonstrator east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 15, 2019, during a protest marking 71th anniversary of Nakba -- also known as Day of the Catastrophe in 1948. (AFP)
Updated 18 May 2019

Gaza organizers cancel protests along Israel border

  • At least 293 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the protests began, the majority during the protests

GAZA CITY, LONDON: Organizers canceled the main weekly protests along the Gaza-Israel border on Friday, for only the second time in more than a year.
They said a large demonstration had already been held in Gaza on Wednesday to commemorate what Palestinians call the nakba, or catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands were expelled or fled from their homes during the 1948 war surrounding the creation of Israel.
“Today there are no activities in the ‘return camps’ in the east of the Gaza Strip, due to the high temperature and to provide a break to citizens, who held a large protest two days ago,” the organizing committee said in a statement.
The “march of return” demonstrations have been held at least weekly since March 2018, with the backing of Gaza’s Hamas rulers.
Friday protests were canceled just once before — after a flare-up between Israel and Hamas in March.
Protesters have been demanding an end to Israel’s more than decade-old blockade of Gaza and the right for Palestinian refugees to return to ancestral lands now inside Israel.
Israel says any such return would spell its demise as a Jewish state and accuses Hamas of orchestrating the protests as an excuse for violence.
At least 293 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza since the protests began, the majority during the protests. Six Israelis have been killed in Gaza-related violence.

Facebook bans Israeli firm
In another development, Facebook, facing criticism for enabling disruption of elections worldwide, said it was taking down hundreds of accounts linked to an Israeli political consultancy.
The social media platform said it was banning the Israeli company, Archimedes Group, which on its website boasts of “winning campaigns worldwide”.
The US giant said Thursday it had removed 265 accounts on its Facebook and Instagram platforms, Facebook Pages, Groups and events “involved in coordinated inauthentic behavior.”
The sites’ activity focused on several African countries and on Latin America and Southeast Asia, and was intended to sway voters by peddling misinformation.
The individuals behind the fake network tried to hide their identities but some of the activity linked back to Archimedes Group, which Facebook said had “repeatedly violated” its policies.
“This organisation and all its subsidiaries are now banned from Facebook, and it has been issued a cease and desist letter,” the US company’s head of cybersecurity policy, Nathaniel Gleicher, wrote in a blog post.
There was no immediate comment from Archimedes, which says it is a leader in “large-scale campaigns worldwide” through its expertise in consulting, lobbying and social media.
About 2.8 million individual accounts followed one or more of the banned Pages, and $812,000 was spent on related ads on Facebook from 2012 to April this year, Gleicher said.
Nine public events were organised by the Pages, most recently this month, but Facebook said it could not confirm whether any of the events had actually occurred.
Facebook has been trying to address the criticism that it has long turned a blind eye to political actors abusing its platforms to sway elections, including the 2016 presidential vote in the US.
“We are making progress rooting out this abuse, and, as we’ve said before, it’s an ongoing challenge,” Gleicher said.
This week, Facebook joined other tech giants in issuing the “Christchurch Call” to stamp out violent extremist content on the internet, following massacres at two New Zealand mosques in March.


Resumed cargo flights: Thaw in Israel-Turkey ties?

Updated 25 May 2020

Resumed cargo flights: Thaw in Israel-Turkey ties?

  • Ankara’s involvement in Syria’s Idlib province against the Tehran-backed Assad regime has recently provided a common denominator for Turkey and Israel to reconcile
  • Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians remains a major irritant in relations with Ankara – Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday reiterated his support for the Palestinians

ISTANBUL: Israeli airline El Al has resumed cargo flights twice weekly between Tel Aviv and Istanbul for the first time in 10 years — a sign that decade-long bilateral tensions might be easing.
A cargo flight landed in Istanbul on Sunday morning to pick up humanitarian aid and protective equipment destined for US medical teams fighting COVID-19.
Burhanettin Duran, head of the Ankara-based think tank SETA, wrote that Turkey’s regional empowerment is “obliging Israel to search for normalization steps with Ankara.”
Dr. Nimrod Goren, head of the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, said the cargo flight is a positive and visible development in bilateral relations that was probably approved by top government officials on both sides and required diplomatic efforts.
“However, the fact that this step takes place in parallel to a discussion about Israeli annexation in the West Bank, and to criticism of annexation by regional and international actors, might impact how it’s viewed in Turkey,” he told Arab News.
Goren said while the Israeli and Turkish governments continue to have significant policy differences, they should work to restore their relations to ambassadorial level, and to relaunch a strategic dialogue on regional developments of mutual interest.
“The forming of a new Israeli government, and the appointment of Gabi Ashkenazi as a new foreign minister, could be an opportunity to do so, and the cargo flight brings some positive momentum,” he added.
Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador in May 2018 after the US moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Ankara’s involvement in Syria’s Idlib province against the Tehran-backed Assad regime has recently provided a common denominator for Turkey and Israel to reconcile, as it also serves the latter’s strategic interests in weakening the Iranian presence in Syria.
But Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians remains a major irritant in relations with Ankara. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday reiterated his support for the Palestinians. 
In a video message on Twitter, he said the issue of Jerusalem “is a red line for all Muslims worldwide.”
He added that Israel’s “new occupation and annexation project … disrespects Palestine’s sovereignty and international law.”
Ryan Bohl, Middle East analyst at geopolitical-risk firm Stratfor, told Arab News: “Turkey is trying to create economic ties with Israel because … Erdogan is finding the political ground changed, caused in part by demographic changes as young Turks are less incensed by the Palestinian issue, and in part by a general weariness among Turks about putting too much skin in the game to solve the Palestinian question,” 
Israel is expected to annex large parts of the occupied West Bank on July 1 under the terms of a coalition government agreement. Ankara has strongly criticized the plan.
Israeli and Turkish officials are rumored to have held talks behind closed doors to reach a deal on maritime borders and exclusive economic zones in the eastern Mediterranean. 
Israel’s Foreign Ministry recently said it was “proud of our diplomatic relations with Turkey.”
But Goren said it is currently unlikely that Israel will advance a maritime demarcation deal with Turkey as it would shake several regional balances at the same time.
“It will put in jeopardy, and run in contrast to, the important alliances in the eastern Mediterranean that Israel has fostered in recent years with Greece, Cyprus and Egypt,” he added.