Macron: France can help bring lasting peace between Israel and Palestinians

Macron: France can help bring lasting peace between Israel and Palestinians
French President Emmanuel Macron said Iran need to behave more responsibly in the region for a return to a nuclear deal to be successful. (AP)
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Updated 09 June 2021

Macron: France can help bring lasting peace between Israel and Palestinians

Macron: France can help bring lasting peace between Israel and Palestinians
  • Macron tells US Jewish advocacy group that Gaza fighting demonstrated need to boost negotiations
  • French president says Iran must show responsible behavior in Middle East

LONDON: France is willing to contribute to efforts towards lasting peace between Israel and Palestinians, Emmanuel Macron told a US-based Jewish advocacy group on Wednesday.

The French president was addressing the American Jewish Committee (AJC) Virtual Global Forum just weeks after an 11-day Israeli bombing campaign of Gaza killed hundreds of Palestinians including 66 children. Rockets fired from Gaza killed 12 Israelis.

During the fighting last month, Macron spoke to both the Israeli and Palestinian leaders and said he worked with Egypt and Jordan on the ceasefire.

Macron told the AJC event that the Gaza fighting “demonstrate the necessity for a decisive boost to the negotiations” to achieve lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace. 

“We know the parameters to reach a two-state solution, and France stands willing to contribute, while respecting the legitimate aspirations of each party.”

However he also backed Israel’s “right to defend itself,” highlighting “France’s profound attachment to Israel’s security since its creation.”

On Iran, Macron said there was no alternative other than a negotiated solution to restoring a deal restricting Iran’s nuclear  program.

But he said: “Iran must show evidence of their responsibility in the region.”

France, he added, had been proposing since 2018 that Iran’s missile program and destabilizing activities across the Middle East should be factored in to any resurrection of the nuclear deal.

Macron also said he wanted to remind the Jewish community of his “unwavering commitment” to combat antisemitism.


Egypt retrieves 114 smuggled antiquities from France

Egypt retrieves 114 smuggled antiquities from France
Updated 18 min 53 sec ago

Egypt retrieves 114 smuggled antiquities from France

Egypt retrieves 114 smuggled antiquities from France
  • Antiquities retrieved following joint investigations by the Egyptian Public Prosecution office and French judicial authorities
  • Alaa Yousef, Egypt’s ambassador to France, praised the collaboration, describing it as an achievement that added to the record of Egyptian-French bilateral relations

CAIRO: Egyptian officials have retrieved 114 looted antiquities smuggled to France following joint investigations by the Egyptian Public Prosecution office and French judicial authorities.

Heading a high-level delegation, Hamada Al-Sawy, Egypt’s public prosecutor, arrived in Paris on Tuesday and visited the Egyptian Embassy, along with Mostafa Waziri, secretary-general of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, to resume the retrieval process and halt any attempts to sell the artefacts.

The officials took inventory of the recovered items in preparation for the transfer to Cairo, the Egyptian prosecution said on Wednesday.

The pieces were transferred to the embassy and unpacked with the help of the French Interior Ministry.

Al-Sawy said the public prosecution office is following a plan within the framework of Egypt’s strategy to recover its smuggled antiquities and preserve their history.

He highlighted the need for Cairo and Paris to exchange information on criminal investigation techniques and new technologies in fighting crime.

Al-Sawy also detailed the effective cooperation between all stakeholders in combating organized and transnational crimes, terrorism, money laundering, antiquities smuggling, human trafficking and violence against women.

Alaa Yousef, Egypt’s ambassador to France, praised the collaboration, describing it as an achievement that added to the record of Egyptian-French bilateral relations.

Both countries’ relations have strengthened in several areas over recent years, he added.


Critic of Palestinian Authority dies after violent arrest

Critic of Palestinian Authority dies after violent arrest
Updated 24 June 2021

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 24 June 2021

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.