Israel says Iran ‘spy network’ recruited women online

The Iranian handler, who called himself Rambod Namdar, allegedly approached the women on Facebook. (Social media/Facebook)
The Iranian handler, who called himself Rambod Namdar, allegedly approached the women on Facebook. (Social media/Facebook)
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Updated 13 January 2022

Israel says Iran ‘spy network’ recruited women online

The Iranian handler, who called himself Rambod Namdar, allegedly approached the women on Facebook. (Social media/Facebook)
  • Women, whom the Shin Bet did not identify, were recruited by an Iranian agent who called himself “Rambod Namdar”
  • Missions included covertly photographing US embassy in Tel Aviv

JERUSALEM: An Iranian “espionage network” used Facebook to recruit Israeli women who were manipulated into photographing the US embassy and other activities, the Shin Bet domestic security agency said Wednesday.
The women, whom the Shin Bet did not identify, were recruited by an Iranian agent who called himself “Rambod Namdar” and said he was a Jew living in Iran, the Israeli agency said in a statement.
“Despite the fact that the women suspected that the man in question was an Iranian intelligence operative, some of them maintained contact with him, agreed to perform various tasks he asked of them and received funds from him,” it said.
After being approached through Facebook, “Rambod” asked that communication continue using the encrypted messaging app WhatsApp, the Shin Bet added.
It said there were four prime suspects, and indictments have been issued.
One of the women, aged 40, was allegedly in contact with “Rambod” for several years and carried out various missions.
These included covertly photographing the US embassy in Tel Aviv, and taking pictures inside the interior ministry in her hometown of Holon.
“Rambod” also asked the woman to guide her son, prior to his military enlistment, into the Intelligence Directorate with the aim of obtaining sensitive documents, the Shin Bet alleged.
Another suspect, aged 57, was also tasked with steering her son toward military intelligence.
She “received an accumulated sum of about $5,000 on several occasions” over a period of more than four years, the Shin Bet said.
Her other missions allegedly included trying to get close to a member of Israel’s Knesset, or parliament.
The woman “transferred information about their relationship to her operator,” said the Shin Bet, which jointly investigated with Israeli police.
The Shin Bet’s accusations about the spy network come during negotiations in Vienna between Iran and world powers seeking to revive a 2015 agreement that offered Tehran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
Israel is not a party to the Vienna talks but is watching with concern, fearing arch-enemy Iran could develop a nuclear weapon. Tehran insists its nuclear program is peaceful.
“The State of Israel is in an ongoing campaign with Iran. It is clear: We see never-ending efforts and attempts by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps to recruit Israeli citizens,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said.
“These attempts go beyond security and intelligence. They are expanding to efforts to influence the citizens of Israel and Israeli society, sow discord and polarization, undermine political stability in Israel and damage the public’s trust in the government,” he added.
Bennett urged Israelis to be cautious, saying: “It is possible that behind the information that you consume or share on social media are the Iranians.”
In November, Israel indicted a man employed as a cleaner in the home of Defense Minister Benny Gantz for attempting to spy for the Black Shadow hacking group, which is purportedly linked to Iran.
Black Shadow hacks are seen as part of a years-long covert war between Israel and Iran, including physical attacks on ships and cyber offensives.


Chief of Yemen’s Presidential Council backs extending UN-brokered truce

Rashad al-Alimi. (AFP)
Rashad al-Alimi. (AFP)
Updated 21 sec ago

Chief of Yemen’s Presidential Council backs extending UN-brokered truce

Rashad al-Alimi. (AFP)
  • Protesters block road out of Taiz to highlight relentless Houthi siege

AL-MUKALLA: The president of Yemen’s Presidential Leadership Council, Rashad Al-Alimi, vowed on Saturday to support current efforts by international mediators to extend the UN-brokered truce, fight corruption and unify military and security units.  

In a televised speech on the eve of the 32nd anniversary of Unification Day, Al-Alimi said the council supports the UN and US Yemen envoy’s continuing activities to renew the truce, which is set to expire on June 2. He called upon the world to pressure the Houthis to stop breaking the truce and implement its provisions, including lifting their siege of Taiz city.

“In the name of members of the Leadership Council, we affirm our continuing support to the tireless efforts of the UN and US envoys to extend the humanitarian truce,” Al-Alimi said, noting that the truce would pave the way for peace, save lives and rescue the country from starvation.

He stressed that the 2021 Saudi initiative to end the war in Yemen would be the cornerstone of plans to achieve peace in Yemen.

“We also renew our adherence to the initiative of the brothers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, considering it a just basis for a comprehensive peace process.”

Al-Alimi came to power in April when Yemen’s former President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi ceded authority to the eight-man Presidential Leadership Council that would run the country and start peace talks with the Houthis.

On Saturday, the new president pledged to address economic problems in Aden and the other provinces, fight corruption, boost revenues and bring together different armed groups under the council’s command based on the Riyadh Agreement.

“We will firmly move forward to unify the military and security establishment.”

The truce that came into effect on April 2 has largely reduced violence and deaths across the country, despite hundreds of violations by the Houthis and allowed commercial flights to leave Sanaa airport as at least a dozen fuel ships entered Hodeidah port.

The Yemen president’s pledge to support the renewal of the truce came as the Yemeni government and the Houthis are preparing to participate in discussions on opening roads in Taiz and the other provinces.

Houthi media said on Sunday that their delegation left Sanaa for the Jordanian capital on a UN plane.

A government official told Arab News on Saturday that their negotiators were told to get ready to travel to Amman for the meeting.  

In the besieged city of Taiz, dozens of people on Sunday arranged a rare protest near a blocked road that links with Hodeidah province, west of the city, to draw attention to the Houthi siege.

The posters stood in a line on the road, carrying posters that called for ending the Houthi assault.

“Taiz has paid a heavy humanitarian bill due to the siege of the Houthi militia,” read one of the posters.

The Houthis have been besieging the city of Taiz since 2015 to force government troops that defend the city to surrender.


Slow rebuilding frustrates Gaza year after conflict

Slow rebuilding frustrates Gaza year after conflict
Updated 22 May 2022

Slow rebuilding frustrates Gaza year after conflict

Slow rebuilding frustrates Gaza year after conflict
  • Only 20 percent of damaged housing repaired since end of fighting in 2021

GAZA CITY: Delayed rebuilding efforts in Gaza have frustrated locals, with many still living in temporary accomodation a year after the end of fierce fighting.

Ayman Dahman has lived with his family for more than a year in a rented house after his home was destroyed during the Palestinian-Israel conflict in May last year.

Dahman does not know when his old apartment — which he is still paying installments on — will be reconstructed.

The Gaza Strip has witnessed four conflicts, the last of which was in May 2021. The fighting that year lasted for 11 days, during which about 1,700 housing units were completely destroyed.

“I bought my apartment some years before the war, and I still pay the installments from my monthly salary. Now I live with my wife and two daughters and two sons in an apartment I rented after the war; we don’t know when we will return to our home again,” Dahman said.

Dahman and his family used to live in a five-storey building inhabited by 10 families, in the north of Gaza City.

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Refugees paid rent allowance to 154 Palestinian families whose homes were completely demolished during the war, including the Dahman family.

Naji Sarhan, undersecretary at the Ministry of Public Works in Gaza, said that no more than 20 percent of the damaged properties have been reconstructed since the end of the war last year.

“What has been accomplished and what is underway in the housing sector so far does not exceed 20 percent of the completely destroyed houses, and 70 percent of the partially damaged houses,” Sarhan said at a press conference in Gaza on Sunday.

He added: “There are no commitments for the reconstruction of the high-rise and multi-storey residential buildings that were bombed and demolished by the occupation during the aggression of last May.”

Last year, Egypt and Qatar pledged $1 billion to rebuild the post-war Gaza Strip.

“Many friendly countries began pledging to rebuild Gaza after the aggression on the city last year, led by Egypt with a grant of $500 million, and Qatar with a grant of $500 million, in addition to some sporadic grants of limited amounts provided by countries and institutions,” Sarhan said.

Egypt also began construction on Gaza’s 1.8-kilometer-long Corniche Street, three residential communities comprising 117 buildings with a total of more than 2,500 housing units, in addition to a construction plan for a bridge in the Shujaiya area, and an open tunnel in the Saraya neighborhood.

Meanwhile, Qatar has started construction of 200 housing units, in addition to the restoration of 11 residential buildings that were partially damaged. It is also repairing a number of destroyed street intersections with a pledge to continue the reconstruction process, Sarhan said.

Fears over new rounds of fighting between Israel and Hamas have mounted amid tensions over preparations by Israelis to conduct a flag march on May 29 in Jerusalem. A similar move led to the outbreak of violence last year.

Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ political bureau, said during a conference held in Gaza: “We are following the threats to storm the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque on May 29, or organize a march of flags.

“I warn the enemy against committing such crimes and such steps.”

Palestinians in Gaza are divided over support for a new confrontation.

Supporters of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and some supporters of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine express a willingness to confront Israel over flag marches. Others fear that any conflict would only add to the economic woes of the Gaza Strip.


Israeli Arab lawmaker rejoins coalition days after quitting

Israeli Arab lawmaker rejoins coalition days after quitting
Updated 22 May 2022

Israeli Arab lawmaker rejoins coalition days after quitting

Israeli Arab lawmaker rejoins coalition days after quitting
  • Rinawie Zoabi’s departure had raised the possibility of new parliamentary elections less than a year after Bennett’s broad coalition government took office
  • But on Sunday Rinawie Zoabi reversed course, saying that her main concern was securing ‘achievements for the needs of Arab society’ in Israel

JERUSALEM: An Arab Israeli lawmaker who quit the ruling coalition said Sunday that she was returning to Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s 60-member alliance, ending a crisis that lasted just a few days.
Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi said Thursday that she was quitting Bennett’s coalition, leaving it with with just 59 members in Israel’s 120-seat parliament. She cited the government’s hard-line policies in Jerusalem and West Bank settlement construction that she said have alienated her constituents, fellow Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Two other legislators from Bennett’s own party have already broken ranks and joined the opposition, headed by former leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Rinawie Zoabi’s departure had raised the possibility of new parliamentary elections less than a year after Bennett’s broad coalition government took office. But even with a 60-member coalition that’s deadlocked with the opposition, passing legislation will remain difficult.
Recent Israeli-Palestinian tensions, set off by several deadly Palestinian attacks against Israel and Israeli arrest raids in the occupied West Bank, and fueled by repeated clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protesters at a flashpoint Jerusalem holy site, have shaken the coalition’s stability.
But on Sunday Rinawie Zoabi reversed course, saying that her main concern was securing “achievements for the needs of Arab society” in Israel, and preventing an ultranationalist extremist in the opposition from becoming the next minister in charge of police.
She made the announcement of her return to the coalition’s ranks after meeting with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who wrote on Twitter that the two had “an open and reasonable conversation about the real needs of Arab society” and put aside their disagreements.
As leader of a small nationalist party Bennett heads an unwieldy coalition of eight diverse parties — from dovish factions supporting Palestinian statehood to ultranationalists and, for the first time in Israel’s history, an Islamist Arab party. They joined forces in June after four consecutive deadlocked elections with the aim of ousting longtime prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption.
As part of their union, the parties agreed to set aside divisive issues, like Palestinian statehood, and focus instead on topics such as the coronavirus pandemic and the economy. Despite its internal divisions, it has managed to pass a budget, navigate the pandemic and strengthen relations with both the Biden administration and Israel’s Arab allies.


Iraq trial of Briton and German for antiquity theft adjourned

Iraq trial of Briton and German for antiquity theft adjourned
Updated 22 May 2022

Iraq trial of Briton and German for antiquity theft adjourned

Iraq trial of Briton and German for antiquity theft adjourned
  • James Fitton and Volker Waldmann have been in custody since they were arrested on March 20 at Baghdad airport
  • According to customs officers, Fitton’s baggage contained 10 stone fragments, pieces of pottery or ceramics; Waldmann had two pieces, but denied they were his

BAGHDAD: An Iraqi court on Sunday adjourned for two weeks the trial of a Briton and a German man accused of trying to smuggle antiquities after a defense lawyer called for more investigations.
James Fitton, 66, a retired British geologist, and Volker Waldmann, 60, a Berlin psychologist, have been in custody since they were arrested on March 20 at Baghdad airport as they wound up their holiday.
According to statements from customs officers and witnesses, Fitton’s baggage contained 10 stone fragments, pieces of pottery or ceramics. Waldmann allegedly had two pieces, but denied they were his.
The two men did not know each other before they traveled to Iraq on an organized tour, and both say they had no intention of breaking the law.
The trial was adjourned until June 6 to allow time for further investigations, at the request of Waldmann’s defense lawyer, Furat Kuba.
During initial investigations, “certain important aspects were not examined,” Kuba said, citing the report of an expert committee that said the fragments found with the men were antiquities.
“We don’t have any more details: what site do these pieces come from? What era, what civilization do they date back to?” Kuba asked, adding there were also outstanding questions relating to the site where the fragments were collected.
“Is it fenced and protected?” Kuba asked. “Are there signs indicating that these are ancient pieces that it is forbidden to collect?“
Kuba said he wanted the tour guide or an Iraqi official who had been present at the site to give evidence in court as to whether the tourists had received instructions prohibiting them from picking up fragments.
Their trial comes with the war-ravaged country, whose tourism infrastructure is almost non-existent, timidly opening to visitors.
Iraq has also been trying to recover antiquities that were looted over a period of decades from the country whose civilization dates back thousands of years.
The judge told the accused they were charged under a 2002 law which provides for sentences up to the death penalty for those guilty of “intentionally taking or trying to take out of Iraq an antiquity.”
Fitton, at the start of the trial, when asked why he tried to take the artefacts out of Iraq, cited his “hobby,” saying he was interested in “geology and ancient history and archaeology,” and was not aware that taking the fragments was illegal.
Waldmann has denied the pieces allegedly found in his luggage were his, but they belonged to Fitton.


Iranian news agency ISNA says members of Israeli intelligence network discovered and arrested in Iran

Iranian news agency ISNA says members of Israeli intelligence network discovered and arrested in Iran
Updated 27 min 56 sec ago

Iranian news agency ISNA says members of Israeli intelligence network discovered and arrested in Iran

Iranian news agency ISNA says members of Israeli intelligence network discovered and arrested in Iran

DUBAI: Iran's semi-official ISNA news agency reported on Sunday that members of an Israeli intelligence service network had been discovered and arrested by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
“Under the guidance of the Zionist regime's intelligence service, the network attempted to steal and destroy personal and public property, kidnapping and obtaining fabricated confessions through a network of thugs,” the IRGC public relations service said in a statement.