Shooting of 2 Palestinian journalists by Israeli forces condemned, independent probe sought

Special Shooting of 2 Palestinian journalists by Israeli forces condemned, independent probe sought
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Palestinians protest the death of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem on May 11, 2022. (Ahmad Garabili / AFP)
Special Shooting of 2 Palestinian journalists by Israeli forces condemned, independent probe sought
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Palestinian children carry candles and pictures of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Gaza City on May 11, 2022. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
Special Shooting of 2 Palestinian journalists by Israeli forces condemned, independent probe sought
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A Palestinian woman holds a photograph of slain veteran Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, as her body is carried toward the offices of the news channel in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on May 11, 2022. (AFP)
Special Shooting of 2 Palestinian journalists by Israeli forces condemned, independent probe sought
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Palestinians clash with Israeli security forces during a protest condemning the death of Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in east Jerusalem on May 11, 2022. (Ahmad Garabili / AFP)
Special Shooting of 2 Palestinian journalists by Israeli forces condemned, independent probe sought
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Israeli security forces detain a Palestinian during a protest condemning the death of journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Ieast Jerusalem on May 11, 2022. (Ahmad Garabili / AFP)
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Updated 12 May 2022

Shooting of 2 Palestinian journalists by Israeli forces condemned, independent probe sought

Shooting of 2 Palestinian journalists by Israeli forces condemned, independent probe sought
  • As Israel tries to blame Palestinians, Shireen Abu Akleh’s colleague tells Arab News how army ‘just opened fire’
  • US describes killing as “an affront to media freedom,” Jordan’s FM calls it “a heinous crime”

RAMALLAH: Israel faced international outrage and demands for an independent inquiry on Wednesday after a veteran US-Palestinian journalist was shot dead in the occupied West Bank.

UN Secretary General António Guterres said he was "appalled" by Wednesday's killing of Al Jazeera's Shireen Abu Akleh and called on “the relevant authorities to carry out an independent and transparent investigation into this incident and ensure that those responsible are held accountable.”

Shireen Abu Akleh, 51, died after suffering a single gunshot to the head during an Israeli military raid on the outskirts of the Jenin refugee camp.

Abu Akleh’s producer, Palestinian journalist Ali Samoudi, was shot in the back in Wednesday’s incident and taken to hospital, where he was in a stable condition.

Israel initially blamed the shootings on Palestinian gunmen. “It appears likely that armed Palestinians, who were firing indiscriminately at the time, were responsible for the unfortunate death of the journalist,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said.

However, as witnesses came forward and video footage of the incident emerged, Israel backtracked.

“At this stage, we cannot determine by whose fire she was harmed and we regret her death,” army chief Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi said.

Abu Akleh, who was born in Jerusalem but was a US citizen, worked for the Al Jazeera network in Qatar. She was a respected and familiar face in the Middle East, known for her coverage of the harsh realities of Israel’s military occupation since she joined the network in 1997.

Samoudi, who survived his injury, told Arab News there were no Palestinian gunmen in the area. He described how the news crew advanced up a street carrying their cameras and wearing bulletproof vests on which the “Press” sign was visible. 

Samoudi said there were no pedestrians in the street, there was no exchange of fire, and not even stones were thrown toward the troops.

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He said Israeli soldiers “suddenly opened fire” on them. “They didn’t ask us to leave and they didn’t ask us to stop. They fired at us. One bullet hit me and another hit Shireen. They killed her in cold blood.”

Numerous videos that have surfaced on social media also show the absence of any violence when the journalists were attacked.

The Palestinian Institute of Forensic Medicine at An-Najah National University in Nablus said the result of a post-mortem examination indicated that Abu Akleh was hit by an explosive bullet that penetrated her head and killed her instantly.

It confirmed that the bullet caused an extensive laceration to the brain and skull, and the weapon used was high-caliber. The deformed bullet is now being analyzed in the laboratory to establish the weapon that fired it.

The Israeli military forces target Palestinian journalists extensively, by shooting, killing, injuring, arresting or beating them, often breaking their equipment.

After mourners gathered at Abu Akleh’s house in Beit Hanina, north of Jerusalem, Israeli police stormed the mourners’ camp, demanding that people dispersed and stopped playing Palestinian nationalist songs and waving flags.

In New York, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, called Abu Akleh’s death “really horrifying” and called for a transparent investigation. She said protecting American citizens and journalists was “our highest priority.”

Thomas-Greenfield said Abud Akleh did “an extraordinary interview” with her in the West Bank last November. “I left there feeling extraordinary respect for her,” she said.

The UN Human Rights office urged an “independent, transparent investigation into her killing. Impunity must end.”

The White House also called for a thorough probe. “Investigating attacks on independent media and prosecuting those responsible are of paramount importance,” deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

At the United Nations, the Palestinian UN Ambassador Riyad Mansour, flanked by representatives of the Arab League and the UN’s Arab Group, demanded an international independent investigation.

The EU demanded an “independent” probe into the killing and Thomas Nides, the US ambassador to Israel, called for a “thorough investigation” into the killing. 

The US State Department said Abu Akleh’s death was “an affront to media freedom.” 

The Palestinian Authority said it held Israel “responsible” for Abu Akleh’s death. 

The Qatari government, which funds Al Jazeera, condemned the killing “in the strongest terms.”

The Arab League condemned the shooting and blamed Israel. Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi called the killing “a heinous crime.”

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said: “With sad hearts, we mourn the death of the knight of the media and the icon of the national press. The martyr Shireen Abu Akleh was killed by the bullets of the occupation soldiers while she was carrying out her journalistic duty to document the horrific crimes committed by the occupation soldiers against our people.”

“Whoever was reporting the news became the news herself,” was the top trending hashtag trending on social media following Abu Akleh’s killing.

Elsewhere, the Israeli army shot dead a 16-year-old Palestinian boy in the West Bank city of Al-Bireh on Wednesday.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health said that the boy died after being shot directly in the heart while he was near his school.


 


Iran conservative media hail Salman Rushdie attacker

Iran conservative media hail Salman Rushdie attacker
Updated 13 August 2022

Iran conservative media hail Salman Rushdie attacker

Iran conservative media hail Salman Rushdie attacker
  • Rushdie was on a ventilator after the attack during a literary event in New York state on Friday, more than 30 years after he went into hiding following late supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s fatwa

TEHRAN: Iranian ultra-conservative newspaper Kayhan on Saturday hailed the man who stabbed British author Salman Rushdie — the target of a 1989 Iranian fatwa calling for his death.
Rushdie was on a ventilator after the attack during a literary event in New York state on Friday, more than 30 years after he went into hiding following late supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s fatwa.
“Bravo to this courageous and duty-conscious man who attacked the apostate and depraved Salman Rushdie in New York,” wrote the paper, whose chief is appointed by current supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“Let us kiss the hands of the one who tore the neck of the enemy of God with a knife,” the daily added.
With the exception of reformist publication Etemad, Iranian media followed a similar line, describing Rushdie as an “apostate.”
State-owned paper Iran said that the “neck of the devil” had been “cut by a razor.”
Iranian authorities have yet to make any official comment on the stabbing attack against Rushdie.
But Mohammad Marandi, an adviser to the negotiating team for Iran’s nuclear talks in Vienna, wrote on Twitter: “I won’t be shedding tears for a writer who spouts endless hatred and contempt for Muslims and Islam.”
“But, isn’t it odd that as we near a potential nuclear deal, the US makes claims about a hit on Bolton... and then this happens?” he questioned.
The attack came after Iran hinted earlier on Friday that it may accept a final compromise to revive its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. This followed the European Union’s submission of a “final text” in Vienna.
The US Justice Department said Wednesday that it had indicted a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards over allegations he had offered to pay an individual in the United States $300,000 to kill former White House national security adviser John Bolton.
Iran dismissed the allegations as “fiction.”
Rushdie, 75, was propelled into the spotlight with his second novel “Midnight’s Children” in 1981, which won international praise and Britain’s prestigious Booker Prize for its portrayal of post-independence India, where he was born.
But his 1988 book “The Satanic Verses” transformed his life when Khomeini issued a religious decree ordering his killing.
In 1998, the government of Iran’s reformist president Mohammad Khatami assured Britain that Iran would not implement the fatwa.
But Khamenei said in 2005 he still believed Rushdie was an apostate whose killing would be authorized by Islam.


Saudi government’s digital activity comes under scrutiny in new report

Saudi government’s digital activity comes under scrutiny in new report
Updated 12 August 2022

Saudi government’s digital activity comes under scrutiny in new report

Saudi government’s digital activity comes under scrutiny in new report
  • Ministry of Health found to have ‘most engaging’ social media content
  • Education Ministry has ‘top-performing website’

DUBAI: The Kingdom’s health, education and sports ministries were among the government’s top social media performers in 2021, according to a report analyzing their digital activity.

The “State of Digital Government” report was put together by social media marketing company Emplifi in partnership with advertising network Extend.

“Social media is a valuable tool for government agencies to communicate with citizens and residents, to build and establish trust, share important information quickly and in real-time, answer questions and engage at a more personal level,” Christian Bechara, Emplifi’s vice-president for the Middle East and Africa, told Arab News.

“The world is increasingly social first, and public sector organizations compete with private sector brands for the same attention and awareness,” he added.

“Saudi Arabia recognizes that digitization and innovation in governmental services are necessary to provide capabilities at scale, to lead as a G20 country, and to keep up with the shift in information consumption.”

According to the report, the Ministry of Health had the top-performing social media accounts, while the Ministry of Education had the top-performing website and the Ministry of Sports ranked first in terms of “e-participation.”

It said also that the Ministry of Municipal Rural Affairs was the most active, the Ministry of Education the most mentioned and the Ministry of Health the most followed, as well as having the most engaging content, most new followers and most engaged users.

According to Bechara, the report analyzed the digital performance of 24 ministries across 81 social media accounts and 24 websites.

“In 2021, we saw exponential growth in followers across all ministerial social media accounts, and in particular, 7.1 million new followers,” he said.

In terms of the people talking about and engaging with Saudi ministries, the report found that about two-thirds were aged 18 to 35 and about 75 percent were male.

“Around 66 percent of social media users are Gen Z, which is no surprise — they’ve grown up with the internet and social networks at their fingertips. In their eyes, government agencies are another brand competing in the same space,” Bechara said.

When looking at the content, the report found that while 62 percent of all posts used photos, the most appealing format was video, which accounted for 42 percent of all engagements.

That picture was similar to what was happening in the private sector, Bechara said.

“Short-form video as a means to share information and updates, plus the use of influencers is a common strategy across all organizations and part of a successful marketing mix.”

 

Saudi Arabia’s young, highly connected population, coupled with the Kingdom’s digitization and modernization efforts has positioned social media as the ideal channel for the government to connect with its citizens.

Bechara advised ministries to “continue focusing on your audience, using data and metrics to tailor content.”

But he said governments should not use social media for all their messaging. Rather they should think about the relevancy and value of social media content “and how it will be perceived.”

“Lastly, always engage with your followers,” Bechara said. “Social media is very much here to stay, and it’s great to see government agencies pushing boundaries.”


Google plays smart with plan to stop answering ‘silly questions’

A Google sign is pictured outside the Google office in Berlin, Germany, August 31, 2021. (REUTERS)
A Google sign is pictured outside the Google office in Berlin, Germany, August 31, 2021. (REUTERS)
Updated 12 August 2022

Google plays smart with plan to stop answering ‘silly questions’

A Google sign is pictured outside the Google office in Berlin, Germany, August 31, 2021. (REUTERS)
  • Tech giant's revamped featured snippets service aims to provide more accurate answers to users

LONDON: In a move designed to improve its search engine’s “featured snippets” service, Google announced on Thursday that it will stop answering users’ “silly questions.”

A user who asks Google, “When did Snoopy assassinate Abraham Lincoln?” for example, would receive a fairly detailed response, explaining the location, date and time of assassination, the target and even the type of attack.

However, while the information provided is correct, quite obviously the question makes no sense.

“This clearly isn’t the most helpful way to display this result,” Google’s head of search, Pandu Nayak, said in a statement.

“We’ve trained our systems to get better at detecting these sorts of false premises, which are not very common, but there are cases where it’s not helpful to show a featured snippet. We’ve reduced the triggering of featured snippets in these cases by 40 percent with this update,” he added.

The upgrade aims to address a problem that has long posed problems for Google.

In 2017, the tech giant came under fire for allegedly disseminating fake news after a highlighted snippet for the question “Is Obama planning a coup?” led to its voice assistant jokingly telling users: “Obama may, in fact, be preparing a communist coup d’etat at the end of his term in 2016.”

The snippet, which was automatically generated, was taken from a conspiracy theory website.

To avoid this kind of situation, Google’s search engine revamp is intended to improve replies’ accuracy and sidestep queries for which there is no clear-cut right or wrong response.

Google will also introduce an “about this result” option and alert users in case of low-quality data.

“This doesn’t mean that no helpful information is available, or that a particular result is low-quality,” Nayak said. “These notices provide context about the whole set of results on the page, and you can always see the results for your query, even when the advisory is present.”

So, next time you ask Google: “How do you get in touch with the Illuminati?” expect something more helpful than, “Want to get rich? Apply today and join the Illuminati!”


Meta tracks users across websites, research reveals

Meta tracks users across websites, research reveals
Updated 12 August 2022

Meta tracks users across websites, research reveals

Meta tracks users across websites, research reveals
  • Although there is no indication the tech giant uses the feature to collect sensitive data, it does not make this information known to users

LONDON: Meta is accused of altering website codes its users view, enabling the tech giant to follow them throughout the web after they click links in its apps, new research revealed on Thursday.

Felix Krause, a former Google employee who conducted the research, said that Meta exploits the “in-app browser” — a feature that allows Facebook and Instagram users to visit a third-party website without leaving the platform — to “inject” the tracking code.

“The iOS Instagram and Facebook app render all third-party links and ads within their app using a custom in-app browser. This causes various risks for the user, with the host app being able to track every single interaction with external websites, from all form inputs like passwords and addresses to every single tap,” Krause said.

“Injecting custom scripts into third-party websites allows them to monitor all user interactions, like every button & link tapped, text selections, screenshots, as well as any form inputs, like passwords, addresses and credit card numbers,” he added.

This practice of adding extra code to a webpage before it is displayed to a user is called “Javascript injection,” and in most cases is considered a type of malicious attack, Krause said.

His investigation concentrated on Facebook and Instagram for iOS, after he discovered the code injection by chance while developing a tool that could list all the extra commands added to a website by the browser.

Starting with iOS 14.5, Apple introduced App Monitoring Transparency, which enables users to choose whether or not to enable app tracking when they first open an app. The feature, according to Meta, could impact the company’s revenue by more than $10 billion.

Meta said that the injected tracking code respected users' preferences on ATT.

“The code allows us to aggregate user data before using it for targeted advertising or measurement purposes,” a spokesperson said.

“We do not add any pixels. Code is injected so that we can aggregate conversion events from pixels. For purchases made through the in-app browser, we seek user consent to save payment information for the purposes of autofill.”

Although there is no indication that Meta employed Javascript injection to gather sensitive data, the company does not make this information known to users. 

Krause also said that WhatsApp’s in-app browser does not have the code. As a result, he advised that Meta should do the same with Facebook and Instagram, or redirect users to another browser to open links.

“It’s what’s best for the user, and the right thing to do,” he said.


Russian journalist who staged anti-war protest placed under house arrest

Russian journalist who staged anti-war protest placed under house arrest
Updated 12 August 2022

Russian journalist who staged anti-war protest placed under house arrest

Russian journalist who staged anti-war protest placed under house arrest
  • Marina Ovsyannikova faces decade in prison if convicted over Kremlin demonstration
  • TV figure said last week that her fate was ‘unenviable,’ but would keep speaking out

LONDON: Russian journalist Marina Ovsyannikova, who staged a protest against the invasion of Ukraine on live TV in March, was placed under house arrest on Thursday after being charged with spreading false information.

However, her detention is related to a different incident that took place last month when the former Channel One journalist demonstrated alone near the Kremlin holding a placard which criticized the war and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ovsyannikova was detained on Wednesday after police raided her Moscow home. 

The journalist spent the night in pre-trial detention before appearing on Thursday in court, where she was charged with disseminating false information about Russian military forces. The court ordered Ovsyannikova to be placed under house arrest until Oct. 9, pending her trial.

“They scared my little daughter,” the 44-year-old said in a Telegram post. Ovsyannikova added that 10 officers from the Investigative Committee raided her house at 6 a.m. in the morning while she and her daughter were asleep.

“Over 350 children who died in Ukraine, are they fakes … How many children have to die before you stop?” She added.

Ovsyannikova could face 10 years in prison if convicted of the charges.

Her lawyer, Dmitry Zakhvatov, said on Wednesday that “a criminal case has been filed” and added that they were awaiting the decision of investigators on the journalist’s pre-trial measures.

During the court hearing, Ovsyannikova continued her protest, holding a sign that read “Let the dead children haunt you in your dreams.”

Notably, it is the second time that Ovsyannikova has been detained in relation to the charges. In July, Russian police detained and later released the journalist, charging her with “discrediting the actions of the army of Russia.” 

Due to rigid laws introduced by the government since the beginning of the war, the journalist’s actions expose her to criminal prosecution for “publishing false information” and “denigrating the army,” which can carry heavy prison sentences under Russian law.

In March, Ovsyannikova became famous worldwide for interrupting the set of Russia’s Channel One news program while holding a poster that said in Russian: “Stop the war. Don’t believe propaganda. They are lying to you.”

The stunt cost her a brief detention and a fine, prompting Russian opposition circles to question the validity of her actions.

“I was skeptical about what Channel One editor Marina Ovsyannikova had done — and it turns out I was wrong,” said anti-Kremlin satirist and radio host Viktor Shenderovich. “Today Marina pays a serious price for this, and deserves both respect and support.”

In the months following her protest, Ovsyannikova spent time abroad, including a brief period working for German newspaper Die Welt.

In early July, Ovsyannikova announced that she was returning to Russia to settle a dispute over the custody of her children.