Israel deploys remote-controlled robotic guns in West Bank

Israel deploys remote-controlled robotic guns in West Bank
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Palestinians walk past an Israeli military guard tower with two robotic guns and surveillance cameras at the Aroub refugee camp in the West Bank, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)
Israel deploys remote-controlled robotic guns in West Bank
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An Israeli military guard tower with two robotic guns and surveillance cameras at the Aroub refugee camp in the West Bank, Thursday, Oct. 6, 2022. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)
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Updated 16 November 2022

Israel deploys remote-controlled robotic guns in West Bank

Israel deploys remote-controlled robotic guns in West Bank

AL-AROUB REFUGEE CAMP, West Bank: In two volatile spots in the occupied West Bank, Israel has installed robotic weapons that can fire tear gas, stun grenades and sponge-tipped bullets at Palestinian protesters.
The weapons, perched over a crowded Palestinian refugee camp and in a flashpoint West Bank city, use artificial intelligence to track targets. Israel says the technology saves lives — both Israeli and Palestinian. But critics see another step toward a dystopian reality in which Israel fine-tunes its open-ended occupation of the Palestinians while keeping its soldiers out of harm’s way.
The new weapon comes at a time of heightened tensions in the occupied West Bank, where unrest has risen sharply during what has been the deadliest year since 2006. The victory by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-line alliance, which includes an extreme right-wing party with close ties to the settler movement, has raised concerns of more violence.
Twin turrets, each equipped with a watchful lens and a gun barrel, were recently installed atop a guard tower bristling with surveillance cameras overlooking the Al-Aroub refugee camp in the southern West Bank. When young Palestinian protesters pour into the streets hurling stones and firebombs at Israeli soldiers, the robotic weapons unleash tear gas or sponge-tipped bullets on them, witnesses say.
About a month ago, the military also placed the robots in the nearby city of Hebron, where soldiers often clash with stone-throwing Palestinian residents. The army declined to comment on its plans to deploy the system elsewhere in the West Bank.
Palestinian activist Issa Amro said Hebron residents fear the new weapon might be misused or hacked with no accountability in potentially lethal situations. People also resent what they say is a weapons test on civilians, he added.
“We are not a training and simulation for Israeli companies,” he said. “This is something new that must be stopped.”
There are no soldiers next to the machines. Instead, the weapons are operated by remote control. At a touch of a button, soldiers nestled inside a guard tower can fire at selected targets.
The army says the system is being tested at this stage and fires only “non-lethal” weapons used for crowd control, such as sponge-tipped bullets and tear gas. Residents of Al-Aroub say the turrets have repeatedly drenched the hillside camp in gas.
“We don’t open the window, we don’t open the door. We know not to open anything,” said shopkeeper Hussein Al-Muzyeen.
Robotic weapons are increasingly in operation around the world, with militaries expanding their use of drones to carry out lethal strikes from Ukraine to Ethiopia. Remote-controlled guns like the Israeli system in the West Bank have been used by the United States in Iraq, by South Korea along the border with North Korea, and by various Syrian rebel groups.
Israel, known for its advanced military technologies, is among the world’s top producers of drones capable of launching precision-guided missiles. It has built a fence along its boundary with the Gaza Strip equipped with radar and underground and underwater sensors. Above ground, it uses a robotic vehicle, equipped with cameras and machine guns, to patrol volatile borders. The military also tests and utilizes state-of-the-art surveillance technology such as face recognition and biometric data collection on Palestinians navigating the routines of the occupation, such as applying for Israeli travel permits.
“Israel is using technology as a means to control the civil population,” said Dror Sadot, spokeswoman for Israeli rights group B’Tselem. She said that even supposedly non-lethal weapons like sponge bullets can cause extreme pain and even be deadly.
The turrets in Al-Aroub were built by Smart Shooter, a company that makes “fire control systems” that it says “significantly increase the accuracy, lethality, and situational awareness of small arms.” The company boasts contracts with dozens of militaries around the world, including the US Army.
Speaking at the company’s headquarters in Kibbutz Yagur in northern Israel, Chief Executive Michal Mor said the gun requires human selection of targets and munitions.
“They always have a man in the loop making the decision regarding the legitimate target,” she said.
She said the system minimizes casualties by distancing soldiers from violence and limits collateral damage by making shots more accurate.
In a densely populated area like Al-Aroub, she said soldiers can monitor specific people in a crowd and lock the turret onto specific body parts. The system fires only after algorithms assess complex factors like wind speed, distance, and velocity.
The military said such safeguards minimize the risk to soldiers and improve supervision over their activities. It also said the technology allows soldiers to target “less sensitive” areas of the body to minimize harm and avoid shooting bystanders.
“In this way, the system reduces the likelihood of inaccurate fire,” it said.
But Omar Shakir, the Israel and Palestine Director at Human Rights Watch, said Israel is on a “slide toward the digital dehumanization of weapons systems.” By using such technologies, Shakir said Israel is creating “a powder keg for human rights abuse.”
Violence in the West Bank has surged over the past several months as Israel has ramped up arrest raids after a spate of Palestinian attacks within Israel killed 19 people last spring. The violence has killed more than 130 Palestinians this year and at least another 10 Israelis have been killed in recent attacks.
Israel says the raids aim to dismantle militant infrastructure and and that it has been forced to act because of the inaction of Palestinian security forces. For Palestinians, the nightly incursions into their towns have weakened their own security forces and tightened Israel’s grip over lands they want for their hoped-for state. Israel captured the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war.
In Al-Aroub, residents say the machines fire without warning.
“It is very fast, even faster than the soldiers,” said Kamel Abu Hishesh, a 19-year-old student. He described almost nightly clashes where soldiers storm the camp as the automated gun fires tear gas up and down the hill.
Paul Scharre, vice president of the Washington think tank Center for a New American Security and a former US Army sniper, said that without emotion and with better aim, automated systems can potentially reduce violence.
But he said the absence of international norms for “killer robots” is problematic.
Otherwise, he said, it’s just a matter of time before these automated systems are equipped to use deadly force.


UAE’s moon rover launch delayed

UAE’s moon rover launch delayed
Updated 6 min ago

UAE’s moon rover launch delayed

UAE’s moon rover launch delayed
  • Rashid Rover is now scheduled to launch at 8:37 a.m. (GMT) on Thursday, Dec.1

DUBAI: The launch of the UAE’s moon rover has been delayed by one day for “additional pre-flight checks”, it was announced on Wednesday.

Rashid Rover, the Arab world’s first lunar mission, is now scheduled to launch at 8:37 a.m. (GMT) on Thursday, Dec.1, from Cape Canaveral in Florida, US, SpaceX said in a statement.

 

 

The UAE’s lunar mission is the product of a partnership with SpaceX and Japan-based ispace inc., which created the HAKUTO-R Mission 1 lunar lander aboard the Falcon 9 rocket.

The Emirati-made Rashid rover, weighing 10 kilograms and stored inside the Japanese lander, is due to land on around April 2023 on the visible side of the Moon, in the Atlas crater after a five-month journey.

Once launched, the integrated spacecraft will take a low-energy route to the moon rather than a direct approach.

If the lunar mission succeeds, the UAE will be the fourth country to land on the moon. The mission will also see the first spacecraft funded and built by a private Japanese firm to land on the moon.


US-Iran match mirrored a regional rivalry for many Arab fans

US-Iran match mirrored a regional rivalry for many Arab fans
Updated 30 November 2022

US-Iran match mirrored a regional rivalry for many Arab fans

US-Iran match mirrored a regional rivalry for many Arab fans
  • Critics of Iran say it has fomented war and unrest across the Arab world by supporting powerful armed groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and the Palestinian territories

BAGHDAD: The US team’s victory over Iran at the World Cup on Tuesday was closely watched across the Middle East, where the two nations have been engaged in a cold war for over four decades and where many blame one or both for the region’s woes.
Critics of Iran say it has fomented war and unrest across the Arab world by supporting powerful armed groups in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and the Palestinian territories. Supporters view it as the leader of an “axis of resistance” against what they see as US imperialism, corrupt Arab rulers and Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians.
The divide is especially intense in Lebanon and Iraq, where heavily armed Iran-backed political factions vie for political influence with opponents more oriented toward the West. In those countries, many believe Iran or the US are due for comeuppance — even if only on the pitch.
Others wished a plague on both their houses.
“Both are adversaries of Iraq and played a negative role in the country,” Haydar Shakar said in downtown Baghdad, where a cafe displayed the flags of both countries hanging outside. “It’s a sports tournament, and they’re both taking part in it. That’s all it is to us.”
A meme widely circulated ahead of Tuesday’s match between the US and Iran jokingly referred to it as “the first time they will play outside of Lebanon.” Another Twitter user joked that whoever wins the group stage “takes Iraq.”
The Iran-backed Hezbollah was the only armed group to keep its weapons after Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war. It says its arms are needed to defend the country from Israel and blames Lebanon’s economic crisis in part on US sanctions. Opponents decry Hezbollah as an “Iranian occupation,” while many Lebanese accuse both the US and Iran of meddling in their internal affairs.
In Iraq, the 2003 US-led invasion led to years of intense violence and sectarian strife, and Iran-backed political factions and militias largely filled the vacuum. While US forces and Iran-backed militias found themselves on the same side against the Islamic State extremist group, they have traded fire on several occasions since its defeat.
Both Lebanon and Iraq have had to contend with years of political gridlock, with the main dividing line running between Iran’s allies and opponents.
In Yemen, the Iran-aligned Houthi militia captured the capital and much of the country’s north in 2014. The Houthis have been at war since then with an array of factions supported by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, two US allies.
In Syria’s civil war, Iran supported President Bashar Assad’s government against rebels, some supported by the West. In the Palestinian territories, it backs Hamas and Islamic Jihad, militant factions that do not recognize Israel and have carried out scores of attacks over the years.
Interviews with soccer fans in Beirut and Baghdad revealed mixed emotions about the match.
In Beirut’s southern suburbs, a center of Hezbollah support, young men draped in Iranian flags gathered in a cafe hung with a “Death to America” flag to watch the match.
“We are against America in football, politics and everything else,” Ali Nehme said. “God is with Lebanon and Iran.”
Across the city on the seafront promenade, Beirut resident Aline Noueyhed said, “Of course I’m not with Iran after all the disasters they made. Definitely, I’m with America.” She added, however, that the US also was “not 100 percent helping us.”
The post-game reaction in the streets of Beirut after the US defeated Iran 1-0, eliminating it from the tournament and advancing to the knockout round, was far more subdued than after the previous day’s win by Brazil — a fan favorite in Lebanon — over Switzerland.
In Baghdad, Ali Fadel was cheering for Iran, because “it’s a neighboring country, an Asian country.”
“There are many linkages between us and them,” he added.
Nour Sabah was rooting for the US because “they are a strong team, and (the US) controls the world.”
In Irbil in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region in the north, fans also gave mixed reactions.
Twenty-seven-year-old Zainab Fakhri was rooting for the US to beat Iran “to punish the Iranian regime that has been oppressing the women’s revolution,” referring to recent protests there.
At the same cafe, Aras Harb, 23, was backing Iran. “We prefer them because my family were able to flee there during the war, and the Iranian people are kind.”
Saad Mohammad, 20, had been hoping for a tie, fearing that a win could worsen an already alarming security situation. If locals celebrate the win, he said, “I fear Iran will launch rockets at us.”
Although the Iran supporters were visibly upset at their loss, the crowd filed out after the game without incident.
Regional politics hovered over the last matchup, at the 1998 World Cup, when Iran famously defeated the US 2-1, eliminating it from the tournament. That came less than two decades after Iran’s Islamic Revolution toppled the US-backed shah and protesters overran the US Embassy, leading to a prolonged hostage crisis.
French riot police were on site at the stadium in Lyon that year, but they weren’t needed. The teams posed together in a group photo, and Iran’s players even brought white roses for their opponents.
In this year’s matchup, allegiances have been scrambled by the nationwide protests gripping Iran, with some Iranians openly rooting against their own team. The players declined to sing along to their national anthem ahead of their opening match, in what was seen as an expression of sympathy for the protests, but reversed course and sang ahead of their next one.
In some neighborhoods of Tehran, people chanted “Death to the dictator!” after the match, even though it was past midnight local time.
Danyel Reiche, a visiting associate professor at Georgetown University Qatar who has researched the politics of sports, said World Cup fandom is not necessarily an indicator of political affiliation, even in countries with deep divisions.
Local sports in Lebanon are “highly politicized,” with all the major basketball and soccer clubs having political and sectarian affiliations, he said. But when it comes to the World Cup — where Lebanon has never qualified to play — fans latch on to any number of teams.
That’s true across the region, where fans sporting Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo jerseys can be found from Gaza to Afghanistan.
“This is one of the few spheres where people have the liberty and freedom to choose a country that they simply like and not the country where they think there’s an obligation for them to be affiliated with it,” Reiche said.


Morocco and UNESCO to work together to protect Sub-Saharan heritage

Morocco and UNESCO to work together to protect Sub-Saharan heritage
Updated 29 November 2022

Morocco and UNESCO to work together to protect Sub-Saharan heritage

Morocco and UNESCO to work together to protect Sub-Saharan heritage
  • Under an agreement signed on Tuesday in Rabat, they will cooperate in efforts to combat the illegal trafficking of cultural property

RABAT: The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization will work with authorities in Morocco to protect heritage in Sub-Saharan African countries, under a partnership agreement signed in Rabat on Tuesday.

In particular they will cooperate in efforts to combat the illegal trafficking of cultural property. They will also share their expertise in the protection of cultural artifacts with specialists in museums, promote the role of museums in African societies, create inventories, and train heritage-conservation experts.

The agreement was signed on behalf of Mohammed Mehdi Bensaid, the Moroccan minister of youth, culture and communication, and Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO’s director-general.

 


Iraqi prime minister and Iranian president vow to fight ‘terror’

 Iraqi prime minister and Iranian president vow to fight ‘terror’
Updated 29 November 2022

Iraqi prime minister and Iranian president vow to fight ‘terror’

 Iraqi prime minister and Iranian president vow to fight ‘terror’

TEHRAN: Tehran and Baghdad Tuesday identified fighting “terrorism,” maintaining mutual security and extending economic cooperation as key priorities during the new Iraqi prime minister’s first official visit to Iran.

Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani was received by President Ebrahim Raisi, who expressed hopes of bolstering ties that have lately been hit by tensions over Iran carrying out cross-border strikes against exiled opposition groups.

Al-Sudani came to power last month, after a year-long tussle between political factions over forming a government following an October 2021 general election.

“From our perspective and that of the Iraqi government, security, peace, cooperation and regional stability are very important,” Raisi told a joint press conference.

“As a result, the fight against terrorist groups, organized crime, drugs and other insecurity that threaten the region depends on the common will of our two nations,” he said.

Al-Sudani said that “our government is determined not to allow any group or party to use Iraqi territory to undermine and disrupt Iran’s security.”

Since nationwide protests erupted in Iran more than two months ago, Iranian officials have accused Kurdish opposition groups exiled in northern Iraq of stoking the unrest and the Islamic republic has repeatedly launched deadly cross-border strikes.

Such strikes — targeting Iranian-Kurdish groups in Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region — resumed this month, even after Iraq’s federal government summoned Iran’s ambassador in late September to complain about cross-border missile and drone hits that killed at least seven people.

Iraq has announced in the past week that it will redeploy federal guards on the border between Iraqi Kurdistan and Iran, rather than leaving the responsibility to Kurdish peshmerga forces — a move welcomed by Tehran.

Al-Sudani added that the two countries’ national security advisers would hold consultations to “establish a working mechanism for on-the-ground coordination to avoid any escalation.”

Al-Sudani also thanked Iran for its continued deliveries of gas and electricity, which have been in short supply in Iraq, while he also pointed to discussions on a “mechanism” to enable Iraq to pay Iran for these services.


Dubai's Careem celebrates 1bn rides

Dubai's Careem celebrates 1bn rides
Updated 29 November 2022

Dubai's Careem celebrates 1bn rides

Dubai's Careem celebrates 1bn rides
  • Family trip back home to India brings delight to employee
  • Super app had 10th anniversary in July

DUBAI: Hailing app Careem has celebrated the completion of 1 billion rides across the Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan.

The billionth journey was completed by Captain Razak Uppattil, who has completed 10,500 rides since joining Careem four years ago. 

To commemorate the milestone, the Dubai-based super app gave Uppattil a trip back home to visit his family in India.

He said: “It’s the people that I get to meet from all over the world that I really enjoy.

“I have three children back home in Kerala, India, and I am so excited I’ll see them soon.”

Genera Tesoro, who was Careem’s 1 billionth passenger, was given a year of ride-hailing trips to mark the milestone. 

Careem, which marked its 10-year anniversary in July, is now operating in more than 100 cities in 14 countries. It recently expanded its fleet in Qatar by more than 50 percent ahead of the World Cup.