US ignores Israeli ‘war crimes’ for domestic politics: ex-official

US ignores Israeli ‘war crimes’ for domestic politics: ex-official
Josh Paul, former director of the Office of Congressional and Public Affairs in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs at the US State Department, which oversees arms transfers to US allies, speaks during an interview in Washington, DC, on November 15, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 16 November 2023
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US ignores Israeli ‘war crimes’ for domestic politics: ex-official

US ignores Israeli ‘war crimes’ for domestic politics: ex-official
  • “Criticism of Israel is often seen as a third rail in American politics, particularly in Congress,” Paul said

WASHINGTON: Domestic policy concerns are leading US officials willfully to ignore Israeli “war crimes” — and to stifle dissent over arming the country — a former senior State Department staffer who quit in protest told AFP Wednesday.
Josh Paul caused a stir in Washington when he resigned last month, one of the more high profile protests at US policy from within the State Department.
In an interview, he said that while many officials are disturbed by the actions of the Israeli military as it responds to Hamas’s October 7 surprise attack, they turn a blind eye to rules governing arms transfers, which demand consideration of whether US weapons will be used to violate international law.
As the former director of congressional and public affairs at the State Department’s Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Paul helped oversee arms transfers to US allies like Israel for 11 years.
“It is my opinion that Israel is committing war crimes in its actions in Gaza right now. And it’s not just my opinion. I’ve actually heard from officials across government, including elected officials at a very senior level, who share that opinion but aren’t willing to say it in public,” he said.
Yet the United States keeps supplying weapons “where it was clear — and as we have seen — that they were going to be used to kill so many civilians,” he said.
“Criticism of Israel is often seen as a third rail in American politics, particularly in Congress,” Paul said. “And this is a deterrent to US officials to come out and say in public what they believe in private.”
Current fighting between Israel and Hamas, which governs the besieged Gaza Strip, was sparked by the bloody October attack by Hamas fighters on Israeli soil, in which they killed about 1,200 people, mostly civilians, according to Israeli figures.
The Israeli bombardment of the Palestinian territory, followed by an ongoing ground invasion, has killed more than 11,500 people, also mostly civilians, health officials in the Hamas-run territory have said.
As international outrage at the toll of Israel’s response has mounted — prompting allegations by observers that both sides have committed war crimes — Washington has stood steadfast behind its key Middle Eastern ally.
That includes bolstering the weapons pipeline to Israel’s military.
In the past, there has been internal State Department debate on transferring US arms to countries with checkered human rights records, including certain Israeli military units, Paul said. But no longer.
“There was no space for any discussion or debate around this concern, as there had been in every other issue I’ve been involved in previously in the bureau,” he said. “We were just being told to move arms as quickly as we could.”
The rules restricting arms transfers are loose, Paul said, leaving space for policymakers, in a “willful” manner, “to simply not decide” whether the Israeli military has violated human rights in Gaza.
Protests and acrimonious debates have flared across the country over the ongoing war, especially on US college campuses, and both anti-Semitic and Islamophobic crimes have increased, according to the Justice Department.
Paul said the levels of division within the US government — including elected officials — are comparable to the tension ahead of the country’s 2003 invasion of Iraq.
But he cautioned that stepping down wasn’t an option for most government employees, who can’t risk losing their health care or salaries.
“There is the risk of it being a career killer if you resign on this particular issue.”


Sydney mall attacker identified, ‘nothing’ to suggest terror motive

People are led out from the Westfield Shopping Centre where multiple people were stabbed in Sydney, Saturday, April 13, 2024.
People are led out from the Westfield Shopping Centre where multiple people were stabbed in Sydney, Saturday, April 13, 2024.
Updated 14 April 2024
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Sydney mall attacker identified, ‘nothing’ to suggest terror motive

People are led out from the Westfield Shopping Centre where multiple people were stabbed in Sydney, Saturday, April 13, 2024.
  • The assailant — who was shot dead by a senior police officer at the scene on Saturday — was Queensland man Joel Cauchi

SYDNEY: Australian police on Sunday said a 40-year-old itinerant with mental illness was behind a Sydney shopping center stabbing rampage that killed six people, including a new mum whose nine-month-old baby is still in hospital with serious wounds.

New South Wales police Assistant Commissioner Anthony Cooke said the assailant — who was shot dead by a senior police officer at the scene on Saturday — was Queensland man Joel Cauchi.

Five women and one male security guard were killed in the attack as Cauchi roved through a packed shopping center in the city’s Bondi Junction neighborhood with a large knife. Twelve more people are still in hospital.

“The sound of people screaming was horrific,” said eyewitness Daphi Kiselstein, who was shopping at the time of the attack and took refuge in a store with other terrified people.

Cooke said there was no evidence to suggest Cauchi was “driven by any particular motivation, ideology or otherwise.”

“We know that the offender in the matter suffered from, suffers from, mental health,” he added.

Cauchi was tracked down and shot dead by solo senior police officer Amy Scott, who was instantly hailed by Australia’s prime minister as a “hero” who had saved countless lives.

Cauchi’s parents said their son had been living in a vehicle and hostels of late, and was only in sporadic contact via text messages.

Police said he was diagnosed with a mental health issue at age 17, but they had no indication about why he may have become violent.

His parents issued a statement through police offering condolences to their son’s victims and their families.

They had also sent a message of “support” to the officer who shot him dead, “expressing their concerns for her welfare.”

Queensland police said Cauchi had been in contact with police several times over the last four to five years but has never been arrested or charged with any offense.

He is believed to have traveled to Sydney about a month ago and hired a small storage unit in the city. It contained personal belongings, including a boogie board.

The attack has caused sorrow, outrage and shock in Sydney, where residents are relatively unaccustomed to violent crime.

The shopping center is the focal point of a well frequented suburb near the famed beach, and is always filled with shoppers and families going for meals or to the cinema.

Among the victims was 38-year-old mother Ashlee Good, who succumbed to her injuries after desperately passing her baby to two strangers in the hope they could save the child’s life.

Good’s family described her as “a beautiful mother, daughter, sister, partner, friend, all round outstanding human and so much more.”

“To the two men who held and cared for our baby when Ashlee could not — words cannot express our gratitude,” they said in a statement to Australian media.

The baby, named Harriet, was said to be recovering well after lengthy surgery.

Two of the victims are said to have no family in Australia and attempts are being made to contact relatives overseas.

A Facebook profile said Cauchi came from Toowoomba, near Brisbane, and had attended a local high school and university.

A distinctive grey, red and yellow dragon tattoo on his right arm was used to help identify him.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Australians were struggling to understand an “unspeakable” attack that is “really just beyond comprehension.”

“People going about their Saturday afternoon shopping should be safe, shouldn’t be at risk. But tragically, we saw a loss of life, and people will be grieving for loved ones today,” he said.

“We also know there are many people still in hospital dealing with recovery, and our thoughts and prayers are with them.”

Albanese said he had received messages from US President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and New Zealand Prime Minister Christopher Luxon among others.

Outside the shopping center early on Sunday, a collection of flowers started to build.

Families embraced as they lay flowers. One man stood silently and wiped away tears, before moving on.

Sydney resident Paul Hoolahan said he came to pay his respects to those who died at the shopping center, where he often has coffee with his grandchildren.

“It is emotional,” Hoolahan told AFP. “It shouldn’t happen. It hit here,” he said pointing to his chest.

New South Wales premier Chris Minns flew back from Japan on news of the attack.

He said it had been “incredible to see complete strangers jump in, run toward the danger for their own lives in harm’s way to save someone that they’ve never met before.”

“We’ve got some wonderful people in our city,” he said.


Germany’s Chancellor Scholz walks tightrope on trade and politics in China

Germany’s Chancellor Scholz walks tightrope on trade and politics in China
Updated 14 April 2024
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Germany’s Chancellor Scholz walks tightrope on trade and politics in China

Germany’s Chancellor Scholz walks tightrope on trade and politics in China

BEIJING: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrived in China on Sunday, kicking off a trip in which he faces a tough balancing act as he aims to shore up economic ties with Berlin’s biggest trading partner.
Scholz touched down in the southwestern megacity of Chongqing on Sunday morning, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV said, accompanied by a large delegation of ministers and business executives.
As Western allies are cranking up pressure on Beijing, Scholz is expected to underline that Germany remains committed to doing business with the world’s second-largest economy and rejects US-led calls for “decoupling.”
His friendly overtures toward China risk sparking ire among Washington and EU partners, which have been pushing back against Beijing’s heavy subsidies for industries.
“China remains a really important economic partner,” Scholz told journalists on Friday, adding that he would try to level the playing field for German companies in China.
On the geopolitical front, Scholz will also use his visit to persuade Chinese President Xi Jinping to exert his influence to rein in his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin and help bring an end to the war in Ukraine.
“Given the close relations between China and Russia, Beijing has the possibility to exert its influence on Russia,” said a German government source in Berlin.
The three-day tour through Chongqing, Shanghai and Beijing is Scholz’s second trip to China since he took office.
His first in November 2022 took place under intense scrutiny, as it came swiftly after Xi strengthened his grip on power, and marked the first post-pandemic visit by a G7 leader to China.
Stung then by painful supply chain disruptions during the health crisis as well as by China’s refusal to distance itself from Russia despite Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Western allies had been scrambling to reduce their reliance on Beijing.

Scholz’s visit comes as many of Germany’s Western allies confront China on a range of trade issues.
A slew of probes into state aid for Chinese solar panels, electric cars and wind turbines are ongoing in Brussels.
The United States is meanwhile investigating national security risks posed by Chinese technology in cars.
With tensions rumbling over Taiwan, US President Joe Biden this week made defense pledges to Japan and the Philippines, while describing behavior by Beijing in the South China Sea as “dangerous and aggressive.”
Two days before his visit, Scholz held talks with France’s President Emmanuel Macron, whose office said the leaders “coordinated to defend a rebalancing of European-Chinese trade relations.”
But China is a vital market for Germany, where many jobs depend directly on demand from the Asian giant.
Both economies also badly need a boost.
The German economy shrank by 0.3 percent last year, battered by inflation, high interest rates and cooling exports, and for this year, the economy ministry expects just an anaemic growth of 0.2 percent.
Beijing has set an annual GDP growth target of around five percent for this year, but exports plunged more than expected last month.
German MPs and analysts urged Scholz to take a firm line.
The Green party’s Deborah Duering warned Scholz against viewing China just as an economic opportunity.
“Those who ignore long-term risks for short-term profits risk repeating the mistakes of the past, misguided Russia policy,” said Duering, in reference to past dependency on Moscow for cheap energy supplies.
Max Zenglein of the Mercator Institute for China Studies said Germany should not hesitate to be more assertive.
“As countries such as the USA and Japan are positioning themselves much more sharply against China, Germany has an important role to play,” he said, adding that Germany was “in a position of strength.”
 


Unpopular Sunak in ‘doom loop’ as UK PM stares at election defeat

Unpopular Sunak in ‘doom loop’ as UK PM stares at election defeat
Updated 14 April 2024
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Unpopular Sunak in ‘doom loop’ as UK PM stares at election defeat

Unpopular Sunak in ‘doom loop’ as UK PM stares at election defeat
  • Surveys overwhelmingly show that Britons want an end to 14 years of Tory rule, and nothing that Sunak has done since he became PM 18 months ago appears to be changing their minds

LONDON: He’s failed to meet key pledges, hit an opinion poll low, and even cramped the style of a popular Adidas shoe: Britain’s beleaguered Conservative leader Rishi Sunak appears destined to lose a looming general election.
Two tax cuts and a slightly improving economy have failed to boost Sunak’s political fortunes, while criticism from ex-prime minister Boris Johnson and speculation over Brexit figurehead Nigel Farage’s intentions are adding to his woes.
Political scientist Rob Ford reckoned Sunak has been left looking “hapless” in the face of seemingly unstoppable political momentum away from his ruling Tories.
“When the herd moves, it moves. There’s not much you can do,” he told AFP.
Sunak, 43, has yet to announce the date of the election. He is expected to call it for October or November but is legally allowed to wait until January at the latest.
Surveys overwhelmingly show that Britons want an end to 14 years of Tory rule, and nothing that Sunak has done since he became PM 18 months ago appears to be changing their minds.
A YouGov poll released this month found that the Conservatives would win just 155 seats in the UK parliament, down from the 365 that they won under Johnson at the last election in December 2019.
Keir Starmer’s opposition Labour Party would win 403 seats, the same survey found, leading to a whopping 154-seat majority.
“Right now, it’s very difficult to see how the Conservatives remain in government after the next election simply because of the scale of shift they need,” said Keiran Pedley, director of politics at polling firm Ipsos.
Sunak succeeded Liz Truss in October 2022 after Tory MPs forced her out following a disastrous 49 days in office, during which her mini-budget spooked financial markets, sank the pound and sent mortgage payments skywards.
She had followed Johnson, who himself had been defenestrated by colleagues following a series of scandals, including over illegal parties in Downing Street during Covid-19 lockdowns.
While the turmoil of the two previous administrations has hamstrung Sunak, political analysts say he has also contributed to his own plight by falling short on promises and failing to connect with voters.
Despite promising to, he has not stopped migrants arriving from France on small boats. National Health Service waiting lists are higher than when he took office. Economic growth is stagnant, although inflation has more than halved.
Sunak has also tried a number of leadership and policy resets that have fallen flat, including watering down carbon net zero commitments in a pitch to motorists and recently talking about extremism.
The rightward tilt comes as the fringe Reform UK party threatens to deprive the Conservatives of key seats, particularly if Farage stands for them as he has teased.
“(Sunak has) been trying to find this magic wand or silver bullet to turn things around but at the moment none of it seems to be moving the dial,” Pedley told AFP.
An Ipsos poll published in March found that 58 percent of voters view the Conservatives unfavorably, the highest percentage this parliament. Only 19 percent view them favorably.
The survey gave Sunak a net favorability rating of minus 38, the lowest of any politician included.
Critics often accuse the wealthy ex-financier of being out of touch with average Britons.
“He is a combination of being rather awkward and nerdy, and then if challenged he always sounds really irritable,” Ford, politics professor at Manchester University, said.
Sunak is striving to revive his party’s fortunes, traversing the country to meet voters as rumors swirl that a disastrous showing in local elections on May 2 could spark a leadership challenge.
He can’t seem to catch a break, though.
This week, Johnson slammed Sunak’s proposed comprehensive smoking ban as “nuts,” while Sunak’s spokesperson had to deny that the PM was preparing to run an AI fund in the event of election defeat.
Sunak even offered a “fulsome apology to the Samba community” after photographs of him wearing the Adidas trainers sparked headlines like: “Eight trainers to wear now that Rishi has killed Sambas.”
“There’s a kind of a doom loop that politicians can get into where they’re unpopular,” explained Ford.
“The media know they’re unpopular so everything they do is reported negatively, which further reinforces their unpopularity.”
Political observers say polls usually narrow as voting day nears and suspect liberal Conservatives might ultimately stick with the party to reduce the size of a Labour win and ensure the Tories are an effective opposition.
“Everything at this point really is becoming about damage limitation,” said Ford.


Trump says Iran attack on Israel shows US ‘weakness’ under Biden

Former US President Donald Trump (L) and US President Joe Biden during. (AFP)
Former US President Donald Trump (L) and US President Joe Biden during. (AFP)
Updated 14 April 2024
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Trump says Iran attack on Israel shows US ‘weakness’ under Biden

Former US President Donald Trump (L) and US President Joe Biden during. (AFP)

SCHNECKSVILLE, United States: Donald Trump on Saturday blasted President Joe Biden over Iran’s major attack on Israel, alleging that his rival in November elections showed American “weakness” in the Middle East.
“God bless the people of Israel. They are under attack right now. That’s because we show great weakness,” he said at a campaign rally in Pennsylvania.
Iran launched an unprecedented drone and missile attack on Israel Saturday evening, after pledging retaliation for a strike on its consular building in Syria that killed seven Revolutionary Guards members, two of them generals.
Trump, who while in office ordered the killing of a top Revolutionary Guard leader in Baghdad and withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear accord, has repeatedly accused his Democratic opponent of a soft approach toward Tehran.
“The weakness that we’ve shown, it’s unbelievable, and it would not have happened if we were in office,” Trump said Saturday.
“But America prays for Israel, we send our absolute support to everyone in harm’s way.”
Biden meanwhile was huddling at the White House with his key military and national security advisers, saying on X that the US “commitment to Israel’s security against threats from Iran and its proxies is ironclad.”

 


Major airlines cancel flights, reroute planes as Iran launches retaliatory attack on Israel

An Aeroflot Airbus A320-200 aircraft takes off at Sheremetyevo International Airport outside Moscow, Russia. (REUTERS file photo
An Aeroflot Airbus A320-200 aircraft takes off at Sheremetyevo International Airport outside Moscow, Russia. (REUTERS file photo
Updated 14 April 2024
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Major airlines cancel flights, reroute planes as Iran launches retaliatory attack on Israel

An Aeroflot Airbus A320-200 aircraft takes off at Sheremetyevo International Airport outside Moscow, Russia. (REUTERS file photo
  • The return flight from Tehran to Moscow has been canceled

MOSCOW: An Aeroflot flight from Moscow to Tehran which took off on Saturday evening will land in Makhachkala in Russia’s Dagestan region and a number of flights to Egypt and the United Arab Emirates will be postponed, the airline said.
“Flight SU514 Moscow — Tehran ... will land at the Makhachkala airport,” Aeroflot said on its Telegram messaging app. “In order to ensure flight safety, the plane will return to Moscow after refueling.”
The return flight from Tehran to Moscow has been canceled, it added.
The Russian flagship carrier also said it was postponing until at least later on Sunday flights from Moscow and St. Petersburg to the Red Sea resort town of Hurghada in Egypt, from Moscow to Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt, and from Moscow to Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the UAE.

The Switzerland flagship carrier Swiss International Air lines also suspended Tel Aviv service according to Wall Street Journal.

United Airlines has canceled Saturday’s planned flight from Newark to Tel Aviv due to restrictions on Israeli airspace, the airline said in a statement on Saturday.

Israel El Al Airlines has canceled 15 flights scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, the carrier said on Saturday as hostilities with Iran surged and Israel closed its airspace as a precaution.
Foreign destinations affected include Paris, Rome, Barcelona, Milan, Bucharest, Sofia, Athens, Dubai and Moscow, the El Al statement said.