Blinken welcomes Israel probe on reporters killed, wounded in Lebanon

Secretary of State Antony Blinken (R) and British Foreign Secretary David Cameron (L) answer questions during a press conference at the State Department December 07, 2023 in Washington, DC. (AFP)
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Secretary of State Antony Blinken (R) and British Foreign Secretary David Cameron (L) answer questions during a press conference at the State Department December 07, 2023 in Washington, DC. (AFP)
Blinken welcomes Israel probe on reporters killed, wounded in Lebanon
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A screenshot from a mobile phone video shows Agence France-Presse (AFP) photographer Christina Assi working at a site near the village of Alma al-Chaab in Lebanon, close to the Israeli border, October 13, 2023. (REUTERS)
A screenshot from a mobile phone video shows Agence France-Presse (AFP) photographer Christina Assi working at a site near the village of Alma al-Chaab in Lebanon, close to the Israeli border, October 13, 2023.  (REUTERS)
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A screenshot from a mobile phone video shows Agence France-Presse (AFP) photographer Christina Assi working at a site near the village of Alma al-Chaab in Lebanon, close to the Israeli border, October 13, 2023. (REUTERS)
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Updated 08 December 2023
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Blinken welcomes Israel probe on reporters killed, wounded in Lebanon

Blinken welcomes Israel probe on reporters killed, wounded in Lebanon
  • Jointly conducted with Airwars, an NGO that investigates attacks on civilians in conflict situations, the investigation found that the attack involved a 120-mm tank shell only used by the Israeli army in this region

WASHINGTON: Top US diplomat Antony Blinken on Thursday welcomed an Israeli investigation into a strike that killed a journalist and wounded six others on Oct. 13 in southern Lebanon.
“It is important and appropriate that it be fully and thoroughly investigated. My understanding is that Israel has initiated such an investigation and it will be important to see that investigation come to a conclusion and to see the results,” he said when asked about the case at a news conference alongside his British counterpart David Cameron.
An investigation by Agence France-Presse published Thursday into the strike, which killed Reuters journalist Issam Abdallah and wounded six others, including two from AFP, points to a tank shell only used by the Israeli army in the high-tension border region.
AFP photographer Christina Assi, 28, had a leg amputated and is still in hospital.
Jointly conducted with Airwars, an NGO that investigates attacks on civilians in conflict situations, the investigation found that the attack involved a 120-mm tank shell only used by the Israeli army in this region.
It found that the strikes likely came from the southeast near the Israeli village of Jordeikh where Israeli tanks were operating.
“I have extraordinary admiration for the men and women in your profession who, every day around the world, in the most dangerous places in the world, are trying to bring the facts, the stories to other people,” Blinken said.
Cameron also underscored the important role of journalists, particularly those working in conflict zones.
“It’s absolutely essential that you have independent, impartial, professional journalists covering these conflicts,” he said.
“And it’s an incredibly difficult job, incredibly brave job and my condolences from me and everyone in the UK for that loss of life.”
Amnesty International said on Thursday that Israeli strikes that killed Abdallah were likely to have been a direct attack on civilians and must be investigated as a war crime.
Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a separate report, said the two Israeli strikes were “an apparently deliberate attack on civilians and thus a war crime”, saying those responsible must be held to account.
A Reuters investigation published on Thursday found an Israeli tank crew killed Abdallah and wounded the six other journalists by firing two shells in quick succession from Israel while the group were filming cross-border shelling from a distance.
An Israeli government spokesperson denied Israeli forces targeted non-combatants.
“We do not target civilians,” spokesperson Eylon Levy said in a televised briefing, when asked about reports from Reuters, AFP, Amnesty International and HRW. “We’ve been doing everything possible to get civilians out of harm’s way.”
The Israel prime minister’s office did not respond to questions from Reuters on Thursday seeking comment on the reports by HRW and Amnesty International.
The group of seven reporters from AFP, Al Jazeera and Reuters were all wearing blue flak jackets and helmets, most with “PRESS” written on them in white letters.
They were on a hilltop in an open area with no tree cover nor other buildings to obscure the reporters from nearby Israeli military outposts. Drones had been buzzing overhead and an Israeli helicopter patrolling.
Directly targeting civilians is forbidden under the laws of armed conflict, such as the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which all U.N. member states have ratified.
Amnesty said its investigation uncovered “chilling evidence pointing to an attack on a group of international journalists who were carrying out their work by reporting on hostilities”.
HRW said that evidence indicated the Israeli army “knew or should have known that the group of people they were firing on were civilians”.
Commenting on the findings of the Reuters investigation, a spokesperson for the German foreign ministry said: “The protection of journalists must be guaranteed at all times. Incidents in which journalists are injured or killed must be fully investigated. This also applies in this case.”
Neither Israel nor Lebanon is a signatory to the International Criminal Court, whose 124 member states accept its jurisdiction in the prosecution of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
Reuters presented the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) with its findings that the tank rounds were fired from within Israel and posed additional detailed questions, including whether Israeli troops knew they were firing upon journalists.
Lieutenant Colonel Richard Hecht, the IDF’s international spokesman, said in response: “We don’t target journalists.” He did not provide further comment.
Lebanon said it would refer the Reuters and AFP reports to the U.N. Security Council to be added to a complaint it has submitted saying Israel has killed civilians during ongoing hostilities between Israel and the Lebanese armed group Hezbollah.
The Israeli prime minister’s office did not respond to a request for comment on Lebanon’s statement.
Lebanese caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati, in the government statement issued in response to the reports’ publication, said: “Israeli criminality has no limits”.


‘We should kill them all:’ Outrage erupts over US congressman’s Gaza comments

‘We should kill them all:’ Outrage erupts over US congressman’s Gaza comments
Updated 23 sec ago
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‘We should kill them all:’ Outrage erupts over US congressman’s Gaza comments

‘We should kill them all:’ Outrage erupts over US congressman’s Gaza comments
  • Words ‘indicate US complicity’ in suffering, experts warn
  • Controversial video emerged as US vetoed UN ceasefire resolution for 3rd time

LONDON: A US congressman has sparked outrage after claiming “we should kill them all” in reference to Palestinians in Gaza.

US representative for Tennessee’s fifth congressional district Andy Ogles was approached by a group of pro-Palestine activists in Washington on Tuesday.

He was told by one activist: “I’ve seen the footage of shredded children’s bodies. That’s my taxpayer dollars that are going to bomb those kids.”

Ogles responded: “You know what? So, I think we should kill them all, if that makes you feel better. Hamas and the Palestinians have been attacking Israel for 20 years. It’s time to pay the piper.”

The shocking video of the Republican congressman has sparked widespread condemnation across social media, with experts warning that Ogles’s words are indicative of Washington’s complicity in suffering in Gaza.

“For those of you wondering how the Nazis, Daesh, etc. can kill people indiscriminately, now you are witnessing leaders and prominent people in the so-called enlightened democratic societies demonstrating that blind adherence to any ideology can make ordinary people into evil monsters,” lawyer, author and human rights activists Faisal Kutty said X.

“These people have all sold their souls to the highest bidder,” he added.

Ogles, known for his staunch, unconditional support for Israel, previously voted to censure congresswoman member Rashida Tlaib over allegations she had supported the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attack on Israel. Ogles has also proposed legislation preventing Palestinians from entering the US.

The outrage over Ogles’s comments comes as the Biden administration faces growing criticism over its vetoing of a ceasefire resolution at the UN Security Council. It marked the third veto by the US since Oct. 7.

UNICEF has warned of a potential surge in preventable child deaths in Gaza due to malnutrition and disease. Save the Children’s Jason Lee described the situation as “astronomical” and warned that words cannot capture the scale of death and destruction in the enclave.

Israeli forces have reportedly killed more than 12,400 children in Gaza since Oct. 7, with more than 600,000 children now trapped in Rafah. Save the Children highlighted the alarming rate of amputations, with more than 10 children per day in Gaza, on average, losing one or both of their legs since October.


From Berlinale to Eurovision, anger over Gaza clouds Europe’s cultural events

From Berlinale to Eurovision, anger over Gaza clouds Europe’s cultural events
Updated 23 min 17 sec ago
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From Berlinale to Eurovision, anger over Gaza clouds Europe’s cultural events

From Berlinale to Eurovision, anger over Gaza clouds Europe’s cultural events
  • Gaza war has casted shadow over European cultural life after anger at Israel offensive flares in France, Italy, Britain
  • Artists have chosen to boycott the Berlin Film Festival in protest against Germany's alleged suppression of pro-Palestinian voices

BERLIN: Indian-American filmmaker Suneil Sanzgiri was set to showcase his film about anti-colonial resistance against the Portuguese empire at this month’s Berlinale film festival but dropped out.
Announcing his boycott on Instagram, Sanzgiri accused the German authorities of silencing voices speaking out for Palestinians in the war in Gaza. “I will not be complicit. We all have blood on our hands,” he wrote.
Sanzgiri’s is one of at least three films that were withdrawn by their creators, while other events at the festival also saw artists pulling out.
The withdrawals showed the tricky waters Germany’s cultural institutions are navigating, caught between protecting artistic freedoms while recognizing what many Germans see as a historic responsibility for Israel after the Nazi Holocaust.
Such disputes have also flared elsewhere in Europe since the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas militants. The European Broadcasting Union has resisted calls for Israel to be excluded from the Eurovision Song Contest.
Protests erupted in the Italian city of Naples in February after state broadcaster RAI distanced itself from an appeal made by rapper Ghali to “stop the genocide” during the closing night of the popular Sanremo Music Festival.
In Britain, a network of artists has been documenting events that were axed over artists’ pro-Palestinian views. The Arnolfini art gallery in Bristol also sparked a backlash after canceling two Palestinian film events, fearing they could “stray into political activity.”
In France, a group of artists in November organized a “silent march” where they held a white banner with no slogans.

STRIKE GERMANY
In Germany, anger over the Israeli offensive in Gaza, which has killed 29,000 Palestinians, has clashed with sensibilities over supporting Israel. Critics say crackdowns on pro-Palestinian voices confuse criticism with legitimate protest.
As cultural events are often state supported, critics say the government has used its financial power to prevent any criticism of Israel, a charge the government strongly rejects.
“Freedom of art and freedom of expression are among the most important basic principles of democracy in Germany, which are of course also protected by the federal government,” a spokesperson for the culture ministry said.
“The institutions and projects funded at the federal level have curatorial freedom and decide for themselves which artists they work with,” the spokesperson added.
While announcing his Berlinale boycott, filmmaker Sanzgiri voiced support for Strike Germany, an initiative launched by anonymous artists in January calling on filmmakers, musicians, writers and artists to withdraw from cultural events in Germany.
“It is a call to refuse German cultural institutions’ use of McCarthyist policies that suppress freedom of expression, specifically expressions of solidarity with Palestine,” the organizers wrote.
Some 1,600 artists have signed up, according a list on the initiative’s website, including French Nobel prize winner Annie Ernaux. Reuters could not verify the list’s authenticity.
Last month, Berlin’s CTM music festival announced several artists withdrawing in solidarity with Strike Germany.
Strike Germany calls for the adoption of a different definition of anti-Semitism that does not include criticism of the state of Israel.
The Berlinale has not shied away from the Gaza issue. It is hosting a so-called Tiny House initiative, a small space inviting disparate voices to debate the war. One of the films spotlighted Israeli settlers encroaching on land.
It is one of several cultural events in Germany clouded by anger over Gaza.
Hundreds of international writers condemned the Frankfurt Book Fair after a Palestinian writer’s award was postponed in October. In November, the entire selection committee for one of Europe’s most important art exhibitions, “documenta,” resigned after disputes over the Israel-Hamas conflict.


Google releases ‘open’ AI models after Meta

Google releases ‘open’ AI models after Meta
Updated 44 min 41 sec ago
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Google releases ‘open’ AI models after Meta

Google releases ‘open’ AI models after Meta
  • Individuals and businesses can build AI software based on Google’s new family of “open models” called Gemma, for free

SAN FRANCISCO: Google on Wednesday released new artificial intelligence (AI) models that outside developers potentially can fashion as their own, following a similar move by Meta Platforms and others.
The Alphabet subsidiary said individuals and businesses can build AI software based on its new family of “open models” called Gemma, for free. The company is making key technical data such as what are called model weights publicly available, it said.
The move may attract software engineers to build on Google’s technology and encourage usage of its newly profitable cloud division. The models are “optimized” for Google Cloud, where first-time cloud customers using them get $300 in credits, the company said.
Google stopped short of making Gemma fully “open source,” meaning the company still may have a hand in setting terms of use and ownership. Some experts have said open-source AI was ripe for abuse, while others have championed the approach for widening the set of people who can contribute to and benefit from the technology.
With the announcement, Google did not make its bigger, premier models known as Gemini open, unlike Gemma. It said the Gemma models are sized at two billion or seven billion parameters — or the number of different values that an algorithm takes into account to generate output.
Meta’s Llama 2 models range from seven to 70 billion parameters in size. Google has not disclosed the size of its largest Gemini models. For comparison, OpenAI’s GPT-3 model announced in 2020 had 175 billion parameters.
Chipmaker Nvidia on Wednesday said it has worked with Google to ensure Gemma models run smoothly on its chips. Nvidia also said it will soon make chatbot software, which it is developing to run AI models on Windows PCs, work with Gemma.


Third Saudi Media Forum kicks off in Riyadh, platforms global issues

Third Saudi Media Forum kicks off in Riyadh, platforms global issues
Updated 21 February 2024
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Third Saudi Media Forum kicks off in Riyadh, platforms global issues

Third Saudi Media Forum kicks off in Riyadh, platforms global issues

RIYADH: The third Saudi Media Forum kicked off its agenda on Tuesday with panels, workshops and masterclasses in Riyadh under the theme “Media in a World Taking Shape.”

The two-day forum, organized by the Saudi Broadcasting Authority in collaboration with the Saudi Journalists Association, has become the Middle East’s cornerstone event for media gatherings and discussion, bringing together some 2,000 industry specialists and experts from the region and beyond.

“What Saudi is witnessing now is a moment of realization of the reality of its valuable capabilities, investing and refining them for the future,” said SBA CEO Mohammed Al-Harthi.

“Saudis are halfway towards Vision 2030, already reaping its results, and this leaves them with more confidence to achieve large aspirations.

“Media is part of this acceleration and development within the Kingdom’s regulations and legislations.

“Global entities are gravitating towards Riyadh as their base, as it has become a new hub for media industries.”

Its accompanying exhibition FOMEX opened its doors to visitors on Monday, showcasing the latest technologies and innovations from over 200 local and international companies throughout the forum’s duration.

At the SMF’s opening ceremony, Saudi Media Minister Salman Al-Dosari highlighted the Kingdom’s three new media strategies.

The Media Sector Strategy looks to shape a comprehensive media system in the Kingdom while improving governance and efficiency in collaboration with 30 government entities as well as the private and third sectors.

The Saudi Broadcasting Authority Strategy aims to enable the authority to overcome digital challenges, train talent and create world-class content.

The Saudi Press Agency Strategy aims to up its online, office and correspondent activity worldwide while presenting journalistic content that aligns with modern standard practice.

Al-Dosari announced the launch of the Saudi Academy for Media to empower and train professionals in new and developing skills and technologies. He also announced partnerships with tech giants including Google, Huawei and Alibaba.

A session titled “Gaza in the Media: Between Misrepresentation and Bias” analyzed the discrepancy between global coverage, Western media’s partiality toward Israel, and inaccuracies in portraying the conflict.

In a session titled “Media in the Past and Present,” Waleed bin Ibrahim Al-Ibrahim, founder and chairman of media giant MBC, said: “Enablement comes from both private and public sectors through investment and so on. At MBC, we’re lacking creatives and talents in all spaces, so all the doors are open.”

Arab News Editor-in-Chief Faisal Abbas took to the stage alongside fellow experts to discuss the role of journalism during times of global crises.

Meanwhile, Okaz Editor-in-Chief Jameel Al-Theyabi gave a workshop on the future of the print press.

A special masterclass by Dick Roberts, an executive vice president at Allen Media Group, gave insights into the entertainment industry.

Another session explored tourism as a global media language while Darryl Von Daniken, director of the International Radio Festival, discussed radio’s influence on consumers and prioritizing quality over quantity.

Prince Fahd bin Mansour, representative of Saudi Arabia in the G20-Startup20 engagement group, gave a workshop on generative artificial intelligence in media.

Joyce Baz, Google’s head of PR and communications in the Middle East and North Africa, discussed AI in a panel on the future of the media.

Saudi Arabia has launched multiple initiatives to grow the media sector across the region, including the Media Zone project that provides a dedicated space to gain knowledge of media arts.

Last week, the Kingdom launched the Hajj and Umrah Mediathon to improve the quality of coverage of the holy practices.

The Hajj Media Hub was also announced, allowing media professionals to enhance their coverage and showcase their work in an immersive exhibition.

The media sector’s contribution to Saudi gross domestic product reached SR14.5 billion ($3.86 billion) in 2023, and is targeting SR16 billion this year.

Last year, there was a record 56,000 jobs in the media in the Kingdom, which is expected to exceed 67,000 this year.


Leaked documents expose Iran’s harassment campaign against British-based journalists

Leaked documents expose Iran’s harassment campaign against British-based journalists
Updated 21 February 2024
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Leaked documents expose Iran’s harassment campaign against British-based journalists

Leaked documents expose Iran’s harassment campaign against British-based journalists
  • Hacktivists Edalat-e Ali says documents show Tehran targets Iran International staff with financial bans, threats to family

LONDON: Dozens of British-based journalists have been targeted by Iran in a coordinated harassment campaign aimed at silencing the network, top secret intelligence documents revealed on Wednesday.

The leaked information, obtained by hacktivist group Edalat-e Ali, exposes how Iran International TV staff received financial bans and threats to their families during the 2019 protests.

The London-based network has said it was previously aware of the intimidation tactics but that the documents offered “indisputable proof that Iran’s Intelligence Ministry and judicial officials were coordinating the harassment efforts.”

During nationwide protests in November 2019, sparked by a sudden hike in gasoline prices and met with a violent crackdown by security forces, Iran International persisted in reporting on the situation despite a government internet shutdown.

This drew unwanted attention and scrutiny from the authorities, with the broadcaster facing accusations of disseminating false news to fuel rebellion.

The leaked documents outline the intimidation methods used. A ministry letter addressed to the Tehran Prosecutor General, dated Nov. 30, 2019, disclosed that 15 family members of Iran International employees were summoned and 71 key players faced financial restrictions.

The tactics were designed to have a psychological impact, causing mental distress and insecurity for employees.

The leaked documents also exposed Tehran’s harassment of ordinary citizens who attempted to contact the network. The papers revealed that journalists and their families faced threats, with the government warning that continuing to work with “opposition media” would have legal consequences.

In February 2023, the escalating harassment campaign prompted the channel to relocate temporarily from London to Washington DC due to assassination attempts. However, it resumed operations in the British capital in September under heightened security measures.

Last year, an Iranian plot to assassinate two of the network’s anchors during the 2022 anti-government protests was thwarted by a double agent, resulting in the arrest and conviction of a Chechen national.

The US and UK both announced sanctions against a network involved in assassination plots, including those targeting Iran International journalists.