US sanctions ally of Israeli minister, entities backing ‘extremist’ settlers

Israel's far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir (C) arrives at the scene of a shooting attack near Maale Adumim settlement, east of Jerusalem, on February 22, 2024. (AFP)
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Israel's far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir (C) arrives at the scene of a shooting attack near Maale Adumim settlement, east of Jerusalem, on February 22, 2024. (AFP)
US sanctions ally of Israeli minister, entities backing ‘extremist’ settlers
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The head of a Jewish extremist group Meir Ettinger appears in court in Nazareth Illit, Israel on Aug. 4, 2015. (File/AP)
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Updated 20 April 2024
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US sanctions ally of Israeli minister, entities backing ‘extremist’ settlers

US sanctions ally of Israeli minister, entities backing ‘extremist’ settlers
  • Move comes as West Bank sees some of its worst violence perpetrated by settlers against Palestinians since Gaza war

WASHINGTON: The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on an ally of Israel’s far-right national security minister and two entities that raised money for Israeli men accused of settler violence, the latest actions aimed against those Washington blames for an escalation of violence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
The sanctions, in addition to those already imposed on five settlers and two unauthorized outposts already this year, are the latest sign of growing US frustration with the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The moves on Friday, which freeze any US assets held by those targeted and generally bar Americans from dealing with them, hit two organizations that launched fundraising campaigns to support settlers accused of violence and targeted by previous sanctions, the Department of the Treasury said in a statement.
The Biden administration’s moves against Israeli settlers have upset right-wing members of Netanyahu’s governing coalition who support the expansion of Jewish settlements and ultimately the annexation of the West Bank, where Palestinians envisage a future state.
They come as the complex relationship between Washington and its ally Israel is tested by the war in Gaza and as the Biden administration urges Israel to show restraint in responding to retaliatory strikes by Iran.
Washington sanctioned Ben-Zion Gopstein, founder and leader of the right-wing group Lehava, which opposes Jewish assimilation with non-Jews and agitates against Arabs in the name of religion and national security. Gopstein has said Lehava has 5,000 members.
State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said members of the group had engaged in “destabilizing violence affecting the West Bank.”
“Under Gopstein’s leadership, Lehava and its members have been involved in acts or threats of violence against Palestinians, often targeting sensitive or volatile areas,” Miller said in a statement, warning of additional steps if Israel does not take measures to prevent extremist attacks amid an escalation of violence in the West Bank in recent days.
The European Union also said on Friday it had agreed to take sanctions against Lehava and other groups linked to violent settlers.
A spokesperson for Israel’s embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Gopstein, the most prominent Israeli figure targeted by US sanctions, is a close associate of and has family ties to National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, who himself lives in a West Bank settlement.
Ben-Gvir, like Gopstein, was a disciple of the late Meir Kahane, an ultranationalist rabbi whose Kach movement was listed by Washington as a specially designated global terrorist organization.
Ben-Gvir on Friday slammed what he called harassment against Lehava and “our dear settlers who have never engaged in terrorism or hurt anyone,” labeling the allegations against them a “blood libel” by Palestinian groups and anarchists.
“I call on Western countries to stop cooperating with these antisemites and end this campaign of persecution against the pioneering Zionist settlers,” Ben-Gvir said in a statement released by his office.
CROWDFUNDING
Since the 1967 Middle East war, Israel has occupied the West Bank of the Jordan River, which Palestinians want as the core of an independent state. It has built Jewish settlements there that most countries deem illegal. Israel disputes this and cites historical and Biblical ties to the land.
The Biden administration in February said settlements were inconsistent with international law, signaling a return to long-standing US policy on the issue that had been reversed by the previous administration of Donald Trump.
One entity targeted on Friday, Mount Hebron Fund, launched an online fundraising campaign that raised $140,000 for settler Yinon Levi, the Treasury said, after he was sanctioned on Feb. 1 for leading a group of settlers that assaulted Palestinian and Bedouin civilians, burned their fields and destroyed their property.
It said the second entity, Shlom Asiraich, raised $31,000 on a crowdfunding website for David Chai Chasdai, who the United States sanctioned for initiating and leading a riot that included setting vehicles and buildings on fire and causing damage to property in the Palestinian town of Hawara, resulting in the death of a Palestinian civilian.
“These types of enforcement actions against entities helping violent settlers evade US sanctions are what give sanctions teeth,” said Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man, director of research for Israel-Palestine at Democracy for the Arab World Now, a human rights group that has highlighted efforts by supporters to evade sanctions against settlers.

 

 


Death toll rises to 19 after gunmen attack Russia’s Dagestan

Death toll rises to 19 after gunmen attack Russia’s Dagestan
Updated 14 sec ago
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Death toll rises to 19 after gunmen attack Russia’s Dagestan

Death toll rises to 19 after gunmen attack Russia’s Dagestan
  • Gunmen with automatic weapons burst into an Orthodox church and a synagogue in the ancient city of Derbent on Sunday evening
  • Dagestan is a mainly Muslim republic of Russia’s North Caucasus, a patchwork of ethnic groups, languages and regions
MOSCOW: The death toll from a series of brazen attacks on churches and synagogues in Russia’s mainly Muslim region of Dagestan rose to 19 on Monday after gunmen went on the rampage in coordinated attacks in two of the republic’s most important cities.
Gunmen with automatic weapons burst into an Orthodox church and a synagogue in the ancient city of Derbent on Sunday evening, setting fire to an icon at the church and killing a 66-year-old Orthodox priest, Nikolai Kotelnikov.
In the Caspian city of Makhachkala, About 125 kilometers north, attackers shot at a traffic police post and attacked a church.
Gun battles erupted around the Assumption Cathedral in Makhachkala and heavy automatic gunfire rang out late into the night. Footage showed residents running through the city to seek cover as plumes of smoke rose above Makhachkala.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. Russia’s investigative committee said 15 policemen and four civilians were killed. At least five attackers were killed, some were shown by local media shot dead on a pavement.
“This is a day of tragedy for Dagestan and the whole country,” said Sergei Melikov, the head of the Dagestan region.
He said that foreign forces had been involved in preparing the attack, but gave no details.
“This is an attempt to cleave apart our unity.”
Dagestan announced three days of mourning. Pictures of the dead policemen were lined up on the street before red carnations in Dagestan.
President Vladimir Putin, who has long accused the West of trying to stoke separatism in the Caucasus, has yet to comment.
Dagestan is a mainly Muslim republic of Russia’s North Caucasus, a patchwork of ethnic groups, languages and regions that live in the shadow of the Caucasus mountains between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea.
DAGESTAN
The attack on Christian and Jewish places of worship stoked fears Russia may be facing a renewed militant Islamist threat just three months after a deadly attack in Moscow.
In the Moscow attack, 145 people were killed at the Crocus concert hall. Islamic State claimed that attack.
In October, after the war in Gaza broke out, rioters waving Palestinian flags broke down glass doors and rampaged through Makhachkala airport to look for Jewish passengers on a flight arriving from Tel Aviv.
In Israel, the foreign ministry said the synagogue in Derbent had been burned to the ground and shots had been fired at a second synagogue in Makhachkala. The statement said it was believed there were no worshippers in the synagogue at the time.
Derbent, one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities on earth, is home to an ancient Jewish community and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Russia’s state media cited law enforcement as saying two sons of the head of central Dagestan’s Sergokala district were among the attackers in Dagestan and had been detained by investigators.
June 24-26 have been declared days of mourning in Dagestan, Melikov said, with flags lowered to half-mast and all entertainment events canceled.
The Russian empire expanded into the Caucasus in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, but an insurgency after the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union led to two wars.
In August 1999, Chechen fighter Shamil Basayev led fighters into Dagestan in a bid to aid Dagestani Wahhabist fundamentalists, triggering a major bombing campaign by the Russian military ahead of the Second Chechen War.

Independent candidates Kennedy and Stein challenge exclusion from US presidential debates

Independent candidates Kennedy and Stein challenge exclusion from US presidential debates
Updated 14 min 24 sec ago
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Independent candidates Kennedy and Stein challenge exclusion from US presidential debates

Independent candidates Kennedy and Stein challenge exclusion from US presidential debates
  • CNN and ABC News will circumvent the Commission on Presidential Debates to host their own one-on-one debates

CHICAGO: Third-party candidates for president, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Dr. Jill Stein, filed federal complaints this week alleging that they were being unfairly excluded from media debates hosted by CNN and ABC News between US President Joe Biden and former president, Donald Trump.

CNN and ABC News will circumvent the Commission on Presidential Debates, which imposes ground rules to ensure debates are conducted fairly for all qualifying candidates, to host their own one-on-one debates. The CNN debate is scheduled for Thursday, June 27, and the ABC debate is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 10.

The presidential election is on Nov. 5, and although Kennedy and Stein are excluded from the media debates, they have filed enough signatures to be accepted on a majority of state ballots and expect to meet upcoming deadlines to file to appear on all 50 state ballots.

Stein filed a formal complaint with the US Federal Election Commission on June 19, while Kennedy filed an FEC complaint on May 28; both arguing no candidates had been certified to be included on any state ballots yet, and that they were victims of partisan political bias.

“The media’s job is to impartially inform the voters about all the choices on their ballot, but what CNN is doing is a coordinated communication and prohibited corporate contribution to benefit two candidates to the exclusion of all others,” Stein said in a statement sent to Arab News.

“The (CNN) debate is far from independent, having been actively negotiated by the Biden Committee, the Trump Committee, and representatives of the Democratic and Republican parties for the purpose of ensuring that all independent and third-party candidates are excluded and denied an opportunity for consideration by the voting public.”

Both Biden and Trump believe Kennedy and other independent candidates could play spoilers in what many believe will be a close contest between the two major party contenders.

The FEC complaint argues CNN, Biden and Trump “flagrantly violated a federal law” that requires media broadcasters to use “pre-established” and “objective” criteria to determine candidate participation in debates. Failure to use objective criteria makes the CNN and ABC debates “campaign contributions,” which are subject to strict financial and cost donation limits, Kennedy said in a statement sent to Arab News.

“Presidents Biden and Trump do not want me on the debate stage and CNN illegally agreed to their demand,” Kennedy said.

“My exclusion by Presidents Biden and Trump from the debate is undemocratic, un-American, and cowardly. Americans want an independent leader who will break apart the two-party duopoly. They want a President who will heal the divide, restore the middle class, unwind the war machine, and end the chronic disease epidemic.”

Kennedy received support from former Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee, who said: “If the American people could hear what all three candidates had to say about the critical issues facing our country, the choice between these three men would be clear.”

Third-party candidates in past elections have been included in presidential debates under the guidelines of the Commission on Presidential Debates, formed in 1987 “to ensure, for the benefit of the American electorate, that general election debates between or among the leading candidates for the offices of President and Vice President of the United States are a permanent part of the electoral process.”

Third-party candidates could siphon off votes and prevent one or both major party candidates from winning enough votes in many states to become president. A candidate must win a majority of votes in each of the 50 states to take the Electoral College votes in each state, which vary by state population size. A candidate must receive 270 EC votes to win the presidency.

Kennedy argues in his statement that CNN’s published debate criteria requires that “a candidate’s name must appear on a sufficient number of state ballots to reach the 270 Electoral (Electoral College) Vote threshold. CNN is holding Kennedy to this requirement but is not requiring Presidents Biden and Trump to meet this requirement by claiming they are each the ‘presumptive nominee’ of a political party.”

Kennedy’s campaign claimed that they had satisfied the requirements to appear on the ballot in 22 states, with a combined 310 electoral votes, although it is months away from states confirming any of the candidate’s ballot placement. California, for example, which has 54 EC Votes, will not certify any candidates until Aug. 29, raising questions about the media’s EC Vote rule.

Technically, although Biden and Trump are the presumptive nominees for their political parties, they will not become official candidates on state ballots until after their nominations are confirmed at the conventions. The Republican Convention begins July 18 in Milwaukee and the Democratic Convention begins August 19 in Chicago.

Stein also accused CNN of “collusion” with the Trump and Biden campaigns, arguing the media outlet used biased polling that “intentionally marginalize candidates other than Biden and Trump” by framing the election as an exclusive two-candidate affair and marginalizing her, and others, to prevent them from receiving a minimum 15 percent polling favorability.

“The poll cited by CNN as its standard mentions Trump 169 times and Biden 146 times, but mentions Jill Stein, Kennedy, and Cornel West only once, suppressing support for candidates outside the two-party system by design,” Stein said.

Neither CNN nor ABC News officials organizing the debates responded to requests for comment, but CNN officials were quoted by Associated Press arguing that the Kennedy FEC complaint lacks merit.

Biden and Trump will not have a live audience during their debate on Thursday, and their microphones will be muted when the other speaks to prevent interruptions. Journalists and campaign supporters will be seated in alternative halls.


EU top diplomat warns Georgia door to membership could ‘close’

EU top diplomat warns Georgia door to membership could ‘close’
Updated 26 min 40 sec ago
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EU top diplomat warns Georgia door to membership could ‘close’

EU top diplomat warns Georgia door to membership could ‘close’
  • Ruling party in Georgia adopted a controversial ‘foreign influence’ law this month
  • Critics say legislation is modelled on Russian legislation used to stifle dissent

LUXEMBOURG: EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell told Georgia Monday that its push to join the bloc could be ended, as Brussels weighs options to punish the authorities over a “foreign influence” law.
“The door for Georgia to become a member of the European Union is open,” Borrell said at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.
“But if the government continues on the same track, continues doing what they are doing, this door will be closed, and the Georgian people will pay the consequences, will suffer.”
The ruling party in the South Caucasus country — which formally became a candidate to join the EU last year — adopted a controversial “foreign influence” law this month that critics say is modelled on Russian legislation used to stifle dissent.
The move was condemned by Georgia’s Western supporters, with the United States banning several officials from the South Caucasus nation from visiting.
Concerns were further fueled by proposed new legislation to ban what the ruling party calls “LGBT propaganda,” in another conservative shift that drew fresh comparisons with repressive Russian laws.
The 27-nation EU is now pondering its response to the shifts from the governing Georgian Dream party, but is wary of pushing the ex-Soviet state closer toward Moscow.
Despite the moves from the government, the population in the country remains overwhelmingly in favor of moving closer toward the EU.
Borrell said that initial moves being discussed by ministers could include halting funding for Georgia’s security forces, cutting government financing, or severing high-level contacts.
“We don’t want to affect civilians. We don’t want to put more pain on the civilian people,” Borrell said, adding that no firm decision was expected Monday.
Estonian Foreign Minister Margus Tsahkna said there would also be discussions on Schengen visa bans for high-ranking Georgian officials.
“The situation for Georgia is serious, and all the responsibility lies on the shoulders of the Georgian government,” he said.
“The Georgian people are supporting the way to the European Union.”
Meanwhile, his counterpart from Lithuania Gabrielius Landsbergis complained that stronger measures were not yet being put forward in a paper presented by the EU’s diplomatic arm.
“Unfortunately, there are certain options in the paper that are not mentioned, such as actually stopping Georgia’s EU integration, which I think it has to be mentioned,” he said.


At least 16 dead in a fire at a lithium battery factory in South Korea

At least 16 dead in a fire at a lithium battery factory in South Korea
Updated 35 min 45 sec ago
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At least 16 dead in a fire at a lithium battery factory in South Korea

At least 16 dead in a fire at a lithium battery factory in South Korea
  • Rescue workers at the factory in Hwaseong city, just south of Seoul, retrieved the bodies after combing through the site

SEOUL: A fire at a lithium battery manufacturing factory near South Korea’s capital on Monday left at least 16 people dead, seven injured and six missing, officials said.

Rescue workers at the factory in Hwaseong city, just south of Seoul, retrieved the bodies after combing through the site, local fire official Kim Jin-young told a televised briefing.

Kim earlier said most of the missing people were foreign nationals including Chinese.

He said the mobile phone signals of the missing people were tracked to the second floor of the factory. Kim said a witness told authorities that the fire began after batteries exploded as workers were examining and packaging them, but the exact cause would be investigated.

Kim said those found dead likely failed to escape via stairs to the ground. He said officials will investigate whether fire extinguishing systems worked.

Kim said a total of 102 people were working at the factory before the fire occurred.

President Yoon Suk Yeol earlier ordered officials to mobilize all available personnel and equipment to find survivors, according to his office.


Philippines accuses China of using ‘illegal force’ to deliberately disrupt resupply mission

Philippines accuses China of using ‘illegal force’ to deliberately disrupt resupply mission
Updated 50 min 38 sec ago
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Philippines accuses China of using ‘illegal force’ to deliberately disrupt resupply mission

Philippines accuses China of using ‘illegal force’ to deliberately disrupt resupply mission
  • Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro: ‘It was not a misunderstanding or an accident’
  • Chinese coast guard vessels deliberately disrupted a resupply mission last week

MANILA: The Philippines’ defense chief said China used “aggressive and illegal force” to disrupt a resupply mission in the South China Sea and said last week’s maritime incident, which injured a sailor, was neither a misunderstanding nor an accident.

“We are not downplaying the incident,” Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro told a media briefing after the chairman of the Philippine maritime council said on Friday that last week’s maritime clash was probably a misunderstanding or an accident.

A Philippine sailor suffered serious injury after what its military described as “intentional-high speed ramming” by the Chinese Coast Guard, aiming to disrupt a resupply mission for troops stationed on the Second Thomas Shoal on June 17.

Chinese Coast Guard personnel carrying knives and spears looted firearms and “deliberately punctured” Philippine boats involved in the mission, the Philippine military said.

China’s foreign ministry has disputed the Philippines’ account, with a spokesperson saying last Thursday that the necessary measures taken by the coast guard were lawful and professional.

“We see the latest incident in Ayungin not as a misunderstanding or an accident. It is a deliberate act of the Chinese officialdom to prevent us from completing our mission,” Teodoro said, using the local name for the Second Thomas Shoal.

“It was an aggressive and illegal use of force. We, however, continue to find peaceful solutions to this issue,” Teodoro said.

Teodoro said the Philippines will continue to resupply its troops stationed on a rusting warship grounded on Second Thomas Shoal, but it will not publicize schedules of missions, which he said do not require permission or consent from anyone.

In response to Teodoro’s remarks, the Chinese foreign ministry said on Monday that the Philippines “should stop its infringement and provocation” and “work with China to safeguard peace and stability in the South China Sea.”

It also urged Manila to stop “violations” and “misleading the international community.”

President Ferdinand Marcos said on Sunday that the Philippines was not in the business of instigating wars and would always aim to settle disputes peacefully.

The Second Thomas Shoal is inside the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

China claims almost the entire South China Sea with its so-called nine-dash line, which overlaps the exclusive economic zones of rival claimants Brunei, Malaysia, Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

A 2016 arbitral tribunal ruling, which Beijing does not recognize, invalidated China’s claim in the strategic waters.