Another former US State Department official alleges Israeli military gets ‘special treatment’ on abuses

Another former US State Department official alleges Israeli military gets ‘special treatment’ on abuses
Israeli soldiers lead a Palestinian family out of their home during a raid in the Nur Shams refugee camp in the occupied West Bank on April 20, 2024. When it came to complaints against Israeli military abuses of Palestinian civilians, US officials usually look the other way, according to a former US State Department official. (AFP)
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Updated 25 April 2024
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Another former US State Department official alleges Israeli military gets ‘special treatment’ on abuses

Another former US State Department official alleges Israeli military gets ‘special treatment’ on abuses
  • “In my experience, Israel gets special treatment that no other country gets,” says Charles O. Blaha, former director of a State Department security and human rights office
  • Late last year, Josh Paul resigned as a director overseeing arms transfers to other countries’ militaries in October in protest of the US rushing arms to Israel amid its war in Gaza

WASHINGTON: A former senior US official who until recently helped oversee human-rights compliance by foreign militaries receiving American military assistance said Wednesday that he repeatedly observed Israel receiving “special treatment” from US officials when it came to scrutiny of allegations of Israeli military abuses of Palestinian civilians.

The allegation comes as the Biden administration faces intense pressure over its ally’s treatment of Palestinian civilians during Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza. And it matters because of who said it: Charles O. Blaha.

Before leaving the post in August, he was a director of a State Department security and human rights office closely involved in helping ensure that foreign militaries receiving American military aid follow US and international humanitarian and human rights laws.

Blaha said his departure from the State Department after decades of service was not related to the US-Israeli security relationship. He is the second senior State official involved in that relationship to assert that when it comes to Israel, the US is reluctant to enforce laws required of foreign militaries receiving American aid.

“In my experience, Israel gets special treatment that no other country gets,” Blaha said. “And there is undue deference, in many cases, given” to Israeli officials’ side of things when the US asks questions about allegations of Israeli wrongdoing against Palestinians, he added.

He spoke to reporters at an event where he and other members of an unofficial, self-formed panel of former senior US civilian and military officials released a report pointing to civilian deaths in specific airstrikes in Gaza. They said there was “compelling and credible” evidence that Israeli forces had acted illegally.

Blaha’s comments echoed those of another State Department official and panel member, Josh Paul. Paul resigned as a director overseeing arms transfers to other countries’ militaries in October in protest of the US rushing arms to Israel amid its war in Gaza.

Asked about the allegations from the two, a State Department spokesman, Vedant Patel, said “there is no double standard, and there is no special treatment.”

Israeli officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Israel consistently says it follows all laws in its use of US military aid, investigates allegations against its security forces and holds offenders accountable.

Israel historically is the United States’ biggest recipient of military aid, and Biden on Wednesday signed legislation for an additional $26 billion in wartime assistance. But Biden has come under growing pressure over that support as Palestinian deaths mount.

The latest Israel-Hamas war began on Oct. 7, when Hamas and Islamic Jihad, two militant groups backed by Iran, carried out a cross-border attack that killed 1,200 people in Israel. Israel responded with an offensive in Gaza that has caused widespread devastation and killed more than 34,000 people, according to local health officials.

In coming days, the administration says it will announce its official findings from reviews it did into allegations of especially serious human rights abuses by specific Israeli military units. Those units would be barred from receiving US military aid if the US review confirms those allegations.

Separately, the Biden administration also is expected to disclose by May 8 whether it has verified assurances from Israel that the country is not using US military aid in a way that violates international or human rights law. Both Israel’s written assurance and the US verification were mandated by a new presidential national security memo that Biden issued in February.

The February agreement was negotiated between the Biden administration and members of his own Democratic Party, who had been pushing for the US to begin conditioning military aid to Israel on improving treatment of Palestinian civilians.

Panel members released their report Wednesday to urge the US to scrutinize specific attacks in Gaza that the former officials argued should lead to a conclusion that Israel was wrong when it confirmed it was complying with the laws. If that determination is made, the US could then suspend military aid.

Wednesday’s unofficial report points to 17 specific strikes on apartments, refugee camps, private homes, journalists and aid workers for which the former US officials and independent experts allege there’s no evidence of the kind of military target present to justify the high civilian death tolls.

They include an Oct. 31 airstrike on a Gaza apartment building that killed 106 civilians, including 54 children. Israeli officials offered no reason for the strike, and a Human Rights Watch probe found no evidence of a military target there, the officials said. Israel has said in many of the instances that it is investigating.

 


Yemeni minister condemns Houthi attack on Taiz officials

Yemeni minister condemns Houthi attack on Taiz officials
Updated 4 sec ago
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Yemeni minister condemns Houthi attack on Taiz officials

Yemeni minister condemns Houthi attack on Taiz officials
  • The minister called on the international community, the UN, and its special envoy to Yemen to condemn this attack.

DUBAI: Yemeni Minister of Information, Culture, and Tourism Muammar Al-Eryani strongly condemned the Houthi militia on Monday for targeting government officials in Taiz, state news agency SABA reported. 

The attack targeted Maj. Gen. Abdul Karim Al-Sabri, undersecretary of Taiz Governorate for defense and security affairs; Maj. Gen. Abdul Aziz Al-Majidi, acting commander of the Taiz Axis; Brig. Gen. Mohammed Al-Mahfadi, commander of Brigade 22 Mika; Samir Yahya Abdul-Ilah, director-general of the Cairo Directorate; and several other civilian, security, and military leaders. They were on a visit to National Army officers stationed at the old airport camp northwest of Taiz.

Al-Eryani said that the attack occurred less than 500 meters from the recently reopened Al-Kamp-Republican Palace road, after a decade-long siege imposed by the Houthi militia on the governorate.

The attack highlights the Houthi militia’s lack of commitment to peace and their intent to undermine any efforts to alleviate the suffering of citizens, the minister said. 

Al-Eryani called on the international community, the UN, and its special envoy to Yemen to condemn this attack. He urged for the militia to be classified as a terrorist organization, for its financial, political, and media resources to be cut off, and for measures to be taken to support the government in establishing control and achieving security throughout Yemeni territory.


US imposes new sanctions on Houthis

US imposes new sanctions on Houthis
Updated 4 min 48 sec ago
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US imposes new sanctions on Houthis

US imposes new sanctions on Houthis
  • Three individuals and six entities that facilitated the purchase of weapons for the Houthis have been sanctioned

DUBAI: New sanctions on the Iranian-supported Houthi militia have been imposed by the US, Yemen News Agency (SABA) reported.

“We have sanctioned three individuals and six entities that facilitated the purchase of weapons for the Houthis. Additionally, we have designated one ship owned by one of the sanctioned entities as prohibited property,” said US State Department spokesman Matthew Miller.

Miller emphasized Washington’s commitment to using “the tools available to obstruct the flow of military materials to Yemen, which enables the Houthis to launch these terrorist attacks.”

He also noted that “Houthi attacks against unarmed commercial ships continue to obstruct navigation in a vital waterway.”


G7 urges Libyan parties to resolve political stalemate

G7 urges Libyan parties to resolve political stalemate
Updated 7 min 59 sec ago
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G7 urges Libyan parties to resolve political stalemate

G7 urges Libyan parties to resolve political stalemate
  • G7 members emphasized that a comprehensive political process led by Libyans and facilitated by the UN remained the only viable path

DUBAI: The G7 has called on parties in Libya to engage in meaningful dialogue in good faith and without preconditions to overcome the current political stalemate, the Libyan News Agency reported.

In the draft final declaration of their summit in Italy, G7 members emphasized that a comprehensive political process led by Libyans and facilitated by the UN remained the only viable path towards free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections.

The statement reaffirmed the G7’s commitment to stability, independence, territorial integrity and national unity in Libya. It also urged UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to appoint a new special representative without delay.

The 50th summit of the Group of Seven, which includes the United States, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Canada and Japan, began on Thursday.


Fight for control of Yemen’s banks between government, Houthis threatens to further wreck economy

Fight for control of Yemen’s banks between government, Houthis threatens to further wreck economy
Updated 18 June 2024
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Fight for control of Yemen’s banks between government, Houthis threatens to further wreck economy

Fight for control of Yemen’s banks between government, Houthis threatens to further wreck economy
  • The Houthis who control the north and center of the country and the government running the south use different currency notes with different exchange rates
  • Yemen has been torn by civil war ever since the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels took over Sanaa and much of Yemen’s north and center in 2015

SANAA, Yemen: Yemen’s Houthi rebels and its internationally recognized government are locked in a fight for control of the country’s banks that experts warn is threatening to further wreck an economy already crippled by nearly a decade of war.
The rivalry over the banks is throwing Yemen’s financial system into deeper turmoil. Already, the Houthis who control the north and center of the country and the government running the south use different currency notes with different exchange rates. They also run rival central banks.
The escalating money divide is eroding the value of Yemen’s currency, the riyal, which had driven up prices for clothing and meat before the Islamic holiday of Eid Al-Adha started on Sunday.
For weeks, Yemenis in Houthi-controlled areas have been unable to pull their money out of bank savings accounts, reportedly because the Houthi-run central bank, based in the capital, Sanaa, has stopped providing liquidity to commercial and government banks. Protests have broken out in front of some banks, dispersed by security forces.
Yemen has been torn by civil war ever since the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels took over Sanaa and much of Yemen’s north and center in 2015. The Saudi-backed internationally recognized government and its nominal ally the Southern Transitional Council, a group supported by the United Arab Emirates, govern the south and much of the east, centered in the southern port city of Aden.
Yemen was already the Arab world’s poorest country before the war began. Punitive actions by each side against the other’s banks over the past week now threaten to undermine merchants’ ability to import food and basic commodities and to disrupt the transfer of remittances from Yemenis abroad, on which many families depend, said Edem Wosornu, director of operations and advocacy for the UN humanitarian coordination office known as OCHA.
“All these factors will likely deepen poverty, worsen food insecurity and malnutrition, and increase reliance on humanitarian assistance,” she told a UN Security Council briefing on Thursday. The dispute could escalate to the point that banks in Houthi-run areas are barred completely from international financial transactions, which she said would have “catastrophic ramifications.”
The internationally recognized government moved the central bank to Aden in 2016, and since then began issuing new banknotes to replace worn-out riyals. Houthi authorities, which set up their own central bank in Sanaa, banned the use of the new money in areas under their control.
In March, the Houthi-controlled central bank announced it was rolling out its own new 100-riyal coins. The international community and Yemen’s recognized government denounced the move, saying the Houthis were trying to set up their own financial system and warning it will deepen Yemen’s economic divide.
Adding to the confusion, the bills have different exchange rates — riyals issued in Sanaa go for about 530 to the dollar, while those from Aden are around 1,800 to the dollar.
In response, the Aden-based central bank gave banks 60 days to relocate their headquarters to the southern city and stop operating under Houthi policies, or else risk facing sanctions related to money laundering and anti-terrorism laws.
The central bank was “forced to make these decisions, especially after the Houthi group issued their own currency and took unilateral steps toward complete independence from the internationally recognized Central Bank in Aden,” said Mustafa Nasr, an economic expert and head of the Studies and Economic Media Center SEMC.
No banks met the deadline — either because they needed more time or because they feared Houthi sanctions if they moved, Nasr said.
When the deadline ran out last week, the central bank in Aden banned dealing with six banks headquartered in Sanaa, meaning currency exchange offices, money transfer agencies and banks in the south could no longer work with them.
In retaliation, the Houthi-run central bank in Sanaa banned all dealings with 13 banks headquartered in Aden. That means people in Houthi-controlled areas can’t deposit or withdraw funds through those banks or receive wire transfers made through them.
Even as the fight for control is going on, both sides are facing a cash crunch. The Houthi government has few sources of foreign currency and its new coins aren’t recognized outside its territory.
In January, the United States designated the Houthis as a global terror group in response to the rebels’ attacks on shipping in the Red Sea and Arabian Sea. The Houthis say the attacks are in retaliation for the Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip. Because of the US decision, banks around the world might be concerned and reluctant to continue any financial dealings with banks that have headquarters under Houthi control, said Youssef Saeed, a University of Aden economic professor.
The economy in Aden isn’t significantly better. The government’s revenues have been hit hard ever since Houthi attacks on oil ports in late 2022 forced a halt in oil exports, the main earner of foreign currency.
Since March, depositors in Houthi-run areas have been unable to pull money out of their accounts. The central bank in Sanaa hasn’t announced any formal restrictions, but several economists told The Associated Press that it has informally stopped releasing funds that individual banks have put in its coffers — in part because of a lack of liquidity.
At one bank that saw protests by depositors last month, the International Bank of Yemen, a note hung in the lobby said, “In coordination with the Central Bank, withdrawals from old accounts have been suspended until further notice.”
Um Ahmed, a 65-year-old woman who was among those protesting outside the bank, said that she was trying to withdraw money to help her son buy a motor scooter for work, but the bank refused.
“I served this country as a teacher for 35 years and saved every penny and deposited my money at the bank, but they took it all,” she said. “This money belongs to my husband and me and our children.”
 


Protests erupt again in Algeria’s northern Tiaret region over water shortage

Protests erupt again in Algeria’s northern Tiaret region over water shortage
Updated 18 June 2024
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Protests erupt again in Algeria’s northern Tiaret region over water shortage

Protests erupt again in Algeria’s northern Tiaret region over water shortage

ALGIERS: Protesters took to the streets for the second day Monday in Algeria’s northern Tiaret region, social media reports said, in rare demonstrations against severe shortages of drinking water.
President Abdelmadjid Tebboune had vowed to address the issue by the Eid Al-Adha holiday which began Sunday.
According to several social media accounts, demonstrations erupted and roads were blocked in Tiaret, southwest of the capital Algiers, from the start of Eid Al-Adha.
Images shared on social media showed at least two roads connecting Tiaret to the neighboring towns of Frenda and Boucheguif blocked by rocks and improvised barricades.
But neither official nor private domestic media reported on the protests.
“Your promises to the residents of Tiaret have been in vain. From the first day of Eid, many areas have been without water,” one user posted on the Algerian water company’s page.

Screenshot from Google map showing Tiaret, the site of protests in Algeria.

About 40 kilometers (25 miles) away from the city of Tiaret, in Rahouia, images circulated online showed a gathering of citizens blocking the local district chief from leaving his headquarters until he heard their concerns.
Since May, all the tributaries of the semi-desert region and its Bakhedda dam have run dry.
Protests broke out at the start of June in Tiaret, with demonstrators burning tires and blocking roads at the time, according to social media posts.
Faced with the issue in the lead-up to early elections in September, President Abdelmadjid Tebboune had called a cabinet meeting on June 2 and ordered the interior and water ministers to draw up an urgent plan to address the water shortages within 48 hours.
The following day, the two ministers traveled to Tiaret to present a plan to resolve the problem “before Eid Al-Adha.”
A system supplying water from wells connected to the water network resolved the issue in central Tiaret, but not in other parts of the region, according to online posts.
Protests have been rare since Tebboune’s election in December 2019 after his predecessor Abdelaziz Bouteflika stepped down in the wake of mass Hirak movement demonstrations against him.
Tebboune has not yet declared whether he will seek reelection but has been very visible in the media and at public events.