Israeli settlers in the West Bank were hit with international sanctions. It only emboldened them

Israeli settlers in the West Bank were hit with international sanctions. It only emboldened them
Elisha Yered, an Israeli settler and leading figure with the Hilltop Youth, at a makeshift clubhouse on a hilltop near the settlement of Maskiot in the northern West Bank on May 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
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Updated 07 June 2024
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Israeli settlers in the West Bank were hit with international sanctions. It only emboldened them

Israeli settlers in the West Bank were hit with international sanctions. It only emboldened them
  • Three sanctioned settlers — Levi, Federman and Elisha Yered — say the measures against them were, at most, an annoyance
  • Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, a far-right settler leader, said that sanctions are “a grave mistake by the Biden administration”

SOUTH HEBRON HILLS, West Bank: For weeks after being sanctioned by the United States, Yinon Levi struggled to pay the bills, living at his farming outpost atop a hill in the occupied West Bank. But the Israeli settler’s problems didn’t last.

When the banks froze his accounts, his community raised thousands of dollars for him, and Israel’s finance minister vowed to intervene on sanctioned settlers’ behalf. Two months after sanctions were issued, Levi was granted access to his money.

“America thought it would weaken us, and in the end, they made us stronger,” Levi, 31, told The Associated Press from his farm in the South Hebron Hills — one of dozens of unauthorized settlement outposts dotting the West Bank.

Levi is among 13 hard-line Israeli settlers — as well as two affiliated outposts and four groups — targeted by international sanctions over accusations of attacks and harassment against Palestinians in the West Bank. The measures are meant as a deterrent, and they expose people to asset freezes and travel and visa bans.

But the measures have had minimal impact, instead emboldening settlers as attacks and land-grabs escalate, according to Palestinians in the West Bank, local rights groups and sanctioned Israelis who spoke to AP.

Sanctions prohibit financial institutions and residents in the issuing country from providing funds to a person or entity. In some cases, property is seized. Even though Israeli banks aren’t obliged to freeze accounts, many do so to maintain relations with banks — particularly for US sanctions — and avoid risk.

But for sanctioned settlers, the implications didn’t last long, with communities donating money and holding fundraisers making tens of thousands of dollars. And Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, a far-right settler leader, said he’d “take care of the issue” of people being sanctioned, Levi’s father-in-law, Noam Federman, told AP.

Smotrich said in a text-message statement that sanctions are “a grave mistake by the Biden administration.” He didn’t address questions about whether he intervened directly to unfreeze settlers’ accounts. But he said his actions to develop settlements are authorized, and the government is working with “our friends in the US” to cancel or reduce sanctions.




Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich,  a settler leader who lives in the West Bank, is part of the most right-wing governing coalition in Israeli history. (AP)

Israel seized the West Bank, Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Mideast war. Some 500,000 Israelis have settled in the West Bank; the international community largely considers their presence illegal. But under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition — the most right-wing in Israeli history, with settlers themselves in key positions — expansion has been turbocharged.

Palestinians say expanding Israeli outposts are shrinking their access to land, and settler violence against them has soared since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack that sparked the war with Israel. Land seized through unauthorized outposts has more than doubled since the war started, according to settlement watchdog Kerem Navot.

Palestinians living in small hamlets ringed by hilltop outposts say they fear it’s just a matter of time until they’re forced to leave their homes.

US officials have repeatedly raised concerns about surging settler violence, with President Joe Biden saying it had reached “intolerable levels” when announcing sanctions. Israel has said it’s calling for settlers to stand down and investigating violence. But rights groups accuse the government and army of complicity with the settlers.

In March, even the Israeli army complained about the extent to which the government intervenes on settlers’ behalf. An internal document, seen by AP and published by The New York Times, said the army is routinely denied authorization to act against illegal building by Israelis and regularly authorized to act against Palestinians.

REALITY OF SANCTIONS

Three sanctioned settlers — Levi, Federman and Elisha Yered — told AP the measures against them were, at most, an annoyance.

Levi founded Meitarim Farm in 2021 on a hill whose sloping sides give way to lowlands where Bedouin farmers graze sheep. He said he wanted to protect the area from being overtaken by Palestinians.

“Little by little, you feel when you drive on the roads that everyone is closing in on you,” he said. “They’re building everywhere, wherever they want. So you want to do something about it.”

Since then, anti-settlement activists say, more than 300 people from four nearby hamlets have been pushed off their land. Levi said the land is his and denies violently chasing anyone away.

US officials sanctioned him in February over accusations that from his outpost, he led settlers who assaulted Palestinians and Bedouins, threatened them, burned their fields and destroyed property.

Levi said his Israeli bank froze his accounts — holding nearly $95,000 — and within days, he couldn’t pay his mortgage or children’s school and activities fees.

Friends and relatives donated about $12,000 to him through April, he said, when the bank allowed him to withdraw on a controlled basis — he calls for permission and explains each transaction’s purpose.

An online fundraiser by the area’s regional council raised $140,000 for Levi from 3,000 donors worldwide. Following AP reporting on the fundraiser, the Mount Hebron Fund was also sanctioned by the US.

Since regaining access to his money, Levi said, he’s never been refused a request. The bank gave him a monthly limit of $8,000 in withdrawals, he said, but he nearly doubled that in the first few weeks.

In a clarification letter to Israel’s banks in March, the US Treasury said banks can process transactions for sanctioned people for basic needs such as food and healthcare, provided the transactions don’t involve the US financial system or US residents.

But Levi said he could buy whatever he wanted — he wouldn’t give specifics but said it wasn’t limited to “food or diapers.”

A US Treasury spokesperson didn’t respond to emailed requests for comment on Levi’s claims, sanctioned settlers and monitoring mechanisms.

The spokesperson for Bank Leumi, Levi’s bank and a major Israeli financial institution, didn’t respond to calls and messages seeking comment on the settlers’ accounts and transactions.

BEYOND SETTLER SANCTIONS

Local rights groups hope sanctions will be extended to Israeli government officials who they say embolden settler activity.

That would send a stronger signal of Washington’s condemnation, said Delaney Simon, of the International Crisis Group.

“Sanctions against government officials have cast a chilling effect in other countries, causing firms to shy away from doing business in those places,” she said.

Smotrich, who lives in the Kedumim settlement and was given special powers over settlement policies as part of the governing coalition agreement, told Israeli media in April that he’d take steps to help sanctioned settlers.

Levi’s father-in-law, Federman, told AP that he spoke to Smotrich directly.

“He said he will take care of it, and if necessary he will even make a law against interference of other countries in Israelis’ bank accounts,” Federman said. Shortly after, he added, his son-in-law’s account was unfrozen.

During a US congressional subcommittee meeting Tuesday with Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland urged sanctions against Smotrich.

“This is in direct contradiction of US policy,” he said.

Yellen said she shared “concerns about what’s happening in the West Bank.” No action was taken in the meeting.

Britain sanctioned Federman, 55, in May over allegations that he trained settlers to commit violence against Palestinians, which he denied. He said he’d already had his wife open a separate account, after seeing others sanctioned.

He said he’s had no issues accessing money.

Israeli human rights lawyer Eitay Mack said that in addition to sanctioning settlers, the international community should target organizations funding settler expansion.

“If the international community is serious about the two-state solution, they have to tackle everything that gives the system money and legitimacy,” he said.

Activists cite groups such as Amana, which funds settlements and maintains oversight for some of Levi’s farm, according to a contract seen by AP. They also point to the group Nachala, which has a stated goal of enhancing West Bank settlement and has openly planned construction of unauthorized outposts.

Nachala is run by Daniella Weiss, a prominent figure in fringe Israeli efforts to resettle Gaza who’s regarded as the godmother of the settler movement.

“I’m not afraid of sanctions,” Weiss said. “The truth of the matter is that the United States wants us to be in Gaza because the United States does not want jihad to rule the world.”




Daniella Weiss (center), shown speaking  with another woman in Sderot, southern Israel, on May 14, is regarded as the godmother of the Israeli settler movement. (AP)

EFFECTS FOR PALESTINIANS

Meanwhile, Palestinians in the West Bank say sanctions are mostly futile.

Eight Palestinians in two hamlets in the South Hebron Hills told AP they’re still being pushed off their land, with several alleging Levi has threatened them since being sanctioned.

One man said that in February, while out with his sheep, Levi held him at gunpoint, recounted all the places he’d forced people away, and threatened to kill him if he returned.

“He told me, ‘I displaced people from Zanuta to ad-Dhahiriya ... I am from the family of the farm of mad people,’” said Ahmed, who spoke on condition that only his first name be used, over retaliation fears.

Levi told AP the incident never happened.

Ahmed and other Palestinians said they are verbally and physically harassed, can’t move freely, and face intimidation by settlers circling their properties on motorbikes, cars or horses and spying via drones. A drone hovered overhead while AP was on the land; Palestinians say the buzzing is used to send sheep fleeing.

The few Palestinians who’ve refused to leave the area around Levi’s farm say their land has shrunk by 95% since he established Meitarim, crippling them economically.

In recent years, settlers have changed land-grabbing tactics, anti-occupation researcher Dror Etkes said: Rather than establishing residential settlements, they’ve turned to farming outposts, which use more land for grazing animals and spark more violence because they’re spread out, with high visibility.

Etkes said there’s been a total collapse of rule of law in the territory, with the Israeli government defending settlers.

Etkes said land Levi controls has nearly doubled since the war, from about 1,000 (400 hectares) to 2,000 acres (800 hectares).

And settlers say they’ll keep expanding.

In a makeshift clubhouse on a hilltop near the settlement of Maskiyot in the northern West Bank, Elisha Yered said he’s established five outposts since 2021. The most recent was built about a month before he was sanctioned by the European Union in April.

He’s a leading figure for Hilltop Youth — a group of Jewish teenagers and young men who occupy West Bank hilltops and have been accused of attacking Palestinians and their property. Hilltop Youth was also sanctioned by the UK and the EU.

The EU order said Yered, 23, was involved in deadly attacks on Palestinians. He was accused of involvement a 19-year-old Palestinian’s death last year.

Yered told AP the incident was one of self-defense over Palestinians attacking a herder and said he had nothing to do with his death. He was arrested in the case but never charged.

Yered is also sanctioned by the UK, which said he incited religious hatred and violence and called for Palestinian displacement.

Yered said that while the sanctions initially posed challenges accessing money, friends and family supported him. His credit card remains blocked, he said, but his bank lets him withdraw with permission.

He said nothing has halted his expansion goals.

“Only settling the land will bring security,” Yered said. “Anyone who thinks this will break us is mistaken. We’ve survived harder things than this.”

 


Hamas slams Israel PM for ‘misleading’ speech to US Congress

Hamas slams Israel PM for ‘misleading’ speech to US Congress
Updated 25 July 2024
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Hamas slams Israel PM for ‘misleading’ speech to US Congress

Hamas slams Israel PM for ‘misleading’ speech to US Congress

Hamas said Wednesday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “misleading” the international community after he addressed the US Congress and called for expedited military aid to his country.

“Netanyahu’s talk about intensified efforts to return the hostages is a complete lie and misleading Israeli, American and international public opinion, while he is the one who thwarted all efforts aimed at ending the war and concluding a deal to release the prisoners, despite the continuous efforts of mediators from our brothers in Egypt and Qatar,” the Palestinian militant group said in a statement.


Israeli kibbutzim say army returned bodies of two hostages from Gaza

Israeli kibbutzim say army returned bodies of two hostages from Gaza
Updated 25 July 2024
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Israeli kibbutzim say army returned bodies of two hostages from Gaza

Israeli kibbutzim say army returned bodies of two hostages from Gaza
  • The army, in a rescue operation, brought to Israel the bodies of hostages Maya Goren and Oren Goldin, the kibbutzim Nir Oz and Nir Yitzhak said in separate statements

JERUSALEM: Two Israeli kibbutzim announced on Wednesday that the Israeli army had retrieved from Gaza the bodies of two hostages, whose deaths had been previously announced by the military.
The army, in a rescue operation, brought to Israel the bodies of hostages Maya Goren and Oren Goldin, the kibbutzim Nir Oz and Nir Yitzhak said in separate statements.
“Last night, we were informed that in a military rescue operation, the body of the late Maya Goren was recovered,” kibbutz Nir Oz said, adding that her family was updated a few hours ago and that more information would follow.
In December the military had announced the death of Goren, who was abducted and taken to Gaza during the October 7 attack by Hamas militants.
Later in a separate statement kibbutz Nir Yitzhak said the army had returned the body of Goldin.
“This evening, we were informed about the rescue operation for the late Oren Goldin, a member of the kibbutz emergency team, who fell on October 7” during the attack by Hamas militants, Nir Yitzhak said.
On October 7 Hamas militants attacked southern Israeli communities, which resulted in the deaths of 1,197 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures.
Militants also seized 251 hostages, 114 of whom remain in Gaza, including 42 the military says are dead.
Israel’s retaliatory military campaign in Gaza has killed at least 39,145 people, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.


Diplomats in Lebanon assess magnitude of damages in the south

Diplomats in Lebanon assess magnitude of damages in the south
Updated 24 July 2024
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Diplomats in Lebanon assess magnitude of damages in the south

Diplomats in Lebanon assess magnitude of damages in the south
  • Foreign Affairs Committee met with ambassadors from the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Britain, and Canada to present the results of the ongoing Israeli attacks on southern Lebanon
  • Hezbollah released a new video recorded by the Hudhud drone within Israel, showcasing footage from inside the Ramat David Air Base

BEIRUT: The head of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Lebanese Parliament, MP Fadi Alama, revealed that “the number of attacks on South Lebanon has exceeded 5,736 until July 15, resulting in 538 martyrs, and 1,850 injuries.”

The Foreign Affairs Committee met on Wednesday with several ambassadors from the EU, Switzerland, Norway, Britain, and Canada to present the results of the ongoing Israeli attacks on southern Lebanon, as part of preparations for “the government’s work in the post-ceasefire phase.”

MP Alama said that “representatives of diplomatic missions and international organizations were surprised when we talked about 1,800 hectares intentionally burned by the Israeli enemy. They were also surprised by the number of schools that were targeted and the number of students who were unable to complete their education and moved to other places. Additionally, they were informed of the 28,000 new families who have been displaced from areas that are being targeted daily.”

The parliamentarian said there was urgency for the government to develop a plan and a roadmap as soon as possible.

MP Wael Abu Faour, a member of the Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee, stated that “the human, health, urban, agricultural, and environmental losses as a result of Israeli attacks have become enormous. Initial estimates from Lebanese institutions indicate a cost of approximately two $2 billion so far, in addition to other damages and losses.”

Abu Faour said: “This is a new challenge for the Lebanese state that must be dealt with in Lebanon’s Arab and international relations. The state is bankrupt and unable to bear such responsibilities, but at the same time, it cannot abandon its responsibilities towards its citizens regardless of any controversial local political considerations regarding the feasibility of war or its justifications among some parties.”

Hostilities between Hezbollah and the Israeli army continued on Wednesday. According to Israeli media, “43 settlements were evacuated in the north, (and) more than 1,500 buildings, cars, and infrastructure were damaged in the north. Additionally, six industrial zones were affected, and hundreds of businesses were forced to close due to Hezbollah strikes.”

Israel targeted the towns of Kafr Shuba, Tayr Harfa, and Hula on Wednesday with airstrikes and artillery shelling. A raid also targeted a house in the town of Kfar Hammam, leading to its destruction. This small village is located in Hasbaya District on the eastern side of Nabatieh Governorate.

Hezbollah released a new video recorded by the Hudhud drone within Israel, showcasing footage from inside the Ramat David Air Base, located approximately 50 km from the Lebanese border.

According to Hezbollah, “the footage was captured on Tuesday using a drone.”

The new eight-minute video released by Hezbollah showcases several sensitive areas within the base, including aircraft fuel tanks, the headquarters of Squadron 109, an Iron Dome missile defense platform, and ammunition depots. It also reveals the locations of the Squadron 157 and Squadron 105 headquarters. Hezbollah included an image of the base commander’s office, exposing intricate details of the facility.

This is not the first time Hezbollah has employed such tactics. Previously, the group broadcast aerial footage of critical installations captured by similar unmanned aerial vehicles in Haifa and the Golan Heights.

Israeli media reacted strongly, with one outlet stating: “Over eight minutes of Hezbollah video exposing our vulnerability is a disgrace.”

The Israeli military, however, downplayed the incident, claiming the footage was captured by a drone designed solely for photography and did not affect base operations.

A Hezbollah source linked the timing of the video release to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Washington.

Amid these developments, the Israeli military announced on Wednesday that its “reserve brigade has completed a drill simulating war scenarios in Lebanon.”

Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir expressed support for a comprehensive war against Hezbollah, stating: “The sooner, the better.”

However, Israel’s Ambassador to Russia Simona Halperin maintained that while Tel Aviv is prepared for military confrontation with Lebanon, it still prefers a diplomatic solution.

She emphasized that Israel is not interested in a large-scale war. “We cannot dismiss a scenario where Israel might be compelled to engage in a wide-ranging war on the northern front,” she added.

Coinciding with Israel’s war rhetoric, the Canadian Embassy in Lebanon issued a renewed advisory to its citizens.

It called on “Canadians, permanent residents, their spouses, and dependent children to heed travel advisories and leave the country while commercial flights are available.”

The embassy emphasized its focus on assisting individuals in obtaining necessary travel documents and keeping families together during this process.

This escalation comes as thousands of Lebanese expatriates with dual citizenship from Canada, the US, and Europe have arrived in Lebanon for summer vacations.


US destroys 3 Houthi missile launchers in Yemen

US Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Gravely (DDG 107) sails in formation with the FS Forbin (D 620).
US Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Gravely (DDG 107) sails in formation with the FS Forbin (D 620).
Updated 24 July 2024
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US destroys 3 Houthi missile launchers in Yemen

US Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Gravely (DDG 107) sails in formation with the FS Forbin (D 620).
  • US and UK forces have carried out dozens of attacks since January on Houthi-held areas to prevent attacks by the militia on international shipping
  • Houthis say operations at Hodeidah Port have returned to ‘full capacity’ after fires in fuel tanks, caused by an attack by Israel on Saturday, were extinguished

AL-MUKALLA: The US Central Command said on Wednesday that it destroyed three missile launchers on territory in Yemen held by the Houthi militia.

It was the latest in a series of military operations targeting Houthi sites in response to continuing attacks by the militia on international shipping.

“It was determined these weapons presented an imminent threat to US (and) coalition forces, and merchant vessels in the region,” the US military said in a message posted on social media platform X. It added that by destroying the launchers it was taking preemptive action to prevent Houthi attacks on international shipping and protect freedom of passage.

US and UK forces have carried out dozens of attacks since January on sites in Sanaa, Hodeidah and other Houthi-held parts of Yemen being used to store missile launchers, unmanned aerial vehicles and drone boats, in an effort to prevent threats to international maritime routes off the coast of Yemen.

Meanwhile, the Houthis said operations at Hodeidah Port, on Yemen’s Red Sea coast, have resumed at “full capacity” after fires in fuel tanks, caused by an attack by Israel at the weekend, were extinguished.

Houthi governor Mohammed Quhim reported on Tuesday night that the blazes were under control, and Houthi officials at the port said it was operational and two ships carrying hundreds of cargo containers and thousands of tonnes of steel had docked.

In response to a Houthi drone strike that killed one person and injured at least 10 in Tel Aviv, Israeli warplanes bombed several parts of Hodeidah on Saturday, including the port, a power station and an area on the city’s northern outskirts. The Houthis said six people were killed and more than 80 injured by the attacks, which destroyed dozens of fuel tanks and a crane at the port.

The militia have demanded that foreign organizations operating in regions under their control provide them with the names and jobs of all employees, as the Houthis intensify their crackdown on Yemenis who work with international organizations or at Western embassies, amid accusations of espionage.

In a letter dated July 17 that circulated on social media this week, the Houthi Supreme Council for the Management and Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and International Cooperation ordered international organizations active in Yemen to provide staffing structures within a week, including the names of workers, their positions and nationalities, and lists of prospective employees for approval.

The Yemeni government’s information minister, Muammar Al-Eryani, said the demand reflects the growing Houthi pressure on foreign organizations to employ workers loyal to the militia so that they can control the flow of international aid to Yemen.

In a message posted on X, he urged international groups operating in the country to transfer their offices from Houthi-controlled regions to the government-controlled southern port city of Aden, the nation’s temporary capital, to protect their staff from Houthi persecution.

“The terrorist Houthi militia considered the hesitant international positions a green light to continue its crimes and violations, and to further escalate its repressive measures towards international and humanitarian organizations working in the areas under its control,” he added.

The Houthis have abducted more than 60 Yemenis working for international organizations and Western missions in recent months, including more than a dozen employees of the UN. They claim Yemeni workers at such organizations are part of a large Israeli and US spy network.


First ships dock in Yemen harbor after Israel strike: Houthi media

First ships dock in Yemen harbor after Israel strike: Houthi media
Updated 24 July 2024
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First ships dock in Yemen harbor after Israel strike: Houthi media

First ships dock in Yemen harbor after Israel strike: Houthi media
  • “The port of Hodeida is working normally around the clock” to receive commercial ships, Ahmed Al-Murtada, the deputy director of the container terminal, said
  • Ship tracking website marinetraffic.com confirmed the arrival on Tuesday of Marsa Zenith

HODEIDA, Yemen: Two container ships have docked in Yemen’s Hodeida harbor, the first since a deadly Israeli strike hit fuel storage tanks at the militant-held port, according to Houthi media and ship trackers.
The strikes on Saturday, the first claimed by Israel on Yemen, triggered a massive blaze that burned for days at the dock amid slow firefighting efforts.
It destroyed some cranes and dozens of oil tanks, according to experts. Another tank exploded overnight between Tuesday and Wednesday, reigniting some flames at the harbor, a critical gateway for fuel imports and humanitarian aid into Houthi-held areas.
Despite the ongoing threat, “the port of Hodeida is working normally around the clock” to receive commercial ships, Ahmed Al-Murtada, the deputy director of the container terminal, told the Houthi-run Saba news agency on Tuesday.
The port’s director of maritime operations, Mohamed Al-Sais, told Saba that two ships had docked at the harbor on Tuesday.
He identified them as “Marsa Zenith,” a vessel that carried 514 containers of “various goods,” and “Brother 1,” which was loaded with 22,803 tons of iron, Saba said.
Ship tracking website marinetraffic.com confirmed the arrival on Tuesday of Marsa Zenith, identifying it as a Panama-flagged vessel that departed from the port of Djibouti.
It additionally reported the arrival of the Tanzania-flagged Brother 1, which also sailed from Djibouti, according to the website.
The quays of Hodeida were spared major damage in the Israeli strike that militants say killed nine people and targeted a fuel storage depot owned by the Yemen Petroleum Company as well as a power plant north of the port.
Maritime security firm Ambrey said there were no reports of major damage to vessels in or near the harbor following the strike.
The port, however, is still at risk of another “catastrophe,” said Mwatana for Human Rights, a Yemeni right group which dispatched an assessment team to the dock.
“Based on (the findings of) our field team, the risk of more fuel tanks exploding still remains,” it told AFP in an emailed statement.
“Whenever the firefighting teams tried to extinguish the fires, the explosions and flames reignited,” Mwatana said.
“There are major concerns that the teams may not be able to... prevent another explosion.”