In brazen attack by settlers, Palestinians see larger threat

A Palestinian man leans on his smashed vehicle, following a settlers attack from nearby settlement outposts, in the West Bank village of Al-Mufagara, near Hebron, Sept. 30, 2021. (AP Photo)
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Updated 06 October 2021

In brazen attack by settlers, Palestinians see larger threat

  • Footage released by the Israeli rights group B’Tselem showed Israeli soldiers standing among the settlers as they hurled stones
  • Even as the settlements develop largely unchecked, the 1,300 Palestinians living in Masafer Yatta are unable to build or maintain basic infrastructure

Al-MUFAGARA, West Bank: Dozens of Jewish settlers swept down from the dusty hills, hurling rocks at a small Palestinian village in broad daylight, smashing windows, cars and water cisterns as families hid inside their homes and Israeli soldiers looked on.
Palestinians in this rural part of the occupied West Bank say last week’s attack was especially violent but not unusual. They view it as part of a much larger effort by Israel to force them off their land, including by cutting off vital water resources in a parched region.
Days after the attack — in which a 4-year-old boy was hospitalized after being struck in the head by a stone as his family hid inside their home — residents of the village of Al-Mufagara surveyed the damage. It included the smashed water cisterns on which the Bedouin community and its livestock rely.
“They attacked everything we have, our water containers, our animals, our trees, our houses,” said Mohammed Rahbi, deputy head of the rural Yatta regional council. “It was an attack on humanity itself.”
The hardscrabble region is in what’s known as Area C, the 60 percent of the West Bank that is under full Israeli military control, according to agreements reached in the 1990s. Palestinians say it’s nearly impossible to secure building permits, even for basic infrastructure like water and electricity. The military has designated an area that includes Al-Mufagara as a firing range, making it even harder for residents to remain on the land.
Israeli authorities have meanwhile tolerated the construction of two nearby settlement outposts that are illegal even under Israeli law, where those who took part in last Wednesday’s attack are believed to have come from.
After ambushing a local shepherd and killing a number of his sheep, the settlers — shirtless with scarves wrapped around their faces — rampaged through the small cluster of stone homes and animal pens.
Footage released by the Israeli rights group B’Tselem showed Israeli soldiers standing among the settlers as they hurled the stones. At one point a soldier threw a tear gas grenade and shoved the Palestinian who was filming the attack. “This is our home,” the Palestinian shouted.
Israeli police said they arrested five Israeli suspects, including a teenager. All have since been released.
The military declined a request for an interview. But its top commander overseeing the West Bank, Maj. Gen. Yehuda Fuchs, last week held a rare meeting with Palestinian residents and said Israel is committed to the security of everyone in the area.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid condemned the attack as “terror” and blamed it on a “violent and dangerous fringe” that he said should be brought to justice. The US State Department also condemned the violence.
But rights groups say settlers have launched several similar attacks over the past year, with the military doing little to stop them.
“This is happening all the time,” said Hagai El-Ad, the head of B’Tselem. “Soldiers sometimes even participate directly in such assaults on Palestinians. And this is part of that bigger state project of forcible transfer of Palestinians from their communities in large parts of the West Bank.”
Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 war and has granted the Palestinian Authority limited autonomy in cities and towns that make up less than 40 percent of the territory. The Palestinians want the entire West Bank to form the main part of their future state.
Around 500,000 Jewish settlers live in the West Bank amid more than 2.5 million Palestinians. Most settlers live in the more than 120 settlements authorized by the Israeli government, but more radical settlers have built dozens of outposts without state permission in rural areas.
The nationalist parties that dominate Israel’s political system view the West Bank as the biblical heartland of the Jewish people and support the settlers. Israel’s current prime minister, Naftali Bennett, is a longtime supporter of settlements who is opposed to a Palestinian state.
Israeli authorities are reluctant to evacuate outposts because doing so ignites clashes between soldiers and settlers, and successive governments have retroactively authorized 15 outposts. Israel subsidizes settlements and provides water and electricity to many outposts.
The Palestinians view all settlements as illegal and an obstacle to peace, a position with wide international support.
Even as the settlements develop largely unchecked, the 1,300 Palestinians living in Al-Mufagara and the surrounding area, known as Masafer Yatta, are unable to build or maintain basic infrastructure. According to statistics published by Peace Now, an anti-settlement Israeli monitoring group, Israeli authorities approved around 1 percent of Palestinian requests for Area C construction permits submitted between 2009 and 2016.
“Israel is just trying to empty Masafer of the communities that have lived there for generations,” said Quamar Mishirqi-Assad, director of Haqel, a rights group that works with local communities.
Rahbi said he has submitted dozens of applications for new housing and irrigation projects that have been rejected. He says Israel only approves such projects in the nearby community of Al-Tuwani, which is outside its declared firing range.
A spokesman for COGAT, the Israeli defense body that grants the permits, said the refusals in the military zone were for the safety of the residents. Speaking on condition of anonymity under military guidelines, he could not explain why settler communities, including unauthorized outposts, do not face the same barriers.
This was not the first time local sources of water have been harmed.
Over the last two years, the military has destroyed nearly all the pipelines linking Masafer to Israel’s national water carrier, as well as more than 20 local wells, according to Al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights group. COGAT had no immediate comment.
Rural Palestinian communities often struggle with shortages. A report released Friday by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said 660,000 Palestinians have “limited access to water” and denounced Israel’s recent destruction of vital water sources in Masafer. Israel refused to comment on the report, saying the UN is biased against it.
According to Rahbi, most communities have built small pipes that connect to Al-Tuwani, the only village in the area connected to Israel’s water supplier, Mekorot.
But Rahbi said it isn’t enough. Residents collect rainwater during the winter months in plastic cisterns and purchase expensive water tankers from nearby cities. Suppliers often charge extra because of the poor roads.
During the settler attack on Wednesday, many of the plastic cisterns and pipes were damaged and will be costly to replace.
Despite the growing hardships, the Palestinians say they are determined to stay.
“People here are rooted, in love with the land,” Rahbi said.


UN Security Council condemns Iraq terror attack, urges all nations to help seek justice

Updated 25 January 2022

UN Security Council condemns Iraq terror attack, urges all nations to help seek justice

  • At least 11 Iraqi soldiers were shot dead in their sleep on Friday by suspected Daesh gunmen

NEW YORK: The UN Security Council has unanimously condemned “in the strongest terms” a recent terrorist attack in Iraq’s Diyala Province, and called for all “perpetrators, organizers, financiers and sponsors of these reprehensible acts of terrorism” to be brought to justice.
At dawn on Friday, Jan. 21, at least 11 Iraqi soldiers were shot dead in their sleep during an attack on their barracks by suspected Daesh gunmen, according to reports citing Iraqi security officials. It happened in the Al-Azim district, a mountainous area more than 70 miles north of the capital, Baghdad.
The Security Council urged all states to actively cooperate with the Iraqi Government in seeking to hold the perpetrators to account, in line with their obligations under international law and the council’s resolutions. It reiterated that terrorism is one of the most serious threats to international peace and security.
In a joint statement, council members reaffirmed that “any acts of terrorism are criminal and unjustifiable, regardless of their motivation, wherever, whenever and by whomsoever committed.”
They highlighted the need for all states “to combat by all means, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations and other obligations under international law, including international human rights law, international refugee law and international humanitarian law, threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts.”
Council members also shared “their deepest sympathy and condolences to the families of the victims and to the government of Iraq, and they wished a speedy and full recovery to those who were injured.”


Refusal of nations to repatriate children from Syria ‘beggars belief,’ says UN rights expert

Updated 25 January 2022

Refusal of nations to repatriate children from Syria ‘beggars belief,’ says UN rights expert

  • More than 700 child citizens of 57 countries, including France, Germany, the UK and the US, are detained at Al-Ghuwayran prison, which holds Daesh militants and their families
  • Fighting continues at the prison, where almost 300 detainees have been killed since a deadly jailbreak attempt by hundreds of Daesh insurgents began last week

NEW YORK: A UN human rights expert on Tuesday voiced serious concern for the well-being of more than 700 children incarcerated at Al-Ghuwayran prison, in Al-Hasakeh in northeast Syria, and called on all countries to repatriate their young citizens held in the country.
The prison was the scene of a deadly attempted jailbreak by hundreds of Daesh insurgents last week.
“Boys as young as 12 are living in fear for their lives amid the chaos and carnage in the jail,” said Fionnuala Ni Aolain, the UN’s special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism.
“They are tragically being neglected by their own countries through no fault of their own except they were born to individuals allegedly linked or associated with designated terrorist groups.
“The treatment of hundreds of boys who have been detained in grotesque prison conditions is an affront to the dignity of the child and the right of every child to be treated with dignity.”
Almost 300 detainees have been killed during days of fighting at Al-Ghuwayran, which began last Thursday with the detonation of two car bombs. Clashes are continuing at the prison, which holds more than 5,000 alleged Daesh militants from almost 60 countries. The insurgents had seized control of the children’s section of the facility.
Fighters from the opposition Syrian Democratic Forces are said to be closing in on the final section of prison still held by Daesh attackers, as the situation becomes increasingly worrying for inmates.
Humanitarian groups have renewed calls for all governments to repatriate their citizens from Syria.
“The abject refusal of states to repatriate their children is a contributory factor in the security and human rights morass that has ignited in Al-Hasakeh in recent days,” said Ni Aolain, who last year sent official letters to 57 governments of countries believed to have citizens in Syrian camps. They include France, Germany, the UK, Finland and the US.
The failure of governments to repatriate detained children, who are victims of terrorism and in need of protection under international law, “beggars belief,” Ni Aolain said.
“Many of these boys, forcibly separated from their mothers and family members in recent years, have been denied their most fundamental human rights their entire lives,” she added.
“They have been held arbitrarily and never participated in any legal process that would justify depriving them of their liberty, and in conditions that constitute torture, cruel and degrading treatment under international law.
“Treating boys as a distinct class, refusing to recognize in practice their rights as children, is a form of gender discrimination that has had horrific consequences for these children now caught up in the violent confrontation at Al-Hasakeh prison.”
Ni Aolain called on all states and other entities active in northeastern Syria to ensure that civilians are protected, and for those involved in regaining control of the prison to protect the children held there and prevent further harm coming to them.
Special rapporteurs are independent experts who serve in individual capacities, and on a voluntary basis, on the UN’s Human Rights Council. They are not members of UN staff and are not paid for their work.


Frenchman gets long jail term in Iran; denies spy charges

Updated 25 January 2022

Frenchman gets long jail term in Iran; denies spy charges

  • French foreign ministry says prison sentence has no basis in fact and is unacceptable
  • Briere began a hunger strike on Dec. 25 to protest mistreatment in the prison where he is being detained

PARIS: A Frenchman detained in Iran and hunger striking to protest his treatment has been sentenced to 8 years in prison on what his lawyer insisted Tuesday are trumped up espionage and propaganda charges.
Benjamin Brière, 36, was arrested in May 2020 after taking pictures in a desert area where photography is prohibited and asking questions on social media about Iran’s obligatory Islamic headscarf for women.

France's foreign ministry slammed the verdict as “unacceptable.”
Paris-based lawyer Philippe Valent said an Iranian revolutionary court has sentenced Brière to 8 years in jail for espionage and 8 months of imprisonment for anti-government propaganda. Under the Iranian law, the longer part is applicable in practice.
The lawyer said the charges are entirely without foundation.
Brière began a hunger strike on Dec. 25 to protest mistreatment in the prison of the northeastern city of Mashahd where he is being detained.
His sister, Blandine Brière, told The Associated Press “we are disheartened at such huge sentence and also very angry to see this is actually a political trial.”
“This is like a huge mountain in front of us, we feel helpless,” she added, saying her brother is caught in “a diplomatic game” played by Iranian authorities.
“Today we need the (French) government to take action and help us, help Benjamin and do whatever is needed to get him out,” she said. “He is getting weaker, he is very tired physically and mentally. This is something that is very worrisome for us.”
Brière’s Iranian lawyer, Saeed Dehghan, told the AP that his client is still on a hunger strike yet is “in good spirits.”
Dehghan said the court hearing happened Thursday in Mashhad. Brière was charged for “cooperation with a foreign hostile nation against Islamic Republic of Iran,” he said.
This is the first time that an Iranian court considers France a “hostile nation.” So far the US and Israel were on the list in similar cases.
France, alongside other world powers, is negotiations with Iran in Vienna to revive 2015 nuclear deal.

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Sudan frees medics held in crackdown on anti-coup protests

Updated 25 January 2022

Sudan frees medics held in crackdown on anti-coup protests

  • During the evening of 24 January, 9 MSF staff members were detained by the Sudanese authorities in Khartoum
  • The team was released on Tuesday morning

KHARTOUM: Sudan on Tuesday released nine medics from Doctors Without Borders, the aid group said, a day after they were arrested during a broadening crackdown on anti-coup protests.
“During the evening of 24 January, nine MSF staff members were detained by the Sudanese authorities in the capital Khartoum,” the group said in a statement, using its French acronym.
They were detained as they were making their way back to their office from a hospital, said the organization.
“MSF’s emergency medical teams are working in Khartoum to support the health authorities with their response to injuries from ongoing protests and Covid-19,” the statement said.
The team was released on Tuesday morning, it added.
Among those arrested were staff members from both Sudan and other countries, according to the pro-democracy Central Committee of Sudan Doctors.
Sudan has been rocked by protests calling for civilian rule since an October 25 military coup led by general Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan.
The military takeover derailed a power-sharing transition between the military and civilians that had been painstakingly negotiated after the 2019 ouster of longtime autocrat Omar Al-Bashir.
The crackdown on anti-coup demonstrations has left at least 76 people dead and hundreds wounded, according to the doctors’ committee.
Hundreds of people have also been rounded up in the crackdown, including pro-democracy activists.
On Saturday, a leading women’s rights campaigner, Amira Othman, was arrested following a raid on her home in Khartoum, according to a statement by the “No to Women’s Oppression” initiative which she leads.
Other activists from the “resistance committees,” informal groups which have been instrumental in organizing the anti-coup protests, were also detained late Sunday, according to members who requested anonymity because they feared reprisals.
The United States has slammed the protest crackdown.
On Tuesday, the US Bureau of African Affairs said Sudan’s military leaders had committed to dialogue to resolve the crisis in the country during a visit last week by senior US diplomats to Khartoum.
“Yet their actions — more violence against protesters, detention of civil society activists — tell a different story, and will have consequences,” the bureau said on Twitter.
Sudan is one of the world’s poorest countries and has seen vital foreign aid cut as part of the international community’s condemnation of the coup.


Israeli expert panel advises fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose for adults

Updated 25 January 2022

Israeli expert panel advises fourth COVID-19 vaccine dose for adults

  • Israel is already offering a second booster to everyone over the age of 60 and those at high risk
  • Israel has been on the leading edge of vaccine distribution since they were approved by health authorities in late 2020

JERUSALEM: An expert panel on Tuesday advised the Israeli government to begin offering a fourth vaccine dose to everyone over the age of 18, citing research showing it helps prevent COVID-19 infection and severe illness.
The advisory committee said research shows a fourth dose provides three to five times the level of protection against serious disease and double the protection against infection compared to three doses. The Health Ministry’s director must approve the recommendation.
Israel is already offering a second booster to everyone over the age of 60 and those at high risk as it struggles to contain a wave of infections fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant. It began offering third doses to the general population last summer.
Figures from Israel’s Health Ministry show there are currently some 580,000 active patients, with just 845 listed as seriously ill. Nearly half the population has received a third dose and more than 600,000 have gotten a fourth. Israel has reported 8,487 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
Israel has been on the leading edge of vaccine distribution since they were approved by health authorities in late 2020. It has gathered extensive data that is informing other countries’ responses to the pandemic.