Israel says it will test bullet that killed reporter, Palestinians disagree

People light candles during a vigil in memory of Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was killed during an Israeli raid, outside the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, May 16, 2022. (Reuters)
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Updated 03 July 2022

Israel says it will test bullet that killed reporter, Palestinians disagree

JERUSALEM/RAMALLAH: Israel said on Sunday it would test a bullet that killed a Palestinian-American journalist to determine whether one of its soldiers shot her and said a US observer would be present for the procedure that could deliver results within hours.
The Palestinians, who on Saturday handed over the bullet to a US security coordinator, said they had been assured that Israel would not take part in the ballistics.
Washington has yet to comment. The United States has a holiday weekend to mark July 4.
The May 11 death of Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh during an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank, and feuding between the sides as to the circumstances, have overshadowed a visit by US President Joe Biden due this month.
The Palestinians accuse the Israeli military of killing her deliberately. Israel denies this, saying Abu Akleh may have been hit by errant army fire or by one of the Palestinian gunmen who were clashing with its forces.
“The (ballistic) test will not be American. The test will be an Israeli test, with an American presence throughout,” said Israeli military spokesman Brig.-General Ran Kochav.
“In the coming days or hours it will be become clear whether it was even us who killed her, accidentally, or whether it was the Palestinian gunmen,” he told Army Radio. “If we killed her, we will take responsibility and feel regret for what happened.”
Akram Al-Khatib, general prosecutor for the Palestinian Authority, said the test would take place at the US Embassy in Jerusalem.
“We got guarantees from the American coordinator that the examination will be conducted by them and that the Israeli side will not take part,” Al-Khatib told Voice of Palestine radio, adding that he expected the bullet to be returned on Sunday.
An embassy spokesperson said: “We don’t have anything new at this time.”
Biden is expected to hold separate meetings with Palestinian and Israeli leaders on July 13-16. The Abu Akleh case will be a diplomatic and domestic test for new Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid.
Israeli Deputy Internal Security Minister Yoav Segalovitz said Lapid had been involved in “managing the arrival and transfer of this bullet.”
“It will take a few days to conduct a ballistic test, with several experts, to ensure that there is an unequivocal assessment,” Segalovitz told Army Radio.


Iraq’s Sadr backtracks on call for huge protest

Updated 12 sec ago

Iraq’s Sadr backtracks on call for huge protest

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s firebrand Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr backtracked Tuesday after earlier urging his supporters to join a massive rally as a standoff with his political rivals appeared to be getting worse.
The populist cleric’s announcement came amid behind the scenes talks aimed at steering Iraq out of crisis, with the country’s two branches of Shiite Islam jockeying for supremacy.
More than 10 months on from elections, Iraq still has no government, new prime minister or new president, because of disagreement between factions over forming a coalition.
Sadr wants parliament dissolved to pave the way for new legislative elections, but his rivals the pro-Iran Coordination Framework want to set conditions and are demanding a transitional government before new polls.
The cleric’s bloc emerged from last October’s elections as parliament’s biggest, but still far short of a majority.
Sadr, whose supporters have been staging a sit-in protest outside parliament in Baghdad’s high security Green Zone for more than two weeks, had called for a “million-man demonstration” in the capital on Saturday.
But on Tuesday he announced on Twitter “the indefinite postponement of Saturday’s protest.”
“If you had been betting on a civil war, I am betting on preserving social peace. The blood of Iraqis is more precious than anything else,” Sadr said.
Late on Monday, a committee organizing demonstrations in support of the Coordination Framework also announced new gatherings, but without setting a date.
The Coordination Framework launched their own Baghdad sit-in on Friday, camping out on an avenue in the capital.
The Coordination Framework comprises former paramilitaries of the Tehran-backed Hashed Al-Shaabi network and the party of former premier Nuri Al-Maliki, a longtime Sadr foe.
So far, the rival Shiite protests have been peaceful, with attempts at mediation ongoing.
Hadi Al-Ameri, leader of a Hashed faction, has also called for calm and for dialogue. He has had a series of meetings with political leaders including allies of Sadr.
Also on Tuesday, Finance Minister Ali Allawi who is in the current government submitted his resignation to the Council of Ministers, the INA state news agency reported.
Iraq has been ravaged by decades of conflict and endemic corruption.
It is blighted by ailing infrastructure, power cuts and crumbling public services, and now also faces water shortages as drought ravages swathes of the country.
Despite its oil wealth, many Iraqis are mired in poverty, and some 35 percent of young people are unemployed, according to the United Nations.

Iraq’s finance minister resigns over political crisis

Updated 16 August 2022

Iraq’s finance minister resigns over political crisis

  • The officials said Finance Minister Ali Allawi resigned during a Cabinet meeting Tuesday to protest the political conditions
  • Oil Minister Ihsan Abdul-Jabbar will become acting finance minister

BAGHDAD: Iraq’s finance minister resigned Tuesday, two government officials said, over the country’s worst political crisis in years involving an influential Shiite cleric and his Iran-aligned rivals.
The officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, said Finance Minister Ali Allawi resigned during a Cabinet meeting Tuesday to protest the political conditions. They said Oil Minister Ihsan Abdul-Jabbar will become acting finance minister.
Allawi’s decision came weeks after members of influential Shiite cleric Muqtada Al-Sadr’s parliamentary bloc resigned from parliament and his supporters stormed the parliament building in Baghdad. Al-Sadr later demanded that parliament be dissolved and early elections held.
Al-Sadr won the largest share of seats in the election last October but failed to form a majority government that excluded his Iran-aligned rivals.
Al-Sadr’s political rivals in the Coordination Framework, an alliance of Iran-backed parties, said earlier that parliament would have to convene to dissolve itself. They called the Al-Sadr supporters’ storming of parliament a “coup” and have held demonstrations in support of the government.
Iraq’s political impasse, now in its 10th month, is the longest in the country since the 2003 US-led invasion reset the political order.


Palestinian hunger striker to appeal to Israel’s high court

Updated 16 August 2022

Palestinian hunger striker to appeal to Israel’s high court

  • Khalil Awawdeh is protesting being held without charge or trial under what Israel refers to as administrative detention
  • Around 670 Palestinians are currently being held in administrative detention

JERUSALEM: The lawyer for a Palestinian prisoner said Tuesday that his client will appeal his case to Israel’s Supreme Court as he continues what his family says is a 165-day hunger strike against his detention.
Also Tuesday, an Israeli military court extended the sentence for a second Palestinian prisoner by six days.
The release of both men — hunger striker Khalil Awawdeh and Bassam Al-Saadi, a West Bank Islamic Jihad leader — was among the demands of the Islamic Jihad militant group for a cease-fire to last week’s intense fighting in the Gaza Strip.
Khalil Awawdeh is protesting being held without charge or trial under what Israel refers to as administrative detention. Ahlam Haddad, Awawdeh’s lawyer, said her client’s health is deteriorating and that they asked that he be released. An Israeli military court on Monday rejected an appeal.
“Justice was not done with that man,” Haddad said. “We turn to ... the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, in order maybe to get the relief requested, which is his release from administrative detention.”
Awawdeh, a 40-year-old father of four, is one of several Palestinian prisoners who have gone on prolonged hunger strikes over the years to protest administrative detention. Israel says the policy helps keep dangerous militants off the streets and allows the government to hold suspects without divulging sensitive intelligence. Critics say the policy denies prisoners due process.
Israel says Awawdeh is a militant, an allegation he has denied through his lawyer.
The Islamic Jihad militant group demanded his release as part of an Egyptian-brokered cease-fire ending three days of heavy fighting in the Gaza Strip earlier this month but did not identify him as its member. Israel arrested Al-Saadi in the days leading up to the Gaza flare-up.
Haddad said her client has not eaten during the strike, except for a 10-day period in which he received vitamin injections, according to his family. Israel’s Shin Bet internal security service has not commented on his case.
Israel is currently holding some 4,400 Palestinian prisoners, including militants who have carried out deadly attacks, as well as people arrested at protests or for throwing stones. Around 670 Palestinians are currently being held in administrative detention, a number that jumped in March as Israel began near-nightly arrest raids in the occupied West Bank following a spate of deadly attacks against Israelis.
Israel says it provides due process and largely imprisons those who threaten its security, though a small number are held for petty crimes.
Palestinians and human rights groups say the system is designed to quash opposition to Israel’s 55-year military occupation of lands the Palestinians want for a future state, which shows no sign of ending.


Judge: Lebanon can’t intervene in suit and can’t be sued

Updated 16 August 2022

Judge: Lebanon can’t intervene in suit and can’t be sued

  • The family had sought to expand the lawsuit to also target Lebanon
  • The Fakhourys’ lawyer, Robert Tolchin, had asked for permission to formally sue Lebanon

CONCORD, New Hampshire: A judge on Monday denied a family’s attempt to sue Lebanon on allegations that the country’s security agency kidnapped and tortured their family member before he died in the US, and that the agency could not intervene in the case.
Amer Fakhoury, a Lebanese American man, died in the US in August 2020 at age 57 from stage 4 lymphoma. His family’s lawsuit, filed in Washington last year against Iran, says he developed the illness and other serious medical issues while imprisoned during a visit to Lebanon over decades-old murder and torture charges that he denied.
The family had sought to expand the lawsuit to also target Lebanon.
Fakhoury’s detention in 2019 and release in 2020 marked another strain in relations between the United States and Lebanon, which finds itself beset by one of the world’s worst economic disasters and squeezed by tensions between Washington and Iran.
Lawyers representing Lebanon’s security agency, the General Directorate of General Security, had first asked to intervene in the Fakhoury family’s wrongful death lawsuit against Iran to have the allegations against Lebanon stricken. That request also was denied by US District Judge John Bates in his order Monday.
The Lebanese security agency had claimed the lawsuit falsely accuses it and its director of “serious crimes of kidnapping, torture and killing at the direction or aid of alleged terrorist organizations.”
In turn, the Fakhourys’ lawyer, Robert Tolchin, had asked for permission to formally sue Lebanon.
The family’s lawsuit initially argued it was possible to sue Iran under an exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, as it has been designated as a “state sponsor of terrorism” since 1984. The suit also described Hezbollah, now both a dominant political and militant force in Lebanon, as an “instrument” of Iran.
Tolchin had said the Fakhourys interpreted the Lebanon security agency’s request to intervene as a wavier of sovereign immunity. An attorney for the agency denied that, and the judge agreed.
Bates wrote that there is “insufficient evidence for the court to conclude” that the agency intended to waive its sovereign immunity.
Bates also wrote that the allegations about Fakhoury’s detention in Lebanon that the security agency wishes to strike “are central to this lawsuit.”
Messages seeking comment were sent to the lawyers.
Iran has yet to respond to the lawsuit. It has ignored others filed against it in American courts in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and US Embassy hostage crisis.
Fakhoury’s imprisonment in Lebanon took place in September 2019, not long after he became an American citizen. Fakhoury, a restaurateur in New Hampshire, visited his home country on vacation for the first time in nearly 20 years. A week after he arrived, he was jailed and his passport was seized, his family has said.
The day before he was taken into custody, a newspaper close to the Iranian-backed Shiite group Hezbollah published a story accusing him of playing a role in the torture and killing of inmates at a prison run by an Israeli-backed Lebanese militia during Israel’s occupation of Lebanon two decades ago. Fakhoury was a member of the South Lebanon Army.
The article dubbed him the “butcher” of the Khiam Detention Center, which was notorious for human rights abuses. Fakhoury’s family said he had worked at the prison as a member of the militia, but that he was a clerk who had little contact with inmates. When Israel withdrew from Lebanon in 2000, Fakhoury left the country like many other militia members who feared reprisals. He arrived in the US in 2001.
As early as 2018, Fakhoury had sought assurances from the US State Department and the Lebanese government that he could visit Lebanon freely. His family said he was told there were no accusations against him in Lebanon or no legal matters that might interfere with his return.
Upon his return to Lebanon, Fakhoury was held for five months before he was formally charged, his family said. By then, he had dropped more than 60 pounds, was suffering from lymphoma, and had rib fractures, among other serious health problems, they said.
Eventually, the Lebanese Supreme Court dropped the charges against Fakhoury. He was returned to the United States on March 19, 2020, on a US Marine Corps Osprey aircraft. He died five months later.


Turkish troops, Kurdish fighters exchange heavy shelling in Syria’s Kobani

Updated 16 August 2022

Turkish troops, Kurdish fighters exchange heavy shelling in Syria’s Kobani

  • Artillery fire hit within the town and around its edges, starting overnight and intensifying throughout the day

BEIRUT: Turkish troops and US-backed Kurdish fighters exchanged heavy shellfire on Tuesday in the northern Syrian border town of Kobani, leaving one civilian dead as the conflict between the warring parties escalated.
The artillery fire hit within the town and around its edges, starting overnight and intensifying throughout the day, according to residents and the semi-autonomous local administration governing the town.
The administration said in an online statement that at least one child died due to the shelling and others were wounded.
Ankara sees the semi-autonomous system — spearheaded by Kurdish factions and governing swathes of northern and eastern Syria — as a national security threat on its border.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has pledged a new incursion to create a 30-kilometer safe zone in northern Syria, swallowing up Kobani and other towns held by the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.
Kobani has been relatively calm since US-backed Kurdish fighters pushed back Daesh fighters from the town in 2015.
But shelling and drone attacks have been ramping up in many border towns. At least three Kurdish commanders were killed last month which the SDF blamed on Ankara.
Dilvin, a shopkeeper and married mother of one, said scenes of chaos broke out in Kobani when the shelling intensified on Tuesday.
“People started running everywhere, cars everywhere, people asking about their friends and their family. Then the sounds started to build, the sounds were everywhere,” she told Reuters by phone from Kobani.
“There was so much screaming. So much fear. Now everyone is locked up at home,” said Dilvin, who preferred to identify herself with just a first name for security reasons.

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