Authorities face calls to declare a hate crime in Vermont shooting of 3 men of Palestinian descent

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People hold up signs and protest following a vigil held on the grounds of Brown University, after three students of Palestinian descent were shot and wounded in Vermont, at the school's main green in Providence, Rhode Island on Nov. 27, 2023. (Reuters)
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People hold up signs and protest following a vigil held on the grounds of Brown University, after three students of Palestinian descent were shot and wounded in Vermont, at the school’s main green in Providence, Rhode Island on Nov. 27, 2023. (Reuters)
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Updated 28 November 2023
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Authorities face calls to declare a hate crime in Vermont shooting of 3 men of Palestinian descent

  • Jason J. Eaton, 48, was arrested and held without bail on three counts of attempted murder
  • The US Department of Justice, along with Vermont authorities, are still investigating whether Saturday’s gunfire on a Burlington street was a hate crime

BURLINGTON, USA: Vigils for three college students of Palestinian descent who were shot in Vermont over the weekend prompted calls for authorities to recognize the violence as a hate crime, and for unity among the Jewish and Arab communities.
Jason J. Eaton, 48, was arrested and held without bail on three counts of attempted murder. A not guilty plea was entered on his behalf on Monday.
The US Department of Justice, along with Vermont authorities, are still investigating whether Saturday’s gunfire on a Burlington street was a hate crime amid an increase in threats against Jewish, Muslim and Arab communities across the US since the Israel-Hamas war began, Attorney General Merrick Garland said. “There is understandable fear in communities across the country,” he said.
One vigil was held Monday night at Brown University in Rhode Island, where one of the victims, Hisham Awartani, is a student. Participants shouted at school president Christina Paxson as she addressed the crowd, demanding that Brown divest from investments that support Israel, according to media reports.
Robert Leikend, New England regional director for the American Jewish Committee, called for unity and finding common ground between the Jewish and Arab communities, saying in a statement Monday night that “hate should not beget more hate.”
He said a vigil after Eaton’s arrest “featured anti-Israel and antisemitic statements from some participants.” He didn’t name the location.
“The anger is understandable. The finger-pointing is not,” he said.
The vigil at Brown was closed to media. NBC News reported that Awartani said in a statement read by a professor that as much as he appreciates the love and support of the community, “I am but one casualty in a much wider conflict.”
The statement read, “Had I been shot in the West Bank, where I grew up, the medical services which saved my life here would have likely been withheld by the Israeli army. The soldier who would have shot me would go home and never be convicted.”
Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid and Tahseen Ali Ahmad, all age 20, were spending their Thanksgiving break in Burlington, and were out for a walk while visiting one of the victims’ relatives when they were confronted by a white man with a handgun, police said. The victims were speaking in a mix of English and Arabic and two of them were also wearing the black-and-white Palestinian keffiyeh scarves when they were shot, Police Chief Jon Murad said.
Abdalhamid told police he ran away, jumped a fence, and hid behind a house. He eventually knocked on another door, begging the woman who answered to call 911. At that point, he sat down, felt pain, and saw blood, according to an affidavit.
Two of the students were struck in their torsos, while one was hit in the lower body, Murad said. All three were being treated at the University of Vermont Medical Center, and one faces a long recovery because of a spinal injury, a family member said.
One of the students has been released from the hospital, according to media reports.
“I’ve been with them almost constantly since Saturday evening. I’ve been listening to them talk to one another and try to process the events, and I’m blown away by their resilience, by their good humor in the face of these difficult times,” said Rich Price, Awartani’s uncle.
The three have been friends since first grade at Ramallah Friends School, a private school in the West Bank, and all are “remarkable, distinguished students,” said Rania Ma’ayeh, head of the school.
Awartani is studying mathematics and archaeology at Brown; Abdalhamid is a pre-med student at Haverford College in Pennsylvania; and Ali Ahmad is studying mathematics and IT at Trinity College in Connecticut, Ma’ayeh said. Awartani and Abdalhamid are US citizens while Ali Ahmad is studying on a student visa, Ma’ayeh said.
Abdalhamid’s uncle Radi Tamimi, said at a news conference Monday his nephew grew up in the West Bank and “we always thought that that could be more of a risk in terms of his safety and sending him here would be a right decision.
“We feel somehow betrayed in that decision here and we’re just trying to come to terms with everything,” he said.
Eaton moved to Burlington over the summer from Syracuse, New York, and legally purchased the gun used in the shooting, Murad told reporters. According to a police affidavit, federal agents found the gun in Eaton’s apartment on Sunday. Eaton came to the door holding his hands, palms up, and told the officers he’d been waiting for them.
Eaton’s mother, Mary Reed, told the Daily Beast that Eaton, who had held various jobs as a farmer, ski instructor and researcher, had struggled with mental health issues, including depression. But she said he was in “such a good mood” when she saw him on Thanksgiving.
Syracuse police said Eaton’s name appeared in 37 police reports from 2007 until 2021, but never as a suspect. The cases ranged from domestic violence to larceny, and Eaton was listed as either a complainant or victim in 21 reports, according to Lt. Matthew Malinowski, the department’s public information officer.
Sarah George, state’s attorney, said that law enforcement officials do not yet have evidence to support a hate crime charge, which under Vermont law must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. But, she said, “I do want to be clear that there is no question that this was a hateful act.”
Demonstrations have been widespread and tensions in the US have escalated as the death toll rises in the Israel-Hamas war. A fragile cease-fire between Israel and Hamas was set to continue for two more days past Monday as 11 more hostages were handed over to the Red Cross in Gaza under what was originally a four-day truce deal.


Pro-Palestinian demonstrators block traffic into Chicago airport, causing headaches for travelers

Updated 53 min 14 sec ago
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Pro-Palestinian demonstrators block traffic into Chicago airport, causing headaches for travelers

  • Demonstrators blocked a freeway leading to three terminals, stopping traffic into one of busiest US airports

CHICAGO: Pro-Palestinian demonstrators blocked a freeway leading to three Chicago O’Hare International Airport terminals Monday morning, temporarily stopping vehicle traffic into one of the nation’s busiest airports and causing headaches for travelers.
Protesters linked arms and blocked lanes of Interstate 190 around 7 a.m., a demonstration they said was part of a global “economic blockade to free Palestine,” according to Rifqa Falaneh, one of the organizers. Traffic in the San Francisco Bay Area was also snarled for hours Monday morning as pro-Palestinian demonstrators shut down both directions of the Golden Gate Bridge and stalled a 17-mile (27-kilometer) stretch of Interstate 880 in Oakland.
O’Hare warned travelers on the social platform X to take alternative forms of transportation with car travel “substantially delayed this morning due to protest activity.”
Some travelers stuck in standstill traffic left their cars and walked the final leg to the airport along the freeway, trailing their luggage behind them.
Among them was Madeline Hannan from suburban Chicago. She was headed to O’Hare for a work trip to Florida when her and her husband’s car ended up stalled for 20 minutes. She got out and “both ran and speed walked” more than 1 mile. She said she made it to the gate on time, but barely.
“This was an inconvenience,” she said in a telephone interview from Florida. “But in the grand scheme of things going on overseas, it’s a minor inconvenience.”
While individual travelers may have been affected, operations at the airport appeared near normal with delays of under 15 minutes, according to the Chicago Department of Aviation.
Inbound traffic toward O’Hare resumed around 9 a.m.
On the Golden Gate Bridge in California, a small number of demonstrators stood by, as did police. Some protesters held a black banner that read “Stop the world for Gaza.” The iconic bridge was closed off to all auto traffic, bicyclists and pedestrians.
In Chicago, dozens of protesters were arrested, according to Falaneh. Chicago police said Monday that “multiple people” were taken into custody after a protest where people obstructed traffic but did not have a detailed count.
Protesters say they chose the location, in part, because O’Hare is one of the largest airports. Among other things, they’ve called for an immediate ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas.
Anti- war protesters have demonstrated in Chicago near daily since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on southern Israel that killed around 1,200 people. Israeli warplanes and ground troops have conducted a scorched-earth campaign on the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli offensive has killed more than 33,700 Palestinians, according to the Gaza health ministry. The ministry does not differentiate between civilians and combatants in its count but says women and children make up two-thirds of the dead.


Four wounded in Sydney church attack, 15-year-old arrested

Updated 15 April 2024
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Four wounded in Sydney church attack, 15-year-old arrested

  • Police said suspect is being held at undisclosed location after attack provoked communal violence
  • The incident came two days after a man with a knife killed six people at a shopping mall in the city

SYDNEY: A knife attack at a live-streamed church service in Australia wounded four people on Monday and sparked clashes between riot police and outraged members of the local community.

A bishop and the 15-year-old suspect were among those being treated for “non-life threatening injuries” after the attack at an Assyrian Christian church in the west of Sydney.

Police said the suspect is being held at an undisclosed location after his alleged attack provoked communal violence that also left two officers hospitalized.

The incident came two days after a man with a knife killed six people at a shopping mall in the city’s east before being shot dead by police.

Graphic footage of Monday’s stabbing showed the suspect emerging from the congregation, rushing the dais and slashing wildly at Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel before being subdued by churchgoers.

Social media accounts leapt on news of the attack to make claims about the motive, none of which were verified by police.

There were tense scenes outside the church after Monday’s attack, with hundreds of angry members of the local community trying to make their way past a phalanx of riot police to reach the suspect.

An AFP journalist at the scene saw projectiles being hurled before police with riot shields and body armor pushed the protesters away from the church.

New South Wales acting assistant police commissioner Andrew Holland said the crowd had displayed an “emotional response to what took place in the church” — fueled by rumors and graphic images circulating on the Internet.

Two police vehicles and a number of houses were damaged as the protesters threw “bottles, bricks and other items,” Holland said.

One officer was “hit with a metal object and sustained a twisted knee and a chipped tooth,” police said.

“Another constable sustained a broken jaw after he was hit with a brick and a fence paling.”

Police urged the public to avoid the area amid “a large police response.”

AFP verified the video of Monday’s attack as being taken at the Christ the Good Shepherd Church, which has an online following of almost 200,000.

It is located in Sydney’s western suburb of Wakeley, a hub for Sydney’s small Christian Assyrian community, many of whom fled persecution and war in Iraq and Syria.

New South Wales state premier Chris Minns issued a joint statement with Christian and Muslim leaders calling for calm.

“We’re calling on everyone to act with kindness and respect for each other,” the statement said.

“Now is the time to show that we are strong and united.”

Assyrians trace their roots to an empire that ruled a swath of the ancient Middle East.

Since that age of empire, they have faced persecution as a religious and ethnic minority distinct from the region’s Arab and Muslim majorities.

Australians are still reeling from Saturday’s stabbing, which was carried out by a 40-year-old man with a history of mental illness.

In that attack, videos shared on social media showed unshaven itinerant Joel Cauchi pursuing mostly female victims as he rampaged through the vast, crowded Westfield shopping complex in Bondi Junction on Saturday afternoon.

A black ribbon was projected onto the Sydney Opera House on Monday as a mark of respect for the victims of that attack.


UK PM Sunak to speak with Israel’s Netanyahu, seeking to avoid escalation

Updated 15 April 2024
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UK PM Sunak to speak with Israel’s Netanyahu, seeking to avoid escalation

  • “All sides must show restraint," Sunak says

LONDON: British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Monday he would soon speak with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu on how to prevent escalation in the region after Iran’s drone and missile attack.
“I will also shortly be speaking to Prime Minister Netanyahu to express our solidarity with Israel in the face of this attack, and to discuss how we can prevent further escalation,” Sunak said in a statement to parliament.
“All sides must show restraint,” he added.
Last week Iran launched explosive drones and fired missiles at Israel in retaliation for what it called an Israeli strike on its Damascus consulate on April 1 that killed seven officers of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
British military jets helped shoot down the drones.


Four wounded in Sydney Assyrian church stabbing, man arrested

Updated 15 April 2024
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Four wounded in Sydney Assyrian church stabbing, man arrested

  • A member of the congregation at an Assyrian church rushed at the dais and slashed at the bishop, causing pandemonium.
  • Incident came two days after a man with a knife killed six at a shopping mall in the east of Sydney

SYDNEY: Four people are being treated for “non-life threatening injuries” after a stabbing at a live-streamed church service in Sydney on Monday, the latest knife attack to rock the city.
Australian police said they had arrested one man, after a member of the congregation at an Assyrian church rushed at the dais and slashed at the bishop, causing pandemonium.
Amid the panic and screams, several churchgoers rushed to safety while others tried to subdue the attacker.
The ambulance service told AFP that four men aged between 20 and 70 were being treated for injuries, including lacerations.
“The injured individuals suffered non-life threatening injuries and were treated by New South Wales Ambulance paramedics before being conveyed to hospital,” police added.
“A male was arrested and remains in police custody.”
The incident came two days after a man with a knife killed six at a shopping mall in the east of Sydney.
AFP verified video of Monday’s attack as being taken at the Christ the Good Shepherd Church in Sydney’s western suburb of Wakeley.
The neighborhood is a hub for Sydney’s small Christian Assyrian community, many of whom fled persecution and war in Iraq and Syria.
There were tense scenes outside the church after the attack, with hundreds of members of the local community trying to make their way past a phalanx of riot police to reach the suspect.
An AFP journalist at the scene saw projectiles being hurled, before police with riot shields and armor pushed the protesters away from the church.
“He has been removed from the church and taken to an undisclosed location,” police said.
They urged the public to avoid the area amid “a large police response.”
The Christ the Good Shepherd Church holds a bible session every Monday evening.
Police said they began to receive emergency calls from the scene “about 7.10 pm.”
Australians are still reeling from Saturday’s stabbing, which was carried out by a 40-year-old man with a history of mental illness.
In that attack, videos shared on social media showed unshaven itinerant Joel Cauchi pursuing mostly female victims as he rampaged through the vast, crowded Westfield shopping complex in Bondi Junction on Saturday afternoon.
A black ribbon was projected onto the Sydney Opera House on Monday as a mark of respect for the victims.


Indonesia, Malaysia warn of Middle East escalation, distraction from Israel’s war on Gaza

Updated 15 April 2024
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Indonesia, Malaysia warn of Middle East escalation, distraction from Israel’s war on Gaza

  • Drone and missile attack at the weekend was Iran’s first strike on Israel from Iranian territory
  • Indonesia and Malaysia are two of the staunchest, most vocal supporters of Palestine in Asia 

JAKARTA: Indonesia and Malaysia have warned of escalating tensions in the Middle East and Israel’s attempts to use them to deflect attention from its deadly war on Gaza.

Fears of a regional conflict have grown since an Israeli airstrike destroyed an Iranian Consulate building in Damascus earlier this month, killing 13 people, including two Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders.  

In retaliation, Iran launched explosive drones and fired missiles at Israel late on Saturday — its first direct attack against the country from Iranian territory. 

Following the attack, Indonesia and Malaysia called for restraint to prevent escalation in the Middle East. 

“Indonesia is deeply concerned over the escalation of the situation in the Middle East and calls on all parties to exercise restraint,” the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Sunday evening. 

“Indonesia urges the UN Security Council to act immediately to de-escalate tensions and continue working towards lasting peace in the Middle East, including by ending the illegal occupation of Palestine and various violations of international law by Israel.” 

Indonesia also called for a “just settlement” for Palestine through a two-state solution, which “will be the key to maintaining regional security,” the ministry said. 

Israel’s strike in Syria and Iran’s subsequent retaliation over the weekend took place against the backdrop of the onslaught on Gaza, which has killed over 33,700 Palestinians and displaced around 1.9 million people. 

One of the staunchest supporters of Palestine, the Indonesian government has repeatedly called for an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and for a two-state solution based on pre-1967 borders.

Since the beginning of Israel’s military operation in Gaza in October, Jakarta has also been vocal on the international stage, demanding an end to military support and weapons sales to Tel Aviv.

Neighboring Malaysia, also a vocal supporter of Palestine, warned that any further form of provocation or retaliation could ignite a regional conflict “that will not serve the region nor the Palestinian cause,” Foreign Minister Mohamad Hasan said in a statement. 

“The international community is also reminded not to lose sight of the objective of ensuring the freedom of the Palestinians and their rights to their own lands. Any distraction from this objective is what Israel wants, which is to deflect the global community’s attention from their nefarious, inhumane and unconscionable acts in Palestine,” he said. 

“Malaysia reiterates that the main objective is to find peace and a permanent solution to the plight of the Palestinian people and not widen the conflict.”