UK stepping up lawmakers’ security as tensions flare over Israel-Hamas war

Reports of both antisemitic and anti-Muslim abuse in Britain have soared since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, which triggered Israel’s invasion of Gaza. (Reuters/File)
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Updated 28 February 2024
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UK stepping up lawmakers’ security as tensions flare over Israel-Hamas war

  • The fund includes money for extra police patrols in areas where tensions are high
  • Reports of both antisemitic and anti-Muslim abuse in Britain have soared since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel

LONDON: The British government said Wednesday that it is stepping up security for lawmakers after politicians reported threats and intimidation connected to the Israel-Hamas war.
The Home Office said a 31 million-pound ($40 million) fund will give every lawmaker a “dedicated named police contact” and provide money for those facing threats to pay for private security protection.
The government said some of the money will go more broadly to protecting Britain’s “democratic processes from intimidation, disruption or subversion” ahead of a general election later this year. The fund includes money for extra police patrols in areas where tensions are high.
Divisions over the conflict in Gaza have convulsed British politics, with some lawmakers saying they fear for their safety after receiving threats over their positions on the war. Reports of both antisemitic and anti-Muslim abuse in Britain have soared since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, which triggered Israel’s invasion of Gaza.
A debate last week in the House of Commons on whether to call for a ceasefire descended into chaos amid allegations the speaker of the house had bent parliamentary rules in response to pressure from pro-Palestinian activists.
Conservative lawmaker Mike Freer has announced he is stepping down because of abuse and death threats linked to his support for Israel. Freer said an arson attack on his office in December was the “final straw.”
He said the money announced Wednesday was only “dealing with the symptom” rather than “going to the root cause” of why people feel emboldened to attack politicians.
“Security is welcome,” Freer told Times Radio. “But frankly, unless you get to the root cause, then you’re just going to have a ring of steel around MPs. And our whole style of democracy changes.”
British lawmakers have a tradition of meeting regularly with constituents in their local communities, but security has been tightened after several attacks in the last decade. In 2016, Labour lawmaker Jo Cox was killed by a far-right extremist, and Conservative David Amess was murdered in 2021 by an attacker inspired by the Daesh group.
In 2017 a Daesh-inspired extremist killed four people with a vehicle on Westminster Bridge before stabbing a police officer to death at the gates of Parliament. Two years later, in 2019, a neo-Nazi pleaded guilty to plotting to kill a Labour lawmaker.
Anti-war activists claimed the government was trying to stifle protest and lumping peaceful demonstrators in with violent extremists.
Home Secretary James Cleverly called on pro-Palestinian demonstrators to halt the mass protests that have drawn hundreds of thousands of people to central London almost weekly to call for a ceasefire in a conflict that has killed close to 30,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.
Israel says Hamas killed 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians, and abducted roughly 250, in the Oct. 7 attack.
The protests have been overwhelmingly peaceful, though there have dozens of arrests over signs and chants allegedly supporting Hamas, a banned organization in Britain. Jewish organizations and many lawmakers say the mass marches have created an intimidating atmosphere for Jewish Londoners — though members of the Jewish community have been among those on pro-ceasefire marches.
“I genuinely don’t know what these regular protests are seeking to achieve,” Cleverly told the Times of London. “They have made their position clear, we recognize that there are many people in the UK that hold that position. We respect that, but the UK government’s position is a disagreement with that for very practical, well thought-out reasons.”
The government says it supports an immediate “humanitarian pause” in the fighting but says a permanent ceasefire can only happen if Hamas frees all Israeli hostages and relinquishes control of Gaza.
Ben Jamal, director of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which has organized many protests, said Cleverly’s comments showed the government did not understand the role of protest “as an important part of the democratic process.”
“They regard it as a hindrance, something that should be suppressed,” Jamal said.


Chile firefighter arrested, accused of starting February blaze that killed 137

Updated 6 sec ago
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Chile firefighter arrested, accused of starting February blaze that killed 137

  • Local media reported the firefighter is a 22-year-old who joined the force a year and a half ago

SANTIAGO: A firefighter was arrested Friday in Chile on suspicion of starting a blaze in February that killed 137 people in the resort city of Vina del Mar, authorities said.
“An arrest warrant was issued today against the person who started the fires in February in the Valparaiso region,” where Vina del Mar is located, police director Eduardo Cerna told a news conference.
Several fires broke out simultaneously on February 2 around the coastal city of Vina del Mar, 70 miles (110 kilometers) northwest of Chile’s capital Santiago.
The inferno was fueled by winds and a heatwave that saw temperatures of around 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).
Local media reported the firefighter is a 22-year-old who joined the force a year and a half ago.
“We are completely devastated by what happened, it is a totally isolated incident... we have served Valparaiso for more than 170 years and cannot allow such things,” Vicente Maggiolo, commander of the 13th Fire Company of the city of Valparaiso, told reporters.
 


Putin says Ukraine’s Zelensky lacks legitimacy after term expired

Updated 25 min 41 sec ago
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Putin says Ukraine’s Zelensky lacks legitimacy after term expired

  • With Ukraine under martial law in the third year of Russia’s full-scale invasion, Zelensky has not faced elections
  • Putin won a new six-year term in March in a closely managed election that Russia’s opposition called a sham

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had no legitimacy following the expiry of his five-year term and this would raise a legal obstacle if Russia and Ukraine were to hold peace talks.

With Ukraine under martial law in the third year of Russia’s full-scale invasion, Zelensky has not faced elections despite the expiry of his five-year term this week — something he and Ukraine’s allies deem the right decision in wartime.
Putin is ready to halt the war in Ukraine with a negotiated ceasefire that recognizes the current battlefield lines, Reuters reported on Friday, citing four Russian sources, but is ready to fight on if Kyiv and the West do not respond.
At a televised press conference during a visit to Belarus, Putin said Zelensky’s status was problematic.
“But who to negotiate with? That’s not an idle question... Of course we realize the legitimacy of the incumbent head of state is over,” he said.
Ukrainian officials dismiss any notion of Zelensky lacking legitimacy in a time of war.
Ruslan Stefanchuk, speaker of Ukraine’s parliament, said this week that anyone questioning the president’s legitimacy was an “enemy of Ukraine” spreading false information.
Putin said the West would use a Swiss-hosted conference on the war, due to take place next month, to endorse Zelensky’s legitimacy but these would be “PR steps” with no legal meaning.
He said peace should be worked out through common sense, not ultimatums. It should be based on draft documents that were worked out between the two sides in the early weeks of the war, and on “today’s realities on the ground” — a reference to the fact that Russia controls nearly 20 percent of Ukraine.
“If it gets to that point, we will need of course to understand who we should and can deal with, to arrive at signing legally binding documents. And then we must be fully sure we are dealing with legitimate (Ukrainian) authorities,” Putin said.
Putin won a new six-year term in March in a closely managed election that Russia’s opposition called a sham.
Two anti-war candidates were barred from running on technical grounds, and all Russia’s leading opposition figures are in jail or abroad. The best known, Alexei Navalny, died in February in an Arctic penal colony.
Putin’s comments are likely to be taken by Ukraine and its Western allies as further evidence that he has no real intention of entering peace talks, despite frequently stating his willingness to negotiate.

Peace summit
Zelensky, in his nightly video address, made no reference to the Russian president’s remarks, but said Putin was determined to scuttle next month’s peace summit.
“He is afraid of what the summit may produce. The world is capable of forcing Russia into peace and compliance with international security norms,” Zelensky said.
“Russia has nothing to counter the world majority. The peace summit is a formula that will allow Putin to lie no longer.”
Russia is not invited to the summit in Switzerland and has dismissed the event as meaningless without its participation.
Zelensky has repeatedly said peace on Putin’s terms is a non-starter. He has vowed to retake lost territory, including Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014. He signed a decree in 2022 that formally declared any talks with Putin “impossible.”
The head of the Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s Main Intelligence Directorate, Kyrylo Budanov, warned in February that Russia would pursue a campaign aimed at undermining the legitimacy of both Zelensky and Ukraine’s political system.


Israeli private eye accused of hacking was questioned about DC public affairs firm, sources say

Updated 45 min 54 sec ago
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Israeli private eye accused of hacking was questioned about DC public affairs firm, sources say

  • Private investigator Amit Forlit was arrested at London’s Heathrow Airport on April 30 over American cybercrime and wire fraud charges

WASHINGTON: An Israeli private investigator sought by the United States over hack-for-hire allegations previously told colleagues that he had been questioned by FBI agents over his work for the Washington public affairs firm DCI Group, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Federal law enforcement’s interest in DCI, which has not been previously reported, shows a years-long US probe into cybermercenary activity is wider than publicly known.

The FBI declined to comment. DCI, a public relations firm that has worked on behalf of hedge funds and multinationals, said in a written statement that “we direct all our employees and consultants to comply with the law.”

Private investigator Amit Forlit was arrested at London’s Heathrow Airport on April 30 over American cybercrime and wire fraud charges.

Prosecutors in London said only that Forlit engaged in a “hack for hire scheme” on behalf of several clients, including an unidentified Washington-based PR and lobbying firm. He was released two days after his arrest following a procedural error by British authorities.
He was rearrested on Thursday on the same charges and has since been released on bail, according to Britain’s National Crime Agency and a London court register published Friday.

The register said Forlit surrendered his passport and was ordered not to leave the country. The 56-year-old’s lawyers did not return repeated messages.

In a deposition made public in 2022, Forlit said, “I’ve never commissioned hacking and never paid for hacking.” Reuters revealed the existence of an FBI investigation into the cybermercenary industry in 2020.

The only person known to have been convicted in connection with the inquiry, Israeli private investigator Aviram Azari, was given a 6 2/3 year sentence last year.

Forlit acknowledged in his deposition that Azari had done work on his behalf. Privately, he expressed concern that he was being sought by American law enforcement following Azari’s arrest, according to three associates. The associates said Forlit told them he arranged a meeting with FBI officials in the US embassy in London in late 2021 to gauge whether he would be arrested if he visited the United States.

It was at that meeting that the FBI quizzed him about his work for DCI, they said. The associates spoke on condition of anonymity to relay the content of private conversations.

Forlit is separately being sued in New York federal court by aviation executive Farhad Azima, who accuses the Israeli of being party to the theft of his emails in 2016. He denies the allegations.

A review of court records tied to Azima’s litigation shows that Forlit had business with DCI.

A Citibank document made public in August 2022 as part of Azima’s discovery effort in Florida shows Forlit’s company, then known as SDC-Gadot, listed DCI Group as one of its three “major customers.” Citibank declined to comment on the document.


NYC college suspends officer who told pro-Palestinian protester ‘I support killing all you guys’

Updated 25 May 2024
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NYC college suspends officer who told pro-Palestinian protester ‘I support killing all you guys’

  • An unidentified protester filmed the officer at Thursday’s graduation for the College of Staten Island, part of the public City University of New York system that was rocked by a recent police crackdown on campus protests

NEW YORK: A campus safety officer at a public college in New York City has been suspended after footage circulated online showing him cursing at pro-Palestinian protesters during a graduation ceremony and saying he supported killing them all, the school confirmed Friday.

An unidentified protester filmed the officer at Thursday’s graduation for the College of Staten Island, part of the public City University of New York system that was rocked by a recent police crackdown on campus protests.
In a highly edited video shared by Instagram accounts affiliated with student protest organizers, a demonstrator can be heard yelling at the officer, “You support genocide!”
“Yes I do, I support genocide,” says the officer. “I support killing all you guys, how about that?”
In another clip posted in the video, the officer can be heard hurling an expletive at another protester, followed by “your mother.”
Phone calls and emails seeking comment from the officer on Friday were unsuccessful. A person who answered a number listed under his name hung up when a reporter identified themself, and emails were not immediately returned.
CUNY confirmed the suspension Friday but declined to provide details, such as whether the officer was on paid leave.
“We condemn the offensive language used by a CUNY officer,” College of Staten Island spokesperson David Pizzuto said in a statement. “His words don’t reflect the values of the College of Staten Island or the 50 officers on our Public Safety staff. The officer has been suspended pending a full review of the incident, and we will take further action as appropriate.”
Protest camps sprang up across the US and in Europe as students demand their universities stop doing business with Israel or companies that support its war efforts. Organizers seek to amplify calls to end Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza, which they describe as a genocide against the Palestinians.
The United Nations’ top court ordered Israel on Friday to immediately halt its military offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, but stopped short of ordering a ceasefire for entire Palestinian territory. The International Court of Justice has said there is a “plausible risk of genocide” in Gaza — a charge Israel strongly denies.


French city postpones Israeli film festival amid Gaza tensions

Updated 24 May 2024
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French city postpones Israeli film festival amid Gaza tensions

  • The city council did not give a reason for the postponement
  • The Shalom Europa festival said on its Facebook page that “events” had forced the decision to hold the event at a “calmer” time

STRASBOURG, France: An Israeli film festival in the eastern French city of Strasbourg has been indefinitely postponed as the Gaza war rages, authorities said Friday.
The Shalom Europa festival has been hosted in the city for 15 years and was scheduled to be held from June 16 to June 20. But France has reported an increased number of anti-Semitic attacks since the Gaza war erupted on October 7.
The city council did not give a reason for the postponement but said Strasbourg “has always supported the Shalom Europa festival and will continue to do so. It promises to help hold the festival on a date that is opportune for the organizers.”
The Israeli community group that organizes the event did not reply to AFP requests for comment.
The Shalom Europa festival said on its Facebook page that “events” had forced the decision to hold the event at a “calmer” time, adding that “The safety and well-being of our participants is our absolute priority.”
The French Jewish community, the third largest in the world, has for months been on edge in the face of a growing number of attacks and desecrations of memorials.
On May 17, French police shot dead a man who set fire to a synagogue in the northern city of Rouen.