Israeli communications minister orders return of seized camera equipment to AP

In this image from video, Israeli officials seize AP video equipment from an apartment block in Sderot, Southern Israel, Tuesday, May 21, 2024. (AP)
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Updated 22 May 2024
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Israeli communications minister orders return of seized camera equipment to AP

  • Israeli officials seized the equipment after accusing the news organization of violating a new media law by providing images to Al Jazeera
  • The Biden administration, journalism organizations and an Israeli opposition leader put pressure on Netanyahu

JERUSALEM: Israel’s communications minister ordered the government to return seized camera equipment to The Associated Press after blocking its live video of Gaza earlier Tuesday.
Israeli officials seized the equipment after accusing the news organization of violating a new media law by providing images to Al Jazeera.
Israeli officials used the new law on May 5 to close down the offices of Qatar-based Al Jazeera, confiscating its equipment, banning its broadcasts and blocking its websites.
The Biden administration, journalism organizations and an Israeli opposition leader put pressure on the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after officials seizing the AP equipment.
Al Jazeera, which is based in Qatar, is one of thousands of AP customers, and it receives live video from AP and other news organizations.
“The Associated Press decries in the strongest terms the actions of the Israeli government to shut down our longstanding live feed showing a view into Gaza and seize AP equipment,” said Lauren Easton, vice president of corporate communications at the news organization. “The shutdown was not based on the content of the feed but rather an abusive use by the Israeli government of the country’s new foreign broadcaster law.”
Officials from the Communications Ministry arrived at the AP location in the southern town of Sderot on Tuesday afternoon and seized the equipment. They handed the AP a piece of paper, signed by Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi, alleging it was violating the country’s foreign broadcaster law.
Karhi is the minister who later ordered the equipment to be returned.
Shortly before its equipment was seized on Tuesday, AP was broadcasting a general view of northern Gaza. The AP complies with Israel’s military censorship rules, which prohibit broadcasts of details like troop movements that could endanger soldiers. The live video has generally shown smoke rising over the territory.
The AP had been ordered verbally last Thursday to cease the live transmission, which it refused to do.
Israel’s opposition leader Yair Lapid called the move against AP “an act of madness.”
“This is not Al Jazeera. This is an American news outlet,” he said. “This government acts as if it has decided to make sure at any cost that Israel will be shunned all over the world.”
Karhi responded to Lapid that the law passed unanimously by the government states that any device used to deliver Al Jazeera content could be seized.
“We will continue to act decisively against anyone who tries to harm our soldiers and the security of the state, even if you don’t like it,” he wrote to Lapid on X.
When Israel closed down Al Jazeera’s offices earlier this month, media groups warned of the serious implications for press freedom in the country. The law gives Karhi, part of the hard-right flank of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, wide leeway to enforce it against other media.
“Israel’s move today is a slippery slope,” the Foreign Press Association said in a statement, warning that the law “could allow Israel to block media coverage of virtually any news event on vague security grounds.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the US was “looking into” what happened and that it was “essential” for journalists to be allowed to do their jobs.
Israel has long had a rocky relationship with Al Jazeera, accusing it of bias against the country, and Netanyahu has called it a “terror channel” that spreads incitement.
Al Jazeera is one of the few international news outlets that has remained in Gaza throughout the war, broadcasting scenes of airstrikes and overcrowded hospitals and accusing Israel of massacres. AP is also in Gaza.
During the previous Israel-Hamas war in 2021, the army destroyed the building housing AP’s Gaza office, claiming Hamas had used the building for military purposes. The AP denied any knowledge of a Hamas presence, and the army never provided any evidence to back up its claim.
The war in Gaza began with a Hamas attack in Israel that killed 1,200 people and saw 250 others taken hostage. More than 35,000 Palestinians have been killed since then, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry, which doesn’t distinguish between civilians and combatants in its count.


WHO says coronavirus still kills 1,700 per week worldwide 

Updated 4 min 15 sec ago
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WHO says coronavirus still kills 1,700 per week worldwide 

  • WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus sounds warning on declining vaccine coverage
  • Advices that people in highest-risk groups receive a Covid-19 vaccine within 12 months of their last dose

Geneva: Covid-19 is still killing around 1,700 people a week around the world, the World Health Organization said Thursday, as it urged at-risk populations to keep up with their vaccinations against the disease.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus sounded a warning on declining vaccine coverage.

Despite the continued death toll, “data show that vaccine coverage has declined among health workers and people over 60, which are two of the most at-risk groups,” the UN health agency’s chief told a press conference.

“WHO recommends that people in the highest-risk groups receive a Covid-19 vaccine within 12 months of their last dose.”

More than seven million Covid deaths have been reported to the WHO, though the true toll of the pandemic is thought to be far higher.

Covid-19 also shredded economies and crippled health systems.

Tedros declared an end to Covid-19 as an international public health emergency in May 2023, more than three years on from when the virus was first detected in Wuhan, China, in late 2019.

The WHO has urged governments to maintain virus surveillance and sequencing, and to ensure access to affordable and reliable tests, treatments and vaccines.


Saudi Arabia to host first Esports Olympics in 2025: IOC

Updated 8 min 28 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia to host first Esports Olympics in 2025: IOC

Lausanne: Saudi Arabia will host the inaugural Esports Olympics in 2025 the International Olympic Committee said on Friday.
“The International Olympic Committee (IOC) today announced that it has partnered with the National Olympic Committee (NOC) of Saudi Arabia to host the inaugural Olympic Esports Games 2025 in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,” the body said.
“The duration of the partnership between the IOC and the Saudi NOC will be 12 years, with Olympic Esports Games held regularly.”


Acclaimed Palestinian oudists Le Trio Joubran perform at Ithra

Updated 20 min 12 sec ago
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Acclaimed Palestinian oudists Le Trio Joubran perform at Ithra

  • The majority of the show — like the majority of Le Trio Joubran’s albums — consisted of instrumental pieces

DHAHRAN: On Thursday night, the award-winning Palestinian oud masters — and brothers — Le Trio Joubran, performed at the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, Ithra, on the first of their two-night run in Dhahran.

Unfortunately, Samir — the eldest brother, who formed the band nearly two decades ago — was unable to join his siblings Wissam and Adnan on stage. But his space in the center of the trio was left untouched, as a visual representation of his presence.

“As you can see, there is a gaping void on stage tonight. Our brother Samir was unable to be with us — despite the greatest efforts from the attentive Ithra and Aramco teams, who are trying until this very moment to get him to join us, so thank you,” Adnan, the youngest of the trio, told the crowd, which almost filled the venue.

“It has now become our responsibility and burden — my brother Wissam and me — to do our best to give you the show you deserve. Usually our brother Samir speaks, but tonight, I’ll ask you to forgive our shortcomings and we hope to give you a good show,” he continued. And they delivered.

The majority of the show — like the majority of Le Trio Joubran’s albums — consisted of instrumental pieces, while a handful were accompanied by Arabic poetry recitals. Joining Wissam and Adnan on stage were percussionist Ruven Ruppik and cellist Valentin Mussou.

Le Trio Joubran bill themselves as the first ever trio of oudists. Hailing from Nazareth, they now divide their time between Palestine and France. Their music often reflects themes of Palestinian identity, as well as the broader human experience. Over the last few decades, their music has been featured in the soundtracks of several films and documentaries, including “The Last Flight” (2009), “Miral” (2010), “Five Broken Cameras” (2011) and “The Messenger of God” (2015).

In 2019, they collaborated with the hugely successful British pop-rock band Coldplay on a song called “Arabesque.”

At the end of their Ithra performance, Adnan spoke again, promising the crowd that they would come back again next year — with Samir. The crowd cheered enthusiastically.

Wissam and Adnan perform again at Ithra on Friday night, July 12.


Federation of Saudi Chambers a catalyst for economic growth and international cooperation, experts agree

Updated 25 min 34 sec ago
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Federation of Saudi Chambers a catalyst for economic growth and international cooperation, experts agree

RIYADH: Reestablishing a business council with Canada after a five-year hiatus is the latest example of the pivotal role the Federation of Saudi Chambers is playing in facilitating international trade, experts have insisted.

On July 7 it was announced that Mohammed bin Nasser Al-Duleim would be chairman of the Saudi-Canadian Business Council – six months after the two nations inked an agreement to restart the body.

The reestablishment of the council is the latest in a plan spearheaded by the Federation of Saudi Chambers to boost the Kingdom’s international trading relationships as part of the Vision 2030 economic diversification plan. 

In January, the federation’s president, Hassan Al-Huwaizi, announced that the number of Saudi foreign business councils had reached 70, including with major global economic players such as China, the US, Japan, and the UK, as well as South Korea, Bahrain, and the UAE.

Other countries with whom councils are established include Germany, Italy, and France.

In an interview with Arab News, economist Mahmoud Khairy said these organizations allow enhanced communication by providing a platform for continuous dialogue between participating nations, help facilitate a better understanding of each other’s economic policies and interests, and promote transparency and trust in trade relationships.

He added: “Through these platforms, countries can work together on various trade-related issues such as tariff reduction, standardization of regulations, and investment facilitation.

“Collaborating with various countries through these platforms can attract foreign investors looking to tap into the Saudi market, driving investment inflows and supporting the country’s economic development goals.”

Reflecting on the latest move involving Canada, Khairy said: “The Federation of Saudi Chambers plays a pivotal role in facilitating international trade and economic cooperation, particularly highlighted by the announcement to restart the business council with Canada.”

In 2022 Saudi Arabia was Canada’s leading two-way trading partner in the Middle East and North Africa region and ranked 23rd globally. 

The merchandise trade between the two countries totaled approximately $5.1 billion, with Canadian exports at $1.3 billion and imports from Saudi Arabia at $3.8 billion.

Established in 1980, the Federation of Saudi Chambers is the umbrella and only legitimate representative of the Saudi business community – and 28 chambers – in all its various groups, sectors and regions, according to its website.

It facilitates bilateral trade, business dialogues, and policy advocacy, promoting investment and collaboration in energy, technology, healthcare, and education to enhance economic ties and streamline processes for foreign investors..

The objectives of the international councils include enhancing awareness among Saudi and foreign private sectors about economic environments and investment opportunities across their respective countries. 

They aim to foster communication with stakeholders to enhance cooperation and address obstacles, facilitate amicable resolutions of commercial disputes, and emphasize training programs, technical transfers, and knowledge rights. 

The councils also focus on identifying tax laws, publishing annual investment climate reports, and promoting mutual business visits, conferences, exhibitions, and economic projects to strengthen bilateral economic relations.

Saudi-based economist Talat Hafiz echoed the sentiments of Khairy, saying that expanding the Kingdom’s businesses’ through councils will support its non-oil gross domestic product by improving exports.

He flagged potential problems to expanding business networks abroad that are common to any international growth plan, such as cost of export and imports and currency fluctuations.

“However, these challenges can be easily managed by examining the economic viability of any expansion to ensure its viability and success,” he concluded.

Hafiz emphasized that the FSC plays a crucial role in enhancing and taking the trading relationships between Saudi Arabia and other countries to the next level.

Saudi-Canada trade

The Saudi-Canadian Business Council will serve as a platform for business leaders from the countries to showcase and promote their activities. It will facilitate the establishment of trade partnerships, exploration of new areas of economic cooperation, and exchange of information on opportunities and markets in both countries, according to the Saudi Press Agency.

“Bilateral relations between Canada and Saudi Arabia include common interests on many peace and security issues, including energy security, humanitarian affairs, and counter-terrorism,” said Ahmed Samir Islam, president and executive director at Canada Saudi Business Council – a Toronto-based organization that operates in partnership with the Riyadh-located Saudi Canadian Business Council.

Islam emphasized that the Canadian society is “very proud of the contribution it is making to educate some of the future leaders of Saudi society, including its very talented group of Saudi physicians as well as exceptional students of other disciplines.”

Khairy flagged other areas where both countries can learn from each other, including digital healthcare, artificial intelligence, and energy, as well as venture capital, and consultancy.

The economist went on to note that while Saudi Arabia has become the second largest market for Canadian exports in the Middle East, there is “huge room for the economic and trading relationship to grow further in the future.”

Hafiz also highlighted specific areas of the economy that are set to benefit, citing the industrial, tourism, technologies, education, and health sectors.

“This in turn will over time reflect positively on the two countries’ economy and bilateral trade,” he added.

The trade relationship between the Kingdom and the northern American country included significant arms exports, with Saudi Arabia being the top non-US destination for Canadian military goods in 2022. These exports were primarily composed of light-armored vehicles equipped with machine guns and anti-tank cannons.


Musk’s X ‘deceives’ users with blue checks, EU charges

Updated 25 min 50 sec ago
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Musk’s X ‘deceives’ users with blue checks, EU charges

  • Breach of EU’s Digital Markets Act regulations could lead to hefty fines as high as 6 percent of total annual turnover
  • ‘Blue check negatively affects users' ability to make informed decisions about account authenticity and content,’ Commission said

BRUSSELS: Tech billionaire Elon Musk’s X platform is misleading users with its blue checkmarks for certified accounts, and is also violating EU content rules, Brussels said Friday, in a finding that could lead to hefty fines.
EU regulators are unhappy with the blue badge system under Musk’s ownership since anyone can now obtain it with a premium subscription, whereas before it was reserved for verified accounts including leaders, companies and journalists, after approval.
The formal warning against X is the first under the Digital Services Act (DSA), a sweeping law that forces digital companies do more to police content online. It follows a probe launched in December 2023.
X becomes the third company in as many weeks to face the European Union’s wrath for violating landmark new rules, after Brussels warned Apple and Meta to change their ways or risk massive fines — for breaches of a second law known as the Digital Markets Act (DMA).
Musk has overhauled the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, including changing its name, since purchasing it in October 2022.
But his plans for X have put him at odds with Brussels since the EU wants big tech to do more to protect users online and increase competition in the digital sphere.
Now the European Commission has told X of its preliminary view that it is “in breach of” the DSA, arguing that the social network “deceives” users with its new blue badge rules.
“Since anyone can subscribe to obtain such a ‘verified’ status, it negatively affects users’ ability to make free and informed decisions about the authenticity of the accounts and the content they interact with,” the commission said in a statement.
“There is evidence of motivated malicious actors abusing the ‘verified account’ to deceive users,” it added.
The commission also accused X of failing to comply with rules on advertising transparency — since it does “not provide a searchable and reliable” ad database — and failing to give researchers access to public data.
“X has now the right of defense — but if our view is confirmed we will impose fines and require significant changes,” the EU’s top digital official, Thierry Breton, said.
Fines under the DSA can go as high as six percent of a company’s total worldwide annual turnover and force it to make changes to address violations.
X will be able to examine the EU’s file and defend itself against Friday’s finding.
There is no time limit on how long an investigation may last.
EU regulators’ wide-ranging probe into X also continues to look into the spread of illegal content and the effectiveness of the platform’s efforts to combat disinformation, the commission said.


Under the DSA, X is one of 25 “very large” online platforms, including Facebook and TikTok, with more than 45 million monthly active users in the 27-country EU.
X is also in the EU’s crosshairs for a cut to content moderation resources. In May, the EU told X to hand over “detailed information and internal documents” and demanded more information about steps taken to mitigate risks from generative AI on elections.
There are currently other investigations under the DSA into Meta’s Facebook and Instagram as well as TikTok and AliExpress.
The DSA and the DMA are both part of the EU’s bolstered legal armory targeting big tech and EU regulators have stepped up enforcement of the laws since they came into force.