Israel plans most settlement homes since 1992: minister

from June 11, 2017 at 09:42AM

Israel has so far this year advanced its highest number of settlement projects since 1992, the defence minister said, despite warnings such plans make a two-state solution impossible.

Minister of Defense Avigdor Lieberman made the comments on Sunday as Israel’s government faced mounting pressure from leaders of the settlement movement, who wield heavy influence in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition.

Netanyahu has found himself seeking to balance the competing demands of the settlers and US President Donald Trump, who has asked him to hold back on such projects for now as he seeks a way to restart negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.

Lieberman told journalists and ministers at the start of a cabinet meeting that, so far this year, plans had been advanced for 8,345 homes in the occupied West Bank, including 3,066 slated for “immediate construction”.

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Settlement projects pass through a list of planning stages before final approval.

“The numbers for the first half of 2017 are the highest since 1992,” Lieberman said.

The figures were similar to those published by settlement watchdog Peace Now last week.

Counting plans and tenders, Peace Now said 7,721 units had been advanced this year, almost triple the number for all of 2016, which amounted to 2,699.

Peace Now could not immediately say whether it agreed that this year’s figures were the highest since 1992, AFP news agency reported.

Last week alone, Israel advanced plans for more than 3,000 settlement homes.

While the majority of those are for pre-existing homes, some will be built in the first new official settlement in some 25 years, Peace Now said.

Palestine and Israel: One state, or two?

Last month, Trump visited Israel and Palestine, meeting both Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas as he seeks what he calls the “ultimate deal”.

But he has given no details about how he plans to restart talks, and there is deep scepticism over whether such an effort would have any chance of success.

Settlements are seen as illegal under international law and major stumbling blocks to a solution as they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state in a two-state settlement.

More than 600,000 Israeli settlers now live in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, alongside around 2.9 million Palestinians, which critics say makes a two-state agreement highly unlikely.

Source: News agencies

Read more at: Al Jazeera English

Trump seeks to reopen cases of hundreds reprieved from deportation

from June 9, 2017 at 04:39AM

The Trump administration has moved to reopen the cases of hundreds of undocumented people who were reprieved from deportation under Barack Obama, according to government data, court documents and interviews with immigration lawyers.

Donald Trump signaled in January that he planned to dramatically widen the net of undocumented immigrants targeted for deportation, but his administration has not publicized efforts to reopen immigration cases. News of the administration’s effort represents one of the first concrete examples of the crackdown and is likely to stir fears among tens of thousands of undocumented people who thought they were safe from deportation.

Cases were reopened during the Obama administration, but generally only if a person had committed a serious crime, attorneys said. The Trump administration has sharply increased the number of cases it is asking the courts to reopen, and its targets appear to include at least some people who have not committed any crimes since their cases were closed.

Between 1 March and 31 May, prosecutors moved to reopen 1,329 cases, according to an analysis of data from the Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR). The Obama administration filed 430 similar motions in the same period in 2016.

Jennifer Elzea, a spokeswoman for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice), confirmed the agency was now filing motions to reopen cases where illegal immigrants had “since been arrested for or convicted of a crime”.

It is not possible to tell from the EOIR data how many of the cases the Trump administration is seeking to reopen involve immigrants who committed crimes after their cases were closed. Attorneys said some of the cases were being reopened because immigrants had been arrested for serious crimes, but said they were also seeing cases involving people who had not committed crimes or who were cited for minor violations such as traffic tickets.

“This is a sea change,” said the attorney David Leopold, former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “Before, if someone did something after the case was closed out that showed that person was a threat, then it would be reopened. Now they are opening cases just because they want to deport people.”

Elzea said the agency reviewed cases “to see if the basis for prosecutorial discretion is still appropriate”.

In 2011, Obama initiated a policy change, pulling back from deporting migrants who had formed deep ties in the US and whom the government considered no threat to public safety. Instead, the administration would prioritize undocumented migrants who had committed serious crimes.

Between January 2012 and Trump’s inauguration on 20 January 2017, the government shelved about 81,000 cases, according to Reuters analysis. These so-called “administrative closures” did not extend full legal status to those whose cases were closed, but they did remove the threat of deportation.

Trump signed an executive order overturning the Obama-era policy on 25 January. While criminals remain the highest priority for deportation, anyone in the country illegally is now a potential target. In cases reviewed by Reuters, the administration explicitly cited Trump’s executive order in 30 motions as a reason to put the immigrant back on the court docket.

Since immigration cases are not generally public, Reuters was able to review only cases made available by attorneys. Motions to reopen closed cases have been filed in 32 states, with the highest numbers in California, Florida and Virginia, according to the review of EOIR data. The bulk of the examples reviewed were two dozen motions sent over the span of a couple of days by the New Orleans Ice office.

Sally Joyner, an immigration attorney in Memphis, Tennessee, said one of her Central American clients, who crossed the border with her children in 2013, was allowed to stay in the US after the government filed a motion to close her case in December 2015. Since crossing the border, the woman has not been arrested or had trouble with law enforcement, said Joyner, who asked that her client’s name not be used because of the pending legal action.

Nevertheless, on 29 March, Ice filed a two-page motion to reopen the case against the woman and her children. When Joyner queried Ice, an official said the agency had been notified that her client had a criminal history in El Salvador, according to documents seen by Reuters.

The woman had been arrested for selling pumpkin seeds as an unauthorized street vendor. Government documents show US authorities knew about the arrest before her case was closed.

Dana Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, said revisiting previously closed matters would add to a record backlog of 580,000 pending immigration cases.

“If we have to go back and review all of those decisions that were already made, it clearly generates more work,” she said. “It’s a judicial do-over.”

Read more at: World news | The Guardian

Israeli forces kill Palestinian at Gaza border protest

from June 9, 2017 at 07:42AM

Israeli forces have shot and killed a Palestinian man and injured at least six others during a protest along the besieged Gaza Strip’s northern border with Israel.

Clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinian protesters broke out on Friday east of the Jabliya refugee camp in the north of the territory, where Aeid Khamis Jumaa, 35, was shot in the head with live ammunition, according to the Gaza-based Ministry of Health.

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The ministry, run by Gaza’s ruling Hamas, said six other Palestinians were wounded during the clashes in Jabaliya.

Jumaa was the second Palestinian to be killed in a week during clashes with Israeli troops on Gaza’s border.

For weeks, Palestinians have rallied at the border fence after activists affiliated with Hamas called for protests there.

In separate clashes on Friday, Israeli forces shot live ammunition at protesters on the border east of Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza injuring at least two Palestinians, witnesses told the Bethlehem-based Maan News Agency.

An Israeli army spokeswoman told AFP news agency that hundreds of Palestinian demonstrators had burned tyres and thrown stones the length of the security fence between Israel and Gaza.

“Our forces had to arrest suspects to prevent damage to the security fence,” she said, but was unable to confirm the casualties from gunfire.

Israel and Egypt, citing security concerns, enforced a blockade on Gaza a decade ago when Hamas took over the territory from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israeli occupation ‘intensifying’ 50 years after war with Arab nations

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

Read more at: Al Jazeera English

Greg Gianforte to plead guilty for assaulting Guardian reporter

from June 9, 2017 at 08:39AM

Montana Republican Greg Gianforte plans to plead guilty to a misdemeanor assault charge for “body-slamming” Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs, according to Gallatin county attorney Marty Lambert.

Lambert told the Associated Press that Gianforte will plead guilty when he appears in court for arraignment and sentencing on Monday. Misdemeanor assault carries a maximum penalty of a $500 fine or six month jail sentence.

The Guardian was not immediately able to reach Lambert or Gianforte for comment.

A Republican tech millionaire, Gianforte was charged following an altercation on the eve of a special election to fill Montana’s sole seat in the US House of Representatives.

Jacobs had approached Gianforte to ask a question about the Republican healthcare bill when the then-candidate threw him to the ground and began punching him. Though the Gianforte campaign initially blamed Jacobs for the altercation, an audio recording and the first-hand account of one of three Fox News reporters who witnessed the assault contradicted the campaign’s statement.

“Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him,” wrote Fox News reporter Alicia Alcuna. “Faith, Keith and I watched in disbelief as Gianforte then began punching the reporter.”

Gianforte was charged later that night and emerged the winner in the contested election the next day.

On Wednesday, Gianforte and Jacobs reached a settlement to preclude any civil claims stemming from the assault. Gianforte issued a direct apology to Jacobs, writing in a letter that the “physical response to your legitimate question was unprofessional, unacceptable, and unlawful”. Gianforte also agreed to pay $50,000 to freedom of the press group the Committee to Protect Journalists.

Jacobs signed a release foregoing a civil lawsuit and agreed not to object if Gianforte pleaded no contest to the criminal charges.

A no-contest plea allows a defendant to be sentenced without entering a guilty plea, which could be used against him in a civil case.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee immediately seized on the political implications of the guilty plea.

“Now that Greg Gianforte will admit to being a violent criminal, the case could not be more clear: Greg Gianforte is unfit to represent the people of Montana, and should decline to take the oath of office,” DCCC spokesperson Drew Godinich said in a statement.

The two parties poured $17m into the race for Montana’s sole seat in the House of Representatives, which was vacated by secretary of the interior Ryan Zinke. Gianforte faced off against Democrat and political novice Rob Quist, who was well-known around the state for his folk-singing career.

While the criminal case is expected to be resolved on Monday, Gianforte could still face consequences in Washington. On 2 June, a coalition of freedom of the press organizations lodged a complaint with congressional ethics officials seeking discipline for Gianforte.

The groups also wrote to Donald Trump to express concern about the president’s rhetoric against the press.

“A clear and unequivocal rejection of attacks on the press would be welcomed by political officials on both sides of the aisle, and is a necessary corrective to the corrosive atmosphere created by your earlier rhetoric,” the groups wrote.

Read more at: World news | The Guardian

Israel set to approve 2,500 settlement housing units

from June 2, 2017 at 07:12AM

Israel is expected to approve nearly 2,500 new settlement housing units across the occupied West Bank next week after the projects were tabled at a planning council meeting on Friday.

Israeli NGO Peace Now said on Friday that Israel’s Civil Administration – the military body governing the occupied West Bank – was scheduled to meet on Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss 27 separate plans for settlement housing units across the West Bank. 

According to local media reports, about 1,500 of the housing units set to be approved are in major settlement blocs including Maaleh Adumim and Ariel, which Israel wants and expects to annex in any potential peace deal.

One of the items on the agenda will allegedly pave the way for the construction of 102 housing units in Amichai, the first new settlement to be officially created by the government in 25 years. 

Israel settlements a sticking point in Trump’s Jerusalem visit

The rest lie outside the blocs and deep within the West Bank, including the Beit El settlement, northeast of Ramallah, and the Susiya settlement in the South Hebron hills.

The deal comes on the heals of US President Donald Trump’s visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories..

The Palestinians and the majority of the international community view settlements as unlawful and a major obstacle to a two-state solution, as they are built on land that the Palestinians want for a future state.

When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Trump in Washington DC in February, the US president publicly urged Netanyahu to hold back on settlement building in order to improve the prospects for the possibility of US-brokered peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

June marks 50 years since Israel conquered and occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in the June 1967 war. The Israeli victory was followed by the spread of Jewish settlements throughout the occupied territories.

Although Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, currently more than half a million Jewish settlers reside across the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Moving towards annexation

According to a new report published by the European Council on Foreign Relations, both the length and characteristics of Israel’s 50-year occupation of Palestinian territory show that it has no serious plans to relinquish the territory and is moving towards annexation instead.

Authored by Valentina Azarova, a postdoctoral fellow at the Centre for Global Public Law, Koc University in Turkey’s Istanbul, the report addresses the failure of using the framework of international humanitarian law (IHL) and international human rights law (IHRL) to assess Israeli policies in the occupied territories.

US ambassador to Israel’s ties to settlements on Palestinian land

“Attempts by third states and international actors to enforce IHL and IHRL have failed to bring about Israel’s compliance because this partial legal framework neither adequately captures the legal consequences of continued occupation with the aim of acquiring the territory, nor generates appropriate remedial action for such a situation,” the report said.

Hugh Lovatt, Israel-Palestine Project Coordinator at ECFR, told Al Jazeera that the use of IHL and IHRL does not fully take into account Israeli policy in the occupied territory, including moves to annex areas.

“In a situation in which the intent of Israel’s continued control over the OPT is one of the territorial acquisition, which is revealed through the use of an integrated legal framework, then third-party actors such as the EU and its members states are under an obligation to act collectively to bring to an end Israel’s occupation. This requires a new approach to peace making in Israel/Palestine,” he said, using OPT to refer to the occupied Palestinian territories.

“The EU should articulate a new foreign policy that more effectively harnesses the conflict resolution aspects offered by international law, namely the law on the use of force (jus ad bellum) in order to more effectively disincentivise Israel’s unlawful acquisition of Palestinian territory and institutional violation of Palestinian rights. This means placing greater emphasis on bringing about Israel’s withdrawal, rather than conditioning this on political compromise between the two sides.”

Policy of “differentiation”

The ECFR report also called on the European Union, other third party states, and international actors to recognise Israel’s prolonged occupation of Palestinian territory as unlawful, and to review their dealings both with Israel and Israeli entities in accordance with their obligations under international law.

In its bilateral relations with Israel, the European Union has in recent years adopted a policy of “differentiation” in an attempt to exclude settlement-linked entities.

“At a minimum the EU must continue to advance its measures to differentiate between Israel and its settlements, in order to ensure the full and effective non-recognition of Israel’s unlawful practices in the OPT, including its settlement activity,” Lovatt told Al Jazeera.

“Of particular focus should be dealings by EU corporations in relation to settlement entities and activities.”

Can Trump solve the Middle East conflict? – Inside Story

Source: Al Jazeera News

Read more at: Al Jazeera English

Rights group disputes account of US raid in Yemen, saying five civilians died

from May 24, 2017 at 06:00AM

London-based human rights group cites local sources, who say the raid went wrong from the start when US Navy Seals opened fire on a 70-year-old man

Five civilians were killed in a US Navy Seal raid in Yemen against al-Qaida militants, a human rights organisation said on Wednesday.

US central command that the raid on Tuesday had killed seven members of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (Aqap) in Marib governorate, “through a combination of small arms fire and precision airstrikes”.

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Read more at: World news | The Guardian

Concerns over Trump still allowing his company to profit from foreign officials

from May 24, 2017 at 05:30AM

Documents show the president is continuing to risk violating the constitution’s emoluments clause, which forbids US officials from being paid by a ‘foreign state’

Donald Trump will continue to risk violating the US constitution by allowing his company to profit from foreign government officials, according to documents released by Congress on Wednesday.

Executives at the president’s hotel business said they were not prepared to make efforts to check whether customers worked for overseas states, in part, because this would be awkward for the Trump brand.

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Read more at: World news | The Guardian

US army ‘lost track of $1bn worth of arms’

from May 24, 2017 at 02:06AM

The US army has failed to monitor over $1bn worth of arms and other military equipment transfers to Kuwait and Iraq, Amnesty International says in a report citing a 2016 US government audit.

The now-declassified document by the US Department of Defence (DoD) audit, was obtained by the rights group following Freedom of Information requests.

The audit reveals that the DoD “did not have accurate, up-to-date records on the quantity and location” of a vast amount of equipment on hand in Kuwait and Iraq.

Some records were incomplete, while duplicated spreadsheets, handwritten receipts and the lack of a central database increased the risk for human-error while entering data.

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“This audit provides a worrying insight into the US army’s flawed – and potentially dangerous – system for controlling millions of dollars’ worth of arms transfers to a hugely volatile region,” says Patrick Wilcken, Amnesty International’s Arms Control and Human Rights researcher, in the report.

The rights group says in the report that its own research has “consistently documented” lax controls and record-keeping within the Iraqi chain of command, which had resulted in arms winding up in the hands of armed groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL).

“After all this time and all these warnings, the same problems keep occurring,” Wilcken said.

‘Irresponsible transfers’

The military transfers were part of the Iraq Train and Equip Fund (ITEF), a programme that appropriated $1.6bn to provide assistance to military and other security services associated with the government of Iraq, including Kurdish and tribal security forces.

The transfers included small arms and heavy weapons, machine guns, mortar rounds and assault rifles.

“This effort is focused on critical ground forces needed to degrade and ultimately defeat ISIL [also known as ISIS] in Iraq, secure its national borders and prevent ISIL from developing safe havens,” the DoD said in a report justifying ITEF.

Is the international community indirectly enabling war crimes in Iraq?

“If support is not provided American interests in the region would be undermined.”

In response to the audit, the US army has pledged to implement corrective actions.

“This occurred during the Obama administration as well, and groups such as Amnesty International repeatedly called on irresponsible arms transfers to be tackled, as the weapons were not only falling into the hands of groups like ISIL but also pro-Tehran Shia jihadists fighting for the Iraqi government,” Tallha Abdulrazaq, a security researcher at the University of Exeter, told Al Jazeera via email.

“While ISIL certainly needs to be fought, if this is achieved by hurling arms at groups that are just as extreme as the militant group, how does that resolve the situation?”

Amnesty International has urged the US to comply with laws and treaties to stop arms transfers or diversion of arms that could fuel atrocities.

“This should be an urgent wake-up call for the US, and all countries supplying arms to urgently shore up checks and controls,” Wilcken said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

Read more at: Al Jazeera English

UN panel releases draft treaty banning possession and use of nuclear weapons

from May 22, 2017 at 09:51AM

States would have to destroy any nuclear weapons they have and would be forbidden from transferring them

A United Nations-backed panel has publicly released a draft treaty banning the possession and use of all nuclear weapons.

The draft treaty is the culmination of a sustained campaign, supported by more than 130 non-nuclear states frustrated with the sclerotic pace of disarmament, to prohibit nuclear weapons and persuade nuclear-armed states to disarm.

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Read more at: World news | The Guardian

Sheriff who likened Black Lives Matter to KKK to join Trump administration

from May 17, 2017 at 07:21AM

David Clarke, who acted as surrogate for president during election campaign, says he will be link between federal government and local law enforcement

The controversial Milwaukee County sheriff, David Clarke, who has compared Black Lives Matter to the Ku Klux Klan, has said he is joining the Trump administration as a point person between federal government and local and state law enforcement.

Clarke broke the news of his appointment on the local Wisconsin radio station 1130 WISN Radio. The move brings to an end a long courtship between Trump and the sheriff, who acted as a surrogate for the Republican nominee on the campaign trail last year and was one of few African American speakers at the Republican national convention, at which he proclaimed “blue lives matter” in homage to police officers.

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Read more at: World news | The Guardian