Netanyahu asks if African infiltrators can be forcibly removed from Israel

PM reportedly orders study of new proposal as cabinet meet to approve plan to tell migrants to leave or face indefinite jail

Israels prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has reportedly asked officials to examine the feasibility of forcibly deporting thousands of African migrants, in the latest escalation of an anti-migrant campaign.

According to a report in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Netanyahu instructed the national security adviser, Meir Ben Shabbat, to look into forced expulsion as his cabinet met to approve a plan to offer 40,000 people the choice of being deported with a cash payment or being incarcerated indefinitely.

Despite controversy around the existing plan, Netanyahu, following concerns over cost and prison space, asked officials to go a step further and ask if the migrants could be expelled by force a proposal that would almost certainly be challenged in the courts.

On Tuesday, details were disclosed of a much-criticised scheme starting in April to persuade people to leave through a combination of the threat of prison and the incentive of a cash payment of $3,500.

Most of the migrants in question largely Sudanese and Eritrean people arrived in Israel in the second half of the last decade, crossing from Egypt before new security on the border sealed the route.

Many people settled in poor neighbourhoods of south Tel Aviv, prompting a campaign against them by local Israeli residents, which attracted the support of Netanyahu despite at times being heavily coloured by racism.

Speaking at the cabinet meeting that approved the scheme, Netanyahu said the mission was to deport the illegal infiltrators who entered Israel prior to the construction of the new barrier with Egypt.

He said: Today the cabinet will approve the plan for deporting the infiltrators from Israel. We will step up enforcement and we will allocate budgets and personnel to implement the plan. I think that it is important that people understand that we are doing something here that is completely legal and completely essential.

The infiltrators have a clear choice cooperate with us and leave voluntarily, respectably, humanely and legally, or we will have to use other tools at our disposal, which are also according to law.

The plan has been opposed by human rights groups including the Centre for Refugees and Migrants, Amnesty International Israel and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, who recently signed a letter demanding the deportations be halted. Anyone who has a heart must oppose the expulsion of the refugees, the letter says.

Referring to a widely reported deal to pay Rwanda $5,000 per person to accept the migrants, the groups added: Rwanda is not a safe place. All the evidence indicates that anyone expelled from Israel to Rwanda finds himself there without status and without rights, exposed to threats, kidnappings, torture and trafficking.

The latest move comes amid a rash of right populist moves by Netanyahus coalition, which some have suggested is being pursued ahead of expected police recommendations against the Israeli prime minister in two corruption cases.

Earlier this week Israels Knesset voted to prevent Jerusalem being divided, despite similar legislation already being on the statute books.

Then, in the aftermath of the cabinet meeting that discussed the fate of the African migrants, Israels parliament gave preliminary approval to a bill making it easier for terrorists to be sentenced to death after Netanyahu said it was necessary in extreme cases.

That proposed legislation requires three more votes in parliament to become law and is being pursued despite the fact the death penalty although never applied in Israel since the hanging of the Nazi Adolf Eichmann is also on the statute book.

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Thousands of Iranians join counter-protests after week of unrest

Footage shows demonstrators chanting in support of regime at cities across country

Thousands of pro-government counter-protesters have taken to the streets of Iranian cities after nearly a week of unrest.

Footage broadcast on national television and images published by state news agencies showed a high turnout in pro-establishment rallies, in cities that have seen turbulent scenes since Irans biggest demonstrations in nearly a decade began on 28 December.

State television aired a rally from Ahwaz, the capital of Khouzesan province, which showed thousands of people marching on a long bridge connecting two parts of the city, while holding up pro-regime placards and chanting in support of the establishment.

It broadcast similar footage from Ilam, also in the west of the country, as well as from Arak, in the centre of Iran.

Clerics hold up pro-regime placards in Qom. Photograph: Ali Marizad/EPA

The semi-official Fars news agency, affiliated to the elite Revolutionary Guards, forces involved in the crackdown on protesters, described the rallies as the revolutionary outburst of Iranian people against lawbreakers.

The commander of the Revolutionary Guards said on Wednesday it had deployed forces to three provinces – Isfahan, Lorestan and Hamadan, where most of the casualties have occurred – but claimed the anti-government protests were over.

Today we can announce the end of the sedition, said Mohammad Ali Jafari. A large number of the trouble-makers … have been arrested and there will be firm action against them.

Iran protests

During violent clashes between protesters and the security guards, in a week of demonstrations that has seen both sides becoming increasingly confrontational, at least 21 people have lost their lives mostly protesters but also some security guards, according to officials.

Iranian authorities have claimed that the protests, which began over economic grievances before taking a political turn, have been hijacked by the countrys foreign enemies. The theory has also been repeated by some figures within the reformist camp, who are critical of Irans rulers but wary of regime change.

Anti-government protests continued for a sixth consecutive day in provincial cities on Tuesday evening, whilst Tehran was relatively calmer, with a heavy presence of riot police.

Mohammad, a protester from Karaj, a city just west of the capital Tehran, told the Guardian that the protesters had clashed with the security guards in its Gohardasht neighbourhood on Tuesday evening.

A lot of basij militia used electric shockers to confront protesters, and arrest them I saw them filling at least six buses full of those detained, he said. The protester claimed the security guards also damaged public properties to find a pretext to step up their crackdown. This could not be independently verified the authorities have made similar accusations against protesters.

People are fed up with unemployment and being poor. There is no job security, he added. The protesters dont have a leader, its a leaderless movement, and I call it the movement of the hungry, the starved people.

Milad, from Shahinshahr, a city in the province of Isfahan, which has seen violent clashes in recent days, said people were unhappy with the way the city was run. Theres a deficit in the citys budget because of mismanagement and the authorities have instead cut down public salaries, he said.

It is not possible to compare the size of the crowds at the anti-government protests with the counter-demonstrations approved by Tehran. No independent journalists are permitted to film the anti-government protests, while Iranian authorities have on similar occasions bussed in supporters.

Major European countries have resisted pressure from the US president, Donald Trump, to sign a joint statement condemning the Islamic Republic, but have instead issued separate statements warning the Iranian government to allow peaceful protests and not resort to mass arrests.

Irans mission to the UN has accused the US ambassador, Nikki Haley, of shedding crocodile tears for the Iranian people.

EU states are concerned that Trump is trying to use the demonstrations as a vehicle to place further pressure on the EU to abandon its support for the Iran nuclear deal signed by Trumps predecessor Barack Obama in 2015.


Why is Trump hostile to Iran?

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The genesis of Trumps particular antipathy to Iran is hard to pin down. Before entering office he had been sceptical of Irans regional rival, Saudi Arabia. But during the 2016 election campaign all his closest foreign policy advisors, such as Michael Flynn, shared a worldview that portrays Iran as an uniquely malign actor in the Middle East and beyond. After the election, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were successful in capturing the ear of Trump and his son-in-law and top adviser Jared Kushner.

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The EU remains convinced Iran is complying with the terms of the nuclear deal, but continued US-imposed sanctions, mainly on banks, are making it hard for Iran to gain the expected economic benefits from the deal. Trump is eager to see the deal abandoned, and sees the protests as a means of resisting what Washington sees as Iranian expansionism in the Middle East.

Trump on Wednesday pledged support for Iranians trying to take back their government. You will see great support from the United States at the appropriate time! he said, without offering any specifics on what or when that might be.

Nevertheless, faced by reports that more than 400 protesters have been arrested, European leaders have become more vocal in their criticisms. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, spoke to his Iranian counterpart, Hassan Rouhani, on Tuesday and called for restraint, his office said.

Macron also decided to postpone this weeks planned visit to Tehran by the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, which was intended as a precursor to a visit by Macron himself.

Macrons office said the French leader underscored that fundamental rights including freedom of expression and freedom to demonstrate must be respected.

Rouhani in turn asked Macron to take action against a Paris-based Iranian opposition group called the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq (the Peoples MujahideenOrganisation of Iran, PMOI), which he accused of fomenting the recent protests.


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Syrian rebel shelling destroys at least seven Russian planes, report says

Russian dailys report points to countrys single biggest loss of military hardware since launching airstrikes in Syria in late 2015

At least seven Russian planes were destroyed by rebel shelling at the Khmeimim airbase in Syria on 31 December, the Russian daily Kommersant reported late on Wednesday, citing two sources.

If confirmed, the attack would mark the single biggest loss of military hardware for Russia since it launched airstrikes in Syria in autumn 2015. More than 10 servicemen were wounded in the shelling by radical Islamists, the report said.

At least four Su-24 bombers, two Su-35S fighters and an An-72 transport plane, as well as an ammunition depot, were destroyed by the shelling, Kommersant said on its website, citing two military-diplomatic sources.

The attack came days after Vladimir Putin made a triumphant visit to Khmeimim, where he met his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad and told the Russian air force detachment at the base: You are coming back home with victory.

Kommersant said the Russian defence ministry had not commented. Reuters was not able to immediately reach the ministry.

Earlier on Wednesday, the ministry said a Mi-24 helicopter had crash-landed in Syria due to a technical fault and two pilots died.

Last month, Russia began establishing a permanent presence at Hmeymim and a naval base at Tartous although Putin has ordered a significant withdrawal of his military from Syria, declaring its work largely done.

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Trump Jerusalem move ‘a dangerous violation’ of international law, says Arab League

Foreign ministers says US presidents decision threatens to send the region into violence and chaos

Arab foreign ministers have called Donald Trumps decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israels capital a dangerous violation of international law that had no legal impact and was void.

The Arab League urged the United States to abandon an announcement it said would increase unrest in the region. The decision has no legal effect … it deepens tension, ignites anger and threatens to plunge region into more violence and chaos, the Arab League said early on Sunday after an emergency session attended by all its members in Cairo.

Trumps endorsement of Israels claim to all of Jerusalem as its capital goes against long-standing US policy that the citys status must be decided in negotiations with the Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

The league said it would seek a UN security council resolution rejecting the US move.

Lebanons foreign minister, Gebran Bassil, said during the meeting that Arab nations should consider imposing economic sanctions against the US to prevent it moving its embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

Pre-emptive measures [must be] taken … beginning with diplomatic measures, then political, then economic and financial sanctions, he said, without giving specific details.

The Arab League statement made no mention of economic sanctions.

Arab criticism of Trumps plan contrasted sharply with the praise Washingtons traditional Arab allies heaped on him at the beginning of his administration in January.

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In 1939, I didnt hear war coming. Now its thundering approach cant be ignored | Harry Leslie Smith

Author Harry Leslie Smith remembers the prelude to the second world war and there are worrying echoes now

A chill of remembrance has come over me during this August month. It feels as if the 2017 summer breeze is being scattered by the winds of war blowing from across our world towards Britain, just like they were in 1939.

In the Middle East, Saudi Arabia eviscerates Yemen with the same ferocity as Mussolini did to Ethiopia when I was child in 1935. The hypocrisy of Britains government and elite class ensures that innocent blood still flows in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Theresa Mays government insists that peace can only be achieved through the proliferation of weapons of war in conflict zones. Venezuela teeters towards anarchy and foreign intervention while in the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte protected by his alliance with Britain and the US murders the vulnerable for the crime of trying to escape their poverty through drug addiction.

Because I am old, now 94, I recognise these omens of doom. Chilling signs are everywhere, perhaps the biggest being that the US allows itself to be led by Donald Trump, a man deficient in honour, wisdom and just simple human kindness. It is as foolish for Americans to believe that their generals will save them from Trump as it was for liberal Germans to believe the military would protect the nation from Hitlers excesses.

Britain also has nothing to be proud of. Since the Iraq war our country has been on a downward decline, as successive governments have eroded democracy and social justice, and savaged the welfare state with austerity, leading us into the cul de sac of Brexit. Like Trump, Brexit cannot be undone by liberal sanctimony it can only be altered if the neoliberal economic model is smashed, as if it were a statue of a dictator, by a liberated people.

After years of Tory government, Britain is less equipped to change the course of history for the good than we were under Neville Chamberlain, when Nazism was appeased in the 1930s. In fact, no nation in Europe or North America has anything to crow about. Each is rife with inequality, massive corporate tax avoidance which is just legitimised corruption and a neoliberalism that has eroded societies.

Summer should be comforting but it isnt this year. Looking at the young today, when I watch them in their leisure; I catch a fearful resemblance with the faces of the young from my generation in the summer of 1939. When I am out in town, I listen to their laughter, I watch them enjoying a pint or wooing one another, and I am afraid for them.

This August resembles too much that of 1939; the last summer of peace until 1945. Then aged 16 and still wet behind the ears, Id go to pictures with my mates and wed laugh at the newsreels of Hitler and other fascist monsters that lived beyond what we thought was our reach. Little did we know in that August 1939, life without peace, without carnage, without air raids, without the blitz, could be measured in days. I did not hear the thundering approach of war, but as an old man I hear it now for my grandchildrens generation. I hope I am wrong. But I am petrified for them.

Harry Leslie Smiths latest book Dont Let My Past Be Your Future is published by Constable & Robinson on 14 September

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Global arms trade reaches highest point since cold war era

Middle East almost doubles weapons imports, as US and Europe remain the main suppliers and China joins top-tier exporters

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Iran 1979: a time of revolution in pictures

The Observer photographer David Newell Smith visited Iran in 1979, when Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Tehran from exile in Paris, ending the Shahs rule. On the revolutions anniversary, the Guardians Iran correspondent, Saeed Kamali Dehghan, chooses a selection of his photos

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Assads slaughterhouse defies description, but its horrifyingly real | Kate Allen

According to Amnesty, Saydnaya prison is an extermination centre where starvation and torture are the prelude to mass hangings, up to 50 at a time

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Tunisia attack survivor held grandfather as he was shot, inquest hears

Coroner praises courage of Owen Richards who, aged 16 at time of 2015 Sousse attack, held 78-year-old relative as he was killed

A survivor of the Tunisia terror attack held his grandfather in his arms as he was shot dead along with his older brother and uncle, an inquest has heard.

Owen Richards, then aged 16, was trying to help his grandfather, Charles Evans, to escape Seifeddine Rezgui who, armed with a Kalashnikov, chased them and his brother and uncle through the Imperial Marhaba hotel in Sousse on 26 June 2015.

In a statement read at the inquests into the deaths of 30 Britons killed by Rezgui, Owen said he was covered in his grandfathers blood after the 78-year-old was shot twice.

In the immediate aftermath he witnessed his 19-year-old brother, Joel Richards, dead on the floor and his 49-year-old uncle, Adrian Evans, lying in a pool of blood.

Owen was commended by the coroner, Judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith, for his extraordinary courage in trying to save his grandfather.

In the statement remade by Samantha Leek QC, the counsel to the inquests, Owen described how he first heard gunfire as he floated on a lilo in the outdoor pool at the five-star hotel.

The four men started to make their way into the hotel complex towards the indoor pool area, when Rezgui, 23, caught up with them. On the way Grandad kept falling over so he was not very fast, he said.

When we got to the inside pool I looked behind and I saw the person running after us. Owen said he witnessed his uncle dive to the floor. I was hugging Grandad on the floor, he said.

Charles Evans, left, Joel Richards, centre, and Adrian Evans. Photograph: West Midlands Police/PA

I could see out of my right hand corner Joel was standing and then Joel screamed. I think he shouted no, like he was pleading someone to stop.

Owen said he saw the gunman lift his weapon before Owen closed his eyes. I felt warm liquid splatter over me, he said. I opened my eyes. I could see Grandad had a hole in his neck. Grandad said he got me.

I could hear the footsteps coming back. I told him to stay still, to pretend to be dead. I closed my eyes again. I heard a single bang next to my ear. I was hugging Grandad then I saw he had shot Grandad again.

Then warm liquid pouring over me and I got covered it. I opened my eyes and I saw what happened to Grandad.

Owen said he noticed that his brother was lying on the floor, so reached out and tapped his foot and told him to get up but received no response. I crawled over to him and then I could see in his eyes he was not alive, he said. He then rose and saw his uncle lying in a pool of blood.

Earlier in the hearing, Owens mother said her family had been destroyed by the attack which claimed the lives of 38 holidaymakers.

Suzanne Richards, Joels mother, Adrians sister and Charless daughter, told the inquests the four relatives from the West Midlands were in Tunisia for a third time on a jolly boys outing, celebrating Owen completing his GCSE exams.

The coffin of Joel Richards is carried off a Royal Air Force C-17 military transporter plane at RAF Brize Norton on 1 July 2015. Photograph: Joe Giddens/AFP/Getty Images

The last she heard from any of them was a text from Adrian on the morning of the attack saying they were all relaxing by the pool in the five-star beachfront hotel.

How can four people go on holiday and only one come back? Richards asked during tributes to her father, brother and son at the Royal Courts of Justice in London.

That fateful horrific morning destroyed my family we are so broken and every day is a colossal struggle but we are so blessed that Owen survived, she said.

What he went through and what he witnessed is unimaginable.

Joel, an aspiring football referee, Charles, a former magistrate, and Adrian, who worked for Sandwell council, were not able to witness Owen collect his GCSE results, Richards said.

Paying tribute to her son, who was a London 2012 Olympic torchbearer, she said: Joel was robbed of his future and we were robbed of Joel. He was my best friend and he was my life.

Part of me also died that day when my beautiful child was taken from me so cruelly and so unfairly.

The inquests, set to run to the end of February, are currently hearing details of each of the 30 deaths.

The Foreign Office has given evidence about the travel advice for Tunisia at the time of the attack, which highlighted the threat of terrorism.

Some survivors of the atrocity, as well as relatives of the victims, have accused the travel firm Tui, owner of Thomson holidays, with whom all 30 Britons booked their trip, of failing to pass on the advice or flag it sufficiently.

Tui representatives have told the inquest that security was overseen by Tunisian authorities, and the coroner, Judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith, was taken through slides highlighting how Tui customers could access the travel advice through its website.


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