US Downgrades Jerusalem Diplomatic Mission to Palestinians

The United States on Thursday downgraded the status of its main diplomatic mission to the Palestinians by placing it under the authority of the U.S. Embassy to Israel.

The move, which was immediately denounced by the Palestinians and hailed by Israel, is the latest Trump administration decision to align with Israeli government views and a victory for U.S. Ambassador David Friedman. He had long sought to end the Jerusalem consulate’s independent status but had faced resistance from within the State Department.

Friedman’s push picked up steam in May after the Trump administration moved the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem over the vehement objections of the Palestinians, who claim the eastern part of the holy city as the capital of an eventual state.

The consulate had for years served as a de facto embassy to the Palestinians but will now be known as the Palestinian Affairs Unit of the embassy to Israel. It will remain in its current location, at least for now, the State Department said.

The step, which was announced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, means that the Jerusalem consulate will no longer have a separate channel to Washington to report on Palestinian affairs and will no longer be run by a consul general with authorities tantamount to those of an ambassador.

In a statement, Pompeo said the merger of the consulate into the embassy is intended to “achieve significant efficiencies and increase our effectiveness.” He denied that it signaled any change in U.S. policy toward Jerusalem or the Palestinian territories.

“The United States continues to take no position on final status issues, including boundaries or borders,” he said. “The specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties.”

The administration, Pompeo said, remains “strongly committed to achieving a lasting and comprehensive peace that offers a brighter future to Israel and the Palestinians. We look forward to continued partnership and dialogue with the Palestinian people and, we hope in the future, with the Palestinian leadership.”

Although Pompeo sought to portray the move as a bureaucratic management shift, the downgrading of the consulate has potent symbolic resonance, suggesting American recognition of Israeli control over east Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Michael Oren, Israel’s deputy Cabinet minister for public diplomacy and a former Israeli ambassador to Washington, appeared to lend credence to that view in a tweet welcoming the step.

“A great day for Israel, Jerusalem, and the United States,” he wrote. The announcement “closing the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem and transferring its responsibilities to the embassy ends the last vestige of American support for the city’s division. Israel is deeply grateful.”

The Palestinians, who cut off nearly all contacts with the Trump administration after it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital late last year, meanwhile, quickly denounced it.

Nabil Shaath, the international affairs adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said it was a “very bad decision” that violated past agreements and continued President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“Now, he is cutting the last connection he is said to have with the Palestinian people. He is practically saying Jerusalem is for Israel,” Shaath said. “This decision has nothing to do with peace. It complicates peace and makes it impossible.”

The consulate downgrade is just the latest in a series of decisions by Trump that the Palestinians say shows bias against them.

The administration in December recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, ending a decades-long U.S. position that the status of the city should be determined in negotiations. In January, it slashed, and then ultimately ended, U.S. funding to the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees as it also did with the vast majority of bilateral assistance to the Palestinians.

Last month, the administration ordered the closure of the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington, citing U.S. law that mandates its closure unless credible peace talks with Israel are underway.

Since he became U.S. ambassador to Israel, Friedman, a longtime supporter and fundraiser for the West Bank settlement movement, had argued he should have authority over the consulate, which for decades has operated differently than almost every other U.S. consulate around the world.

Typically, the head of a consulate, known as a consul general, reports to the ambassador, who has “chief of mission authority” over all U.S. posts in the country. In contrast, the consul general running the Jerusalem consulate historically had his or her own chief of mission authority. The closest comparable case to the Jerusalem situation is the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong, which also has its own chief of mission who does not report to the U.S. ambassador in Beijing.

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US Downgrades Jerusalem Diplomatic Mission to Palestinians

The United States on Thursday downgraded the status of its main diplomatic mission to the Palestinians by placing it under the authority of the U.S. Embassy to Israel.

The move, which was immediately denounced by the Palestinians and hailed by Israel, is the latest Trump administration decision to align with Israeli government views and a victory for U.S. Ambassador David Friedman. He had long sought to end the Jerusalem consulate’s independent status but had faced resistance from within the State Department.

Friedman’s push picked up steam in May after the Trump administration moved the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem over the vehement objections of the Palestinians, who claim the eastern part of the holy city as the capital of an eventual state.

The consulate had for years served as a de facto embassy to the Palestinians but will now be known as the Palestinian Affairs Unit of the embassy to Israel. It will remain in its current location, at least for now, the State Department said.

The step, which was announced by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, means that the Jerusalem consulate will no longer have a separate channel to Washington to report on Palestinian affairs and will no longer be run by a consul general with authorities tantamount to those of an ambassador.

In a statement, Pompeo said the merger of the consulate into the embassy is intended to “achieve significant efficiencies and increase our effectiveness.” He denied that it signaled any change in U.S. policy toward Jerusalem or the Palestinian territories.

“The United States continues to take no position on final status issues, including boundaries or borders,” he said. “The specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem are subject to final status negotiations between the parties.”

The administration, Pompeo said, remains “strongly committed to achieving a lasting and comprehensive peace that offers a brighter future to Israel and the Palestinians. We look forward to continued partnership and dialogue with the Palestinian people and, we hope in the future, with the Palestinian leadership.”

Although Pompeo sought to portray the move as a bureaucratic management shift, the downgrading of the consulate has potent symbolic resonance, suggesting American recognition of Israeli control over east Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Michael Oren, Israel’s deputy Cabinet minister for public diplomacy and a former Israeli ambassador to Washington, appeared to lend credence to that view in a tweet welcoming the step.

“A great day for Israel, Jerusalem, and the United States,” he wrote. The announcement “closing the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem and transferring its responsibilities to the embassy ends the last vestige of American support for the city’s division. Israel is deeply grateful.”

The Palestinians, who cut off nearly all contacts with the Trump administration after it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital late last year, meanwhile, quickly denounced it.

Nabil Shaath, the international affairs adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said it was a “very bad decision” that violated past agreements and continued President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“Now, he is cutting the last connection he is said to have with the Palestinian people. He is practically saying Jerusalem is for Israel,” Shaath said. “This decision has nothing to do with peace. It complicates peace and makes it impossible.”

The consulate downgrade is just the latest in a series of decisions by Trump that the Palestinians say shows bias against them.

The administration in December recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, ending a decades-long U.S. position that the status of the city should be determined in negotiations. In January, it slashed, and then ultimately ended, U.S. funding to the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees as it also did with the vast majority of bilateral assistance to the Palestinians.

Last month, the administration ordered the closure of the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington, citing U.S. law that mandates its closure unless credible peace talks with Israel are underway.

Since he became U.S. ambassador to Israel, Friedman, a longtime supporter and fundraiser for the West Bank settlement movement, had argued he should have authority over the consulate, which for decades has operated differently than almost every other U.S. consulate around the world.

Typically, the head of a consulate, known as a consul general, reports to the ambassador, who has “chief of mission authority” over all U.S. posts in the country. In contrast, the consul general running the Jerusalem consulate historically had his or her own chief of mission authority. The closest comparable case to the Jerusalem situation is the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong, which also has its own chief of mission who does not report to the U.S. ambassador in Beijing.

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Trump Criticizes California Wildfire Work, Threatens Funding

U.S. President Donald Trump Wednesday rekindled his criticism of California’s wildfire prevention steps and threatened to withhold billions of dollars of federal funding amid one of the most destructive fire seasons on record.

“It’s hurting our budget, it’s hurting our country and they better get their act together,” Trump said at a Cabinet meeting about California’s forestry management. He did not specify the type of funding that could be withheld.

The Republican president’s comments, which followed his criticism in August of California’s wildfire prevention efforts, were aimed at Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, whom he has frequently criticized over immigration and other policies.

With wildfires having charred nearly 2.8 million acres (1.1 million hectares) over the past two years in California, Trump said the state should do more to remove rotten trees and other debris that fuel fires.

Brown’s press secretary, Evan Westrup, cited several fire prevention steps the governor had taken, including last month’s law requiring utilities to have fire prevention plans, and an order doubling to 500,000 acres (202,340 hectares) the land open to vegetation thinning.

“The president’s comments are about as credible as his self-proclaimed ‘natural instinct for science,’” Westrup said in an email, referring to Trump’s self-assessment in an Associated Press interview this week.

Six years of drought

The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or CalFire, noted that in the past two years of intense wildfires, the amount of federally managed forest land in California burned exceeded the amount of charred state forest land by 1.49 million acres (603,000 hectares) to 1.13 million acres (457,000 hectares). 

A six-year drought is mainly blamed for killing an estimated 129 million trees in state forests and CalFire has crews of 60 workers clearing debris every day, spokesman Scott McLean said by telephone.

This week, California’s largest public utility cut off power to about 60,000 customers for up to two days in a fire prevention move when high winds threatened to topple trees and power lines.

Plenty of water

In August, Trump tweeted that unspecified water diversions to the Pacific Ocean were making California wildfires harder to fight.

California had plenty of water to fight the blazes and the fires are primarily fought by crews hacking away at dry brush with hand tools and bulldozers, not with water, McLean said at the time.

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Email: Political Appointee to Lead Interior Department Watchdog

The Trump administration is moving to reassign a political appointee at the Department of Housing and Urban Development to lead an internal watchdog agency at the Interior Department.

An email sent by HUD Secretary Ben Carson to staff says assistant HUD secretary Suzanne Israel Tufts will take over as acting inspector general at Interior. Tufts would replace Mary Kendall, who has served as acting inspector general since 2009.

An administration official told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Tufts won’t start her job at Interior until required paperwork is completed. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because Tufts’ appointment has not yet been publicly announced.

Carson email

Carson said in the email Friday that he had “mixed emotions” about Tufts’ departure, calling her “an extremely enthusiastic and energetic leader who re-established (HUD’s) Office of Administration, implementing improvements to the agency’s governance and internal controls.”

A spokeswoman for the inspector general’s office said Kendall remains on the job. The agency “has received no official communication or information about any leadership changes,” spokeswoman Nancy DiPaolo said Tuesday.

A spokeswoman for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said in a statement: “The position of the Inspector General has been vacant for about 10 years. This is a presidentially appointed, Senate-confirmed position, which would be announced by the White House.”

The spokeswoman, Faith Vander Voort, referred questions about Tufts to the White House, which did not immediately respond.

A HUD spokesman declined to comment.

Unusual move

It is unusual for a political appointee to be assigned to another agency, especially an inspector general’s office. Kendall oversees about 265 employees, including 80 investigators, who conduct a wide range of inquires at Interior, which oversees more than 245 million acres (380,000 square miles) of public lands, including 417 units in the national park system.

The change at the inspector general’s office, if it occurs, comes as Zinke is under investigation on a number of fronts, including his involvement in a Montana land deal with the head of an energy services company that does business with the department. Zinke, a Republican, is a former Montana congressman.

The IG’s office also is looking into the department’s scuttling of a casino project in Connecticut proposed by the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes. The decision, which overruled a staff recommendation, came after Zinke and other officials met with lobbyists for a competing group, MGM Resorts International.

Investigators are also probing how Zinke redrew boundaries of Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The sprawling monument is one of two that President Donald Trump has shrunk to reverse what he calls overreach by Democratic presidents to protect federally controlled land.

Liz Hempowicz, director of public policy at the Project on Government Oversight, an independent government watchdog, called the move to install Tufts as acting inspector general “politically suspect.”

The Trump administration “shouldn’t be changing hats right now, when there are numerous investigations left to be completed,” she said.

The AP obtained a copy of Carson’s email, which was first reported by The Hill.

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Man Gets Nearly 25 years for Arson of Texas Mosque

A man convicted of a hate crime in setting fire to a mosque in Texas was sentenced to almost 25 years in prison on Wednesday, U.S. authorities said, adding he acted with hatred and malice.

Marq Perez, 26, set fire to the Victoria Islamic Center, about 125 miles (200 km) southwest of Houston in 2017. The crime was seen by Islamic rights groups as part of a growing wave of bigotry toward Muslims in the United States.

He was convicted in July for a hate crime in the burning of the Victoria Islamic Center on Jan. 28, 2017. He was also convicted of the use of fire to commit a federal felony and possessing an unregistered destructive device for a separate but related incident, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

At sentencing, Senior U.S. District Judge John Rainey said hate crimes were “a cancer to our society” and “this conduct would not be tolerated in our society,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Texas said. He was sentenced to 24-1/2 years in prison.

During a week long trial in a federal court in Texas, prosecutors called the crime “a simple, straightforward case of hate,” the U.S. attorney’s office said.

Lawyers for Perez said he did not set the fire and was with his newly born son when the building caught fire, the San Antonio Express-News reported from the court room.

“This defendant terrorized the Muslim community in Victoria,” Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore said in a statement, adding, “everyone in this country has the right to worship freely without fear of violence.”

The mosque was rebuilt after a flood of donations came in to restore the facility.

When Perez learned the Victoria Muslim community had raised money to rebuild the mosque, he told a witness he would burn the mosque down again if it was rebuilt, the Department of Justice said.

Prosecutors said Perez broke into the mosque a week before the fire to survey the place. In his arson attack, Perez placed papers inside the mosque and set them on fire with a lighter, a witness said, according to prosecutors.

Perez was initially arrested and charged in March 2017 in connection with an attempt to blow up a car, the Justice Department said. Evidence linking him to the mosque fire was later presented at a detention hearing.

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Сербський лідер обіцяє захищати «наших людей», якщо ООН виведе свої сили з Косова

Президент Сербії Александар Вучич 17 жовтня попередив про небезпеки, якщо ООН дослухається до закликів США щодо виведення місії з підтримання миру в Косові.

Вучич заявив, що виведення миротворців ООН з Косова не залишить його країні іншого вибору, крім як «захистити» етнічне сербське населення в своїй колишній провінції, яка проголосила незалежність від Сербії у 2008 році. Водночас сербський лідер не уточнив, до яких дій може вдатися Сербія в Косові.

Посол США в ООН Ніккі Гейлі раніше закликала міжнародну організацію «ініціювати перегляд стратегії місії в Косові для розробки стратегії виходу». Лист такого змісту Гейлі надіслала на адресу генерального секретаря ООН Антоніу Ґутерріша минулого тижня.

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Зникнення журналіста Хашокджі: слідчі проводять обшук резиденції саудівського консула в Стамбулі

Турецькі слідчі 17 жовтня здійснюють обшук резиденції генерального консула Саудівської Аравії в Стамбулі, повідомляє турецьке видання Hurriyet. Влада Туреччини сподівається знайти в будівлі докази у справі про зникнення журналіста Джамала Хашокджі.

Саудівський опозиційний журналіст, який співпрацював з американською газетою Washington Post, зник 2 жовтня після відвідання консульства в Стамбулі. Влада Туреччини підозрює, що він міг бути вбитий на території консульства і похований у дворі будинку консула.

Хашокджі втік із Саудівської Аравії і отримав посвідку на проживання в США. У своїх публікаціях він виступав проти політики Ер-Ріяда. Консульство він відвідав, щоб отримати документи про розлучення. Турецька газета Yeni Safak повідомила, що у неї є аудіозапис допиту і тортур журналіста на території консульства. На одному з них саудівський консул Мухаммед Ібрагім аль-Утейбі просить катувати Хашокджі за межами диппредставництва, щоб «не створювати йому проблем», цитує газету Associated Press.

Газета The New York Times повідомила, що п’ятеро підозрюваних у справі про зникнення журналіста можуть бути пов’язані з наслідним принцем Саудівської Аравії Мухаммедом бін Салманом Аль Саудом.

За даними видання, один із фігурантів розслідування турецької поліції, Махер Абдулазіз Мутреб, часто перебував поруч із принцем під час його міжнародних візитів. Ще троє підозрюваних, за даними газети, пов’язані з охороною принца; п’ятий підозрюваний – судовий лікар із міністерства охорони здоров’я Саудівської Аравії.

Президент США Дональд Трамп 16 жовтня в інтерв’ю американським ЗМІ заявив, що США запросили у Туреччини записи допиту і тортур Хашокджі.

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У Грузії Саакашвілі звинувачують у причетності до вбивства бізнесмена Патаркацишвілі

У Департаменті конституційної безпеки Грузії в 2007 році розробляли план замаху на бізнесмена Бадрі Патаркацишвілі, санкцію на вбивство якого дав тодішній президент країни Міхеїл Саакашвілі, повідомила 17 жовтня Головна прокуратура Грузії.

Підприємець і близький друг Бориса Березовського Бадрі Патаркацишвілі в той час жив у Тбілісі і допомагав грузинській опозиції, яка домагалася відставки тодішнього президента Саакашвілі.

Звинувачення висунули трьом колишнім високопоставленим співробітникам ДКБ на підставі аудіозаписів, які виявили в одного з них під час обшуку.

Докладніше про це в репортажі телеканалу «Настоящее время»: Генпрокуратура Грузии обвинила Саакашвили в причастности к убийству бизнесмена Патаркацишвили

Записи датуються 4 і 5 лютого 2007 року. На них зафіксована розмова між керівниками Департаменту конституційної безпеки та Оперативного слідчого департаменту МВС, в якому обговорюються методи вбивства Патаркацишвілі, вербування співробітників охорони і персоналу, який обслуговував бізнесмена. У тому числі йдеться про можливість нанесення на дверну ручку його будинку отруйної речовини.

У прокуратурі повідомили, що, за попередніми даними, які вимагають перевірки, наказ про «ліквідацію» Бадрі Патаркацишвілі «силовики» отримали особисто від екс-президента. Але кримінальну справу проти самого Саакашвілі поки не порушено.

У вівторок, 16 жовтня, одного з підозрюваних затримали. Він заявив, що не винен, а аудіозаписи сфальсифіковані.

У листопаді 2007 року Бадрі Патаркацишвілі виїхав до Лондона. У лютому 2008 року він помер у власному будинку. За версією британських слідчих, причиною смерті бізнесмена став інфаркт.

Саакашвілі залишив Грузію в 2013 році за кілька днів до закінчення терміну повноважень, потім жив у США та Україні. У 2014 році в Грузії проти Саакашвілі були висунуті звинувачення в організації розправи над учасниками мітингу 7 листопада 2007 року, у протиправному втручанні в будівлю телеканалу «Імеді» і незаконному привласненні майна бізнесмена Бадрі Патаркацишвілі, в організації нападу на депутата Валерія Гелашвілі в 2005 році, перешкоджанні розслідуванню вбивства банкіра Сандро Ґірґвліані і розтраті державних коштів у 2009–2012 роках.

У травні 2015 року Саакашвілі отримав паспорт України, однак 26 липня 2017 року президент України Петро Порошенко позбавив його українського громадянства.

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У Пакистані стратили обвинуваченого у вбивствах вісьмох дітей

Обвинуваченого у зґвалтуванні і вбивстві вісьмох дітей стратили у Пакистані 17 жовтня після того, як суди відхилили його апеляцію, повідомляє влада країни.

Мохаммада Імрана повісили у тюрмі Лахора у присутності Аміна Ансарі, батька однієї з жертв. Зґвалтування і вбивство 7-річної Зейнаб Ансарі у січні викликало масове обурення в Пакистані та привернуло увагу цивільного та військового керівництва країни.

Засудженого стратили на світанку, його тіло передали родині.

Імрана арештували у січні через два тижні після того, як тіло Зейнаб Ансарі виявили у сміттєвому баку у місті Касур біля Лахора.

Поліція заявила, що дівчину зґвалтували і задушили. Під час допиту Ірман зізнався у сексуальних нападах і вбивствах ще сімох дітей.

Як заявив Ансарі, якому суд дозволив бути присутнім на страті, він відчув, що «правосуддя здійснилося».

За даними правозахисників, щороку в Пакистані близько 3500 дітей зазнають сексуальних нападів, а більшість нападників уникають покарання.

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60 бойовиків «Аш-Шабаб» загинули внаслідок авіаудару в Сомалі – американські військові

Сполучені Штати здійснили свій найбільший у 2018 році авіаудар проти бойовиків угруповання «Аш-Шабаб» у Сомалі, вбивши близько 60 із них, інформують американські військові.

Африканське командування США повідомило 16 жовтня, що минулого тижня був здійснений «точний» авіаудар у провінції Мудуг у центральній частині країни.

Згідно з повідомленням, жоден цивільний унаслідок атаки не постраждав.

Американські військові заявляють, що цей авіаудар був найбільшим із 21 листопада 2017 року, коли загинули близько 100 бойовиків.

Пов’язане з «Аль-Каїдою» угруповання наразі не коментувало заяву Африканського командування США.

Бойовики «Аш-Шабаб» закликають повалити уряд Сомалі, який підтримують Сполучені Штати і 20-тисячна армія Африканського союзу, розміщена в країні.

У 2011 році угруповання було витіснене зі столиці Сомалі Могадішо. Наразі бойовики контролюють значні території в сільській місцевості.

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