Dubai, Nov 10 (AP/UNB) — The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen said early Saturday it had "requested cessation of inflight refueling" by the U.S. for its fighter jets after American officials said they would stop the operations amid growing anger over civilian casualties from the kingdom's airstrikes.
The decision by Americans to pull out also comes amid outrage by U.S. lawmakers from both political parties over the Oct. 2 killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
The Saudi acknowledgement, and later U.S. comments, appeared aimed at suggesting the kingdom was behind the decision. Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who launched the Yemen war as the kingdom's defense minister in March 2015, faces widespread international criticism for the war and after members of his entourage allegedly took part in Khashoggi's slaying.
"We support the decision by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, after consultations with the U.S. government, to use the coalition's own military capabilities to conduct inflight refueling in support of its operations in Yemen," U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said in a statement. "The U.S. will also continue working with the coalition and Yemen to minimize civilian casualties and expand urgent humanitarian efforts throughout the country."
It wasn't immediately clear what impact the U.S. withdrawal from air refueling operations would have. American officials earlier said Saudi forces now handled some 80 percent of their refueling operations, which crucially allow aircraft to fly longer sorties over possible targets and can ease the pressure for quick strikes.
Yet even with that refueling support, Saudi Arabia has faced widespread international criticism over its campaign of airstrikes in the coalition's war in Yemen, targeting Shiite rebels known as Houthis who hold the capital, Sanaa.
Saudi strikes have hit public markets, hospitals and other nonmilitary targets, killing scores of civilians. One such Saudi-led airstrike in August in Yemen's Saada province hit a bus and killed dozens of people, including schoolchildren wearing backpacks. Human rights groups have found fragments of American-made munitions after several of these strikes.
U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity Friday to discuss the decision before its announcement, said the end to refueling wouldn't stop American training and military assistance. The Post first reported the Trump administration's desire to end the refueling.
The Saudi statement, carried early Saturday on the state-run Saudi Press Agency, did not acknowledge the Trump administration's discussions and pressure for its withdrawal.
"Recently the kingdom and the coalition has increased its capability to independently conduct inflight refueling in Yemen," the statement read. "As a result, in consultation with the United States, the coalition has requested cessation of inflight refueling support for its operations in Yemen."
It also said it hoped upcoming United Nations sponsored talks "in a third country" would help end the war. U.N. special envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths has said he is consultations with Yemen's warring parties to finalize details for a new round of peace talks. However, Griffiths' effort to revive peace talks in September fell through after the Houthis failed to attend, arguing they didn't have guarantees for their safe return.
The pullout from refueling comes amid new American efforts to force an end to a conflict described as the world's worst humanitarian crisis. Yemen, the Arab world's poorest country, has stood on the brink of famine and faced disease outbreaks in a conflict that has killed at least 10,000 people.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE view the war as a means to limit Iranian influence in the Arabian Peninsula. While Iran directly denies arming the rebels, the United Nations and Western powers have documented arms transfers to the Houthis by Tehran of everything from Kalashnikov assault rifles to the ballistic missile technology used to periodically target cities as far away as the Saudi Arabian capital of Riyadh. The Houthis also have imprisoned opponents and indiscriminately laid land mines.
Both Mattis and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have pushed for a cease-fire in recent days. Saudi and Emirati forces, as well as their allies on the ground, have made a renewed push for the Houthi-held Red Sea port city of Hodeida, through which most food and aid enters Yemen. International aid agencies warn any disruption to the port could sever that crucial lifeline.
"Hodeida is at risk of being obliterated," said Mohamed Abdi of the Norwegian Refugee Council. "We are now warning that by allowing this to go on, parties to the conflict and their international backers will be responsible for the death, injury and suffering of millions of people."
New York, Nov 10 (AP/UNB) — Prince Turki Al-Faisal, Saudi Arabia's former spy chief, said Friday the country is proud of its judicial system and will never accept an international investigation into the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, human rights groups, and some government leaders have called for an independent probe into the Oct. 2 killing of the Washington Post columnist at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul where he had gone to get papers so he could marry his Turkish fiance. The United States called Monday for a "thorough, conclusive and transparent" investigation at the Geneva-based Human Rights Council.
Turki said in a speech and question-and-answer session at the International Peace Institute think tank that he expects the kingdom to live up to its promise to investigate and "put all of the facts on the table" and answer all outstanding questions, including what happened to Khashoggi's body.
"The kingdom is not going to accept an international tribunal to look into something that is Saudi, and the Saudi judicial system is sound, it is up, it is running, and it will take its course," he said. "The kingdom ... will never accept foreign interference in that system."
In doing this, Turki said, Saudi Arabia is following other countries that have refused to allow international tribunals to investigate acts that happened on their soil or elsewhere by their citizens. He cited the abuse of prisoners by American troops and CIA staff at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq following the 2003 U.S. invasion which the United States investigated.
Turki said Khashoggi was the Saudi embassy spokesman when he was ambassador to the United States and Britain, and they had been "very friendly over the years." He described Khashoggi's death, citing a verse from the Quran. "It says that the killing of an innocent man is like the killing of all of humanity. His death falls into that category," Turki said.
Saudi Arabia had insisted for weeks after Khashoggi disappeared that he had walked out of the consulate, before changing its account to say he died in a brawl. Last month, Saudi Arabia acknowledged that Turkish evidence indicates that Khashoggi's killing was premeditated, shifting its explanation in an apparent effort to ease international outrage over the death.
Turkey says Khashoggi, who was critical of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was strangled and dismembered at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 by a 15-member assassination squad. Media reports have suggested that his body could have been chemically dissolved.
Saudi officials characterize the killing as a rogue operation carried out by Saudi agents who exceeded their authority. Yet some of those implicated in the killing are close to the crown prince, including a member of the prince's entourage on foreign trips who was seen at the consulate before Khashoggi's slaying. And crown prince Mohammed's condemnation of the killing has failed to ease suspicions that he was involved.
Turkey is seeking the extradition of 18 suspects who have been detained in Saudi Arabia, so they can be put on trial in Turkey. They include the 15 members of the alleged "hit squad."
Prince Turki, who is chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies, said his view is that there was no attempted cover up.
Rather, he said, what was reported to Saudi authorities was "misleading" because "those who perpetrated the crime wanted to hide what had happened and to justify what they had told the authorities."
He accused the media of seeking "sensation" and of "laying accusations" about the crown prince "without a fact," and based on "pure speculation."
"The truth is you can never hide the truth — and the kingdom will never attempt to hide the truth, not just on this situation but on other situations," he said.
He reiterated that the final report "will lay out exactly what happened and answer all of these questions that have been speculated about and made into tremendous issues."
Washington, Nov 9 (AP/UNB) — Hackers impersonating journalists tried to intercept the communications of a prominent Saudi opposition figure in Washington, The Associated Press has found.
One attempt involved the fabrication of a fake BBC secretary and an elaborate television interview request; the other involved the impersonation of slain Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi to deliver a malicious link.
Media rights defenders denounced the hacking effort, which they said would make it harder for genuine reporters to do their jobs.
"It's incredibly dangerous to employ this kind of tactic," said Elodie Vialle, who heads the technology desk at Paris-based Reporters Without Borders. "The chilling effect is that people are deterred from speaking to journalists. In the end, it undermines the freedom of information."
The most involved masquerade took place in February of this year, when someone posing as a BBC journalist called "Tanya Stalin" emailed Washington-based Saudi dissident Ali AlAhmed inviting him to a live broadcast about Saudi Arabia. Stalin engaged with AlAhmed over several days, sending him a list of proposed topics and talking him through the logistics of his purported television appearance.
AlAhmed said he knew from the beginning that something was up.
For starters, Stalin said her position was "Secretary to the Editor In Chief," a title that didn't correspond to a job typically done by producers or bookers. Odder still, the message came over Gmail rather than from an official BBC address.
And then there was her eyebrow-raising last name.
"The Stalin business threw me off," AlAhmed said in a recent interview. "I asked my wife, who is Russian, and she said: 'No one has this name.'"
AlAhmed was right. The BBC said it wasn't aware of anyone called "Tanya Stalin" working for the broadcaster and that the title she claimed to hold did not formally exist. An Associated Press analysis of her messages suggests the interview request was a sloppily executed trap, an attempt to get AlAhmed to click a malicious link and break into his inbox.
AlAhmed believes Saudi Arabia is behind Stalin's emails, as well as dozens of other suspicious messages he has received over the past year. One November 2017 missive purportedly came from Khashoggi, whose killing last month on the grounds of the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul has refocused international attention on the brutality of the Arab kingdom's leadership.
The Saudi Embassy in Washington did not return written questions from the AP.
Washington Post Executive Editor Marty Baron said the hackers' theft of Khashoggi's identity was "contemptible."
A researcher with internet watchdog Citizen Lab recently reviewed AlAhmed's emails and confirmed they were malicious — although he stopped short of drawing a link between the different messages or blaming anyone for the hacking campaign.
"This was a targeted operation designed to gain access to his accounts and private communications," said John Scott-Railton, whose group is based at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs. "This does appear to be closely linked to his political activities."
Some of the messages — like a prompt to install a "free security update" called "Ninja security" — were generic phishing messages of the type used by criminals and spies the world over. But many of the 40-odd malicious messages recovered from AlAhmed's inbox were closely attuned to current events in the Gulf.
Most troubling was a May 31 message dressed up to look like it came from an event photography service, complete with pictures of AlAhmed holding a microphone during a question and answer session featuring the Qatari foreign minister at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.
The photos, which appear to have been pulled off a publicly available video of the event, suggest that the hackers or someone working with them had been tracking AlAhmed's whereabouts closely.
"That email was really when I felt fear," said AlAhmed, who says his work is largely self-funded. "They are actually physically here. They're looking at me."
Scott-Railton said the persistence of the hackers — and the variety of different tactics they employed to try to pry open AlAhmed's inbox — pointed to a manpower-intensive effort to compromise the Saudi gadfly.
"Over an extended period of time, humans were tasked with getting into his computer and getting into his head," Scott-Railton said.
As a critic of Saudi Arabia's ruling family, AlAhmed has been a regular on Arabic and English-language cable news for more than a decade. He has long served Washington journalists as a source about the kingdom's problems, especially in relation to extremist propaganda in the country's school textbooks.
Saudi Arabia is a known practitioner of cyberespionage. The country was exposed as a customer of notorious Italian surveillance firm Hacking Team in 2015 and a mysterious Saudi investor has since taken a minority stake in the company, according to a Motherboard report published this year.
Recent reports by Citizen Lab and human rights group Amnesty International have also documented the use of Israeli-made spy software to break into the smartphones of Saudi human rights activists, including Canada-based Omar Abdulaziz, who was working with Khashoggi on several confidential projects before the columnist was killed.
Whoever is behind the bogus Tanya Stalin persona or the fake Jamal Khashoggi emails, the messages give an idea of how the always-fraught overlap between espionage and journalism has evolved in the internet age, with government-backed hackers routinely impersonating journalists or news organizations to hunt their prey. Even the FBI has impersonated reporters to hack its targets, at one point pretending to be an AP journalist to locate a bomb threat hoaxer's computer.
Scott-Railton explained that masquerading as a journalist was a perfect way of getting someone to lower their guard and click a link or open an attachment.
"It ticks all kinds of boxes," he said. "It explains messages out of the blue and as part of communications with journalists you'd expect to receive documents, like questions in advance."
The attempt to hack AlAhmed under Khashoggi's name involved a simple link sent by email , but the Tanya Stalin ruse was unusually involved.
The hackers created a fake LinkedIn profile with more than 500 connections to corroborate her identity and pass her off as a graduate of journalism schools at Columbia and Berkeley. The profile's picture consisted of a headshot of Souad Mekhennet, a real Washington Post journalist who writes about national security and the Middle East and has covered the aftermath of Khashoggi's death.
It's not clear why the hackers used Mekhennet's photo in the sham profile or whether they even tried particularly hard to make the "Tanya Stalin" persona credible. Stalin did not immediately return messages seeking comment. Neither did whoever was behind the fake Khashoggi email.
Baron, the Washington Post's top editor, said in his statement Wednesday that he condemned the use of Mekhennet's image and Khashoggi's name.
"To be clear, neither of these distinguished journalists had any involvement whatsoever in these despicable schemes," he said.
Beirut, Nov 8 (Xinhua/UNB) - Israeli forces installed on Thursday new monitoring devices and video cameras on the fence on the borders with Lebanon between Adayse hills and Fatima Gate, Elnashra, an online independent newspaper reported.
Israeli forces have been inspecting surveillance equipment regularly on the borders with Lebanon.
Meanwhile, Israeli warplanes violated Lebanon's airspace the same day above Shabaa farms while conducting exploratory flights above Arqoub and Hasbaya.
Lebanese caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said earlier that Israel has violated Lebanon's airspace, land and sea more than 1,500 times in the past eight months.
Tokyo, Nov 6 (AP/UNB) — Turkey's top diplomat on Tuesday criticized the U.S. resumption of sanctions on Iran as unilateral, not wise and dangerous, calling for a dialogue and engagement instead.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, in Tokyo for talks with Japanese leaders, told reporters that Turkey opposes sanctions because they don't achieve results.
"As a principle Turkey is against sanctions and we don't believe that any result can be achieved through sanctions," he said. "Cornering is not wise, isolating Iran is dangerous and punishing the Iranian people is not fair."
President Donald Trump's administration's resumption of sanctions on Iran took effect Monday.
Turkey is an U.S. ally and one of eight major importers of Iranian oil spared temporarily from immediate penalties.
Still, Turkey has to be frank with the U.S. about its opposition. The U.S. "unilateral" measure affects the world, including Turkey, one-third of whose gas imports come from Iran, he said, and urged Washington to find other reasonable solutions. "I think instead of sanctions, meaningful dialogue and engagement is much useful and this is our principle."
Cavusoglu also urged Saudi Arabia to fully cooperate in the investigation of the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last month, demanding the country locate his missing body and hand over suspected collaborators.
Turkey is determined to get to the bottom of the case and Saudi Arabia hasn't answered the key questions, he said. "We have to find out how it happened, who did it and who gave the instructions, and we also have to find the body of the journalist Khashoggi."
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said in a recent op-ed in The Washington Post that the order for the journalist killing came from the highest level of the Saudi government but not King Salman.
Erdogan knows the king well and is convinced he was not involved in the murder, Cavusoglu said. He added that other evidence not made public suggested the king was not involved.