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IS gunman kills 2 in French Supermarket

Monitoring Desk

PARIS: At least two people were killed after gunman opened fire in the supermarket in Southwestern France and on Friday.

According to reports, the gunman taken hostages and the attack that has rattled nerves in a country that has been the site of several terrorist attacks in recent years.

The armed man claimed to be acting on behalf of the Islamic State group, although his connection to the militant group was unclear.

Prime Minister Édouard Philippe told media that one police officer was injured in the incident however he is out of danger.

French Interior Minister Gérard Collomb said in a Twitter post Friday afternoon that the hostage taker had been killed by the police, but he then quickly deleted the post.

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Israel detains 14-year-old Palestinian in Jerusalem

JERUSALEM (AA): Israeli police at dawn Thursday entered a Palestinian hospital in East Jerusalem where they detained an injured 14-year-old Palestinian child, according to an Israeli police statement. “During the night, a 14-year-old boy attempted to throw a Molotov cocktail in East Jerusalem,” the statement read.

“During the attempt, the Molotov cocktail went off in his hand, causing his injury,” it added. According to the police, Israeli forces detained the boy from East Jerusalem’s Al-Makassed Hospital, later taking him to an Israeli hospital for treatment. Roughly 6,400 Palestinians are currently being held in Israeli prisons, including dozens of women and scores of children, according to Palestinian figures.

About 450 of these are being held under what Israel calls “administrative detention” where they face neither trial nor charge. In a related development, the Israeli army rounded up 23 Palestinians in overnight raids carried out late Thursday night across the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, according to Palestinian activists. “Dozens of Israeli soldiers backed by a military helicopter stormed the Shuafat refugee camp [in East Jerusalem] and raided a number of Palestinian homes,” local activist Thaer Fasfus told Anadolu Agency.

“During the raid, the Israeli military detained 17 Palestinians and took them into custody for interrogation,” he said. Meanwhile, Israeli forces raided several Palestinian homes in the West Bank cities of Tulkarem and Qalaqiliya, where they detained five people, the Palestinian Prisoners Society, an NGO, said in a statement. “Another one was detained in the town of Qabatia near the city of Jenin east of Jerusalem,” the NGO added. The Israeli army frequently carries out sweeping arrest campaigns in the occupied West Bank on the pretext of searching for “wanted” Palestinians.

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Mosque vandalized again

Atila Altuntas

STOCKHOLM: A mosque in Stockholm was vandalised with racist words and symbols on Thursday, according to mosque officials. In a statement, the mosque management said a big swastika symbol was spray painted at the mosque’s door.

The management strongly condemned the incident, saying the mosque had been facing such racist attacks for years. “Our mosque members and our community are extre-mely disturbed by such attac-ks. Unfortunately, des-pite many racist attacks, the government could not do anything against Islamophobia and hate speech,” it said. Accor-ding to the Swedish state television SVT, 22 racist attacks were registered on the mosque in 2017 while 23 attacks were registered in 2018. (AA)


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US urges political solution to Yemen war

Safvan Allahverdi

WASHINGTON: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Thursday said urgent steps need to be taken for a political solution to end the civil war in Yemen.

Speaking to Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad Bin Salman at the Pentagon, Mattis said Washington is committed to cooperating with the Saudis and the UN, adding that the appointment of a new UN special envoy to Yemen, Martin Griffiths, is an opportunity to accelerate a political solution to resolve the conflict.

“We have been working very hard with the new U.N. envoy to end the fight in Yemen and we believe that Saudi Arabia is part of the solution, they have stood by the United Nations recognized government and we are going to end this war, that is the bottom line,” he noted.

“And we are going to end it on positive terms for the people of Yemen but also security for the nations in the peninsula.”

The meeting at the Pentagon came after Salman met with President Donald Trump at the White House Tuesday.

Mattis also praised Saudi’s humanitarian effort in Yemen, saying that amounts of humanitarian aid that Saudis provide is “critical” to help innocents  civilians who are stuck in the conflict, which has killed more than 10,000 civilians since it started in March 2015.

In a response to Mattis, Salman said Saudi Arabia cooperation with the UN would continue to grow.

Yemen has been wracked by chaos since 2015, when Houthi rebels overran much of the country, including capital Sanaa, forcing the Saudi-backed government to set up an interim capital in the coastal city of Aden.

The conflict escalated one year later when a Saudi-led coalition began a wide-ranging military campaign aimed at rolling back Houthi gains. (AA)

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Erdogan, Trump talk

ANKARA (AA): Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump discussed bilateral and regional issues in a telephone conversation on Thursday, according to the Turkish presidency.

Presidential Spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told Anadolu Agency: “Our president held a telephone conversation with U.S. President Trump.”Bilateral and regional issues were discussed during the conversation.”



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Russian envoy: UK provided no proof in ex-spy case

Ahmet Gurhan Kartal

LONDON: The British government has provided no proof of Russia’s alleged involvement in the Salisbury incident, Russia’s ambassador to London said Thursday.

Speaking at a press conference at the Russian Embassy in London, Alexander Yakovenko said the U.K. has been “denying consular access to the embassy to Russian citizens” in refusing to share any information on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, who fell into critical condition after being exposed to a toxic substance on March 4 in Salisbury, southern England.

He said that by refusing the Skripals’ consular access, the U.K. has violated the Vienna Convention.

Russia denies “evidence-free accusations and provocations by the British authorities,” the ambassador said.

“The burden of proof lies within the British authorities. By now, no facts have been presented either to the [chemical weapons watchdog] OPCW, or us, or to the U.K. partners or to the public. We cannot take British words for granted,” he added.

“The U.K. has a bad record of violating international law and misleading the international community. We demand full transparency of the investigation and full cooperation with Russia.”

Yakovenko also criticized Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson for comparing Russia with Nazi Germany.

He said Johnson had no right to insult the Russian people, who defeated the Nazis and lost 25 million people in World War II.

Johnson on Wednesday said Russian President Vladimir Putin would use the upcoming World Cup to “glorify” Russia, comparing it to Nazi Germany hosting the 1936 Olympics.

Twenty-three Russian diplomats also left Britain Wednesday in the biggest single expulsion of foreign diplomats from the U.K. since the 1970s, after Russia refused to provide any explanation for their stockpile of the nerve agent Novichok – a military-grade chemical gas – which Britain says it used in the attempted March 4 murder. The Skripals remain in stable but critical condition in hospital after being found unconscious on a public bench.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is visiting Brussels on Thursday for a European Council meeting where she is expected to seek further support from the member states against Russian involvement in the incident, which the U.K. describes as “attempted murder.”

May earlier said the incident took place “against the backdrop of a well-established pattern of Russian state aggression across Europe and beyond.”

Russia has denied any involvement in the incident but also expelled 23 British diplomats in a reciprocal move, accusing the U.K. of not sharing a sample of the substance for their examination. As well as expelling the Russian diplomats, who the U.K. has identified as “undeclared intelligence officers.” (AA)


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In Riyadh, Yemen leader accepts deputy PM’s resignation

Zakaria al-Kamali

SANAA: Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi has accepted the resignation of his deputy prime minister, Abdulaziz al-Jabari, Yemen’s official SABA news agency reported Thursday.

While accepting the resignation, Hadi — who has remained based in Saudi Arabia since last year — praised the outgoing minister.

“Al-Jabari will remain an active member of the government’s advisory body, playing a role in the defeat of the Iranian-backed [i.e., Houthi] coup… and building a federal Yemen based on justice and equality,” SABA quoted Hadi as saying.

Al-Jabari, for his part, has vowed to continue playing a role in the defense of Yemen’s “legitimate” — i.e., Saudi-backed — government and in the “reconstitution of Yemen’s state institutions”.

He first announced his resignation earlier this week in an interview on state television.

During the interview, al-Jabari also called for “correcting” Yemen’s relationship with a Saudi-led Arab coalition cobbled together three years ago to fight the Houthis. He also denied speculation that Hadi was being kept under “house arrest” by Saudi authorities in Riyadh.

In a related development, the Yemeni army on Thursday said that eight Houthi rebels had been killed in airstrikes carried out by the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen’s northwestern Hajjah province.

According to army spokesmen, the airstrikes targeted a concentration of Houthi fighters southeast of Hajjah’s Midi Directorate.

“The strikes hit a tunnel in which Houthi fighters were hiding, killing eight of them and injuring a number of others,” read an army statement.

Houthi spokesmen, for their part, have yet to respond to the claims.

Impoverished Yemen has remained in disarray since 2014, when Shia Houthi rebels — who Riyadh accuses of being Iranian proxies — overran much of the country, including capital Sanaa. The conflict escalated one year later when a Saudi-led Sunni-Arab coalition unleashed a devastating air campaign on Yemen aimed at rolling back Houthi gains. (AA)


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Thailand bus crash kills 17

BANGKOK (AFP): At least 17 people were killed and dozens of others wounded when a bus travelling in northeastern Thailand veered off the road and smashed into a tree, authorities said Thursday.

The accident occurred Wednesday evening in Thailand’s Nakhon Ratchasima province with the double decker bus carrying around 50 people returning home from a holiday.

“The current death toll is 17, and 33 are injured,” an official from the Nakhon Ratchasima provincial emergency medical service told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Photos in local media of the accident’s aftermath showed part of the bus lying on its side and officials standing beside a row of body bags.

Among the injured, some 10 people are in critical condition and receiving care at a nearby hospital, the official added.

The head of the Nakhon Ratchasima disaster prevention and mitigation department said the bus driver lost control while the vehicle was going downhill, before it veered off the road and jumped a traffic island then smashed into a large tree. “The bus was torn into two parts,” he said.

Lieutenant Colonel Pornpattana Pisitkarn from the Udomsap police station near where the accident occured said the bus breaks appeared to have failed.

Thailand’s roads are some of the most lethal in the world, killing around 24,000 people each year according to the World Health Organization.

More than half of accidents involve motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians though bus crashes involving tourists and migrant workers are also common.

In November 13 Myanmar nationals were killed when their van collided with a truck in central Thailand and burst into flames.

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Facebook investors fret over costs as Zuckerberg apologizes

WASHINGTON  (Reuters): Facebook Inc Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg’s apology for mishandling user data and some limited proposals for change at the social network drew mixed responses on Thursday, while Wall Street analysts worried about costs and a loss of trust.

Another pair of major brokerages cut price targets for a stock that has shed around $50 billion in value since Monday. Shares in the company fell as much as 2.5 percent in heavy trading.

In Washington, Zuckerberg’s media rounds did little to satisfy lawmakers in either political party who demanded this week the billionaire testify before Congress.

Facebook was expected to brief two additional congressional committees on Thursday. Executives met with staff for the House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday for nearly two hours to discuss the allegations of improper use of data on 50 million users by political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.

Facebook Deputy Chief Privacy Officer Rob Sherman and other executives were unable to answer many questions at Wednesday’s meeting, according to two aides who were present.

The Facebook executives said they had written down a list of 60 questions they pledged to answer, the aides said.

Zuckerberg on Wednesday promised tougher steps to restrict developers’ access to user information, his first response to allegations that London-based Cambridge Analytica improperly accessed data to build profiles on American voters that were later used to help elect U.S. President Donald Trump in 2016.

Wall Street analysts expressed relief that there were no signs in the chief executive’s status update or in subsequent interviews of a more fundamental shift in the company’s advertising-driven revenue model.

Some analysts, however, said it was clear the company would have to carry extra costs to shore up its reputation in the months ahead.

Stifel analyst Scott Devitt cut his price target on Facebook by $27 to $168, while BofA Merrill Lynch slashed its target by $35 to $230. The stock fell 2 percent to $166.05.

“Facebook’s current plight reminds us of eBay in 2004 – an unstructured content business built on trust that lost that trust prior to implementing policies to add structure and process,” Devitt said.

“We would buy all of our Buy-rated stocks and many of our Hold-rated stocks before we would buy Facebook shares.”


Amid the storm, Trump took to Twitter to boast about his successful use of social media in the 2016 campaign.

“Remember when they were saying, during the campaign, that Donald Trump is giving great speeches and drawing big crowds, but he is spending much less money and not using social media as well as Crooked Hillary’s large and highly sophisticated staff. Well, not saying that anymore!,” he tweeted.

Steve Bannon, who ran Trump’s campaign before falling out with the president last year, speaks at a Financial Times event on the “Future of News: Trust, Technology and Transformation in an Age of Upheaval” later on Thursday.

Zuckerberg said the social network would disable access to their Facebook data more easily.

Analysts said that Zuckerberg’s promises to investigate thousands of apps, and to give members a tool that lets them turn off access, would not substantially reduce advertisers’ ability to use Facebook data – the company’s lifeblood.

Open-source browser and app developer Mozilla said late on Wednesday it was suspending advertising on Facebook.

“We found that its current default settings leave access open to a lot of data – particularly with respect to settings for third-party apps,” Mozilla said in a blog post. It would consider returning if Facebook strengthens its default privacy settings for third party apps.

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Saudi, US must pursue ‘urgent efforts’ for Yemen peace: Mattis

WASHINGTON (AFP): Saudi Arabia and America must pursue “urgent efforts” to bring a peaceful end to Yemen’s war, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Thursday.

The two men met at the Pentagon as part of Prince Mohammed’s tour of the United States, which began this week with a White House visit.

“As you discussed with President (Donald) Trump on Tuesday, we must also reinvigorate urgent efforts to seek a peaceful resolution to the civil war in Yemen and we support you in this regard,” Mattis told Prince Mohammed.

Mattis said he believes Saudi Arabia is “part of the solution.”

“They have stood by the United Nations-recognized government and we are going to end this war, that is the bottom line. And we are going to end it on positive terms for the people of Yemen, but also security for the nations in the peninsula,” Mattis added.

Saudi Arabia leads a coalition in Yemen fighting the Iran-backed Huthi rebels.

The devastating three-year-old conflict was an early proving ground for the prince, who is also the minister of defense, but it has been beset by allegations of atrocities against civilians, and strategic drift.

Just hours after the prince left the White House on Tuesday, the US Senate rejected a bipartisan bid designed to curtail US support for the war, which includes air-to-air refueling of Saudi jets as well as target and intelligence sharing.

Speaking through a translator, Prince Mohammed told Mattis that cooperation between the Pentagon and the kingdom had “improved tremendously.”

More than 9,200 people have been killed and tens of thousands wounded in Yemen’s war, which is seen as both a civil conflict and a proxy war between regional titans Saudi Arabia and Iran.