Israel approves hundreds of new settlement homes
JERUSALEM: Israel has given final building approval for 352 homes in settlements in the occupied West Bank, an anti-settlement movement said on Thursday – construction that Palestinians see as jeopardising their prospects for statehood.
The Peace Now group said a meeting on Wednesday by a planning committee of Israel’s military-run Civil Administration for the West Bank also moved plans for 770 other settler homes to more advanced stages.
Settlements are one of the most heated issues in efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, frozen since 2014.
“I think what Israel is doing is a purposeful, well-planned process of destruction of the two-state solution and possibility of the establishment of a Palestinian state,” Mustafa Barghouti, a Palestinian lawmaker, said of the committee’s decision.
Palestinians want the West Bank for a future state, along with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Most countries consider as illegal the settlements that Israel built in the territory it captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
Israel disputes that its settlements are illegal. Its government says their future should be determined in peace talks and that the Palestinians’ refusal to recognise Israel as a Jewish state and declare an end to a decades-old conflict are the real obstacles to peace.
Some 500,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas that are home to more than 2.6 million Palestinians.
Hagit Ofran, a Peace Now spokeswoman, said the new round of construction approvals was “not a dramatic change” from last year’s pace, when Israel gave the go-ahead for 6,742 housing projects in the West Bank – a figure described by Peace Now as the highest since 2013.
But she noted that many of the latest housing projects were slated for settlements deep inside the West Bank, “especially in places that Israel would need to (evacuate) in case of a (peace) agreement – which means our government is trying to prevent a two-state solution”.
Barghouti linked the increased settlement activity to the 2016 election of U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican who has been less critical than his predecessor, Democrat Barack Obama, of Israel on the issue.
“These settlements could have been stopped by the United States,” he told Reuters.
The latest construction plans were first announced by Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman earlier this week.
Asked about them, a U.S. State Department official said on Tuesday there had been no change in policy on settlements and the Israeli government had made clear that going forward “its intent is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes the president’s concerns into consideration.”
Indian national first to lose US citizenship under Trump’s watch
NEW YORK: A naturalized American from India has been stripped of his US citizenship, the first case under a government initiative designed to clamp down on fraudulent immigration, widened under the Trump administration.
Baljinder Singh, 43, from Carteret, New Jersey became a naturalized citizen in 2006 after marrying his American wife.
But he arrived in the Untied States in 1991, flying into San Francisco without travel documents or proof of identity, giving his name as Davinder Singh, the Justice Department said.
He dodged a subsequent court hearing and was ordered to be deported in January 1992.
A month later he filed for asylum under the name Baljinder Singh, which he then abandoned after getting married.
Last Friday, a federal judge in New Jersey revoked his naturalization, reverting him back to the lawful permanent resident, which means that he can be subject to removal proceedings.
“I hope this case, and those to follow, send a loud message that attempting to fraudulently obtain US citizenship will not be tolerated,” said US Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Francis Cissna, a Trump administration appointee.
The Justice Department said it was the first denaturalization under Operation Janus, a long-running Department of Homeland Security initiative against fraudulent immigration.
Last September the initiative identified 315,000 cases where fingerprint data was missing, raising concerns that at least some may have tried to circumvent criminal record and other background checks in the naturalization process.
The USCIS has plans to refer 1,600 other cases for prosecution.
The government filed the complaint against Singh last September, along with two other cases against Pakistan-born naturalized citizens in Connecticut and Florida.
President Donald Trump has stepped up a broader crackdown on illegal immigration since taking office in January 2017.
On Monday, the US government announced the end of a special protected status for about 200,000 Salvadoran immigrants, which threatens with deportation tens of thousands of well-established families with children born in the United States.
Failed pipe bomber indicted in US
A Bangladeshi immigrant was indicted on Wednesday in the failed pipe bombing of the New York subway system last month.
Akayed Ullah faces numerous charges including providing material support to a terrorist organization, using a weapon of mass destruction and bombing a place of public use and a public transportation system.
Ullah, 27, was the only person seriously hurt in the December 11 attack. He was arrested soon after the pipe bomb failed to fully explode, though he was initially hospitalized after suffering burns. He remains held without bail at a lockup next to the federal court complex in lower Manhattan.
Ullah could face life in prison if he is convicted of all charges in the attack, which occurred in a pathway linking the subway to the Port Authority bus terminal in Manhattan.
Authorities said Ullah taunted President Donald Trump on Facebook before the attack. The president later demanded tightened immigration rules.
They also said in court papers that he admitted he wanted to cause carnage to avenge US aggression toward the Islamic State group.
His initial appearance before a federal magistrate judge came via a monitor, which showed images of him in his hospital bed, flanked by his publicly appointed lawyers.
Iran nuclear deal: UK challenges US to find better alternative
UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has challenged the US to show there is a better alternative to the deal with Iran that limits its nuclear programme.
Following talks in Brussels with his Iranian and European counterparts, he said the 2015 accord was a considerable accomplishment that was preventing Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.
Mr Johnson stressed that Iran was fully in compliance with it.
US President Donald Trump wants to amend the deal or withdraw from it.
In October, he refused to recertify for Congress that Iran was complying, accusing it of “not living up to the spirit” of the agreement.
Queen’s bra fitter Rigby & Peller loses royal warrant
A company which supplied lingerie to the Queen has lost its royal warrant over a book which revealed details of royal bra fittings.
Rigby & Peller, a luxury underwear firm founded in London, had held the royal warrant since 1960.
It was withdrawn after June Kenton, who fitted bras for the Queen, released a book called ‘Storm in a D-Cup’.
Mrs Kenton said there was “nothing” in the book to “be upset about”, adding that it was an “unbelievable” decision.
Buckingham Palace said it did not “comment on individual companies”.
A statement from Rigby & Peller said it was “deeply saddened” by the decision, adding it was “not able to elaborate further on the cancellation out of respect for her Majesty the Queen and the Royal Warrant Holders Association”.
Mrs Kenton, from Bushey in Hertfordshire, had bought Rigby & Peller with her husband in 1982 for £20,000 before selling a majority stake in 2011 for £8m – although she remains on the board.
As official “corsetiere” to the Queen, Mrs Kenton regularly visited Buckingham Palace and served members of the Royal Family, including the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret.
The 82-year-old’s autobiography was published in March 2017 and gave details about her royal visits.
She said she was told by the Palace six months ago that they “didn’t like the book” and she shouldn’t have the royal warrant any more.
China warship sails near Japan-controlled islands
Japan has summoned the Chinese ambassador in Tokyo, after a Chinese frigate sailed near disputed islands in the East China Sea.
A foreign submarine was also spotted near the islands on Wednesday and Thursday, although its nationality was not clear, Japan’s military said.
Japan controls the uninhabited Senkaku islands, which China also claims under the name Diaoyu islands.
The tiny islands are a frequent flashpoint between the two countries.
They are prized because they are close to key shipping lanes, offer rich fishing grounds and lie near potential oil and gas reserves.
China regularly sends coastguard vessels near the islands – but sending a frigate, and possibly a submarine, suggests Beijing is becoming more assertive about its claims, the BBC’s East Asia editor Michael Bristow reports.
Jessica Falkholt: Home and Away actress ‘has life support turned off’
Home and Away actress Jessica Falkholt has had her life support switched off two weeks after being in a car crash, according to reports in Australia.
The crash, which happened in New South Wales on 26 December, also killed her parents, sister and the other driver.
The actress, 29, who played Hope Morrison in the soap, had surgery after the accident but remained in a coma.
The decision to end her life support came a day after the funeral service for the rest of her family.
Three moderate earthquakes rattle Iran
Tehran: A series of moderate earthquakes shook Iran on Thursday but there were no immediate reports of victims or damage.
The strongest of the three quakes, measuring magnitude 5.6, hit the western province of Kermanshah near the border with Iraq at 10:29 am (0659 GMT), according to the Iranian seismology centre.
It was followed by a 5.4-magnitude tremor in the same region. Earlier in the morning, a 5.1-magnitude quake had rattled Kerman province in southern Iran.
Iranian state television said emergency teams had been deployed in the affected areas but reported no casualties or damage.
Iran sits atop several fault lines and has been hit by a series of earthquakes in recent weeks.
On November 12, a 7.3-magnitude quake killed 620 people in Kermanshah and eight in Iraq.