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The Sri Lankan government
and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) must immediately heed demands
by the United Nations Security Council and similar calls made by President
Barack Obama and allow tens of thousands of civilians to leave the "No
Fire Zone," Amnesty International said today.
Amnesty International welcomed the U.N. Security
Council's statement as a first step in addressing the humanitarian and
human rights crisis in Sri Lanka but called for an end to the use of heavy
caliber weapons and for the United Nations, the Red Cross (ICRC) and other
humanitarian organizations to be allowed immediate access to the 50,000
civilians, or more, trapped in the "No Fire Zone" on the island's
north east coast.
"The Security Council must now ensure that
its demands are promptly implemented, that the situation in Sri Lanka is
formally put on the Council's agenda and kept under close review. It
also needs to address accountability for the grave violations of international
humanitarian and human rights law by both parties in future,"
said Sam Zarifi, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific director.
Amnesty International welcomed separate statements
from the U.N. Security Council and President Obama condemning the LTTE
for its use of civilians as human shields and calling on the government
to take urgent action to ensure the safety of civilians. The U.N. Security
Council told the Sri Lankan government to fulfill its commitment not to
use heavy caliber weapons in areas with high concentrations of civilians
promise it has broken in recent weeks--causing the death of many civilians.
Amnesty International's secretary general,
Irene Khan, wrote on May 12 to the U.N. Security Council calling for immediate
action to address the appalling situation in the "No Fire Zone."
She expressed grave concern about the large numbers of civilians being
killed, including many children and warned of growing evidence that the
government and the LTTE are committing serious violations of international
Amnesty International also urged the U.N.
Security Council to stress individual responsibility for crimes under international
law and to ensure the creation of a commission of inquiry, as a first step
towards establishing accountability for alleged breaches of international
humanitarian and human rights law.
Amnesty International called on the U.N.
Security Council to ensure that attacks on civilians by the Sri Lankan
army or the LTTE be stopped; that the LTTE allow all civilians to leave
the conflict area; and that the Sri Lankan government stop using heavy
artillery in a very densely populated area and provide immediate access
to international monitors and humanitarian agencies.
The organization has regularly condemned
both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan military for serious violations of international
humanitarian law, including war crimes. The LTTE have forcibly trapped
civilians in the conflict zone as human shields against government forces.
The Sri Lankan military has in the past used heavy artillery, which is
indiscriminate under the circumstances, causing civilian deaths and injuries.
President Barack Obama warned that "without
urgent action, this humanitarian crisis could turn into a catastrophe."
He condemned the LTTE's use of civilians as "human shields"
and urged the Sri Lankan government to stop the "indiscriminate shelling"
in the area and asked for access by humanitarian agencies to the civilians
who are trapped between the warring parties and those displaced people
within Sri Lanka so that they can receive additional support needed.
Amnesty International's letter to the U.N.
Security Council: https://www.amnesty.org/en/library/info/ASA37/009/2009/en
Amnesty International is a global movement of millions of people demanding human rights for all people - no matter who they are or where they are. We are the world's largest grassroots human rights organization.(212) 807-8400
Family members and people who knew Lotfi Hassan Misto described him as "a kind, hard-working man whose 'whole life was spent poor,'" The Washington Post reported.
The Pentagon said earlier this month, without providing evidence, that a U.S. drone strike in northwest Syria killed a "senior al-Qaeda leader."
But U.S. military officials are now beginning to walk back the claim as the victim's family insists the father of 10 had no connections to terrorist organizations and was herding his sheep when he was slain by a Hellfire missile on the morning of May 3.
Lotfi Hassan Misto, a 56-year-old former bricklayer, has been identified by his family as the victim of the drone strike, The Washington Postreported Thursday, citing interviews with the man's brother, son, and several people who knew him.
"They described a kind, hard-working man whose 'whole life was spent poor,'" the Post noted.
The operation that killed Misto, the Post reported, "was overseen by U.S. Central Command, which claimed hours after the strike, without citing evidence or naming a suspect, that the Predator drone strike had targeted a 'senior al-Qaeda leader.' But now there is doubt inside the Pentagon about who was killed."
One unnamed U.S. military official told the newspaper that the Pentagon is "no longer confident" that the strike killed an al-Qaeda leader. Another official said that "though we believe the strike did not kill the original target, we believe the person to be al-Qaeda."
The entire U.S. drone program, including the process by which officials choose their assassination targets, is shrouded in secrecy, and activists argue the program should be shuttered in its entirety.
Often described by the Pentagon as "precision" attacks, U.S. drone strikes have killed thousands of civilians in recent years—deaths that U.S. officials typically refuse to even acknowledge, let alone apologize for.
The Biden administration did apologize after killing 10 members of an Afghan family—including seven children—in a 2021 drone strike in Kabul, but the U.S. has yet to uphold its pledge to compensate the survivors. A U.S. Central Command report on the strike indicated that military officials knew the attack likely killed civilians but initially lied about it in public.
The aftermath of the May 3 drone strike in northwest Syria appears to be following a similar trajectory.
On the day of the deadly strike, the watchdog Airwars published an initial assessment noting that a "60-year-old male civilian was killed by a declared U.S. drone strike on the outskirts of Qurqaniya," immediately disputing the Pentagon narrative.
Airwars pointed to a tweet from a Syrian journalist who said that contrary to CENTCOM's statement, the man killed was a civilian with "no connection with any organization, neither now nor previously."
Video footage given to the Post shows "a dozen people standing nearby" as aid workers arrived at the scene of the drone strike earlier this month, the newspaper reported.
"Most stare in shock," the Post observed. "Some cry."
Nearly a week after the strike, a CENTCOM spokesperson said the U.S. military was "aware of the allegations of a civilian casualty" and determining whether "further investigation is necessary and how it should proceed."
Misto's brother told the Associated Press at the time that the U.S. military's claims that Misto had terrorist connections were "absolute lies," decrying his killing as "an injustice and an aggression."
"If they claim that he's a terrorist, or that they got someone from al-Qaeda, they're all liars," Misto's brother told the Post.
Analysts told the Post that the family's insistence that Misto had no terrorist ties appears highly credible.
"Very quickly after this strike, the White Helmets came out and identified the individual with his name and his profession," said Charles Lister, the director of Syria and Countering Terrorism and Extremism at the Middle East Institute.
"Locals came forward to say, this guy's always been a farmer. He's never had any political activities; he's never had any affiliation with armed groups," Lister added. "The pace and breadth of such pushback was actually quite unusual."
Citing Jerome Drevon, a senior analyst on jihad and modern conflict with the International Crisis Group, the Post noted that "typically, when al-Qaeda leaders are killed, sympathizers announce their deaths online as a celebration of martyrdom."
"If the victim was a lower-level member of the organization, groups may not announce their death, he said, but people close to them will, often saying how they were connected to the group," the newspaper reported. "In this case, Drevon said 'there was nothing.'"
"The single biggest threat to the U.S. banking system is more concentration," said the Massachusetts Democrat. "A bank as big as JPMorgan shouldn't be allowed to get even bigger."
U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren raised alarm about the recent sale of First Republic Bank to JPMorgan Chase—which followed a government takeover of the former—in a letter to financial regulators and a series of questions during a Thursday hearing.
"The failure of First Republic Bank shows how deregulation has made the too-big-to-fail problem even worse," the Massachusetts Democrat said after the controversial sale earlier this month. "Congress needs to make major reforms to fix a broken banking system."
Ahead of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs hearing, Warren wrote to two officials who appeared before the panel Thursday morning: Martin Gruenberg, chair of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), and Michael Hsu, acting head of the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC).
"The executives at First Republic—who took excessive risks and did not appropriately manage them as interest rates increased throughout 2022 and 2023—bear primary responsibility for this failure," Warren wrote in the letter, dated Wednesday. "I am continuing to seek answers from the bank's executives, and attempting to pass bipartisan legislation that would claw back their excessive compensation."
"But the outcome of this seizure and sale were deeply troubling: It resulted in a $13 billion cost to the Federal Deposit Insurance Fund—which will ultimately be passed on to ordinary bank consumers across the country—and made JPMorgan, the nation's biggest bank, even bigger," she added. "JPMorgan will also record a $2.6 billion gain from the deal."
Warren asked Gruenberg and Hsu to prepare to address the topic at the committee's hearing and also requested written responses to a series of questions by the end of the month.
"One set of questions involves the $13 billion loss to the Federal Deposit Insurance Fund, and why the fund was allowed to take this loss while the FDIC deal made nearly $50 billion worth of uninsured deposits at First Republic—including $30 billion in uninsured deposits from big banks—whole," she noted. "My second set of concerns involves the decision to choose JPMorgan—which was already the nation's largest bank—to acquire First Republic and become even bigger."
During the hearing, Warren explained that "when the FDIC sells a failed bank, the law requires that you choose the highest bidder that will result in the lowest cost to the Deposit Insurance Fund—but the law also requires signoff from the OCC, and the OCC's job, by law, is to consider whether the merger would pose 'risk to the stability of the United States banking or financial system.'"
The senator questioned Hsu about the decision to sell to JPMorgan versus PNC or Citizens Bank, given that selling to either of the latter would have posed less of a risk, based on one metric used by financial regulators that is notably influenced by bank size.
\u201cThe single biggest threat to the U.S. banking system is more concentration. I am troubled by @USOCC Acting Comptroller Michael Hsu's decision to approve @jpmorgan's acquisition of First Republic Bank. A bank as big as JP Morgan shouldn't be allowed to get even bigger.\u201d— Elizabeth Warren (@Elizabeth Warren) 1684436759
"Comptroller Hsu, your job, by law, is to determine risk to the system from making big banks even bigger, and you have a clear metric for doing that," Warren said. "So how do you explain approving a sale to a banking giant that increases the risk to the banking system by somewhere between nearly 800% and 1,400% more than selling to other bidders? Did you just ignore the fact that a failure at JPMorgan would blow a hole in our banking system... and let them grow by $200 billion?"
After insisting that "for every merger application we follow the law, we follow our guidelines, we follow our policies and procedures," Hsu said focusing only on the metric Warren cited would not have been "wise," and if that approach had been taken, "I fear that there would have been greater financial instability that weekend."
As her time expired, Warren—who was visibly frustrated by Hsu's lack of a broader explanation for choosing JPMorgan Chase—declared that "the single biggest threat to the U.S. banking system is concentration."
"We're all pushing harder for merger guidelines so that we don't get more concentration in the banking system," she told Hsu. "You are the one person who was supposed to use judgment on the question... 'Between multiple sales, which one was the right one to go with, and which one presented more risk to the banking system?'"
"According to your own metric, you chose the one that gives us more concentration in the system," the senator stressed. "I am very troubled by that decision."
"It is an exhibition of unadulterated hate and racism," said one Palestinian activist. "Beyond inflammatory."
Israeli government officials including far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir joined tens of thousands of ultra-nationalists participating in Thursday's inflammatory "Flag March" in occupied East Jerusalem, an event at which police and demonstrators attacked Palestinians and journalists while chanting slogans including "death to Arabs" and "your village will be burned."
Ben-Gvir, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, and Transport Minister Miri Regev were among the Israeli officials who took part in the annual march, which celebrates Israel's conquest and illegal occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967.
Marcher Limor Son Har-Melech, a lawmaker from Ben Gvir's far-right Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, toldThe Times of Israel that she was participating to celebrate "our victory over the Arabs."
\u201cWhen referring to the upcoming \u201cJerusalem Day\u201d or flag day march, this is what we\u2019re talking about: an anti-Palestinian hate fest that includes attacking homes, businesses & Palestinians. It is an exhibition of unadulterated hate and racism. Beyond inflammatory. Video from 2021\u201d— Nour Odeh \ud83c\uddf5\ud83c\uddf8 #NojusticeNopeace (@Nour Odeh \ud83c\uddf5\ud83c\uddf8 #NojusticeNopeace) 1684359874
In Gaza, Israeli forces used live and "less lethal" munitions to break up a Palestinian demonstration that took place along the besieged strip's border with Israel, according toAl Jazeera.
"We will not surrender and we will continue to demand our rights and defend our occupied lands and our sanctities in Jerusalem," Palestinian protester Osama Abu Qamar told the Qatar-based news network.
The Jerusalem-based NGO Ir Amim called the Israeli demonstrations a "display of incitement, Jewish dominance, and racism."
Israeli marchers threw rocks at journalists, hitting at least two reporters in the head and wounding them, Middle East Eyereports.
\u201cUs journalists are under attack by participants in the flag march in #Jerusalem. \n\nThey cheer every time they hit us with projectiles.\u201d— \u211d\ud835\udd60\ud835\udd64\ud835\udd5a\ud835\udd56 \ud835\udd4a\ud835\udd54\ud835\udd52\ud835\udd5e\ud835\udd5e\ud835\udd56\ud835\udd5d\ud835\udd5d (@\u211d\ud835\udd60\ud835\udd64\ud835\udd5a\ud835\udd56 \ud835\udd4a\ud835\udd54\ud835\udd52\ud835\udd5e\ud835\udd5e\ud835\udd56\ud835\udd5d\ud835\udd5d) 1684421979
Middle East Eye said that marchers in Jerusalem's Old City beat Palestinian residents, and when Israeli police intervened, they assaulted Palestinian victims under attack instead of protecting them.
March participants stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque—one of the holiest sites to both Muslims and Jews—and insulted the prophet Mohammed, who Muslims believe was the messenger of God.
Ofer Cassif, an Israeli lawmaker from the left-wing Hadash coalition, called the flag march a "violent parade presented as a joyous dance."
"Rioting gangs backed by Ben-Gvir and the fascist government are bullying Arabs to show them who's in charge, "Cassif told Haaretz. "This is disgusting Kahanism in its peak."
\u201cIsrael's right wing uses Flag Day to violently remind Palestinians each year that Israel will stop at nothing to kick them out of their own homeland.\n\nThey fly Israel's national symbol as a symbol of Palestinian exclusion.\n\nThat's apartheid.\u201d— IMEU (@IMEU) 1684421511
Cassif was referring to the Jewish supremacist movement once led by Meir Kahane, the Orthodox rabbi convicted of terrorism before being assassinated in 1990. Ben-Gvir was convicted in 2007 of incitement to racism and supporting the Kahanist terror group Kach after he advocated the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.
There were other Israeli marches in cities and towns including Lod—known to Palestinians as Lydda—site of a 1948 massacre and death march as Jewish militias seized control of the area.
Thursday's marches came three days after, and stood in stark contrast with, Palestinians' commemoration of Nakba Day, a remembrance of the ethnic cleansing of more than 750,000 Arabs from over 400 villages—sometimes by massacres—during the foundation of the modern Israeli state in 1948. For the first time ever, the United Nations officially commemorated the Nakba.