UAE said to be behind hacking of Qatari media, sparking regional upheaval

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United Arab Emirates orchestrated the hacking of a Qatari government news site in May, planting a false story that was used as a pretext for the current crisis between Qatar and several Arab countries, according to a Sunday report by The Washington Post.

The Emirati Embassy in Washington released a statement in response calling the Post report “false” and insisting that the UAE “had no role whatsoever” in the alleged hacking.

The report quotes unnamed US intelligence officials as saying that senior members of the Emirati government discussed the plan on May 23. On the following day, a story appeared on the Qatari News Agency’s website quoting a speech by Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani, in which he allegedly praised Iran and said Qatar has a good relationship with Israel. Similarly incendiary statements appeared on the news agency’s Twitter feed.

The agency quickly claimed it was hacked and removed the article. But Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt all blocked Qatari media and later severed diplomatic ties.

The ongoing crisis has threatened to complicate the US-led coalition’s fight against the Islamic State group as all participants are US allies and members of the anti-IS coalition. Qatar is home to more than 10,000 US troops and the regional headquarters of the US Central Command while Bahrain is the home of the US Navy’s 5th Fleet.

President Donald Trump has sided strongly with Saudi Arabia and the UAE in the dispute, publicly backing their contention that Doha is a supporter of Islamic militant groups and a destabilizing force in the Middle East. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently concluded several days of shuttle diplomacy in the Gulf, but he departed the region without any public signs of a resolution.


Syrian shells land in Golan Heights, sparking IDF strikes

Several mortar shells exploded in an open area in the Golan Heights near the border with Syria Saturday afternoon, the army said, leading to retaliatory air strikes.

The Hezbollah-affiliated al-Mayadeen TV station claimed two Syrian soldiers were killed in the strikes, though there was no official confirmation by Syrian officials.

The army said the mortars appeared to be errant fire from Syrian factions fighting each other across the border. Around 10 impacts were identified in Israeli territory, around the Quneitra area.

There was no damage and no injuries were reported in the mortar attack. With Israelis flocking to the Golan in the summer for hikes and fruit picking, the military said it had taken the precautionary step of asking civilians to avoid gathering near the border with Syria following the attack.

The military retaliated with several air strikes on Syrian regime positions, in what has become the standard response in such cases. The army said it struck two tanks and a post from which the mortars were fired.

An Israel Air Force F-15 flies overhead during an exercise in the Golan Heights on February 23, 2014. (Gu Ashash/Israel Air Force/Flickr)

Israel also lodged a formal complaint with the UN over the incident.

The military said it “will not tolerate any attempt to harm Israeli sovereignty and the security of its citizens” and held the regime responsible for all attacks launched from Syrian territory.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday rejected a Wall Street Journal report claiming Israel provides financial aid to rebel groups in Syria.

“We do not interfere in this terribly bloody conflict. We do, however, provide humanitarian aid to young boys and girls,” Netanyahu said. “It is expensive, but we will continue to invest.”

The prime minister said that more than a thousand Syrian men, women and children had been treated at Ziv Medical Center in Safed. Many more have been treated at a field hospital the IDF maintains at the Syrian border.

“They once saw us as enemies,” he said of these patients, “but here they realize more than ever that Israel is a moral bastion and a beacon of light in the region,” where “all are treated equally,” irrespective of their religion and origin.

Citing interviews with half a dozen rebel leaders and three persons familiar Israel’s undeclared policy, the Sunday report in the Journalclaimed that Israel set up a special military unit in 2016 to oversee and coordinate the transfer of financial aid — valued at some $5,000 per month — to rebel forces opposed to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and his Iranian, Lebanese and Russian allies.

This “secret engagement,” the report said, is aimed to help ensure that forces friendly to Israel control the Syrian side of the northern Golan border. The aid, said the Journal, helps the groups pay salaries and buy weapons and ammunition.

A separate UN report, published last month, describes a series of meetings between Israeli military representatives and Syrian rebel leaders near the Syrian border, observed by UN peacekeepers.

The May report from the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) of peacekeepers stated that “there has been a significant increase in interaction between Israel Defense Forces soldiers and individuals from the Bravo (Syrian) side.”

The UN report went on to cite 16 meetings it had observed taking place between the IDF and unknown officials on the Syrian side of the border in the past year.

Israel has largely stayed out of the Syrian civil war, which broke out in March 2011, but has over the years acknowledged that it helps treat wounded Syrians who arrive at its border, and provides some of them with humanitarian assistance. It has also claimed a number of airstrikes in Syria it says were meant to prevent arch-foe Hezbollah from acquiring advanced weaponry from Iran via Damascus. Netanyahu has repeatedly confirmed that Israel was actively working to disrupt Hezbollah’s arms smuggling operations in Syria and build-up of capabilities on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.

In response to the Wall Street Journal report, the IDF said Israel was “committed to securing the borders of Israel and preventing the establishment of terror cells and hostile forces… in addition to providing humanitarian aid to the Syrians living in the area.”

Miss USA (Nigger Bitch, Nigger Feminist) says health care is a ‘privilege,’ not a right, sparking debate during pageant


The question-and-answer session during beauty pageants is often a fraught situation. Contestants are given only about 30 seconds on live television to answer questions about how to stop terrorism or whether America has an immigration problem. In other words, it’s a segment primed to go viral (see: Miss Teen South Carolina’s infamous response in 2007), as any good TV producer would hope.

As a result, it’s rare to see anyone answer a question directly. Contestants often spout off media-trained, middle-of-the-road answers that ensure no one will be offended. So it was very unusual on Sunday night when the new Miss USA — Miss D.C. Kára McCullough, marking the second year in a row that District of Columbia won the pageant — gave a very direct answer about health care, which in turn sparked a debate on social media.

Before Miss D.C. stepped forward, the questions to the Top 5 were at typical degrees of difficulty: “How would you like the global community to view the United States?” (Miss Minnesota: The U.S. should be viewed as accepting and empowering.) “Which specific issue regarding women’s rights is most important to you?” (Miss Illinois: Women should be able to speak honestly about their experiences at work without retaliation.) “What action would you take as Miss USA to help [suicidal] teenagers?” (Miss South Carolina: Teenagers need to make sure their voices are heard, with counseling or other resources.)

Then Miss D.C. stepped up to answer a question about the most currently contentious subject in the country: “Do you think affordable health care for all U.S. citizens is a right or a privilege, and why?”

McCullough, a 25-year-old scientist who works at the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, tied in her own experience to her answer. “I’m definitely going to say it’s a privilege,” she said. “As a government employee, I am granted health care. And I see firsthand that for one to have health care, you need to have jobs. So therefore, we need to continue to cultivate this environment that we’re given the opportunities to have health care as well as jobs to all the American citizens worldwide.”

Reaction on Twitter was swift — quite a few people were horrified (“Miss DC just lost me with that answer….Affordable healthcare is a privilege? Girl bye”; “Miss DC was my fav but… not after that answer.”) Others applauded her. (“Respect for Miss DC saying that healthcare is a privilege and not a right”.) Some went into broad discussion. (“The thing about Miss DC is she’s correct–healthcare IS still a privilege, not a right. It’s just that that’s what’s wrong with our system.”)


By the time Miss New Jersey answered the fifth and final question about whether social media is a positive or negative influence in our culture (“With great power comes great responsibility,” she said), it was clear who had the most memorable answer of the night.

Later, McCullough also stirred up debate online for her answer on feminism. (“As a woman scientist in the government, I’d like to lately transpose the word feminism to equalism.”) But as it turns out, a possible controversy doesn’t necessarily matter to the judges — at the end of the night, she was named the winner.

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