Fatah and Hamas held a videoconference Thursday to pledge cooperation in resisting the Netanyahu government's annexation initiative. Jibril Rajoub, secretary general of Fatah's central committee, said, "We will not raise a white flag, we will not give up. All the options are open if the Israelis start the annexation and slam the door on the two-state solution." Although Rajoub maintains the form of "popular resistance" adopted will depend on whether Israel follows through on trying to annex parts of the West Bank, Abu Yusuf, commander of Fatah's al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, asserted after the conference, "The enemy understands only force and what is taken by force will not be returned through an olive tree branch." Saleh al-Arouri, who is in charge of Hamas activity in the West Bank, promised Hamas would "use all forms of struggle and resistance against the annexation project."
PA Finance Minister Shukri Bishara announced Thursday that Ramallah would cut public sector salaries to half their May rate for the rest of the year due to revenue shortages caused by refusing to accept tax revenue collected by Israel on the PA's behalf in protest of the Netanyahu government's West Bank annexation initiative. Israel transfers roughly $190 million to the PA a month in import duties, accounting for about 60 percent of the Palestinian budget in 2019.
The trial in absentia of 20 Saudi officials for the October 2018 murder of Jamal Khashoggi's murder in Saudi Arabia's Istanbul consulate opened Friday. Prosecutors are seeking life in prison for the defendants, who include former deputy head of general intelligence Ahmed al-Asiri and former royal court adviser Saud al-Qahtani. While the Criminal Court of Riyadh sentenced five anonymous alleged perpetrators to death and three more to prison for killing Khashoggi, Saud al-Qahtani was never charged and al-Asiri acquitted. However, the government dismissed them from their positions. Salah Khashoggi, the only one of Jamal's four children still living in the kingdom, spared from execution those sentenced to death for his father's murder. Since the Saudi judiciary classified the Khashoggi killing as a retribution case, any of the victim's heirs could pardon the killers, leading to their death sentences' commutation. Consulate employee Zeki Demir testified Friday to being summoned on the day of Khashoggi's murder to turn on the facility's tandoor oven, which can reach 1,000 degrees Celsius, sufficient to remove any DNA evidence. Khashoggi's remains were never found.
A Turkish court sentenced Amnesty International's former Turkey chair, Taner Kilic, to six years and three months in prison for "membership of a terrorist organization," handed out shorter sentences to three other human rights activists, and acquitted seven. The "terrorist group" in question is Fethullah Gulen's Hizmet movement, which President Recep Tayyip Erdogan erroneously blames for the abortive 2016 military coup.
After an explosion and fire at the underground Natanz uranium-enrichment site Thursday, Iran's Civil Defense Organization chief Brigadier General Gholamreza Jalali told state TV, "Responding to cyber attacks is part of the country's defense might. If it is proven that our country has been targeted by a cyber attack, we will respond." Three Iranian officials speaking on condition of anonymity to Reuters believed a cyber attack caused the fire in a centrifuge assembly building.
Swedish Foreign Minister Ann Linde announced Thursday Iran agreed to compensate the families of foreigners killed on Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) accidently downed the jet while launching missile attacks against Iraqi military bases hosting US forces to avenge the targeted killing of Qasem Soleimani by an American drone. Ten Swedes were among the 92 foreigners on board Flight 752.
US District Judge James E. Boasberg signed a warrant Thursday for the seizure of almost 1.2 million barrels of gasoline four Iranian tankers are shipping to Venezuela as the sale intends to benefit sanctioned Iranian entities, particularly the IRGC. The US probably could only seize the tankers if they entered American territorial waters.
Houthi military spokesman Yahya Sarea claimed Friday its bomb-laden drones attacked two airports in southwestern Saudi Arabia, hitting an "operation room in Najran airport" and "aircraft hangars in King Khaled Air Base in Khamis Mushait city." However, Col. Turki Al-Maliki, spokesman for the Saudi-led coalition backing President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi's internationally recognized government, maintained the coalition "intercepted and destroyed" the "four bomb-laden UAVs launched by the terrorist, Iran-backed Houthi militia." This comes two days after the Saudi-led coalition launched a broad military operation against the Houthis attributed to an uptick in the rebel movement's attacks on the kingdom.
Lebanese Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni conceded Friday the suspension of negotiations with the IMF over an initial $10 billion bailout until the government and financial sector can agree on the scale of losses in the banking system during the ongoing economic crisis. The Lebanese currency has lost 80 percent of its value since October and the World Bank estimates that half the population will fall beneath the poverty line. Lebanon is the third-most indebted state in the world, S&P last year estimating its public debt equaling 169 percent of GDP, and last March it failed to repay a $1.2 billion Eurobond, marking the country's first sovereign default.
Micah Levinson is the Washington, DC Resident Fellow at the Middle East Forum