Saudi passenger jet makes chilling emergency landing without nose gear (VIDEO)

By ethan / May 22, 2018

A Saudi plane made a rough emergency landing in Jeddah, with its nose gear retracted. The video of the jet skidding on its nose has been posted online.

The Saudi Arabian Airlines flight with 141 passengers and 10 crew members on board was traveling from Medina to Dhaka on Monday when it suffered a malfunction in the hydraulic system. The plane then had to divert to King Abdulaziz International Airport in Jeddah.

“The pilot made several attempts but failed to correct the malfunction with the front landing gear. Subsequently, the Air Bus 330 made an emergency landing with the nose gear retracted,” Abdurahman Al-Tayyib, spokesman of Saudi Arabian Airlines said, as cited by Saudi Gazette newspaper. 

READ MORE: Russian Boeing 737 lands after reported mid-flight engine failure

The plane is seen skidding down the runway with flames coming out from under the nose.

The passengers were evacuated via emergency slides, with at least four of them later taken to health centers, Saudi media reported

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Indian govt employee declares himself reincarnation of Vishnu, skips work to go to '5th dimension'

By ethan / May 22, 2018

A senior engineer at an Indian government agency has been no-show to work for eight months for he was busy performing his duties as a deity, namely the 10th reincarnation of Vishnu, the man explained in a letter to the employer.

Some office workers are ready to go to great lengths to find a legitimate reason to be absent from work, however, one government employee in India took it out of this world.

Rameshchandra Fefar, a superintending engineer at Gujarat government’s Sardar Sarovar Punarvasvat Agency (SSPA), tasked with compensating those affected by the Sardar Sarovar dam, has claimed he is the 10th incarnation of  Vishnu, one of the three main gods in Hinduism. The man, who in his late fifties, said he has been toiling on behalf of the Indian people as a deity and could not waste time on more trivial tasks.

“I am doing penance at home by entering into fifth dimension to change the global conscience… I can’t do such penance sitting in office,” Fefar wrote in a letter he sent to the agency in response to a no-show notice. The man said his restless work has not been without success, taking credit for last 19 years of “good” rains in the country.

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A couple participates in Hindu rituals during a marriage ceremony in India. © Sam Panthaky / AFP

Citing the utmost importance of his endeavor, Fefar asked “whether it’s more important for the agency to make me sit in the office and let time pass or do some concrete work to save the country from drought.”

Fefar, one of the most senior engineers in the state, was found to have worked only 16 days in the last eight months. While his story has only just come into the spotlight Fefar says that he has felt his direct link to Vishnu since 2010, when he claims their souls merged. The man, who is married and has a son, said he told his wife about his supernatural experience in 2014.

While neither his family nor acquaintances appear to believe the bizarre claim, Fefar told Indian media that the proof of his divine background will soon become evident.

“When people are given some information, they tend to disbelieve it at first. But proof of this will be given in the near future,” he said, as cited by The Economic Times.

The man said that he has learned to discern signals Vishnu is sending him. For instance, twitching in his right eye means the god wants to talk to him. The orders he is being given frequently make little or no sense, such as travelling by train without a ticket or buying cheap electronic devices, but Fefar did not appear to second guess them.

The official was appointed to oversee the compensation process in September 2017, and has “remained highly erratic ever since,” the agency wrote in an formal disciplinary notice this month, calling his behavior incompatible with being a government employee.

The agency said that it was processing the report, that has since gone viral, and would hand it over to the Gujarat government.

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'No question' Trump might walk away from summit with Kim – Pence

By ethan / May 22, 2018

US Vice President Mike Pence has said that President Donald Trump still mulls cancelling the scheduled summit with North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un. The military option against the North has never been off the table, either.

The Trump administration will not fall for the same trap with North Korea as its predecessors did, Pence said, hinting that the much-hyped summit between US and North Korean leaders might be off the cards if Trump feels he is being ‘played.’

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Coffins of 28 people, who Libyan government officials say were killed by NATO air strikes, August 9, 2011. © Caren Firouz

“The Clinton administration, even the Bush administration got played in the past. We offered concessions to the North Korean regime in exchange to the promises to end up the nuclear weapons program only to see them break those promises and abandon them,” Pence said in an interview with Fox News’ Martha MacCallum on Monday.

“It would be a great mistake for Kim Jong-un to think he could play Donald Trump,” Pence said.

Asked if that means Trump might still walk away from the hugely anticipated meeting in Singapore on June 12, Pence did not rule it out.

“There’s no question, but we hope for better. We really hope that Kim Jong-un will seize the opportunity to dismantle his nuclear weapons and do so by peaceful means,” Pence said.

He went to dismiss the notion that Trump will not let the meeting to be derailed to avoid hurting his image. “I don’t think President Trump is thinking about public relations, he’s thinking about peace,” Pence said.

The fate of the Trump-Kim summit has been hanging in the balance in light of the ongoing US-South Korean ‘Max Thunder’ air force drills and a recent remark by US National Security Adviser John Bolton that suggested that North Korea should strike a deal similar to that Libya made in 2003. Eight years after Libya turned over its nuclear weapons, its leader Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown and brutally murdered in NATO-backed unrest.

Faced with outrage from Pyongyang and a possibility of a diplomatic fiasco, Trump then was forced to contradict his own national security adviser, denying that Washington was considering to apply a “Libyan model” to North Korea.

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Pence, however, rekindled the issue and the North’s concerns, hinting that the Libyan scenario can be still implemented if the countries fail to reach the deal ensuring nuclear-free Korean peninsula.

“You know, there was some talk of the Libyan model last week. And as the president made clear, this will only end like the Libyan model ended if Kim Jong-un doesn’t make a deal,” Pence said, noting that his stark warning is “more of a fact” than a threat.

Asked if a military option comes back on the table if the negotiations do not bear fruit, Pence said “it never came off.”

With Pyongyang threatening to call off the summit, Trump on Monday discussed the upcoming meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in ahead of their own meeting at the White House on Tuesday.

It comes after last week North Korea reignited the war of words with Washington and Seoul and pulled out of high-level talks with South Korea citing the two allies’ provocative drills at its doorstep.

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82% of Germans believe US is unreliable partner – poll

By ethan / May 22, 2018

The vast majority of Germans believe the US is not a reliable partner for Berlin when it comes to political cooperation, according to a new poll. It comes after Chancellor Merkel said that Europe can no longer rely on Washington.

The survey, commissioned by public service TV provider ZDF, found that 82 percent of Germans believe the US is not a reliable partner, with only 14 percent believing it is. The remaining four percent were unsure.

It comes after German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated earlier this month that Europe “needs to take its fate into its own hands,” noting that “it’s no longer the case that the United States will simply just protect us.”

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Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel s© Sergei Karpukhin

Merkel’s statement came after US President Donald Trump pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, despite Germany, the UK, and France urging him to remain part of the accord.

However, the majority (65%) of Germans are still optimistic that the remaining signatories of the Iran deal – the UK, France, Germany, China, and Russia – will be successful at keeping with the agreement. Twenty-eight percent, though, are skeptical that it can continue without Washington.

Meanwhile, the survey participants were also asked about whether Russia is a reliable partner, with more people (36%) viewing Moscow as trustworthy than Washington.

The poll was commissioned by ZDF and conducted by the Mannheim Research Group. Interviews were conducted over the phone with 1,200 random participants between May 15-17.

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Republican lawmakers call for special counsel over FBI and DoJ abuses in Trump probe

By ethan / May 22, 2018

Seventeen GOP lawmakers have introduced a resolution accusing the Justice Department and the FBI of misconduct in investigating the 2016 Trump campaign, and calling for the appointment of special counsel.

Representative Lee Zeldin (R-New York) and 16 of his colleagues have authored the 12-page House Resolution, to be released on Tuesday. Zeldin says it details misconduct at the highest levels of the DOJ and the FBI on FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) abuse, how and why the Hillary Clinton email probe ended, and how the Trump/Russia collusion probe began.

Representative Lee Zeldin (R-New York) and 16 of his colleagues have authored the 12-page House Resolution, to be released on Tuesday. Zeldin says it details misconduct at the highest levels of the DOJ and the FBI on FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) abuse, how and why the Hillary Clinton email probe ended, and how the Trump/Russia collusion probe began.

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Former FBI Director James Comey © Jonathan Ernst

The resolution will call for the appointment of a second special counsel to investigate the misconduct.

Zeldin’s resolution comes less than a day after the Justice Department announced its request that Inspector General Michael Horowitz expand his review of the FBI’s “Russian collusion” investigation to include possible abuses of the surveillance application process and political motivation. The department has asked the IG to bring charges against any FBI personnel found guilty of criminal conduct during the Trump/Russia investigation.

“The Department has asked the Inspector General to expand the ongoing review of the FISA application process to include determining whether there was any impropriety or political motivation in how the FBI conducted its counterintelligence investigation of persons suspected of involvement with the Russian agents who interfered in the 2016 presidential election,” said a statement from DOJ spokesperson Sarah Isgur Flores.

“If anyone did infiltrate or surveil participants in a presidential campaign for inappropriate purposes, we need to know about it and take appropriate action,” Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said in a statement.

Hours beforehand, Trump took to Twitter to demand such an investigation. The President has previously accused the Obama administration of orchestrating a surveillance campaign against him in the run-up to the 2016 election. Trump claims that the FISA act was used to monitor his campaign, under the pretext of looking out for “Russian” meddling.

Trump also lashed out at former CIA Director John Brennan in a flurry of tweets Monday morning, accusing Brennan of leading an effort to frame him for colluding with Russian actors, and knowingly using the unverified and suspect contents of the infamous ‘Steele Dossier’ to kick-start the FBI’s investigation.

Last week, the New York Times and the Washington Post revealed that a secretive operation, codenamed Crossfire Hurricane, was conducted by the FBI from the summer of 2016.

As part of the operation, an agent was tasked with extracting potentially compromising information from George Papadopoulos, Sam Clovis, Carter Page and other members of the Trump campaign. Papadopoulos later pled guilty to making false statements to the FBI. Though neither paper has named the spy, the Daily Caller has identified him as veteran CIA agent and academic Stefan Halper.

Responding to Trump’s earlier claims that the Obama administration could have been spying on his campaign, former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said that the president’s claim was “hyperbole” but added that if the US intelligence had been spying on his campaign, it would be a “good thing.”

Two years into the Russiagate probe, and with Special Counsel Robert Mueller still digging, no decisive evidence of collusion between the Trump camp and Russia has been found, and no individuals have been indicted on collusion or obstruction charges.

President Trump has called the FBI’s alleged use of Halper as an informant “bigger than Watergate,” and the entire investigation “the greatest Witch Hunt in American History.”

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Pompeo's demands don't make it easier for West to influence Iran, says EU foreign policy chief

By ethan / May 22, 2018

The 12-point US ultimatum to Tehran does nothing to further talks with the Islamic Republic on issues not covered by the nuclear deal, nor does it make the world safer, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said.

The top EU diplomat has been dismissive of the Trump administration’s plan to coax Iran into a new deal by demanding an array of unilateral concessions, including its departure from Syria and withdrawal of support from its allied militias across the Middle East.

The list laid out by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday calls on Iran to terminate both its nuclear and ballistic missile program, release all US citizens and allow the UN nuclear watchdog inspectors unimpeded access anywhere they want.

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© Raheb Homavandi

In case the demands are not met, Pompeo threatened to slap Tehran with the “strongest sanctions in history” that are designed to leave its economy in tatters.

The ham-fisted approach envisaged by Washington does not serve any practical purpose, Mogherini argued on Monday, saying that Pompeo’s speech “has not demonstrated how walking away from the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] has made or will make the region safer from the threat of nuclear proliferation or how it puts us in a better position to influence Iran’s conduct in areas outside the scope of JCPOA.”

Mogherini has become one of the most vocal defenders of the 2015 nuclear accord since the US pull-out earlier this month, reiterating the deal should remain intact as the basis for any future talks with Iran, including over its missile program that has been a major irritant for the West. Denouncing US President Donald Trump’s decision to quit the landmark agreement, she reminded that it was “not a bilateral agreement and it is not in the hands of any single country to terminate it unilaterally.”

Last week, Mogherini reaffirmed that the EU countries that are party to the deal are “determined” to ensure that it stays in place, while European and Iranian experts “hopefully very quickly” work out a solution to the crisis.

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EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini and Britain, France and Germany foreign ministers  take part in meeting with Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in Brussels, Belgium, May 15, 2018. © Yves Herman

Save the US, all other signatories – the UK, France, Germany, Russia, China and Iran – have vowed to stick to the deal, which caps Iran’s uranium enrichment in return for sanctions relief.

Reminding that the agreement is “the result of more than a decade of complex and delicate negotiations,” Mogherini said that it was “the best possible outcome” of the talks and that there was “no alternative.” That is despite the adverse impact the reintroduction of the US economic and financial sanctions on Iran can have on the EU businesses.

Iran on Monday rejected Pompeo’s ultimatum, noting that the time when Washington could impose its will on other countries was long gone.

“Who are you to decide for Iran and the world? The world today does not accept America to decide for the world, as countries are independent … that era is over,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said, accusing the US of mimicking “delusional and failed” policies of George Bush Jr’s administration.

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Pompeo says 'terrorist' Iran turned Syria into 'kill zone'. Or did the US?

By ethan / May 22, 2018

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has blamed Iran for “perpetuating” the 7-year Syrian war, causing a refugee crisis and provoking terrorist attacks in Europe, by supporting the “murderous Assad regime.” Is he correct?

The accusations came as part of Pompeo’s 12-point ultimatum to the Islamic Republic delivered on Monday, in which the newly-appointed official slammed its “financing of terror” and “destabilizing activities.” But does Washington have the moral authority to accuse Tehran of malign meddling, and has its own influence brought more peace? Syria is a good test case.

Who has a better excuse to be in Syria?

Iran has been a long-time ally of Damascus and is in Syria legally at the behest of President Bashar Assad, who – whatever the opinion of his time in office – is the internationally recognized leader of his country. By itself, Tehran’s involvement in Syria is on the right side of international law.

The US, on the other hand, has been described as an “illegal invader” by Assad himself. Washington has funded efforts to topple the government since 2011, and has stationed troops in Syria since 2015. The US is not a neighboring country directly affected by the conflict and does not have an international mandate, other than as a leader of an intervention coalition it has assembled itself.

“Those who entered Syria without the permission of the Syrian government are the ones that must leave the country,” Iran said pointedly on Monday evening.

Which factions have they been supporting?

Washington has defended its intervention on humanitarian and moral grounds, saying that it has been helping the “good guys” and those facing persecution. Unfortunately, Americans have found it difficult to attach themselves to a respectable faction. The initial pro-democracy protests were short-lived, the “moderate” rebels of the Free Syrian Army were always a relatively paltry proportion of the anti-Assad coalition, and in any case appear to have been hijacked by religious hardliners.

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Iranians burn a US flag during a protest against President Trump's decision to pull out of the nuclear deal. © Reuters

In the recent stand-off in Eastern Ghouta, the rebels the US was endorsing reportedly included Tahrir al-Sham, the local branch of Al-Qaeda, and the Salafist jihadis of Nour al-Din al-Zenki Movement. This is neither a secret nor an isolated case, with many instances of US backing or protecting Al Nusra branches from Russian or Syrian forces. Perhaps America’s most honorable partners were the Kurds, but they have their own self-interest in Syria, and in any case were swiftly “let go” by the US once they served their purpose of defeating Islamic State.

In contrast, Iran has consistently supported one side in the conflict. While the Syrian War has undoubtedly been brutal, few even in the Pentagon would argue that the treatment of civilians in government-controlled areas is comparable to the Shariah-dominated mini-theocracies or anarchic free-for-alls that many rebel areas became. Perhaps systematic use of chemical weapons could level the score, but this remains a highly contested charge against government forces, and definitely no Iranian initiative.

Which side is more responsible for ‘foreign fighters’ in Europe?

This is the flimsiest of Pompeo’s claims. The Syria-hardened terrorists who “have crossed into Europe and threatened terrorist attacks” in the past years are not Iran-loving Shias, but their Sunni rivals, inspired by the religious side of the struggle in the country fanned by the Pentagon.

The US secretary of state said that this may have been the result of them becoming refugees, but surely it is untenable to blame just one side for creating refugees in this conflict. Nor would Pompeo have praised Iran and Syria for killing more fleeing radical Islamists, just to prevent them from committing acts of terror in Europe later. Possibly a glance in the direction of Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia would be more apt here, if any specific party is to be blamed.

So which side actually did “help make that country 71,000 square miles of kill zone” and “displaced more than six million Syrians inside the country and caused over five million to seek refuge outside of its borders,” in Pompeo’s words?

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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani © Danish Siddiqui

No one even knows how many people have been killed in Syria since 2011, with the UN merely referring to “hundreds of thousands” after it admitted it could no longer verifiably estimate the death toll in 2014. Thus it is impossible to speak of an exact kill count on different sides, or the circumstances that made each turn to violence.

But once it became clear, a couple of years into the conflict, that the US was supporting primarily radical forces who were unlikely to ever establish peace, once Washington said that it would never accept any circumstance for Assad to stay on, and once the balance of power tipped irrevocably to government forces, it is the US that bears ever-greater responsibility for the continuing bloodbath.

Backing uncompromising forces, setting a priori impossible conditions (something it has arguably done again with Iran) and chasing lost causes, the US has painfully stretched out the war, without any clear objectives – unlike Iran, which is fighting towards a clear resolution.

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‘Everyone has duty to defend Sweden’: 4.8mn homes to get war prepper manual

By ethan / May 21, 2018

The Swedish government is issuing pamphlets explaining how citizens should prepare for a multitude of potential crises from terrorist attacks to all-out war, saying: “Sweden is safer than many other countries but threats exist.”

The booklet, produced by the Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (MSB), advises Swedes to stock up on tinned food, bottled water and blankets in addition to planning how they would manage the supply of water, food, heat and communications when public services are not functioning as normal.

Furthermore, the booklet makes it clear that all fit Swedes and foreign residents would be expected to play their part should a crisis occur, as everyone living in Sweden has a “duty to contribute to total defense,” which, depending on an individual’s health, could mean conscription to the armed forces, or to civil or governmental agencies.

The booklet lists “everything from serious accidents, extreme weather and IT attacks to, in the worst-case scenario, war” and contains information “important in light of the deterioration in the security situation in the rest of the world.”

The booklet also discusses how to deal with misleading information, encouraging Swedish citizens to “to critically appraise the source” by asking questions like “is this factual information or opinion?” and “who has put this out?”

“We all have a responsibility for our country’s safety and preparedness, so it’s important for everyone to also have knowledge on how we can contribute if something serious occurs,” MSB General Director Dan Eliasson said in a statement. “If Sweden is attacked by another country, we will never give up. All information to the effect that resistance is to cease is false.”

Sweden originally published and distributed the ‘If War Comes’ booklet during the World War II and will now issue an updated version during the country’s Emergency Preparedness Week from May 28 to June 3.

The online version of the booklet, available in 13 languages, can be found on a website designed “for those who want to monitor the development and planning of Sweden’s total defense.”

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Trump administration slaps new sanctions on Venezuela after ‘sham’ election

By ethan / May 21, 2018

The Trump administration has stepped up economic pressure on Venezuela, announcing new financial sanctions which prohibit US citizens from purchasing any Venezuelan debt.

The move comes in response to the reelection of President Nicolas Maduro on Sunday, which official Washington has dismissed as a “sham” and refused to recognize.

“We call for the Maduro regime to restore democracy, hold free and fair elections, release all political prisoners immediately and unconditionally, and end the repression and economic deprivation of the Venezuelan people,” Trump said in a statement.

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© Carlos Garcia Rawlins

President Donald Trump’s executive order covers all transactions on debts owed to the Venezuelan government or its state-owned companies, including oil company Petroleos de Venezuela. The order also prevents the Venezuelan government from liquidating assets where it has a majority ownership. However, it stopped short of imposing sanctions on oil sales, which would have crippled the country’s economy.

“Today’s executive order closes another avenue for corruption that we have observed being used,” one senior US official told reporters on Monday.

US Vice President Mike Pence dismissed the Venezuelan election as “neither free nor fair” and said the “fake process” was a blow to the “proud democratic tradition” of Venezuela.

“America stands against dictatorship and with the people of Venezuela,” Pence said.

In the run-up to the election, however, Washington sought to interfere and meddle in the vote by repeatedly attempting to tarnish the reputation of Maduro and his ruling Socialist Party, even going so far as to link him to drug trade.

Last week, the US Treasury announced sanctions against Diosdado Cabello, vice president of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, along with his wife and brother, accusing them of being involved in the drug trade and dividing the proceeds among themselves and Maduro.

When those sanctions were imposed, Cabello’s brother Jose accused the US of trying to “divert the attention of the world” from the strong support the Socialist Party enjoyed in advance of the election. He added that new sanctions from the US would hurt ordinary Venezuelan people. Earlier in the month, the US also sanctions 20 Venezuelan companies with alleged ties to Maduro.

US sanctions have nothing to do with democracy or drug trafficking and Washington is simply intent on overthrowing his government in another regime change operation, says Maduro, who was reelected with 68 percent of the votes cast.

Last year, then-CIA director Mike Pompeo said that he was “hopeful” there could be a “transition” of government in Venezuela and said that the CIA is “doing its best” to “understand the dynamic” in the country. Pompeo is now the US secretary of state.

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Israel releases Palestinian protesters as footage of arrest goes viral (VIDEO)

By ethan / May 21, 2018

An Israeli court has ordered the release of 19 protesters following the emergence of footage showing them being violently arrested at a demonstration Friday. Some 17 Palestinians and two Israelis were among those held.

The protesters were released by the Haifa Magistrates’ Court Monday after a nine-hour overnight hearing in the northern city. The court threw out the claim by police that the protesters attacked officers. This was after footage shared on social media showed a police punching and kicking people at the scene.

Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, represented the protesters with volunteer lawyers from the Human Rights Defenders Fund. They demanded the immediate release of all those in custody without conditions.

READ MORE: ‘Peace is beyond the reach of ordinary people’ – 97yo Palestinian recalls the conflict (VIDEO)

In a statement, Attorney Hassan Jabareen paid tribute to those who posted videos of the arrests on social media. “We succeeded to turn the courtroom from a space used against protestors into a space where police violence was exposed and rejected,” he said.

“This shift was possible due to social media, due to all of the videos, photos, and testimonies that were posted by the people that told the true story of what happened on Friday night.”

Jabareen also pointed out the “absurdity” that the accused were charged with attacking police when they themselves were wounded. “Some of them even had to be hospitalized due to attacks by police,” he said.

The Justice Ministry’s Police Investigation Department opened a probe into allegations of police brutality on Monday. Earlier, the justice ministry had denied any police wrongdoing. Police arrested 21 people out of the more than 200 in attendance at the Friday night march in protest to Israel’s actions on the Gaza border.

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