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Human Rights Watch investigates use of Israeli drone technology by the US

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To most people, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to track down and target terrorist suspects is most closely associated with the United States and its western allies. Only this month, for example, 55 alleged al-Qaeda fighters were reportedly killed during American-led drone strikes on a training base in southern Yemen.

The attacks were just the latest in a string of operations that have run from Afghanistan to Pakistan and Somalia in recent years, all orchestrated by the CIA, and which have become a hallmark of US President Barack Obama administration’s “war on terror”; so far around 2,500 people have been killed by US UAV’s during his presidency.

Inevitably, this has generated growing international concern about the legality of such operations, the number of innocent civilians, including children, killed along the way, and anxiety about the “games console” morality of warfare in which an operator sits in insulated comfort hundreds or thousands of miles from his victim.

It’s a fair assumption then that most people would also think that the US had developed this technology in the first place, and that the use of drones for “targeted assassinations” was a tactic wholly of America’s devising.

But they’d be wrong.

Well before Sept. 11, and well before the US even thought of sending a missile-laden Predator to take out an enemy, the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) was using UAVs to track down Palestinian and Hezbollah “terrorists” and Israeli aeronautic and arms manufacturers were creating a thriving, export-driven drones industry off the back of this strategy.

Crucial to their sales pitch – which would later allow the country to become a global leader in UAV technology – was that their drones had been “tried and tested” in so called battle conditions. Indeed, Israel was the first to country to use drones in combat – during its invasion of Lebanon in 1982. These were later sold to the US which used them in the First Gulf War.

But Israel’s use of drones really took off after the second Intifada erupted in 2000. It’s been reported that they’ve since played a key role in Israel’s military assassinations programme over Palestinian territories. During Operation Cast Lead, for example, which the rest of the world knows as the 2008-09 Gaza War, drones were crucial in identifying and hitting targets.

Commercially, this appears to have given the Israeli arms industry an unparalleled advantage in a rapidly expanding market. In the last five years Israel has become the world’s biggest UAV exporte, with Israeli drones being used by six NATO armies in Afghanistan.

The UK alone has spent more than $1.25bn on the Hermes UAV made by Israel company, Elbit Systems. France has spent over a half-billion dollars on buying the Heron drone from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).

“Fifteen years ago I would have needed to persuade customers to buy,” explained IAI salesman Avi Kamski. “They didn’t understand and it took time. Now we don’t need to explain anything. These are very good time for us. Sales are on the rise every year.”

Yet, ironically, the supposed “battle” credentials of these systems are rarely if ever explained in detail. This is an industry of hints, nods and winks, and of veiled allusions to stunning but unnamed successes — with little mention of the real cost in lives lost. While happy to acknowledge that the US and others have followed their lead, Israeli defence chiefs are notoriously coy about revealing anything to do with their own drones programme – and won’t even confirm that they arm their UAVs.

“The Israeli drones programme is still classified,” says Chris Woods, a UK journalist who specialises in the subject. “The Israeli government refuses to this day even to recognize this programme. As far as I know there is not a single image of an armed Israeli drone in the public domain, I think that’s remarkable that they have been able to keep it out of the public eye for so many years.

“But what we do know is that there are two unmanned aircrafts that Israel uses with weapons. My understanding is that both of those have been weaponized and have been used in drone strikes dating back to 2004, probably. How many drone strikes have taken place since then – dozens, hundreds? There isn’t any consistent data. We’ve had many monitoring organizations watching the CIA’s every move in Pakistan and Yemen . Nobody’s doing the same job for Israel in Gaza and elsewhere.”

Nevertheless, there’s strong evidence to suggest that over the past five years Israeli use of attack drones has continued to escalate – first during the Gaza War, Operation Cast Lead and then during the 2012 operation Pillar of Defence.

Human Rights Watch reviewed six drone strikes carried out during Cast Lead and found they led to the deaths of 29 civilians, eight of them children. In a similar investigation after Pillar of Defense, six drone strikes were shown to have killed 12 civilians. Others are killed on a sporadic basis whenever the IDF chooses to go after a target and innocent civilians happen to get in the way.

But with Israeli officials refusing to discuss the use of UAVs in these sort of attacks, evidence has had to be found on the ground.

Chris-Cobb Smith, a former British artillery officer and a weapons expert, has examined dozens of drone impact sites in Gaza. He says he’s deeply concerned about the indiscriminate nature of some of these attacks and what might lie behind them.

“Even a child going to buy a pen for his baby sister who is given a coin by his grandfather, he walks out of the house and he is struck by one of these missiles. Now, by any stretch of the imagination that is not a legitimate target. It needs to be addressed. Why are these civilians being targeted? Is it a mistake? Is it a problem with intelligence gathering, is it a problem with the optics, or is there something more sinister behind this?”

Other put it even more bluntly. Martin van Creveld is an outspoken Israeli military historian who uses an analogy that can only strike a powerful chord with his countrymen.

“War by definition is a situation in which the killing is mutual. When the killing is not mutual you can’t have war, you have massacre, you have Auschwitz. That is the definition of Auschwitz, when people cannot resist. One side kills and the other side is forced to let himself be killed. So there are very serious moral problems here.”

Israeli filmmaker, Yotam Feldman, who produced this investigation of “Israel’s Drone Dealers” for People and Power, asked van Creveld to clarify this remark.

“You say, ‘it’s not enough to kill people in Gaza with drones, you have to kill them yourself, in order to call yourself a warrior’?”

“Well, yes,” the historian replied. “Otherwise you are a butcher. That’s exactly the difference between a soldier and a butcher. A soldier puts his own life at risk, a butcher doesn’t.”

Little of this seems to bother the customers from the US, UK, Canada, France, Australia, Germany, Spain, Brazil and India who have all bought Israel‘s battle hardened’ UAV technology for their own use. As explained by one anonymous German air force pilot who was training on a recently purchased Israeli drone, “This is a really capable system, and it’s a proven system, and right now it gives us the basic capabilities that we need.”

That, for now at least, seems to be sufficient justification.

Canadian News

Joint statement from the Greater Toronto Area & Hamilton Mayors and Chairs

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Ontario Premier Doug Ford, left, and Toronto Mayor John Tory
Ontario Premier Doug Ford, left, and Toronto Mayor John Tory take part in a candlelit vigil to honour the victims of a deadly shooting in Toronto on Wednesday July 25, 2018. Ten-year-old Julianna Kozis of Markham, Ont., and 18-year-old Reese Fallon of Toronto were killed in Sunday's shooting attack, and 13 other people were injured. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young

We are united in fighting COVID-19 – protecting our residents and saving lives.

While the measures we have taken to stop the spread of the virus have made a difference, this virus has still taken far too many lives in our communities and continues to threaten the lives of our residents.

At the same time, there is no denying the devastating impact of COVID-19 on the economy. Jobs have been lost, many businesses have closed or are at risk of closure, and many families are worried about their financial future.

We’ve been hit hard but that’s why it is so important that we keep moving forward and come back as strong as possible.

Today, the GTHA Mayors and Chairs met to discuss the impacts of COVID-19 on the region and how our municipalities can work together on the economic restart and recovery.

We know the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area alone is projected to lose 355,000 jobs and 28% of GDP along with $894 million in lost wages and $3.7 billion in revenue losses for businesses. This will be felt right across the GTHA but it also threatens the provincial and national economies.

A strong recovery right here in the GTHA is crucial to healing the economic damage done by COVID-19 and helping the families and businesses all governments have been working to protect throughout this emergency.

Ontario’s economy and Canada’s economy need the GTHA to come back stronger than ever when the restart begins.

We are determined to deliver this recovery and we agreed today that the GTHA municipalities will be working together to successfully and smoothly reopen our vital regional economy when the time comes.

We also discussed how we can in a consistent way achieve significant, necessary financial support from the other governments to help mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and protect our ability to contribute to the recovery. A strong recovery needs strong cities and regional governments.

We have agreed we will work together to share information about our respective financial positions and explore together measures we can advocate to the other governments which will help to ensure the financial stability of local and regional governments in the GTHA.

Our child care and recreation programs help parents get back to work.

Our emergency services keep people safe.

Our transit systems get people to work and home safely.

Our major infrastructure projects – often built in conjunction with the other governments – will help kick-start the recovery and create countless jobs.

Our economic development activities attract jobs and investment.

We built a strong and vibrant GTHA and we know that we will need to come back even stronger and as quickly as we can in order to keep Canada’s economy going.

With the cooperation and support of the provincial and federal governments, we are ready to rise to this challenge.”

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Canadian News

Four People Charged in Mississauga Pedestrian Fail to Remain Fatality

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Investigators from the Major Collision Bureau have charged four people in Mississauga’s most recent fatal fail to remain collision.

On Thursday, February 15, 2018, at approximately 8:40 p.m., the victim, a 61 year-old female from Mississauga, was struck by a south bound vehicle as she was crossing Mavis Road in the area of Knotty Pine Grove in the City of Mississauga. The vehicle did not remain and the victim, having suffered major injuries, was pronounced dead at the scene.

On Saturday, February 17, 2018 shortly before 7:00 p.m., Satchithanantha VAITHILINGAM, a 60 year-old male from Brampton, and the driver believed to be responsible in this incident, surrendered to police at 22 Division. Satchithanantha VAITHILINGAM has since been charged with Fail to Remain Cause Death.

Hivissa SATCHITHANANTHAN, a 25 year old female from Brampton, Shajeetha SATCHITHANANTHAN a 28 year-old female from Brampton and Gowtham SATKUNARAJAH a 28 year-old male from Brampton have each been charged with Accessory After the Fact in relation to this incident.

Satchithanantha VAITHILINGAM will answer to his charge on March 12, 2018. Hivissa SATCHITHANANTHAN, Shajeetha SATCHITHANANTHAN andGowtham SATKUNARAJAH will answer to their charges on Monday March 26, 2018 at the Ontario Court of Justice in Brampton

Anyone who may have witnessed the collision, have dashboard video footage of the incident or who may have any information regarding this incident is asked to contact investigators with the Major Collision Bureau at (905) 453-2121, ext. 3710. Information may also be left anonymously by calling Peel Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS (8477), or by visiting www.peelcrimestoppers.ca or by sending a text message to CRIMES (274637) with the word ‘PEEL’ and then your tip.

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Canadian News

Justin Trudeau in India: Hug missing! Mounting pressure?

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The much publicized and anticipated visit of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to India was marred with questions. The questions were centered on the kind of welcome he would be given in the Sikh dominated state of Punjab. Also the famous hug by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was being anticipated. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau finally made his much-touted visit to India. He landed on the Indira Gandhi Airport, New Delhi only to be received by Gajendra Singh Shekhawat not even a Cabinet Minister in Narendra Modi’s government.

He is presently the second rank Minister of State for Agriculture.  That comes in complete contrast to the warmth that Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his NDA government has generally displayed towards the visiting dignitaries.  Only a couple of weeks ago, when the heads of the 10 ASEAN states arrived in India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi didn’t receive Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the airport, as he has previously done with many leaders including Barack Obama, Xi Jinping, Shinzo Abe, and Benjamin Netanyahu.

The fact that Prime Minister Narendra Modi didn’t join him is all surprising even when Prime Minister Trudeau visited Gujarat. This is unusual because the Indian Prime Minister has set a trend that he always accompanies head of the state when they visit his home state.

Even Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh Yogi Adityanath did not show up, let alone accompany Prime Minister Trudeau to the Taj. However, during Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s 15 January visit to the Taj Mahal at Agra, Yogi Adityanath had received Netanyahu and his wife and shown them around as well as hosted a lunch for them. For first three days, none from the executive or the elected representative held any meeting with the delegation.

Media in India is trying to spread a message that the cold treatment given by Prime Minister could be because two of the four Sikh members of Trudeau’s cabinet – Harjit Sajjan and Amarjeet Sohi – support the Khalistan movement. However, had that been the case his visit to Punjab would have got a similar response.  However, the Punjab Government led by Captain Amarinder Singh rolled out a red carpet during his stay at Amritsar and even the two leaders held some fruitful discussions.

Thus putting an end to those criticisms that that Prime Minister Trudeau’s visit was devoid of any warmth.  Chief Minister of Punjab Amarinder Singh, for instance who met Prime Minister Justin Trudeau setting aside his earlier prejudice that he exhibited during the visit of Defence Minister Harjeet Singh Sajjan.

In recent months, Gurudwaras (Sikh temples) in Canada, the United States and Australia have banned Indian officials from visiting gurudwaras and the moment started with Gurudwaras here in Toronto. Could that be the reason for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to not accord one of the warmest welcomes that he is known to provide?  Or the use by Canada’s parliament of the term genocide to describe mass killings of Sikhs in India in 1984 has left the Indian Prime Minister disturbed?  However, more than Prime Minister Modi, this could have left the Congress party in troubled waters, but that was also not the case as Amarinder Singh hails from the same party.

The lukewarm welcome to Prime Minister Trudeau can have its political ramifications too. Will it hamper the significant 2015 deal, in which Canada agreed to supply 3,000 metric tons of Uranium to power India’s atomic reactors?

Somewhere Prime Minister Modi has not taken the issue of non allowing entry of Indian officials to Gurudwaras and the statement on Genocide too lightly. Prime Minister Modi however has failed to understand that Canada cannot curtail the right of freedom of speech and expression of its citizen.

Two nations perhaps failed to resolve the matter before Prime Minister boarded the flight from Canada and not welcoming Prime Minister Trudeau could be a tactical decision to put pressure on him. With Prime Minister Modi preferring to meet him at the far end of the tour has conveyed a lot about the myopic approach of Prime Minister Modi.

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