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A United Nations inquiry found Thursday that Israeli forces may have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity by targeting unarmed protesters in Gaza with lethal force—including children, journalists and the disabled. The report by the U.N. Human Rights Council looked at Israel’s bloody response to weekly Great March of Return demonstrations launched by Palestinians in Gaza nearly a year ago, targeting Israel’s heavily militarized separation barrier. The report found Israeli forces killed 189 Palestinians—almost all of them with live ammunition. This is Sara Hossain, a member of the U.N. independent commission that led the investigation.
Sara Hossain: “We are saying that they have intentionally shot children, they have intentionally shot people with disabilities, they have intentionally shot journalists, knowing them to be children, people with disabilities and journalists. And some of the children—not all of the children are visibly children perhaps, but many of them are. As Commissioner [Kaari Betty] Murungi just said, the journalists were all marked with press vests, that we investigated. And the people with disabilities, as I said, a double amputee in a wheelchair, a person using crutches, they were visibly that. And they’ve been shot at by snipers, who also have spotters available with them, who have very high-level technology available to see who is out there in the field.”
The U.N. report calls on states to arrest “persons alleged to have committed, or who ordered to have committed, the international crimes,” or to seek their extradition. Israel’s acting foreign minister dismissed the report as “theater of the absurd.”
Meanwhile, Israel’s attorney general on Thursday said he will indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Netanyahu is accused of trading political favors for positive press coverage and, separately, for hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of luxury goods—including jewelry, cigars and Champagne. The charges come just weeks before an April 9 election that will see Netanyahu try to hold together his fragile ruling coalition.
The New York Times reports President Trump ordered then-Chief of Staff John Kelly to grant his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, a top-secret security clearance last year—over the objections of intelligence officials. The Times cited four people briefed on the matter, who say Trump sought to overrule the judgment of the CIA and then-White House counsel Don McGahn, who argued Kushner should not have been granted access to top-secret documents. Kushner failed to report over 100 foreign contacts on his initial application for clearance, which was denied by the FBI after a background check into his financial history and contacts with foreign investors that took more than a year. Kushner later revised his application three times, and was ultimately granted permanent security clearance last May. President Trump has repeatedly denied intervening on his son-in-law’s behalf—including in this Oval Office interview in January with Maggie Haberman of The New York Times.
Maggie Haberman: “There’s been a story in the news in the last two weeks about your son-in-law’s security clearance.”
President Donald Trump: “Yeah.”
Maggie Haberman: “Did you tell General Kelly or anyone else in the White House to overrule security officials, the career veterans?”
President Donald Trump: “No. I don’t think I have the authority to do that. I’m not sure I do.”
Maggie Haberman: “You do have the authority to do it.”
President Donald Trump: “But I wouldn’t—I wouldn’t do it.”
Maggie Haberman: “OK. You never [inaudible]?”
President Donald Trump: “Jared is a good—I was never involved with his security.”
Jared Kushner’s wife—and President Trump’s daughter and senior adviser, Ivanka Trump—also denied President Trump played a role in winning a security clearance for Kushner. She spoke with ABC’s Abby Huntsman in February.
Ivanka Trump: “There were anonymous leaks about there being issues, but the president had no involvement pertaining to my clearance or my husband’s clearance.”
On Thursday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders responded to The New York Times report, saying, “We don’t comment on security clearances.”
In Afghanistan, Taliban fighters attacked a major army base in Helmand province Friday, with initial reports indicating as many as 20 Afghan soldiers killed. The violence came as the Trump administration floated a peace plan that would see the U.S. withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan within three to five years, while shifting the responsibility for training Afghan forces to U.S. allies in Europe and Australia. U.S. officials are set to resume peace talks with the Taliban this weekend in Qatar’s capital, Doha.
In Somalia, officials say at least 15 people were killed Thursday after two separate suicide car bombers targeted a pair of hotels in the capital Mogadishu. One of the attacks set off an hours-long gunfight, with Somali soldiers battling al-Shabab fighters in a building adjacent to one of the hotels they claimed responsibility for attacking.
North Korea has contradicted President Trump’s explanation of why talks in Hanoi between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un came to an abrupt end Thursday. Speaking to reporters, Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho said North Korea had asked for only partial sanctions relief in exchange for dismantling its main nuclear complex in Yongbyon.
Ri Yong-ho: “Our proposal was that we will permanently dismantle all of our nuclear material production sites, including plutonium and uranium facilities, in the Yongbyon area, as a joint work by engineers from both countries and in the presence of experts from the United States, if the U.S. lifts the sanctions that affect our people’s livelihood.”
The statement contradicts President Trump’s claim that he walked away from the talks after North Korea demanded total relief from sanctions in exchange for disarming the Yongbyon facility.
Back in the United States, immigrant rights groups are warning of a dramatic increase in the number of infants being held in a Texas immigrant detention facility, with at least nine babies currently in ICE custody. In a complaint filed with the Department of Homeland Security Thursday, advocates say babies less than a year old held in the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley have shown signs of illness, weight loss and emotional distress while they’ve been detained with their mothers. At least one of the infants has been held for more than 20 days—the legal limit for detaining children under the Flores agreement, a legal precedent the Trump administration is seeking to change.
On Capitol Hill, House lawmakers approved a bill Thursday to expand background checks for firearms purchases from three to 10 days. The bill would close what’s been dubbed the “Charleston loophole,” under which white supremacist Dylann Roof was able to purchase a gun used to massacre nine worshipers at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
Thursday’s vote followed another gun control bill approved Wednesday to strengthen federal background checks. That bill came under fire from immigrant rights groups after some Democrats defected and helped approve a last-minute amendment offered by Republicans that would require Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials be notified any time an undocumented immigrant tries to buy a gun. Both House bills face an uphill battle in the Republican-controlled Senate, and the White House has signaled it would veto the measures.
The House Intelligence Committee said Thursday it plans to interview Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, following the explosive testimony of President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen on Capitol Hill this week. Cohen will return to Capitol Hill later this month alongside Russian-born real estate developer Felix Sater to testify about their involvement in the Trump Tower Moscow project. Sater will testify publicly before the House Intelligence Committee on March 14.
Virginia’s first lady Pam Northam has apologized after she handed out cotton to African-American students touring the Governor’s Mansion and asked them to imagine being an enslaved cotton picker.
The incident came as Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, continues to resist mounting calls from within his own party to step down after claims he posed for a racist photo seen in his 1984 medical school yearbook page depicting a man wearing blackface next to a man wearing a Ku Klux Klan outfit. Northam has denied that he is in the photo, but he did admit to wearing blackface on another occasion that same year and apologized.
After the latest incident, Leah Dozier Walker, the mother of one of the students handed cotton by first lady Pam Northam, said in a statement, “The governor and Mrs. Northam have asked the residents of the commonwealth to forgive them for their racially insensitive past actions. But the actions of Mrs. Northam, just last week, do not lead me to believe that this governor’s office has taken seriously the harm and hurt they have caused African Americans in Virginia or that they are deserving of our forgiveness.”
The Republican-controlled Senate voted Thursday to confirm former coal industry lobbyist Andrew Wheeler as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency. Thursday’s 52-47 vote was mostly along party lines, with only one Republican—Susan Collins of Maine—defecting. Wheeler has served as acting EPA administrator since July, after his predecessor, Scott Pruitt, stepped down amid a series of ethics scandals.
Washington state’s Democratic Governor Jay Inslee announced today he will run for president in 2020. In a video posted to YouTube, Inslee said he would make the issue of battling climate change his top priority.
Gov. Jay Inslee: “We’re the first generation to feel the sting of climate change, and we’re the last that can do something about it. We went to the moon and created technologies that have changed the world. Our country’s next mission must be to rise up to the most urgent challenge of our time: defeating climate change.”
Inslee will formally announce his candidacy today at a solar panel company in Seattle.
In Antwerp, Belgium, thousands of students walked out of classes Thursday in a school strike demanding political action to combat catastrophic climate change. Similar protests have swept cities across Europe and around the world in recent weeks. The strikes were begun by 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg, who addressed the Antwerp crowd on Thursday.
Greta Thunberg: “For way too long, the politicians and the people in power have gotten away with not doing anything to fight the climate crisis. And we will make sure that they will not get away with it anymore. We are striking because we have done our homework and they have not.”