Saudi media ignore US reports on Khashoggi

Saudi mainstream media have completely ignored reports that the CIA has concluded that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, ordered the killing of prominent journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Khashoggi was murdered in Saudi Arabia’s Istanbul consulate early last month.

The reports about the CIA conclusions emerged in US media in the late hours of 16 November.

Saudi Arabia insists the crown prince knew nothing about the killing.

In its morning news bulletins and coverage on 17 November, the state-run, news-oriented Saudi Al-Ikhbariya TV led with news that Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz and his son Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sent cables of congratulations to King Mohammed VI of Morocco on the occasion of his country’s independence.

Although the TV station then reported that the Russian foreign ministry had rejected the politicising of the Khashoggi case, it failed to make any reference to the Khashoggi-related CIA conclusions. The channel’s coverage was mostly focused on developments in Yemen.

Saudi denial emphasised

Likewise, the Dubai-based, Saudi-funded Al-Arabiya TV has ignored the CIA story in its morning coverage and news bulletins.

Although it reported the denial by the Saudi ambassador to the US, Prince Khalid bin Salman, that he encouraged Khashoggi to go to Istanbul, the pan-Arab broadcaster also failed to make any reference to the widely-reported CIA conclusions.

The channel’s coverage was focused on developments in Yemen, Syria, Israel and Iraq.

The London-based, Saudi-funded pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat also completely ignored the news. But it featured Prince Khalid’s denial prominently on its website under the headline: “Khalid bin Salman underlines the falsehood of The Washington Post’s allegations.”

Al-Hayat daily, another Saudi-funded paper based in London, also turned a blind eye to the CIA reports, and instead highlighted Moscow’s comments about Khashoggi.

“Russia rejects politicisation, and questioning Saudi Arabia’s ability to investigate,” read the top headline on the paper’s website.

The top two headlines of Okaz, a Saudi-based pro-government daily, read: “Khalid bin Salman denies the allegations of The Washington Post about his contact with Khashoggi” and “The kingdom of justice…the rights of its citizens are never wasted.”

BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world. You can follow BBC Monitoring on Twitter and Facebook.

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Families Sue Jordan Over 2016 Deaths of 3 U.S. Green Berets

WASHINGTON — The families of three Army Special Forces soldiers who were fatally shot by a Jordanian base guard in 2016 said on Friday that they had sued the kingdom over false accusations that the Green Berets provoked the killings — accounts disputed by a video of the attack.

The three soldiers — Staff Sgts. Matthew C. Lewellen, Kevin J. McEnroe and James F. Moriarty — were stationed in Jordan as part of a C.I.A.-run program to train Syrian rebels. They were shot at close range by First Sgt. Maarik al-Tawayha, a guard in the Jordanian Air Force, when their convoy was stopped at the gate of the King Faisal air base after a training mission on Nov. 4, 2016.

The lawsuit, filed in Federal District Court in Washington, seeks unspecified monetary damages from the Jordanian government.

“For life to work, we have to be willing to hold the powerful accountable,” James Moriarty, the father of Sergeant Moriarty, said at an emotional news conference on Friday. He also urged the United States to re-examine its longstanding alliance with Jordan.

Sergeant Tawayha was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison in July 2017. During the trial, he offered no explanation for the attack, and he said after a hearing that “I was doing my job.”

On Friday, Mr. Moriarty and the fathers of Sergeants Lewellen and McEnroe said that the Jordanian government had made false leaks to the news media asserting that the Green Berets had been drinking before they returned to the base, and had accidentally fired one of their pistols at the gate.

A six-minute video of the shootings, taken from a security camera and released after Sergeant Tawayha’s sentencing, appears to show a different sequence of events at the gate. In it, Sergeant Moriarty is seen trying to defuse the situation by raising his hands after Sergeants McEnroe and Lewellen were shot.

The lawsuit said the Kingdom of Jordan had “aided and abetted this terrorist act,” and it accused Sergeant Tawayha of having “hunted down and brutally murdered their loved ones.” It said the kingdom had initially defended Sergeant Tawayha by asserting that he had acted “within internationally accepted rules of engagement.”

Neither the F.B.I. nor Jordanian officials have linked Sergeant Tawayha to any extremist groups.

In a statement, the Jordanian Embassy in Washington did not directly comment on the lawsuit but said that “Jordan successfully prosecuted the perpetrator, and he is now serving a life sentence.”

“Jordan deeply regrets the tragedy, and has done its best to achieve justice,” the statement said.

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Cosmetic surgery fans in Iran face flogging

Iran could imprison and flog those who opt for “un-Islamic” plastic cosmetic surgery as part of a crackdown on people altering their appearance, a senior MP has said.

Hassan Norowzi, a spokesman for the Iranian parliament’s judicial committee, said surgeons offering procedures including “cats eyes” and “donkey ears” could also be stripped of their licences.

The bizarre trends are among a number of cosmetic procedures targeted in a new law drafted by the committee in the Majles, Iran’s parliament, said Mr Norowzi.

Iran has one of the world’s highest rates of rhinoplasty and an estimated 40,000 people – mostly women – go under the knife every year.

In recent years an increasing number of Iranian men have also sought cosmetic surgery, mostly to change their noses, remove stomach fat or reshape their eyebrows.

But the country has been rocked by a number of horror stories about surgeries gone wrong, including several involving teenagers.

The new regulation will require potential customers to seek permission from a judge before going under the knife.

“Otherwise they will be committing a criminal act and offence to the public and will be prosecuted. The fines will vary from 10 days to two months of imprisonment and/or 74 lashes,” Mr Norowzi added.

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‘We are real’: Saudi feminists launch online radio

Operating out of a small room in an unknown country, a new internet radio station broadcasts a programme aimed at campaigning for greater women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.

With melancholy music playing in the background, the presenter of Nsawya FM (Feminism FM) addresses the issue of domestic violence in the Gulf kingdom.

The presenter’s voice shakes with emotion as she discusses the fate of Sara, a woman she says was killed by a male relative.

She was a 33-year-old university graduate with a job who lived with her parents – and who wanted to marry a man with a different nationality, that of Yemen.

“Sara’s dream was ended with five bullets shot by her 22-year-old brother, even though she had been officially engaged with the consent of her parents,” Ashtar, a 27 year old who uses a pseudonym inspired by the Mesopotamian goddess of love and war, later told BBC Arabic by phone.

The case was reported by the media and discussed by people who knew her, Ashtar said.

The presenter also told the story of Hanan Shahri, who is reported to have killed herself in 2013 after her brother and uncle allegedly beat her and refused to allow her to marry her fiancé.

Such cases, Ashtar said, were “only the tip of the iceberg”.

‘Silent majority’

Three weeks ago, Nsawya FM set up a Twitter account and announced it would broadcast a weekly programme that would be the “voice of the silent majority”.

It also called for volunteers who wanted to get involved in production or contribute material.

In the past two weeks, the station has broadcast two one-hour programmes using only a microphone, a laptop with editing software and the live audio streaming website Mixlr.

The poor quality of the sound and the whole production, in general, reflects the non-professional nature of this project.

Ashtar said they did not expect a massive audience initially, and were instead aiming for “gradual growth” as the programme spread awareness on women’s rights.

“We started this project to archive this phase for history, so that people would know we were real, we did exist,” explained Ashtar, who did not want so share any details about her own identity despite living outside the kingdom because she feared reprisals.

“The Saudi authorities could ban Twitter at any moment and we would lose the archive of our thoughts. Whereas the radio gives us the opportunity to record programmes and broadcast them on other platforms,” she added.

At least 17 human rights defenders and women’s rights activists critical of the Saudi government have been arrested or detained since mid-May, according to the UN. Several of them have been accused of serious crimes, including “suspicious contact with foreign parties”, and could face up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

‘Confrontational’ thoughts

Nsawya FM has two presenters and nine women producing content. All but two of the women are Saudi nationals, and some of the women live in Saudi Arabia.

The women say communication between them is difficult because they live in different time zones and some have other demands on their time, including studies or work.

Ashtar described herself as “an activist who uses the media to express her ideas”.

She said she had sent articles to a number of leading Lebanese publications in recent years but that none of them had ended up being used. She believed that the rejections were the result of her “confrontational” ideas about society, religion and politics.

Ashtar expressed admiration for the “the Matriarchal era” – an apparent reference to a period in pre-Islamic Arabia when women were the leaders of their tribes.

“I believe that women are better than men. If women were to hold power again, especially in certain sectors like the judiciary, this world would be a better place,” she explained.

Ashtar said she did not hide her beliefs from her family and took the opportunity to debate them with relatives at gatherings for Eid al-Fitr and other festivals.

But her family rejected them. “The West has brainwashed you,” they used to tell her.

‘One signature’

Now that the ban on women driving has been lifted by King Salman, activists like Ashtar are campaigning to for an end to the male guardianship system, which they say is discriminatory.

Under the system, men are given the authority to make a range of critical decisions on behalf of their female relatives.

The activists have taken their campaign to Twitter, the most popular social media platform in Saudi Arabia. Saudi women are very active there.

However, many people in the kingdom frown on women using the site to push for reforms.

Some have denounced the activists as “spies” and “not Saudis”, or described them as “electronic flies” in an attempt to play down their significance.

Others have urged them to wait and give the king a chance to enact further reforms.

“This is a mere propaganda. We are Saudis and we know it,” Ashtar said.

“Had he wanted to, the king could have abolished the guardianship system. This does not need decades of discussions and consultations. All it takes is one signature.”

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Behind a Saudi Prince’s Rise, Two Loyal Enforcers

BEIRUT, Lebanon — When Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia convened an outdoor banquet this spring for his fellow Arab rulers, seated among the kings, princes and presidents were two friends with few qualifications other than their closeness to the young prince himself: a poet who has become known for orchestrating ferocious social media campaigns, and a former security guard who runs the Saudi sports commission.

The two men had each played pivotal roles in many of the brazen power plays that have marked Prince Mohammed’s sprint to dominance of the kingdom — the ouster of the previous crown prince, the detentions of royals and businessmen in the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton, the kidnapping of the Lebanese prime minister, and the kingdom’s diplomatic spats with Qatar and Canada. Even Saudi royals have come to fear the prince’s two friends — Saud el-Qahtani, 40, and Turki al-Sheikh, 37 — and the Arab potentates around the table could scarcely object to their presence.

Now the killing of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents has focused attention on their roles as enablers of the crown prince’s impulsiveness and aggression, and Saudi watchers consider the men’s fate a bellwether of the royal court’s direction as it grapples with the international outrage over the killing.

“They are the closest people to the crown prince,” said Kristin Smith Diwan, senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. “They are his political enforcers and the face of the brash new ‘Saudi first’ posture at home and abroad, and those opposed to the hypernationalist, thuggish direction in Saudi foreign policy would be happy to see them cut down to size.”

Neither man is among the 18 people Saudi Arabia says it has arrested in the course of its investigation into Mr. Khashoggi’s killing.

But the kingdom has already assigned some blame for the killing to Mr. Qahtani, the social-media czar. He lost his title as an adviser to the royal court because he contributed to the vitriolic rhetoric toward the kingdom’s critics that led to Mr. Khashoggi’s death, a Saudi official said. It is unclear which of his many duties Mr. Qahtani has relinquished.

Mr. Sheikh, the sports commissioner, was in New York for medical treatment during the killing, according to Saudis who know him, and has since avoided the spotlight.

Mr. Khashoggi, who was a Saudi insider before fleeing the kingdom last year to live in Virginia and write columns for The Washington Post, had said the two men exemplified what was dangerous about Prince Mohammed.

The crown prince “does not have political advisers except Turki al-Sheikh and Saud al-Qahtani,” Mr. Khashoggi said in private comments published by Newsweek after his death. They are very thuggish. People fear them. You challenge them, you might end up in prison.”

Mr. Qahtani did not respond to messages seeking comment. Mr. Turki did not respond to a request for comment sent to the sports commission.

Both men run portfolios — social media and sports — that resonate with the large population of young Saudis whom Prince Mohammed has courted as his base. Both have sought to fire up the fierce nationalism that the prince has encouraged by pouring money into battles against rivals in stadiums or on the internet.

Although neither portfolio relates to foreign affairs, foreign envoys often seek out the two men because of their influence, said Dennis Horak, the former Canadian ambassador to Riyadh who was expelled in August after other Canadian diplomats called for the release of detained rights activists.

Mr. Sheikh was approachable while Mr. Qahtani “had a much fiercer reputation,” Mr. Horak said. The pair, he said, was “not so much good cop-bad cop, more bad cop and lesser-bad cop.”

Like Prince Mohammed, neither was well known before the prince’s father, King Salman, ascended the throne in 2015. Both were educated inside the kingdom with scant experience abroad.

Critics in the kingdom say that they sometimes failed to understand the dynamics of Western politics and culture, like when Mr. Qahtani orchestrated the plastering of billboards and trucks in London with his boss’s photo during the crown prince’s visit there last spring — to the derision of Londoners unaccustomed to foreign personality cults.

But each man had skills the prince treasured.

Mr. Qahtani, who held an undergraduate law degree and wrote poetry, had been recruited to work in the royal court more than a decade ago. He gained a deep understanding of the royal family’s secrets that members and associates of the royal family say he later exploited to help Prince Mohammed plot his rise and eliminate his rivals.

He also appears to have developed an interest in hacking. As early as 2009, someone using credentials associated with Mr. Qahtani was trawling amateur hacking forums to learn about surveillance software, according to images of the posts captured by other forum members.

In 2012, someone using Mr. Qahtani’s government email address solicited services from the Italian spyware company Hacking Team, according emails later released by WikiLeaks. In one email, the writer sought a visit by people with “high technical knowledge” to “explain the solutions you offer and training and costs.”

“Will bear all the costs of the trip from A-Z,” the author of the email added.

Mr. Qahtani has become Prince Mohammed’s chief propagandist. With a Twitter following of 1.36 million users, he solicited names for a blacklist of enemies of the kingdom and then marshaled mass social media attacks against them, commanding followers his critics have called “electronic flies.” His work has earned him the nicknames Lord of the Flies, Mr. Hashtag and “Saudi Arabia’s Steve Bannon.”

Mr. Sheikh was a bodyguard in Prince Mohammed’s security detail who charmed the prince with his sense of humor and intense loyalty, said associates of the royal family who know both men. Roughly the same age, they developed a personal rapport, and the prince rewarded Mr. Sheikh with a seemingly limitless budget to make the kingdom an international contender in tennis, boxing, soccer and other sports. He has welcomed wrestling legend Hulk Hogan to Riyadh and last April, he joked in the ring about keeping for himself the championship belt for the WWE’s Greatest Royal Rumble.

In an extension of his royally financed campaign to build a sports empire, Mr. Sheikh became the honorary president of one of the most successful and popular soccer teams in Egypt, an honor widely believed to reflect heavy investments of money from the crown prince. But Mr. Sheikh resigned in a dispute with the board after just a few months and instead bankrolled his own rival franchise, Pyramid. He recruited three star Brazilian players and launched a sports channel dedicated to his team, reportedly pouring in as much as $33 million.

But he complained publicly that Egyptian referees, fans and commentators were failing to appreciate his investments, and said he had asked Egypt’s president to intervene. In September, a stadium of Egyptian soccer fans broke out in vulgar chants denouncing Mr. Sheikh and the Saudis, and he responded by abandoning the team.

“Strange attacks from everywhere, and a new story every day,” he wrote on Facebook. “Why the headache?”

Mr. Sheikh also splurged last September on a $4.8 million limited edition Bugatti Chiron sports car, according to a sales contract obtained by The New York Times. The seller, the Emirati businessman Saeed Mohammed Butti Alqubaisi, declined to comment.

When an entertainment program on the Saudi-owned satellite network MBC last year seemed to hint at a rumored affair between Mr. Sheikh and an Egyptian singer, Mr. Sheikh ordered the network to fire the production team, according to industry executives familiar with the case. The show remains off the air.

Both men played signal roles in Prince Mohammed’s rise. In June 2017, Mr. Sheikh and Mr. Qahtani were among a handful of Prince Mohammed’s loyalists who forcibly detained the previous crown prince and interior minister, Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, holding him overnight and threatening him until he agreed to give up his claim to the throne, according to members and associates of the royal family.

In a video made the next day, Mr. Shiekh can be seen hovering behind the ousted prince as he pledges allegiance to Mohammed bin Salman. A social media campaign spread rumors that a cocaine addiction had made the ousted prince unfit to rule, and people close to the royal family said Mr. Qahtani fueled the rumors.

Both men sprang into action again when Saudi Arabia led a blockade of its tiny neighbor Qatar in June 2017, over its support for political Islam. They unleashed insults and promoted hashtags bashing Qatar, and Mr. Qahtani forced MBC to stop airing Turkish soap operas because of Turkey’s support for Qatar, costing the network millions in losses, according to industry executives.

He also persuaded Prince Mohammed to spend more than $100,000 on American television commercials denouncing Qatar, evidently unaware of how few Americans were following the Gulf dispute.

A Qatari-owned network, BeIN Sports, had acquired the exclusive rights to broadcast this year’s World Cup in the Arab world. So Mr. Qahtani helped promote BeoutQ, a bootleg operation beamed from Riyadh-based Arabsat. BeoutQ ripped live events from BeIN’s feed and broadcast the games without paying for rights, spurring international lawsuits. The Saudi government has denied any relationship to the pirate network.

Both men also played key roles again last fall when Crown Prince Mohammed arbitrarily detained hundreds of the kingdom’s richest businessmen and several of his royal cousins in a Ritz-Carlton hotel in what was billed as a crackdown on corruption — just a few weeks after Mr. Sheikh had picked up his $4.8 million Bugatti.

Both men acted as interrogators, demanding that the captives confess to corrupt self-enrichment and pledge to surrender vast sums, according to relatives and close associates of several detainees. Although blindfolded during some interrogations, detainees told relatives that they saw the two men or recognized their voices from broadcast interviews. Others said that through hotel room windows, they saw Mr. Sheikh coming and going surrounded by armed guards.

Several former detainees have reported physical mistreatment during the interrogations, including beatings, electrical shocks and suspension upside down for long periods.

Some have shown their family members lasting scars from the beatings and shocks, and in one case photographs of the bruises and scars have been shared with The New York Times; some of the pictures included the electronic monitoring bracelet that released the government has forced detainees to wear to track their movements. One was forced to make his consent to a forced confession with only a thumb print because he was too incapacitated to write out his signature, according to a relative informed by the detainee.

Although no evidence has emerged that either man directly abused the captives, both questioned detainees who had been abused.

The government of Saudi Arabia has called the allegations of physical abuse “absolutely untrue.”

A few weeks after his release from the Ritz, Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, once the kingdom’s wealthiest investor, made a donation of more than a half-million dollars to a Saudi soccer club, writing on Twitter that he was “responding to the invitation of my brother Turki al-Sheikh.”

Neither Mr. Qahtani nor Mr. Sheikh have commented publicly on the killing of Mr. Khashoggi. But Mr. Qahtani, who lost his title as a royal court adviser, appears to believe his days of serving the prince are not over.

After his dismissal, he tweeted his thanks to the king and crown prince for “this great opportunity to have the honor to serve the homeland.”

“I will remain a loyal servant of my country forever,” he added.

Ben Hubbard reported from Beirut, and David D. Kirkpatrick from London. Tariq Panja contributed reporting from London, and Karam Shoumali from Berlin.

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Cost of botched Gaza spy mission? Israel is back at brink of war

JERUSALEM (NYTIMES) – On Sunday (Nov 11), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assured Israelis weary of conflict with Palestinians in the Gaza Strip that he was “doing everything I can in order to avoid an unnecessary war”.

Twenty-four hours later, Israel appeared to be on the brink of just that.

After a botched intelligence mission by undercover commandos left seven Palestinian fighters dead, the militant group Hamas and other armed factions mounted an intense and escalating rocket and mortar barrage across much of southern Israel.

With air-raid sirens wailing from the Mediterranean to the Dead Sea, and after a Palestinian anti-tank missile blew up an Israeli bus, seriously wounding a 19-year-old soldier, Israel retaliated with airstrikes and tank fire that grew steadily more destructive as the night wore on.

Israel hit scores of military posts and weapons caches across Gaza, but also levelled a Hamas television station, radio station and office building, and the group’s military intelligence headquarters.

It was the heaviest fighting between Israel and Gaza since their war in 2014.

The fighting threatened to scuttle months of multilateral talks aimed at calming the Israel-Gaza border, where protests since March have been met with a lethal Israeli response.

Some 170 Palestinians have been killed and thousands more wounded.

The talks, mediated by Egypt, had already produced concrete steps to ease tensions in Gaza, including increased electrical power and the influx of millions of dollars in aid.

So why, some Israelis were asking Monday, with the Israeli government under pressure to ease tensions in Gaza and the talks showing progress, would the government risk it all for what officials described as a fairly routine surveillance mission?

The answer, analysts said, may be that it was so routine. No one expected the Israeli commando squad to be exposed.

“The real assumption is that the operation will not be revealed,” said Mr Giora Eiland, a retired major general and former national security adviser. “It’s not 100 per cent, but it can be estimated that 99 per cent of these operations are not revealed, and 99 per cent is good enough to make a decision assuming that the force will enter, execute and go out without being detected.”

The cost of that tiny risk became evident on Monday. More than 400 rockets and mortar shells were fired into Israel, and the Israeli military said it had struck more than 70 military targets in Gaza belonging to Hamas, which governs the territory, and to Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

The authorities in Gaza said three Palestinians had been killed in the Israeli air strikes and nine others were wounded. One Israeli was killed and at least 16 were wounded on Monday.

Each side repeatedly warned the other to back down, but refused to itself. After Israel threatened on Monday night to begin levelling Gaza high-rises, and then did, Hamas warned that “millions” of Israelis would soon come under its rocket fire.

The Israeli military ordered all residents in the south, including in the cities of Ashdod and Beersheba, to remain in bomb shelters, some of which were opened as far as 40km from the Gaza perimeter. Air-raid sirens were heard as far away as Hebron, on the West Bank.

The United Nations envoy to the region, Mr Nickolay Mladenov, who has sought a cease-fire between Israel and Gaza, wrote on Twitter that both sides needed to step “back from the brink” of war.

“Rockets must stop, restraint must be shown by all!” he wrote.

But deep into the night, both sides were still ratcheting up the conflict.

Maj Gen Kamil Abu Rukun, Israel’s coordinator of government activities in the Palestinian territories, warned Gaza residents that Hamas had “crossed a red line”, and said that “Israel will dial up its response”.

In Gaza City, employees of the Hamas television station Al Aqsa were warned to evacuate its offices, and the building was soon destroyed by multiple missile blasts that were captured on video by onlookers.

A Hamas spokesman, Fawzi Barhoum, called the station’s destruction an act of “barbaric aggression”.

The Israeli military said the station was a legitimate target. “It contributes to Hamas’ military actions, including by providing operational messaging to militants, directing and explicitly calling for terror activities against Israel, and providing guidance on how to carry out such terror activities,” the military said in a statement.

Soon after, air strikes demolished the Al Aqsa radio station’s offices and Al Amal Hotel, a Hamas office building.

The fighting began hours after Palestinians and Israelis buried combatants who were killed on Sunday night, after an Israeli intelligence mission inside the Gaza Strip went awry when a team of covert operatives was challenged by Hamas fighters.

A gunfight erupted, and the team called in air strikes to cover their escape.

Six Hamas fighters, including a commander of forces in the Khan Younis area, and a member of the Popular Resistance Committees, another armed faction, were killed. An Israeli lieutenant colonel in the elite Maglan unit, a commando brigade, was also killed in the clash and was hailed as a national hero at his funeral.

According to a former Israeli official with knowledge of the operation, the mission’s goal was surveillance, not an assassination. Such missions, usually aimed at installing surveillance equipment, are extensively planned and are considered at a low risk of exposure and confrontation.

But they are perilous enough that the prime minister has to approve them personally, Mr Eiland said.

Israeli officials have not publicly explained the mission or what went wrong with it.

“The aim of the operation was not to abduct or to kill a Hamas operative,” Lt Col Jonathan Conricus, an Israel military spokesman, said on Monday night.

He said that once the Israeli force met trouble, it “acted swiftly, professionally, was able to defend itself, exfiltrate in a very professional manner, making sure that all soldiers got back to Israel, that none were left behind”.

He said that the operation on Sunday had not been a deliberate provocation, but was a routine part of the Israeli military’s efforts to contend with terrorist threats across its borders.

“Just as terrorist organisations don’t stop to plan, and to harbour weapons and try to strike against Israeli civilians, neither do we in our preparations, in our collection efforts, and in our operations that we conduct in order to mitigate the capabilities of the different terror organisations around us,” he said.

Proponents of a ceasefire had warned for months that the military’s best efforts to keep a lid on tensions with Gaza could prove for naught because of the unpredictability of cross-border clashes.

The ceasefire talks had appeared to show meaningful progress in recent days before the turn of events that led to Monday’s fighting.

With both sides eager to address Gaza’s collapsing economy, electrical shortages and a deepening humanitarian crisis, Israel had agreed to let new shipments of diesel fuel be delivered to Gaza’s power plant, sharply increasing the availability of electrical power for residents of the beleaguered coastal enclave and allowing sewage treatment plants to resume operation.

Then, last week, Israel allowed a donation of US$15 million (S$20.74 million) in cash from Qatar to be driven into Gaza, where Hamas distributed it as back pay to thousands of its civil servants who have received only a fraction of their salaries for months.

On both sides of the Gaza border, civilians caught up in the fighting said they felt terrorised by it.

Mr Moatasem al-Aloul, a driver from Beit Lahia in the northern Gaza Strip, said he was stuck in traffic when he suddenly saw people running away from the rocket launches, as explosions crackled overhead.

“The bombing is everywhere,” he said.

By nightfall, during a lull in the fighting, the streets in parts of Gaza City were almost empty, with many residents staying indoors. Few cars were on the road, and the loudest sound was that of Israeli drones hovering overhead.

In Kibbutz Alumim, less than 4km from the Gaza border, Ms Sara Mash, 32, a secretary, said her three children and husband had been in their safe room – their children’s bedroom – since 4.30pm, when they first heard an explosion and then an air-raid siren.

“We’ve had times like this, but you could at least step out of the safe room and breathe,” she said by phone.

“This is a situation where we could not, because every second there was a boom, non-stop – and you have no idea what is going on outside: Is it our side or theirs?”

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‘Tell Your Boss’: Recording Is Seen to Link Saudi Crown Prince More Strongly to Khashoggi Killing

WASHINGTON — Shortly after the journalist Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated last month, a member of the kill team instructed a superior over the phone to “tell your boss,” believed to be Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, that the operatives had carried out their mission, according to three people familiar with a recording of Mr. Khashoggi’s killing collected by Turkish intelligence.

The recording, shared last month with the C.I.A. director, Gina Haspel, is seen by intelligence officials as some of the strongest evidence linking Prince Mohammed to the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, a Virginia resident and Washington Post columnist whose death prompted an international outcry.

While the prince was not mentioned by name, American intelligence officials believe “your boss” was a reference to Prince Mohammed. Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, one of 15 Saudis dispatched to Istanbul to confront Mr. Khashoggi at the Saudi Consolate there, made the phone call and spoke in Arabic, the people said.

Turkish intelligence officers have told American officials they believe that Mr. Mutreb, a security officer who frequently traveled with Prince Mohammed, was speaking to one of the prince’s aides. While translations of the Arabic may differ, the people briefed on the call said Mr. Mutreb also said to the aide words to the effect of “the deed was done.”

“A phone call like that is about as close to a smoking gun as you are going to get,” said Bruce O. Riedel, a former C.I.A. officer now at the Brookings Institution. “It is pretty incriminating evidence.”

Turkish officials have said that the audio does not conclusively implicate Prince Mohammed, and American intelligence and other government officials have cautioned that however compelling the recording may be, it is still not irrefutable evidence of his involvement in the death of Mr. Khashoggi.

Even if Mr. Mutreb believed the killing was ordered by the crown prince, for example, he may have had an inaccurate understanding of the origins of the order. Prince Mohammed is not specifically named on the recording, and intelligence officials do not have ironclad certainty that Mr. Mutreb was referring to him.

In a statement on Monday, Saudi officials denied that the crown prince “had any knowledge whatsoever” of Mr. Khashoggi’s killing. Referring to Mr. Mutreb’s instructions to “tell your boss,” the Saudi statement said that Turkey had “allowed our intelligence services to hear recordings, and at no moment was there any reference to the mentioned phrase in the such recordings.”

The Turks may possess multiple recordings, including surveillance of telephone calls, and the Turkish authorities may have shared the audio only selectively.

A C.I.A. spokesman declined to comment.

The call was part of a recording that Turkish officials played for Ms. Haspel during her visit in October to Ankara, Turkey’s capital, but they did not allow her to bring it back to the United States. On Saturday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey announced that his government had shared the audio with Saudi Arabia, the United States and other Western allies.

But while Turkish officials have played the recording for American and other intelligence agencies and provided transcripts, the Turks have not handed over the recording for independent analysis, according to Turkish officials.

Turkey shared evidence from the case with “a large number of friendly nations,” a spokesman for Mr. Erdogan, Fahrettin Altun, said on Monday. Reacting to French criticism of Turkey’s handling of the case, Mr. Altun said that the Turkish government had played an audio recording for French intelligence officials and given them transcripts.

“Let us not forget that this case would have been already covered up had it not been for Turkey’s determined efforts,” Mr. Altun said.

The growing evidence that Prince Mohammed was involved in the killing of Mr. Khashoggi is certain to intensify pressure on the White House, which appeared intent on relying on a lack of concrete proof of his involvement to preserve its relationship with the crown prince. Prince Mohammed has fostered a close relationship with the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and the Trump administration has turned Saudi Arabia into Washington’s most crucial Arab partner.

Some Trump advisers have argued that they would need indisputable evidence of Prince Mohammed’s involvement in Mr. Khashoggi’s killing before they would punish him or the kingdom more harshly. Turkish officials have said the recording contains evidence of a premeditated killing, in which Saudi agents quickly strangled Mr. Khashoggi and methodically dismembered his body with a bone saw.

The administration, according to current and former officials, is hoping that making some modest moves on sanctions and curtailing support for the Saudi war effort in Yemen will satisfy critics, including those on Capitol Hill.

But the shift in power in Congress, where Democrats take control of the House in January, is also increasing pressure on the administration to take more punitive action. The C.I.A. and other intelligence officials were set to brief Congress this week, and congressional leaders will press Ms. Haspel for her assessment of Prince Mohammed’s culpability.

Mr. Trump himself has suggested more information would be coming out. “I’ll have a much stronger opinion on that subject over the next week,” he told reporters on Wednesday at the White House. “I am forming a very strong opinion.”

Signs of a hardening stance within the administration are emerging. The State Department issued a tough statement on Sunday saying that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had told Prince Mohammed in a phone call that “the United States will hold all of those involved in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi accountable.”

Saudi officials planned to release their own inquiry in the coming days, but Turkey’s revelation that they and Western officials also have the transcripts of the recordings could force the Saudis to scramble before any presentation they planned to make.

Even without definitive proof, intelligence agencies had already concluded that only Prince Mohammed could have ordered the operation to kill Mr. Khashoggi, given the personal character of his governance and the depth of his control over the kingdom. Evidence from the tape also showed that Mr. Khashoggi was killed soon after he entered the room of the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul where the security team was waiting for him, further proof that the killing was planned, according to people briefed on the intelligence.

Current and former intelligence officials insisted that it is rare that all of the pieces of a complex puzzle like Mr. Khashoggi’s killing would ever be available. Intelligence, according to a former official, simply does not work like a spy thriller or television cop show where a case turns on a crystal-clear recording.

Investigators were unlikely to collect a piece of evidence that incontrovertibly links the crown prince to the killing, said Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California, who is set to lead the House Intelligence Committee next year.

“You are not going to have any of the people who carried out the murder speak openly about who they got their orders from or who is in the loop on it,” Mr. Schiff said in an interview. “That is not realistic to expect.”

The absence of direct evidence does not prevent the intelligence community from laying responsibility at Prince Mohammed’s feet. An intelligence assessment includes an agency’s best judgment on what happened based on the available facts and experience of officials.

Mr. Schiff promised that when he takes charge of the Intelligence Committee, he will investigate Mr. Khashoggi’s killing and examine Saudi Arabia’s actions more broadly in the Middle East, including its military campaign in Yemen, which has prompted a humanitarian crisis.

“We need to do our own due diligence, we need to make sure we are getting good intelligence, and we need to make sure the administration doesn’t misrepresent to the country what foreign actors are doing,” Mr. Schiff said.

Nonetheless, current and former officials said they do not expect Mr. Trump to drop his support for Prince Mohammed.

“The Trump family and the president have built up such an overwhelming reliance on the crown prince that the relationship is now, in their view, too big to fail,” Mr. Schiff said.

Policymakers — not Ms. Haspel or Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence — will decide what sort of relationship to have with Prince Mohammed and what punishment Saudi Arabia should face for Mr. Khashoggi’s killing, current and former officials said.

Julian E. Barnes and Eric Schmitt reported from Washington, and David D. Kirkpatrick from London.

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Saudi energy minister calls for one million bpd oil output cut

Khalid al-Falih’s comments come a day after unveiling Riyadh’s plan to slash production by 500,000 barrels per day.

    Saudi Arabia’s energy minister has called for a global output cut of one million barrels per day (bpd) to re-balance the market, a day after Riyadh unveiled plans to cut production by 500,000 bpd from December.

    “The technical analysis we reviewed yesterday shows that we need a reduction approaching one million bpd to balance the market,” Khalid al-Falih told an energy conference in Abu Dhabi on Monday.

    The proposed reduction is from October production levels, al-Falih said, cautioning that further study was needed before final decisions were made.

    “There are a lot of assumptions in their projections that may change,” al-Falih said. “We don’t want to throttle the global economy. “

    Russia, another major producer, struck a more measured tone, however, saying it preferred a wait-and-see approach.

    “I would not want to focus purely on production cuts,” Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak told Bloomberg on Monday.

    “This is not the ultimate goal, to cut or not to cut,” he added.

    “I think we would have to wait and see how the market is unfolding because our ultimate goal is market stability.”

    Oil prices have shed a fifth of their value over the past month due to oversupply and signs of a softer-than-expected impact from sanctions on Iranian crude exports.

    But they climbed on Monday as Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil supplier, announced the plans to cut production in response to fears of oversupply.

    The 15 members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), which include Saudi Arabia, alone pump over a third of global crude supply.

    Any official decision on global output cuts will be made at a key ministerial meeting for OPEC and non-OPEC producers in Vienna in early December, al-Falih said.

    Oil producers will continue to evaluate the market data prior to the Vienna summit, “but if we need to trim production by one million bpd, we will do,” he added.

    Suhail al-Mazrouei, the UAE’s energy minister, said balancing the market would “require changes in the strategy” of producers.

    “We need not overreact” to falling prices, Mazrouei said, adding that crude was a dynamic market.

    Assem Jihad, Iraqi energy minister spokesperson, told the AFP news agency his country, also an OPEC member, was hoping for “any decision that would help balance and stabilise the market”.

    Brent crude dropped below $70 a barrel on Friday for the first time since April but it was trading above $71 a barrel on Monday.

    West Texas Intermediate crude also dropped to a nine-month low, below $60 a barrel. It was trading above $61 on Monday.

    Al-Falih’s comments followed a meeting in Abu Dhabi at the weekend, where major producers started laying the groundwork to cut supply in 2019, reversing an almost year-long expansion.

    The group, including Russia and Saudi Arabia, warned that crude supply would outstrip demand next year.

    In a final statement, they said they had “reviewed current oil supply and demand fundamentals and noted that 2019 prospects point to higher supply growth than global requirements”.

    That in mind, they vowed to consider “options on new 2019 production adjustments, which may require new strategies to balance the market”.

    Al-Falih on Monday said inventories had been building up, adding that “the 25 producers will not allow this to continue” and that they had signalled they would do “whatever it takes to balance the market”.

    “We are going to do everything we can to keep inventories and supply-demand fundamentals within a reasonably narrow band around balance,” he said.

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    Israel-Gaza violence erupts after killings

    Violence has flared between Israel and Gaza, a day after seven militants and an Israeli soldier were killed amid an undercover Israeli operation in Gaza.

    Scores of rockets were launched at Israel, hitting an empty bus and seriously injuring a 19-year-old who was nearby, Israeli medics said.

    Israel launched a series of air strikes in response. Two Palestinians were killed, Gaza’s health ministry said.

    A militant commander and an Israeli soldier were among the dead on Sunday.

    Palestinians said an Israeli unit travelling in a civilian vehicle had killed the Hamas commander.

    What happened on Sunday?

    According to Palestinian sources, the Israeli unit was about 3km (2 miles) inside the Gaza Strip, which borders Israel, when militants from Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, stopped the car.

    The group’s military wing, the Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, said the Israelis opened fire, killing a local commander, Nur Barakeh.

    The incident is reported to have happened east of Khan Younis, in the south of the territory.

    A gun battle erupted and Israeli tanks and aircraft opened fire in the area, witnesses said.

    Six of the Palestinians killed belonged to Hamas and the seventh was a member of the militant Popular Resistance Committees, AFP news agency cited Palestinian officials as saying.

    The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said a member of the special unit involved was killed and another was lightly wounded.

    In the wake of the clashes, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cut short his visit to Paris for events to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of World War One and returned to Israel, his office said.

    Why did Israel kill the commander?

    Due to the secrecy of the operation, Israel has not revealed specific details about the mission.

    The IDF said though that the operation was “not intended to kill or abduct terrorists, but to strengthen Israeli security”.

    The BBC’s Tom Bateman in Jerusalem says that according to a former Israeli general, the incident was likely to have been an intelligence-gathering operation that went wrong.

    The exposure of such an operation by Israeli special forces inside Gaza would be extremely rare, he says.

    What have both sides said?

    Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas, denounced the incident as a “cowardly Israeli attack”.

    IDF chief Lt Gen Gadi Eisenkot said the Israeli unit had carried out “a very meaningful operation to Israel’s security”, without giving further details.

    The Israeli military said that immediately after the clashes, 17 rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel, three of which were shot down.

    Why are Israel and Hamas enemies?

    Hamas won Palestinian elections in 2006 and reinforced its power in the Gaza Strip after ousting West Bank-based Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ rival Fatah faction in clashes the following year.

    While Mr Abbas’ umbrella Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) has signed peace accords with Israel, Hamas does not recognise Israel’s right to exist and advocates the use of violence against it.

    Israel, along with Egypt, has maintained a blockade of Gaza since about 2006 in order, they say, to stop attacks by militants.

    Israel and Hamas have gone to war three times, and rocket-fire from Gaza and Israeli air strikes against militant targets are a regular occurrence.

    Sunday night’s incident comes after apparent progress in an Egyptian- and UN-brokered process to mediate after a series of escalations between the two sides in recent months.

    More than 200 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed by Israeli forces since the end of March – most during weekly protests along the border at which thousands have expressed their support for the declared right of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral homes in what is now Israel.

    Israel has said its soldiers have only opened fire in self-defence or on potential attackers trying to infiltrate its territory under the cover of the protests.

    One Israeli soldier was killed on the Gaza-Israel border by a Palestinian sniper in July.

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    Saudi Arabia to ship less oil in Dec as it floats cut talks possibility

    ABU DHABI (REUTERS) – Saudi Arabia plans to reduce oil supply to world markets by 0.5 million barrels per day in December, its energy minister said on Sunday (Nov 11), as the Opec power faces uncertain prospects in its attempts to persuade other producers to agree a coordinated output cut.

    Khalid al-Falih told reporters that Saudi Aramco’s customer crude oil nominations would fall by 500,000 bpd in December versus November due to seasonal lower demand. The cut represents a reduction in global oil supply of about 0.5 per cent.

    Saudi Arabia has increased output by just about 1 million bpd this year under pressure from US President Donald Trump and other consuming countries to help balance the market to compensate for lower supplies from Iran due to US sanctions.

    But since Iran’s customers were given generous waivers to continue buying crude, concerns grew about market oversupply and oil prices fell to below US$70 (S$97) per barrel on Friday from US$85 a barrel in October.

    “We have been increasing production in response to demand,”Falih told reporters in Abu Dhabi ahead of a joint Opec, non-Opec market monitoring committee meeting.

    “I’ll tell you a piece of news which is (that) December nominations are 500,000 barrels less than November. So we are seeing a tapering off part of it is year end, part of it is maintenance…. so we will be shipping less in December than we are in November.”

    Saudi Arabia is discussing a proposal that could see Opec and non-Opec oil producers cut output by up to 1 million bpd, two sources told Reuters earlier on Sunday, as the world’s top oil exporter grapples with a drop in crude prices.

    The sources said any such deal would depend on factors including the level of Iranian exports after the United States imposed sanctions on Tehran but granted Iran’s top oil buyers waivers to continue buying oil.

    Russian participation was key to helping Opec rebalance the market during 2017-18. But Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on Sunday he wasn’t certain the market would be oversupplied next year.

    He said the oversupply for the next few months would be seasonally driven while by mid 2019 the market could be balanced again and demand could even exceed supply.


    Riyadh was surprised by the waivers granted by Washington to Iran’s main customers such as China and India, a move which hit oil prices, at least three industry and Opec sources told Reuters.

    Now Saudi Arabia wants to act to prevent a further slide in prices and is leading discussions on cutting oil output next year, the sources said.

    Under a deal set to expire at the end of the year, Opec and non-Opec producers agreed to curb output by around 1.8 million bpd.

    But producers ended up cutting more and so agreed in June to limit their reductions by more than their output targets, meaning restoring about 1 million bpd in output.

    Opec and its allies will meet in Vienna on Dec 6 and 7 to decide on output policy for 2019.

    “There is a general discussion about this (cut). But the question is how much is needed to be reduced by the market,” one of the sources said in Abu Dhabi on Sunday.

    “No one expected the waivers. Saudi Arabia wants to at least put a floor under oil prices. No one wants a free fall in prices,” the source added.

    Kazakh deputy energy minister Magzum Mirzagaliyev told reporters in Abu Dhabi that he understood Saudi Arabia was suggesting using August-October output levels as a baseline for determining cuts.

    Falih did not rule out the possibility of a cut next year, but also said he would like to “move into 2019 with minimum interventions.”

    “I think ideally we don’t like to cut. Ideally we like to keep the market … liberally supplied and comfortable. We will only cut if we see a persistent glut emerging and quite frankly we are seeing some signs of this coming out of the US, we have not seen the signs globally,” he told reporters.

    Brent crude on Friday fell 47 cents, or 0.7 percent, to settle at US$70.18 a barrel. It lost about 3.6 percent on the week and has shed more than 15 percent this quarter.

    Washington gave 180-day waivers to eight Iranian oil buyers – China, India, South Korea, Japan, Italy, Greece, Taiwan and Turkey. This group takes as much as three-quarters of Iran’s seaborne oil exports, trade data shows.

    The US administration has vowed to reduce Iranian oil exports to zero and Trump has put pressure on Saudi Arabia to raise output to cool the market.

    Iran’s crude exports could fall to little more than 1 million bpd in November, roughly a third of their mid-2018 peak. But traders and analysts say that figure could rise from December as importers use their waivers.

    Falih said last month the kingdom would pump 11 million bpd in November, up from 10.7 million bpd in October. He also said there could be a need for intervention to reduce oil stockpiles after increases in recent months.

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