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UAE used Israeli spyware ‘to target Qatari emir, Saudi prince’

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) asked an Israeli spyware company to hack into the phones of the Qatari emir and a Saudi prince among other political and regional rivals, emails obtained by the New York Times appear to show.

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ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates: New York Times has obtained emails that show that the United Arab Emirates (UAE) officials asked an Israeli spyware company to hack into the phones of the Qatari emir, Lebanon current premier, and a Saudi prince among other political and regional rivals.

According to a report published on Friday, leaked emails submitted in two lawsuits against the Israel-based NSO Group suggested involvement in illegal spying for clients.

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According to Al Jazeera, the two lawsuits were filed in Israel and Cyprus by a Qatari citizen and Mexican journalists and activists who were targeted by the company’s spyware program, Pegasus.

Emails submitted in the lawsuits showed that the UAE signed a contract to license the company’s surveillance software “as early as August 2013”.

The Emiratis sought to intercept the phone calls of Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Ali Thani in 2014, as well as Saudi Prince Mutaib bin Abdullah – seen as a contender for the throne at the time – and Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s current prime minister.

Gulf crisis on the rise

To activate the spyware on the target’s phone, a text message is sent with a link.

If the target clicks on the link, Pegasus is secretly downloaded to the phone, enabling the user of the technology to gain access to all contact details, text messages, emails and data from online platforms such as Facebook, Skype, WhatsApp, Viber, WeChat and Telegram.

The technology can also monitor phone calls and “potentially even face-to-face conversations conducted nearby”.

According to the New York Times, the lawsuits argue that the NSO Group’s affiliate successfully recorded the calls of a journalist and attempted to spy on foreign government officials at the request of its Emirati customers four years ago.

The hacking of Qatar’s state-run news agency and government social media accounts on May 24, 2017, set into motion a major diplomatic crisis, which saw Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt sever diplomatic relations and cut off land, air, and sea links with Qatar on June 5 last year.

The NSO Group group also sold the surveillance technology to Mexico on condition that it should be used only against criminals and “terrorists”, yet some of the country’s most prominent journalists, academics, human rights lawyers and criminal investigators have been targeted.

On August 1, Amnesty International released a report that said one of its employees was baited with a suspicious WhatsApp message in early June about a protest in front of the Saudi Embassy in Washington, DC.

Also read: Dutch lawmaker cancels cartoon contest amid strong Pakistan protests

The London-based human rights organisation said it traced the malicious link to a network of sites tied to the NSO Group.

The company has previously admitted charging customers $650,000 to hack 10 devices, on top of a $500,000 installation fee.

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After Tehran talks, Syria and Russia forces step up Idlib attacks

Syrian government forces backed by their Russian allies have stepped up their bombardment of rebel-held territories in northwest Syria, killing at least six civilians, according to local activists.

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ANTAKYA, Turkey: Syrian government forces backed by their Russian allies have stepped up their bombardment of rebel-held territories in northwest Syria, killing at least six civilians, according to local activists.

The air raids and shelling on Saturday came a day after Russia rejected a Turkish call for a ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib province, where a major government assault aimed at recapturing the last rebel stronghold in the country is seemingly imminent.

Also read: Iran ‘to boost missile capacity, buy modern warplanes’

The attacks targeted areas in southern Idlib province and in the north of neighbouring Hama province, in what is seen as the biggest escalation over the past week.

One hospital in the village of Hass in southern Idlib was destroyed by a barrel bomb dropped from a helicopter.

Local activists told Al Jazeera that six civilians died in the bombardment, including one child.

According to Abd al-Kareem al-Rahmoun, a representative of the White Helmets, a volunteer rescue group operating in rebel-held parts of Syria, the town of Qalaat al-Madiq in northern Hama province was targeted with more than 150 shells.

The shelling killed two men and wounded five others, including two children.

At least 26 people in rebel-held areas have been killed since the beginning of the month, the White Helmets said.

Rebel factions in northern Hama province responded to Saturday’s attacks with rocket fire and shelling of areas under government control, including the city of Salhab further west. According to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), there were no reported casualties.

On Friday, rebel shelling killed 10 people, including five children in the Christian-majority town of Maharda in western Hama province, SOHR reported.

Mohamad Haj Ali, commander of the First Coastal Division, which is part of the moderate opposition formation al-Jabha al-Wataniya lil-Tahrir (NLF), told Al Jazeera that despite the escalation, the battle for Idlib has not started yet.

“[The offensive was delayed] because of Turkish pressure on the Russians. We still hope for a diplomatic solution,” he said, adding, however, that he expects the offensive to be launched in the coming weeks.

If this happens, its first stage will target northern Latakia province and the area around the town of Jisr al-Shaghour in southern Idlib, he said.

In a separate development, clashes erupted between Syrian troops and Kurdish security forces known as Asayesh in the Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli in northern Hasakah province.

Also read: Israel says it launched 200 strikes in Syria since 2017

At least 13 members of the government forces were killed and seven Asayesh fighters, according to SOHR.

Although Qamishli is fully controlled by Kurdish forces, Damascus has retained control of a military base in its outskirts.

The story was first published on Al Jazeera.

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Kashmir: Nine-year-old ‘gang-raped, eyes gouged out’

At least five people arrested, including the stepmother, for brutal gang rape and murder of nine-year-old child.

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Indian-occupied Kashmir

BARAMULLAH, Indian-occupied Kashmir: A nine-year-old child has been gang-raped and murdered in Indian-occupied Kashmir’s (IOK) Baramullah district, bringing back memories of the brutal gang rape of an eight-year-old in the Indian-occupied Jammu region of the state.

According to police reports, the child was reported missing on September 23 and was murdered on the same day.

Also read: US threatens India with sanctions if it buys Russia’s S-400 missiles

Five people have been arrested in connection with the case, including the stepmother and the stepbrother.

The girl was lured to a secluded spot in a forest by her stepmother and was raped in turn by her 14-year-old stepbrother, his friends and accomplices, the police said.

Later, the stepmother strangled her and the stepbrother swung an axe at her head. One of the men gouged out her eyes and burned parts of her body with acid to destroy evidence, the police added.

“There is conclusive evidence for murder, there is destruction of evidence in regards to rape. But we have got vital clues to prove the rape charges in the court,” Mir Imtiyaz Hussain, police chief in Baramullah district who is supervising the investigation, told Qatar media outlet Al Jazeera.

“We have identified the culprits. Our job will be complete when the culprits are convicted in a court of law,” he added.

Police say they found the decomposed body in a forest near her home in Uri on September 2, almost 10 days after she went missing.

‘Watertight case’

The father of the child had two wives and the first wife harboured acrimonious feelings towards the second wife and her daughter which spurred her to murder the child, police said.

The police said they are building a “watertight case” so the perpetrators are punished this time.

The case is the second such incident in the restive Kashmir region after the brutal gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old girl in Kathua earlier this year, which caused widespread revulsion across India.

The girl in Kathua was held captive in a temple and sexually assaulted for a week before being strangled and battered to death with a stone in January.

Violence against women in the South Asian country is widespread and has deep roots.

In recent years, the country has witnessed renewed public outrage over the number of violent sexual assaults against women, especially children.

Crimes against minors

In July this year, doctors confirmed sexual abuse at a girls’ shelter in the state of Bihar, with children reporting being beaten, drugged, raped and scalded with hot water.

A child is sexually abused every 15 minutes in India, according to NGO Child Rights.

Crimes against minors have risen more than 500 percent over the past decade, the right group said, after analysing government data.

In 2016, police in India received 38,947 reports of rape compared with almost 35,000 in 2015, according to data collected by the National Crime Records Bureau.

India has enacted strident anti-rape laws in response to nationwide outrage in the wake of a series of child rape cases.

The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act has now been amended to introduce the death penalty for the rape of children below age 12.

But campaigners say laws, on their own, do not act as a deterrent.

Also read: Pakistan tells US it won’t bow down for Washington’s interests

“The brutal assault on this child tells us the law is not working. When you have death penalty for rape, they don’t just rape, but they murder and they destroy evidence like they tried with this girl by using acid,” Enakshi Ganguly, founder and adviser at HAQ Centre for Child Rights in New Delhi, told Al Jazeera.

“This case should be a lesson to the government. They rushed to bring the death penalty but the number of rapes have not gone down. What we are dealing with is what is happening behind closed doors, inside families. Our studies show in more than 70 percent of child abuse cases, the rapists are known to the family,” she added.

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Israel says it launched 200 strikes in Syria since 2017

Military sources say the attacks are mostly aimed at preventing Iran from establishing a military presence in Syria.

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JERUSALEM, Palestine: Israel has launched more than 200 air attacks against Iranian targets in Syria over the past year and a half, a senior Israel official revealed.

The officer in the Israeli army said on Tuesday the air raids included the dropping of about 800 bombs and missiles on mostly arms shipments as well as military bases and infrastructure.

Also read: UAE used Israeli spyware ‘to target Qatari emir, Saudi prince’

Later on Tuesday, Israeli Intelligence Minister Israel Katz confirmed the report, calling Iran’s military presence in Syria a “red line”.

“Only just now it was published – in the name of military sources, so I can quote it too – that in the last two years Israel has taken military action more than 200 times within Syria itself,” Katz said.

“Understanding the significance of this matter in terms of preserving the red line, preventing things that Iran has done, is doing and trying to do against Israel from Syria.”

In August 2017, the outgoing chief of Israel’s air force told Haaretz newspaper that his corps had carried out “nearly 100 strikes” in Syria.

That left another 100 in the time since, according to the official Israeli accounts issued on Tuesday – roughly two attacks per week.

Israel, which monitors neighbouring Syria intensively, has long alleged that Iran came to assist the Damascus government, in part, to set up a permanent garrison there, effectively forming an extended anti-Israel front with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Iran, Israel’s arch foe, has been a core supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad throughout the seven-year-old war, sending military advisers as well as material and regional Shia armed groups that it backs.

Israel’s strikes on Syria have been largely ignored by Russia, Syria’s big power backer.

Also read: Argentina refuses to play Israel friendly

On Monday, Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman signalled that the country could also attack suspected Iranian military targets in Iraq, where Reuters has reported the deployment of ballistic missiles by Tehran.

Briefing reporters on Tuesday, a senior Israeli military officer who requested anonymity said that Israel believed Iran was using Iraqi territory as a conduit for missile transfers to Syria.

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