The Guardian 2024-04-06 10:08:29


‘Deadly failure’: Australia demands Israel take ‘appropriate action’ against those responsible for killing aid workers

Foreign minister Penny Wong says IDF’s killing of the seven aid workers, including Australian Zomi Frankcom, ‘cannot be swept aside’

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The Australian government has demanded Israel take “appropriate action” over its military’s “deadly failure” that killed seven aid workers, including Australian Zomi Frankcom.

The foreign minister, Penny Wong, said she and the deputy prime minister, Richard Marles, wrote to their counterparts in Israel overnight on Friday after a verbal briefing on the initial findings of Israel Defense Forces’ investigation, which Wong said had not yet satisfied the government’s expectations.

“We acknowledge since we sent the letter Israel has now confirmed that two individuals involved in this incident have been stood down,” Wong told reporters on Saturday, adding that Israel was yet to respond to the letter.

“We reiterate that appropriate action must be taken against the individuals who are responsible for these tragic events.

“Clear, practical action is needed to ensure this tragedy is never repeated.”

Wong also confirmed the government would appoint a special adviser to ensure a thorough investigation into the IDF drone strike.

“We also, in our letter, raised concerns on behalf of the country that Israel’s initial responses suggest that the gravity of the death of seven humanitarian workers is yet to be appreciated by the Israeli government,” she said.

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On Friday, the IDF said it had dismissed two officers and reprimanded three others for their roles in killing the aid workers, saying they had mishandled critical information and violated the army’s rules of engagement.

Israeli Lt Col Peter Lerner told ABC radio the military was sorry for the “very grave mistake” and officers who were involved in the strike would face consequences.

Earlier this week, Wong rebuked Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, for “deeply insensitive” comments attempting to “brush aside” his military’s culpability after he admitted Israeli forces “unintentionally” hit innocent people, adding “this happens in wartime”.

“We do not accept any suggestion that this is just something that can be brushed aside as just something that happens in war,” Wong told Guardian Australia’s Australian Politics podcast, recorded on Thursday.

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, said it was not good enough to describe the killings of the aid workers as “just a product of war”.

He previously labelled the explanations of the deaths given by Israel as “insufficient and unacceptable”.

Wong said since Hamas’s 7 October attacks on Israel the Australian government had urged Israel to observe international humanitarian law. However, she told reporters on Saturday that “demonstrably that did not occur in relation to Zomi Frankcom and her World Central Kitchen colleagues.”

“We again say we have a humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. Humanitarian assistance at scale must be enabled and it is clear that to date – prior to this it has not been. Civilians, including humanitarian workers, must be protected. This incident demonstrates that has not been the case,” Wong said.

Israel is facing mounting international pressure following the killings, with US president, Joe Biden, telling Netanyahu that future US support for Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza would depend on it taking concrete action to protect civilians and aid workers.

Asked if the Australian government would follow Poland in calling for consideration of criminal liability over the aid workers’ deaths, Wong said: “I’m not ruling anything in or out.”

“The facts need to be ascertained and once the facts are ascertained, appropriate action needs to be taken. I would again say what I have said before: Israel is bound by international humanitarian law,” she said.

“This cannot be swept aside. This can’t be brushed aside.”

Wong has emphasised that this was not the first Israeli attack on aid convoys, citing UN figures that 196 aid workers had been killed prior to the World Central Kitchen incident.

“People have been raising concerns for some time about … what is occurring in relation to humanitarian workers. This has been a deadly failure of deconfliction,” Wong told reporters on Saturday, referring to the process by which aid agencies engage with defence forces to ensure they are protected in conflict zones.

“There is obviously a deadly failure. It cannot be brushed aside and it cannot be covered over.”

With additional reporting by Australian Associated Press

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Israeli inquiry findings on aid worker killings lack credibility, charity says

WCK renews call for independent investigation as former general blames incident on ‘grave errors’

World Central Kitchen has rejected as lacking credibility the findings of an Israeli investigation led by a former general into a coordinated series of Israeli drone strikes on the charity’s vehicles in Gaza this week that killed seven aid workers.

As the Israel Defense Forces blamed a series of “grave errors” by officers for the deadly attack that killed three Britons, three other foreign nationals and a Palestinian colleague while delivering food, WCK renewed its calls for a full and independent investigation.

Amid mounting international pressure on Israel, the British foreign secretary, David Cameron, said the findings of the Israeli inquiry – which he said the UK was reviewing carefully – showed that “major reform” was required.

“It’s clear major reform of Israel’s deconfliction mechanism is badly needed to ensure the safety of aid workers,” Cameron said on X.

The hurriedly completed inquiry, which led to two middle-ranking officers being dismissed and a general reprimanded, outlined a catalogue of failings by Israeli forces in an incident that has reinforced global criticism of Israel’s conduct of a war in which 33,000 Palestinians have been killed in six months.

While welcoming the report as a first step, WCK’s founder, the celebrity chef José Andrés, said: “The IDF cannot credibly investigate its own failure in Gaza. It’s not enough to simply try to avoid further humanitarian deaths, which have now approached close to 200. All civilians need to be protected, and all innocent people in Gaza need to be fed and safe. And all hostages must be released.”

The charity’s chief executive, Erin Gore, said: “Their apologies for the outrageous killing of our colleagues represent cold comfort. It’s cold comfort for the victims’ families and WCK’s global family. Israel needs to take concrete steps to assure the safety of humanitarian aid workers. Our operations remain suspended.”

WCK’s remarks were echoed by the UN secretary general, António Guterres, who said fixing failings in Israel’s military procedures required “independent investigations” and meaningful and measurable changes on the ground.

Noting that 196 humanitarian workers had been killed during Israel’s campaign, Guterres said: “We want to know why.”

The announcement of punishments and the apology have not calmed the international outcry over the WCK workers’ deaths or reassured international aid groups that it is safe to resume operations in Gaza, where nearly a third of the population is on the brink of starvation.

The US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said the US was reviewing the findings and would be looking very carefully at what concrete measures Israel was taking to reduce civilian harm.

“It’s very important that Israel is taking full responsibility for this incident. It’s also important that it appears to be taking steps to hold those responsible accountable,” he said in Brussels. “Even more important is that steps are being taken going forward to ensure that something like this can never happen again.”

The Israeli military commission of inquiry blamed a series of “grave errors” by military personnel, including lack of coordination and misidentification. The IDF said it had dismissed a brigade chief of staff with the rank of colonel and a brigade fire support officer with the rank of major, and issued formal reprimands to senior officers including the general at the head of the southern command.

The rapidly completed investigation failed to resolve key questions including why soldiers from the Nahal brigade responsible were unaware that humanitarian vehicles were operating in the area with IDF permission, and why commanders launched an attack that the IDF said was in flagrant breach of its operational rules.

The findings are likely to renew scepticism over the military’s decision-making. Palestinians, aid groups and human rights organisations have repeatedly accused Israeli forces of firing recklessly at civilians throughout the conflict – a charge Israel denies.

Among those questioning whether the report was sufficiently thorough was Charlie Herbert, a retired British general who has been a trenchant critic of Israel’s operations during the current conflict.

“Two quite junior officers dismissed,” Herbert tweeted. “Presumably for very bad judgment, with tragic consequences. But the real issue here is an institutional one with IDF rules of engagement and disregard for ‘collateral damage’. This is the reason for huge civilian casualties since October.”

Scott Paul, of Oxfam, said in a briefing with other relief organisations on Thursday before the results of Israel’s investigation were released: “Let’s be very clear. This is tragic but it is not an anomaly. The killing of aid workers in Gaza has been systemic.”

The Israeli military said the investigation found that the officers mishandled critical information and violated the army’s rules of engagement.

“The strike on the aid vehicles is a grave mistake stemming from a serious failure due to a mistaken identification, errors in decision-making, and an attack contrary to the standard operating procedures,” it said.

The investigation determined that a colonel had authorised the series of drone strikes on the convoy based on one major’s observation – from grainy drone-camera footage – that someone in the convoy was armed. The observation turned out to be untrue.

It criticised officers for failing to read messages alerting troops that cars, not aid trucks, would carry workers from the charity away from the warehouse where aid was distributed. As a result, the targeted cars were misidentified as transporting militants.

The army also faulted a major who identified the strike target and a colonel who approved the strike for acting with insufficient information.

The army said it initially hit one car. As people scrambled away into a second car, it hit that vehicle as well. A third strike was launched as survivors scrambled into a third car.

The IDF was unable to say exactly where communication had broken down about the convoy’s plans and declined to answer questions about whether similar violations of rules of engagement had taken place during the war.

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Will the killings of Gaza aid workers be a turning point in Australia’s policy towards Israel?

Karen Middleton

The anger of Labor ministers over Netanyahu’s ‘it happens’ response suggests an inflection point is close over support for his government

Two gut punches have changed the tone of Australia’s public engagement with Israel.

The first came on Tuesday morning when a terrible image featuring a bloodied Australian passport appeared on social media and made its way rapidly into the offices of prime minister Anthony Albanese and foreign minister Penny Wong.

The second landed on Tuesday night as Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu tried to explain away the triple Israeli missile strike that had killed Australian aid worker Zomi Frankcom and six of her colleagues in Gaza, saying: “This happens in wartime.”

Albanese described that response as “not good enough”. How he worded it in Wednesday morning’s lengthy phone call with Netanyahu has not been disclosed.

By Friday, education minister Jason Clare was wilfully misquoting Netanyahu on breakfast television to reflect how his comments had been received: “It’s not good enough just to say ‘shit happens’.”

Senior Australian ministers were – and are – appalled at Netanyahu’s language, tone and judgment in thinking that was an adequate response, even preliminarily, to his own defence force targeting the citizens of nations which have defended Israel in launching a brutal war in Gaza to avenge last year’s 7 October Hamas terrorist attack.

Their view only hardened as an Israeli spokesperson rolled out a series of purported explanations and mitigations, including that it was dark, there was confusion, “war is hell, war is foggy” and the strikes were “a grave mistake”.

They were certainly a grave miscalculation.

Frankcom and six other international aid workers died when an Israeli drone fired three missiles at their convoy, one for each vehicle. The strikes were not in rapid succession but separated by time and distance as the Israeli Defence Force picked off the moving vehicles bearing aid agency World Central Kitchen’s logo, one by one.

Netanyahu called it “a tragic case” of “unintentionally hitting innocent people” and that Israel would “do everything so that this thing does not happen again”.

But that is little assurance because “this thing” has happened before. Wong came to Guardian Australia’s podcast interview on Thursday armed with facts about the incident being “not an isolated one”. She noted that 196 aid workers had already been killed in Gaza, that those workers were protected under international law, and that Israel had “an obligation” to ensure they were safe.

As a result of the strikes which killed one Palestinian, one Pole, three Britons, and a Canadian-American dual national, along with Zomi Frankcom, some things that used to be said only privately to Israel about how it’s waging this war are now being said in public.

The deaths may not have increased these countries’ already-extreme concern about the humanitarian toll in Gaza, but Israel’s undeniable failure to uphold its legal obligations has given them leverage to be much more direct about it.

US president Joe Biden told Netanyahu that future US support was contingent on Israel taking “specific, concrete and measurable steps” to address not only the safety of aid workers but the harm to civilians in Gaza and the humanitarian suffering the conflict is inflicting overall. He said there must be an “immediate ceasefire”.

Wong has also dispensed with the usual nuance, telling Guardian Australia that the airstrikes were not “something that can be brushed aside” and calling Netanyahu’s comments “deeply insensitive”. On Friday night, she issued a further short, blunt statement.

“The information Israel has provided on its investigation hasn’t yet satisfied our expectations,” she said, affirming that the Australian government was “alarmed” by Netanyahu’s initial remarks and Israel’s responses since.

“These responses suggest the gravity of the death of seven humanitarian workers is yet to be appreciated by the Israeli government.”

In other words, they don’t get it.

There are some disturbing contradictions in Israel’s responses to date.

While calling the missile strikes a mistake, it is also saying that sometimes there are terrorists in the convoys. That implies that sometimes, regardless of what aid organisations say about who is travelling and why, and regardless of the guarantees Israel gives of safe passage in return, someone, somewhere inside the Israeli system decides to strike anyway.

If the details of these agreements struck between aid organisations and the IDF’s liaison officers – which are life-and-death for those who will be travelling – are not communicated and upheld, they are worthless.

On Friday, ABC Radio National’s Sally Sara asked IDF spokesman Lt Col Peter Lerner whether launching three separate strikes on clearly marked aid vehicles conformed with the IDF’s rules of engagement.

At first, Lerner said “hypothesising” would be irresponsible. But then he added: “Each target has a specific identification, a specific individual, a specific component of Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad infrastructure that can be taken out. So they are lawful targets whether they are three vehicles, one vehicle or walking in the street.”

That sounds like very careful consideration and planning. It doesn’t sound like an approach that leaves much room for mistakes. And yet mistakes keep being made.

So, either Israel cannot control its own forces, or it disbelieves and disregards the information aid organisations are giving about who is travelling in these convoys and what they are doing.

Either way, as Wong says, failing to protect aid workers breaches international law. Senior figures in the Australian government believe this could be an inflection point in the conflict, depending on what Israel does next. And if its investigation and response are inadequate, what the Albanese government does about that could make it an inflection point domestically too.

Hamas is still holding 134 hostages captive. While it refuses to relinquish them and Israel fails to rescue them – but instead mistakenly kills international humanitarian workers it has vowed, and is legally bound, to protect – aid convoys are interrupted because of the risk and hundreds of thousands of Palestinian civilians remain trapped and starving in Gaza as their homes and lives are obliterated.

“Not good enough” seems the very least that can be said about it.

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‘The memories are too much’: Sderot residents return six months after Hamas attack

Families are being offered grants to go home but many have stayed away and others are already thinking of leaving again

Downtown Sderot, an impoverished Israeli town just a kilometre away from the north-eastern corner of the Gaza Strip, is still quiet six months after 7 October. There is no longer any trace of the police station where Hamas militants took hostages and engaged the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in a two-day battle before the Israelis decided to blow up the building. The site has been levelled and is now home to flags and a memorial.

Seventy people were killed and about 90% of the town’s 28,000 residents were evacuated, most of them put up in hotels up and down the country. A huge new mural saluting the town adorns a wall of a block of flats.

On Thursday, air raid sirens that for weeks had blared incessantly went off in a neighbouring town for the first time in nearly three months as rockets were fired from Gaza, a reminder that the war is not over. But a month ago, the Israeli government decided it was time for Sderot’s residents to begin going home.

A shopping centre on the outskirts of town was more lively. Hundreds of vehicles filled the car park and families milled around newly reopened restaurants and cafes, although everyone the Guardian spoke to expressed mixed feelings about being back.

“We came back on Sunday but we think we are going to leave again. It’s not the same city any more. The memories are too much,” said Sivan, 30, whose three-year-old daughter Sheli was playing happily with her new toy, a hobby horse. “Living in a hotel is not good. It’s just a room, not a home. We will have to come up with a new plan.”

A repopulation plan for communities evacuated from southern Israel offers families up to 64,000 shekels (£13,500) in grants if they return. While the 60,000 evacuees will be able to remain in hotel accommodation until 1 July, the amount in grants available will diminish week by week: those who stay away the longest will receive about 10% of the full amount available.

Schools in Sderot reopened in early March, a development that led many families to come back. For Nir, 40, who came home with his wife and three daughters last month, readjusting has been hard.

The family spent 7 and 8 October locked in their safe room while battles raged throughout the town, before being rescued by special forces. Elia, seven, his eldest child, now struggles to leave home. Her best friend’s parents were killed, and Nir lost friends in the attack.

About 20% of the family’s neighbourhood had left for good, he estimated. “My wife wants things to go back to normal but I think for the girls’ sake we need to start again somewhere else, away from the sirens,” he said as he, Elia and her sister Gaia waited for hamburgers.

For many Israelis, the worst of the war in Gaza is over. Most reservists have been rotated out and there are now three and a half brigades fighting in the central city of Khan Younis, compared with seven when ground troops first entered the strip in late October. In Tel Aviv’s bars, people already talk about it in the past tense – “when I was called up”, “when the rockets were falling”.

But as Israel’s operation in Gaza claims more and more lives – 33,000 Palestinians have been killed in the last six months – there is a sense that the rest of the world has forgotten, or diminished, the traumas Israelis suffered the day Hamas started the war, killing more than 1,100 people and taking about 250 hostage.

At the site of the Nova festival, which it is believed was not one of Hamas’s planned targets but where militants nonetheless killed 360 partygoers and raped and abducted more, there are now pictures of the dead surrounded by candles, flowers, Israeli flags and notes and tributes from loved ones.

The eucalyptus grove has become something of a pilgrimage site for Israelis, and foreigners, who come to pay their respects. On Thursday a police officer who responded to the massacre on 7 October told a visiting group of Americans about what he witnessed; many people cried as they walked around the site. Artillery booms nearby occasionally shattered the reverent atmosphere.

Jerry Kirstein, 73, visiting his daughter on a trip from Miami, said: “My parents survived the Holocaust. OTSD, that’s what everyone in this country has: ongoing traumatic stress disorder.”

The family lost a friend, a first responder, who was killed in a gun battle at a military base nearby. “Now the world is judging Israel for defending its people,” Kirstein said. “That’s crazy.”

There are mounting questions from the international community over the IDF’s conduct in the conflict, including its use of AI-driven targeting systems that the Guardian revealed may be contributing to the shockingly high death toll, and Israel’s inability or unwillingness to stave off looming famine by increasing the flow of aid.

Even amid new pressure from the US, Israel’s major ally, for an immediate ceasefire and “concrete and measurable steps to address civilian harm”, support for the war remains strong among the Israeli public – even if trust in the government and in the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is low.

This week saw the biggest street protests since the war began. While the demonstrators, among them the families of the remaining hostages, have different motivations, they are united in their call for early elections.

It is widely believed that Netanyahu is seeking to delay the end of the war, and play up the possibility of full-scale conflict in the north with Lebanon’s Hezbollah, in order to stave off an election. Staying in office remains his best chance of beating corruption charges, which he has always denied, as well as evading responsibility for Israel’s failure to protect its people on 7 October.

Cassie, a 19-year-old student from Manchester, said her last visit to Israel was two years ago. “I think it’s not so much that Israel has changed since 7 October, but everyone else,” she said. “Getting to know people at uni has been difficult. They may not know I’m Jewish, but I see their opinions on social media. The way people see Israel has changed.”

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Man’s body found in flood waters in Sydney’s west

The body was found near a Penrith reserve on Saturday morning, more than two kilometres east of the Nepean River

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A man has been found dead in flood waters in outer western Sydney.

The body was found by a passerby near a Penrith reserve on Saturday morning before emergency services were called to the scene about 7.45am.

The man has not yet been formally identified and the cause of the death was unknown, police said in a statement. Officers established a crime scene, an investigation into the death is under way and a report will be prepared for the Coroner.

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The reserve is more than two kilometres east of the Nepean River, which is at minor flood level and expected to rise further.

Almost a dozen parts of Penrith are subject to prepare-to-evacuate warnings.

The man’s death is the second associated with the weather system.

The body of a 71-year-old man was found near his submerged ute in a flooded creek south-west of Brisbane on Thursday.

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NSW weather: significant flooding threat remains for parts of Sydney despite heavy rain easing

NSW premier says rising flood levels present ongoing danger for some communities, including in western Sydney

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Sydney may have woken up to blue skies on Saturday, but flood levels were continuing to rise across parts of New South Wales with evacuation orders issued after an overnight deluge broke rainfall records.

Suburbs on the city fringes were facing the threat of significant flooding after copping more than a month’s worth of rain while a major landslip in the Blue Mountains left one community cut off.

The premier, Chris Minns, called for caution, noting just under 4,000 volunteers “spent the night in the cold and windy and rainy conditions, saving people’s lives”.

Warragamba dam, which holds most of Sydney’s water supply, reached full capacity and began spilling early on Saturday morning – two days earlier than predicted.

Levels at the dam were expected to peak at midnight on Saturday, but the New South Wales State Emergency Service commissioner, Carlene York, said communities along the Hawkesbury-Nepean river system would be “feeling that for the next few days”.

Evacuation orders were issued by the SES for 11 locations overnight on Friday and Saturday morning, including along the Hawkesbury-Nepean, low-lying parts of Chipping Norton in western Sydney and North Narrabeen on the northern beaches.

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“While it looks like blue skies across Sydney at the moment and the emergency rain situation seems to be easing … it is important to note that flood levels in some of the rivers, particularly in western Sydney, are continuing to rise and that presents a danger for some communities,” Minns told reporters on Saturday.

The Bureau of Meteorology’s Steven Bernasconi said three rivers were likely to continue to rise, including the Hawkesbury at North Richmond, which was at moderate flooding but could see major flooding on Saturday afternoon.

Bernasconi said the Hawkesbury River at Windsor and the Colo River were also predicted to continue to rise, despite the deluge moving southwards.

The rain and wind threat was “contracting to the south-east”, he said, with “the coast and ranges down in the south of NSW … areas like Moruya and Narooma” receiving most of the rain.

The SES was involved in 152 flood rescues by Saturday morning, including 72 in metropolitan Sydney, and had received more than 4,000 calls for help over the past 24 hours.

Some parts of Sydney were hit with 200mm of rain, with Darks Forest in the Georges River basin hit with a 229mm deluge in 24 hours.

The Cooks River burst its banks at Earlwood after 7am on Saturday, triggering road closures and early morning traffic.

Bernasconi said the situation was easing with heavy rainfall starting to move out into the Tasman Sea.

But flash flooding and landslips remained a concern for Wollongong, the Illawarra and the south coast with two people reportedly taken to hospital after a home at Mt Kiera washed into a creek.

In the Blue Mountains, a landslip on a primary access road left a community cut off with authorities scrambling to arrange food drops.

“It’s the only access in and out of the valley,” Mike Davis, the owner of nearby vineyard Megalong Creek Estate, said.

“A lot of people are down here camping or in Airbnb’s at the moment so they need to do something fast.”

Around 40,000 homes and businesses lost power over the past 24 hours with fallen trees and powerlines further interrupting supply, Ausgrid said in a statement.

York said the SES was working with communities affected by the evacuation orders and would dedicate resources in southern parts of the state.

Up to 150mm of rain remained possible within a six-hour period for areas stretching hundreds of kilometres from the Blue Mountains to Narooma.

“The areas of our priority at the moment are … towards Wollongong, Illawarra and down into the south coast as this system continues to move down the coast and hopefully very soon out to sea,” York said.

Heavy rainfall and possibly severe thunderstorms were also battering southeastern parts of Queensland on Saturday and were expected to continue throughout the weekend.

Surfers and other beachgoers were warned to stay “well away from the surf and surf-exposed areas” due to dangerous conditions, particularly at east-facing beaches.

The BoM’s forecast for Sunday indicated possible severe storms with heavy rainfall over south-east Queensland, including Brisbane, the Gold Coast and the Sunshine Coast in the morning.

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Mohamed came to Australia as a teenager. Now, he faces being deported to a country he doesn’t know

After almost a decade in immigration detention Mohamed Coker was told he would be put on a plane to Sierra Leone within hours

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“My dad was murdered there. The people that murdered my dad are still around … I fear the same thing will happen to me.”

Mohamed Coker, 33, spoke to Guardian Australia on his way to the airport.

After almost a decade in immigration detention he was told on Saturday morning that, within hours, he would be deported to Sierra Leone, a country he left at five years of age after his father, a police officer, was killed in the civil war.

In Australia he has a mother, Grace; a partner, Princess George; and an 11-year-old son, Joshua; all of whom are Australian citizens. In Sierra Leone he has nobody.

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But that is where the Australian government plans to send him, after his application for a protection visa was refused about four years ago.

Lawyer Alison Battisson said a week ago Coker was informed he could be deported “on or from” 6 April, but his deportation has moved with unusual haste.

Battisson is concerned the government hasn’t “updated its information, nobody knows what’s happening in Sierra Leone”. Smart Traveller warns of “the threat of violent crime and the risk of civil unrest”, particularly after a failed coup attempt in late 2023.

Grace, Coker’s mother, said that Sierra Leone “is not peaceful, they’re killing people every day”. “He doesn’t know Sierra Leone, he doesn’t know anybody.”

After escaping to Guinea as a child, Coker came to Australia on a humanitarian visa in his teens but his visa was cancelled after a conviction for grievous bodily harm.

“I was doing everything right until that day,” Coker said. “A few boys attacked me and my friends. I was afraid – there were so many of them. One of them ended up getting stabbed. I don’t know if it was me. Since then my life has been upside down.”

When Coker was sent to prison his partner, Princess, was pregnant with their son. After he served his sentence he was taken into immigration detention, including in Sydney, away from his family in Brisbane.

He has never met his son Joshua in person, communicating only through phone and video calls.

“I’m not a bad person … I just made one mistake,” Coker said. “I didn’t come to this country to commit crime, I came for a better life.”

“I just need a second chance to prove I’m not a bad person. I want to be with my son. My dad was not in my life … My dad was murdered – I don’t want [Joshua] going through the same, not knowing his dad.”

Princess George said: “They’re taking him without his consent. You can’t just grab somebody, without him knowing what instability he will face.”

“Whats going to happen with his son? His son is a citizen. What happened to human rights in all of this?”

“Joshua will be fatherless … He always cries and says ‘why can Dad never come to my soccer game, all my friends have their dad’.

“He’s going to lose focus and crash, he’s going to be depressed.”

Shortly after noon on Saturday, Coker said his flight would depart at 3:30pm.

At the time, Battisson feared she would lose the ability to communicate with him, and that it would be “game over” because Australia would never allow him to re-enter the country given his criminal record.

Later on Saturday afternoon Battisson applied for an emergency injunction to prevent Coker’s deportation on the basis an application for ministerial intervention she filed on 1 April had not been brought to the minister’s attention.

The government gave an undertaking not to remove Coker until a further court hearing.

Even with the temporary reprieve, it’s a scene that could be repeated more easily if the government’s deportation bill passes the parliament.

The bill creates powers for the immigration minister to require unlawful non-citizens to cooperate in their deportation, on the threat of a minimum of a year in prison if they refuse. The bill also expands ministerial powers to reverse protection findings.

According to the government, the bill is “necessary to address circumstances where non-citizens who have no valid reason to remain in Australia and who have not left voluntarily as expected, are not cooperating with appropriate and lawful efforts to remove them”.

Battisson said the issue with the bill is that many people have made protection claims “years ago” but “the situation on the ground has changed”.

She said Coker’s pending deportation is part of the government’s “general approach of out-Duttoning [Peter] Dutton”, a reference to Labor’s efforts to replicate the opposition leader and former home affairs minister’s hard-line approach to non-citizens.

“We are so incredibly hard now,” Battisson said. “I’m surprised … they haven’t invited [Coker] to reapply and reassess his claims.”

Grace said: “I feel like I’m dying now – Australia [wants to] return my son to a country he doesn’t know. All my relatives have been killed in the civil war, everybody died.”

“Why is Australia doing this to me? They’re taking my soul away.”

Guardian Australia contacted the home affairs and immigration ministers, Australian Border Force, and the home affairs department for comment.

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Make-up of Tasmanian parliament finally settled as ‘anti-politician’ independent takes last seat

Premier Jeremy Rockliff says he will advise governor Barbara Baker that he be recommissioned to form a new government

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Independent candidate and salmon farming opponent Craig Garland has secured the final spot in Tasmania’s parliament, leaving the Liberals with 14 seats, Labor 10, the Greens five, Jacqui Lambie Network three and three independents.

Tasmanian premier, Jeremy Rockliff, said with the 35 members of the state’s assembly elected, 13 of them new faces, he would advise governor Barbara Baker that he be recommissioned to form a new government.

The incumbent Liberals will have to cobble together a minority arrangement with crossbench support after falling short of the 18 seats required for majority at the 23 March poll.

The party has been in power since 2014.

One seat, in the north-west electorate of Braddon, remained undecided on Friday as the distribution of preferences continued.

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Garland, a fisher, campaigned as an independent in Braddon against industrial offshore aquaculture.

ABC election analyst Antony Green said on Saturday afternoon Garland was 943 votes ahead of the seat’s fourth Liberal candidate, Giovanna Simpson, with not enough ballots remaining to change the result.

“I am confident we now have a parliament comprised of members who are committed to providing the stability and certainty that Tasmania needs and who will put the best interests of Tasmanians first,” Rockliff said in a statement.

“The new government will be steadfast in its commitment to delivering every element of the Liberals’ 2030 Strong Plan for Tasmania’s Future.”

He also promised to treat the outcome of the election with “respect and maturity” but again ruled out doing deals with the Greens or trading ministries.

Rockliff said his constructive and positive discussions with Jacqui Lambie Network members and independents continued.

Garland has previously described himself as an “anti-politician” and accused parties of hijacking democracy for their survival.

He has run at several state elections and picked up more than 5% of the first-preference vote.

A third of Tasmanians snubbed the two major parties at the election, with the Liberals receiving 37% of the primary vote and Labor 29%.

Labor, which picked up just 10 seats, conceded it was unable to form government the day after the election.

The crossbench will also include independents David O’Byrne and Kristie Johnston.

Senator Jacqui Lambie, who hails from Tasmania’s north-west, has indicated her party is prepared to provide stability to the Liberals.

Each of Tasmania’s five electorates is represented by seven MPs under the Hare-Clark proportional voting system.

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Make-up of Tasmanian parliament finally settled as ‘anti-politician’ independent takes last seat

Premier Jeremy Rockliff says he will advise governor Barbara Baker that he be recommissioned to form a new government

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Independent candidate and salmon farming opponent Craig Garland has secured the final spot in Tasmania’s parliament, leaving the Liberals with 14 seats, Labor 10, the Greens five, Jacqui Lambie Network three and three independents.

Tasmanian premier, Jeremy Rockliff, said with the 35 members of the state’s assembly elected, 13 of them new faces, he would advise governor Barbara Baker that he be recommissioned to form a new government.

The incumbent Liberals will have to cobble together a minority arrangement with crossbench support after falling short of the 18 seats required for majority at the 23 March poll.

The party has been in power since 2014.

One seat, in the north-west electorate of Braddon, remained undecided on Friday as the distribution of preferences continued.

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Garland, a fisher, campaigned as an independent in Braddon against industrial offshore aquaculture.

ABC election analyst Antony Green said on Saturday afternoon Garland was 943 votes ahead of the seat’s fourth Liberal candidate, Giovanna Simpson, with not enough ballots remaining to change the result.

“I am confident we now have a parliament comprised of members who are committed to providing the stability and certainty that Tasmania needs and who will put the best interests of Tasmanians first,” Rockliff said in a statement.

“The new government will be steadfast in its commitment to delivering every element of the Liberals’ 2030 Strong Plan for Tasmania’s Future.”

He also promised to treat the outcome of the election with “respect and maturity” but again ruled out doing deals with the Greens or trading ministries.

Rockliff said his constructive and positive discussions with Jacqui Lambie Network members and independents continued.

Garland has previously described himself as an “anti-politician” and accused parties of hijacking democracy for their survival.

He has run at several state elections and picked up more than 5% of the first-preference vote.

A third of Tasmanians snubbed the two major parties at the election, with the Liberals receiving 37% of the primary vote and Labor 29%.

Labor, which picked up just 10 seats, conceded it was unable to form government the day after the election.

The crossbench will also include independents David O’Byrne and Kristie Johnston.

Senator Jacqui Lambie, who hails from Tasmania’s north-west, has indicated her party is prepared to provide stability to the Liberals.

Each of Tasmania’s five electorates is represented by seven MPs under the Hare-Clark proportional voting system.

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Online ads promote ‘simple’ access to super to pay for healthcare, despite strict rules

Peak consumer body and financial services minister warn against private providers encouraging patients to tap into super to fund medical procedures

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Advertisements offering patients “simple” access to their superannuation to pay for medical treatments have been described by the peak consumer health body as a “worrying trend” amid the cost-of-living crisis.

The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) approved 37,400 individuals to access their superannuation early on compassionate medical grounds in 2022-23, releasing a total of $730m.

That compares with 30,100 individuals and $545m the previous year. Of those approved in 2022-23, 13,540 people used the funds for dental treatment, 2,780 for IVF and 14,410 for weight loss treatments.

The chief executive of the Consumers Health Forum, Dr Elizabeth Deveny, said: “Together with the rising cost of living, we believe that one of the reasons more people are dipping into their super to pay for their healthcare costs is because of the increasing privatisation of Australian healthcare.

“It is a worrying trend.”

She said that as more services were offered privately – rather than through Medicare – people would increasingly need to pay large out-of-pocket amounts to cover their healthcare costs.

There are strict rules about accessing super for medical treatment. Individuals must provide the ATO with a medical report from two registered medical practitioners, one of whom must be a specialist in the field of treatment.

The reports must certify that the treatment is required to treat a life-threatening illness or injury, alleviate acute or chronic pain or alleviate an acute or chronic mental illness and that treatment is not readily available in the public health system.

But numerous online advertisements, especially for dental treatment, describe accessing superannuation for medical purposes as a “quick” and “simple” process and offer services to help patients to do so.

“We are concerned about a business model where private providers are helping people to access their super for this reason, in tandem with promoting clinics who offer a range of services,” Deveny said.

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“While we recognise that it is not illegal for dental practitioners to be advertising in this way, we aren’t exactly thrilled by it either. For us, it is a worrying trend that more and more health professions might soon start encouraging their patients to dig into their super too.”

In February, the financial services minister, Stephen Jones, said in an address to the Sydney Institute: “There are surgeons and medical practitioners who view super as their personal river of gold.

“They are encouraging, and even pressuring, patients to tap into their super for what might be termed life‑enhancing procedures like cosmetic surgery,” he said.

“There are business models set up to game the system. It is greedy.”

A spokesperson for the minister said he stood by the comments, and that the objective of superannuation was “to preserve savings to deliver income for a dignified retirement”.

The spokesperson said ATO data could not be examined at a more granular level to determine the process that led to the release of funds, but said the minister had been approached by “concerned stakeholders” concerned that “individuals are actively encouraged to access their super to pay for medical procedures”.

An ATO spokesperson said staff thoroughly reviewed every application to determine whether they met a lawful ground for release of funds.

But the scheme “appropriately and necessarily relies on the professional ethics of medical professionals to provide accurate reports”, the spokesperson said. “ATO staff are not equipped, or required, to question a patient’s diagnosis or the required treatment strategy.

“It would be deeply inappropriate for the ATO to interfere in the relationship between a patient and their medical professional and double-guess a diagnosis.”

The chief executive of the Australian Dental Association, Damian Mitsch, said if people could not access dental care unless they dipped into superannuation it was “indicative of a healthcare system in which some people are desperate and unable to afford essential care”.

“Our advice to Australians is that accessing superannuation can have long term financial effects … people should properly understand what the long term financial impact is before agreeing to sign off on a superannuation withdrawal.”

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Julie Bishop ‘deeply honoured’ to be appointed UN special envoy for Myanmar

Former Australian foreign minister named as secretary general António Guterres’ special envoy to country gripped by civil war

The former Australian foreign minister Julie Bishop has been appointed the United Nations secretary general António Guterres’ special envoy on Myanmar, the world body has said.

Bishop, the Australian National University’s chancellor, will take up the UN role that has been vacant since June last year, when Singaporean diplomat Noeleen Heyzer stepped down.

The UN said in a statement that Bishop had “extensive policy, legal and senior management experience”.

“I am deeply honoured to be appointed special envoy of the secretary general of the United Nations on Myanmar to help deliver on the mandate of the general assembly and the security council resolution of December 2022,” Bishop said in a statement.

The foreign minister, Penny Wong, welcomed the news on Saturday morning.

“Ms Bishop brings a wealth of experience to the role and her appointment comes at a critical time as the political, humanitarian and security situation in Myanmar continues to worsen,” she said.

“The people of Myanmar continue to demonstrate great resolve in the face of unspeakable violence and human rights abuses, and Australia remains resolute in our support for them.”

Wong said the special envoy played a vital role in sustaining international attention and supporting coordinated efforts towards a peaceful resolution in the troubled south-east Asian nation.

Australia would work closely with Bishop, Asean and the international community to build conditions for sustainable peace, she said.

Wong also reiterated the government’s call for the Myanmar regime to “cease violence against civilians, release those unjustly detained, allow safe and unimpeded access for humanitarian assistance and return Myanmar to the path of inclusive democracy”.

The ANU vice-chancellor, Prof Genevieve Bell, also congratulated Bishop on the appointment.

“As Australia’s first female foreign minister, Julie made an incredible contribution to global politics,” Bell said.

“Now, she’s adding special envoy to her illustrious career in global diplomacy. This is a well-deserved recognition of her significant impact on contemporary international relations.”

Myanmar has been in crisis since the army took power from Aung Suu Kyi’s elected government on 1 February 2021.

The country is locked in a civil war between the military on one side and, on the other, a loose alliance of ethnic minority rebels and an armed resistance movement spawned out of the junta’s crackdown on anti-coup protests.

Bishop was Australia’s foreign minister from 2013 to 2018 under prime ministers Tony Abbott, Malcolm Turnbull and Scott Morrison.

She was deputy leader of the Liberal party from 2007 to 2018, before retiring from politics in April 2019.

Bishop became chancellor of ANU in January 2020. She will continue in that role, while also undertaking her work with the UN.

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Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson says he will not repeat Joe Biden endorsement

Wrestler and actor endorsed president and Kamala Harris in 2020 but tells Fox News that for 2024 he will ‘keep my politics to myself’

The wrestler turned action star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson dealt a blow to Joe Biden, saying he would not repeat his endorsement of the president in his looming rematch with Donald Trump.

Johnson endorsed Biden in his first contest with Trump four years ago, saluting the former vice-president and senator for his “compassion, heart, drive and soul”.

But in an interview with Fox News on Friday, Johnson said: “Am I going to do that again this year? That answer’s no. I realise now going into this election, I will not do that.”

Long the subject of rumours about his own political ambitions, Johnson reportedly fielded an approach from No Labels, the centrist group that now says it will not run a candidate against Biden and Trump.

Johnson has not disavowed talk of running for office. In 2021, after a poll showed public support, he said: “I don’t think our Founding Fathers EVER envisioned a six-four, bald, tattooed, half-Black, half-Samoan, tequila drinking, pick-up truck driving, fanny pack-wearing guy joining their club – but if it ever happens it’d be my honour to serve you, the people.”

Last year, he said the same poll led “the parties” to his door.

“That was an interesting poll that happened and I was really moved by that,” Johnson told a podcast. “I was really blown away and I was really honoured. I’ll share this little bit with you: at the end of the year in 2022, I got a visit from the parties asking me if I was going to run, and if I could run.

“It was a big deal, and it came out of the blue. It was one after the other, and they brought up that poll, and they also brought up their own deep-dive research that would prove that should I ever go down that road [I’d be a real contender]. It was all very surreal because that’s never been my goal. My goal has never been to be in politics. As a matter of fact, there’s a lot about politics that I hate.”

Johnson overcame that hatred in September 2020, when he endorsed Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris.

“You guys are both experienced to lead, you’ve done great things,” Johnson said.

“Joe, you’ve had such an incredible career, and you’ve led with such great compassion, heart, drive, and soul … Kamala, you have been a district attorney, a state attorney, a US senator. You are smart and tough. I have seen you in those hearings.”

Biden beat Trump convincingly but four years on, Johnson told Fox News: “Am I happy with the state of America right now? Well, that answer’s no. Do I believe we’re gonna get better? I believe in that – I’m an optimistic guy. And I believe we can do better.

“The endorsement that I made years ago with Biden was what I thought was the best decision for me at that time. I thought back then, when we talked about, ‘Hey, you know, I’m in this position where I have some influence,’ and it was my job then … to exercise my influence and share … who I’m going to endorse.”

Johnson also said his “goal is to bring this country together” but said he would “keep my politics to myself”.

“It is between me and the ballot box,” he said. “Like a lot of us out there, not trusting of all politicians, I do trust the American people and whoever they vote for that is my president and who I will support 100%.”

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Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson says he will not repeat Joe Biden endorsement

Wrestler and actor endorsed president and Kamala Harris in 2020 but tells Fox News that for 2024 he will ‘keep my politics to myself’

The wrestler turned action star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson dealt a blow to Joe Biden, saying he would not repeat his endorsement of the president in his looming rematch with Donald Trump.

Johnson endorsed Biden in his first contest with Trump four years ago, saluting the former vice-president and senator for his “compassion, heart, drive and soul”.

But in an interview with Fox News on Friday, Johnson said: “Am I going to do that again this year? That answer’s no. I realise now going into this election, I will not do that.”

Long the subject of rumours about his own political ambitions, Johnson reportedly fielded an approach from No Labels, the centrist group that now says it will not run a candidate against Biden and Trump.

Johnson has not disavowed talk of running for office. In 2021, after a poll showed public support, he said: “I don’t think our Founding Fathers EVER envisioned a six-four, bald, tattooed, half-Black, half-Samoan, tequila drinking, pick-up truck driving, fanny pack-wearing guy joining their club – but if it ever happens it’d be my honour to serve you, the people.”

Last year, he said the same poll led “the parties” to his door.

“That was an interesting poll that happened and I was really moved by that,” Johnson told a podcast. “I was really blown away and I was really honoured. I’ll share this little bit with you: at the end of the year in 2022, I got a visit from the parties asking me if I was going to run, and if I could run.

“It was a big deal, and it came out of the blue. It was one after the other, and they brought up that poll, and they also brought up their own deep-dive research that would prove that should I ever go down that road [I’d be a real contender]. It was all very surreal because that’s never been my goal. My goal has never been to be in politics. As a matter of fact, there’s a lot about politics that I hate.”

Johnson overcame that hatred in September 2020, when he endorsed Biden and his running mate, Kamala Harris.

“You guys are both experienced to lead, you’ve done great things,” Johnson said.

“Joe, you’ve had such an incredible career, and you’ve led with such great compassion, heart, drive, and soul … Kamala, you have been a district attorney, a state attorney, a US senator. You are smart and tough. I have seen you in those hearings.”

Biden beat Trump convincingly but four years on, Johnson told Fox News: “Am I happy with the state of America right now? Well, that answer’s no. Do I believe we’re gonna get better? I believe in that – I’m an optimistic guy. And I believe we can do better.

“The endorsement that I made years ago with Biden was what I thought was the best decision for me at that time. I thought back then, when we talked about, ‘Hey, you know, I’m in this position where I have some influence,’ and it was my job then … to exercise my influence and share … who I’m going to endorse.”

Johnson also said his “goal is to bring this country together” but said he would “keep my politics to myself”.

“It is between me and the ballot box,” he said. “Like a lot of us out there, not trusting of all politicians, I do trust the American people and whoever they vote for that is my president and who I will support 100%.”

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Top Israeli spy chief exposes his true identity in online security lapse

Exclusive: Yossi Sariel unmasked as head of Unit 8200 and architect of AI strategy after book written under pen name reveals his Google account

The identity of the commander of Israel’s Unit 8200 is a closely guarded secret. He occupies one of the most sensitive roles in the military, leading one of the world’s most powerful surveillance agencies, comparable to the US National Security Agency.

Yet after spending more than two decades operating in the shadows, the Guardian can reveal how the controversial spy chief – whose name is Yossi Sariel – has left his identity exposed online.

The embarrassing security lapse is linked to a book he published on Amazon, which left a digital trail to a private Google account created in his name, along with his unique ID and links to the account’s maps and calendar profiles.

The Guardian has confirmed with multiple sources that Sariel is the secret author of The Human Machine Team, a book in which he offers a radical vision for how artificial intelligence can transform the relationship between military personnel and machines.

Published in 2021 using a pen name composed of his initials, Brigadier General YS, it provides a blueprint for the advanced AI-powered systems that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have been pioneering during the six-month war in Gaza.

An electronic version of the book included an anonymous email address that can easily be traced to Sariel’s name and Google account. Contacted by the Guardian, an IDF spokesperson said the email address was not Sariel’s personal one, but “dedicated specifically for issues to do with the book itself”.

Later on Friday, in a statement to the Israeli media, the IDF described the book’s exposure of Sariel’s personal details as “a mistake”, adding: “The issue will be examined to prevent the recurrence of similar cases in the future.”

The security blunder is likely to place further pressure on Sariel, who is said to “live and breathe” intelligence but whose tenure running the IDF’s elite cyber intelligence division has become mired in controversy.

Unit 8200, once revered within Israel and beyond for intelligence capabilities that rivalled those of the UK’s GCHQ, is thought to have built a vast surveillance apparatus to closely monitor the Palestinian territories.

However, it has been criticised over its failure to foresee and prevent Hamas’s deadly 7 October assault last year on southern Israel, in which Palestinian militants killed nearly 1,200 Israelis and kidnapped about 240 people.

Since the Hamas-led attacks, there have been accusations that Unit 8200’s “technological hubris” came at the expense of more conventional intelligence-gathering techniques.

In its war in Gaza, the IDF appears to have fully embraced Sariel’s vision of the future, in which military technology represents a new frontier where AI is being used to fulfil increasingly complex tasks on the battlefield.

Sariel argued in the published book three years ago that his ideas about using machine learning to transform modern warfare should become mainstream. “We just need to take them from the periphery and deliver them to the centre of the stage,” he wrote.

One section of the book heralds the concept of an AI-powered “targets machine”, descriptions of which closely resemble the target recommendation systems the IDF is now known have been relying upon in its bombardment of Gaza.

Over the last six months, the IDF has deployed multiple AI-powered decision support systems that have been rapidly developed and refined by Unit 8200 under Sariel’s leadership.

They include the Gospel and Lavender, two target recommendation systems that have been revealed in reports by the Israeli-Palestinian publication +972 magazine, its Hebrew-language outlet Local Call and the Guardian.

The IDF says its AI systems are intended to assist human intelligence officers, who are required to verify that military suspects are legitimate targets under international law. A spokesperson said the military used “various types of tools and methods”, adding: “Evidently, there are tools that exist in order to benefit intelligence researchers that are based on artificial intelligence.”

Targets machine

On Wednesday, +972 and Local Call placed the spotlight on the link between Unit 8200 and the book authored by a mysteriously named Brigadier General YS.

Sariel is understood to have written the book with the IDF’s permission after a year as a visiting researcher at the US National Defense University in Washington DC, where he made the case for using AI to transform modern warfare.

Aimed at high-ranking military commanders and security officials, the book articulates a “human-machine teaming” concept that seeks to achieve synergy between humans and AI, rather than constructing fully autonomous systems.

It reflects Sariel’s ambition to become a “thought leader”, according to one former intelligence official. In the 2000s, he was a leading member of a group of academically minded spies known as “the Choir”, which agitated for an overhaul of Israeli intelligence practices.

An Israeli press report suggests that by 2017 he was head of intelligence for the IDF’s central command. His subsequent elevation to commander of Unit 8200 amounted to an endorsement by the military establishment of his technological vision for the future.

Sariel refers in the book to “a revolution” in recent years within the IDF, which has “developed a new concept of intelligence centric warfare to connect intelligence to the fighters in the field”. He advocates going further still, fully merging intelligence and warfare, in particular when conducting lethal targeting operations.

In one chapter of the book, he provides a template for how to construct an effective targets machine drawing on “big data” that a human brain could not process. “The machine needs enough data regarding the battlefield, the population, visual information, cellular data, social media connections, pictures, cellphone contacts,” he writes. “The more data and the more varied it is, the better.”

Such a targets machine, he said, would draw on complex models that make predictions built “on lots of small, diverse features”, listing examples such as “people who are with a Hezbollah member in a WhatsApp group, people who get new cellphones every few months, those who change their addresses frequently”.

He argues that using AI to create potential military targets can be more efficient and avoid “bottlenecks” created by intelligence officials or soldiers. “There is a human bottleneck for both locating the new targets and decision-making to approve the targets. There is also the bottleneck of how to process a great amount of data. Then there is the bottleneck of connecting the intelligence to the fire.” He adds: “A team consisting of machines and investigators can blast the bottleneck wide open.”

Intelligence divide

Disclosure of Sariel’s security lapse comes at a difficult time for the intelligence boss. In February, he came under public scrutiny in Israel when the Israeli newspaper Maariv published an account of recriminations within Unit 8200 after the 7 October attacks.

Sariel was not named in the article, which referred to Unit 8200’s commander only as “Y”. However, the rare public criticism brought into focus a divide within Israel’s intelligence community over its biggest failure in a generation.

Sariel’s critics, the report said, believe Unit 8200’s prioritisation of “addictive and exciting” technology over more old-fashioned intelligence methods had led to the disaster. One veteran official told the newspaper the unit under Sariel had “followed the new intelligence bubble”.

For his part, Sariel is quoted as telling colleagues that 7 October will “haunt him” until his last day. “I accept responsibility for what happened in the most profound sense of the word,” he said. “We were defeated. I was defeated.”

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Trump’s legal delaying tactics dealt a blow as he lashes out at judge’s family

New York hush-money trial still on course for 15 April start but ruling in classified documents case has prosecutors concerned

Donald Trump faced mounting trouble this week in his legal universe, with judges overseeing two of Trump’s legal cases refusing to accept his attempts to delay and toss the prosecution – and the former president doubling down on efforts to discredit his opponents.

The judge overseeing Trump’s criminal trial in New York expanded a gag order on Monday, which had originally banned Donald Trump from making public statements about court staff, trial witnesses or the families of any counsel or staff member on the case. The narrower gag order did not prohibit Trump from making statements about family members of the judge, and after Judge Juan Merchan issued it, the former president took to social media to attack the judge’s daughter.

“His Daughter,” wrote Trump on the social media platform Truth Social, “is a Rabid Trump Hater,” identifying her by name.

The new gag order would now prevent him from making statements like that – but Trump’s abusive commentary about her, and others involved with his trial has probably already prompted threats and harassment.

In a court filing revealed on Tuesday, Trump also motioned for Merchan to recuse himself from the case, alleging his daughter’s consulting work for Democratic clients was a conflict of interest.

“It can no longer be ignored that Authentic’s commercial interests are benefited by developments in this case,” wrote Trump’s lawyers in the filing.

This is the second time Trump has attempted to oust the judge over his daughter’s work; last year, an ethics panel reviewed a similar argument by Trump’s legal team but found Merchan’s daughter and her firm did not pose a conflict of interest.

Merchan denied on 3 April Trump’s last-minute attempt to delay the trial until the supreme court rules on presidential immunity claims that arising out of a separate case.

The trial – over Trump’s efforts to suppress a sex scandal ahead of the 2016 election by allegedly falsifying business records to conceal hush-money payments to the former stripper and adult film star Stormy Daniels – is set to begin on 15 April. It will be the first-ever criminal trial of a former US president.

Meanwhile, the US district judge Aileen Cannon rejected Trump’s attempt to throw out the case alleging he mishandled and illegally retained classified documents. Trump had argued he was entitled to retain the documents under the Presidential Records Act; Cannon rejected his bid to toss the case on grounds the charges “make no reference to the Presidential Records Act, nor do they rely on that statute for purposes of stating an offense”, she wrote.

Her finding nonetheless leaves open the possibility for Trump to use the theory that he had legitimately retained the documents under the Presidential Records Act, setting her on a collision course with the Department of Justice’s special counsel Jack Smith, who has called the Presidential Records Act theory a “fundamentally flawed legal premise” and said he would appeal to a higher court if the judge recognizes the theory.

Cannon has slow-walked the case over Trump’s alleged illegal retention of classified documents, which FBI agents uncovered at Mar-a-Lago in August 2022. Prosecutors hoped to begin the trial in July, but Cannon has not yet set a trial date, allowing Trump to postpone filing pre-trial motions required for it to commence.

That’s a win for Trump, who has sought to delay his numerous prosecutions ahead of the 2024 presidential election.

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Romeo & Juliet theatre star suffers ‘barrage’ of online racial abuse

Jamie Lloyd Company says abuse came after cast list made public for show with Tom Holland and Francesca Amewudah-Rivers

A theatre company has condemned the “barrage of deplorable racial abuse” that has been directed at a cast member of a new production of Romeo & Juliet.

In a statement on Friday, the Jamie Lloyd Company said the online abuse “must stop” and that further harassment would be reported. It came after the announcement of the full cast of the show, including Tom Holland and Francesca Amewudah-Rivers as Romeo and Juliet, alongside Freema Agyeman, Michael Balogun, Tomiwa Edun, Mia Jerome, Daniel Quinn-Toye and Ray Sesay.

“Following the announcement of our Romeo & Juliet cast, there has been a barrage of deplorable racial abuse online directed towards a member of our company,” the statement said. “This must stop. We are working with a remarkable group of artists. We insist that they are free to create work without facing online harassment.”

The company, run by the director Jamie Lloyd, said it would “continue to support and protect everyone in our company at all costs. Any abuse will not be tolerated and will be reported. Bullying and harassment have no place online, in our industry or in our wider communities.”

Its rehearsal room for the show was “full of joy, compassion and kindness,” the company said.

It added: “We celebrate the extraordinary talent of our incredible collaborators. The Romeo & Juliet community will continue to rehearse with generosity and love, and focus on the creation of our production.”

The play runs at the Duke of York’s Theatre from 11 May – 3 August. It will be the Spider-Man star Holland’s first major theatre role since his debut in Billy Elliot: The Musical.

Last summer, he said he was taking a break from acting after starring in the Apple TV+ series The Crowded Room, a psychological thriller that he also produced. The star has become one of Britain’s best-known young screen actors but owes his career to the stage.

Lloyd is known for mounting bold, megastar-led versions of classic plays such as Doctor Faustus with Kit Harington, Betrayal with Tom Hiddleston and The Seagull with Emilia Clarke. His new production of the musical Sunset Boulevard, with Nicole Scherzinger, recently ended a sold-out run at London’s Savoy theatre and is transferring to Broadway in September.

Last year Lloyd directed Taylor Russell and Paapa Essiedu in a revival of Lucy Prebble’s play The Effect at the National Theatre, before opening at the Shed in New York last month.

Romeo & Juliet is billed as “a pulsating new vision of Shakespeare’s immortal tale of wordsmiths, rhymers, lovers and fighters”. It is Lloyd’s first Shakespeare production since he staged Richard III at Trafalgar Studios in 2014, with Martin Freeman in the lead role.

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Briton says becoming world’s oldest man at 111 is ‘pure luck’

John Alfred Tinniswood, who was born in 1912 in Liverpool, acquired the title after Japan’s Gisaburo Sonobe, 112, died in March

An 111-year-old man from England is now the world’s oldest living man and says the only diet he follows is eating fish and chips every Friday.

John Alfred Tinniswood, who was born in 1912 – the same year the Titanic sank – insist the secret to his long life is “pure luck”. He obtained the title of world’s oldest man after 112-year-old Gisaburo Sonobe, from Japan, was confirmed to have died on 31 March.

Reflecting on his longevity, Tinniswood told Guinness World Records: “You either live long or you live short, and you can’t do much about it.”

Tinniswood, who is a great-grandfather, was born in Liverpool and now lives in a care home in Southport. Having become the UK’s oldest man in 2020, Tinniswood is unfazed by his newfound status as the oldest man in the world.

“Doesn’t make any difference to me,” he said. “Not at all. I accept it for what it is.”

Since turning 100 in 2012, he received a birthday card each year from the late Queen Elizabeth, who was his junior by almost 14 years. Giving advice for younger generations, he said: “Always do the best you can, whether you’re learning something or whether you’re teaching someone.

“Give it all you’ve got. Otherwise it’s not worth bothering with.”

He said that he gets a fish supper each Friday at the home, adding: “I eat what they give me and so does everybody else. I don’t have a special diet.

“If you drink too much or you eat too much or you walk too much, if you do too much of anything, you’re going to suffer eventually.”

Tinniswood can still perform most daily tasks independently – he gets out of bed unassisted, listens to the radio to keep up with the news and still manages his own finances.

He lived through both world wars and is the world’s oldest surviving male veteran of the second world war, as he worked in an administrative role for the Army Pay Corps.

In addition to accounts and auditing, his work involved logistical tasks such as locating stranded soldiers and organising food supplies.

A lifelong Liverpool FC fan, Tinniswood was born just 20 years after the club was founded in 1892 and has lived through all eight of his club’s FA Cup wins and 17 of their 19 league title wins.

When asked how the world around him has changed throughout his life, Tinniswood said: “The world, in its way, is always changing.

“It’s a sort of ongoing experience … It’s getting a little better but not all that much yet. It’s going the right way.”

He met his wife, Blodwen, at a dance in Liverpool and the couple enjoyed 44 years together before she died in 1986.

The oldest man ever was Jiroemon Kimura from Japan, who lived to the age of 116 years 54 days and died in 2013. The world’s oldest living woman and oldest living person overall is Spain’s Maria Branyas Morera, who recently celebrated her 117th birthday.

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