Protests Against US Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital Continue Friday

Protests unleashed by U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital continue in the Palestinian territories and outside U.S. missions elsewhere. Dozens have been wounded in clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian protesters in the West Bank and Gaza. Muslims in other countries took to the streets Thursday in solidarity. The violence could worsen Friday when Muslims attend weekly prayers at Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke reports.

Ford to Test New Self-driving Vehicle Technology in 2018

Ford Motor Co will begin testing its latest self-driving vehicle technology next year in at least one city but has not changed its plan to begin commercial production until 2021, the company said.

The automaker said on Thursday that it would test self-driving prototypes in various pilot programs with partners such as Lyft, the ride services company in which rival General Motors owns a minority stake, and Domino’s Pizza. However, Ford has still not decided whether to operate its own on-demand transportation service.

New business models

In a blog post, Jim Farley, president of global markets, said Ford also would test new business models that involve its self-driving vehicles, including the movement of people and goods.

GM unveiled plans last week to introduce its own on-demand ride-sharing service in several U.S. cities in 2019, using self-driving versions of the battery-powered Chevrolet Bolt.

Ford is shifting production of a future battery electric vehicle to Mexico to free up capacity at its Flat Rock, Michigan, plant to build the self-driving vehicles in 2021, according to spokesman Alan Hall.

The electric vehicle, whose more-advanced battery system will enable a driving range of more than 300 miles, will go into production in 2020 at Ford’s Cuatitlan plant, which suppliers say will also build a new hybrid crossover vehicle around the same time.

Adding 850 jobs

At the Flat Rock plant, Ford is boosting investment to $900 million from $700 million and adding 850 jobs.

Both the 2020 electric and the 2021 self-driving vehicles will draw on the next-generation Ford Focus for some of their underbody structure and components while using different propulsion systems.

Unlike the full electric vehicle from Cuatitlan, the self-driving vehicle from Flat Rock will use a hybrid system with a gasoline engine and an electric motor, Hall said.

 

Report: Ethiopia Targeted Dissidents, Journalists With International Spyware Attacks 

Since 2016, the Ethiopian government has targeted dissidents and journalists in nearly two dozen countries with spyware provided by an Israeli software company, according to a new report from Citizen Lab, a research and development group at the University of Toronto.

Once their computers are infected, victims of the attack can be monitored covertly whenever they browse the web, the report says.

Based on an in-depth analysis of the methods used to trick victims into installing the software, Citizen Lab concluded that “agencies of the Ethiopian government” deployed the spyware to target individuals critical of their policies. 

More than 40 devices in 20 countries were infected, according to Citizen Lab’s research. It’s unknown how many individuals might have been targeted.

​Full access

Citizen Lab’s report found that attackers used email to target dissidents, outspoken critics and perceived enemies by impersonating legitimate websites and software companies. In some cases, they sent messages about events related to Ethiopian politics, with links purporting to show related videos. 

Those links led to web pages that prompted victims to update their Flash Players or download “Adobe PdfWriter,” fictitious software that, in fact, led to CutePDF Writer, a tool to create PDF files.

The attackers embedded the spyware in bona fide programs by exploiting security vulnerabilities, creating the impression that recipients were installing legitimate software and coaxing them to provide the administrator-level permissions needed to activate the surveillance. Once installed, the spyware spread to additional files tied to web browsers, making the software difficult to remove and nearly always active.

Any activity on an infected computer can be monitored, and information from web searches, emails and Skype contact lists can be extracted. A remote operator can take screenshots and record audio and video from a connected webcam.

Based on information provided by WiFi networks, attackers can also track the physical location of the infected device.

“Once the government has that information, they can do things like hijacking your email account,” said Bill Marczak, a senior research fellow at Citizen Lab and lead author of the new report.

“So, they’ll sign into your email account and then use your account to target your friends and basically expand the number of targets they have,” Marczak told VOA.

Eritrean, Ethiopian dissidents among those targeted

In October 2016, the Ethiopian government declared a nearly year-long state of emergency following months of protests that spread across the country.

Those protests — and a subsequent government crackdown that resulted in more than 800 deaths, according to a 2016 report by Amnesty International — were monitored by diaspora media groups, including the Oromia Media Network. 

OMN’s executive director, Jawar Mohammed, was a confirmed target of the recently uncovered spyware attack. 

“The pattern seems to be that they were very interested in what these Oromo activists and journalists were saying, how they were working, and perhaps even whom they were talking to back in Ethiopia,” Marczak said.

The Citizen Lab report also found seven infections in Ethiopia’s neighbor and longtime rival, Eritrea, most of whom were targets with ties to Eritrean government agencies and businesses.

According to Human Rights Watch, this is at least the third spyware vendor since 2013 that Ethiopia has used to target dissidents, journalists and activists. 

Ethiopia previously used Remote Control System spyware from HackingTeam, an Italian company, to target journalists based in the United States, Citizen Lab said. It said Ethiopia also targeted dissidents using FinSpy spyware by FinFisher, a company based in Munich, Germany.

Citizen Lab’s analysis produced an unusual level of detail about the program due to the discovery of a publicly available log file with in-depth data about both the attackers and targets. After analyzing that file, Citizen Lab concluded “that the spyware’s operators are inside Ethiopia, and that victims also include various Eritrean companies and government agencies.”

Since the Israel-based spyware manufacturer was only authorized to sell their software to intelligence and law enforcement agencies, Citizen Lab concluded that the Ethiopian government was behind the attacks.

Israeli security firm

The group behind the spyware, Cyberbit, is a subsidiary of Elbit Systems, a $3 billion company that trades on the NASDAQ. Cyberbit describes itself as “a team of cybersecurity experts, who know firsthand what it means to protect high-risk organizations and manage complex incidents.”

The spyware used in the attacks uncovered by Citizen Lab is called PC Surveillance System (PSS). Cyberbit no longer lists PSS on its website, but marketing materials from 2015 describe the software as “a comprehensive solution for monitoring and extracting information from remote PCs.” 

Key features touted by Cyberbit include covert operation, the ability to bypass encryption and the ability to target devices anywhere in the world. Cyberbit marketed the product to intelligence organizations and law enforcement agencies.

Citizen Lab also determined that Cyberbit representatives contacted Zambia’s Financial Intelligence Center and potential clients in Rwanda and Nigeria.

Spying with impunity

Citizen Lab and Human Rights Watch both have raised concerns about the ease with which governments can acquire sophisticated surveillance tools to target dissidents with impunity.

According to Marczak, it’s legal to produce and sell spyware to governments and law enforcement organizations, but Cyberbit would have required approval from the Israeli government to export the software to Ethiopia.

Missing in the process, Marczak said, is careful consideration of the impact on human rights.

In their report, researchers with Citizen Lab concluded that, “The fact that PSS wound up in the hands of Ethiopian government agencies, which for many years have demonstrably misused spyware to target civil society, raises urgent questions around Cyberbit’s corporate social responsibility and due diligence efforts, and the effectiveness of Israel’s export controls in preventing human rights abuses.”

The use of spyware by governments to monitor people around the world also occupies a murky legal space.

In 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia dismissed a lawsuit filed by an American citizen born in Ethiopia. The plaintiff claimed the Ethiopian government used spyware to monitor his activities for months, but the court dismissed the case because the law allegedly broken did not apply to foreign states.

Bitcoin Worth Millions Stolen Days Before US Exchange Opens

A bitcoin mining company in Slovenia has been hacked for the possible theft of tens of millions of dollars, just days before the virtual currency, which hit a record above $15,000 on Thursday, is due to start trading on major U.S. exchanges.

NiceHash, a company that mines bitcoins on behalf of customers, said it is investigating a security breach and will stop operating for 24 hours while it verifies how many bitcoins were taken.

Research company Coindesk said that a wallet address referred to by NiceHash users indicates that about 4,700 bitcoins had been stolen. At Thursday’s record price of about $15,000, that puts the value at over $70 million.

There was no immediate response from NiceHash to an emailed request for more details.

“The incident has been reported to the relevant authorities and law enforcement and we are cooperating with them as a matter of urgency,” it said. The statement urged users to change their online passwords.

Slovenian police are investigating the case together with authorities in other states, spokesman Bostjan Lindav said, without providing details.

 

The hack will put a spotlight on the security of bitcoin just as the trading community prepares for the currency to start trading on two established U.S. exchanges. Futures for bitcoin will start trading on the Chicago Board Options Exchange on Sunday evening and on crosstown rival CME Group’s platforms later in the month.

That has increased the sense among some investors that bitcoin is gaining in mainstream legitimacy after several countries, like China, tried to stifle the virtual currency.

 

As a result, the price of bitcoin has jumped in the past year, particularly so in recent weeks. On Thursday it surged to over $15,000, up $1,300 in less than a day, according to Coindesk. At the start of the year, one bitcoin was worth less than $1,000.

 

Bitcoin is the world’s most popular virtual currency. Such currencies are not tied to a bank or government and allow users to spend money anonymously. They are basically lines of computer code that are digitally signed each time they are traded.

 

A debate is raging on the merits of such currencies. Some say they serve merely to facilitate money laundering and illicit, anonymous payments. Others say they can be helpful methods of payment, such as in crisis situations where national currencies have collapsed.

Miners of bitcoins and other virtual currencies help keep the systems honest by having their computers keep a global running tally of transactions. That prevents cheaters from spending the same digital coin twice.

 

Online security is a vital concern for such dealings.

In Japan, following the failure of a bitcoin exchange called Mt. Gox, new laws were enacted to regulate bitcoin and other virtual currencies. Mt. Gox shut down in February 2014, saying it lost about 850,000 bitcoins, possibly to hackers.

Ali Zerdin in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and Carlo Piovano in London contributed to this story.

After Trump’s Shift on Jerusalem, What’s Next for Palestinians?

The dramatic U.S. policy shift on contested Jerusalem is seen by the Western-backed Palestinian leadership as a dangerous betrayal and game changer that is bound to propel them into a risky confrontation with the U.S. and Israel on the global stage.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas hasn’t decided yet whether to formally abandon U.S.-led negotiations with Israel, a troubled process that after two decades has failed to bring the Palestinians closer to statehood. However, those close to Abbas say a Mideast era of stop-and-go negotiations and Washington’s monopoly as mediator is now over.

Here is a look at what could come next.

Why Jerusalem matters

Trump’s recognition Wednesday of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital contradicts longstanding international assurances to the Palestinians that the fate of the holy city will be determined in negotiations. With Trump’s sharp pivot, the U.S. is seen as siding with Israel, which claims all of Jerusalem, including the Israeli-annexed eastern sector the Palestinians seek as a future capital.

The dispute over Jerusalem forms the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but transcends a mere real estate argument. The city, home to Judaism’s holiest site, is also sacred to billions of Muslims and Christians worldwide, and perceived slights to their claims have triggered major protests or violence in the past.

​Abbas’ response so far

Abbas has been trying to rally international support, reaching out to leaders from Pope Francis to the EU foreign policy chief and Arab leaders. He warned Trump in a phone call that the U.S. shift will rock the region and threaten Washington’s plans for a Mideast peace deal.

In a speech after Trump’s announcement, Abbas said the U.S. has effectively removed itself from any role as a Mideast broker, but he did not say what immediate steps, if any, the Palestinians plan to take.

Abbas is to hold internal consultations with officials from the Palestine Liberation Organization and his Fatah party, and plans to meet Thursday with his closest Arab ally, King Abdullah II of Jordan.

A moment of truth?

The crisis over Jerusalem may push Abbas, the most steadfast Palestinian champion of seeking statehood through negotiations, to a point he avoided for so long — acknowledgment that the peace process isn’t working, at least in its current format.

Critics have argued that endless negotiations mainly serve Israel by providing diplomatic cover for its expansion of settlements on war-won lands. Abbas also derived some political legitimacy from the process, positioning himself as the only leader with a shot at delivering statehood.

Trump says he remains committed to brokering a Mideast deal, despite the Jerusalem pivot. However, those close to Abbas say it’s time to look for alternatives.

Any talks with U.S. officials are now “superfluous and irrelevant,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a senior PLO official. “The peace process is finished.”

Abbas has warned in the past that a failure to achieve a so-called two-state solution could prompt Palestinians to pursue a single state for two peoples, a prospect most Israelis reject.

The Palestinian leader may be reluctant to break away from his longstanding policies or lack the political courage to do so, but not shifting course now would be worse, said analyst Bassem Zbaidi.

“It’s time for the Palestinians to say no before coming under pressure to accept” future U.S. proposals that could fall far short of their minimal demands, he said.

​Other options?

Some PLO and Fatah officials suggested shifting from cooperation with the U.S. and avoidance of conflict with Israel to a more confrontational approach.

Fatah supports halting contacts with the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, closing the PLO office in Washington and filing a complaint against the U.S. at the U.N. Security Council over plans to start a multiyear process of moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, said senior Fatah official Nasser al-Kidwa.

The Palestinians could also try to press prosecutors at the International Criminal Court to charge Israeli leaders with war crimes, including over settlement building, others said.

Abbas has refrained from such a step until now, under apparent U.S. pressure.

The International Criminal Court prosecutor is currently conducting a preliminary examination of the situation in the Palestinian territories, but this is a more open-ended review and could take years. The probe was triggered by “Palestine” becoming a member state of the court. The status change, in turn, was made possible by the 2012 U.N. General Assembly recognition of a state of Palestine in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, the lands Israel captured in 1967.

 

WATCH: In Controversial Announcement, Trump Recognizes Jerusalem as Capital of Israel

Help from Europe?

The Palestinians are increasingly looking to Europe for help, encouraged by the harsh criticism of Trump’s Jerusalem policy by European leaders.

European states in the past were relegated by Washington to the role of paymaster, sending hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to support the Palestinian self-rule government and help manage the long-running conflict.

European states often take a more critical view of Israeli policies than the U.S, especially on settlements, but have failed to challenge Washington’s monopoly as mediator.

Palestinians now hope the growing rift between European leaders and the U.S. over Jerusalem will earn them diplomatic points. An immediate goal is to persuade influential Western European countries to recognize a state of Palestine.

Risk or opportunity?

For Palestinians, Trump’s policy shift offers both risk and opportunity.

Jerusalem has repeatedly been a flashpoint for violence, and Palestinian protest marches planned later this week could lead to clashes with Israeli troops.

Such confrontations can spin out of control, as they did more than a decade ago when they escalated into an armed uprising. Abbas staunchly opposes violence as counterproductive, but he may not be able to contain widespread public anger.

Some say Trump’s policy shift may create a moment of clarity and help end years of paralysis by making it impossible to perpetuate the idea that statehood is possible under the old paradigm.

“That option is now off the table and that’s a good thing,” said Diana Buttu, a former legal adviser of the Palestinian self-rule government. “This had really held us up for so many years.”

DACA Decision in Jeopardy as Government Shutdown Looms

An increasingly uncertain battle over funding the U.S. government until the end of the year has complicated the future of almost 800,000 undocumented young people brought to the U.S. as children. A permanent legislative fix for the DACA program will be just one of several end-of-year legislative items on the agenda as congressional Democratic leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi meet with President Trump Thursday.

Trump’s Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital Gets Negative Reactions

U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has met with criticism in the Arab world as well as in Europe and elsewhere. In a speech Wednesday, Trump described the move as a “long overdue step” after his predecessors failed to abide by the 22-year-old U.S. pledge to Israel. But the status of Jerusalem is a contentious issue many believe should be negotiated between the Israelis and the Palestinians. VOA’s Zlatica Hoke has more.

7 Years in Prison for Former Top Volkswagen Manager  

A federal judge in Michigan has sentenced a former high-level Volkswagen manager to seven years in prison for his part in the scheme to cheat emissions tests and defraud consumers.

Oliver Schmidt has also been fined $400,000. He pleaded guilty in August to charges that included defrauding the United States and violating the Clean Air Act.

“This sentence reflects how seriously we take environmental crime,” Acting U.S. Attorney Daniel Lemisch said Wednesday. “Protecting national resources is a priority of this office. Corporations and individuals acting on behalf of corporations will be brought to justice for harming our environment.”

Schmidt was the general manager of Volkswagen’s U.S. Environment and Engineering office. He admitted knowing about and agreeing with engineers to carry out a scheme to install a device on certain VW diesel vehicles that would switch on for emissions tests, but switch off during normal driving.

Customers bought the cars believing they were environmentally friendly when in fact the cars were polluting as much as 30 times higher than U.S. standards.

Federal courts have ordered Volkswagen to spend more than $1 billion to buy back or repair the affected cars.

China’s Ofo Joins Crowded Paris Bike-share Market

China’s Ofo launched its dockless bicycles in Paris on Wednesday, becoming the fourth bike-sharing plan operator in a city set to banish all combustion-engine cars by 2030.

Ofo France general manager Laurent Kennel told Reuters the firm, one of two bike-sharing giants in China, had put just over 100 of its bright yellow bicycles on Paris roads on Wednesday and plans to ramp that up to 1,000 bikes by year-end.

Ofo comes hot on the wheels of Hong Kong-owned Gobee.bike, which launched in October and whose bright green bikes, estimated at a few thousand, can be seen on every Paris street.

A third Asian player, Singapore-owned oBike, has a few hundred bikes on Paris streets, and will also compete with the city’s long-established Velib plan.

Unlike the dockless Asian bikes, the Velib bikes must be parked in fixed docking stations of which there are some 1,800 in Paris, but which are often full in popular parts of the city.

“We want to be leader in free-floating bikes in Paris and France,” Kennel said.

He added that to cover Paris well, the firm plans to put several thousand bikes on the road, although there are no immediate plans to match Velib’s 24,000 bicycles.

Like Velib, the Ofo bikes have three gears – unlike the gearless Gobee and oBike bikes – but will be slightly more expensive at 0.50 euros ($0.6) per 20 minutes, compared to 0.50 euros for 30 minutes for the other two Asian operators.

Ofo’s bikes will be free for the first 40 minutes until the end of the year. Velib is free the first half hour for users with a subscription.

Kennel said Ofo operate more than 10 million bikes in 200 cities worldwide, the vast majority in China, and a few thousand in Europe, including in Milan, Madrid, Vienna, Prague, London and Cambridge.

Ofo, which has raised more than $1 billion from Chinese venture capitalists, including Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., will cooperate with Paris city authorities, which have said they want to regulate the dockless bike plans to prevent chaos on Paris sidewalks.

The dockless bikes can be found and unlocked with a mobile phone app, and after use they can be left anywhere. So far there have been no pile-ups as have been seen on Chinese roads.

The new Asian bike share operators’ entry into the Paris market is well timed, as longtime Velib operator JCDecaux is replaced by the Smoovengo consortium, which won a 600-700 million euro ($700-$825 million) contract to run the Paris city bike-sharing system from 2018 to 2032.

Dozens of Velib docking stations have been out of order for weeks as Velib’s old docking stations are replaced with Smoovengo’s new stations.

The Paris city government is building more bike lanes as it tries to reduce automobile traffic in a bid to cut pollution.

($1 = 0.8486 euros)