LOS ANGELES (AP) — Disappearing messaging platform Snapchat is winding down its own channel for original content called Snap Channel, with layoffs potentially affecting about a dozen people, although they could be rehired in other roles.
The Los Angeles-based company closed the channel at the end of last month and subsequently decided not to reopen it. While the app gained popularity because of its disappearing videos, photos and text messages, the company also made a foray into providing news content with the launch of its Discover platform in January.
That section of the app serves up swipe-friendly content from publishers like Comedy Central, National Geographic and CNN, interspersed with ads.
A Snapchat Inc. spokeswoman said Snap Channel is winding down, but did not rule out future plans to produce original content.
JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel’s prime minister on Tuesday said he would take a series of “aggressive steps” to halt a wave of violence in Israeli cities after two attacks in Jerusalem left three Israelis dead. Three Palestinians, including two attackers, were also killed.
The attacks in Jerusalem, including a deadly shooting and knifing spree on a bus and a violent hacking attack caught on video, escalated the monthlong unrest and raised the pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take action. The government has been unable to stop the violence, carried out mostly by young Palestinians unaffiliated with known militant groups and apparently acting on their own.
“Today we will decide on a series of additional aggressive steps in our war against terrorists and inciters,” Netanyahu said in a speech to parliament. “We will use, and not hesitate to use, all means at our disposal to restore calm.”
Netanyahu left a meeting of top security officials to deliver the speech, and quickly returned. The deliberations continued into the early hours of Wednesday morning when Netanyahu’s office announced that several new measures were approved.
It said that police are now authorized to “to impose a closure on, or to surround, centers of friction and incitement in Jerusalem, in accordance with security considerations.” Many of the recent attackers were from Arab areas in Jerusalem.
It also announced that “the permanent residency rights of terrorists will be revoked” and that “property of terrorists who perpetrate attacks will be confiscated.”
In addition, military units will reinforce police in some areas. Hundreds of security guards will be recruited to secure public transportation, it said.
The violence erupted last month over the Jewish New Year, fueled by rumors that Israel was plotting to take over Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site. While Israel says the rumors are unfounded, clashes have quickly spread across Israel and into the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Eight Israelis have died in a string of stabbings, shootings and the stoning of a car, while 29 Palestinians — including 12 identified by Israel as attackers — have been killed. In new bloodshed, a 27-year-old Palestinian man was shot dead in a protest in the West Bank town of Bethlehem. The Israeli military said he was hurling a firebomb at a car.
The attacks have caused a sense of panic across Israel and raised fears that the region is on the cusp of a new round of heavy violence.
The violence also comes at a time when prospects for negotiating an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict appear nil and appears to have been fueled by a deep sense of frustration among Palestinians, who believe that all paths to gaining independence and ending nearly half a century of Israeli occupation have been blocked.
In Tuesday’s violence, a pair of Palestinian men boarded a bus and began shooting and stabbing passengers, while another assailant rammed a car into a bus stop, then got out of his vehicle and began hacking bystanders with a long knife.
The near-simultaneous attacks, along with two stabbings in the central Israeli city of Raanana, marked the most serious outbreak of violence since the current round of tensions erupted.
In the bus attack, police said a 60-year-old man was killed, and a second person who was wounded later died. One of the attackers was shot dead and the second attacker was subdued by a crowd.
Israeli police released footage showing the second attack, in which the Palestinian man rammed his car into pedestrians, then got out and hacked at them with a machete-like weapon. One person was killed, and the attacker was shot. Police said the attacker, who worked for Israel’s largest telecommunications group Bezeq and used his company car in the attack, later died of his wounds.
Such videos have played an important role in the unrest, with each side interpreting the images in drastically different ways.
On Tuesday, Palestinian social media was alight with a video of a 13-year-old Palestinian boy who was run over after stabbing and critically wounding an Israeli boy the same age. The video did not show the original attack, and only showed the boy writhing on the ground as a crowd of people cursed at him and called for him to be killed. The boy survived and was treated at an Israeli hospital.
Other amateur videos of shootings have popped up in which Palestinians say suspects were needlessly gunned down.
Netanyahu has repeatedly accused Palestinian and Islamic leaders of incitement and spreading lies. “I tell the Palestinian Authority, do not turn murderers into heroes,” he said.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has spoken out against violence, but he is deeply unpopular with his public due to the failure of peace talks and lack of hope for finding a diplomatic solution to the conflict. He also cannot be seen as abandoning what the Palestinians view as their defense of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Defense Secretary Ash Carter says the U.S. is nearing an agreement in its discussions with Russia about flight safety in the skies over Syria, and talks may conclude soon.
Carter says Pentagon officials and Russian leaders will have their third videoconference on the issue Wednesday, as U.S.-led coalition and Russian aircraft try to avoid collisions when they launch airstrikes into Syria. Carter says the talks on professional conduct in the air are progressing.
Army Col. Steve Warren, U.S. military spokesman in Baghdad, says U.S. and Russian aircraft came within sight of each other over Syria on Saturday, but they were miles apart and the pilots behaved professionally. He says more often Russia aircraft have flown near U.S. drones, perhaps to get a closer look at the high-tech aircraft.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The brother of Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post journalist detained in Iran and convicted in secret, described his brother’s imprisonment as “cruel and inhumane” Tuesday and called on the U.S. government to take “any appropriate actions” to win his freedom.
Ali Rezaian told The Associated Press in an interview in Washington that the charges were “trumped up” and there was no evidence that his brother tried to access security information.
Iran’s judiciary spokesman confirmed the verdict on state TV Sunday, saying the ruling is eligible for appeal within 20 days, but gave no indication of what punishment the 39-year-old Iranian-American journalist could face. Rezaian has been detained in Iran for 14 months on charges including espionage. He reportedly faces up to 20 years in prison.
Ali Rezaian said there was no reason for his brother to be in prison, and that the family has received no information about the verdict.
“I would call it unjust, I would call it cruel and inhumane, I would say Jason’s lost 14 months of his life, half of his marriage, to being held without any evidence on charges that are completely trumped up,” Rezaian said.
Jason Rezaian, the Post’s Tehran bureau chief since 2012, grew up in Marin County, California, and spent most of his life in the United States. He holds both American and Iranian citizenship. He was detained with his wife, also a journalist, and two photojournalists on July 22, 2014. All were later released except Rezaian.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Tuesday the U.S. government has not heard of Rezaian’s conviction “through official channels” and that there has been no formal announcement about it. He slammed the proceedings against Rezaian and other U.S. citizens detained in Iran as a “sham process.”
Rezaian’s incarceration and trial played out against the backdrop of negotiations between Iran and five world powers, including the U.S., that resulted in an agreement for Iran to curb its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
Secretary of State John Kerry said Tuesday that “not a meeting went by when we did not raise the issue of our citizens being held in Iran” during the nuclear talks. But he defended the U.S. strategy of not linking their fate to the nuclear negotiations and said that the families knew why it was important to not to hold the agreement hostage. He said that to have done so could have resulted in nothing happening on either front.
“I think it was the right strategy to pursue,” Kerry said in Boston.
Kerry said the administration is tracking extremely closely the news coming out of Iran about Rezaian and called on Iran to release the detained Americans, drop all the charges, and allow them to be reunited with their families.
American and Iranian officials have said they discussed Rezaian’s detention and that of two other Americans, former U.S. Marine Amir Hekmati of Flint, Michigan, and Christian pastor Saeed Abedini of Boise, Idaho, during the nuclear talks. The U.S. also says it has asked for the Iranian government’s assistance in finding former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who went missing in 2007 while working for the CIA on an unapproved intelligence mission.
Asked about the possibility, aired by Iranian officials, that Rezaian could be swapped for Iranian prisoners in the U.S., his brother Ali said: “His fate shouldn’t be tied to anybody else, but that being said if that’s what needs to happen then I think the (U.S.) government should take any appropriate actions to try and get him out.”
Associated Press video journalist Emily Roseman and writer Darlene Superville in Washington, and writer Steve LeBlanc in Boston contributed to this report.
BALTIMORE (AP) — Baltimore police are investigating the arrest of a man shown in a video during which an onlooker says an officer has spit on the man.
In addition to the bystander’s observation, interim Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said the video shows the officer’s body and head move forward in a way that indicates he may have spit on the man under arrest, handcuffed and on the ground Monday night.
“Any reasonable person can look at that video from last night and come away with concerns,” Davis said.
Everything about the alleged spitting, the arrest itself and the disorderly conduct and assault charges against the man is undergoing a “full-blown internal investigation,” Davis said.
The officer is subject to an internal affairs investigation and is on administrative leave.
David said police want to talk with anyone who was present and investigators would like to see any additional video. Baltimore police will begin wearing body cameras later this month.
Davis said he doesn’t know what led to the encounter.
Tensions between officers and citizens have escalated since the April death of Freddie Gray, a black man who suffered a spinal injury in custody. His death prompted protests and rioting, leading to a curfew and the governor sent the National Guard to the city. Six police officers — three black, three white — are charged in Gray’s arrest and death.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Russian military intervention to prop up Syria’s government has brought new scrutiny of the CIA’s secret support to Syrian rebels fighting Bashar Assad. But how far is the U.S. willing to go to empower its proxies to take on Vladimir Putin’s allies?
The answer seems to be: Not very far.
“Countering Russia’s involvement in Syria doesn’t rate nearly as high on the scale” as battling the Islamic State, which has declared a caliphate across parts of Syria and Iraq, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Tuesday.
After the CIA spent more than two years secretly working with Arab allies to arm, train and fund thousands of so-called moderate rebels to oppose Assad, American officials have watched in recent days as Russian bombs and missiles have targeted those groups.
U.S. officials and outside experts say the Obama administration is unlikely to protect CIA-backed rebels from Russian air strikes — by providing them with surface-to-air missiles, for example — for fear they could fall into the wrong hands and be used against passenger jets in a terrorist attack. There is also little appetite in the White House for a U.S.-enforced no-fly zone in Syria, officials say.
Instead, the U.S. has been continuing its delivery to rebels of American-made TOW anti-tank missiles. Rebels have deployed the missiles to great effect over the last six months, and even more so in the last week, destroying dozens of Russian-made Syrian armored vehicles.
The CIA requires the vetted rebel groups it supports to take a video of every use of a TOW missile and to send the empty canisters back to American operatives in Turkey, according to Charles Lister, a Syrian expert at the Brookings Doha Center, a U.S. think tank branch in Qatar. A U.S. official confirmed the arrangement, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
The TOWs have “some potential if they can put enough in and the rebels are clever,” said Jeffrey White, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst now at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
“They can cause the regime forces to either fail or have a difficult time making advances. That’s at least indirect pressure on the Russians to either stop or do more.”
But TOW missiles aren’t designed to shoot down Russian jets and helicopters. And if Russian air power continues to blast away at CIA-trained rebels, a chilling message will be sent, White said.
“We’ve aligned ourselves to these guys, we trained them and paid them and sent them off to battle, and when the going gets tough, we’re not there.”
President Barack Obama has not spoken about the CIA program publicly, but he has said that Russia risks slipping into a quagmire in Syria and is operating from a position of weakness.
Obama also faces a vexing dilemma. On the one hand, the chief American goal in Syria is to destroy the Islamic State, an extremist army with billions of dollars at its disposal. Yet American officials also believe that getting Assad out of Syria is a key precursor to defeating the Islamic State movement, which is driven in part by Sunni disaffection with the Alawite governing class. And the Russians are working to keep Assad in power.
The CIA effort, which has trained and funded as many as 10,000 Syrian rebels over the last two years, is separate from the failed Defense Department training program that the Pentagon ended last week. The Pentagon program required fighters to promise to take on only the Islamic State, not the Syrian government, and managed to put into action fewer than 80 men.
Technically secret, the CIA program funnels money, weapons and training to so-called moderate rebels who are fighting Assad. After some early failures, the CIA-backed rebels began over the summer to put serious pressure on the Assad government, U.S. officials say, though Lister and other analysts say extremist militias were key to those engagements.
The relationship between the CIA-backed rebels and extremists has been an ongoing point of controversy. Some lawmakers who have been briefed on the program are deeply concerned about whether the CIA can control the militants and keep track of the weapons it is providing.
More than 550 TOW missiles have been provided to the rebels, Lister said, citing rebel sources who track the shipments. But only four are known to have gotten into the hands of al Qaida fighters, he added.
If the Assad government ultimately collapses, the U.S. will need allies amid what will likely be a protracted struggle for power in that country, White said. Terrorism concerns should not prevent American engagement with anti-Assad rebels.
“If we don’t have somebody there now that is beholden to the United States,” he said, “then we’re going to have nobody in that post Assad game.”
Associated Press reporter Darlene Superville contributed to this report.
Follow Ken Dilanian on Twitter at https://twitter.com/KenDilanianAP