Shahid, its Dubai-based Arabic counterpart.

That has created a big market for Arabic-language content.

Netflix has produced Jordanian, Egyptian and Syrian-Lebanese shows, with varying degrees of success, and just announced the release of its first Arabic-language feature film, “Perfect Strangers.”

Syrian and Lebanese studios that used to depend on gulf financiers — who, they complained, often forced them to water down their artistic ambitions by nixing political themes — are also turning to web series and Netflix for new funding and wider audiences.

a hip alternative to the somnolent broadcast television. Mohammad Makki recalled dodging the police, guerrilla style, to film the first season of his show “Takki,” about a group of Saudi friends navigating Saudi social constraints, a decade ago. Then, it was a low-budget YouTube series. Now, it is a Netflix hit.

“We grew up dying to go to the cinema,” he said, “and now it’s two blocks from my house.”

Saudi women in the industry faced even greater challenges.

When “Wadjda” (2012), the first Saudi feature directed by a woman, was filmed, Haifaa al-Mansour, the director, was barred from mixing in public with male crew members. She worked instead from the back of a van, communicating with the actors via walkie-talkie.

“I’m still in shock,” said Ahd Kamel, who played a conservative teacher in “Wadjda,” which portrays a rebellious young Saudi girl who desperately wants a bicycle, as she walked through the festival. “It’s surreal.”

As a young actress in New York, Ms. Kamel hid her career from her family, knowing they, and Saudi society, would not approve of a woman acting. Now, she said, her family pesters her for festival tickets, and she is preparing to direct a new film to be shot in Saudi Arabia.

Saudi political, religious and cultural sensitivities are still factors, of course.

Marvel’s big-budget “Eternals” was not released in Saudi Arabia — or in Qatar, Kuwait or Egypt — because of gay romantic scenes. Several of the non-Saudi films screened at the Jeddah festival, however, included gay scenes, nudity and an out-of-wedlock pregnancy.

Hisham Fageeh, a Saudi comedian and actor, said officials had told him future films should avoid touching directly on God or politics.

Sumaya Rida, an actress in the festival movies “Junoon” and “Rupture,” said the films aimed to portray Saudi couples realistically while avoiding onscreen physical affection.

But the filmmakers said they were just happy to have support, accepting that it would come at the price of creative constraints.

“I don’t intend to provoke to provoke. The purpose of cinema is to tease. Cinema doesn’t have to be didactic,” said Fatima al-Banawi, a Saudi actress and director whose first feature film the festival is funding. “It comes naturally. We’ve been so good at working around things for so long.”

Vivian Yee reported from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and Ben Hubbard from Beirut, Lebanon. Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, and Nada Rashwan from Cairo.

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On Syria’s Ruins, a Drug Empire Flourishes

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Built on the ashes of 10 years of war in Syria, an illegal drug industry run by powerful associates and relatives of President Bashar al-Assad has grown into a multi-billion-dollar operation, eclipsing Syria’s legal exports and turning the country into the world’s newest narcostate.

Its flagship product is captagon, an illegal, addictive amphetamine popular in Saudi Arabia and other Arab states. Its operations stretch across Syria, including workshops that manufacture the pills, packing plants where they are concealed for export, and smuggling networks to spirit them to markets abroad.

An investigation by The New York Times found that much of the production and distribution is overseen by the Fourth Armored Division of the Syrian army, an elite unit commanded by Maher al-Assad, the president’s younger brother and one of Syria’s most powerful men.

Major players also include businessmen with close ties to the government, the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, and other members of the president’s extended family, whose last name ensures protection for illegal activities, according to The Times investigation, which is based on information from law enforcement officials in 10 countries and dozens of interviews with international and regional drug experts, Syrians with knowledge of the drug trade and current and former United States officials.

found 84 million pills hidden in huge rolls of paper and metal gears last year. Malaysian officials discovered more than 94 million pills sealed inside rubber trolley wheels in March.

hub of hashish production and a stronghold of Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militant group that is now part of Lebanon’s government.

While the pharmaceutical Captagon contained the amphetamine fenethylline, the illicit version sold today, often referred to as “captagon” with a lowercase c, usually contains a mix of amphetamines, caffeine and various fillers. Cheap versions retail for less than a dollar a pill in Syria, while higher quality pills can sell for $14 or more apiece in Saudi Arabia.

After the Syrian war broke out, smugglers took advantage of the chaos to sell the drug to fighters on all sides, who took it to bolster their courage in battle. Enterprising Syrians, working with local pharmacists and machinery from disused pharmaceutical factories, began making it.

Syria had the needed components: experts to mix drugs, factories to make products to conceal the pills, access to Mediterranean shipping lanes and established smuggling routes to Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq.

As the war dragged on, the country’s economy fell apart and a growing number of Mr. al-Assad’s associates were targeted with international sanctions. Some of them invested in captagon, and a state-linked cartel developed, bringing together military officers, militia leaders, traders whose businesses had boomed during the war and relatives of Mr. al-Assad.

Mr. Khiti and Mr. Taha. It called Mr. Taha an intermediary for the Fourth Division whose businesses “generate revenue for the regime and its supporters.”

Captagon is still produced in and smuggled through Lebanon. Nouh Zaiter, a Lebanese drug lord who now lives mostly in Syria, links the Lebanese and Syrian sides of the business, according to regional security officials and Syrians with knowledge of the drug trade.

A tall, longhaired Bekaa Valley native, Mr. Zaiter was sentenced in absentia to life in prison with hard labor by a Lebanese military court this year for drug crimes.

Reached by phone, Mr. Zaiter said his business was hashish and denied that he had ever been involved with captagon.

“I have not and will never send such poisons to Saudi Arabia or anywhere else,” he said. “Even my worst enemy, I won’t provide him with captagon.”

sewn into the linings of clothes.

In May, after Saudi authorities discovered more than five million pills hidden inside hollowed out pomegranates shipped from Beirut, they banned produce from Lebanon, a major blow to local farmers.

According to The Times’ database, the number of pills seized has increased every year since 2017.

The street value of the drugs seized has outstripped the value of Syria’s legal exports, mostly agricultural products, every year since 2019.

Last year, global captagon seizures had a street value of about$2.9 billion, more than triple Syria’s legal exports of $860 million.

Law enforcement agencies have struggled to catch the smugglers, not least because the Syrian authorities offer little if any information about shipments that originated in their country.

The name of shippers listed on manifests are usually fake and searches for the intended recipients often lead to mazes of shell companies.

The Italian seizure of 84 million pills in Salerno last year, the largest captagon bust ever at the time, had come from Latakia. Shipping documents listed the sender as Basil al-Shagri Bin Jamal, but the Italian authorities were unable to find him.

GPS Global Aviation Supplier, a company registered in Lugano, Switzerland, that appears to have no office.

Phone calls, text messages and emails to the company received no response, and the wealth management firm that the company listed as its mailing address, SMC Family Office SA, declined to comment.

Greek investigators have hit similar roadblocks.

In June 2019, workers in Piraeus found five tons of captagon, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, inside sheets of fiberboard on their way to China.

Seehog, a Chinese logistics firm. When reached by phone, she denied knowing anything about the shipment and refused to answer questions.

“You are not the police,” she said, and hung up.

There was one more clue in the documents: The sender was Mohammed Amer al-Dakak, with a Syrian phone number. When entered into WhatsApp, the phone number showed a photo of Maher al-Assad, the commander of Syria’s Fourth Armored Division, suggesting the number belonged to, at least, one of his fans.

A man who answered that number said that he was not Mr. al-Dakak. He said that he had acquired the phone number recently.

Loukas Danabasis, the head of the narcotics unit of Greece’s financial crime squad, said the smugglers’ tactics made solving such cases “difficult and sometimes impossible.”

While officials in Europe struggle to identify smugglers, Jordan, one of the United States’ closest partners in the Middle East, sits on the front lines of a regional drug war.

“Jordan is the gateway to the Gulf,” Brig. Gen. Ahmad al-Sarhan, the commander of an army unit along Jordan’s border with Syria, said during a visit to the area.

Overlooking a deep valley with views of Syria, General al-Sarhan and his men detailed Syrian smugglers’ tricks to bring drugs into Jordan: They launch crossing attempts at multiple spots. They attach drugs to drones and fly them across. They load drugs onto donkeys trained to cross by themselves.

Sometimes the smugglers stop by Syrian army posts before approaching the border.

“There is clear involvement,” General al-Sarhan said.

The drug trade worries Jordanian officials for many reasons.

The quantities are increasing. The number of Captagon pills seized in Jordan this year is nearly double the amount seized in 2020, according to Colonel Alqudah, the head of the narcotics department.

And while Jordan was originally just a pathway to Saudi Arabia, as much as one-fifth of the drugs smuggled in from Syria are now consumed in Jordan, he estimated. The increased supply has lowered the price, making it easy for students to become addicted.

Even more worrying, he said, is the growing quantity of crystal meth entering Jordan from Syria, which poses a greater threat. As of October, Jordan had seized 132 pounds of it this year, up from 44 pounds the year before.

“We are now in a dangerous stage because we can’t go back,” said Dr. Morad al-Ayasrah, a Jordanian psychiatrist who treats drug addicts. “We are going forward and the drugs are increasing.”

Reporting was contributed by Niki Kitsantonis in Athens; Gaia Pianigiani in Rome; Kit Gillet in Bucharest, Romania; Hannah Beech in Bangkok; and employees of The New York Times in Damascus, Syria, and Beirut, Lebanon.

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Deadly Clashes in Beirut Escalate Fears Over Lebanon’s Dysfunction

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Armed clashes between sectarian militias transformed Beirut neighborhoods into a deadly war zone on Thursday, raising fears that violence could fill the void left by the near-collapse of the Lebanese state.

Rival gunmen, chanting in support of their leaders, hid behind cars and dumpsters to fire automatic weapons and rocket-propelled grenades at their rivals. At least six people were killed and 30 wounded. Residents cowered in their homes, and teachers herded children into the hallways and basements of schools to protect them from the shooting.

It was some of the worst violence in years to convulse Beirut, aggravating the sense of instability in a small country already buffeted by devastating political and economic crises and inviting recollections of its civil war that ended more than three decades ago.

Since the fall of 2019, Lebanon’s currency has plummeted more than 90 percent in value, battering the economy and reducing Lebanese who were comfortably middle class to poverty. The World Bank has said Lebanon’s economic collapse could rank among the three worst in the world since the mid-1800s.

Grave fuel shortages in recent months have left all but the wealthiest Lebanese struggling with prolonged power blackouts and long lines at gas stations. The country’s once vaunted banking, medical and education sectors have all suffered profound losses, as professionals have fled to seek livelihoods abroad.

A huge explosion in the port of Beirut last year killed more than 200 people and exposed the results of what many Lebanese see as decades of poor governance and corruption. The Covid-19 pandemic has only aggravated the economic distress and sense of despair.

The fighting on Thursday was part of the continuing fallout from the port explosion.

Two Shiite Muslim parties — Hezbollah, an Iran-backed militant group, and the Amal Movement — had organized a protest calling for the removal of the judge charged with investigating the blast and determining who was responsible.

As the protesters gathered, gunshots rang out, apparently fired by snipers in nearby high buildings, according to witnesses and Lebanese officials, and protesters scattered to side streets, where they retrieved weapons and rejoined the fray.

posts on Twitter, saying that the clashes had been caused by “uncontrolled and widespread weapons that threaten citizens in every time and place,” a reference to Hezbollah’s vast arsenal.

His group accused Hezbollah of exploiting sectarian tensions to derail the port investigation over fears it could be implicated.

Hassan Diab, who, along with his cabinet, resigned after the port explosion.

There had been hope that Mr. Mikati would bring some stability as his new government took shape. But at the same time, tensions over the port investigation grew deeper.

The blast at the port was caused by the sudden combustion of some 2,750 tons of volatile chemicals that had been unloaded into the port years before, but more than a year later no one has been held accountable.

The judge investigating the explosion, Tarek Bitar, has moved to summon a range of powerful politicians and security officials for questioning, which could result in criminal charges against them.

Hezbollah has grown increasingly vocal in its criticism of Judge Bitar, and his inquiry was suspended this week after two former ministers facing charges lodged a legal complaint against him.

Families of the victims condemned the move, with critics saying that the country’s political leadership was trying to shield itself from accountability for the largest explosion in the turbulent country’s history.

On Monday, the judge had issued an arrest warrant for Ali Hussein Khalil, a prominent Shiite member of Parliament and a close adviser to the leader of the Amal party. The warrant leveled serious accusations against Mr. Khalil.

“The nature of the offense,” the document read, is “killing, harming, arson and vandalism linked to probable intent.”

On Tuesday, the Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah issued some of his most scathing criticism of Judge Bitar, accusing him of “politically targeting” officials in his investigation and calling for a protest on Thursday.

When Hezbollah followers joined the protests to call for the judge’s removal, witnesses said, the sniper shots rang out.

Ben Hubbard reported from Beirut, and Marc Santora from London. Reporting was contributed by Hwaida Saad and Asmaa al-Omar from Beirut, and Vivian Yee and Mona el-Naggar from Cairo.

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Apple Security Update Closes Spyware Flaw in iPhones, Macs and iWatches

The consortium did not disclose how it had obtained the list, and it was unclear whether the list was aspirational or whether the people had actually been targeted with NSO spyware.

Among those listed were Azam Ahmed, who had been the Mexico City bureau chief for The Times and who has reported widely on corruption, violence and surveillance in Latin America, including on NSO itself; and Ben Hubbard, The Times’s bureau chief in Beirut, Lebanon, who has investigated rights abuses and corruption in Saudi Arabia and wrote a recent biography of the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

It also included 14 heads of state, including President Emmanuel Macron of France, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly of Egypt, Prime Minister Imran Khan of Pakistan, Saad-Eddine El Othmani, who until recently was the prime minister of Morocco, and Charles Michel, the head of the European Council.

Shalev Hulio, a co-founder of NSO Group, vehemently denied the list’s accuracy, telling The Times, “This is like opening up the white pages, choosing 50,000 numbers and drawing some conclusion from it.”

This year marks a record for the discovery of so-called zero days, secret software flaws like the one that NSO used to install its spyware. This year, Chinese hackers were caught using zero days in Microsoft Exchange to steal emails and plant ransomware. In July, ransomware criminals used a zero day in software sold by the tech company Kaseya to bring down the networks of some 1,000 companies.

For years, the spyware industry has been a black box. Sales of spyware are locked up in nondisclosure agreements and are frequently rolled into classified programs, with limited, if any, oversight.

NSO’s clients previously infected their targets using text messages that cajoled victims into clicking on links. Those links made it possible for journalists and researchers at organizations like Citizen Lab to investigate the possible presence of spyware. But NSO’s new zero-click method makes the discovery of spyware by journalists and cybersecurity researchers much harder.

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Collapse: Inside Lebanon’s Worst Economic Meltdown in More Than a Century

TRIPOLI, Lebanon — Rania Mustafa’s living room recalls a not-so-distant past, when the modest salary of a security guard in Lebanon could buy an air-conditioner, plush furniture and a flat-screen TV.

But as the country’s economic crisis worsened, she lost her job and watched her savings evaporate. Now, she plans to sell her furniture to pay the rent and struggles to afford food, much less electricity or a dentist to fix her 10-year-old daughter’s broken molar.

For dinner on a recent night, lit by a single cellphone, the family shared thin potato sandwiches donated by a neighbor. The girl chewed gingerly on one side of her mouth to avoid her damaged tooth.

“I have no idea how we’ll continue,” said Ms. Mustafa, 40, at home in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second-largest city, after Beirut.

The huge explosion one year ago in the port of Beirut, which killed more than 200 people and left a large swath of the capital in shambles, only added to the desperation.

and the central bank unable to keep propping up the currency, as it had for decades, because of a drop in foreign cash flows into the country. Now, the bottom has fallen out of the economy, leaving shortages of food, fuel and medicine.

All but the wealthiest Lebanese have cut meat from their diets and wait in long lines to fuel their cars, sweating through sweltering summer nights because of extended power cuts.

long lines at gas stations, where drivers wait for hours to buy only a few gallons, or none at all if the station runs out.

hampered the investigation into the port explosion, and a billionaire telecoms tycoon, Najib Mikati, is currently the third politician to try to form a government since the last cabinet resigned after the blast.

Mustafa Allouch, the deputy head of the Future Movement, a prominent political party, said, like many other Lebanese, that he feared that the political system, intended to share power between a range of sects, was incapable of addressing the country’s problems.

“I don’t think it will work anymore,” he said. “We have to look for another system, but I don’t know what it is.”

His greatest fear was “blind violence” born out of desperation and rage.

“Looting, shooting, assaults on homes and small shops,” he said. “Why it hasn’t happened by now, I don’t know.”

The crisis has hit the poor hardest.

Five days a week, scores of people line up for free meals from a charity kitchen in Tripoli, some equipped with cut off shampoo bottles to carry their food because they can’t afford regular containers.

Robert Ayoub, the project’s head, said demand is going up, donations from inside Lebanon are going down, and the newcomers represent a new kind of poor: soldiers, bank employees and civil servants whose salaries have lost the bulk of their value.

In line on a recent day were a laborer who had walked an hour from home because he couldn’t afford transportation; a brick layer whose work had dried up; and Dunia Shehadeh, an unemployed housekeeper who picked up a tub of pasta and lentil soup for her husband and three children.

“This will hardly be enough for them,” she said.

The country’s downward spiral has set off a new wave of migration, as Lebanese with foreign passports and marketable skills seek better fortune abroad.

“I can’t live in this place, and I don’t want to live in this place,” said Layal Azzam, 39, before catching a flight to Saudi Arabia from Beirut’s international airport.

She and her husband had returned to Lebanon from abroad a few years ago and invested $50,000 in a business. But she said that it had failed and that she worried they would struggle to find care if their children got sick.

“There’s no electricity. They could cut the water. Prices are high. Even if someone sends you money from abroad, it doesn’t last,” she said. “There are too many crises.”

Drone footage by David Enders and Bryan Denton. Hwaida Saad contributed reporting.

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As Lebanon Collapses, Riad Salameh Faces Questions

The coronavirus pandemic and a huge explosion in the port of Beirut last August further devastated the economy.

Estimates put the central bank’s losses at $50 billion to $60 billion. The International Monetary Fund has offered assistance, but Lebanese officials accuse Mr. Salameh of blocking an audit sought by the United States and other countries that would unlock I.M.F. aid, as well as a separate investigation into alleged fraud at the central bank.

Most Lebanese have said goodbye to whatever savings they had while the currency has crashed, reducing salaries once worth $1,000 a month to about $80. The central bank is burning through its reserves, spending about $500 million per month to subsidize imports of fuel, medicine and grain.

“Lebanon has been living on borrowed time, and now the chickens have come home to roost,” said Toufic Gaspard, a Lebanese economist and former adviser at the I.M.F. “The whole banking system has collapsed, and we have become a cash economy.”

The crash has soured many Lebanese on their once celebrated central banker.

“I can’t say anything good about Riad Salameh,” said Toufic Khoueiri, a co-owner of a popular kebab restaurant, while having lunch with a friend in Beirut. “Our money is not stuck in the banks, but simply stolen.”

His friend, Roger Tanios, a lawyer, said he had once admired Mr. Salameh for keeping Lebanon financially stable but had changed his mind.

Mr. Salameh, he said, had gone spectacularly off course.

“Every country has its mafia,” Mr. Tanios said. “In Lebanon, the mafia has its country.”

Ben Hubbard reported from Beirut, and Liz Alderman from Paris. Hwaida Saad contributed reporting from Beirut, and Asmaa al-Omar from Istanbul.

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Target Store Closings Show Limits of Pledge to Black Communities

BALTIMORE — When Target announced that it was opening a store in Mondawmin, a predominantly Black neighborhood in this city struggling with crime and poverty, it seemed like a ticket to a turnaround.

And from the start, it was a practical success and a point of community pride. The store, which opened in 2008, carried groceries, operated a pharmacy and had a Starbucks cafe, the only one in this part of Baltimore’s west side.

People came from across the city to shop there, helping to soften the Mondawmin area’s reputation for crime and the looting that followed protests over the 2015 death of Freddie Gray, who was fatally injured while in city police custody. As an employer, Target seemed to cater to the community’s needs, making a point of hiring Black men and providing an office in the store for a social worker to support the staff. Elijah Cummings, the congressman from Baltimore, was known to shop there.

But in February 2018, with almost no warning or explanation, Target closed the store.

Residents, especially those without cars, lost a convenient place to shop for quality goods. And a marker of the community’s self-worth was suddenly taken away.

shut two stores in predominantly Black neighborhoods on Chicago’s South Side as the company made plans to build a new store on the wealthier and mostly white North Side.

according to local legend, visited the property in the 19th century and observed the area’s bountiful cornfields. Mondawmin is derived from a Native American phrase for “spirit of corn.”

In the 1950s, the property was sold to a real estate developer, who turned the rural lot into the city’s first shopping mall.

The Mondawmin Mall featured a Sears, a five-and-dime, and eventually an indoor fountain and spiral staircase, advertised as the “seventh wonder of Baltimore,’’ according to Salvatore Amadeo, an amateur historian who makes YouTube documentaries about malls, including a segment on Mondawmin.

When the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 sparked protests across Baltimore and caused “white flight” to the suburbs, the mall struggled. Over time, it ceased to be a big draw for shoppers outside the area.

The stores became more focused on Black fashion and neighborhood services. A large barbershop occupies the mall’s bottom floor, and there is an agency that helps formerly incarcerated people find jobs.

a forceful statement, promising to reopen one of its stores in Minneapolis damaged in the protests against police violence.

“The murder of George Floyd has unleashed the pent-up pain of years, as have the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor,” Mr. Cornell said in the statement. “We say their names and hold a too-long list of others in our hearts. As a Target team, we’ve huddled, we’ve consoled, we’ve witnessed horrific scenes similar to what’s playing out now and wept that not enough is changing.”

One of the names on that “too-long list” is Freddie Gray. Mr. Gray was from Baltimore’s west side and was arrested a few blocks from the Mondawmin Mall in April 2015 for possessing a knife.

prosecutors described as a “rough ride,” his spinal cord was 80 percent severed.

One of the first big waves of protests over his death occurred at the Mondawmin Mall. Protesters began throwing rocks at police officers, and the mall was looted. Some students from Frederick Douglass High School, across from the mall and the alma mater of the civil rights giant Thurgood Marshall, the first Black man to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, were caught up in the melee.

Target was spared serious damage. But for a time, many shoppers, both Black and white, stayed away from the store, recalled Mr. Johnson, who now works for the Postal Service.

“Mondawmin already had a bad rap with out-of-towners,” he said.

Shoppers eventually returned to the Target in Mondawmin, he said. But he noticed that the city’s other Target store, which had opened in a trendy area near the harbor in 2013, was getting more popular.

In November 2017, Mr. Mosby, then a state lawmaker, got a call from a resident whose family worked at the store: The Target in Mondawmin was shutting its doors in a few months. “I thought it was a just a rumor at first,” Mr. Mosby said.

Some residents and neighborhood leaders were told that the store struggled with high rates of theft, known in the retail industry as “shrinkage.” But Mr. Ali, the store’s former manager, said, “That was untrue,” at least while he worked there. The store met its profit and shrinkage goals during his four years as manager, which ended in 2012, years before the store closed.

Still, Mr. Ali, now the executive director of a youth mentoring group, acknowledged challenges that he said were unique to a store in a “hyper-urban area.”

A significant amount of inventory was once damaged in a fire in a storage area next to the store, and the company had to spend $30,000 a month for an armed Baltimore police officer to keep watch, he said.

There may have been additional considerations. “I think what happened after Freddie Gray spooked Target,” Mr. Ali said.

Other national chains reacted differently. TGI Fridays stuck with its plans to open a restaurant at the Mondawmin Mall, months after the protests. The restaurant remains one of the neighborhood’s only free-standing, sit-down chain restaurants.

Mr. Mosby and other officials tried to negotiate with Target to keep the store open, but the company said its mind was already made up.

“They weren’t interested in talking to us,” Mr. Mosby said. “They wouldn’t budge.”

The temperature gauge outside Pastor Lance’s car registered 103 degrees as he drove through Greater Mondawmin and its surrounding neighborhoods. He was wearing a white shirt emblazoned with his church’s logo — a group of people, of all races and backgrounds, walking toward the sun, holding hands.

A Baltimore native, Pastor Lance used to work as a computer programmer at Verizon. He made “lots of money,” he said. “But I didn’t feel fulfilled.”

He became a pastor and took over a nonprofit company that develops park space and playgrounds and hosts a summer camp for schoolchildren with a garden surrounded by a meadow near the mall.

“But some days, I wonder if I made a mistake,” he said. “It’s great to have a park, but if you don’t have a good job, you aren’t going to be able to enjoy a park.”

He drove along a street with liquor stores and houses with boarded-up windows. A woman tried to flag him down for a ride. But the poverty he saw was not what made him most upset.

It was when Pastor Lance steered through an enclave of big houses and immaculate lawns, only a short distance away, that the anger rose in his voice.

“You are telling me that these people wouldn’t shop at Target for lawn furniture or school supplies,” he said. “I am not trying to gloss over the problems, but there is also wealth here.”

“If shrinkage was a problem, hire more security guards or use technology to stop people from stealing,” he added.

He circled back to the Mondawmin Mall, where families ducked into the air conditioning for a bubble tea or an Auntie Anne’s pretzel. He drove past the TGI Fridays and then past the Target, its windows still covered in plywood and the trees in the parking lot looking withered and pathetic.

Pastor Lance refused to accept that a Target could not succeed here.

“If you are really interested in equity and justice,” he said, “figure out how to make that store work.”

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Iran’s Proxies in Iraq Threaten U.S. With More Sophisticated Weapons

BAGHDAD — The United States is grappling with a rapidly evolving threat from Iranian proxies in Iraq after militia forces specialized in operating more sophisticated weaponry, including armed drones, have hit some of the most sensitive American targets in attacks that evaded U.S. defenses.

At least three times in the past two months, those militias have used small, explosive-laden drones that divebomb and crash into their targets in late-night attacks on Iraqi bases — including those used by the C.I.A. and U.S. Special Operations units, according to American officials.

Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., the top American commander in the Middle East, said last month that the drones pose a serious threat and that the military was rushing to devise ways to combat them.

Iran — weakened by years of harsh economic sanctions — is using its proxy militias in Iraq to step up pressure on the United States and other world powers to negotiate an easing of those sanctions as part of a revival of the 2015 nuclear deal. Iraqi and American officials say Iran has designed the drone attacks to minimize casualties that could prompt U.S. retaliation.

a Defense Intelligence Agency assessment published in April. In the last year, a proliferation of previously unknown armed groups have emerged, some claiming responsibility for rocket attacks on U.S. targets.

thousands of American military contractors operate.

MQ-9 Reaper drones and contractor-operated turboprop surveillance aircraft are stationed in an attempt to disrupt or cripple the U.S. reconnaissance capability critical to monitoring threats in Iraq.

The United States has used Reapers for its most sensitive strikes, including the killing of Iran’s top security and intelligence commander, Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a senior Iraqi government official and a leader of Iraq’s militia groups, in Baghdad in January 2020.

While the United States has installed defenses to counter rocket, artillery and mortar systems at installations in Iraq, the armed drones fly too low to be detected by those defenses, officials said.

Shortly before midnight on April 14, a drone strike targeted a C.I.A. hangar inside the airport complex in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil, according to three American officials familiar with the matter.

No one was reported hurt in the attack, but it alarmed Pentagon and White House officials because of the covert nature of the facility and the sophistication of the strike, details of which were previously reported by The Washington Post.

talks between them in Baghdad in April, the Saudis demanded that Iran stop those attacks, according to Iraqi officials.

While visiting northeastern Syria last month, General McKenzie, the top American commander for the region, said military officials were developing ways to disrupt or disable communications between the drones and their operators, bolster radar sensors to identify approaching threats more rapidly, and find effective ways to down the aircraft.

In each of the known attacks in Iraq, at least some of the drones’ remnants have been partially recovered, and preliminary analyses indicated they were made in Iran or used technology provided by Iran, according to the three American officials familiar with the incidents.

These drones are larger than the commercially available quadcopters — small helicopters with four rotors — that the Islamic State used in the battle of Mosul, but smaller than the MQ-9 Reapers, which have a 66-foot wingspan. Military analysts say they carry between 10 and 60 pounds of explosives.

Iraqi officials and U.S. analysts say that while cash-strapped Iran has reduced funding for major Iraqi militias, it has invested in splitting off smaller, more specialized proxies still operating within the larger militias but not under their direct command.

American officials say that these specialized units are likely to have been entrusted with the politically delicate mission of carrying out the new drone strikes.

Iraqi security commanders say groups with new names are fronts for the traditional, powerful Iran-backed militias in Iraq such as Kataib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq. Iraqi officials say Iran has used the new groups to try to camouflage, in discussions with the Iraqi government, its responsibility for strikes targeting U.S. interests, which often end up killing Iraqis.

The Iraqi security official said members of the smaller, specialized groups were being trained at Iraqi bases and in Lebanon as well as in Iran by the hard-line Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps — which oversees proxy militias in the Middle East.

American and Iraqi officials and analysts trace the increased unpredictability of militia operations in Iraq to the U.S. killing of General Suleimani and the Iraqi militia leader.

“Because the Iranian control over its militias has fragmented after the killing of Qassim Suleimani and Abu Mahdi Muhandis, the competition has increased among these groups,” said Mr. Malik, the Washington Institute analyst.

Jane Arraf reported from Baghdad and Eric Schmitt from Washington. Falih Hassan contributed reporting.

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Iran, a Longtime Backer of Hamas, Cheers Attacks on Israel

The leadership of Iran, engaged in a long shadow war with Israel on land, air and sea, did not try to conceal the pleasure it took in the most recent Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Over the 11 days of fighting this month, Tehran praised the damage being done to its enemy, and the state news media and conservative commentators highlighted Iran’s role in providing weaponry and military training to Palestinian militants in Gaza to hammer Israeli communities.

Iran has for decades supported Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that controls Gaza and whose own interests in battling Israel align with Iran’s. Experts say that over the years, Iran has provided Hamas with financial and political support, weapons and technology and training to build its own arsenal of advanced rockets that can reach deep into Israeli territory.

But in the assessment of Israeli intelligence, Hamas made its decisions independently of Iran in the latest conflict.

sabotaging of Iran’s nuclear facilities. While Iran’s leaders have made no secret of their desire to punish Israel for the wave of attacks, they have struggled to find an effective way to retaliate without risking an all-out war or derailing any chance for a revised nuclear accord with the United States and other world powers.

So the conservative factions in Iran that had been urging payback for the Israeli strikes seized on a chance to portray the thousands of rockets fired by the Gaza militants as revenge.

a devastating response from Israel’s vastly superior military, whose airstrikes killed scores of militants, destroyed 340 rocket launchers and caused the collapse of 60 miles of underground tunnels.

While the Israeli strikes may temporarily set back the military capability of Iran’s Gaza allies, Israel’s international standing does seem to be taking a beating with cracks in the once rock-solid support of Western allies.

Iran watched in dismay last year as four Arab countries — the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco — normalized ties with Israel and declared Iran the biggest threat to regional stability. In the months before the Gaza fighting, Tehran lobbied intensely to prevent other Arab countries from following suit.

outraged Arab public opinion, could dim the prospects of any more countries in the region normalizing relations with Israel anytime soon.

hit civilian neighborhoods.

They celebrated the violent clashes erupting across Israeli cities between Jewish and Arab residents. And they felt that the Israeli strikes on Iran, including the assassinations of a top nuclear scientist and a leader of Al Qaeda, had been at least partly avenged.

“It feels like we had rage stuck in our throats against Israel, especially after the assassinations. And with every rocket fired, we gave a collective, deep sigh of relief,” said Mehdi Nejati, 43, an industrial project manager in Tehran who moderated a daily Clubhouse chat on developments in Gaza.

There was also much boasting on social media about Iran’s role in enabling militants to amass more advanced rockets.

While Israel will have to continue to contend with Iran’s influence in Gaza going forward, Tehran’s support for the militants there is just one of the many factors standing in the way of a longer-term peace, said Mr. Javedanfar, the political analyst.

“Confronting Iran is only going to be part of the solution for Israel’s challenge in Gaza,” he said. “A bigger part of the challenge can be solved with smarter Israeli policies in Jerusalem.”

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