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How the Saudis are being shielded from international heat over Khashoggi, Yemen

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: Saudia Arabia facing more criticism for activities on the world stage; Syrian refugees in Lebanon can't return home, but they're facing increasing pressure from officials who want them to leave.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

U.S. President Donald Trump, seen here with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, rejected evidence from the CIA and the Turkish government about bin Salman's alleged involvement in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, calling it incomplete. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

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  • The heir to the Saudi throne, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, enjoys the protection of some friends in very high places in the face of international criticism over actions on the world stage.
  • Syrian refugees in Lebanon can't return home, but they're facing increasing push-back from officials who would like them to leave.
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here.

'Credible evidence'

A UN human rights investigator has determined that there is "credible evidence" that Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other high-ranking officials were directly responsible for the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But the heir to the Saudi throne continues to enjoy the protection of friends in very high places.

A report released today by Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions, uses forensic evidence and intercepted cellphone calls to reconstruct what happened inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, in early October 2018. It reaches the conclusion that Khashoggi was the victim of a "premeditated execution."

However, Callamard isn't breaking any new ground.

Soon after the murder, the CIA and the Turkish government both outed MBS, as the Crown Prince is known, as the man who ordered and planned the killing, and the cutting up and disposal of Khashoggi's corpse.

A UN report released Wednesday reaches the conclusion that journalist Jamal Khashoggi, right, was the victim of a 'premeditated execution,' and that there is 'credible evidence' that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, left, and other high-ranking officials were directly involved. (Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images, Hasan Jamali/The Associated Press)

And while 11 Saudis await trial for their role in the murder, including five who face the death penalty, it isn't royalty that is going to take the fall.

Donald Trump has already rejected the evidence as incomplete, and continues to parrot Saudi claims that Khashoggi was allied with terrorists.

"We may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi," Trump declared in an official White House statement last fall. "In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran."

This past week MBS was in lockstep with Washington, calling for a "decisive stance" against Iran, and blaming the Islamic Republic for a series of purported attacks against oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

"The problem is in Tehran and not anywhere else," the prince told the Asharq al-Awsat newspaper. "Iran is always the party that's escalating in the region, carrying out terrorist attacks and criminal attacks either directly or through its militias."

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is seen ahead of Islamic Summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on June 1. (Amr Nabil/Associated Press)

And the Trump administration continues to protect bin Salman's back.

Today, Reuters reports that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has dismissed the findings of his own experts and stopped Saudi Arabia being named to a U.S. list of countries that recruit child soldiers.

It is widely reported that the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen has been recruiting Sudanese children as young as 14, with the Kingdom paying a bonus of up to $10,000 a soldier.

But Pompeo is adding Sudan to the annual report required under the Child Soldiers Prevention Act of 2008 instead of Saudi Arabia, thereby skirting limits on U.S. military aid and weapons sales.

Yemeni children holding rifles sit in the back of a heavily armed pickup truck with fighters loyal to Yemen's Saudi-backed government in Aden on May 10, 2015. (Saleh al-Obeidi/AFP/Getty Images)

The decision is part of a larger pattern.

Last fall, in the midst of the Khashoggi revelations, the Trump administration quietly authorized the transfer of sensitive nuclear power information in order to help the Kingdom build its first two reactors.

And the U.S. president is currently trying to bypass Congress and approve the sale of $8 billion in weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, an ally in the Yemen war.

There are also reports that Jared Kushner, Trump's son-in-law and close advisor, has been counselling MBS to show restraint when it comes to the planned execution of dissidents, including several moderate Shia clerics, for fear that it will complicate the shared fight against Iran.

U.S. President Donald Trump, flanked by White House senior advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner, meets with Mohammed bin Salman at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on May 20, 2017. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Last week, the Kingdom overturned a death sentence against a teenager who was charged with terrorism offences for participating in anti-government protests while he was between the ages of 10 and 13. Murtaja Qureiris will instead serve another three years in jail, on top of the four he has already been imprisoned.

Meanwhile, MBS will be free to carry on with his plan to modernize, if not liberalize, the country he will soon rule. Or perhaps just hang out on The Serene, his 134-metre superyacht, gazing at the world's most expensive painting, the $450 million US "Salvator Mundi."

One member of the Saudi royal family is about to face the courts, however — although perhaps not in person.

Princess Hassa bin Salman, the crown prince's sister, will stand trial in Paris next month over allegations that she ordered her bodyguard to savagely beat a workman in 2016.

The man, who was renovating her luxurious apartment on the Avenue de Foch, reportedly raised her ire by taking a photo of the room he was working on. Court documents say he was punched in the face, tied up and forced to kiss the princess' feet by way of apology.

Last summer, Bin Salman was charged with complicity-with-voluntary-violence, sequestration, and theft over the alleged seizure of the worker's tools.

She fled France in the wake of the incident, and there is an outstanding warrant for her arrest.

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Refugee tension in Lebanon

Syrian refugees in Lebanon can't return home, but they're facing increasing push-back from officials who would like them to leave, correspondent Margaret Evans writes from Arsal.

It always takes you aback when the armour of strength or indifference that individuals sometimes don to make it through hardship slips for a minute.

When open despair is suddenly there, looking you full-on in the face.

It happened this week when we were speaking with Syrian refugees living in and around the Lebanese border town of Arsal.

Many have been there more than five years. But earlier this month they were ordered by the Lebanese army to tear down their own shelters if their walls were more than a metre high, or watch the army do it for them.

Seventy-three-year-old Mahmoud Rahmeh did what he was told. Now he and his family, including his grandchildren, are sleeping in a lean-to covered with plastic sheeting.

Mahmoud Rahmeh says he lost two sons in shelling that hit al-Qusayr, Syria. He believes the ongoing conflict makes it impossible to return to Syria right now, but he’s feeling the pressure from officials to leave Lebanon. (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

Asked if he thinks the Syrians are trying to make him go home, he says it's impossible to go back.

Asked what he'll do if the harassment gets worse, his eyes well up with tears.

"If you have the power to take us to Canada and save us from the situation we are living here, that would be great. Because this is an unacceptable situation."

Rahmeh’s makeshift shelter is the temporary home for some of his children and grandchildren at an informal refugee settlement near Arsal, Lebanon. When asked if he thinks the Lebanese authorities would like to see them all go back to Syria, he tells us to look around, 'things speak for themselves.' (Stephanie Jenzer/CBC)

Rahmeh's story is part of a much larger narrative.

Today, the annual Global Trends report by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees revealed staggering numbers — there were a record 71 million refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people worldwide at the end of 2018. They have been driven from their homes by war, persecution and other violence, an increase of more than two million from the previous year.

After eight years of war in Syria, its people make up the largest population of the world's forcibly displaced — some 13 million within Syria and beyond, according to the report. This week on The National, we'll be bringing you some of their stories from Lebanon.

- Margaret Evans

  • WATCH: Coverage of the rising tensions in Lebanon around refugees, tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online

A few words on ... 

Small town pride.

Quote of the moment

"The IAAF used me in the past as a human guinea pig to experiment with how the medication they required me to take would affect my testosterone levels. Even though the hormonal drugs made me feel constantly sick, the IAAF now wants to enforce even stricter thresholds with unknown health consequences. I will not allow the IAAF to use me and my body again."

- South African runner Caster Semenya reacts to reports that a Swiss Court ruled she must take testosterone-limiting drugs to compete, despite acknowledging that there is no evidence that her natural body chemistry gives her an unfair advantage.

Caster Semenya. (Francois Nel/Getty Images )

What The National is reading

  • Richer countries have less faith in vaccines, study finds (CBS)
  • 4 charged with murder in downing of Malaysia Flight MH17 (CBC)
  • Ex-French president Sarkozy to stand trial for corruption (France 24)
  • The Evangelical, the Pool Boy, the Comedian and Michael Cohen (NYTimes)
  • Adidas loses EU bid to expand three-stripe trademark (Reuters)
  • Up to 70 Russian athletes could face doping charges (CBC)
  • Adult performers to picket Instagram HQ over nude photo rules (Guardian)
  • Nigerian investigators dismiss wild report that gorilla ate $22,000 (Fox News)

Today in history

June 19, 1992: Boris Yeltsin visits Canada

The Russian president was hailed as a hero during this trip to Canada and the U.S., applauded for the bravery he had shown during the summer in facing down a coup attempt. "Russia has made her choice on behalf of freedom, and no force will be able to take it away from us," he said in a speech to the House of Commons. "We have chosen openness and cooperation with the world community." It was a time of friendship and optimism, and Yeltsin was doing his best to drum up foreign investment, touring dairy barns and high-tech research facilities, sometimes with a glass of sparkling wine in hand. And on this occasion, he kept his clothes on.

Boris Yeltsin visits Canada

30 years ago
Duration 3:23
Russia's first democratically-elected president encounters friends and foes in Canada.

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Jonathon Gatehouse

CBC Investigative Journalist

Jonathon Gatehouse has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, covering seven Olympic Games and authoring a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey. He works for the national investigative unit in Toronto.