Israel: Truth, Knowledge, History Of God’s Country

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CIA WORLD FACT BOOK)

 

Israel

Introduction Following World War II, the British withdrew from their mandate of Palestine, and the UN partitioned the area into Arab and Jewish states, an arrangement rejected by the Arabs. Subsequently, the Israelis defeated the Arabs in a series of wars without ending the deep tensions between the two sides. The territories Israel occupied since the 1967 war are not included in the Israel country profile, unless otherwise noted. On 25 April 1982, Israel withdrew from the Sinai pursuant to the 1979 Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty. In keeping with the framework established at the Madrid Conference in October 1991, bilateral negotiations were conducted between Israel and Palestinian representatives and Syria to achieve a permanent settlement. Israel and Palestinian officials signed on 13 September 1993 a Declaration of Principles (also known as the “Oslo Accords”) guiding an interim period of Palestinian self-rule. Outstanding territorial and other disputes with Jordan were resolved in the 26 October 1994 Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace. In addition, on 25 May 2000, Israel withdrew unilaterally from southern Lebanon, which it had occupied since 1982. In April 2003, US President BUSH, working in conjunction with the EU, UN, and Russia – the “Quartet” – took the lead in laying out a road map to a final settlement of the conflict by 2005, based on reciprocal steps by the two parties leading to two states, Israel and a democratic Palestine. However, progress toward a permanent status agreement was undermined by Israeli-Palestinian violence between September 2003 and February 2005. An Israeli-Palestinian agreement reached at Sharm al-Sheikh in February 2005, along with an internally-brokered Palestinian ceasefire, significantly reduced the violence. In the summer of 2005, Israel unilaterally disengaged from the Gaza Strip, evacuating settlers and its military while retaining control over most points of entry into the Gaza Strip. The election of HAMAS in January 2006 to head the Palestinian Legislative Council froze relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). Ehud OLMERT became prime minister in March 2006; following an Israeli military operation in Gaza in June-July 2006 and a 34-day conflict with Hizballah in Lebanon in June-August 2006, he shelved plans to unilaterally evacuate from most of the West Bank. OLMERT in June 2007 resumed talks with the PA after HAMAS seized control of the Gaza Strip and PA President Mahmoud ABBAS formed a new government without HAMAS.
History Early roots

The Land of Israel, known in Hebrew as Eretz Yisrael, has been sacred to the Jewish people since the time of the biblical patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Bible has placed this period in the early 2nd millennium BCE.[24] According to the Torah, the Land of Israel was promised to the Jews as their homeland,[25][26] and the sites holiest to Judaism are located there. Around the 11th century BCE, the first of a series of Jewish kingdoms and states established rule over the region; these Jewish kingdoms and states ruled intermittently for the following one thousand years.[27]

Between the time of the Jewish kingdoms and the 7th-century Muslim conquests, the Land of Israel fell under Assyrian, Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Sassanian, and Byzantine rule.[28] Jewish presence in the region dwindled after the failure of the Bar Kokhba revolt against the Roman Empire in 132 CE and the resultant large-scale expulsion of Jews. Nevertheless, a continuous Jewish presence in Palestine was maintained. Although the main Jewish population shifted from the Judea region to the Galilee;[29] the Mishnah and part of the Talmud, among Judaism’s most important religious texts, were composed in Israel during this period.[30] The Land of Israel was captured from the Byzantine Empire around 636 CE during the initial Muslim conquests. Control of the region transferred between the Umayyads,[31] Abbasids,[32] and Crusaders over the next six centuries, before falling in the hands of the Mamluk Sultanate, in 1260. In 1516, the Land of Israel became a part of the Ottoman Empire, which ruled the region until the 20th century.[33]

Zionism and the British Mandate

Jews living in the Diaspora have long aspired to return to Zion and the Land of Israel.[34] That hope and yearning was articulated in the Bible[35] and is a central theme in the Jewish prayer book. Beginning in the twelfth century, a small but steady stream of Jews began to leave Europe to settle in the Holy Land, increasing in numbers after Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492.[36] During the 16th century large communities struck roots in the Four Holy Cities, and in the second half of the 18th century, entire Hasidic communities from eastern Europe settled in the Holy Land.

The first large wave of modern immigration, known as the First Aliyah (Hebrew: עלייה), began in 1881, as Jews fled pogroms in Eastern Europe.[38] While the Zionist movement already existed in theory, Theodor Herzl is credited with founding political Zionism,[39] a movement which sought to establish a Jewish state in the Land of Israel, by elevating the Jewish Question to the international plane.[40] In 1896, Herzl published Der Judenstaat (The Jewish State), offering his vision of a future state; the following year he presided over the first World Zionist Congress.

The Second Aliyah (1904–1914), began after the Kishinev pogrom. Some 40,000 Jews settled in Palestine.[38] Both the first and second waves of migrants were mainly Orthodox Jews,[42] but those in the Second Aliyah included socialist pioneers who established the kibbutz movement.[43] During World War I, British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour issued what became known as the Balfour Declaration, which “view[ed] with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”[44] The Jewish Legion, a group of battalions composed primarily of Zionist volunteers, assisted in the British conquest of Israel. Arab opposition to the plan led to the 1920 Palestine riots and the formation of the Jewish defense organization known as the Haganah, from which the Irgun and Lehi split off.

In 1922, the League of Nations granted Great Britain a mandate over Palestine for the express purpose of “placing the country under such political, administrative and economic conditions as will secure the establishment of the Jewish national home”.[46] The populations of the Ottoman districts in the area at this time were predominantly Muslim Arabs, while the largest urban area in the region, Jerusalem, was predominantly Jewish.

Jewish immigration continued with the Third Aliyah (1919–1923) and Fourth Aliyah (1924–1929), which together brought 100,000 Jews to Palestine.[38] In the wake of the Jaffa riots in the early days of the Mandate, the British restricted Jewish immigration and territory slated for the Jewish state was allocated to Transjordan.[48] The rise of Nazism in the 1930s led to the Fifth Aliyah, with an influx of a quarter of a million Jews. This influx resulted in the Arab revolt of 1936–1939 and led the British to cap immigration with the White Paper of 1939. With countries around the world turning away Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust, a clandestine movement known as Aliyah Bet was organized to bring Jews to Palestine.[38] By the end of World War II, Jews accounted for 33% of the population of Palestine, up from 11% in 1922.[49][50]

Independence and first years

After 1945 Britain became embroiled in an increasingly violent conflict with the Jews[51]. In 1947, the British government withdrew from commitment to the Mandate of Palestine, stating it was unable to arrive at a solution acceptable to both Arabs and Jews.[52] The newly-created United Nations approved the UN Partition Plan (United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181) on November 29, 1947, dividing the country into two states, one Arab and one Jewish. Jerusalem was to be designated an international city – a corpus separatum – administered by the UN to avoid conflict over its status.[53] The Jewish community accepted the plan,[54] but the Arab League and Arab Higher Committee rejected it.

Regardless, the State of Israel was proclaimed on May 14, 1948, one day before the expiry of the British Mandate for Palestine.[56] Not long after, five Arab countries – Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq – attacked Israel, launching the 1948 Arab-Israeli War.[56] After almost a year of fighting, a ceasefire was declared and temporary borders, known as the Green Line, were instituted. Jordan annexed what became known as the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and Egypt took control of the Gaza Strip. Israel was admitted as a member of the United Nations on May 11, 1949.[57] During the course of the hostilities, 711,000 Arabs, according to UN estimates, fled from Israel.[58] The fate of the Palestinian refugees today is a major point of contention in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.[59][60]

In the early years of the state, the Labor Zionist movement led by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion dominated Israeli politics.[61][62] These years were marked by mass immigration of Holocaust survivors and an influx of Jews persecuted in Arab lands. The population of Israel rose from 800,000 to two million between 1948 and 1958.[63] Most arrived as refugees with no possessions and were housed in temporary camps known as ma’abarot. By 1952, over 200,000 immigrants were living in these tent cities. The need to solve the crisis led Ben-Gurion to sign a reparations agreement with West Germany that triggered mass protests by Jews angered at the idea of Israel “doing business” with Germany.

During the 1950s, Israel was frequently attacked by Arab fedayeen, mainly from the Egyptian-occupied Gaza Strip.[65] In 1956, Israel joined a secret alliance with Great Britain and France aimed at recapturing the Suez Canal, which the Egyptians had nationalized (see the Suez Crisis). Despite capturing the Sinai Peninsula, Israel was forced to retreat due to pressure from the United States and the Soviet Union in return for guarantees of Israeli shipping rights in the Red Sea and the Canal.

At the start of the following decade, Israel captured Adolf Eichmann, an implementer of the Final Solution hiding in Argentina, and brought him to trial.[67] The trial had a major impact on public awareness of the Holocaust[68] and to date Eichmann remains the only person sentenced to death by Israeli courts.

Conflicts and peace treaties

In 1967, Egypt, Jordan, and Syria massed troops close to Israeli borders, expelled UN peacekeepers and blocked Israel’s access to the Red Sea. Israel saw these actions as a casus belli for a pre-emptive strike that launched the Six-Day War, during which it captured the West Bank, Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula and Golan Heights.[70] The 1949 Green Line became the administrative boundary between Israel and the occupied territories. Jerusalem’s boundaries were enlarged, incorporating East Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Law, passed in 1980, reaffirmed this measure and reignited international controversy over the status of Jerusalem.

In the early 1970s, Palestinian groups launched a wave of attacks against Israeli targets around the world, including a massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics. Israel responded with Operation Wrath of God, in which those responsible for the Munich massacre were tracked down and assassinated.[71] On October 6, 1973, Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, the Egyptian and Syrian armies launched a surprise attack against Israel. The war ended on October 26 with Israel successfully repelling Egyptian and Syrian forces but suffering great losses.[72] An internal inquiry exonerated the government of responsibility for the war, but public anger forced Prime Minister Golda Meir to resign.

The 1977 Knesset elections marked a major turning point in Israeli political history as Menachem Begin’s Likud party took control from the Labor Party.[73] Later that year, Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat made a trip to Israel and spoke before the Knesset in what was the first recognition of Israel by an Arab head of state.[74] In the two years that followed, Sadat and Menachem Begin signed the Camp David Accords and the Israel-Egypt Peace Treaty.[75] Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula and agreed to enter negotiations over an autonomy for Palestinians across the Green Line, a plan which was never implemented.

In 1982, Israel intervened in the Lebanese Civil War to destroy the bases from which the Palestine Liberation Organization launched attacks and missiles at northern Israel. That move developed into the First Lebanon War.[76] Israel withdrew from most of Lebanon in 1986, but maintained a borderland buffer zone until 2000. The First Intifada, a Palestinian uprising against Israeli rule,[77] broke out in 1987 with waves of violence occurring in the occupied territories. Over the following six years, more than a thousand people were killed in the ensuing violence, much of which was internal Palestinian violence.[78] During the 1991 Gulf War, the PLO and many Palestinians supported Saddam Hussein and Iraqi missile attacks against Israel.

In 1992, Yitzhak Rabin became Prime Minister following an election in which his party promoted compromise with Israel’s neighbors.[81][82] The following year, Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas, on behalf of Israel and the PLO, signed the Oslo Accords, which gave the Palestinian National Authority the right to self-govern parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, in return for recognition of Israel’s right to exist and an end to terrorism.[83] In 1994, the Israel-Jordan Treaty of Peace was signed, making Jordan the second Arab country to normalize relations with Israel.[84] Public support for the Accords waned as Israel was struck by a wave of attacks from Palestinians. The November 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin by a far-right-wing Jew, as he left a peace rally, shocked the country. At the end of the 1990s, Israel, under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu, withdrew from Hebron[85] and signed the Wye River Memorandum, giving greater control to the Palestinian National Authority.

Ehud Barak, elected Prime Minister in 1999, began the new millennium by withdrawing forces from Southern Lebanon and conducting negotiations with Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and U.S. President Bill Clinton at the July 2000 Camp David Summit. During the summit, Barak offered a plan for the establishment of a Palestinian state, but Yasser Arafat rejected it.[87] After the collapse of the talks, Palestinians began the Second Intifada.

Ariel Sharon soon after became the new prime minister in a 2001 special election. During his tenure, Sharon carried out his plan to unilaterally withdraw from the Gaza Strip and also spearheaded the construction of the Israeli West Bank barrier.[88] In January 2006, after Ariel Sharon suffered a severe hemorrhagic stroke which left him in a coma, the powers of office were transferred to Ehud Olmert. The kidnappings of Israeli soldiers by Hamas and Hezbollah and the shelling of settlements on Israel’s northern border led to a five-week war, known in Israel as the Second Lebanon War. The conflict was brought to end by a ceasefire brokered by the United Nations. After the war, Israel’s Chief of Staff, Dan Halutz, resigned.

On November 27, 2007, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to begin negotiations on all issues, and to make every effort reach an agreement by the end of 2008.

Geography Location: Middle East, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Egypt and Lebanon
Geographic coordinates: 31 30 N, 34 45 E
Map references: Middle East
Area: total: 20,770 sq km
land: 20,330 sq km
water: 440 sq km
Area – comparative: slightly smaller than New Jersey
Land boundaries: total: 1,017 km
border countries: Egypt 266 km, Gaza Strip 51 km, Jordan 238 km, Lebanon 79 km, Syria 76 km, West Bank 307 km
Coastline: 273 km
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 12 nm
continental shelf: to depth of exploitation
Climate: temperate; hot and dry in southern and eastern desert areas
Terrain: Negev desert in the south; low coastal plain; central mountains; Jordan Rift Valley
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Dead Sea -408 m
highest point: Har Meron 1,208 m
Natural resources: timber, potash, copper ore, natural gas, phosphate rock, magnesium bromide, clays, sand
Land use: arable land: 15.45%
permanent crops: 3.88%
other: 80.67% (2005)
Irrigated land: 1,940 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources: 1.7 cu km (2001)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural): total: 2.05 cu km/yr (31%/7%/62%)
per capita: 305 cu m/yr (2000)
Natural hazards: sandstorms may occur during spring and summer; droughts; periodic earthquakes
Environment – current issues: limited arable land and natural fresh water resources pose serious constraints; desertification; air pollution from industrial and vehicle emissions; groundwater pollution from industrial and domestic waste, chemical fertilizers, and pesticides
Environment – international agreements: party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands, Whaling
signed, but not ratified: Marine Life Conservation
Geography – note: there are 242 Israeli settlements and civilian land use sites in the West Bank, 42 in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, 0 in the Gaza Strip, and 29 in East Jerusalem (August 2005 est.); Sea of Galilee is an important freshwater source
Politics Israel operates under a parliamentary system as a democratic country with universal suffrage.[2] The President of Israel is the head of state, but his duties are largely ceremonial.[101] A Parliament Member supported by a majority in parliament becomes the Prime Minister, usually the chairman of the largest party. The Prime Minister is the head of government and head of the Cabinet. Israel is governed by a 120-member parliament, known as the Knesset. Membership in the Knesset is based on proportional representation of political parties.[103] Parliamentary elections are held every four years, but the Knesset can dissolve the government at any time by a no-confidence vote. The Basic Laws of Israel function as an unwritten constitution. In 2003, the Knesset began to draft an official constitution based on these laws.

Israel has a three-tier court system. At the lowest level are magistrate courts, situated in most cities across the country. Above them are district courts, serving both as appellate courts and courts of first instance; they are situated in five of Israel’s six districts. The third and highest tier in Israel is the Supreme Court, seated in Jerusalem. It serves a dual role as the highest court of appeals and the High Court of Justice. In the latter role, the Supreme Court rules as a court of first instance, allowing individuals, both citizens and non-citizens, to petition against decisions of state authorities.[105][106] Israel is not a member of the International Criminal Court as it fears the court would be biased against it due to political pressure.[107] Israel’s legal system combines English common law, civil law, and Jewish law.[2] It is based on the principle of stare decisis (precedent) and is an adversarial system, where the parties in the suit bring evidence before the court. Court cases are decided by professional judges rather than juries.[105] Marriage and divorce are under the jurisdiction of the religious courts: Jewish, Muslim, Druze, and Christian. A committee of Knesset members, Supreme Court justices, and Israeli Bar members carries out the election of judges.

The Israeli Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty seeks to defend human rights and liberties. Israel is the only country in the region ranked “Free” by Freedom House based on the level of civil and political rights; the “Israeli Occupied Territories/Palestinian Authority” was ranked “Not Free.”[109] Similarly, Reporters Without Borders rated Israel 50th out of 168 countries in terms of freedom of the press and highest among Southwest Asian countries.[110] Nevertheless, groups such as Amnesty International[111] and Human Rights Watch[112] have often disapproved of Israel’s human rights record in regards to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Israel’s civil liberties also allow for self-criticism, from groups such as B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization.[113] Israel’s system of socialized medicine, which guarantees equal health care to all residents of the country, was anchored in law in 1995.

Israel is located in the region of the world (i.e.,Southwest Asia including North Africa) that is the ” . . . least hospitable to democracy. Of the 19 states in this broad region, only 2 Israel and Turkey are democratic (though in Turkey the military still retains a veto on many important issues).”

People Population: 6,426,679
note: includes about 187,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank, about 20,000 in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, and fewer than 177,000 in East Jerusalem (July 2007 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 26.1% (male 858,246/female 818,690)
15-64 years: 64.2% (male 2,076,649/female 2,046,343)
65 years and over: 9.8% (male 269,483/female 357,268) (2007 est.)
Median age: total: 29.9 years
male: 29.1 years
female: 30.8 years (2007 est.)
Population growth rate: 1.154% (2007 est.)
Birth rate: 17.71 births/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Death rate: 6.17 deaths/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Net migration rate: 0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2007 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.048 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 1.015 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.754 male(s)/female
total population: 0.994 male(s)/female (2007 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 6.75 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 7.45 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 6.02 deaths/1,000 live births (2007 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 79.59 years
male: 77.44 years
female: 81.85 years (2007 est.)
Total fertility rate: 2.38 children born/woman (2007 est.)
HIV/AIDS – adult prevalence rate: 0.1% (2001 est.)
HIV/AIDS – people living with HIV/AIDS: 3,000 (1999 est.)
HIV/AIDS – deaths: 100 (2001 est.)
Nationality: noun: Israeli(s)
adjective: Israeli
Ethnic groups: Jewish 76.4% (of which Israel-born 67.1%, Europe/America-born 22.6%, Africa-born 5.9%, Asia-born 4.2%), non-Jewish 23.6% (mostly Arab) (2004)
Religions: Jewish 76.4%, Muslim 16%, Arab Christians 1.7%, other Christian 0.4%, Druze 1.6%, unspecified 3.9% (2004)
Languages: Hebrew (official), Arabic used officially for Arab minority, English most commonly used foreign language
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 97.1%
male: 98.5%
female: 95.9%

Israel airstrike left Syria arms warehouse in ruins, satellite images show

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL NEWSPAPER)

 

Israel airstrike left Syria arms warehouse in ruins, satellite images show

Syrian soldiers reportedly arrested in connection with downed spy plane; IAF commander to fly to Moscow to present the findings of Israel’s investigation into the incident

A before and after photo of an ammunition warehouse which was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike on a Syrian base in Latakia, September 18, 2018 (ImageSat International (ISI/Ynet)

A before and after photo of an ammunition warehouse which was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike on a Syrian base in Latakia, September 18, 2018 (ImageSat International (ISI/Ynet)

A munitions warehouse in a Syrian military facility appears to have been completely obliterated in an Israeli airstrike in the Syrian port city of Latakia late on Monday, satellite images released Wednesday show.

A Russian military reconnaissance plane was shot down by Syria during the Israeli strike, killing all 15 crew members.

On Wednesday Syria released video footage from the site of the attack, reiterating its claim that Israel targeted an aluminium factory, not a weapons warehouse in Monday’s strike, according to the Ynet news site. The veracity of the footage could not be independently verified.

On Monday, Syria accidentally shot down the Russian reconnaissance plane when its air defenses swung into action against the Israeli strike on Latakia. The Russian defense ministry initially blamed Israel, saying the IAF jets used the Russian plane as cover.

However, Russian President Vladimir Putin later told reporters that the downing of the plane by Syrian air defenses was a “chain of tragic accidental circumstances.”

The remains of a Syrian ammunition warehouse which was destroyed in an Israeli airstrike on a base in Latakia, September 18, 2018. (ImageSat International (ISI/Ynet)

On Wednesday, the Russians approved Prime Minister Netanyahu’s proposal to fly air force commander Major General Amiram Norkin to Moscow to present the findings of Israel’s investigation into the incident.

Syrian media and opposition sources reported Wednesday that several Syrian soldiers who were involved in the downing of the Russian spy plane were arrested and interrogated.

The fighters from the air force base in Latakia were reportedly arrested by members of the Russian military police. A Syrian unit was also reported to have taken part in the arrest, according to Hadashot TV.

Meanwhile, the remains of another plane, a Boeing 747 aircraft that was destroyed in an earlier alleged Israeli strike at Damascus airport on Saturday, and believed to be in the use of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, can be seen in separate images provided by ImageSat International (ISI).

The remains of a suspected Iranian aircraft which was hit in an Israeli airstrike, Damascus, September 18, 2018. (ImageSat International (ISI/Ynet)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke Tuesday with Russian President Vladimir Putin amid the rising tensions between the two countries in the wake of Monday’s airstrike.

In the call, the Israeli leader “noted the importance of the continued security coordination between Israel and Syria that has managed to prevent many casualties on both sides in the last three years,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office said.

The Kremlin said that Putin emphasized that the Israeli attack violated Syria’s sovereignty and also breached the Russian-Israeli agreements on avoiding clashes in Syria. The Russian leader urged Netanyahu “not to allow such situations in the future.”

Israel said its jets had attacked a Syrian military facility that manufactured “accurate and lethal weapons,” which were “about to be transferred, on behalf of Iran, to Hezbollah in Lebanon.”

Netanyahu told Putin that Israel was “determined” to prevent Iranian military entrenchment in Syria, and the attempts by Iran, which calls for the destruction of Israel, to transfer to Hezbollah lethal weaponry to be used against Israel.

Netanyahu also reiterated that Israel would completely share all the information it had on the circumstances of the raid and suggested sending Israel’s air force chief to Moscow to “deliver all the needed information.”

The conversation came on Tuesday evening just before Israel began observing Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year.

Earlier Tuesday, Putin confirmed that Israel did not shoot down the plane, rejecting any comparisons with the downing of a Russian jet by Turkey in 2015.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) attends the inauguration ceremony for Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyaninin on September 18, 2018. (AFP/Sputnik/Alexey Filippov)

“An Israeli jet did not shoot down our plane,” the Russian leader said.

The Russian defense ministry on Tuesday morning had blamed Israel for the accident and warned of reprisals.

Putin said he had signed off on the defense ministry statement. “No doubt we should seriously look into this,” Putin said, speaking at a news conference after talks with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Israel said its deputy ambassador in Moscow Keren Cohen-Gat was summoned to the Russian foreign ministry. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said there would be no comment on what was discussed.

Putin also said Moscow would beef up security for Russian military personnel in Syria as a priority response. “These will be the steps that everyone will notice,” he said, without providing further details.

He expressed condolences to the families of the victims, calling the accident a “tragedy for us all.”

The incident was the worst case of friendly fire between the two allies since Russia’s game-changing military intervention in September 2015.

The Russian plane was downed by a Russian-made S-200 air defense supplied to Syria.

The Israeli military on Tuesday acknowledged conducting the airstrike the night before and “expressed sorrow” for the deaths of the 15 Russian airmen.

In a statement, however, the IDF denied all responsibility for the downing of the Russian spy plane, saying that Syria, Iran, and Hezbollah were the ones at fault.

“Israel expresses sorrow for the death of the aircrew members of the Russian plane that was downed tonight due to Syrian anti-aircraft fire,” the IDF said, and noted that the Russian plane that was hit “was not within the area of the operation.”

A photo taken on July 23, 2006 shows an Russian IL-20M (Ilyushin 20m) plane landing at an unknown location.
Russia blamed Israel on September 18, 2018 for the loss of a military IL-20M jet to Syrian fire, which killed all 15 servicemen on board, and threatened a response. (AFP PHOTO / Nikita SHCHYUKIN)

The Israeli strike was conducted at approximately 10 p.m. by four F-16 fighter jets, according to the Russian military.

Syrian air defenses opened fire at the incoming missiles, at the attacking aircraft and — according to Israel — at nothing in particular. The Russian Il-20 was shot down in the air battle.

“The Syrian anti-air batteries fired indiscriminately and, from what we understand, did not bother to ensure that no Russian planes were in the air,” the army said.

According to the IDF, the target of its Monday night strike was a Syrian military facility that manufactured “accurate and lethal weapons,” which were “about to be transferred, on behalf of Iran, to Hezbollah in Lebanon.”

Explosions seen in the Syrian city of Latakia after an attack on a military facility nearby on September 17, 2018. (Screen capture: Twitter)

The target of the Israeli strike was identified by Syria as a subsidiary of its defense ministry, known as the Organization for Technical Industries, which has suspected ties to the country’s chemical weapons and missile programs.

“These weapons were meant to attack Israel, and posed an intolerable threat against it,” the army said.

Though Israeli officials have said, generally, that the military conducts operations inside Syria against Iranian and Hezbollah targets, the IDF rarely acknowledges specific airstrikes, preferring instead to adopt a formal policy of neither confirming nor denying the attacks attributed to it.

The military said its initial investigation found that its strike was completed before the Russian plane entered the area of the operation and that the reconnaissance aircraft was shot down after the Israeli fighter jets had returned to Israeli airspace.

“Israel holds the Assad regime, whose military shot down the Russian plane, fully responsible for this incident. Israel also holds Iran and the Hezbollah terror organization accountable for this unfortunate incident,” the army added.

This appeared to refute the claim made by Moscow that the Israeli pilots used the surveillance plane as cover for their attack.

A Russian military official gives a briefing on the downing of an IL-20 military plane near Syria on September 18, 2018. (screen capture: Sputnik)

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu also accused Israel of failing to inform the Russian military of its plans, which he said would have been in the “spirit” of Israeli-Russian coordination in Syria. The Russian defense ministry said Israel warned them of the impending strike “less than a minute” before it began, which left them insufficient time to clear their personnel from the area.

The Israeli and Russian militaries maintain what they call a “deconfliction mechanism,” which is meant to coordinate their activities in Syria in order to avoid incidents like this one. Until Monday night, these efforts had largely succeeded in preventing direct or indirect clashes since Russia became more deeply involved in the Syrian civil war three years ago.

The Israeli military said it had coordinated with Russia ahead of the attack, though it did not address Moscow’s specific claims about the amount of time between the notification and the airstrike itself.

The IDF also said it would “share all the relevant information with the Russian government to review the incident and to confirm the facts in this inquiry.”

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Israel: Parents say they alerted PA, Israel before deadly stabbing of Fuld

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Terrorist’s parents say they alerted PA, Israel before deadly stabbing of Fuld

Palestinian official says stabber’s father informed PA forces of son’s disappearance, while IDF says mother told soldiers that her son planned to commit an attack

17-year-old Khalil Jabarin, who fatally stabbed Israeli Ari Fuld in a West Bank terror attack on September 16, 2016 (Screenshot/Twitter)

17-year-old Khalil Jabarin, who fatally stabbed Israeli Ari Fuld in a West Bank terror attack on September 16, 2016 (Screenshot/Twitter)

The parents of a Palestinian teenager who carried out a deadly terror attack in the central West Bank on Sunday warned both Palestinian Authority and Israeli security forces about their son before the lethal stabbing, according to a senior PA official and Israeli military sources.

On Sunday, 17-year-old Khalil Jabarin of Yatta, a village south of Hebron, fatally stabbed 45-year-old Ari Fuld, an American Israeli resident of the Efrat settlement and a father of four, outside a shopping mall at the Gush Etzion Junction.

A senior PA official based in the southern West Bank said Jabarin’s father warned PA security forces that his son had gone missing Sunday morning, after he fought with him about going to school.

“The father and his son got into a fight this morning. The father wanted his son to go to school, but he refused and eventually the father beat him,” the official, who asked not to be named, told The Times of Israel. “The son then ran away and the father told the security forces that his son went missing. The security forces tried to find him, but they weren’t able to before [the stabbing].”

Ari Fuld, who was stabbed to death by a Palestinian terrorist outside a West Bank shopping mall on September 16, 2018. (Facebook)

When asked if the PA security forces informed their Israeli counterparts that Jabarin had gone missing, the official said that the father had only informed them that his son had disappeared and not that he was planning to carry out an attack.

“All we knew was that the boy had run away. So we did not inform the Israeli side,” the Palestinian official said. “We did not know he was planning to carry out a stabbing.”

Jabarin’s mother, however, went to the nearby Meitar checkpoint in the southern West Bank and told soldiers, at approximately the same time the stabbing took place, that her son planned to commit an attack, according to the Israeli army.

She did not provide specific details about where or when she believed Jabarin would carry out an attack, the army said.

Israeli security forces planned to arrest members of the terrorist’s family in order to further investigate what information they had about his plans before he carried out the attack, the IDF added.

Shortly before noon on Sunday, Jabarin stabbed Fuld in the back, as they stood on the sidewalk outside the shopping mall, which is frequented by both Israelis and Palestinians.

Despite his wounds, Fuld chased and shot his attacker before collapsing to the ground. Fuld was rushed to Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center in serious condition. After resuscitation efforts failed, doctors there pronounced his death.

Jabarin was shot by Fuld and another armed civilian at the scene. He was taken to Hadassah Hospital Mount Scopus in moderate condition with multiple gunshot wounds, hospital officials said.

Ari Fuld, father of four, and resident of Efrat. Fuld was a member of the emergency squad in Gush Etzion, pictured here at a celebratory event on October 31, 2017, carrying his rifle with. He was killed by a Palestinian terrorist in a stabbing attack at the Gush Etzion junction on September 16, 2018. (Gershon Elinson/FLASH90/File)

Jabarin’s grandfather, Jamal, who is also the principal at the school where Jabarin studied, said family members were concerned when the teenager did not show up to school Sunday morning.

“Nobody knows what happened exactly. At 7 a.m., the boy was missing, and we started searching for him everywhere. We even notified the Palestinian security forces and the coordination services with Israel [the Israeli Civil Administration],” Jamal Jabarin said.

“He told his mother he was going to train, and he wore sports clothes,” the principal added. “She waited for him to return.”

The family was stunned by the attack, he said, calling Khalil “a quiet boy, learned, respectful, conscientious.”

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Lebanon: Truth, Knowledge, History Of This War Torn Middle-Eastern Nation

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CIA WORLD FACT BOOK)

 

Lebanon

Introduction Following the capture of Syria from the Ottoman Empire by Anglo-French forces in 1918, France received a mandate over this territory and separated out a region of Lebanon in 1920. France granted this area independence in 1943. A lengthy civil war (1975-1990) devastated the country, but Lebanon has since made progress toward rebuilding its political institutions. Under the Ta’if Accord – the blueprint for national reconciliation – the Lebanese established a more equitable political system, particularly by giving Muslims a greater voice in the political process while institutionalizing sectarian divisions in the government. Since the end of the war, Lebanon has conducted several successful elections, most militias have been disbanded, and the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) have extended authority over about two-thirds of the country. Hizballah, a radical Shi’a organization listed by the US State Department as a Foreign Terrorist Organization, retains its weapons. During Lebanon’s civil war, the Arab League legitimized in the Ta’if Accord Syria’s troop deployment, numbering about 16,000 based mainly east of Beirut and in the Bekaa Valley. Israel’s withdrawal from southern Lebanon in May 2000 and the passage in October 2004 of UNSCR 1559 – a resolution calling for Syria to withdraw from Lebanon and end its interference in Lebanese affairs – encouraged some Lebanese groups to demand that Syria withdraw its forces as well. The assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq HARIRI and 20 others in February 2005 led to massive demonstrations in Beirut against the Syrian presence (“the Cedar Revolution”), and Syria withdrew the remainder of its military forces in April 2005. In May-June 2005, Lebanon held its first legislative elections since the end of the civil war free of foreign interference, handing a majority to the bloc led by Saad HARIRI, the slain prime minister’s son. Lebanon continues to be plagued by violence – Hizballah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers in July 2006 leading to a 34-day conflict with Israel. The LAF in May-September 2007 battled Sunni extremist group Fatah al-Islam in the Nahr al-Barid Palestinian refugee camp; and the country has witnessed a string of politically motivated assassinations since the death of Rafiq HARIRI. Lebanese politicians in November 2007 were unable to agree on a successor to Emile LAHUD when he stepped down as president, creating a political vacuum.
History Ancient history

The earliest known settlements in Lebanon date back to earlier than 5000 BC. Archaeologists have discovered in Byblos, which is considered to be the oldest continuously-inhabited city in the world,[15] remnants of prehistoric huts with crushed limestone floors, primitive weapons, and burial jars which are evidence of the Neolithic and Chalcolithic fishing communities who lived on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea over 7,000 years ago. [5]

Lebanon was the homeland of the Phoenicians, a seafaring people that spread across the Mediterranean before the rise of Cyrus the Great. After two centuries of Persian rule, Macedonian ruler Alexander the Great attacked and burned Tyre, the most prominent Phoenician city. Throughout the subsequent centuries leading up to recent times, the country became part of numerous succeeding empires, among them Persian, Assyrian, Macedonian, Roman, Byzantine, Arab, Crusader, and Ottoman.

French mandate and independence

Lebanon was part of the Ottoman Empire for over 400 years, in a region known as Greater Syria,[17] until 1918 when the area became a part of the French Mandate of Syria following World War I. On September 1, 1920, France formed the State of Greater Lebanon as one of several ethnic enclaves within Syria.[18] Lebanon was a largely Christian (mainly Maronite) enclave but also included areas containing many Muslims and Druzes. On September 1, 1926, France formed the Lebanese Republic. The Republic was afterward a separate entity from Syria but still administered under the French Mandate of Syria. Lebanon gained independence in 1943, while France was occupied by Germany.[19] General Henri Dentz, the Vichy High Commissioner for Syria and Lebanon, played a major role in the independence of the nation. The Vichy authorities in 1941 allowed Germany to move aircraft and supplies through Syria to Iraq where they were used against British forces. The United Kingdom, fearing that Nazi Germany would gain full control of Lebanon and Syria by pressure on the weak Vichy government, sent its army into Syria and Lebanon.

After the fighting ended in Lebanon, General Charles de Gaulle visited the area. Under various political pressures from both inside and outside Lebanon, de Gaulle decided to recognize the independence of Lebanon. On November 26, 1941 General Georges Catroux announced that Lebanon would become independent under the authority of the Free French government. Elections were held in 1943 and on November 8, 1943 the new Lebanese government unilaterally abolished the mandate. The French reacted by throwing the new government into prison. In the face of international pressure, the French released the government officials on November 22, 1943 and accepted the independence of Lebanon.

The allies kept the region under control until the end of World War II. The last French troops withdrew in 1946. Lebanon’s unwritten National Pact of 1943 required that its president be Christian and its prime minister be Muslim.

Lebanon’s history since independence has been marked by alternating periods of political stability and turmoil (including a civil conflict in 1958) interspersed with prosperity built on Beirut’s position as a regional center for finance and trade.

1948 Arab-Israeli war

Five years after gaining independence, Lebanon reluctantly joined the Arab League but never invaded Israel[20] during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. It took over logistical support of the Arab Liberation Army after it found itself cut off from its bases in Syria while going on an attack on the newly-proclaimed Jewish State.[20] After the defeat of the Arab Liberation Army in Operation Hiram,[21] Lebanon accepted an armistice with Israel on March 23, 1949. Approximately 100,000 Palestinian refugees were living in Lebanon in 1949 as a result of the creation of Israel and the subsequent war. The Lebanese-Israeli border remained closed, but quiet, until after the Six Day War in 1967.

Civil war and beyond

In 1975, civil war broke out in Lebanon. The Lebanese Civil War lasted fifteen years, devastating the country’s economy, and resulting in the massive loss of human life and property. It is estimated that 150,000 people were killed and another 200,000 maimed.[23] The war ended in 1990 with the signing of the Taif Agreement and parts of Lebanon were left in ruins.

During the civil war, the Palestine Liberation Organization used Lebanon to launch attacks against Israel. Lebanon was twice invaded and occupied by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) in 1978 and 1982,[25] the PLO expelled in the second invasion. Israel remained in control of Southern Lebanon until 2000, when there was a general decision, led by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, to withdraw due to continuous guerrilla attacks executed by Hezbollah militants and a belief that Hezbollah activity would diminish and dissolve without the Israeli presence.[26] The UN determined that the withdrawal of Israeli troops beyond the blue line was in accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 425, although a border region called the Shebaa Farms is still disputed. Hezbollah declared that it would not stop its operations against Israel until this area was liberated.

Recent history

On February 14, 2005, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri was assassinated in a car bomb explosion near the Saint George Bay in Beirut. Leaders of the March 14 Alliance accused Syria of the attack[29] due to its extensive military and intelligence presence in Lebanon, and the public rift between Hariri and Damascus over the Syrian-backed constitutional amendment extending pro-Syrian President Lahoud’s term in office. Others, namely the March 8 Alliance and Syrian officials, claimed that the assassination may have been executed by the Israeli Mossad in an attempt to destabilize the country.

This incident triggered a series of demonstrations, known as Cedar Revolution, that demanded the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon and the establishment of an international commission to investigate the assassination. The United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted Resolution 1595 on April 7, 2005, which called for an investigation into the assassination of Rafik Hariri.[31] The findings of the investigation were officially published on October 20, 2005 in the Mehlis report.[32] Eventually, and under pressure from the international community, Syria began withdrawing its 15,000-strong army troops from Lebanon.[33] By April 26, 2005, all uniformed Syrian soldiers had already crossed the border back to Syria.[34] The Hariri assassination marked the beginning of a series of assassination attempts that led to the loss of many prominent Lebanese figures.

On July 12, 2006, Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli soldiers and that led to a conflict, known in Lebanon as July War, that lasted until a United Nations-brokered ceasefire went into effect on 14 August 2006.

Geography Location: Middle East, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, between Israel and Syria
Geographic coordinates: 33 50 N, 35 50 E
Map references: Middle East
Area: total: 10,400 sq km
land: 10,230 sq km
water: 170 sq km
Area – comparative: about 0.7 times the size of Connecticut
Land boundaries: total: 454 km
border countries: Israel 79 km, Syria 375 km
Coastline: 225 km
Maritime claims: territorial sea: 12 nm
Climate: Mediterranean; mild to cool, wet winters with hot, dry summers; Lebanon mountains experience heavy winter snows
Terrain: narrow coastal plain; El Beqaa (Bekaa Valley) separates Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon Mountains
Elevation extremes: lowest point: Mediterranean Sea 0 m
highest point: Qurnat as Sawda’ 3,088 m
Natural resources: limestone, iron ore, salt, water-surplus state in a water-deficit region, arable land
Land use: arable land: 16.35%
permanent crops: 13.75%
other: 69.9% (2005)
Irrigated land: 1,040 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources: 4.8 cu km (1997)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural): total: 1.38 cu km/yr (33%/1%/67%)
per capita: 385 cu m/yr (2000)
Natural hazards: dust storms, sandstorms
Environment – current issues: deforestation; soil erosion; desertification; air pollution in Beirut from vehicular traffic and the burning of industrial wastes; pollution of coastal waters from raw sewage and oil spills
Environment – international agreements: party to: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, Wetlands
signed, but not ratified: Environmental Modification, Marine Life Conservation
Geography – note: Nahr el Litani is the only major river in Near East not crossing an international boundary; rugged terrain historically helped isolate, protect, and develop numerous factional groups based on religion, clan, and ethnicity
Politics Lebanon is a parliamentary, democratic republic, which implements a special system known as confessionalism.[69] This system, allegedly meant to insure that sectarian conflict is kept at bay, attempts to fairly represent the demographic distribution of religious sects in the governing body. As such, high-ranking offices in are reserved for members of specific religious groups. The President, for example, has to be a Maronite Catholic Christian, the Speaker of the Parliament a Shi’a Muslim, the Prime Minister a Sunni Muslim and the Deputy Prime Minister an Orthodox Christian.

This trend continues in the distribution of the 128 parliamentary seats, which are divided equally between Muslims and Christians. Prior to 1990, the ratio stood at 6:5 in favor of Christians; however, the Taif Accord, which put an end to the 1975-1990 civil war, adjusted the ratio to grant equal representation to followers of the two religions.[72] According to the constitution, direct elections must be held for the parliament every four years, although for much of Lebanon’s recent history, civil war precluded the exercise of this right.

The parliament elects the president for a non-renewable six-year term. At the urging of the Syrian government, this constitutional rule has been bypassed by ad hoc amendment twice in recent history. Elias Hrawi’s term, which was due to end in 1995, was extended for three years. This procedure, denounced by pro-democracy campaigners, was repeated in 2004 to allow Émile Lahoud to remain in office until 2007.

The President appoints the Prime Minister on the nomination of the parliament (which is, in most cases, binding).Following consultations with the parliament and the President, the Prime Minister forms the Cabinet, which must also adhere to the sectarian distribution set out by confessionalism.

Lebanon’s judicial system is based on the Napoleonic Code. Juries are not used in trials. The Lebanese court system consists of three levels: courts of first instance, courts of appeal, and the court of cassation. There also is a system of religious courts having jurisdiction over personal status matters within their own communities, with rules on matters such as marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Lebanese law does not provide for Civil marriage (although it recognizes such marriages contracted abroad); efforts by former President Elias Hrawi to legalize civil marriage in the late 1990s floundered on objections mostly from Muslim clerics. Additionally, Lebanon has a system of military courts that also has jurisdiction over civilians for crimes of espionage, treason, and other crimes that are considered to be security-related. These military courts have been criticized by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International for “seriously fall[ing] short of international standards for fair trial” and having “very wide jurisdiction over civilians”.

After Rafic Hariri’s assassination on 14 February 2005, the country has seen turbulent political times, and it shaped the Cedar Revolution and the rise of the March 14 alliance which is made of: Lebanese Forces, Future Movement and the PSP.

People Population: 3,971,941 (July 2008 est.)
Age structure: 0-14 years: 26% (male 526,994/female 505,894)
15-64 years: 66.8% (male 1,275,021/female 1,380,131)
65 years and over: 7.1% (male 128,002/female 155,899) (2008 est.)
Median age: total: 28.8 years
male: 27.6 years
female: 30 years (2008 est.)
Population growth rate: 1.154% (2008 est.)
Birth rate: 17.61 births/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Death rate: 6.06 deaths/1,000 population (2008 est.)
Net migration rate: NA (2008 est.)
Sex ratio: at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.04 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.92 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.82 male(s)/female
total population: 0.95 male(s)/female (2008 est.)
Infant mortality rate: total: 22.59 deaths/1,000 live births
male: 25.08 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 19.97 deaths/1,000 live births (2008 est.)
Life expectancy at birth: total population: 73.41 years
male: 70.91 years
female: 76.04 years (2008 est.)
Total fertility rate: 1.87 children born/woman (2008 est.)
HIV/AIDS – adult prevalence rate: 0.1% (2001 est.)
HIV/AIDS – people living with HIV/AIDS: 2,800 (2003 est.)
HIV/AIDS – deaths: less than 200 (2003 est.)
Nationality: noun: Lebanese (singular and plural)
adjective: Lebanese
Ethnic groups: Arab 95%, Armenian 4%, other 1%
note: many Christian Lebanese do not identify themselves as Arab but rather as descendents of the ancient Canaanites and prefer to be called Phoenicians
Religions: Muslim 59.7% (Shi’a, Sunni, Druze, Isma’ilite, Alawite or Nusayri), Christian 39% (Maronite Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Melkite Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic, Armenian Catholic, Syrian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Chaldean, Assyrian, Copt, Protestant), other 1.3%
note: 17 religious sects recognized
Languages: Arabic (official), French, English, Armenian
Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 87.4%
male: 93.1%
female: 82.2%

Satellite photos said to show new Iranian missile factory in Syria

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Satellite photos said to show new Iranian missile factory in Syria

Noting facility’s apparent similarity to Iran’s Parchin complex, report says site likely spared from Israeli strike due to nearby Russia anti-aircraft battery

Satellite photos published Thursday purported to show the establishment of an Iranian surface-to-surface missile factory in Syria, raising fresh concerns over the extent of the two countries’ military cooperation on Israel’s northern border.

The photos, which were taken by ImageSat International and published by Channel 10 news, were said to show a facility outside Wadi Jahannam in northwest Syria resembling Iran’s Parchin facility, which has been linked to the Islamic Republic’s ballistic missile and nuclear programs.

Beyond noting an apparent surge in construction work at the site and the building’s seeming similarity to Parchin, Channel 10 did not say how it was identified as a missile factory.

Unlike other Iranian facilities in Syria that have been targeted in Israeli airstrikes, the report said the site was likely spared due to its close proximity to a Russian S-400 ant-aircraft battery, which is considered to be one of the most advanced air defense systems in the world.

Satellite image of the Parchin facility in April (photo credit: Institute for Science and International Security/AP)

Satellite image of the Parchin facility, April 2012. (AP/Institute for Science and International Security)

In July, Israeli jets reportedly targeted a missile production facility in nearby Masyaf, where a leading Syrian chemical weapons and missile scientist was killed earlier this month in a car bombing attributed to Israel.

According to a New York Times report, Israel believed that Dr. Aziz Asbar was leading a classified weapons development program called Sector 4 at the Syrian Scientific Studies and Research Center, and was busy rebuilding an underground weapons factory to replace the one said destroyed by Israel.

Israel did not comment on its alleged involvement in the July airstrike on the facility, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement following the raid that Israel “will not stop taking action in Syria against Iran’s attempts to establish a military presence there.”

Iran has been one of the top military backers of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime in the over sever-year-long civil war in the country, as has been its Lebanese proxy, the Hezbollah terror group.

This photo released by the Syrian official news agency SANA shows Syrian president Bashar Assad, right, meeting with Iran’s Defense Minister Amir Hatami, in Damascus, Syria, on August 26, 2018. (SANA via AP)

Both Israel and the United States have called for the removal of all Iranian-backed forces from Syria. Russia, which like Iran is fighting on behalf of Assad, has expressed support for this goal but said it can’t force Iranian forces out of the country.

Iran for its part has vowed to remain in Syria, and earlier this week the two countries signed a defense agreement during a visit by Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami to Damascus.

Hatami said the pact would include the rebuilding of Syria’s military and defense programs.

Netanyahu this week reiterated that Israel will continue to take action against Iran’s military entrenchment in Syria, and issued an emphatic warning against those who call for Israel’s annihilation, such as the Islamic Republic.

“Whoever threatens us with destruction puts himself in similar danger, and in any case will not achieve his goal,” Netanyahu said during a ceremony at the nuclear research facility in Dimona.

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Top Hamas official: Ceasefire talks with Israel in ‘final stretch’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Top Hamas official: Ceasefire talks with Israel in ‘final stretch’

Kahlil al-Hayya tells Lebanese TV Hamas wishes to reach a long-term accord with the Jewish state

Senior Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya is seen in the Egyptian capital Cairo on November 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohamed El-Shahed)
Senior Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya is seen in the Egyptian capital Cairo on November 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohamed El-Shahed)

Negotiations for a long-term ceasefire deal between Israel and Hamas are in “the final stretch,” a senior member of the terror group said Friday.

Lebanon’s Al-Mayadeen TV quoted Kahlil al-Hayya as saying the deal would follow understandings reached at the end of the 2014 war between the sides. He did not elaborate.

Al-Hayya added that Hamas supports reaching an accord.

The Hamas leader was speaking from Cairo, where a Hamas delegation was said to be discussing the deal being mediated by Egypt and the UN.

On Friday thousands of Gazans demonstrated along the Israeli border in weekly Hamas-backed ‘March of Return’ demonstrations. Hamas leadership had urged the public to participate in Friday’s protests.

Palestinian protesters demonstrate at the Israel-Gaza border, east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on August 17, 2018 (AFP/Said Khatib)

Rioters hurled rocks, improvised bombs and Molotov cocktails at soldiers and burned tires to create a smokescreen. Others launched incendiary balloons towards Israel.

The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza reported that two men had been killed and around 250 injured, of which at least 25 were said hit by live fire.

On Thursday Al-Mayadeen reported that the long-term deal taking shape will last for a year and see the establishment of a cargo shipping connection between Gaza and Cyprus. Israel will have security control over the sea traffic between the Palestinian coastal enclave and Cyprus, according to the report from the TV channel, which cited sources familiar with the details.

Hadashot TV news reported Thursday that the head of the Shin Bet security agency has warned cabinet ministers that excluding the Palestinian Authority from the accord in Gaza will send a message that terrorism is rewarded.

Head of Shin Bet security service Nadav Argaman attends a Foreign Affairs and Defense committee meeting at the Knesset on July 12, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“Pushing aside [Abbas] from the process [of reaching an] agreement will strengthen Hamas in the West Bank and prove terror pays,” Nadav Argaman was quoted as saying. “Such a move would also weaken the moderates and prove to Palestinians that only the path of violence achieves results.”

Hamas and the PA have been at odds since the terror group violently took control of the Gaza Strip in 2007. A number of reconciliation agreements between them have failed to patch up their differences, most recently an Egyptian-sponsored deal signed in October.

Recent months have seen repeated rounds of intense violence between Israel and Hamas, along with weekly border protests at the Gaza border that have regularly included rioting, attacks on Israeli troops and attempts to infiltrate and sabotage the border fence.

At least 160 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since the weekly protests began, a Hamas ministry says. Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of those killed were its members.

One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper.

In addition to the border clashes, southern Israel has experienced hundreds of fires as a result of incendiary kites and balloons flown over the border from Gaza. Over 7,000 acres of land have been burned, causing millions of shekels in damages, according to Israeli officials.

Hamas has long made access to a sea port a key strategic goal. Under the conditions of Israel’s naval blockade, goods heading to Gaza are currently shipped to Israeli ports and then trucked into Gaza.

Trucks carrying goods enter the Gaza Strip through the Kerem Shalom Crossing after it was reopened by Israel on August 15, 2018. (Flash90)

Israel has imposed a blockade on Gaza since Hamas, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction, seized the territory from the PA. It says the blockade is in place in order to prevent weapons and other military equipment from entering the Strip.

Hamas has fought three wars with Israel in the last decade.

Sources told Al-Mayadeen that the forthcoming deal will include Qatari funding for Gaza’s electricity bills in cooperation with Israel, and Qatari payment of civil service employees’ salaries in Gaza in cooperation with Egypt.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman pitched the idea of setting up a floating dock for Palestinian sea traffic in Cyprus when he met with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades in June, Hadashot news reported at the time.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman leads a Yisrael Beytenu faction meeting at the Knesset on July 2, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The plan was conditional on the return of two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two IDF soldiers held by Hamas, the television report said.

Two apparently mentally ill Israeli civilians — Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed — who entered Gaza of their own volition in 2014 and 2015, respectively, are currently being held Hamas, along with the remains of two slain IDF soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul.

According to a Channel 10 report Thursday, Liberman met with Qatar’s envoy to Gaza during his trip to Cyprus, and the two discussed efforts to reach a ceasefire in Gaza and Qatari proposals to improve humanitarian conditions in the Strip, as well as the return of the Israeli citizens and IDF soldiers’ bodies.

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Egypt said to warn Hamas: Israel will renew assassinations if fire persists

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Egypt said to warn Hamas: Israel will renew assassinations if fire persists

Terror group’s leaders have reportedly turned off their phones, gone underground over fears of targeted killings by Israeli military

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh (L) and Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar attend a rally marking the 30th anniversary of the terror group's founding in Gaza City, on December 14, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed)

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh (L) and Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar attend a rally marking the 30th anniversary of the terror group’s founding in Gaza City, on December 14, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed)

Egypt has warned Hamas that Israel will seek to assassinate the terror group’s leaders if rocket fire from the Gaza Strip does not cease, according to an Israeli television report on Thursday.

Egyptian intelligence cautioned Hamas that Israel could renew targeted killings if the terror group further exacerbates tensions on the Gaza Strip border, Hadashot television news said.

Previous media reports in recent months have indicated that Israel conveyed similar threats to Gaza rulers Hamas through Egyptian channels during periods of increased violence on the border.

Separately, Israel Radio on Thursday night quoted Hamas officials as saying political and military leaders from the terrorist group have turned off their cellphones over the last day and went into hiding for fear of being assassinated.

Hamas leaders were also signaling they were not responsible for a rocket attack targeting the southern city of Beersheba earlier on Thursday, Hadashot reported, in an apparent attempt to defuse the tensions.

The reported Egyptian warning to Hamas came amid a major flare-up in tensions on the Gaza border, with over 180 rockets and mortar shells fired at southern Israel since Wednesday night.

The projectiles injured at least seven people and caused damage to homes, businesses, and infrastructure throughout the region, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

In response, the Israeli Air Force struck over 150 Hamas “terror sites” in the Strip, the army said. Palestinian officials said a pregnant woman and her infant daughter were killed in the Israeli strikes, along with one Hamas fighter, who was reportedly in a car used by a rocket-launching Hamas cell that was targeted by an IDF aircraft.

The Hamas-run health ministry named the woman as Aynas Abu Khamash, 23, and her daughter, 18-months-old, as Bayan. According to Ashraf al-Qidra, a spokesman for the ministry, they were killed in an Israeli strike on the central Gaza Strip early Thursday morning. Mohammed Abu Khamash, Aynas’s husband, was seriously injured in the strike, he said.

Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a spokesman for the IDF, said he could not comment on the specific case of the Abu Khamash family, but stressed that the army targeted “only military sites” in its raids.

On Thursday evening, the Israeli Air Force flattened a five-story building in northern Gaza that served as a headquarters for Hamas’ internal security service, the army said.

The IDF said the strike on the building in the northern Gaza Strip, which also served as a cultural center in the coastal enclave, was in response to “rocket fire by the Hamas terror group against the city of Beersheba earlier in the day.”

The military threatened that the attack was “an expression of the IDF’s intelligence and operational capabilities, which will expand and intensify as necessary.”

Eighteen Palestinians were wounded in the Israeli strike, according to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry. The degree of their injuries was not immediately known.

The attack on the building was one of the IDF’s first strikes on a site deep inside a city in Gaza since the 2014 war. Most of the strikes previously conducted by Israel targeted facilities outside major population centers. In addition, the Rimal neighborhood in which the building was located is one of the more upscale areas of Gaza City.

This decision was seen as an attempt by the military to show Hamas that it was prepared to step up its attacks against the terror group if rocket and mortar fire continued to strike southern Israel from the Gaza Strip.

The site where a mortar shell from the Gaza Strip hit an apartment building and cars in the southern Israeli city of Sderot, on August 9, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Minutes after the Israeli strike on the building began, incoming rocket sirens blared in the Eshkol region of southern Israel, sending thousands of residents into bomb shelters, where they had already spent much of the day in light of frequent attacks from the Gaza Strip throughout the previous two days.

A second wave of sirens were triggered shortly after the IDF confirmed that it had conducted the strike at 8:00 p.m. A third round of sirens went off an hour later.

There were no injuries or damage caused by any of those rocket attacks, Israeli officials said.

The renewed rocket attacks came amid a period of heightened tensions along the Gaza border, following months of clashes and exchanges of fire.

Earlier this week, there had been reports of intensive talks between Israel and Hamas for a long-term ceasefire.

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PM walks out on Druze over criticism from leader who had warned of ‘apartheid’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

PM walks out on Druze over criticism from leader who had warned of ‘apartheid’

Incensed over Facebook post from last month in which Amal As’ad said Israel was headed toward ‘apartheid,’ Netanyahu ends summit meant to solve nation-state law crisis

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 2r, meets with the spiritual leader of the Druze community in Israel, Sheikh Muafak Tarif, 2l, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on July 27, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, 2r, meets with the spiritual leader of the Druze community in Israel, Sheikh Muafak Tarif, 2l, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on July 27, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu angrily walked out of a meeting with Druze leaders on Thursday evening when a prominent Druze activist and former IDF brigadier general angrily criticized the controversial nation-state law passed last month.

The tense meeting, which included ministers Yariv Levin and Ayoub Kara, came two days before a planned mass protest in Tel Aviv organized by Druze activists and fellow opponents of the nation-state law in its current iteration.

At the meeting, held in the IDF headquarters compound in Tel Aviv, Brig. Gen. (res.) Amal As’ad told Netanyahu the Druze weren’t interested in a new benefits package, but in feeling like part of the nation.

Netanyahu then stood up, insisted he would not allow disrespect of an Israeli prime minister or the state, and suggested the meeting continue in his office in a smaller forum that included the community top spiritual leader, Sheikh Muafak Tarif, and mayors of Druze towns, but without As’ad and other Druze former top IDF officers who are leading the campaign against the law.

Brig. Gen. (res.) Amal As’ad in Tel Aviv on August 2, 2018. (Hadashot TV screen capture)

According to As’ad, who spoke to Hadashot television news after the meeting, Tarif refused the smaller meeting, and Netanyahu left the room.

The Druze leaders then walked from the Kirya compound to Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, where preparations for the Saturday night demonstrations are already underway.

Netanyahu was apparently angered by a recent Facebook post from As’ad in which he accused the prime minister of leading Israel on a trajectory of becoming an “apartheid state,” and called the law “evil and racist.”

Initial reports from the Prime Minister’s Office had indicated that As’ad repeated the apartheid claim during the sit-down with Netanyahu, sparking the walk-out, but As’ad said late Thursday those reports were wrong.

“The word ‘apartheid’ was not used during the meeting with the prime minister at all,” he said in a Facebook post. “The solution to the crisis is in the hands of the prime minister and I’m confident he can solve it if he wants.”

As’ad, a former infantry commander and veteran of multiple wars who lost a brother in fighting in the Gaza Strip, in the past expressed support for the Likud party. He has been active in initiatives to commemorate the sacrifices of Druze IDF soldiers.

Yesh Atid leader MK Yair Lapid charged in a tweet Thursday that Netanyahu “has once again shown that what he wants is not a nation-state law, but a fight over the nation-state law” for ostensible narrow political gain.

Sheikh Muafak Tarif, spiritual leader of the Israeli Druze community, attends a conference of the Zionist Druze Movement in Herzliya, on July 16, 2018. (Flash90)

The meeting between Druze leaders and the prime minister followed two weeks of anger and protests among the Druze community over the Knesset’s refusal to include any mention of equality for minorities in the nation-state law, which attempts to enshrine Israel’s character as a Jewish state.

While Netanyahu met the Druze leaders, the law’s original sponsor, Likud MK Avi Dichter, faced the community’s rage at a ceremony to honor Druze veterans at a college in the northern town of Carmiel.

“You dog, you racist,” one man shouted at Dichter, bursting onto the auditorium stage. The man was later identified as Amir Hanifas, head of the newly-formed Forum Against the Nation-state Law.

Activists and supporters of the Druze community in Israel hold a protest tent against the nation-state law passed by the Knesset in July 2018, in Tel Aviv on August 1, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Dichter’s security guards attempted to intervene, but the lawmaker, a former head of the Shin Bet security service, pushed the guards away.

“Look at these kids,” Hanifas yelled at him, pointing to the young veterans. Hanifas told Dichter he “should be ashamed” and “shouldn’t appear before the Druze.”

Hanifas then reportedly called Dichter a “Nazi,” leading the lawmaker to shout back, “I won’t be called Nazi. I lost family to the Nazis, when they murdered my mother’s family. I’m called Avraham Moshe for my grandfather who was murdered by Nazis.”

Dichter’s encounter took place at a ceremony handing out scholarships to 80 Druze IDF veterans from the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews at Carmiel’s Ort Braude technical college. The academic scholarships are named for the late Salim Shufi, a Druze former member of the Sayeret Matkal commando unit.

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פעילים בני העדה הדרוזית התפרצו לנאומו של ח״כ אבי דיכטר בטקס הענקת מלגות לימודים לסטודנטים בני העדה בכרמיאל. דיכטר, מיוזמי חוק הלאום, נשאר על הבמה. הפעילים קראו לדיכטר להתבייש ואמרו לסטודנטים שהיה עליהם לסרב לקבל את המילגה @nitzanglusman

Hanifas was detained by police after the incident.

In a statement before the Carmiel ceremony, the Fellowship said the meeting between Dichter and Druze veterans would be “an opportunity for open and honest dialogue with the youth of the [Druze] community about the nation-state law and the controversy it has sparked.”

Netanyahu has been trying to placate Druze anger at the new law with a package of benefits.

A concession plan envisions new legislation to anchor the status of the Druze and Circassian communities in law and provide benefits to members of minority groups who serve in the security forces, the PMO said in a statement Wednesday. Support of Druze religious, education, and culture institutes would also be included in the legislation.

In addition, recognition of the contribution made by all minorities and communities that participate in the defense of the state would be written into the country’s Basic Laws, which, similar to a constitution, underpin Israel’s legal system and are more difficult to repeal than regular laws.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with representatives of the Druze community at his office in Jerusalem on August 1, 2018. (Prime Minister’s Office)

Unlike Arab Israelis, members of both the Druze and Circassian minorities are subject to Israel’s mandatory draft and serve in large numbers alongside Jewish soldiers in some of the IDF’s most elite units.

Since the beginning of the week, several Druze IDF officers have said they will resign their commissions in protest of the legislation, which was passed as a Basic Law on July 19.

The nation-state law — which for the first time enshrines Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people” and says “the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people” — has sparked widespread criticism at home including from Israel’s minorities and opposition political parties, and from the international community and Jewish groups abroad. It also downgrades the status of Arabic so that it is no longer an official language in Israel.

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IDF shoots down Syrian fighter jet that entered Israeli airspace

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

IDF shoots down Syrian fighter jet that entered Israeli airspace

Two Patriot missiles fired at Sukhoi aircraft that penetrated two kilometers into Israeli territory, military says

Smoke trails from two Israeli Patriot interceptor missiles that Israel says shot down a Syrian fighter jet are seen in northern Israel on July 24, 2018. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Smoke trails from two Israeli Patriot interceptor missiles that Israel says shot down a Syrian fighter jet are seen in northern Israel on July 24, 2018. (David Cohen/Flash90)

The Israeli Air Force shot down a Syrian fighter jet that traveled two kilometers into Israeli airspace on Tuesday afternoon, the military said.

“Two Patriot missiles were fired at a Syrian Sukhoi-model fighter jet,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.

The IDF said the aircraft was monitored as it approached the border with the Golan Heights.

“It penetrated two kilometers into Israeli airspace and was shot down,” the army said.

According to Sky News Arabia, the plane crashed inside southwest Syria, in the Yarmouk Basin, an area still under the control of the Islamic State terrorist group. It was not immediately clear if the pilots ejected before the fighter jet was shot down or what their condition was.

The official Syrian news outlet SANA confirmed that Israel had shot at one of its fighter jets, but said the plane was inside Syrian airspace at the time it was targeted.

According to SANA, Israel fired at “one of our war planes, which are leveling [terrorist] encampments in the Saida region on the outskirts of the Yarmouk Basin, in Syrian airspace.”

A military source quoted by SANA accused Israel of aiding “terrorists” in the country’s southwest, where the Syrian air force has been conducting extensive bombing raids throughout the day against a number of opposition groups.

File: A Russian Sukhoi Su-24 bomber lands at the Russian Hmeimin military base in Latakia province, in the northwest of Syria, on December 16, 2015. (Paul Gypteau/AFP)

It was not immediately clear if the plane was a Sukhoi-22 or a Sukhoi-24, two different types of Russian-made fighter jets in use by the Syrian Air Force, the Israeli military said.

The IDF said it had noticed increased air force activity in southwestern Syria, near the border, since the morning.

“We have passed a number of messages, in a number of languages, in order to ensure that no one violates Israeli air space,” IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told reporters.

The spokesman said Israel has been in regular contact with the Russian military, which operates extensively in southwestern Syria, in order to prevent any conflict with Moscow.

According to the IDF, the fighter jet took off from the Iran-linked T-4 air force base in central Syria, which Israel has bombed in the past, and traveled “at high speed” toward the Golan Heights.

Conricus said there was no “confusion” about the fact that this was a Syrian fighter jet. In the past, Israel has hesitated in shooting down incoming aircraft out of concerns they might belong to Russia.

Israel stressed that it will continue to enforce the 1974 Separation of Forces Agreement, which requires Syria to abide by a demilitarized zone between the two countries

A Syrian fighter jet is seen in flames after it was hit by the Israeli military over the Golan Heights on September 23, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/JALAA MAREY)

This was the first time that Israel shot down a Syrian fighter jet since 2014, when another Russian-made Sukhoi fighter jet entered Israeli airspace and was targeted with a Patriot missile.

“Israel has a very clear policy: No plane, and certainly not a Syrian plane, is allowed to enter our airspace” without the appropriate authorization, Israel’s former Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin told Army Radio soon after Tuesday’s incident. “Any plane identified as an enemy plane is shot down,” he said.

In February of this year, the Syrian military shot down an Israeli F-16 fighter jet as it was taking part in a bombing raid against an Iranian-linked airfield in central Syria after an Iranian drone penetrated Israeli airspace, according to the IDF. The F-16’s pilot and navigator were injured as they bailed out of the aircraft, which crashed to ground in northern Israel.

Tuesday’s breach of Israeli airspace and the interception set off incoming rocket alert sirens throughout northeastern Israel, sending thousands of residents rushing to bomb shelters for the second day in a row.

An Israeli man watches the smoke trail of a David’s Sling interceptor missile in the northern Israeli city of Safed after the interceptor was fired toward a Syrian SS-21 missile, on July 23, 2018. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Residents of northern Israel reported seeing white trails in the sky.

The Safed municipality told residents that air defense systems in the area had fired interceptor missiles and said there were no special safety instructions in light of the situation.

The alarms could be heard in the Golan Heights and Jordan Valley regions, the army said.

The sirens came a day after Israel launched two David’s Sling interceptor missiles at a pair of Syrian surface-to-surface missiles carrying approximately a half ton of explosives each that appeared to be heading toward Israel, but ultimately landed inside Syria. The Israeli interceptors did not strike the Syrian missiles: one was self-detonated by the IAF; the second reportedly fell to earth inside Syria.

The military’s air defense systems that detect and track incoming missiles and rockets are less accurate immediately after a projectile is launched, as they have less information on its trajectory. As the missile or rocket flies, the systems can better predict where it is likely to land.

Monday’s incident, which ultimately turned out to have been a false alarm, was the first known operational use of the David’s Sling system, which was declared operational last year.

The David’s Sling makes up the middle tier of Israel’s multi-layered anti-missile defense network.

In recent weeks, sirens in northern Israel have been triggered by the military shooting down unmanned aerial vehicles entering Israeli airspace from Syria.

On July 13, the Israeli military used an anti-aircraft Patriot missile to shoot down a Syrian army drone that was flying over the demilitarized zone separating Israel from Syria. Two days earlier, a Syrian military unmanned aerial vehicle penetrated some 10 kilometers (six miles) into Israeli territory before it too was shot down by a Patriot missile. The IDF said it had allowed the drone to fly so deeply into Israeli territory as it was not immediately clear if it belonged to the Russian military.

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Bipolar Hamas Fires Dozens Of Rockets Into Israel: IDF Then Pounds Gaza

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

As dozens of rockets hit Israel, IDF pounds Gaza in heaviest strikes since 2014

Palestinians fire over 100 projectiles at Israel; In Sderot, 3 Israelis wounded, empty synagogue damaged by rocket; 2 Palestinians said killed as IAF hits Hamas complex

A picture taken on July 14, 2018 shows a smoke plume rising following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

A picture taken on July 14, 2018 shows a smoke plume rising following an Israeli air strike in Gaza City (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

Israeli aircraft on Saturday attacked more than 40 targets in the Gaza Strip in the most extensive daytime assault since 2014’s Operation Protective Edge as Palestinian terror groups fired repeated salvos of rockets and mortar shells into Israel.

Three Israelis were moderately wounded when a rocket hit a house in Sderot. Palestinians said two teens were killed and 14 injured in the Israeli strikes.

The surge in violence intensified after midnight Friday-Saturday as the Israel Defense Forces hit an attack tunnel and Hamas training bases in Gaza in response to the moderate wounding of an IDF officer by a hand-grenade thrown during a border riot on Friday.

During the night, Palestinians fired more than 30 projectiles into Israel and kept up the attacks on Saturday, firing a further 100 rockets and mortar shells. Residents of Israeli border communities spent the night in bomb shelters and were cautioned to remain close to the shelters during the day.

In the evening, several rockets were fired toward the town of Sderot. Iron Dome intercepted several of them. Two rockets fell in the town, hitting a house and an empty synagogue. Three people were moderately wounded by shrapnel and evacuated to the hospital, the Magen David Adom rescue service said.

The air force said Saturday it had bombed a multi-story Hamas training complex in the Gaza Strip, completely destroying the building and exposing a tunnel complex underneath. Palestinians reported that two teens were killed in the bombing.

The Hamas-run health ministry identified the dead as 15-year-old Amir al-Nimra and 16-year-old Louay Kahil. It said 14 others were wounded in the more than 40 Israeli strikes throughout the day.

The army said civilians were warned to leave the building before the strike.

The IDF said Iron Dome intercepted at least 20 projectiles that were headed for residential areas in total.

A picture taken on July 14, 2018 shows Palestinian rockets being fired from Gaza City towards Israel. ( AFP PHOTO / BASHAR TALEB)

Israel’s political leadership is considering a range of possibilities for trying to halt the rocket fire, including targeted assassinations of Hamas terror chiefs, the use of ground forces, and a ceasefire mediated by Egypt and/or others, but no decision had been made as of Saturday late afternoon, Hadashot TV news reported.

The primary target of the IAF strikes Saturday was the Hamas battalion headquarters in Beit Lahia, in the north of the Strip, the army said.

An aerial illustration of the Hamas Battalion headquarters in Beit Lahia. (IDF Spokesperson)

“The focus of the attack is a wide-scale strike of the Hamas Battalion HQ in Beit Lahia, which includes urban warfare training facilities, weapon storage warehouse, training compounds, command centers, offices and more,” the IDF said in a statement.

“In addition, a weapons manufacturing site and storage facilities housing various types of weapons, including Hamas’ naval capabilities, were struck,” it said.

The air force also attacked a Palestinian terrorist cell launching mortars. Palestinian media said the IDF had shelled the home of a senior Islamic Jihad leader, but there was no confirmation from the army.

The IDF spokesman said the aim of the operation was to “restore a sense of security” and that the military would “respond as necessary” to a wide range of scenarios.

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The Hamas-run health ministry said it had not received any reports of injuries in the Israeli strikes.

According to IDF spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, the operation had three aims: To end the incendiary kites and balloons from Gaza, end the large-scale border protests, and end the rocket and mortar fire.

IDF Spokesman Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis (screen capture of National Assembly footage)

“There are three factors occurring that we view seriously and cannot allow to continue,” he said, adding that this was the largest daytime Israeli strike on Gaza since the 2014 Gaza War.

Media reports said that Egyptian intelligence services had contacted the Hamas leadership in Gaza to try to prevent a further escalation of violence.

In the Saturday afternoon salvo, Palestinians fired more than 60 rockets and mortar shells and sirens wailed frequently in southern Israel. Army Radio reported that at least one projectile was intercepted, with the remainder falling in unpopulated areas.

There were no immediate reports of injuries.

A farm building was lightly damaged in one border community, with no harm to any animals reported.

Local residents, who had earlier been told they could return to their usual routines after an earlier barrage overnight Friday, were instructed to remain close to bomb shelters, and large gatherings of people were to be canceled.

The day of tension and violence came after terrorists fired more than 30 rockets and mortars toward Israel overnight Friday in the wake of IDF strikes on a number of Hamas targets in Gaza in response to violence along the border.

No injuries or damage were reported but warning sirens wailed for much of the night in border communities including the Sdot HaNegev Regional Council area and the town of Sderot.

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The army earlier on Saturday said it targeted two Hamas attack tunnels as well as other military compounds in the Strip, including those involved in the spate of incendiary kite and balloon attacks.

Even as the airstrikes were being carried out, the IDF said rockets were fired toward Israel.

According to the IDF, six projectiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome aerial defense system. One rocket landed inside a kibbutz in the Shar HaNegev Regional Council area.

Hamas on Saturday said the barrage of rockets and mortar shells into Israeli territory overnight was fired by the “resistance” to “stop Israeli escalation.”

The spokesman for the terrorist group, Fawzi Barhoum, also said the projectiles were an “immediate response” that was meant to “deliver the message” to Israel.

The army said it held Hamas responsible for all violence emanating from Gaza, which the terror group has ruled since 2007.

“The Hamas terror organization is responsible for the events transpiring in the Gaza Strip and emanating from it and will bear the consequences for its actions against Israeli civilians and Israeli sovereignty,” the army said, adding that “the IDF views Hamas’ terror activity with great severity and is prepared for a wide variety of scenarios.”

The IDF said aircraft had attacked “an offensive terror tunnel in the southern Gaza Strip, in addition to several terror sites in military compounds throughout the Gaza Strip, among them complexes used to prepare arson terror attacks and a Hamas terror organization training facility.”

The IDF published video of its air strikes.

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The latest round of violence has threatened to spark a further conflagration after weeks of tensions along the volatile border.

Israel in recent weeks has repeatedly warned Hamas that while it has no interest in engaging in the kind of conflict that led to the sides fighting three wars over the past decade, it would not tolerate its continued efforts to breach the border fence and its campaign to devastate Israeli border communities with incendiary attacks.

On Friday, thousands of Palestinians gathered near the Gaza border for their near-weekly protest. The army said protesters attacked soldiers with grenades, bombs, Molotov cocktails, and rocks.

A 15-year-old Palestinian who tried to climb over the fence into Israel was shot dead, media reports in Gaza said.

Later the IDF said an Israeli officer was moderately wounded by a grenade thrown at him during the clashes at the border.

On Saturday, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza announced that a 19-year-old succumbed to his wounds sustained at the clashes a day earlier.

It was not clear whether the two deaths were tied to the attack that wounded the Israeli officer.

Gaza officials said 220 others were hurt in Friday’s riots. Most were treated at the scene, while several dozen were taken to hospital. The violence was held under the banner of “Identifying with Khan al-Ahmar,” a West Bank Bedouin village whose planned demolition by Israel is being debated at the High Court.

Since March 30, weekly clashes have taken place on the Gaza border, with Israel accusing Hamas of using the demonstrations as cover to carry out attacks and attempt to breach the security fence. The “March of Return” protests have also seen Palestinians fly airborne incendiary devices toward Israeli territory, sparking hundreds of fires in southern Israel and causing millions of shekels in estimated damages.

The Israeli army reportedly notified Hamas in recent days that if the incendiary kite and balloon attacks from the Gaza Strip don’t cease, Israel would respond with major military action.

Palestinians prepare a kite with flammable materials that they will fly into southern Israel from Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip, on June 22, 2018. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

On Monday, Israel announced it was shutting down the Kerem Shalom border crossing — the Strip’s main crossing for commercial goods — in response to the endless stream of incendiary and explosive kites and balloons that have been flown into southern Israel, sparking fires that have burned thousands of acres of land and caused millions of shekels in damages. Humanitarian and essential supplies continue to enter Gaza.

The IDF has sought to avoid an escalation of hostilities on the southern front despite the attacks, but according to the Haaretz daily, the political pressure to act has been building as the economic and psychological harm caused by the fires takes its toll.

On Wednesday, incendiary kites and balloons sparked 19 fires of varying sizes in Israel, according to local government officials. Fifteen of them occurred in the Eshkol region, which abuts the southern Gaza Strip. The other four occurred in the Sha’ar Hanegev region, which lies to the northeast of the coastal enclave.

In response, the Israeli military conducted an airstrike against a group of Palestinians it said was launching incendiary balloons toward Israel from the southern Gaza Strip, east of the city of Rafah. There, too, no injuries were reported.

After shuttering Kerem Shalom, the army said humanitarian aid, notably food and medicine, would still be allowed into Gaza, but would require special permission from the military liaison, Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rokon, to the Palestinians.

The military said the closure would continue so long as Palestinians persist in launching incendiary kites and balloons into Israel.

Agencies contributed to this report. 

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