Netanyahu Says No Need For Elections Now As He Tries To Save His Coalition

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Netanyahu says ‘no need for elections’ now, in apparent bid to save coalition

Citing ‘period of sensitive security,’ PM slams junior partners in government for threatening to bring it down

In what seemed like a last-ditch effort to save his government from breaking apart, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday morning that there was “no need” to go to national elections, suggesting it would be dangerous to do so “during this period of sensitive security.”

“In the past few days, I have spoken with all the heads of the coalition, and I will meet with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon this evening in a last attempt to prevent the government falling,” the prime minister said at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

The meeting between Netanyahu and Kahlon is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.

Party leaders Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu), both significant members of Netanyahu’s Likud-led coalition, have agreed to push for national elections to be held on March 26, 2019, Hadashot TV news reported Saturday night.

The report came as both party leaders voiced their clear support on Saturday for a national vote well ahead of November 2019, when the current government’s term is set to end. The Jewish Home party has threatened to bolt the coalition if Bennett is not be given the defense portfolio in the wake of Avigdor Liberman’s resignation from the post, a move reportedly opposed by Kahlon.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (r) and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, at a press conference regarding the reduction in vacation days in the education system at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem on January 8, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Sources in the Prime Minister’s Office said on Sunday that Netanyahu had agreed to give Bennett the defense ministry, but that the Jewish Home chair was determined to go to elections.

At the cabinet meeting, Netanyahu accused Bennett and Kahlon of ushering in left-wing administrations and therefore endangering Israel amid threats to the country’s security.

“At this time of sensitive security, there is no need for elections, nor would it be right,” he said. “We all remember what happened when elements in right-wing governments led their downfall, as in 1992 and as in 1999, which brought about the Oslo disaster and the catastrophe of the [second] intifada.”

Bennett threatened last week to pull his party out of the coalition and force new elections if he is not appointed defense minister instead of Liberman, who, in announcing his resignation on Wednesday, condemned Israel’s ceasefire with Hamas after a deadly exchange in the south.

Slamming the government for what she described as a “leftward slide,” Jewish Home’s number two, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, said on Sunday that “the only justification for the continued existence of the government until November 2019 is if Bennett will be allowed to revolutionize security and restore to Israel the deterrence lost under Liberman.”

Despite Netanyahu’s apparent criticism of his junior coalition partners, neither Bennett nor Kahlon have said definitively that elections are inevitable.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Minister of Education Naftali Bennett attend the weekly cabinet meeting at the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem, Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2016. (Abir Sultan, Pool via AP)

“There is still a possibility that the government would be able to continue. However, the slim majority of 61 would make that highly unlikely, given some of the important legislation that remains on the docket for the remainder of the Knesset,” sources close to Bennett told The Times of Israel on Sunday.

Top surrogates of the prime minister nonetheless continued to rail against Bennett, accusing him of forcing the early collapse of a right-wing coalition and threatening to return the left to power.

“We have a nationalist government that could continue for another year,” coalition chairman MK David Amsalem (Likud) said in an interview with Israel Radio Sunday morning.

“Let there be no doubt, we’re going to elections because of Naftali Bennett. In my view the talks [to prevent the government’s collapse] are borderline hopeless. Naftali is pitting us all against each other, giving us grades. It’s unprecedented chutzpah,” he charged.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud), meanwhile, said that he opposed giving the Defense Ministry to Bennett, saying that a member of his own party should be appointed instead.

“There are a number of suitable candidates in the Likud,” he told the Ynet news site. “At the moment of truth, a defense minister from a small party will prefer considerations of political survival over considerations of the state.”

Asked if Bennett was the best person for the job, Katz said the question reminded him of when John Lennon was asked if Ringo Starr was the best drummer in the world and replied that Ringo was not even the best drummer in the Beatles.

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Israel heads toward elections as Jewish Home says it will leave coalition

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Israel heads toward elections as Jewish Home says it will leave coalition

Netanyahu says he will still try to ‘preserve right-wing government,’ but Jewish Home says elections now inevitable after PM rejects Bennett’s demand he be made defense minister

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, seen with Education Minister Naftali Bennett at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on August 30, 2016. (Emil Salman/Pool)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, seen with Education Minister Naftali Bennett at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on August 30, 2016. (Emil Salman/Pool)

The Jewish Home will leave the coalition, bringing down the government and forcing new elections, senior sources in the Orthodox-nationalist party told The Times of Israel Friday.

The Jewish Home party’s decision came after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejected Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett’s demand to be made defense minister in a Friday afternoon meeting between the two.

The sources said a date for elections had not been agreed upon. Elections are formally set for November 2019, but it is now expected they will be held between March and May, with Netanyahu pushing for a later date and other parties seeking an earlier one.

Netanyahu said in a statement, however, that he would continue to try to preserve the right-wing coalition. He also made a series of telephone calls to coalition chiefs telling them there was no reason to dismantle the coalition at this stage.

Netanyahu “stressed the importance of making every effort to preserve the right-wing government and not to repeat the historical mistake of 1992 when the right-wing government was overthrown, the left came into power and brought the Oslo disaster to the State of Israel,” according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

Netanyahu also told Bennett that “the rumors that a decision to go to elections had been made were incorrect,” the statement said.

According to a Jewish Home source, however, “It became clear that in light of the resolute position of Kulanu Chairman, Minister Kahlon [who has called for early elections], there was a need to go to elections as soon as possible with no possibility of continuing the current government.”

“On Sunday, the date of the elections will be coordinated between the heads of the coalition parties.”

Bennett said Thursday he had asked Netanyahu for the portfolio after Avigdor Liberman resigned the post on Wednesday. The party said this was an “ultimatum” for it to stay in the government.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announces his resignation from his office following the ceasefire with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, during a press conference in the Knesset on November 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

By pulling his Yisrael Beytenu party out of the coalition, Liberman left the government with a narrow majority, with just 61 out of the 120 Knesset seats. The religious nationalist Jewish Home party then quickly declared it would topple the government if its leader Bennett is not given the defense portfolio.

With no Jewish Home, the coalition would go down from 61 seats to just 53. The government must have the backing of at least half of the 120 seat Knesset to survive no-confidence motions.

While in theory Netanyahu could bring another party into the coalition instead of Jewish Home, all opposition parties have declared their intention to run against him and the possibility of them joining is highly unlikely.

Bennett has long criticized the Netanyahu government’s reluctance to respond more forcefully to Gaza rocket attacks, and has advocated ground incursions into the Gaza Strip. Liberman, quitting the government, said he was doing so to protest Israel’s acceptance of an informal truce Tuesday that put a halt to the latest Hamas-Israel escalation in which Hamas fired over 400 rockets into Israel.

Netanyahu said in his statement after the meeting that he had told Bennett of his intention to keep the defense portfolio “in the light of the critical challenges currently facing the State of Israel.”

The prime minister appeared to present the possibility of keeping his government together, saying in his statement that he would meet with coalition leaders early next week and hoped they would “act responsibly and not to make a historic mistake in overthrowing a right-wing government.”

He is reportedly set to meet separately with Kulanu’s Kahlon on Sunday.

But the Jewish Home sources said it was too late and that the rejection of the party’s demand to be given the defense portfolio meant elections were inevitable.

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COMMENTS

Israel’s Liberman: No fuel or gas will enter Gaza until all violence stops

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Liberman: No fuel or gas will enter Gaza until all violence stops

Army says several Palestinians breached security fence on Saturday, returned to Gaza; firefighters tackle 4 blazes caused by arson balloons near Israeli communities

Palestinian protesters carry tires as smoke billows at the Israel-Gaza border, east of Gaza city, on October 12, 2018. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Palestinian protesters carry tires as smoke billows at the Israel-Gaza border, east of Gaza city, on October 12, 2018. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Israel will not allow any more fuel into the Gaza Strip until violence against Israel from the Hamas-run enclave halts “entirely,” Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Saturday.

“Until violence in the Gaza Strip stops entirely, including the launching of incendiary balloons and the burning of tires near Israeli communities, the supply of fuel and gas to the Gaza Strip will not be renewed,” he said.

Israel on Friday halted the transfer of fuel to Gaza in response to heavy rioting and attacks at the border fence. Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, whose terror group seeks to destroy Israel, vowed Saturday that mass rallies would continue until the “siege on Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa and all the lands of Palestine is lifted.”

On Saturday afternoon two Palestinians breached the border in the north of the Strip and hurled an object at an unmanned IDF post. They then returned to Gaza. Security forces arrived at the scene to inspect the suspicious object.

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

Later in the evening the army said a number of attempts to breach the security fence were identified, some of them successful.

“In all of the events, the suspects were under surveillance from the moment of the crossing and returned to the Gaza Strip immediately,” the military said.

“In addition, a suspect who crossed the security fence from the northern Gaza Strip was apprehended near the crossing point without any weapons in his possession. The suspect was transferred to security forces for further questioning.”

Since the morning, firefighters worked to extinguish four blazes caused by incendiary balloons near Israeli towns in the Gaza periphery, a spokesman for the Israeli Fire and Rescue Services said.

One flaming balloon landed near a grocery store in Kibbutz Givat Brenner, near Rehovot. A civilian found the balloon and extinguished it. Police were called to the scene.

An incendiary balloon that landed in Kibbutz Givat Brenner on October 13, 2018 (Courtesy)

Police, meanwhile, said four such balloons discovered in recent days in the central towns of Rishon Lezion, Bat Yam, and Modiin had all probably come from Gaza, according to the Walla news site.

Police sappers who examined the balloons found the incendiary devices they carried identical to those used in Gaza. Police noted that the distance between Gaza and the cities in question was not great, and said balloons could easily cross such distances on air currents.

Earlier, during funerals for some of the Gazans killed in the previous day’s border riots, Haniyeh said: “The strength of will and the determination of our people in the March of Return will lead to victory over the crimes of the occupation. The blood of the martyrs brings us closer to victory over the Zionist enemy.”

He added that “our marches are not for diesel fuel and dollars, but a natural right of our people.”

Palestinians carry the bodies of Ahmad al-Tawil (R) and Ahmed Abu Naim (L), who were killed the day before during a protest along the Israel-Gaza border fence, during their funeral in Nuseirat camp, in the central Gaza Strip on October 13, 2018. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

Seven Palestinians were reported killed in intense clashes with Israeli security forces along the Gaza border Friday afternoon, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. Gaza media outlets said at least 150 protesters were injured.

In the most serious incident, the army said assailants planted a bomb at the fence in the south of the Strip, blowing a hole in it. Some 20 Gazans then infiltrated the border and approached an IDF snipers’ post. Most turned back, but three who did not were shot and killed, the IDF said.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh delivers a speech in Gaza City on January 23, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

Liberman’s order to halt the transfer of fuel into the Gaza Strip in response to the incident came only days after Israel began allowing fuel donated by Qatar to be pumped into the Strip to allow increased power for residents.

“Israel will not tolerate a situation in which fuel is allowed into Gaza while terror and violence is used against IDF soldiers and citizens,” a statement from his office said Friday.

On Saturday minister and security cabinet member Yoav Gallant described the terrorist group as Israel’s “weakest and most aggressive enemy, a puppy that barks and shouts.”

He slammed Hamas for its actions in Gaza, saying it was “using the blood of civilians to provoke international attention.”

In recent days Qatari-bought fuel had begun entering the Strip to allow operation of its only power station, in a bid to alleviate conditions in the blockaded Palestinian enclave. Hundreds of liters of fuel have since passed into the territory.

Israel facilitated the delivery over the objections of the Palestinian Authority, hoping it would help ease months of protests and clashes.

A Qatari official told the Reuters news agency that the $60 million fuel donation came “at the request of donor states in the United Nations, to prevent an escalation of the existing humanitarian disaster.”

Housing Minister Yoav Galant speaks at the 15th annual Jerusalem Conference of the ‘Besheva’ group, on February 12, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

For months residents of the strip have been receiving only four hours of electricity a day on average. Jamie McGoldrick, the UN’s resident humanitarian coordinator, told the Reuters news agency the delivery will add a few more hours of electricity to Gaza’s 2 million residents.

Hamas seized control of Gaza from Abbas’s Palestinian Authority in a 2007 near civil war and multiple reconciliation attempts aimed at restoring the PA to power in Gaza have failed.

Abbas says that making deals with Hamas amounts to recognizing their control over Gaza in place of the PA and has sought to block the fuel deliveries. He has reportedly threatened to cut off funds to Gaza in response to the fuel transfers.

Israel fears further deterioration in Gaza could lead to another round of war on the southern border.

Both Israel and Egypt enforce restrictions on the movement of people and goods into and out of Gaza. Israel says the blockade is necessary to keep Hamas and other terror groups in the Strip from arming or building military infrastructure.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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Hamas leaders dragging Israel toward ‘large and painful’ Gaza war

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Liberman: Hamas leaders dragging Israel toward ‘large and painful’ Gaza war

In Sderot, defense minister blames Strip’s terrorist rulers for current ‘unreasonable’ situation, says Egypt and UN working to negotiate a return to calm

IDF soldiers take part in an exercise simulating warfare in the Gaza Strip in July 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

IDF soldiers take part in an exercise simulating warfare in the Gaza Strip in July 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Friday indicated that Israel was prepared to go to war if the stream of incendiary kites and balloons and other forms of violence from the Gaza Strip did not cease.

“We see in the newspapers that you don’t go to war over kites and fires. However, any reasonable person who sees a natural grove burned or thousands of dunams of agricultural fields scorched understands that this situation is unreasonable,” Liberman said at a press conference in the town of Sderot, just outside the Palestinian coastal enclave.

The defense minister blamed the heads of the Hamas terror group, which rules Gaza, for the recent weeks of violence and the looming threat of war.

“We are trying to be considerate and responsible, but the heads of Hamas are forcibly leading us to a situation of not having a choice, to a situation in which we will need to carry out a large and painful military operation — not something that’s just for show, but a large and painful military operation,” he said.

Yahya Sinwar, leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, speaks during a protest east of Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip on April 6, 2018. (AFP/Said Khatib)

“I think that the only people responsible for this are the heads of Hamas, but unfortunately all the residents of Gaza will be forced to pay the price,” Liberman added.

The defense minister said Israel was prepared to “carry out an operation that is of a much wider scope and much more painful than Operation Protective Edge” — the Israeli name for the 2014 Gaza war.

Liberman said a source of the renewed violence and tensions was the loss of Israel’s deterrence over Hamas, which it needed to restore.

“We are acting responsibly and with restraint, despite the fact that the real problem is the erosion of the deterrence, a shift in the balance, and, of course, the feeling of security, which is no less important than the security itself,” he said.

Liberman’s comments came as the military prepared for another day of violence along the Gaza security fence. Last Friday, riots along the border resulted in an IDF officer being moderately injured in a grenade attack by Gazans and a 15-year-old Palestinian teenager being killed by IDF gunfire.

Aharon Bucharis recalls the moment his Sderot home was hit by a rocket on July 14, 2018 (Screenshot courtesy of Barzilai Hospital Spokesperson)

In response to the attack that wounded the officer, Israeli jets conducted an air raid on Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip later that night. Hamas, in turn, launched a number of mortar shells and rockets at southern Israel. In the 24 hours that followed, Hamas and other terrorist groups in the Palestinian enclave fired some 200 projectiles at Israel, injuring four people in Sderot and damaging buildings throughout the area, and the IDF retaliated by hitting dozens of Hamas positions in the Strip, killing two teenagers.

Hamas agreed to an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire on Saturday night, but Israel was not involved in the talks and the agreement did not include a cessation of the airborne arson attacks or riots along the border — key sticking points for Israel, which is demanding an end to all violence and vandalism from the coastal enclave.

“Accepting a reality like this, when last weekend residents of the Gaza periphery were forced to run to bomb shelters and preparing safe rooms is an inseparable aspect of preparing for Shabbat — this is intolerable,” Liberman said Friday.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks to residents in the southern Israeli town of Sderot, near the Gaza border, on July 20, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

According to the defense minister, during the IDF’s airstrikes last Saturday — some of the most extensive since the 2014 Gaza war — the fighter jets dropped “almost 50 tons of ordnance on Hamas key strategic sites.”

Thursday saw another bout between the two sides, albeit a far smaller one, after a member of Hamas’s military wing was killed in an Israeli airstrike against a group of Palestinians launching incendiary balloons into southern Israel. In response, a number of mortar shells and rockets were fired at the Eshkol region, causing no damage or injury, and Hamas vowed revenge.

Liberman said Israel was not in direct contact with Hamas in an effort to negotiate an extensive ceasefire, which would put an end not only to rocket attacks but also the incendiary kites and balloons. However, he said, Jerusalem was indirectly communicating with the group through intermediaries.

“There’s no communications with Hamas. We are in close contact with the relevant bodies: be it Egypt or the United Nations representative,” the defense minister said.

Smoke rises above buildings during an Israeli air strike on Gaza City on July 14, 2018. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

Liberman, as he has many times in the past, called on residents of the Gaza Strip to force Hamas to end its violent ways.

“We can go back to a reasonable, civil reality, with economic incentives in response to a total end to the terror and provocations along the fence,” he said.

Later on Friday, Palestinians were expected to converge on the border fence to ostensibly demonstrate against the Israeli blockade on the Strip, in what is seen as a key test of whether the sides can retreat from a seemingly inevitable march toward war.

There are signs already that the hoped for calm may fail to materialize.

Thursday’s airstrike on Gazans taking part in launching incendiary balloons over the border marked a serious escalation in Israel’s efforts to stop the flying objects, which have wreaked havoc in Israeli communities near the border and upped political pressure for the military to take a harder stance against perpetrators.

Relatives mourn over the body of Abdel Karim Radwan, a Hamas military wing member who was killed in an Israeli air strike on a group launching fire balloons on July 19, 2018. (AFP/Said Khatib)

Until Thursday, the IDF had mostly fired warning shots near those seen preparing the devices — which also include booby-trapped balloons with explosives, according to Israel — staunchly resisting calls from politicians to use lethal force against Gazans launching them.

Earlier in the week, Palestinian reports indicated that Hamas had agreed to halt the kite and balloon launches gradually after coming under Egyptian pressure.

Israeli authorities have maintained they are prepared to invade Gaza and go to war over the issue. On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was already in a “military campaign,” as troops nearby drilled for an invasion of Gaza City. The army said the exercise had been planned in advance and was unconnected to recent events.

‘Hamas must change’

The border tensions have threatened to derail the release of a long-awaited US peace plan, which reportedly include mechanisms for dealing with Gaza and the West Bank separately.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd from right) meets at his Jerusalem office with the ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer (right); White House adviser Jared Kushner (center); US Ambassador David Friedman (second left); and special envoy Jason Greenblatt, on June 22, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

In an op-ed published in the Washington Post late Thursday, US negotiators Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, along with US Ambassador David Friedman, indicated that the US and other countries were prepared to offer humanitarian aid to the beleaguered Strip, but were stymied by Hamas’s commitment to fighting Israel.

“International donors are conflicted: Should they try to help the people directly, at the certain risk of enriching terrorists, or withhold funding to Hamas and watch the people it is supposed to govern suffer?” Kushner, Greenblatt and Friedman wrote.

In what may be seen as a shift, the three said they would be willing to work with a reformed Hamas, seemingly retreating from the stance that the terror group allow the Palestinians Authority to retake power in the Strip.

“There are engaged, interested parties with resources who are ready to get to work. Yet without real change accompanied by reliable security, progress is impossible,” they wrote. “If Hamas demonstrates clear, peaceful intentions — not just by word but, more importantly, by deed — then all manner of new opportunities becomes possible.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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Gaza tensions flare: IDF strikes 8 more Hamas targets as rockets barrage south

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Gaza tensions flare: IDF strikes 8 more Hamas targets as rockets barrage south

18 rockets fired from strip in a number of separate incidents; four intercepted by the Iron Dome while an unspecified number fall in Israeli territory

An explosion is seen in Gaza City after an airstrike by Israel on June 18, 2018. (AFP/ MAHMUD HAMS)

An explosion is seen in Gaza City after an airstrike by Israel on June 18, 2018. (AFP/ MAHMUD HAMS)

Tensions flared on Israel’s border with Gaza early Wednesday morning as the IDF carried out a second round of overnight airstrikes on Hamas targets in response to a barrage of rockets fired from the Strip towards Israeli territory.

The IDF said fighter jets struck eight further “terror targets” on three separate Hamas military bases in the south of the Gaza Strip, in addition to several other sites that were targeted earlier in the night.

In total, 18 rockets were fired towards Israeli territory in a number of separate incidents, the army said. Of those, four rockets were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system while an unspecified number fell in Israeli territory.

There were no immediate reports of injuries on either side of the border.

Earlier, Palestinians fired five rockets at southern Israel after Israeli aircraft hit  Hamas targets in the south of the coastal enclave in response to numerous arson attacks launched across the border by Palestinians, the military said.

The overnight incidents mirror several rounds of rocket fire and IDF strikes on Monday in which Israeli aircraft bombed Hamas positions in the southern Gaza Strip after a group of Palestinians launched incendiary balloons at southern Israel.

Following those strikes, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman warned that Israel would not allow Palestinian terror groups to continue launching incendiary devices into Israeli territory, the likes of which have caused hundreds of brush fires and burned thousands of acres of land in recent months.

“If anyone thinks it will be possible to continue with the daily kites and fires, they are wrong,” Liberman said during a tour of Israel Aerospace Industries, the country’s primary aerospace manufacturer.

An explosion is seen in Gaza City after an airstrike by Israel on June 18, 2018. (AFP / MAHMUD HAMS)

The Monday rockets were the first to be fired at Israel in over two weeks, breaking a tacit ceasefire that has largely held since a day-long flareup in late May.

Before the rocket attack, Israeli fighter jets carried out strikes on three military compounds and one weapons manufacturing plant in northern Gaza belonging to the Hamas terror group, which rules the Strip, the Israel Defense Forces said.

The army said it hit a total of nine targets spread out between the three Hamas facilities, in response to flammable and explosive-laden kites and balloons launched from Gaza that have wreaked havoc in Israel over the past several weeks.

“The attack was carried out in response to the launching of incendiary and explosive kites and balloons at Israeli territory. This is terrorist activity that endangers the lives of southern residents and has damaged large amounts of land,” the military said.

The army warned that it had the “intelligence knowledge and operational capability” necessary to conduct further strikes in Gaza if the balloon and kite attacks did not stop.

A masked Palestinian man launches a balloon loaded with flammable materials toward Israel, east of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on June 17, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

The airstrikes on Hamas facilities appeared to be a new tactic by the military to deter Palestinians from flying the airborne arson devices into Israel, after its previous attempts to do so by firing warning shots at kite-flyers failed to yield results.

The Palestinian rocket fire appeared to come in response to the airstrikes.

The projectiles shot at Israel triggered sirens in the Hof Ashkelon region and the city of Ashkelon’s industrial area, sending thousands of Israelis into bomb shelters. The alarms were triggered in two waves, first at 4:40 a.m. and then again shortly after 5 a.m.

The Iron Dome missile defense system did not appear to have been activated, indicating the two incoming rockets that cleared the border struck open fields, where there was no risk to life and thus no need to intercept them.

Israel’s airstrikes in the Strip and the subsequent Palestinian rocket fire followed a day of airborne arson attacks by Gazans, who launched dozens of balloons laden with incendiary devices and explosives at southern Israel, sparking at least 20 fires, some of them large.

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Russia OKs Israeli strikes on Iranian targets deep inside Syria

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Russia OKs Israeli strikes on Iranian targets deep inside Syria — report

Arabic daily says deal between Moscow and Jerusalem includes removal of Tehran-backed forces from border area, protection for Syrian army

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman meets with Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoigu, in Moscow, Russia on May 31, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman meets with Russian Minister of Defense Sergey Shoigu, in Moscow, Russia on May 31, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Israel and Russia have reached an agreement green-lighting Israeli strikes on Iranian targets in Syria, as well as the withdrawal of Tehran-backed troops from Syria’s border with Israel, according to an Arabic media report Friday.

According to the Arabic-language daily Asharq al-Awsat, the agreement will see Iranian forces leave southwestern Syria, while allowing Israel to strike Iranian assets deep in the country. Israel agreed not to attack Syrian regime targets, the report said.

A Russian source told Asharq al-Awsat that Russia was tight-lipped about the agreement to maintain “balance” in its diplomatic ties with Israel and Iran.

Israel has repeatedly vowed to prevent Iran establishing a permanent presence in Syria and Lebanon and has carried out dozens of air strikes against Iran-backed forces and attempts to smuggle advanced weapons to Hezbollah.

“Russia is somehow embarrassed because the talks with the Israelis mainly focused on a plan to remove Iran and its forces from southern Syria,” the source told the paper. Russia is a main ally of Iran.

The reported agreement comes after Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman met his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu in Moscow on Thursday for talks focused on Syria.

Liberman thanked Russia for “understanding” Israel’s security concerns. However, neither Jerusalem, nor Moscow, publicly acknowledged any agreement between the sides regarding Iran’s military presence in Syria.

A photo released by Iranian media reportedly shows the T-4 air base in central Syria after a missile barrage attributed to Israel on April 9, 2018. (Iranian media)

“It is important to continue the dialogue between us and to keep an open line between the IDF and Russian army,” Liberman told Shoigu.

Before leaving Israel for Russia, Liberman said Israel was committed to “preventing Iran and its offshoots from establishing themselves in Syria.”

The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday evening to discuss the situation in Syria. Moscow said the conversation focused on “some aspects of the Syrian settlement,” which it didn’t specify, following up on the two leaders’ talks in Moscow earlier this month.

The Liberman-Shoigu meeting came on the heels of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov‘s demand Wednesday that all foreign forces — including those from Iran, Turkey and the US — leave southwestern Syria as soon as possible, as well as his remarks Monday at a press conference in Moscow that only the Syrian regime should field military forces in the country’s southern border areas.

“As regards the confrontation between Israel and Iran in Syria, we have agreements on the southwestern de-escalation zone. These agreements have been reached between Russia, the United States and Jordan. Israel was informed about them as we were working on them. They [the agreements] stipulate that this de-escalation zone should consolidate stability, while all non-Syrian forces must be withdrawn from this area,” Lavrov said.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attends a joint press conference with his German counterpart following their talks in Moscow on May 10, 2018. (AFP/Yuri Kadobnov)

Lavrov’s comment apparently referred to areas including the Syrian Golan Heights region abutting the Israeli Golan Heights and the border with Jordan, and indicated that Russia was open to Israeli demands that Iranian forces be kept far from Israel’s borders.

The return of the Syrian army to Israel’s northern border in return for the distancing of Iran and its Lebanon-based proxy Hezbollah from the area has been the subject of back channel discussions between Israel and Russia over recent weeks.

Liberman visited Russia with a defense establishment delegation, hoping to flesh out the understandings to give Syrian President Bashar Assad control over the Syria-Israel border region.

Netanyahu’s office continues to insist publicly that Israel demands the complete ouster of Iran and Hezbollah from the whole of Syria.

A source told the Ynet news site on Thursday that “Israel is uninterested in partial agreements, but rather in an exit of all Iranian forces from Syria.”

On Wednesday, Netanyahu told ministers that he had spoken with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo primarily to urge the US government to demand that an evolving agreement on troop deployment in Syria between the US, Russia and Jordan make clear that Iranian forces must leave the whole of the country.

Israeli soldiers seen beside tanks near the Israeli-Syrian border in the Golan Heights on May 10, 2018 (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

The agreement appears to be slated to demand that Iranian and Iran-backed forces stay 20 kilometers from the Israeli and Jordanian borders.

Amidst a flurry of activity relating to Iran, Meir Ben-Shabbat, Israel’s National Security Adviser, flew to Washington on Wednesday to coordinate positions with the Trump administration.

Next week, Netanyahu will leave for France and Germany to discuss Iran’s role in Syria and the nuclear deal which the Europeans are trying to salvage after the US withdrawal earlier this month. He is due to meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. He may also call on Prime Minister Theresa May in the UK.

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COMMENTS

Israel urges Assad to ‘throw out’ Iranian forces: ‘They only harm you’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

LIBERMAN: ‘WE DID NOT CROSS IRAN’S BORDERS. THEY CAME HERE’

Israel urges Assad to ‘throw out’ Iranian forces: ‘They only harm you’

Defense minister reassures residents of the north that things are ‘back to normal’ following massive airstrikes in Syria

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (C) meets with Golan Regional Council head Eli Malka (L) and Katrzin Regional Council head Dmitry Apartzev (R) during a tour of the Golan Heights town of Katzrin on may 11, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (C) meets with Golan Regional Council head Eli Malka (L) and Katrzin Regional Council head Dmitry Apartzev (R) during a tour of the Golan Heights town of Katzrin on may 11, 2018. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Speaking in the north of Israel on Friday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman sent a message to Syrian President Bashar Assad, telling him to “throw” Iranian forces out of his country.

Liberman visited the northern city of Katzrin to debrief residents following Israel’s largest air campaign in Syria in more than 40 years, in which it says it bombed over 50 Iranian targets.

The sortie came after Iran fired 20 missiles toward Israel just after midnight on Thursday morning, the IDF said, forcing residents of the north into bomb shelters. Four of the missiles were knocked down by the Iron Dome air defense system and the rest fell short of Israeli territory, according to the military.

Liberman urged Syria to expel the Revolutionary Guard’s al-Quds Force, which Israel blamed for the missile attacks early Thursday morning.

“I want to use this opportunity to give Assad a message,” he said. “Throw out the Iranians, throw out Qassem Soleimani and the Quds force. They don’t help you, they only harm you, and their presence causes only problems and damage.”

Liberman also told Israelis they should not let the threat from Syria deter them from visiting the north. “You can come, you can return to the bed and breakfasts, to tour, to hike,” he said. “There are truly amazing views and among the most beautiful places, and there is no problem. We are back to normal.”

He said that it was a mistake to think that Thursday morning’s attacks on the Iranian bases had completely solved the problem, but that the army was ready for anything and would continue to do whatever necessary to ensure Israel is secure.

“I don’t think it’s all over,” he said,” but we certainly have our finger on the pulse.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Kremlin in Moscow on May 9, 2018. (Sergei Ilnitsky/AFP)

Liberman said Israel was in a unique position of being able to speak with the leaders of both the US and Russia, though he refused to say whether Israel was responsible for Russia refusing to send better air defense systems to Syria.

The defense minister welcomed Iran’s statement that it did not want an escalation between the two countries and stressed that Israel was also not looking for more confrontation with anyone.

“We did not cross Iran’s borders,” he said. “They came here.”

He reassured residents that if anyone was planning to launch missiles against Israel the IDF would try to carry out preemptive strikes.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday Iran had “crossed a red line” and that Israel’s bombardment against targets in Syria “was a consequence.”

Israel has long warned it will not accept Iran entrenching itself militarily in neighboring Syria, where the Islamic Republic backs Assad’s regime in the country’s seven-year civil war.

Israel was blamed for a series of recent strikes inside Syria that have killed Iranians, though it has not acknowledged those raids.

The Jewish state said it had conducted dozens of operations in Syria to stop what it says are advanced arms deliveries to Iran-backed Hezbollah, another key foe of Israel.

Amid a series of retaliation threats from Tehran, Israel had been preparing itself for weeks for possible Iranian retaliation.

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With BBQs And F-35’s, Israelis Delight In 70 Years Of Independence

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

With BBQs and F-35’s, Israelis delight in 70 years of independence

Some 200,000 people flock to national parks around the country, with many more taking to beaches to watch flyover of fighter jets

  • A woman smiles during Independence Day celebrations marking 70 years since the founding of the state in 1948, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, April 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
    A woman smiles during Independence Day celebrations marking 70 years since the founding of the state in 1948, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, April 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
  • People watch as an Israeli acrobatic team fly over during Israel's 70th Independence Day celebrations, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, April 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
    People watch as an Israeli acrobatic team fly over during Israel’s 70th Independence Day celebrations, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, April 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
  • Israeli and tourists watch an air show during the festivities of the 70th Independence Day, on April 19, 2018 in the Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv.(AFP PHOTO / AHMAD GHARABLI)
    Israeli and tourists watch an air show during the festivities of the 70th Independence Day, on April 19, 2018 in the Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv.(AFP PHOTO / AHMAD GHARABLI)
  • President Reuven Rivlin at a ceremony awarding outstanding soldiers as part of Israel's 70th Independence Day celebrations, at the President's residence in Jerusalem. April 19, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    President Reuven Rivlin at a ceremony awarding outstanding soldiers as part of Israel’s 70th Independence Day celebrations, at the President’s residence in Jerusalem. April 19, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • An Israeli man celebrates Independence Day marking 70 years since the founding of the state in 1948, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, April 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
    An Israeli man celebrates Independence Day marking 70 years since the founding of the state in 1948, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, April 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
  • Paratroopers drop into the Mediterranean Sea during Independence Day celebrations marking 70 years since the founding of the state in 1948, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, April 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
    Paratroopers drop into the Mediterranean Sea during Independence Day celebrations marking 70 years since the founding of the state in 1948, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, April 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
  • People celebrate the Israeli Independence Day at an IDF fair in the Jewish settlement of Efrat in Gush Etzion, on April 19, 2018. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
    People celebrate the Israeli Independence Day at an IDF fair in the Jewish settlement of Efrat in Gush Etzion, on April 19, 2018. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
  • US-made Israeli air force T-6 Texan II planes fly over while performing during an air show as part of the 70th Independence Day celebrations on April 19, 2018 in the Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv.
Israel marks 70 years since the founding of the country according to the Hebrew calendar (AFP PHOTO / AHMAD GHARABLI)
    US-made Israeli air force T-6 Texan II planes fly over while performing during an air show as part of the 70th Independence Day celebrations on April 19, 2018 in the Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv. Israel marks 70 years since the founding of the country according to the Hebrew calendar (AFP PHOTO / AHMAD GHARABLI)
  • People celebrate the Israeli Independence Day at an IDF fair in the Jewish settlement of Efrat in Gush Etzion, on April 19, 2018. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
    People celebrate the Israeli Independence Day at an IDF fair in the Jewish settlement of Efrat in Gush Etzion, on April 19, 2018. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
  • Israelis watch an air show during the festivities of the 70th Independence Day, on April 19, 2018 in the Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv.(AFP PHOTO / Ahmad GHARABLI)
    Israelis watch an air show during the festivities of the 70th Independence Day, on April 19, 2018 in the Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv.(AFP PHOTO / Ahmad GHARABLI)
  • Israelis watch as the Israeli air force aerobatic team fly during a military training for the upcoming Israel's 70th Independence day in Tel Aviv on April 17, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90 )
    Israelis watch as the Israeli air force aerobatic team fly during a military training for the upcoming Israel’s 70th Independence day in Tel Aviv on April 17, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90 )
  • People dance during Independence Day celebrations marking 70 years since the founding of the state in 1948, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, April 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
    People dance during Independence Day celebrations marking 70 years since the founding of the state in 1948, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday, April 19, 2018. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
  • Israelis play with foam spray during Israel's 70th Independence Day celebrations in Sacher Park in Jerusalem, April 19, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Israelis play with foam spray during Israel’s 70th Independence Day celebrations in Sacher Park in Jerusalem, April 19, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • People celebrate Israel's 70th Independence Day celebrations in Saker Park in Jerusalem, April 19, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    People celebrate Israel’s 70th Independence Day celebrations in Saker Park in Jerusalem, April 19, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis flocked to beaches and parks, lighting grills, waving flags and craning their necks for a glimpse of Israel’s fighter jets to mark the country’s 70th Independence Day on Thursday.

After a night of fireworks, concerts, parties and an emotional crossover from Memorial Day to Independence Day, most Israelis were spending the day, a national holiday, celebrating the country’s birthday.

Some 200,000 Israelis were at the country’s national parks, with 48,000 visiting the Banias Nature Reserve in the Golan Heights and 18,000 camped around the Sea of the Galilee, according to the parks authority.

A highlight of the day was the cross-country flyover of military jets and helicopters, which for the second year included Israel’s fleet of F-35 jets, considered the most advanced plane in the world.

Celebrations in Jerusalem kicked off Thursday morning at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, where President Reuven Rivlin was hosting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot and others for a musical ceremony honoring over 100 soldiers receiving commendations for excellence.

People celebrate Israel’s 70th Independence Day celebrations in Saker Park in Jerusalem, April 19, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“It is no secret that during these celebratory moments IDF soldiers and security forces are on high alert,” said Rivlin at the ceremony, addressing Iran tensions on the northern border. “It is no secret that we are facing Iranian attempts to directly harm the State of Israel. Dear soldiers, we see the burden of responsibility placed on your young shoulders. Thank you.”

Israelis watch an air show during the festivities of the 70th Independence Day, on April 19, 2018 in the Mediterranean coastal city of Tel Aviv.(AFP PHOTO / Ahmad GHARABLI)

The annual international Bible Quiz competition finals took place after the ceremony. The winner of the contest was named as Azriel Shilat, from Hatzor Haglilit.

The IDF also opened its bases to the public, displaying jeeps, tanks and other equipment throughout the country.

More than 20,000 Israelis attended an open house day at a national training facility for police officers, hosted by the Public Security Ministry. Police said around 3 p.m. that all parking spots allocated to visitors filled up and asked the public not to near the area.

On Wednesday night, the mournful and somber speeches of Memorial Day gave way to joyful celebrations, with flags promptly raised back from half-staff.

The juxtaposition of the two days is a key element of Israelis’ experience of national independence, ensuring that no commemoration completely excludes the achievement wrought by the sacrifice of the fallen and their families, and that the elation of independence is never far removed from an awareness of its cost.

People celebrate Israel’s 70th Independence Day celebrations in Sacher Park in Jerusalem, April 19, 2018.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

At the military cemetery on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, the transition was marked with an extravagant state ceremony featuring the lighting of torches by 12 people who are seen to have made an outstanding contribution to society — as well as one by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and another by Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein — and much singing and dancing.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett at the annual Bible Quiz held at the Jerusalem Theater on Israel’s Independence Day, on April 19, 2018. (Shlomi Cohen/FLASH90)

The ceremony featured an elaborate musical flashback of Jewish history, with actors singing and dancing through events dating back to the biblical era.

Israelis play with snow during Israel’s 70th Independence Day celebrations in Saker Park in Jerusalem, April 19, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
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