IDF Destroys Another Hamas Attack Tunnel

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

TUNNEL ENTERED ISRAEL BENEATH KEREM SHALOM GOODS CROSSING

IDF destroys Hamas attack tunnel that penetrated Israel and Egypt

Israeli jets strike in southern Gaza; army denies Palestinian claims the cross-border passage — the third destroyed by Israel in three months — was used for smuggling

The Israel Defense Forces on Sunday said it had destroyed a border-crossing Hamas attack tunnel, the third in recent months, that penetrated hundreds of meters into both Israeli and Egyptian territory from the Gaza Strip, in an airstrike in southern Gaza on Saturday night.

“We completed the destruction of a third terror tunnel,” spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus told reporters early Sunday morning, denying claims made by Hamas that it was a smuggling tunnel.

The tunnel, which was constructed differently from most tunnels in Gaza, began in the city of Rafah and crossed into Israel under the Kerem Shalom Crossing, through which hundreds of trucks ordinarily cross into the coastal enclave with goods from Israel each day, he said.

“We understand this tunnel belongs to Hamas,” Conricus added, saying the military believed the terror group saw it as a “significant asset.”

That assessment came from the fact that the tunnel ran underneath the Gaza crossing, which was kept closed on Sunday, as well as below the gas and diesel pipelines into the Strip and a nearby IDF post, he said.

An attack tunnel that was bombed by Israeli jets on January 13, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

“This is a severe breach of Israel’s sovereignty, a serious threat to Israeli civilians and a threat to the humanitarian efforts that Israel allows for the people in the Gaza Strip,” the military said in a statement.

The army spokesperson credited the discovery and destruction of the tunnel to a combination of “cutting-edge” technology and intelligence.

It was the third tunnel entering Israeli territory destroyed by the IDF in under three months. On October 30, the army blew up an attack tunnel that belonged to the Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist group, in the process killing 12 members of the organization, along with two Hamas operatives. On December 10, the military demolished a second tunnel, this one controlled by Hamas.

However, in both of those cases, the tunnels were destroyed from inside Israeli territory, unlike the one on Saturday night, which was hit from inside Gaza by Israeli jets, Conricus said.

“If you do something once, it’s a chance; if you do something twice, it’s a coincidence; if you do something three times, there’s a method,” he said, hinting at further tunnel demolitions to come.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot made the destruction of Palestinian terror groups’ attack tunnel a top priority for the military, following the 2014 Gaza war, which saw extensive use of tunnels by the Hamas terrorist group.

Over the past year, the army has been constructing an underground barrier around the Gaza Strip that is meant to block attempts to dig into Israel.

Military officials have noted that more tunnels will likely be destroyed in coming months as the barrier nears completion.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, left, visits an attack tunnel dug by a Palestinian terrorist group from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel during a visit to the area on December 20, 2017. (Israel Defense Forces)

Conricus’s comments marked the first time an army official has publicly acknowledged that the military has the capability to successfully strike tunnels from the air, though others have alluded to it in the past.

Last week, the IDF also struck what many assumed to be a tunnel in the Gaza Strip, following a series of mortar attacks.

In its statement at the time, the army referred to the target of the attack on January 4 as “significant terror infrastructure.”

According to official Palestinian media, that “infrastructure” was farmland in the southern Gaza Strip, prompting many to assume that it was, in fact, a tunnel beneath the field, though not necessarily one that crossed into Israeli territory.

The message to the leaders of Gaza and its citizens is clear — invest in the sanctity of life and not in [digging your own] catacombs

On Twitter, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman praised the IDF’s “professional and accurate” Saturday night airstrike.

“The destruction of the attack tunnel network is a key feature of our policy of consistently striking Hamas’s strategic capabilities,” Liberman wrote Sunday morning. “The message to the leaders of Gaza and its citizens is clear — invest in the sanctity of life and not in [digging your own] catacombs.”

Earlier, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, before taking off for an official visit to India, threatened Hamas with “even greater force” following the Saturday night strike.

“This evening the IDF attacked Hamas’s central terror infrastructure in the Gaza Strip,” he said. “There are those who have said the IDF just targeted sand dunes — this is incorrect. Hamas must understand that we will not tolerate the continuation of these attacks and will respond with even greater force.”

The army denied the claim made by Hamas late Saturday night that the Israeli jets had targeted a smuggling tunnel between the Gaza Strip and Egypt.

“We know it’s a terror tunnel because it passes under different strategic assets,” Conricus said, referring to its proximity to the fuel pipelines into Gaza, the Kerem Shalom Crossing and a military installation nearby.

The army spokesperson also denied earlier reports in Hebrew media that the jets had targeted a shipment of long-range missiles into Gaza.

According to Conricus, the tunnel was dug in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, some 900 meters from Israel, and extended 180 meters into Israeli territory.

On the other end, it also extended hundreds of meters into Egypt, which could have allowed fighters in Gaza to attack Israeli positions from the Sinai Peninsula, he said.

Asked if the tunnel could have functioned as both a smuggling and attack tunnel, the army spokesperson responded, “It could have, but we deal with the infrastructure.”

As the tunnel entered Egyptian territory, the army was in contact with Cairo about its destruction, Conricus said, but would not elaborate on the extent of the cooperation.

The tunnel’s design was out of the ordinary, not matching the size of some larger tunnels and lacking the domed roof of smaller attack tunnels.

The strike came shortly after the military announced it would not be opening the Kerem Shalom Crossing into the Gaza Strip on Sunday, following a “situational assessment.”

UN trucks carrying building materials for projects funded by UNRWA arrive in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip after crossing the Israeli Kerem Shalom crossing on December 10, 2013. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

It is the second time Kerem Shalom has been closed in under a month.

Israel shut down the crossing on December 14 following multiple rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza, along with Erez Crossing, through which people enter and exit the Strip. Erez reopened a day later, and Kerem Shalom was reopened on December 17.

On Friday, approximately 1,000 Palestinians took part in violent demonstrations in four locations along the security fence surrounding Gaza, rolling burning tires and throwing rocks at the barrier and the soldiers on the other side, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

In response, “troops fired live rounds selectively toward three main instigators, who posed a threat to IDF soldiers and the security fence,” the army said.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said dozens of Palestinians were injured by live fire, rubber bullets and tear gas during the riots.

On Saturday, the Defense Ministry’s chief liaison to the Palestinians warned residents of the Gaza Strip that the Hamas terror organization was using them in its quest for violence against Israel.

“Hamas terrorists send young people to riot at the [Gaza border]… while hiding behind them and claiming that these riots are spontaneous and peaceful,” Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), said on Facebook.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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Israel has stopped hijacked planes crashing into European cities

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Netanyahu hints Israel has stopped hijacked planes crashing into European cities

PM tells NATO ambassadors that Israeli intel has thwarted ‘several dozen major terrorist attacks,’ some involving civil aviation

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a joint press conference with NATO ambassadors to Israel at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, January 9, 2018 (Hadas Parushl/Flash90)

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a joint press conference with NATO ambassadors to Israel at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, January 9, 2018 (Hadas Parushl/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday indicated that Israel has prevented hijacked airplanes from crashing into European cities.

“We have, through our intelligence services, provided information that has stopped several dozen major terrorist attacks, many of them in European countries,” he told foreign diplomats in Jerusalem.

“Some of these could have been mass attacks, of the worst kind that you have experienced on the soil of Europe and even worse, because they involve civil aviation. Israel has prevented that, and thereby helped save many European lives,” Netanyahu said, apparently referring to plane hijackings.

He did not provide specific details about the attacks Israel helped prevent. The Prime Minister’s Office declined to elaborate.

At a meeting of Israel-based ambassadors to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Netanyahu said Jerusalem contributes to the security of every single member of the Western defense alliance, in that it fights both Sunni and Shiite strands of radical Islam.

Injured people are evacuated from the scene of a terrorist attack on a mosque in Bir al-Abd in the northern Sinai Peninsula of Egypt on November 24, 2017. (AP Photo)

Besides fighting Islamic State terrorism aimed at European cities, Israel is also preventing the group from creating a second stronghold in Egypt, he said.

“ISIS is being destroyed in Iraq and Syria, but it is trying to establish an alternative territorial base in the Sinai. Israel is contributing to preventing that in myriad ways,” Netanyahu said. “In general, I would say that Israel is the most powerful indigenous force in the Middle East that fights radical Islam.”

Israel further helps NATO by fighting Iran, the dominant Shiite power, the prime minister went on. The Jewish state does not only seek to prevent the Islamic Republic from acquiring nuclear weapons, it is also “absolutely committed to preventing Iran from establishing a military base in Syria. And we back our words with action,” he added, likely hinting at various airstrikes on weapon convoys and factories allegedly carried out by Israel.

Furthermore, Iran plans to import 100,000 Shiite fighters to Syria as part of its quest to dominate and eventually “conquer” the Middle East, he charged.

Israeli satellite images show results of an airstrike attributed to the IDF on a Syrian military weapons development base on September 7, 2017. (ImageSat International)

If Tehran were successful in its efforts, radical Sunni and Shiite forces would clash in Syria, sending millions of refugees to European shores, the prime minister warned.

“Where will the spillover [of a Sunni-Shiite clash in Syria] happen? In Europe. Where will the human flow go? To Europe. Who’s preventing that right now? Israel? Right now, Israel alone. But I maintain that it’s a common interest that we have,” he told the NATO ambassadors during the public part of the event.

Israel and NATO have cooperated on security matters for decades but recently upgraded their ties significantly. Last year, Israel opened its first office at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

Israeli officials have repeatedly said that the Jewish state opposes the presence of Iran and its proxies, notably Hezbollah, in southern Syria and Lebanon.

Israel has been negotiating with the United States and Russia, the main brokers in Syria, to keep Iran-backed Shiite militias and the Hezbollah terrorist group away from the border.

Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and others have all said that Israel’s policy is to target shipments of advanced weaponry, including accurate long-range missiles, that are heading to or in the possession of Hezbollah.

In late December, Assad’s troops, accompanied by Iranian-backed fighters, recaptured the Syrian Golan from rebels, allowing President Bashar Assad to reassert control over a small portion of the area adjacent to the Israeli border. Still, much of the area along the border, around the city of Quneitra, remains under rebel control.

Last week, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said the most serious immediate threat to Israel was posed by Hezbollah, followed by other jihadist groups supported by Tehran positioned on the Syrian border.

Describing Iran as a “multidimensional threat,” the army chief said the most worrying aspect is the Islamic Republic’s desire to obtain nuclear capabilities, followed by its efforts to achieve hegemony in the region.

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COMMENTS

Civilians fire back against Helwan (Egypt) church attacker  

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE EGYPT INDEPENDENT)

 

Video: Civilians fire back against Helwan church attacker



Video footage of the militant attack targeting the Church of Saint Menasin the Cairo’s suburban Helwan district has emerged, showing the militant opening fire against a number of civilians and security officials attempting to guard the church.

The militant exchanged fire with and killed a member of the security forces guarding the church.

A number of the civilians seized the gun of the killed security member and fired back towards the militant, but failed to kill him.

Another video showed a militant lying on the ground, injured after exchanging fire with security forces that arrived to the scene. Health Ministry spokesperson Khaled Megahd said that this militant is now dead.

Nine people were killed and another ten injured in clashes after two armed militants attacked the church.

Security forces had already imposed barriers in the area surrounding the church, as a measure for heightening security procedure during the Christmas and holiday period.

Yet, despite this, the militants targeted the church, opening fire against the security checkpoint surrounding the church.

The second fled the scene, according to reports from state-run media outlets.

As an emergency measure following the attack, police and armed forces increased security and closed all churches inside the Helwan suburb.

At Least 10 People Killed In Shooting At Cairo Egypt Church

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME NEWS)

 

(CAIRO) — At least 10 people, including eight Coptic Christians, were killed after unidentified gunmen opened fire outside a church in a south Cairo suburb, Egypt’s Health Ministry spokesman said Friday. It was the latest attack targeting the mostly Muslim country’s embattled minority.

Health Ministry spokesman Khaled Megahed said the attack outside the Coptic Church of Mar Mina left at least one policeman dead and eight others wounded, including two critically. The attack took place when two gunmen on a motorcycle opened fire outside the church, he said.

Egyptian security officials said earlier that two policemen were killed in the shootout and the discrepancy was not immediately clear. The officials requested anonymity because they were not authorized to brief the media.

A video circulated on social media after the attack apparently shows the gunman lying on the ground. Authorities have closed off the area around the church.

Samir Gerges, a witness, said people inside the church closed the gates when the shootout began but bullets from the gunfire still entered the building. Gerges said he was walking in a nearby street when the shooting happened. He saw people running and some of them went to hide from the gunfire inside a nearby restaurant.

Raouth Atta, 40, was attending prayers inside the church when the shooting took place.

“Once the gunfire was heard, the gates were closed immediately,” she told The Associated Press over the phone. “People were terrified and wanted to check on their families in other buildings of the church. We stayed inside for 30 minutes before we were able to get out.”

Atta said that once she was let outside the building she saw blood scattered everywhere.

The spokesman for the Coptic Orthodox Church said in a statement that at least six people were killed in the attack, including five Copts and a policeman. It also said there was a separate attack on a store in the same suburb of Helwan that killed two Copts.

Egypt’s Christian minority has been targeted by Islamic militants in a series of attacks since December 2016 that left more than 100 dead and scores wounded. The country has been under a state of emergency since April after suicide bombings struck two Coptic Christian churches on Palm Sunday in an attack that was claimed by the local affiliate of the Islamic State group.

Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population, have long complained of discrimination in the Muslim-majority nation, and say authorities have often failed to protect them from sectarian attacks.

Just last week, hundreds of Muslim demonstrators stormed an unlicensed church south of Cairo wounding three people. The demonstrators shouted anti-Christian slogans and called for the church’s demolition, the diocese in the area said at the time. The demonstrators destroyed the church’s contents and assaulted Christians inside before security personnel arrived and dispersed them.

Egypt Takes New Step to Become a Regional Energy Hub

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY  OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Egypt Takes New Step to Become a Regional Energy Hub

Thursday, 28 December, 2017 – 12:00
FILE PHOTO: A plant’s gas tanks are seen at the desert road of Suez city north of Cairo, Egypt August 14, 2016. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
Asharq Al-Awsat

In the coming days Egypt will inaugurate a new wharf for natural gas and petroleum product tankers on the Gulf of Suez.

SUMED, which has operated two pipelines from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean, will build the new wharf.

The 2.5 km wharf will have three berths to receive natural gas and petroleum products carriers.

“The country has been building fuelling depots for ships along the Suez Canal and expanding its refining capacity, and has an extensive pipeline network and two idle gas liquefaction plants ready to export new gas as it arrives,” Reuters stated.

SUMED is owned %50 by the Egyptian government, while the rest by Arab oil exporters in the Gulf.

The pipeline is spending $415 million to develop its facilities, including building nine 300,000 cubic meter petroleum storage tanks and loading and offloading facilities.

The tanks are due to be completed by the end of 2018, said SUMED chairman Mohamed Abdel-Hafez.

NBK-Egypt provided $300 million in financing for the project, according to a statement by the bank in May.

Egypt FM in Ethiopia to End Standoff in Talks on Nile Dam

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Egypt FM in Ethiopia to End Standoff in Talks on Nile Dam

Tuesday, 26 December, 2017 – 12:15
Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry. (Reuters)
Cairo – Asharq Al-Awsat

Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry is scheduled to head to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on Tuesday to resume the negotiations with his counterpart Workneh Gebeyehu regarding the Renaissance Dam project on the Nile River.

The talks aim at breaking over the dam, which Addis Ababa is building on one of the main tributaries of the Nile.

Cairo said the dam would threaten water supplies that have fed Egypt’s agriculture and economy for thousands of years.

Ethiopia, for its part, said the dam, which it hopes will help make it Africa’s largest power exporter, will have no major effect on Egypt.

It accuses Cairo of flexing its political muscle to deter financiers from backing other Ethiopian power projects.

Egyptian officials said safeguarding the country’s quota of Nile water is a matter of national security.

“No one can touch Egypt’s water … (which) means life or death for a population,” President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi said last month.

Egypt’s Foreign Ministry’s spokesman Ahmed Abou Zeid affirmed in a statement that this move comes in light of the Egyptian desire to end the standoff in talks on the dam’s specialized technical committee work.

Abou Zeid also said that Shoukry’s visit aims to express Egypt’s good intentions regarding cooperating and rebuilding confidence with Ethiopia to preserve both countries’ rights to Nile water.

Delegations from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia met in Cairo in November to approve a study by a French firm commissioned to assess the dam’s environmental and economic impact.

However, negotiations stalled when they failed to agree on the initial report with each blaming others for blocking progress.

Shoukry is willing to bring new ideas and proposals to light to help the technical committee in its work, according to the statement.

The negotiations will also include discussing the details of Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn’s visit to Egypt next January.

Egypt uncovers ancient tombs at Luxor

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

Egypt uncovers ancient tombs at Luxor

Archaeologists work on a mummy at a tomb at Draa Abul Naga necropolis on Luxor’s west bank, 700km south of Cairo, Egypt, 09 December 2017.Image copyrightEPA
Image captionThe mummy is believed to be that of a senior official from the New Kingdom

Archaeologists in Egypt have displayed items, including a mummy, from one of two previously unexplored tombs in the ancient Nile city of Luxor.

The mummy is believed to be that of a senior official from Egypt’s “New Kingdom”, about 3,500 years ago.

Other items included figurines, wooden masks and richly coloured wall paintings.

The tombs lie in the Draa Abul Naga necropolis, an area famed for its temples and burial grounds.

It is close to the Valley of the Kings where many of ancient Egypt’s pharaohs were buried.

Egypt’s antiquities ministry said that the tombs had been discovered by a German archaeologist in the 1990s, but were kept sealed until recently.

Mustafa al-Waziri, Director General of Luxor's Antiquities, inside the tombImage copyrightAFP
Image captionAntiquities expert Mustafa al-Waziri showed reporters the intricate wall murals inside the tomb
Painted wooden masks on display at a tomb at Draa Abul Naga necropolis on Luxor, Egypt, 9 December 2017Image copyrightEPA
Image captionPainted wooden masks were found inside the excavated tomb

The identity of the mummified body is not known but the ministry says there are two possibilities.

It could be a person named Djehuty Mes, whose name is engraved on one of the walls, or it could be a scribe called Maati whose name – and the name of his wife, Mehi – are written on funerary cones, officials said.

The other tomb was only recently “uncovered” and has not yet been fully excavated, the ministry said.

In September, archaeologists discovered the tomb of a royal goldsmith near Luxor.

The tomb, which also dated back to the New Kingdom, contained a statue of the goldsmith Amenemhat, sitting beside his wife.

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Israel airstrikes, Gaza rockets amid tensions over Jerusalem

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Israel airstrikes, Gaza rockets amid tensions over Jerusalem

Clashes erupt in Jerusalem

Jerusalem (CNN) Two Palestinians were killed Saturday in Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, the Palestinian Health Ministry said, as tensions soared in the region after US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The Israel Defense Forces said Israeli aircraft had targeted what it identified as four facilities belonging to Hamas — the Palestinian Islamist group that controls Gaza — early Saturday in response to rockets fired into southern Israel from Gaza.
The aircraft targeted two weapons manufacturing sites, a weapons warehouse and a military compound, according to an IDF news release.
The two Palestinians killed were a 27-year-old man and a 30-year-old man, Palestinian Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qadra told CNN.
The IDF said Israeli aircraft had also struck a Hamas training compound and ammunition warehouse in Gaza late on Friday.
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One of the rockets fired from Gaza landed in the Israeli city of Sderot, according to the IDF. There was no mention of casualties.

Palestinians on Saturday look at the damage from an Israeli airstrike in Beit Lahia, in the northern Gaza Strip.

Two Palestinians were also killed Friday in Gaza in clashes between protesters and Israeli security forces over Trump’s controversial move. Thirty-year-old Mohammad Masry was killed when fired on by Israeli forces and 54-year-old Maher Atallah died of injuries sustained in the clashes earlier that day, al-Qadra said.

A relative of Mohammad Masry, who was killed Friday in clashes with Israeli troops, mourns during his funeral in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on Saturday.

Both Palestinians and Israelis claim Jerusalem as their capital.
Sporadic clashes erupted Saturday between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces on a busy shopping street in the eastern part of Jerusalem and in the West Bank towns of Bethlehem and Ramallah.
Israeli security forces responded with tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets as small groups of protesters threw rocks.
Seven people were arrested during the clashes on Salah el-Din Street in Jerusalem, Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
The Palestinian Red Crescent reported 12 injured after police dispersed the demonstrators there.
Meanwhile, crowds of mourners gathered in Gaza for the funerals of the four men killed there.

Relatives of 30-year-old Mohammad Masry mourn over his body during his funeral in town of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on Saturday.

An Israeli army statement said what it called violent riots had broken out in about 30 locations across the West Bank and Gaza on Friday. The main disturbances in the West Bank were in Hebron, Al-Arroub, Tulkarm, Ramallah, Qalqilya and Nablus.
More than 300 people were injured across the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem on Friday, 50 of whom needed hospital treatment, the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Health said.
At least 49 people were also injured Thursday during protests over Trump’s decision, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.
Trump’s decision Wednesday to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and commit to moving the US Embassy to the holy city has prompted international condemnation and sparked protests in countries around the globe, from Indonesia and Malaysia to Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and Egypt.

US envoy to UN defends Trump move

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley defended Trump’s decision and criticized member countries for their treatment of Israel during an emergency UN Security Council meeting Friday.
She also said the US has credibility with both the Israelis and the Palestinians and that any peace agreement would likely be “signed on the White House lawn.”
“The United States is not predetermining final status issues,” Haley said.
“We remain committed to achieving a lasting peace agreement. We support a two-state solution if agreed to by the parties.”
Several countries voiced their opposition to the US decision before Haley’s comments, including France and Egypt.

Egypt’s Coptic Church won’t meet Pence

Egypt’s Coptic Church on Saturday issued a statement “excusing” itself from receiving US Vice President Mike Pence during an upcoming visit to the region, state-run Al-Ahram reported, citing a church statement.
“In consideration of the decision that the US administration took regarding Jerusalem, which was inappropriately timed and took no consideration of the feeling of millions of Arab people, the Egyptian Orthodox Coptic Church excuses itself from this meeting,” Al-Ahram cited the statement as saying.
A day earlier, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas cast doubt on whether he would receive Pence during his planned visit in mid-December.
Speaking to broadcaster Al Jazeera, spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said: “Jerusalem is more important than Mike Pence — we will not abandon Jerusalem just to receive Mike Pence.”
Speaking Friday in Paris, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem “is not something that will happen this year, probably not next year.”
He also said that Trump’s decision did not “indicate any final status for Jerusalem,” adding that the “final status would be left to the parties to negotiate and decide.”
This story has been updated to correct a Palestinian Health Ministry report that originally stated one person was killed in an airstrike Friday. The report was later updated to say that the person died from injuries suffered in clashes, not an airstrike.

Egypt Orders Military to Use all Force to Secure Sinai

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS PAPER ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Egypt Orders Military to Use all Force to Secure Sinai

Wednesday, 29 November, 2017 – 10:45
Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. (Reuters)
Asharq Al-Awsat

Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi stated on Wednesday that it was the responsibility of the military to restore security and stability in the Sinai peninsula within the next three months.

He ordered the army command to use all force necessary to secure the area, following a militant attack on a mosque last week that killed more than 300 people.

The president made his demand while addressing the new chief of staff Major General Mohammed Farid Hegazy in a speech marking the Prophet Mohammed’s birthday.

Hegazy was appointed last month.

“You can use all brute force necessary,” urged Sisi without elaborating.

No group has claimed responsibility for Friday’s mosque attack, but Egyptian forces have been battling a stubborn ISIS affiliate in the North Sinai for more than three years and militants have killed hundreds of police and soldiers.

The massacre, which took place as worshippers were praying in a village mosque on Friday, was the deadliest terrorist attack in Egypt’s modern history.

On Tuesday, Egyptian authorities said security forces have killed at least 14 extremists in Sinai and an adjacent Suez Canal province following Friday’s attack.

The Interior Ministry said 11 of the suspected militants were killed in a shootout on a farm in Ismailia province. Six suspects were arrested there.

Military spokesman Colonel Tamer el-Rifai added that three suspected extremists were killed in central Sinai. He did not elaborate.

Why the massacre of Muslims in Sinai was too extreme for al Qaeda

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Why the massacre of Muslims in Sinai was too extreme for al Qaeda

(CNN)It is unusual for militant Islamist’s to condemn terror attacks against “non-believers,” but so grotesque was last Friday’s onslaught in Egypt that several extremist groups have threatened revenge against its perpetrators.

While no one has yet claimed the attack, its location and method point to the Islamic State in Northern Sinai (ISNS), a group that has proved both ruthless and resilient in the face of the Egyptian military’s attempts to crush it over the last four years.
More than 300 people were killed — among them nearly 30 children — as they attended prayers at the al Rawdah mosque near the Sinai town of Bir al-Abed. The mosque was associated with the Sufi tradition within Islam, which is regarded as apostasy by ISIS and by some in al Qaeda.

Hundreds killed in Egypt mosque attack

The Islamic State in Northern Sinai is an affiliate of ISIS and the most powerful jihadist group in Egypt — but not the only one. Smaller militant factions closer to al Qaeda quickly distanced themselves from the mosque attack.
Jund al-Islam, which is regarded as pro-al Qaeda, declared that it was “a great sin and transgression to violate the sanctities of Muslims.” It claims to have carried out an attack last month against ISNS, which it regards as “Khawarij” — a term from the 8th century used to describe those who go against Islamic leaders and institutions.
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Another militant group — Ansar al-Islam — offered condolences to the families of the victims of the massacre and said that God promised torment for anyone who killed a Muslim unjustly. In a statement issued on Saturday, it pledged to take revenge against the “transgressors who spilled the blood of the worshipers in a house of Allah.”
Ansar al-Islam is well-organized and regarded as more aligned with al Qaeda than ISIS. It claimed responsibility for a devastating ambush of Egyptian troops in the western desert last month.
The group is led by Hisham Ashmawy, a former captain in the Egyptian special forces. Ashmawy belonged to the group in Sinai that preceded ISNS — known as Ansar Beit al-Maqdis — but he appears to have left when it became an affiliate of ISIS. Counter-terrorism analysts have said the split was both ideological and to do with personal rivalries.
The condemnation of the ISNS attack is evidence of the ever-widening enmity between ISIS affiliates and al Qaeda-inspired groups, and raises the question of whether the latter will begin to confront ISNS militarily as well as ideologically.

True believers

ISIS is doctrinaire about its definition of true Muslims, and has often warned that it would target the Sufi community. “Our focus lies in the war against polytheism and apostasy, and among those Sufism, sorcery and divination,” said a spokesman in ISIS’ online publication al-Naba a year ago. The article even mentioned al Rawdah, yet the mosque appears to have had little protection.
ISIS is not alone among jihadi groups in targeting other Muslim denominations, and especially Sufis. Adherents of Boko Haram in Nigeria also see Sufism as apostasy. In Pakistan, Sufi shrines have come under frequent attack, most recently in February this year, when a suicide bombing claimed by ISIS killed at least 70 people. And when Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda briefly seized the city of Timbuktu in Mali in 2012, they demolished centuries-old Sufi mausoleums and libraries, several of which were UNESCO world heritage sites.

People gather at the site of the mosque attack on Friday.

Unlike ISIS, the core leadership of al Qaeda has not singled out Sufi communities for attack. It has also distanced itself from overtly sectarian campaigns of violence against the Shia, most notably by Abu Musab al Zarqawi during the Iraqi insurgency between 2004 and 2006. Zarqawi’s attacks, such as the attempt to destroy the al Askari mosque in Samarra, drew criticism from al Qaeda’s leaders — even though he was affiliated to al Qaeda at the time.
But the rhetoric of al Qaeda and its affiliates against the Shia has hardened in recent years — especially in Syria and Yemen, amid what some observers call a multidimensional civil war within Islam.

ISNS: Resilient, capable, vicious

ISNS has frequently shown its audacity in Sinai, even sometimes erecting roadblocks around al-Arish, the Mediterranean town at the heart of the violence and some 40 kilometers from al Rawdah.
The group is well-armed and well-trained. On one occasion it used a missile to hit an Egyptian patrol boat off the coast. It has expertise in building IEDs, which have taken a heavy toll on Egyptian security patrols. And in 2015 it claimed to have smuggled a bomb inside a soda can on board a Russian airliner which exploded shortly after leaving Sharm el-Sheikh in southern Sinai.
The nature of Friday’s assault, a complex operation involving both a bomb attack and subsequent ambush of worshipers and ambulances by dozens of fighters, is typical of ISNS. But it is different in one crucial respect: most of the group’s attacks until now have targeted Egyptian security forces in Sinai — whether by IED or assassination.
Not for the first time, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi threatened to crush the militants, saying in a short statement that “the armed forces and police will avenge our martyrs and restore security and stability with the utmost force.”
It is a familiar pledge, but the impunity with which the attackers struck demonstrates the inability of the Egyptian security forces to stamp out ISNS, despite a massive deployment of the army and strikes by F-15 fighter jets.
Omar Ashour, visiting professor at the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies in Qatar and a longtime observer of the Sinai insurgency, says the mix of guerrilla warfare and urban terror tactics has “undermined both the morale and the capacities of the regular forces, a historically incompetent one with limited success in conventional warfare and counter-insurgency campaigns.”
The government has been able to recruit some tribes against ISNS, but the group has still been able to find recruits among the marginalized Bedouin youth of Sinai, long a neglected backwater of Egypt where the writ of central government means little. It is helped by the fact is that Sinai is huge — almost the size of Texas — and sparsely populated.
Sinai also has a long history of smuggling — of people, drugs and weapons — and counter-terrorism analysts say ISNS has been able to obtain weapons by sea from Libya and elsewhere.

Relatives of the victims of the mosque attack sit outside a hospital Saturday in the eastern port city of Ismailia.

The staying power of ISNS and its growing capabilities also concern Israel. The group has attempted several border incursions, and several ISIS operatives have been detained by Hamas in Gaza, after apparently crossing from the Sinai.
Amos Harel — writing in Haaretz — was critical of the Egyptian military’s response, saying “quicker action is needed, combining precise intelligence and commando forces.”
But Ashour says the Egyptian state’s over-reliance on force in Sinai, coupled with the neglect of the region and a polarized political situation in Egypt as a whole, suggest the government is a long way from bringing peace to the area.