Israel to Build Around Gaza World’s Longest Concrete Wall

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

 

Israel to Build Around Gaza World’s Longest Concrete Wall

Sunday, 16 September, 2018 – 10:30
Palestinians walk near an opening in Israel’s security fence in East Jerusalem. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Ramallah – Kifah Zaboun
A “protective” wall that Israel has been building for months along the border with the Gaza Strip will become “the world’s longest concrete wall” and will extend over 65 kilometers to reach the Strip’s land and maritime border, the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported.

Israel decided to build the wall after the 2014 war, but its implementation began after three years of internal debate.

The wall is the third line Israel has constructed along the border to confront the Palestinians and prevent them from carrying out attacks.

Following the Oslo Accords in the early 1990s and after the disengagement from Gaza in 2005, Israel established buffer zones around Gaza and set up barbed wire, but these measures did not stop underground attacks.

The wall aims to provide underground and off-the-ground protection from infiltration through the coastal strip. It will also include physical barriers and sophisticated technological detection systems, according to the Israeli newspaper.

To date, Israel has used two million concrete blocks in the construction of the wall through five concrete factories that have been built along the border. The region employs 1,200 workers from different countries, including Romania and Brazil.

According to the newspaper, the land wall will include an underground barrier at a depth of tens of meters, equipped with sensors that can detect any drilling of tunnels by land or any movement of divers across the sea. The maritime wall includes intelligent waves for early warning.

The cost of building the concrete wall is 3 billion shekels, ($1=3.60 shekels).

Hamas uses military tunnels for various purposes, including carrying out operations and infiltrating into Israeli settlements.

Hamas leader: We’ll fire hundreds of rockets at central Israel if talks fail

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Hamas leader: We’ll fire hundreds of rockets at central Israel if talks fail

Yahya Sinwar says no deal reached yet, but talks continue; reportedly warns terror group can make alarm sirens wail in the Tel Aviv region for six months straight

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)

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)

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar on Wednesday said there was no concrete ceasefire agreement yet with Israel, but warned that if hostilities resume the terror group could launch hundreds of rockets deep into the Jewish state.

“Until now, there is no final text for a ceasefire. What is being circulated is proposals and ideas,” Sinwar told Palestinian writers and analysts in Gaza, according to the Hamas-linked Shehab news agency. “We decided to end the siege on our people, who have the right to live a dignified life.”

Sinwar warned that if talks broke down Hamas would fire hundreds of rockets in Israel.

“What the resistance launched in 51 days in the last war, it can launch in five minutes during any [future] Israel aggression,” he said, referring to the 2014 conflict.

Illustrative: Flames from rockets fired by Palestinians are seen over Gaza Strip heading toward Israel, in the early morning of May 30, 2018. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

The Hebrew Walla news site quoted him as saying that “Hamas could set off rocket warning sirens in the Tel Aviv region for six months straight.”

Indirect negotiations between Hamas and Israel have reportedly included discussion on easing the blockade, but by no means a complete lifting of it. Israel says the blockade is in place in order to prevent weapons and other military equipment from entering the Strip.

Sinwar said that talks on a prisoner exchange were progressing on a separate track and were not connected to the ceasefire agreement. Hamas holds the bodies of two Israeli soldiers and two civilians. Israel has said in the past it would not ease the blockade until they are released.

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.

Around 170 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.

Sinwar also warned the Palestinian Authority against taking steps to foil the nascent deal.

“Any punitive measures the PA imposes on the Gaza Strip will be in violation of the rules of the game. We respond to any such measures appropriately,” he said.

His comments come after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly lambasted the potential ceasefire agreement, saying such a deal would only be reached “over my dead body.”

“If the agreement is signed without the PA’s permission, it is illegal and constitutes treason,” Abbas said in private conversations, according to Hissein al-Sheikh, a senior member of Abbas’s Fatah party.

“Over my dead body will there be a ceasefire and calm between both sides,” Abbas said, according to al-Sheikh.

Regarding intra-Palestinian reconciliation talks, which have stalled recently, the Fatah member said disagreements between the factions were mounting and that such a deal “never looked more distant.”

Abbas was also said to be furious at Egypt, which has been brokering Israel-Hamas truce talks, for being willing to sit down with members of the terror group that rules the Gaza Strip without his presence.

“The Egyptians aren’t reading the map correctly and are harming the Palestinian national interests,” al-Sheikh said. “Talks with Hamas, which took control of Gaza by force and without the consent of the Palestinian Authority, are unacceptable and are an act of defiance against Palestinian leadership.”

Abbas’s Fatah party and Hamas have been deeply divided for more than a decade. Hamas, an Islamist terror group which openly seeks to destroy Israel, seized control of Gaza from the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority in 2007 and several attempts at reconciliation since then have failed.

Palestinians wave the national flag during a demonstration in Gaza City on December 3, 2017, in support of the reconciliation talks between Hamas and Fatah. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)

The PA government has been putting pressure on Hamas to reach a reconciliation deal that would return Fatah rule to Gaza, and earlier this year began to scale back electricity payments and other financial support in an effort to force Hamas to cede ground in Gaza.

Abbas is demanding that Hamas hand over complete control of Gaza to the PA, and that the switch be conducted in a single stroke rather than in stages.

He has warned against a reported deal taking shape between Israel and Hamas for a long-term ceasefire in Gaza if it does not include the PA.

Hamas responded to the criticism with a rare statement slamming the PA and saying that there is a “national consensus” among the Palestinian people in favor of a long-term Gaza ceasefire with Israel.

The terror group was referring specifically to a deal that would lift the blockade of Gaza, which would ostensibly require some sort of agreement with Israel.

“We aren’t moving toward a political agreement or a part of an international deal that gives up our lands, recognizes the occupier or destroys the national project, as you did,” Hamas said, addressing the PA. “We didn’t recognize the Zionist entity and sanctify the security coordination, as you did at the expense of our people.”

Hamas spokesperson Abdel Latif al-Qanua dismissed the PA criticism as “worthless” and added they were “not fooling anybody — the people still supports the resistance and we will keep our hand on the trigger to defend the Palestinian people from the Zionist occupation.”

AFP contributed to this report.

READ MORE:
COMMENTS

Egypt’s Hamas-Israel Peace Deal: Only If President Abbas Is A Total Idiot

 

Earlier today I read an article in the Times of Israel whose headline was about Egypt being upset with President Abbas because he was not in favor of the peace program they sculpted between Israel and Hamas. My commentary to you today on this issue will be a short one because the reality to the situation on the ground between Hamas and Fatah is short and un-sweet. I believe it was in 2007 when Hamas split with Fatah and by force took control of the Gaza Strip in south-west Israel. Israel if they had known that Hamas would rise up and take control of one of the two Conclaves they were going to give to the Palestinian People in the so called “land for peace” deal they would not have given up this land in the first place. My thoughts then and now is, how could the leaders of Israel at that time have been so naive as to believe that Hamas would not rise up against Fatah and take control of the Gaza Strip? A couple of years ago Mr. Abbas canceled elections that were suppose to unite Fatah and Hamas once again but when the leaders of Fatah realized that Hamas was going to easily win this election, they canceled the election.

 

Reality is this simple, any deal, no matter who brokers it, whether it be Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Iran or even Fatah themselves is a death sentence to Fatah and to Mr. Abbas. Hamas is only interested in one thing, total control, both of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and of all of modern-day Israel. Hamas does not play well with others, only an idiot or a fool does not realize this reality. Israel does know this now, this is why they are also against this Egyptian brokered plan. Israel’s leaders played the fool once, they are not going to play it again. Mr. Abbas has proven that he has learned from his experiences in his dealings with Hamas also and as the title of this letter to you states very plainly, only if Mr. Abbas is a total idiot would he ever go along with this Egyptian so-called peace plan. It does appear that the leaders of Egypt who brokered this plan have not learned this basic lesson.

Abbas rejection of possible Israel-Hamas truce said to create tension with Egypt

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Abbas rejection of possible Israel-Hamas truce said to create tension with Egypt

Palestinian Authority leader is demanding internal reconciliation be top priority and that rulers of Gaza Strip cede full control to his organization, says London-based daily

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas chairs a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee at the Palestinian Authority headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah July 28, 2018. (ABBAS MOMANI/AFP)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas chairs a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee at the Palestinian Authority headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah July 28, 2018. (ABBAS MOMANI/AFP)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s rejection of an Egypt-brokered truce between Israel and Hamas to end a recent uptick in violence is creating tensions between Ramallah and Cairo, it was reported Sunday.

Abbas insists that Egyptian efforts prioritize reconciliation between his Fatah party and its rival Hamas, and that the Palestine Liberation Organization, which he chairs, play a central role in agreeing to a ceasefire, the London-based Al-Hayat daily newspaper reported.

Cairo hopes to close a deal between Israel and Hamas by the beginning of next week.

Relations between the PA and Egypt are “very tense,” the report said citing Palestinian sources.

Egyptian head of Intelligence Abbas Kamel, February 8, 2018. (Khaled Elfiqi/Pool photo via AP)

Last week Abbas reportedly refused to meet with visiting Egypt intelligence chief Abbas Kamel. Kamel has been involved in the reconciliation efforts between Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah party, as well as the ceasefire talks between Hamas and Israel.

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 Egypt-sponsored deal signed in October.

Cairo has hosted talks attended by all of the major Palestinian factions, with the exception of Fatah, which dominates the Palestinian Authority.

The PA, based in the West Bank city of Ramallah, is responsible for governing the Palestinian Territories whereas the PLO is the official body representing the Palestinian people and their national interests.

Azzam al-Ahmad gives a press conference at a hotel in Cairo, August 13, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Khaled Desouki)

Most of the factions agree to the terms of the truce, with the exception of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which, like Abbas, is pushing for “national reconciliation” to be the priority, the report said.

Abbas is demanding that Hamas hand over complete control of Gaza to the PA, and that the switch be conducted in a single stroke rather than in stages.

Palestinian sources told Al-Hayat that Abbas wants PA control “from end to end, and below and above ground” a reference to the military tunnel networks and arms controlled by Hamas in Gaza.

Abbas is also insisting that the PLO oversee the ceasefire terms and signing, as it did following the summer 2014 war between Israel and Hamas. To that end, Abbas wants Azzam al-Ahmad, a member of the PLO executive committee, to sign any agreement.

An Egyptian source told al-Hayat: “We are putting the final touches for all parties to sign the clauses of the agreement, and we expect to announce next week if Fatah helps that to happen.”

Fatah has not as yet participated in the Cairo talks, although a senior source in the party told the newspaper that a delegation is expected to travel to the Egyptian capital.

The source said an announcement for a ceasefire is expected after the upcoming Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha, sometime early next week.

Hamas refuses to give up control of its tunnel infrastructure and weapons. The terror group is however showing more flexibility regarding handing over responsibility for civilian life in the Gaza Strip, which is home to some two million Palestinians, sources said.

Officials in Hamas and the Popular Resistance Committees, a coalition of hardline terror groups, said that the truce must pave the way to ending Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.

According to Al-Hayat, Husam Badran, a member of Hamas’s political bureau, said in a statement the Cairo talks are aimed at stabilizing the situation to bring it in line with understandings reached in 2014 which brought an end to the 50-day conflict at the time. According to Badran, that includes easing the naval blockade.

Illustrative. A picture taken on July 14, 2018, shows Palestinian rockets being fired from Gaza toward Israel (AFP/Bashar Taleb)

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

On Saturday Abbas warned that there can be no two separate entities ruling Palestinian lands, stating that if the PA is not handed complete control of the Gaza Strip, Hamas will have to take full responsibility for the territory. He made the comments at a gathering of the Palestinian Central Council, the PLO’s second highest decision-making body.

Last week, the Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV channel 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, which cited sources familiar with the details.

In an apparent sign that a truce is approaching, Israel last week reopened the Kerem Shalom goods crossing into Gaza, which had been shut due to the recent unrest. However on Sunday Israel’s Defense Ministry announced that the Erez Crossing at the north of the enclave was closed in the wake of Friday’s violent border clashes.

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.

Firefighters extinguish a blaze near the southern city of Sderot caused by an incendiary balloon launched from the Gaza Strip on July 31, 2018. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

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.

READ MORE:

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.

READ MORE:

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.

READ MORE:

Kushner said pushing to close UNRWA, end refugee status for Palestinian millions

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Kushner said pushing to close UNRWA, end refugee status for Palestinian millions

Report quotes Palestinian official saying US peace envoys asked Jordan to move toward halting UNRWA’s operations there as part of wider apparent efforts to shutter agency

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner in the East Room of the White House in Washington, May 18, 2018. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner in the East Room of the White House in Washington, May 18, 2018. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Jared Kushner, US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, has been pushing to remove the refugee status of millions of Palestinians as part of an apparent effort to shutter the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees, a report on Friday said.

Under Trump, the US has frozen hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, with the US president linking the decision to the Palestinians’ refusal to speak with his administration after he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

According to emails published Friday by Foreign Policy magazine, Kushner has been highly critical of UNRWA, with he and other White House officials weighing its closure as part of their peace efforts.

“It is important to have an honest and sincere effort to disrupt UNRWA,” Kushner wrote in an email dated January 11, just days before the US froze $65 million in funding for UNRWA. “This [agency] perpetuates a status quo, is corrupt, inefficient and doesn’t help peace.”

“Our goal can’t be to keep things stable and as they are… Sometimes you have to strategically risk breaking things in order to get there,” he added in the email, according to Foreign Policy.

Uniquely, UNRWA grants refugee status to all descendants of Palestinians who left or fled Israel with the establishment of the state in 1948, swelling the number to an estimated five million at present, when the number of actual refugees from that conflict is estimated to be in the low tens of thousands. In peace talks, the Palestinian leadership has always demanded a “right of return” to Israel for these millions — an influx that, if accepted by Israel, would spell the end of the Israel as a majority Jewish state.

Israel argues that the Palestinian demand is an UNRWA-facilitated effort to destroy Israel by demographic means. The Palestinians also seek an independent state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. Months of ongoing violent protests fueled by Hamas at the Gaza border with Israel were initiated under the banner of a “March of the Return,” and encouraged by Hamas leaders with the declared ultimate goal of erasing the border and destroying Israel.

Israel argues that an independent Palestinian state, if agreed upon in negotiations, would absorb Palestinian refugees and their descendants, just as Israel absorbed Jewish refugees from Middle Eastern and north African countries over the decades.

Palestinians collect food aid at a United Nations food distribution center in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on January 28, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

In an email from later in January, an adviser to Jason Greenblatt — Trump’s Middle East peace envoy — suggested UNRWA’s closure as part of the US peace push.

“UNRWA should come up with a plan to unwind itself and become part of the UNHCR [UN High Commissioner for Refugees] by the time its charter comes up again in 2019,” wrote Victoria Coates.

Coates described the proposition as one of the “spitball ideas that I’ve had that are also informed by some thoughts I’ve picked up from Jared, Jason and Nikki,” referring to Haley, the US ambassador to the UN.

Other proposals raised were moving UNRWA to a monthly operating budget and coming up with “a plan to remove all anti-Semitism from educational materials.”

The report also quoted Palestinian officials saying Kushner and Greenblatt in June asked Jordan to remove the refugee status of some 2 million Palestinians in order to end UNRWA’s operations in the country.

“[Kushner said] the resettlement has to take place in the host countries and these governments can do the job that UNRWA was doing,” said Palestinian Liberation Organization official Hanan Ashrawi, according to Foreign Policy.

“They want to take a really irresponsible, dangerous decision and the whole region will suffer,” she added, claiming the White House wanted Gulf states to pick up the tab for whatever this would cost Jordan.

Saeb Erekat, speaks at the Haaretz and New Israel Fund conference at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York on December 13, 2015. (Amir Levy/Flash90)

Shortly after the reported request, top Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat accused Kushner and Greenblatt of seeking the “termination” of the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency.

“They want to terminate the role of UNRWA by proposing direct aid to the countries hosting the Palestinian refugees and sideline the UN agency,” Erekat said at the time. “On top of this, they are planning financial aid to the Gaza Strip worth one billion dollars for projects, also separate from UNRWA and under the title of solving a humanitarian crisis.”

He added: “All this is actually aimed at liquidating the issue of the Palestinian refugees.”

The White House would not directly comment on the Foreign Policy report, though an official told the magazine that the US position on UNRWA “has been under frequent evaluation and internal discussion. The administration will announce its policy in due course.”

Israel, which has also sometimes accused UNRWA of employing Palestinians who support terrorism, says UNRWA’s definition of Palestinian refugees helps to perpetuate the Palestinian narrative of Israeli illegitimacy. It notes that UNRWA’s policy of granting refugee status to the descendants of Palestinian refugees, even when they are born in other countries and have citizenship there, does not apply to the refugees cared for by the UN’s main refugee agency, UNHCR, which cares for all other refugees worldwide. The population of Palestinian refugees thus grows each year, even as other refugee populations in the world shrink with each passing generation.

A spokesman for the Israel Embassy in Washington, Elad Strohmayer, told Foreign Policy: “We believe that UNRWA needs to pass from the world as it is an organization that advocates politically against Israel and perpetuates the Palestinian refugee problem.”

US President’s peace process envoy Jason Greenblatt, left, meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the President’s office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Tuesday, March 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

The Foreign Policy report came as US officials say the Trump administration is staffing up a Middle East policy team at the White House in anticipation of unveiling its long awaited but largely mysterious Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

The National Security Council last week began approaching other agencies seeking volunteers to join the team, which will work for peace pointmen Kushner and Greenblatt, according to the officials.

The creation of a White House team is the first evidence in months that a plan is advancing. Although Trump officials have long promised the most comprehensive package ever put forward toward resolving the conflict, the emerging plan has not been described with even a small amount of detail by Kushner, Greenblatt or any other official.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

READ MORE:

Israel launches ‘wide-scale attack’ against Hamas, after Israeli soldier killed near Gaza fence

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Israel launches ‘wide-scale attack’ against Hamas, after Israeli soldier killed near Gaza fence

Jerusalem (CNN)The Israeli Air Force launched a “wide-scale attack” against Hamas military targets in Gaza on Friday, after an Israeli soldier died after being hit by gunfire from the coastal enclave, according to the Israeli military.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said the shooting attack took place Friday during a Palestinian protest along the fence separating Gaza and Israel.
It’s the first Israeli soldier killed along the Gaza fence since the last war between Israel and Hamas in 2014, the army said.
The IDF responded first with tank and artillery fire, killing four people according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.
Hamas said in a WhatsApp message to journalists that three of the four people killed were members of its armed Qassam Brigades.
In addition to the shooting incident, there were also multiple explosives thrown toward Israeli soldiers during the unrest, the IDF said.
Later Friday, the army said at least three rockets were fired toward Israel from Gaza. Two of the launches were intercepted by the Iron Dome aerial defense system, the military said. There are no reports of any casualties from the rocket fire.
In its most recent round of airstrikes, the Israeli military said it attacked dozens of military targets located in a Hamas battalion headquarters in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip. The IDF said it had “eliminated the battalion’s command and control capabilities, the battalion commander’s office, as well as unique aerial defense capabilities.” In addition, the air force said it targeted a drone warehouse, aerial defense systems, observation posts and a factory used for underground infrastructure manufacturing.
Nickolay Mladenov, the UN’s chief Middle East envoy, called on the two sides to step back from further escalation.
“Everyone in Gaza needs to step back from the brink. Not next week. Not tomorrow. Right NOW! Those who want to provoke Palestinians and Israelis into another war must not succeed,” he tweeted.
A fireball illuminates Gaza City's skyline as the Israeli military launches a "wide-scale attack" on targets in Gaza.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Mladenov in a phone conversation that if Hamas continues to fire rockets toward Israel, the response will be “much stronger” than they think.
“The responsibility for the destruction and the loss of life will be on Hamas,” Lieberman said.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in a statement: “Attack will be met with attack. Our people will continue until they get their rights and end the blockade, because they have the right to live freely.”
Tension along the fence has been simmering for months, at times erupting into violence. Recent weeks have also seen a sharp increase in arson attacks in Israel from balloons and kites launched from Gaza.
The violence has also stymied international attempts to alleviate conditions for the two million people living in Gaza.
Israel has maintained a land, sea and air blockade on the coastal enclave since June 2007, when Hamas took over Gaza.
The blockade effectively locks the more than 2 million Gaza residents inside the territory and is seen by the UN as a major contributor to the deterioration of living conditions there. Israel says it’s a necessary security measure.

US indicates readiness to work with Hamas if it ends terror; Hamas says no

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

US indicates readiness to work with Hamas if it ends terror; Hamas says no

Gaza terror group rejects demands from American envoys to recognize Israel, calls Kushner, Greenblatt and Friedman ‘spokesmen of the Israeli occupation’

Jared Kushner, son-in-law and senior adviser to US President Donald Trump, speaks at the inauguration ceremony of the US Embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Jared Kushner, son-in-law and senior adviser to US President Donald Trump, speaks at the inauguration ceremony of the US Embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Trump administration indicated it was prepared to work with the Hamas terror group which controls the Gaza Strip if it first recognizes Israel’s right to exist and renounces violence.

US Middle East envoys Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, together with US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, wrote in an op-ed published in the Washington Post late Thursday 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.

On Friday Hamas rejected the offer, dismissing the US envoys as “spokesmen of the Israeli occupation.”

“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?” the Americans wrote.

“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 said in the opinion piece. “If Hamas demonstrates clear, peaceful intentions — not just by word but, more importantly, by deed — then all manner of new opportunities becomes possible.”

The offer apparently backtracks from previous US demands that the terror group allow the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank from Ramallah, to retake power in the Gaza Strip. Hamas captured the coastal enclave from the PA in a bloody coup in 2007.

US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, left, meets Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on the sidelines of the Arab League Summit in Amman, March 28, 2017 (Wafa/Thair Ghnaim)

The three gave clear guidelines of what Hamas must do in order to gain US support.

“Until governance changes or Hamas recognizes the state of Israel, abides by previous diplomatic agreements and renounces violence, there is no good option,” they wrote.

Israel has long set these three demands as conditions for openly dealing with Hamas.

Hamas quickly rejected the demands.

“Greenblatt and Kushner have adopted the Israeli position,” a spokesman for the terror group said. “Its ongoing attack against Hamas reflects the arrogance of the US administration which has turned the senior officials of the administration into no more than spokesmen for the Israeli occupation.”

Israel and Egypt maintain a blockade on the Strip which they say is designed to prevent Hamas from importing weapons and other goods that could be used to build military equipment or cross-border tunnels. Gaza also faces shortages of electricity and drinkable water.

This photo taken on July 12, 2017 shows a Palestinian man preparing bread as his wife washes clothes during the few hours of mains electricity they receive every day, at the al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

This photo taken on July 12, 2017 shows a Palestinian man preparing bread as his wife washes clothes during the few hours of mains electricity they receive every day, at the al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

The US envoys laid down other demands to Hamas.

“Hamas must immediately cease provoking or coordinating attacks on Israelis and Egyptians, and on infrastructure projects sponsored by donor nations and organizations,” they wrote. “Hamas should focus its ingenuity on improving the Gazan economy.”

They also demanded that Hamas return the Israeli soldiers and citizens it holds to their families, and said that the group must hand over the control of border crossings to the Palestinian Authority.

These demands echoed those of Israel which has said the humanitarian situation will not improve until Hamas returns the bodies of two IDF soldiers and the two civilian captives it holds. It blames Hamas for the dire reality, charging the terror group with diverting millions in aid to purchase weapons, dig tunnels, manufacture rockets and train its military wing, instead of using it for the welfare of the people.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman attends the 6th Global Forum for Combating Anti-Semitism in Jerusalem on March 19, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Kushner, Greenblatt and Friedman argued that Hamas had destroyed the Gazan economy and misused donor funds to target Israel instead of improving the lives of the people who live in the Strip.

“Despite the billions of dollars invested for the benefit of Palestinians in Gaza over the past 70 years, 53 percent of the people there live below the poverty level , and the unemployment rate is a crippling 49%. The Palestinians of Gaza are stuck in a vicious cycle where corrupt and hateful leadership has provoked conflicts leading to reduced opportunities and the poverty and hopelessness that follow.”

In veiled criticism of the United Nations and the international community, Kushner, Greenblatt and Friedman wrote: “The international community also bears some blame. More countries want to simply talk and condemn than are willing to confront reality, propose realistic solutions and write meaningful checks.”

The US has significantly cut its aid to the Palestinians in recent months.

The Trump administration has been working on a peace plan it says it hopes to present to the sides at a future date. The Palestinians have rejected the plan, and ceased cooperating with the US administration after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last December and moved the American embassy there in May.

READ MORE:

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.

READ MORE: