Hamas senses Israeli weakness

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Deadly Friday attack shows W. Bank heating up, as Hamas senses Israeli weakness

Netanyahu government is perceived to be trying to pay off Hamas in return for calm in Gaza, and that’s emboldening the terrorists in the West Bank too

Avi Issacharoff
Illustrative: Palestinians hold Hamas flags and chant slogans during a celebration organized by Hamas in the West Bank city of Nablus, on Friday, August 29, 2014 (AP/Nasser Ishtayeh)

Illustrative: Palestinians hold Hamas flags and chant slogans during a celebration organized by Hamas in the West Bank city of Nablus, on Friday, August 29, 2014 (AP/Nasser Ishtayeh)

The terrorist attack at a spring near Dolev on Friday, in which Rina Shnerb was killed and her father and brother were injured, was far from a bolt from the blue given the current atmosphere among Palestinians in the West Bank. And there are growing concerns that things could get far worse.

As so often in the past, the initial reaction from some in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government focused on the Palestinian Authority and its president, Mahmoud Abbas, blamed as the inciter of terrorism. Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, for instance, called for the dismantling of the PA and Israeli annexation of the West Bank, neglecting to mention that the PA has been working in coordination with the IDF to try to thwart terror attacks.

The ferment among West Bank Palestinians, the growing calls for violence and the escalation in terrorism are being stirred from Gaza by its ruling terror group, Hamas, in its ongoing face-off with Netanyahu. What Netanyahu’s bitter critic and former defense minister Avigdor Liberman described Friday as the prime minister’s “surrender” to the terrorists — his agreement to allow Qatar to distribute funds in Gaza to needy families (and in the past to Hamas employees), the easing of certain restrictions at border crossings, the improved electricity supply — amid intermittent rocket fire from Gaza into Israel, is seen on the Palestinian side as proof of weakness. Weakness to be exploited.

Mourners carry the body of 17-year-old Israeli Rina Shnerb, who was killed by a bomb in a terror attack while visiting a spring near Dolev in the West Bank, during her funeral in the city of Lod on August 23, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP); inset: Rina Shnerb (Courtesy)

Israel is understood to be capitulating to Hamas demands, more than in the past, precisely when the level of violence is rising — with the rocket attacks, attempts by armed infiltrators to breach the Gaza border fence, violent demonstrations at the border and more. The Israeli government, including Minister Smotrich of course, is seen to be following a policy of seeking to pay off Hamas in return for relative calm. This is being internalized in the West Bank too, which means not only that more terrorism seems likely, but that the West Bank is generally in greater ferment, with Fatah activists also perceiving an Israeli capitulation.

The rising tension also comes after six months during which the PA — fuming that Israel was holding back part of the tax funds it collects on behalf of Ramallah, to compensate for the PA’s payments to the families of dead terrorists and to jailed terrorists and security prisoners — refused to accept any of the tax payments at all. That meant some 160,000 employees were receiving only half their salaries. This week, the PA announced that it had accepted a partial payment, of just over half a billion dollars, after reaching an agreement with Israel on the issue, in order to avert the collapse of the PA.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, right, meets Hamas deputy chief, Saleh al-Arouri, second right, and the Hamas delegation, in Tehran, Iran, July 22, 2019. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

The reduced salaries are only one factor behind the rising tensions in the West Bank. There is also the diplomatic crisis between the US and Israel on one side, and the Palestinians on the other. Even as Israel celebrates the pro-Israel declarations of the Trump administration and the growth of settlements, such moves prompt rising antipathy, and calls for violence, on the Palestinian side, including within Abbas’s Fatah faction. There are indications that we could be near to an eruption of terrorism and/or widespread protests akin to the start of the second intifada in 2000 or the so-called “stabbing intifada” in the fall of 2015.

Needless to say, Hamas is doing its utmost to exploit the bitterness in the West Bank. The Gaza leadership (even as it negotiates indirectly with Israel), and the leadership overseas headed by Saleh al-Arouri, are working relentlessly to orchestrate terror attacks in the West Bank. Most are being thwarted. But, as we saw on Friday, not all.

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Israel Accuses ‘Islamic Jihad’ of Sabotaging Understandings with Hamas

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

 

Israel Accuses ‘Islamic Jihad’ of Sabotaging Understandings with Hamas

Saturday, 24 August, 2019 – 09:45
A woman raises a Palestinian flag during clashes with Israeli soldiers on the Gaza border with Israel on Friday, August 23, 2019 (Reuters)
Tel Aviv – Asharq Al-Awsat
Israel has allowed Qatari funds to be transferred to the Gaza Strip amid reports that it has also agreed for using part of the money to pay the salaries of Hamas employees.

Meanwhile, an Israeli army spokesman issued a statement slamming the “Islamic Jihad” and accusing it of sabotaging ceasefire agreements with Hamas, and threatening to impose sanctions on it.

The statement was issued in an attempt to counter widespread criticism in Israel over its understandings with Hamas, which “hasn’t stopped its rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip,” critics say.

Israeli far-right parties are openly demanding a war that would end Hamas’ rule.

Israel has lately come under rocket and mortar attacks, responding with heavy shelling on sites in the Gaza Strip. Yet it continued to implement its understandings with Hamas to ease the Israeli siege on the impoverished enclave.

In response, far-right leaders slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, with some describing him as “coward” and “weak,” and accusing him of remaining silent on the rocket attacks.

Netanyahu is widely seen as wanting to avoid an escalation in the Gaza Strip before the September 17 general elections.

Israeli Minister of Energy Yuval Steinitz, a member of Israel’s cabinet, said Netanyahu is working “firmly but in a wise and deliberate manner,” adding that “Israel’s response to the incidents in the south was strict.”

He stressed that “Israel is preparing for a large-scale military operation in Gaza in case it finds no other solution.”

But Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who also serves as a cabinet member, said that “keeping up with Hamas” does serve Israel.

He noted that there is no suitable solution to confront the missile attacks other than reoccupying the Strip and overthrowing Hamas’ rule.

Smotrich and other right-wing leaders called for resuming the assassinations of Palestinian officials in Gaza and abroad.

Ministers close to Netanyahu have leaked news saying that Hamas isn’t responsible for the rocket attacks.

They said Hamas has sent this message to Israel through Qatar and Egypt, pointing the finger at Islamic Jihad, accusing it of disapproving the understandings between Hamas and Israel.

“We do not plan to accept terror attacks and rocket fire against our citizens,” the Israeli army’s Arabic-language spokesperson, Avichay Adraee, said in a statement.

“Hamas, as the ruler of the Strip, must enforce its authority over Islamic Jihad and prevent these terror attacks and plots,” Adraee said.

He stressed that the Islamic Jihad is responsible for any failure to implement the conditions of the ceasefire agreements and that it will “suffer the consequences” for these activities.

Israel: Hamas: Hezbollah and Iran will join war if Israel tries to ‘break resistance’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Hamas: Hezbollah and Iran will join war if Israel tries to ‘break resistance’

Official from Gaza-based Palestinian terrorist group tells Lebanese paper of understandings reached in Tehran meeting last month

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, right, meets Hamas deputy chief, Saleh al-Arouri, second right, and the Hamas delegation, in Tehran, Iran, July 22, 2019. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, right, meets Hamas deputy chief, Saleh al-Arouri, second right, and the Hamas delegation, in Tehran, Iran, July 22, 2019. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

An official with Palestinian terror group Hamas on Saturday told a Lebanese newspaper that in the next major conflagration, should the Gaza rulers feel that Israel is trying to “break” the group, its regional allies will join forces with Hamas.

This was one of the understandings reached between Hamas and Iran during a high-level meeting last month in Tehran, the pro-Hezbollah Lebanese paper al-Akhbar reported (in Arabic) on Saturday.

“If the Israeli enemy launches aggression against the Gaza Strip, and we estimate that it is a confined battle that will not develop into a war to break us, we will face it alone,” the official was quoted by the paper as saying.

“But if the enemy [Israel] tries to break the resistance, the rest of the axis will join the battle,” he went on, in reference to Iran and its proxy, Hezbollah.

The Islamic Republic is a longtime financial supporter of Hamas’s armed wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, sworn to Israel’s destruction, and the al-Quds Brigades, Islamic Jihad’s military branch. Iran also funds Hezbollah, which is similarly sworn to Israel’s annihilation.

In the July meeting between nine senior Hamas officials — including Saleh al-Arouri, the deputy chief of the Hamas politburo, and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — Iran agreed to massively increase its monthly payments to the terror group in exchange for intelligence on Israeli missile capabilities, Israel’s Channel 12 reported earlier this month.

Tehran expressed willingness to raise its monthly financial backing to the terror group to an unprecedented $30 million per month, according to the report citing an unnamed Arab source.

That will represent a massive increase in Iranian support for the Gaza rulers. A report by the Ynet news site from August 2018, citing Palestinian sources, said Iran’s payments to Hamas at the time amounted to $70 million per year (less than $6 million per month).

In exchange for the funding, Tehran asked Hamas to provide intelligence about the location of Israel’s missile stockpiles, the report said. It was not immediately clear if the raise was strictly conditioned on the intelligence provided by the terror group.

The Hamas members said they would convey the request to the movement’s leaders in Gaza.

Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani, center, attends a meeting with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Revolutionary Guard commanders in Tehran, Iran, September 18, 2016. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

According to the report, Qassem Soleimani, the head of  the Iranian Revolutionary Guards al-Quds Force, also joined the meeting and members of Hamas’ military wing explained the difficulties they were facing and shortages in arms and equipment.

Hamas also reportedly asked Iran to act as a mediator for the terror group with Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria, after ties were cut off during the Syrian civil war.

The report also noted that ahead of the visit Saudi Arabia had unsuccessfully been trying to pressure Hamas to cut ties with Iran.

During his visit to Tehran, al-Arouri said that Hamas and Iran stand on “the same path” in fighting Israel, Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency reported at the time.

“We are on the same path as the Islamic Republic — the path of battling the Zionist entity and the arrogant ones,” he said, according to the report.

Arouri visited Iran with several other high-ranking Hamas officials, including Moussa Abu Marzouk, Maher Salah, Husam Badran, Osama Hamdan, Ezzat al-Rishq and Ismail Radwan.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh told a group of Turkish journalists at the time that he hoped the delegation’s visit would achieve “important results.”

Arouri, who was elected as Hamas’s deputy chief in October 2017, has traveled to Iran at least five times over the past two years. He has frequently heaped praised on Iran.

“Iran is the only country that says that entity [Israel] is cancerous and should be uprooted from the region,” he told the pro-Hamas Al-Quds TV in February 2018. “It is the only country that is prepared to provide real and public support to the Palestinian resistance and others to confront the entity.”

report in August by the Haaretz daily said that Israeli intelligence officials believe Hamas and Iran have come to an agreement for the terror group to open a war front against Israel from the southern coastal Strip in the event of conflict breaking out with Iran’s allies on the Jewish state’s northern border.

The report quoted a senior security official as saying the intelligence establishment estimates Hamas and the Islamic Jihad group will try to force Israel to move forces and air defense systems to the south at the expense of troops fighting in the north.

The report said that Israeli intelligence sources believe Iran has increased its involvement in the Strip in order to turn Hamas into its operational arm against Israel.

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Israel: Hamas and Islamic Jihad praise ‘heroic’ West Bank slaying of student

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Hamas and Islamic Jihad praise ‘heroic’ West Bank slaying of student

Terror groups stop short of claiming responsibility for killing Dvir Sorek; Islamic Jihad hints attack partially in response to razing of homes near East Jerusalem last month

Palestinians look on as Israeli soldiers take part in a house-to-house search operation in the West Bank village of Beit Fajjar near Bethlehem on August 8, 2019, following a stabbing attack. (HAZEM BADER / AFP)

Palestinians look on as Israeli soldiers take part in a house-to-house search operation in the West Bank village of Beit Fajjar near Bethlehem on August 8, 2019, following a stabbing attack. (HAZEM BADER / AFP)

Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad heaped praise on a deadly attack on a student in the West Bank Thursday, but stopped short of claiming responsibility for the fatal knifing.

The body of Dvir Sorek, 18, was discovered bearing stabbing marks in the predawn hours of Thursday outside of a West Bank settlement where he was studying, the Israel Defense Forces said, describing the killing as a terror attack.

The army has launched a massive manhunt for the killer or killers centered around the Etzion settlement bloc south of Jerusalem.

In a statement, Hamas said it praised “our people’s heroic fighters who carried out the heroic operation that killed a soldier in the occupation’s army.”

Sorek studied at the Machanayim yeshiva in the Migdal Oz settlement as part of a military program known in Hebrew as hesder. Though formally a soldier, he was unarmed and not in uniform at the time of the attack, nor had he yet undergone military training.

Hazem Qassim, a spokesperson for the Hamas terror group, told the Gaza-based Shehab news outlet that the attack was proof of the failure of security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority security forces.

Israeli security forces at the scene where the body of an off-duty, out-of-uniform Israeli soldier was found dead with stab wounds, near the settlement of Migdal Oz in the Etzion region, on August 8, 2019. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

The cooperation is seen as a key component to Israeli security operations in the West Bank and is seen as a bulwark against Hamas.

The Islamic Jihad terror group intimated that the attack was partially in response to Israel knocking down several residential buildings late last month in the Wadi Hummus neighborhood near Jerusalem’s Sur Baher neighborhood and the West Bank security barrier.

“The heroic operation is a natural response to the occupation’s terrorism and crimes at the expense of our people, land and holy sites. It is the right of our people to push back against the destruction and demolition of citizens’ homes in Wadi Hummus, a crime that requires a painful and deterring response,” it said in a statement.

Some of the demolitions took place in Areas A and B of the West Bank, which technically fall under full Palestinian administrative control.

Dvir Sorek, 19, a yeshiva student and off-duty IDF soldier who was found stabbed to death outside a West Bank settlement on August 8, 2019 (Courtesy)

The owners of the properties have said they received construction permits from the PA government in Ramallah, but Israel said the buildings were erected in violation of a military order that bans construction adjacent to the security barrier.

Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad have frequently encouraged and praised stabbing, shooting, car-ramming and other attacks against Israeli civilians and soldiers.

The military said it was investigating if Sorek was killed as part of an attempted kidnapping, similar to Hamas’s abduction and murder of Naftali Fraenkel, 16, Gilad Shaer, 16, and Eyal Yifrah, 19, in the same area of the West Bank in June 2014.

Senior Hamas official Fathi Hammad. (Screenshot: YouTube)

In recent months, the Shin Bet security service warned that the Gaza-based Hamas has put considerable effort and resources into recruiting operatives to carry out attacks in the West Bank and Israel.

“A number of Hamas military cells have been uncovered in the Judea and Samaria area in recent weeks who were operating under the instruction of Hamas in the Gaza Strip and who were planning to carry out terror attacks against Israeli and Palestinian Authority targets,” the Shin Bet said Tuesday.

“The operatives in the West Bank were instructed to form cells in order to carry out kidnappings, shootings and stabbings, purchase weaponry, and find and recruit additional operatives for terrorist activities,” the security service said.

Members of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of the Islamist terror group Hamas, take part in a march in Gaza City, July 25, 2019. (Hassan Jedi/Flash90)

On Tuesday, the army said it uncovered a large bomb in Hebron that was slated to be used for an attack in Jerusalem.

In mid-July, Fathi Hammad, a senior Hamas official, suggested he was unsatisfied with the number of stabbing attacks Palestinians in the West Bank have recently carried out against Israeli Jews.

“O, the people of the West Bank, until when will you be quiet?” Hammad, a member of Hamas’s politburo who is considered a hard-liner and is known for his fiery rhetoric, said at a protest in the border region between the Gaza Strip and Israel at the time. “We want knives to come out. Five shekels. How much does the neck of a Jew cost? Five shekels or less?”

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Israel: Goodbye withdrawal, hello sovereignty: The triumph of the settlers

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Goodbye withdrawal, hello sovereignty: The triumph of the settlers

Even rightist Israeli governments used to subconsciously regard them as potentially temporary, settler leaders say. Now, they claim, that’s all changed. Next stop: Full integration

SHILOH, West Bank — On the road leading to Shiloh stands a large sculpture, Dovecote, erected at the time that the settlement was founded in 1978. The work of Igael Tumarkin, it was implanted by Peace Now activists to symbolize their contention that the settlement enterprise in general, and Shiloh in particular, were obstacles to any hope of Israeli-Palestinian peace. An inhospitable concrete and metal structure, the sculpture looks like anything but a home for the doves that symbolize reconciliation and harmony.

As we drove past Dovecote last week in the company of Yigal Dilmoni, the CEO of the Yesha (Settlements) Council, he pointed it out with an indulgent chuckle. Rather than the towering reprimand it was intended to constitute, it is regarded by the Jews of modern Shiloh, he indicated, as a symbol of their endurance and maybe even their triumph. Dovecote is still here. But so, too, is Shiloh. Established by a handful of families and a few hundred yeshiva students 41 years ago, the settlement today has a population of about 4,000.

In the intervening decades, a succession of archaeological digs have unearthed storage jars, pottery and evidence of sacrifices here, among other findings attributed to pre-Temple-era Israelite’s, and work continues in and around an area that some archaeologists believe may have been the location of the Tabernacle, where the Ark of the Covenant sat for 369 years when the ancient Israelite’s first entered the Holy Land.

Tourists watch a movie during a visit to the archaeological site of Tel Shiloh in the West Bank, March 12, 2019. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

The Shiloh archaeological park now draws some 120,000 visitors a year from around the world, one of our hosts told us proudly when a small group of Times of Israel editorial staffers visited on Wednesday.

She herself grew up here, the daughter of one of those initial pioneering families, she said, as she pointed out the key finds and showed us two multi-media presentations underlining the site’s centrality to Jewish history.

Dr. Scott Stripling, head of the current excavation at biblical Shiloh, exhibits a find. May 22, 2017. (Amanda Borschel-Dan/Times of Israel)

With the Jewish people belatedly restored to their ancient homeland in today’s Israel, the desire to revive a vibrant Jewish presence at a place like Shiloh, with its pivotal Biblical resonance, is easily appreciated. Except, of course, that Shiloh lies in the West Bank, in the Biblical Judea and Samaria, outside modern Israel, and home to anywhere from two to three million Palestinians, depending on who’s counting.

For the four decades that Shiloh gradually expanded, therefore, it did so — like the rest of the West Bank settlement enterprise — in an ongoing twilight zone of dubious legitimacy, encouraged less and more openly by different Israeli governments, fighting to make its way closer to the mainstream Israeli political consensus.

Construction of new homes in the Israeli settlement of Shiloh. November 17, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Not annexation. Sovereignty

Over the last few years, though, that quest for Israeli legitimacy seems to have made unprecedented progress. Traumatized by the strategic onslaught of West Bank-hatched suicide bombings known as the Second Intifada, by Hamas’s takeover of Israeli-evacuated Gaza, and Hezbollah’s dominance of the former Israeli security zone in southern Lebanon, mainstream Israel has become increasingly disinclined to relinquish adjacent territory in the unreliable cause of peace.

And in the final weeks before the last elections, in April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began speaking about plans to gradually annex all of the West Bank settlements — home to some 450,000 Jewish Israelis — evidently regarding such a declared policy as a vote-winner.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inaugurates a new promenade in the West Bank settlement of Efrat on July 31, 2019. (Courtesy)

Netanyahu has maintained the stance in the run-up to September’s election redo — declaring on a visit to Efrat last Wednesday that not a single settlement home or settler will be uprooted on his watch, and that the settlers will remain “forever.”

While this position is anathema to much of the international community and to many of those in Israel who see some kind of separation from the Palestinians as essential if Israel is to maintain both its Jewish and its democratic nature, Netanyahu may have an ally in the Trump administration, whose diplomatic team has said it is not predicating its much-anticipated peace deal on a two-state solution.

Rather than continuing to regard themselves in the way they felt successive governments regarded them, as a potentially temporary presence that might be uprooted at any moment, settler leaders decided to take their destiny into their hands. Instead of merely talking about their enterprise as permanent, they began working to ensure permanence

As Dilmoni made clear in his conversation with us, however, Netanyahu’s talk of the gradual annexation of all the West Bank’s Jewish settlements — blocs, isolated settlements, illegal outposts and all — which might until relatively recently have been regarded as a sensational victory — is now deemed insufficient. The vision being advocated by his Yesha Council, he said firmly, “is sovereignty.” He repeated for emphasis: “Not annexation, sovereignty.”

The way Dilmoni told it, as we sat around the table at the Shiloh visitors center and gift shop, settler leaders made a strategic decision about five years ago: Rather than continuing to regard themselves in the way they felt successive governments regarded them, as a potentially temporary presence that might be uprooted at any moment, they decided to take their destiny into their hands. Instead of merely talking about their enterprise as permanent, they began working to ensure permanence.

Yesha Council leaders Shilo Adler, Hananel Dorani and Yigal Dilmoni (right), pictured on May 9, 2018. (Flash90)

Along with the diplomatic challenge to their legitimacy, he said, the settlers had faced “a perception challenge. Even though we were marking 50 years of settlement,” he explained, “in the subconscious, this area was considered by government ministries to be temporary… There was no strategic planning. No ministry had plans for this area.”

The settlers’ potentially transient presence was reflected, for instance, by the “black hole” where Judea and Samaria should have been on the government’s master plan for transportation, said Dilmoni.

Tourists visit the archaeological site of Tel Shiloh in the West Bank, March 12, 2019. (AP/Sebastian Scheiner)

At one point, he recalled, the Yesha Council was allocated NIS 300 million for road improvements, “but we couldn’t spend it,” because there was no official plan. “We could add an extra lane to an existing road; install a traffic light, but that was about it… Band-Aids.”

Development was continually being planned for the periphery — the Galilee to the north, and the Negev to the south — “but nobody was looking to the east… even though, obviously, if you want to reduce housing prices in the Tel Aviv area, the place to build is to the east, in Judea and Samaria.”

Today, all that is changing, he said. As part of their effort to assert their permanence, they hired their own experts to draw up a master plan for transportation throughout Judea and Samaria, with major roads and highways integrating West Bank transportation into the Israeli transportation system. Now the government has taken over, and is currently preparing a plan that includes the West Bank in the national vision, he said, which will solve the acute traffic problems on West Bank roads, reduce fatalities, and smooth the access from the settlements to the employment heart of central Israel. Two and a quarter billion shekels has already been allocated to West Bank transportation in the past few years, he said. The Etzion bloc, south of Jerusalem, for instance, will have a second tunnel/bridge access road constructed in three to four years, he predicted.

The same integrated strategic planning is now taking shape for electricity, water and environmental issues, said Dilmoni, again essentially incorporating the settlements and their infrastructure into Israel.

‘If I had expressed confidence a few years ago that Israel will indeed extend sovereignty here, I would have sounded delusional. Now, the American ambassador says it. In a second, President Trump will say it. Netanyahu says it. This thing is getting closer’ — Yigal Dilmoni, Yesha Council CEO

What this all adds up to, said Dilmoni, a friendly, fast-talking and dynamic personality, is “strategic planning for a permanent presence.”

“We’re staying here; we’re not moving,” he said. “And the Arabs are here; maybe some will move, or not; but they’re not going anywhere.”

Practical integration is not all, however.  What “completes the vision,” he said, is that sought-after formal status, that goal of Israeli sovereignty, which he insisted is increasingly realizable. “If I had expressed confidence a few years ago that Israel will indeed extend sovereignty here, I would have sounded delusional,” he said, smiling.

“Now, American Ambassador [David Friedman] says it. [Friedman said in June that Israel, under certain circumstances, has the “right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank.”] [White House special envoy] Jason Greenblatt says it. [Greenblatt has rejected the designation of  the West Bank as illegally occupied.] In a second, President Trump will say it. Netanyahu says it. He doesn’t say it as election propaganda; he says it because that is what is going to happen. This thing is getting closer.”

US President Donald Trump, left, turns to give a pen to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, at the White House in Washington, March 25, 2019 after signing the official proclamation formally recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. From left, White House adviser Jared Kushner, US special envoy Jason Greenblatt, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. (AP/Susan Walsh)

Asked “sovereignty over what precisely,” Dilmoni says that’s up for discussion, but is adamant that the Yesha Council is “opposed to sovereignty on the specific settlements only, and opposed to [sovereignty] just on the [major] blocs” — such as the Etzion bloc, Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumim. “We won’t agree to that.”

In the course of a series of stops during our settlements tour Wednesday, various officials and ordinary settlers with whom we spoke advocated different variations of this same confident vision. Some argued for Israeli sovereignty over the approximately 10% of the West Bank that takes in the settlements and their potential wider footprints; others called for sovereignty throughout Area C, the 60% of the West Bank that includes all settlements and perhaps 150,000-300,000 Palestinians; still others backed sovereignty throughout the West Bank.

Window of opportunity

But what, then, in a reality where Israel is permanently intertwined with the Palestinian populace — in a formal or de facto single entity between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River — would become of Israel as a majority Jewish country? Or would this enlarged Israel, newly sovereign in parts or all of the West Bank, subvert its democracy by denying those now rather “Israeli” Palestinians equal rights? “The questions of political issues, citizenship, the vote issues, we can discuss separately,” said Dilmoni.

“To my happiness, when Trump speaks of economic development before political, he’s right. That world view — economic development before trying to solve political issues — I think that’s the right approach.”

Right now, several officials told us, there’s a ‘window of opportunity’ — a chance to designate as authorized and legitimate under Trump what was so frowned upon by the Obama administration; to do for at least part of Judea and Samaria what the US president has already done for Jerusalem and the Golan Heights

When we pointed out that this is not exactly what the administration is saying, and that it has in fact made clear that its multi-billion dollar economic ideas package, as unveiled at June’s Bahrain workshop, requires a political framework, Dilmoni recalibrated a little: “I hear [them saying] the economy is a very important element, before we get into the political element.”

Plainly, the advent of a US administration so empathetic to the settlement enterprise has furthered the settler leaders’ confidence in their permanence. But they also recognize that in America’s politics, if not recently in Israel’s, the pendulum swings. Right now, several officials told us, there’s a “window of opportunity” — a chance to designate as authorized and legitimate under Trump what was so frowned upon by the Obama administration; to do for at least part of Judea and Samaria what the US president has already done for Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

Avigdor Liberman speaks at a cornerstone laying ceremony for a new synagogue at his home settlement of Nokdim, October 23, 2014. Photo by Gershon Elinson/Flash90

Hence, noted Dilmoni, the “anger” among many at Avigdor Liberman, the Yisrael Beytenu leader who condemned Israel to September’s repeat elections by declining to provide Netanyahu with a coalition majority. “There could have been a right wing government now, with a supportive US administration,” making key strategic decisions on the status of settlements that the current, transitional government is not allowed to take. Half a year of the precious two-to-six more Trump years has been lost, he lamented.

Withdrawal? What withdrawal?

Still, the fact that such fury is reserved for Liberman, himself a fellow settler, underlines the extent to which potent, genuinely ideological opposition to the settlers and their goals has become marginalized. Where the Labor party under the likes of Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak was intermittently supportive, ambivalent and hostile, and sometimes governed the country, today’s Labor barely exists. Meanwhile, the main political opposition to Netanyahu, Benny Gantz’s Blue and White alliance, includes champions of settlement alongside more dovish members whose only common cause is ousting the prime minister and the ills for which he is perceived to stand.

Ayelet Shaked speaks to reporters in the West Bank settlement of Efrat on July 22, 2019. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Indeed, the main ideological opposition to the pro-settlement Netanyahu going into September’s elections comes not from the left or center-left, but from the still more pro-settlement, Ayelet Shaked-headed, United Right alliance.

The political shift is nothing short of extraordinary. Barely a quarter-century ago, after all, Rabin was warily shaking hands with Yasser Arafat on an agreement-in-principle to gradually withdraw from much of the West Bank. By 2000, Barak was offering to relinquish some 90% of the territory, involving the uprooting of most of the settlements. Only a decade ago, Ehud Olmert was ready to withdraw from almost the entire West Bank, with one-for-one land swaps.

Bill Clinton looks on as Yitzhak Rabin (left) and Yasser Arafat shake hands during the signing of the Oslo Accords, September 13, 1993. (Courtesy GPO)

Now settler leaders, rather than battling against governments advocating withdrawal, are divided over whether to demand Israeli sovereignty in 10%, 60% or 100% of the territory.

Dilmoni and his colleagues are patently upbeat, believing that their “planning for permanence” strategy is paying off, and with good reason: Polls show the Israeli public is divided and uncertain over the fate of the West Bank, but some are clearly moving in their direction, not just empathetically but literally: “We had 3% growth in the settlements last year, with an average of 4.2% over the past decade — and that’s more than double the national average,” he said, reeling off a list of key statistics. The 450,000-470,000 settlers are diverse — a third ultra-Orthodox, a third modern Orthodox, and a third secular, he said. It’s a very young population — 48% aged 18 and under; 53% with the right to vote, compared to 72% nationwide. “Classrooms are overflowing. Birth rates are high. Demand to move here is huge,” and not only to settlements close to the pre-1967 lines.

“Why not?” he asked rhetorically. “It’s affordable, there’s clean air, good schools, we’re close to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. It’s nice if people move for ideology; but it’s also great if they move for economy.”

***

Igael Tumarkin’s Dovecote sculpture outside Shiloh (Ovedc Elef Milim / Wikipedia)

Outside Shiloh, Igael Tumarkin’s “Dovecote” sculpture was recently spruced up and freshly painted — an act of somewhat ironic renewal that reflects the local residents’ sense of confidence, and of permanence. Far from an intrusive, reproving presence, it’s something the residents enjoy looking at as they pass.

Proof of your victory, I suggested to Dilmoni. He smiled and half-demurred. “I don’t want to brag that we’ve won,” he said softly. “Others would say it appears that we’re winning.”

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Israel:10-year-old Palestinian said seriously wounded in West Bank clash with IDF

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

10-year-old Palestinian said seriously wounded in West Bank clash with IDF

Boy reportedly hit in head by rubber bullet during demonstration in Kafr Qaddum; IDF says riot control methods used against protesters who threw stones, burned tires

Illustrative -- Palestinian protesters throw back a tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops during a protest near the West Bank city of Nablus, June 28, 2019 (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Illustrative — Palestinian protesters throw back a tear gas canister fired by Israeli troops during a protest near the West Bank city of Nablus, June 28, 2019 (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

A 10-year-old Palestinian boy was said to be seriously wounded during a clash with the Israel Defense Forces at a violent demonstration against the security barrier in a West Bank village on Friday afternoon.

According to Haaretz, citing Palestinian reports, the boy was hit in the head by a rubber bullet during the clash in the village of Kafr Qaddum, west of Nablus.

The IDF confirmed to Haaretz that control methods were used to disperse violent demonstrators, but that live ammunition was not deployed.

“In response to a violent demonstration by some 60 Palestinians, during which they burned tires and threw stones, soldiers used various means to disperse the protests, but not with live ammunition. The army received a report of a wounded person around ten years old,” the statement read.

The incident came as the IDF prepared for possible violence on the Gaza border Friday afternoon, a day after a member of Hamas was shot dead by troops in what the army characterized as “a misunderstanding.”

On Thursday, in an unusual move, the military acknowledged that the man had been erroneously identified by soldiers as an armed terrorist, but was apparently an operative trying to stop Palestinian youths from breaching the security fence.

A Palestinian protester throws a Molotov cocktail at an Israeli military vehicle during protests along the Gaza border with Israel on July 5, 2019. (Said Khatib/AFP)

The army’s statement appeared to be an effort to calm tensions with Hamas and prevent another round of violence on the border.

Hamas’s military wing said in a statement that it would not let the death go “unpunished” and Israel “would bear the consequences of this criminal act.”

The Hamas field commander killed in the incident was Mahmoud Ahmad Sabri al-Adham, 28.

Al-Adham’s death threatened to spark another round of large-scale violence between Israel and terror groups in Gaza.

Throughout the past year and a half, the two sides have fought several bouts — with terror groups firing mortar shells, rockets and missiles at Israeli cities and towns, and the IDF retaliating with airstrikes — often sparked by smaller incidents along the border.

Thursday’s border incident came amid a relatively calm period along the normally restive frontier, following a reported ceasefire agreement between Israel and Hamas.

In recent days, leaders of the terror group have threatened to bring back the high level of violence along the border — riots, arson attacks and clashes — if Israel does not continue to abide by the terms of the ceasefire agreement.

On Tuesday, Hamas launched a highly unusual training exercise that simulated the capture of IDF special forces operating in the territory.

Judah Ari Gross and AFP contributed to this report

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Israel: Tension Prevails Ahead of Egypt’s Delegation Arrival to Gaza

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

 

Tension Prevails Ahead of Egypt’s Delegation Arrival to Gaza

Friday, 12 July, 2019 – 09:00
Hamas said that Israel will have to handle the consequences of killing Mahmoud Al-Adham. (File/AFP)
Ramallah- Kifah Zboun
Tension has risen in Gaza with Israel killing a civil official in Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, amid escalating threats from both sides prior to the arrival of the Egyptian security delegation to the strip.

Israeli soldiers shot dead a field leader near the border of northern Gaza.

The Israeli army confirmed the forces fired on two “armed suspects approaching the fence in the northern Gaza Strip,” refusing to provide further details.

The health ministry in Gaza said that 28-year-old Palestinian Mahmoud al-Adham was shot and killed in Thursday’s incident near Beit Hanoun in the northern part of the territory.

Al-Qassam said that it would not let the death go “unpunished” and that Israel “would bear the consequences of this criminal act,” according to a statement.

In response to this threat, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a meeting at city hall in the coastal city of Ashkelon: “I prefer that there be calm. But we are preparing for a campaign that is not only broad but also surprising.”

Interior Ministry spokesman in Gaza Iyad al-Bazm said that the ministry and the national security have conducted an emergency maneuver simulating an abrupt security threat – this falls under testing the readiness of the security bodies and forces.

Officials from Hamas said that the exercise imitated Israeli special forces units’ incursion.

According to the ministry’s statement, the maneuver was conducted due to the enemy’s attempts to subvert the security and the state’s ruling.

Meanwhile, the Egyptian delegation has convened with Israeli security officials and is planning to meet Hamas officials in Gaza to discuss understandings with Israel and the Palestinian reconciliation. Before Gaza, the delegation arrived in Ramallah to discuss the dispute about the reconciliation issue.

Israel: Hamas conducts massive surprise drill simulating IDF incursion into Gaza

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Hamas conducts massive surprise drill simulating IDF incursion into Gaza

Highly rare exercise appears linked to botched IDF special forces raid in November, comes a day after Israel located 18th attack tunnel under Gaza border

Illustrative: Members of Hamas's military branches take part in a military parade in Gaza City on July 26, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

Illustrative: Members of Hamas’s military branches take part in a military parade in Gaza City on July 26, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

Amid heightened tensions between Israel and Hamas, the Gaza-based terror group launched a highly unusual training exercise Tuesday night that simulated the capture of IDF special forces operating in the territory.

Gazans reported a spike in the movement of armed personnel in the streets, including along the border with Israel, before the Hamas-run Interior Ministry in the territory announced it was a military drill.

The drill saw the sudden raising of the alert level among all security agencies throughout the Strip, a general mobilizing of reserve personnel to the security services, the deployment of roadblocks, and the closure by Hamas of all land crossings and sea ports. Fishermen were told they could not set out to sea.

It included police, intelligence units and the terror group’s military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades.

Iyad al-Bozm, spokesman for the Interior Ministry in Gaza, said on Twitter: “The Interior and National Security Ministry is currently carrying out an emergency drill to simulate dealing with a sudden security threat. It is taking place in the framework of examining the preparedness of the security forces and services.”

Members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas terrorist movement, mourn during the funeral of fellow militant Ahmed al-Zahar in the village of Al-Moghraga near the Nuseirat refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip on February 3, 2016. Zahar was killed in a tunnel collapse. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

Hamas officials told Arabic-language media that the exercise simulated an incursion by Israeli security forces. An Interior Ministry statement said the drill came “due to attempts by enemies to undermine security and public order.”

The exercise appears linked to an IDF special forces operation in the Gaza Strip in November that went awry after the undercover Israeli force was discovered, resulting in the death of a soldier in the ensuing gunbattle.

An IDF probe, some of whose findings were released on Sunday, identified a number of tactical errors and improper planning that led to the operation’s failure, alongside courageous actions by members of the unit who took part in the raid that prevented a greater disaster. It said the Israeli officer was killed by friendly fire by another member of the team.

The highly public, embarrassing debacle led to a series of shake ups within IDF Military Intelligence. Notably, the head of Military Intelligence Special Operations Division — who can only be identified by his rank and initial, Brig. Gen. “Gimel” — resigned his position last week, having decided to do so in August.

According to Hamas officials, the soldiers were from Sayeret Matkal and had been conducting a complex operation to bug the terror group’s communications equipment in Gaza. They were said to have been driving through Gaza in civilian vans, approximately three kilometers (two miles) from the border.

Israel has not confirmed any of those claims.

Palestinians stand next to the remains of a car allegedly used by Israeli special forces during a raid in Gaza, which was was later destroyed in an Israeli airstrike, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, on November 12, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)

On Monday, the five-year anniversary of the 2014 Israel-Hamas war known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge, Hamas’s military wing released a statement lauding the “ceaseless preparations and battle of the minds with Israel” underway since that round of fighting.

Israel, Hamas said, “has seen the power of the resistance in the battle in Khan Younis” — a reference to the November 11 fighting during the botched raid that also left six Hamas gunmen dead — “whose results continue to shake the foundations of the Israeli defense establishment and military.”

The statement added that “the resistance has additional powerful capabilities it has not yet revealed.”

The massive drill on the Palestinian side of the border comes as IDF forces continue to investigate the Hamas attack tunnel located deep underground Monday that crosses into Israeli territory.

IDF spokespeople said Tuesday that the tunnel appeared to be an offshoot of an old tunnel.

It was discovered by Defense Ministry officials and IDF troops working on constructing an underground tunnel barrier along the Israel-Gaza border.

Also Tuesday, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan said Israel “came close in recent weeks to the possibility of a military operation in Gaza, but it very much depends on what Hamas does in the coming weeks,” according to Channel 13.

Last month, Israel and the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group reached a new ceasefire agreement. An Israeli official confirmed that the country had agreed to a number of economic concessions for Gaza in exchange for an end to arson attacks and other violence along the border. Israel also agreed to extend the fishing zone off the Gaza coast to 15 nautical miles and to restore the supply of fuel to the Palestinian territory, the official said.

The agreement came after a fresh surge in serious violence between the two sides, including two nights of rocket attacks and retaliatory Israeli air force strikes.

Since the deal went into effect there has been a marked drop in the number of airborne arson attacks, though they have not stopped completely.

Israel Claims Easing Gaza Fishing Restrictions

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

 

Israel Claims Easing Gaza Fishing Restrictions

Tuesday, 21 May, 2019 – 10:00
Gaza fishing boats. (AFP Photo/MOHAMMED ABED)
Gaza – Asharq Al-Awsat

Israel announced Tuesday it had eased fishing restrictions off the blockaded Gaza Strip after a ceasefire with Hamas ended a deadly escalation earlier this month.

Israel extended the fishing limit to up to 15 nautical miles, said COGAT, the defense ministry unit that oversees such regulations.

The move restores the fishing zone to the limits set in April ahead of Israel’s general election.

Gaza fishing union official, Zakaria Bakr, however told AFP on Tuesday morning it had yet to be informed of any changes.

COGAT did not provide further details, but in April the limit was set at six nautical miles in the north near the Israeli border, 12 off central Gaza and 15 in the south near the Egyptian border, according to the fishing union.

Israel banned fishing completely when the two-day flare-up of violence began earlier this month, but lifted the ban with a restriction of up to 12 nautical miles following the truce, AFP said.

According to the news agency, the 15-nautical-mile limit is the largest allowed in years by Israel, which has fought three wars with Palestinian militants in the enclave and has blockaded it for more than a decade.

But human rights activists note that it still falls short of the 20 nautical miles agreed under the Oslo accords of the 1990s.

Israeli authorities did not say the move was linked to the truce reached earlier this month with Hamas.

But Palestinian officials said at the time of the May 6 ceasefire that it included Israel taking steps to ease its blockade.

Israel media reported late Monday that the ceasefire, brokered by Egyptian and UN officials, is a six-month deal that includes the expansion of the fishing zone as well as the transfer of medicines and other aid to Gaza.

Negotiations are to also take place on issues including Gaza’s severe electricity shortage and border crossings, the reports said.

In return, Hamas would calm protests along the border and halt maritime demonstrations aimed at breaking the blockade.

According to AFP, Hamas denied the reports and Israel did not immediately comment.

Islamic Jihad threatens to escalate Gaza violence to all-out war

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Islamic Jihad threatens to escalate Gaza violence to all-out war

The spokesman for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad says the armed terror group in the Gaza Strip is poised to escalate deadly violence against Israel to an all-out war.

“The resistance is on the verge of a new level in facing aggression; a level that could lead to open war,” Mosab Al Braim tells the Hamas-linked al-Risala daily. “It will hurt the enemy like our people are hurting.”