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

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Officials warn of impending Iranian missile strike on northern Israel

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Defense officials warn of impending Iranian missile strike on northern Israel

TV reports say Tehran looking to retaliate for Israeli raids in Syria without causing all-out war, likely with rockets at IDF bases rather than civilian targets

Iranian military trucks carry surface-to-air missiles during a parade on the occasion of the country's Army Day, on April 18, 2017, in Tehran. (AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)

Iranian military trucks carry surface-to-air missiles during a parade on the occasion of the country’s Army Day, on April 18, 2017, in Tehran. (AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)

Iran is planning to retaliate for recent deadly airstrikes in Syria attributed to the Jewish state by having its proxies fire missiles at military targets in northern Israel sometime in the near future, defense officials warned on Sunday.

Tehran vowed revenge after the T-4 army base in Syria was struck in an air raid on April 9, killing at least seven members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps. The strike was widely attributed to Israel, though Jerusalem refused to comment on it. (T-4 was the base from which Israel said Iran launched an attack drone into Israel in February.) Late last month, a second strike, allegedly conducted by Israel, against an Iranian-controlled base in northern Syria was said to have killed more than two dozen Iranian soldiers.

On Sunday, all of Israel’s nightly news broadcasts reported that the Israeli military and intelligence services had identified preliminary efforts by Iran in Syria to carry out its reprisal, using its IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps), the Hezbollah terrorist group and local Shiite militias to launch a barrage of precision-guided missiles, likely at Israeli military targets in the north.

“Israel has recently identified with certainty Iranian preparations to fire at the north,” Channel 10 said. “We are not on the eve of war with Iran… but Iran is very determined to carry out an attack” to avenge the T-4 strike and the deaths of its military personnel, it said.

Israel Radio said the Iranian planning for an attack was at “an advanced stage.”

The understanding in the defense services is that Iran is looking to conduct its retaliation in such a way as to avoid full-fledged war with Israel, and will therefore likely not target civilian locations, according to the reports, which did not attribute the information to any specific source.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on May 6, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / JIM HOLLANDER)

No special instructions were given to residents of northern Israel. Indeed, the heads of local councils in the north have reportedly been told to tell citizens not to take any specific precautions and to go about their daily lives as usual.

Israel was working to prevent or counter such an attack, but was also preparing for the possibility that the Iranians “succeed in hitting a base in the north with missiles,” Channel 10 reported. The Israel Defense Forces was threatening to hit all Iranian targets in Syria if Tehran launched an attack on Israeli territory, the TV report said.

Seeking Russian pressure on Iran, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to present the information in Tehran’s preparations to strike Israel to Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting Wednesday in Moscow, the reports said.

Earlier on Sunday, Netanyahu said that while Israel is not interested in a military escalation with Iran, if there has to be a fight, he would prefer it be now, rather than later.

“We are determined to block the Iranian entrenchment, even at the cost of confrontation,” Netanyahu said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. “We don’t want an escalation, but we are prepared for every scenario. We don’t want confrontation, but if there needs to be one, it is better now than later.”

The prime minister also suggested Iran could directly launch a strike on Israeli territory.

A satellite image showing the results of an alleged Israeli airstrike on a reported Iranian base outside the northern Syrian city of Hama the day before, on April 30, 2018. (ImageSat International ISI)

“In recent months, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards transferred to Syria advanced weaponry in order to attack us both on the battlefield and the home front, including weaponized UAVs, ground-to-ground missiles and Iranian anti-aircraft batteries that would threaten air force jets,” he said.

Sunday night’s warning about Iran’s plans to attack, as disseminated on the TV news broadcasts, appeared to constitute an attempt by Israel to show the Iranians that it was aware of their plans and was prepared to respond if they went through with the reprisal.

A Hadashot TV report said the warning was aimed both to deter Iran and to make it plain to the Iranians that Israel knows what they are planning, and that it will not be fooled if the missiles themselves are fired by Syrian militiamen.

A mainstay of Iran’s defense strategy is the use of proxies to conduct its bidding across the Middle East — the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Shiite militias in Syria and Iraq, as well as the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. This is seen as an effort to limit Iranian casualties and keep any fighting limited to outside the Islamic Republic.

Last month, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Israel was prepared to strike the Iranian homeland. “If they attack Tel Aviv, we will strike Tehran,” he said.

The unnamed defense officials on Sunday did not specify when the Iranian attack was expected to take place. The Channel 10 report said Iran’s preparations had been going on for weeks, but had been disrupted in recent days because of several strikes on targets in Syria, including on missile stocks in the Hama area, attributed to Israel. “But the Iranians have not given up,” the report said.

It added that missiles had been brought from Lebanon to Syria for use in the intended attack against Israel. “The idea is to use heavy Iranian missiles, including the Fateh-110” — under the command and with the advisory work of Hezbollah but “without an IRGC presence,” Channel 10 said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a speech on files obtained by Israel he says proves Iran lied about its nuclear program, at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, on April 30, 2018. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

Iran has been taking a number of heavy blows of late, including Israel’s seizure of its nuclear weapons archives from under its nose in Tehran, Channel 10 noted, and is determined to strike back but not for confrontation to escalate into war.

Last month, a member of the coalition supporting Iran’s ally, Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, told The New York Times that the reprisal would likely not come before the Lebanese parliamentary elections, which began on Sunday.

Further stoking tensions, this week US President Donald Trump is expected to determine the fate of the Iran nuclear accord, which he has repeatedly threatened to leave. On Sunday, French President Emmanuel Macron warned that if America abandoned the Iran deal, it could lead to a war.

Earlier on Sunday evening, Israel’s security cabinet held a three-and-a-half-hour session to discuss recent developments in the region, including the tensions with Iran in Syria and the upcoming decision by Trump regarding the nuclear deal. Channel 10 said this meeting was not a routine meeting, but it was prevented by Israel’s military censorship from explaining why.

Sunday’s warning was not the first intimation by Israeli defense officials of a potentially imminent retaliatory attack by Iran. Shortly before Israel’s Independence Day, the military prepared for the possibility of a direct attack from the IRGC’s air force.

The Times of Israel learned at the time that Israel’s defense establishment believed the Iranian revenge attack would likely be carried out with surface-to-surface missiles or armed drones. Others have speculated that an Iranian retaliation could come in the form of a cyber attack.

A map of Syria, provided to Israeli media, shows the approximate locations of five bases that Israel believes to be controlled by Iran.

In an apparent effort at deterrence, the IDF last month provided Israeli media with a map showing five Iranian-controlled bases in Syria that would likely constitute potential targets for an Israeli response, should Iran carry out any kind of attack. Satellite photographs of bases were also provided.

Those were Damascus International Airport, through which Iranian transport planes bring in weapons and military gear; the Sayqal air base; the T-4 air base; an airfield near Aleppo; and a base in Deir Ezzor, which was recaptured from the Islamic State terror group by the regime last year.

Israeli intelligence believes the sites are used by Iran for its missions in Syria, as well as to transport weapons to its proxies in the region, including Hezbollah.

Iranian Revolutionary Guards al-Quds Force commander Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani (YouTube screenshot)

Israel believes Iran’s retaliatory effort is being led by Major General Qassem Soleimani, the head of the IRGC’s Quds Force, which operates around the world, with assistance from the head of the IRGC air corps, Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh; the head of its surface-to-surface missile program; Col. Mahmoud Bakri Katrem Abadi; and the head of its air defense operations, Ali Akhbar Tzeidoun.

The head of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Air Force Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh. (Fars news)

Soleimani has repeatedly warned Israel, and threatened to “wipe out the Zionist entity” in February over the assassination of a Hezbollah leader, which has been attributed to the Mossad and America’s CIA.

Iran has access to a variety of surface-to-surface missiles, from short-range Fajr-5 rockets to medium-range Fateh 110 missiles, which have a range of approximately 300 kilometers (190 miles), to long-range Shehab ballistic missiles capable of hitting targets over 1,300 kilometers (800 miles) away.

To counter those threats, Israel has a multi-tiered missile defense system consisting of the Iron Dome for short-range rockets and mortar shells, the David’s Sling for medium-range missiles, and the Arrow for long-range ballistic missiles.

Israel sees Iran, which has vowed to destroy the Jewish state, as its main enemy in the region. Israeli officials have repeatedly stated that Israel will not allow Iran to entrench itself in Syria, marking it as a “red line” that it will fight militarily if necessary.

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Palestinian youths set Gaza’s own gas line

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

Palestinian youths set Gaza’s own gas line on fire at weekly fence protests

7,000 Gazans protest along security fence, fly dozens of ‘firebomb kites’ into Israel, fail to breach border; Hamas claims hundreds injured, no fatalities; two IDF drones go down

  • Palestinian medics and protesters evacuate a wounded man during a protest at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, east of Khan Younis, on May 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
    Palestinian medics and protesters evacuate a wounded man during a protest at the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel, east of Khan Younis, on May 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
  • A Palestinian man prepares an incendiary device attached to a kite before trying to fly it over the border fence with Israel, on the eastern outskirts of Jabalia in the Gaza Strip, on May 4, 2018. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)
    A Palestinian man prepares an incendiary device attached to a kite before trying to fly it over the border fence with Israel, on the eastern outskirts of Jabalia in the Gaza Strip, on May 4, 2018. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)
  • A picture taken on May 4, 2018 from the southern Israeli kibbutz of Nahal Oz across the border with the Gaza Strip shows a general view of clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians, with land scorched by incendiary kites seen in the foreground (bottom) and smoke from burning tires set ablaze by protesters in the background. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
    A picture taken on May 4, 2018 from the southern Israeli kibbutz of Nahal Oz across the border with the Gaza Strip shows a general view of clashes between Israeli forces and Palestinians, with land scorched by incendiary kites seen in the foreground (bottom) and smoke from burning tires set ablaze by protesters in the background. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
  • Palestinian protesters run for cover from teargas fired by Israeli troops during a protest at the Gaza Strip's border with Israel, east of Khan Younis, on May 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
    Palestinian protesters run for cover from teargas fired by Israeli troops during a protest at the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel, east of Khan Younis, on May 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)
  • Palestinian paramedics carry a wounded man during a demonstration at the Israel-Gaza border, east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 4, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)
    Palestinian paramedics carry a wounded man during a demonstration at the Israel-Gaza border, east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip, on May 4, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)
  • A Palestinian man uses a slingshot during weekly protests along the Gaza border near the city of Khan Younis on May 4, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)
    A Palestinian man uses a slingshot during weekly protests along the Gaza border near the city of Khan Younis on May 4, 2018. (Said Khatib/AFP)
  • Palestinians take part in weekly clashes along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, east of Jabaliya, on May 4, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed)
    Palestinians take part in weekly clashes along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, east of Jabaliya, on May 4, 2018. (AFP Photo/Mohammed Abed)
  • Palestinians pose behind kites before trying to fly them over the border fence with Israel, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 4, 2018. Palestinians taking part in weekly clashes on the border have adopted a new tactic of attaching firebombs to kites to fly over the border fence into Israel. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)
    Palestinians pose behind kites before trying to fly them over the border fence with Israel, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 4, 2018. Palestinians taking part in weekly clashes on the border have adopted a new tactic of attaching firebombs to kites to fly over the border fence into Israel. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

Dozens of Palestinians broke into the Gaza side of the Kerem Shalom border crossing between Israel and the Hamas-run Strip on Friday evening, setting fire to the gas pipeline that supplies fuel to the Strip, the army said.

The Gazans, who did not break through to the Israeli side of the border, trashed their own supply infrastructure, Israeli military officials said.

The incident came amid the protests along the Gaza border, the sixth week of demonstrations, as part of the “March of Return.” At least  431 Palestinians were injured, Gaza officials said, as some 7,000 took part in the demonstrations, flew dozens of kites with petrol bombs into Israel, hurled stones at soldiers and tried to breach the border fence.

The IDF shared video of the Kerem Shalom incident, during which Palestinians broke into the Palestinian side of the crossing and damaged pipelines carrying gas and oil into Gaza, which already suffers from a large energy shortage.

“This is a cynical act that harms the welfare of Gaza residents and the humanitarian efforts carried out by Israel and many other countries,” the army said.

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Kerem Shalom is the main crossing for goods and humanitarian aid to pass into Strip from Israel.

Elsewhere, there were two mass attempts to damage and breach the security fence around the central Gaza Strip during the protests, the army said.

Israeli soldiers who were called to the scene of those attempts forced back the demonstrators using less-lethal riot dispersal weapons and live fire.

“Two attempts by a group of rioters to damage the fence and cross into Israeli territory from the central [Gaza] Strip were thwarted a short while ago,” the army said on Friday evening.

In total, 431 Palestinians were injured during the protests, including some 70 from live fire, the Hamas-run Gaza healthy ministry said.

There were no Palestinian deaths reported as of Friday evening, unlike in previous weeks. The IDF does not confirm Palestinian casualty figures, but it put the number of protesters at 7,000.

Thousands of Palestinians protest along the Gaza border with Israel, in the sixth ‘March of Return’ demonstration on May 4, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

During the Friday demonstrations, two small Israeli army drones crashed in the Gaza Strip. The military said the drones were not being used in an operational capacity before they fell, but were filming the protests. From video footage, at least one of the drones appeared to be a civilian model in use by the Israel Defense Forces.


It was not clear what caused the drones to crash. Palestinians claimed to have downed them.

According to the army, the 7,000 or so demonstrators were spread out among five main locations along the Gaza Strip. The protest began following the mid-afternoon prayers.

Though the first two weeks of demonstrations saw tens of thousands of protesters, the past month has seen far lower levels of participation.

Protesters rolled burning tires toward the Gaza security fence and threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at the Israeli troops on the other side of the border, the army said.

Palestinians hurl burning tires at the Gaza security fence during the sixth ‘March of Return’ demonstration on May 4, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The soldiers responded to the more violent demonstrators with less-lethal riot dispersal weapons, like tear gas, and also with live fire in some cases.

An army spokesperson said soldiers used live rounds against “main instigators” in accordance with its rules of engagement.

According to the Hamas health ministry, 48 Palestinians have been killed since protests and clashes began along the Gaza border on March 30 and hundreds of others have been wounded from gunfire.

Hamas, an Islamist terror group which seeks to destroy Israel, acknowledged that five of its terrorists were among the fatalities after the first Friday demonstration, but has since refrained for acknowledging whether its men are among the dead. Israel has identified other fatalities as members of terrorist groups.

Illustrative: Black smoke rises from tires burned by Gaza protesters at the border with Israel, with Israeli soldiers seen in the foreground, April 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Israel says it only opens fire when necessary to stop infiltrations, damage to the fence and attacks.

Organizers of the protests said part of Friday’s plans included attempting to fly dozens of kites, some carrying firebombs, over the border fence.

A Guy Fawkes mask strapped to his belt and a Palestinian flag around his neck, Abdullah Issa, 22, said they hoped to send dozens of kites with Molotov cocktails over the fence.

“We will put Molotov cocktails on the Israeli farms,” Issa told the AFP news agency.

“They have no solution for the kites.”

According to the IDF, there was only one case of a kite making it over the border.

An Israeli soldier holds a kite flown over the border from Gaza in a tactic recently used by Palestinian protesters to start fires in Israeli on the Israel-Gaza border near the kibbutz of Kfar Aza on April 24, 2018. (AFP/Menahem Kahana)

These kites, dubbed “terror kites” by some in Israel, have posed a significant challenge to Israeli security services.

The fires started by these kites have destroyed some 800 dunam (200 acres) of wheat and barley fields, according to local Israeli farmers, who turned to the Tax Authority for compensation as “victims of terrorist activities.”

The military has yet to devise a comprehensive response to the threat posed by these kites. For now, soldiers track the kites after they cross the border and attempt to extinguish the resulting fires before they spread.

This has not always been successful. On Wednesday, dozens of acres of grassland were burned in the largest fire yet caused by these kites.

The “March of Return” is an eight-week-long set of protests that began on March 30 and is due to continue until at least mid-May. Though they were initially planned as non-violent demonstrations, the protests were apparently coopted by the Hamas terror group, which rules Gaza and whose leaders have said their goal is to erase the border and “liberate Palestine.”

A Palestinian man uses a slingshot during weekly protests along the Gaza border near the city of Khan Younis on May 4, 2018. (Said Khatir/AFP)

These weekly, sometimes daily, demonstrations have often turned violent, with Palestinians throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at Israeli troops on the other side of the border, who retaliate with live fire and less-lethal riot dispersal weapons like tear gas and rubber bullets.

The military has faced international and domestic criticism over its use of live fire, with the United Nations and European Union calling for an independent investigation rejected by Israel.

Nickolay Mladenov, UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, poses for a photo during the INSS conference in Tel Aviv, January 30, 2018 (Jack Guez/AFP)

Last week, the UN’s special envoy to the region, Nickolay Mladenov, told the UN Security Council that both Israel and Hamas had to do more to prevent the deaths.

“There has also been an increasing number of dangerous incidents at the fence, including the planting of improvised explosive devices — at least one of which has detonated — the throwing of Molotov cocktails, and attempts to breach the fence,” he said.

“Israel must calibrate its use of force and minimize the use of live fire. Lethal force should be used only as a last resort,” he continued. “Hamas and the leaders of the demonstrations must keep protesters away from the Gaza fence and prevent all violent actions and provocations.”

Earlier this week, the IDF defended its rules of engagement in Israel’s High Court of Justice, saying that they were in line with both domestic and international law.

Last Friday, four Palestinians were killed and over 300 hurt during a particularly violent demonstration along the border, which included a large-scale rush of the security fence.

Mourners carry the body of Palestinian journalist Ahmed Abu Hussein, who died after being shot by Israeli troops while covering a border protest during his funeral in the Jebaliya refugee camp, Gaza Strip, Thursday, April 26, 2018. (AP Photo/Adel Hana)

Israel says Hamas uses the marches as cover for terrorist attacks.

“In recent weeks, we’ve once again seen the complexity of the situation, when our forces found themselves facing mass protests that served as cover for terrorist actions, attacks on soldiers, attempts at kidnapping, attacks on military posts, and attempts to infiltrate [Israeli] towns,” IDF chief Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said Tuesday.

Israel has repeatedly expressed concern over the possibility of a mass breach of the Gaza fence, in which Palestinians would stream across with terrorists among them, wreaking havoc. Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar has vowed in the past that protesters would “breach the borders and pray at Al-Aqsa,” referring to the major Muslim shrine in Jerusalem.

The demonstrations are due to continue until mid-May, which will mark the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, planned move of the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and Nakba Day, a commemoration of what Palestinians consider to be the expulsion from their land.

These “March of Return” protests are so named for the “right of return” demanded by Palestinians from Israel, which would allow them to go back to their native towns and cities.

At previous peace talks, the Palestinians have always demanded, along with sovereignty in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Old City, this “right of return” to Israel for Palestinian refugees who left or were forced out of Israel when it was established. The Palestinians demand this right not only for those of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who are still alive — a figure estimated in the low tens of thousands — but also for their descendants, who number in the millions.

No Israeli government would ever be likely to accept this demand, since it would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority state. Israel’s position is that Palestinian refugees and their descendants would become citizens of a Palestinian state at the culmination of the peace process, just as Jews who fled or were forced out of Middle Eastern countries by hostile governments became citizens of Israel.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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COMMENTS

Israel-You Must Stand On Higher Ground And Not Abuse It

Israel-You Must Stand On Higher Ground And Not Abuse It

 

As almost all of my regular readers probably know all ready, I am very much a ‘Pro-Israel’ believing type of person, but, this does not mean that I give the people of Israel nor the government of Israel carte Blanche status.

 

As the people of Israel know, a couple of years ago an IDF Soldier shot and killed a wounded unarmed Palestinian man laying in the street. About a month ago in the Times Of Israel Paper I read that the Soldier had been sentenced to 20 months in jail but that he was going to be getting out about 4 months early because of good behavior while in jail. So, the Government of Israel decided that for this crime (my total opinion is that this was a case of first degree murder) the punishment was about 16 months in prison. Would justice have been counted the same by the people of Israel and the Government of Israel if a Hamas Member or Hezbollah Member killed an Israeli Soldier in like manner? Since the Sentence has been handed down, and the Time has been served the Sergeant should face no further jail time. Israel, the world is watching you. If you are a “godly” people, you are under the obligation toward God to prove it by your righteous.

 

The failed Government of Hamas, they do what failing Governments have done for thousands of years, they create a war. I know that Hamas’s war is rather unique in the fact that they have been at war with Israel ever since they began as an Islamic Movement. There is also the fact that Hamas has never actually had anything approaching a quality infrastructure. This past month with Hamas’s sponsored “March Of Return” (which is destined to either total victory, or total defeat, no draws) there is no doubt that the Rulers of Hamas are desperate. Yet the IDF Soldiers at the Fence area must use restraint whenever possible. This is just a personal idea, but what do you think of it? Each IDF soldier be issued one ten round clip each day of rubber bullets, then all the rest of the clips with live rounds. If a Soldier fires any live rounds they must have video of why they had to fire 10 rubber rounds, and why they felt they had the right or the necessity to use any live rounds. Do not kill if it is not required that you have to kill. Israel, take the High Ground, always!

Iranian drone shot down in northern Israel in February was armed with explosives

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Iranian drone shot down in northern Israel in February was armed with explosives

Thwarted attack was first direct Iranian targeting of Israel; drone was sent from T-4 base in Syria, where 7 Iranians were killed in alleged devastating Israeli airstrike this week

The remains of an Iranian drone that was shot down by the Israeli Air Force after it penetrated Israeli airspace on February 10, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The remains of an Iranian drone that was shot down by the Israeli Air Force after it penetrated Israeli airspace on February 10, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel revealed on Friday that an Iranian drone shot down in Israeli airspace in February after launching from an airbase in Syria was carrying explosives. The base was attacked on Monday, allegedly by Israel, in a strike that reportedly targeted Iran’s entire attack drone weapons system — prompting soaring tensions between Israel and Iran.

The Iranian drone shot down in February was carrying enough explosives to cause damage, military sources said. Its precise intended target in Israel was not known, they said.

The February incident marked an unprecedented direct Iranian attack on Israel. Israel’s acknowledgement of the nature of the drone’s mission “brings the confrontation” between Israel and Iran “into the open” for the first time, Israel’s Channel 10 news noted Friday.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used a speech on Holocaust Remembrance Day this week to warn Iran: “Don’t test the resolve of the State of Israel.”

Iranian officials, for their part, have been vowing a response to the Monday airstrike, and an adviser to Iran’s supreme leader on Thursday threatened Israel with destruction.

The alleged Israeli attack this week on the base from which the drone was despatched is understood to have targeted Iran’s entire drone weapons system at the Syrian base, which was protected by surface-to-air missiles and other defenses, the TV report said.

“This was a harsh blow” to the Iranians, it added. “It is clear they will react.”

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

“An analysis of the flight path and operational and intelligence research performed on parts of the Iranian UAV that entered our territory on February 10 shows it carried explosive material and its mission was to carry out a destructive operation,” the Israel Defense Forces revealed Friday.

“The drone’s interception by attack helicopters thwarted the attack and the Iranian intention to carry out an operation on our territory,” it added.

The drone was tracked from Syria and shot down by IAF Apache helicopters 30 seconds after it crossed into Israeli airspace.

The army said that because it tracked the unmanned aerial vehicle throughout its flight, it did not pose any danger while in Israeli airspace.

Immediately after shooting down the Iranian drone on February 10, Israel carried out airstrikes against a number of Iranian targets in Syria, including on the T-4 base in central Syria where the Iranian operator of the drone was located.

During the aerial raids, an Israeli F-16 was downed by a Syrian anti-aircraft battery, crashing to earth in Israel, prompting further Israeli retaliatory raid against Syria’s anti-aircraft systems. Both the Israeli pilots ejected.

In this image made from video provided by Yehunda Pinto, the wreckage of an Israeli F-16 is seen on fire near Harduf, northern Israel, February 10, 2018. (Yehunda Pinto via AP)

The statement from the army Friday came after the airstrike in Syria this week — blamed on Israel by Syria, Iran and Russia — reportedly killed 14 people, including seven Iranian military advisers, one of whom was a colonel in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps air force.

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Lebanon’s Iranian-armed Hezbollah terror group, said Friday that the alleged Israeli airstrike on the Iranian air base in central Syria was a “historic mistake” that has brought Israel into direct conflict with Tehran.

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Hamas leader: Protests mark beginning of our return to ‘all of Palestine’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Hamas leader: Protests mark the beginning of our return to ‘all of Palestine’

Palestinians ‘will not agree to keep the right of return only as a slogan,’ Haniyeh says at ‘March of Return’ event in Gaza

Hamas leader Ismail Haniya flashes the victory gesture during a demonstration near the border with Israel east of Gaza City to commemorate Land Day on March 30, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

Hamas leader Ismail Haniya flashes the victory gesture during a demonstration near the border with Israel east of Gaza City to commemorate Land Day on March 30, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

Demonstrations Friday along Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip mark the beginning of the Palestinians’ return to “all of Palestine,” Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a speech at the scene.

“We are here to declare today that our people will not agree to keep the ‘right of return’ only as a slogan,” he said. Haniyeh added that the so-called “March of Return” was also aimed at sending a message to US President Donald Trump to the effect that the Palestinians will not give up their right to Jerusalem.

His comments came as several Palestinians were reported killed and hundreds were wounded by Israeli live and rubber bullet fire in border clashes as a series of massive protests kicked off along the security fence surrounding Gaza, according to Palestinian sources.

Thousands of Palestinians massed at the Gaza border to take part in the “March of Return” protests, the Israel Defense Forces said, with more expected to participate throughout the day. The army said it fired on “instigators” of protests at the border fence. An Israeli TV report said one of the Palestinians killed was suspected of trying to plant an explosive device at the fence.

Organizers of the protest had claimed it would be peaceful, but Israeli officials and the IDF had braced for the anticipated flare-up along the border of the Hamas-run enclave.

The main sites for protests at or close to the Gaza border were at Rafah and Khan Younis in the south, el-Bureij and Gaza City in the center, and Jabalya in the northern portion of the coastal enclave.

The military said protesters were burning tires and throwing rocks at the soldiers on the other side of the security fence.

Israeli officials repeatedly warned Palestinians not to approach the security fence during the protests through social media, leaflets dropped from airplanes and statements to news outlets.

Hamas leaders had said in the past few days that the protests would be “peaceful” and “non-violent.” However, they also warned that Palestinians will not sit idly by if Israel used force to disperse the protesters.

A statement issued by Hamas, a terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, on Thursday called on Palestinians “to effectively take part in the Great March of Return and remain peaceful to achieve the objective of this event.”

Khalil al Haya, a senior Hamas official, said that the Palestinians were not afraid of Israel’s threats to stop the demonstrators from approaching the border.

Palestinian protesters fly kites during a demonstration near the Gaza Strip border with Israel, in eastern Gaza City, March 29, 2018. (AP Photo/ Khalil Hamra)

The Palestinians are determined to return to their lands and homeland, Haya said, during a tour of tents set up by the protesters near the border with Israel. The Palestinians refer to the tents as the “Tents of Return.”

“Our people will not be intimidated by the Israeli threats,” he said. “We have waited for too long to return to the lands from which our grandparents were expelled 70 years ago.”

At previous peace talks, the Palestinians have always demanded, along with sovereignty in the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem and the Old City, a “right of return” to Israel for Palestinian refugees who left or were forced out of Israel when it was established. The Palestinians demand this right not only for those of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who are still alive — a figure estimated in the low tens of thousands — but also for their descendants, who number in the millions.

No Israeli government would ever be likely to accept this demand, since it would spell the end of Israel as a Jewish-majority state. Israel’s position is that Palestinian refugees and their descendants would become citizens of a Palestinian state at the culmination of the peace process, just as Jews who fled or were forced out of Middle Eastern countries by hostile governments became citizens of Israel.

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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COMMENTS

Hebron shooter Azaria to be freed in May

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Hebron shooter Azaria to be freed in May after sentence reduction

IDF’s parole board orders former soldier released after he completes two-thirds of his 14-month prison term

Former IDF soldier Elor Azaria, who was convicted of manslaughter for shooting dead an incapacitated Palestinian assailant in the West Bank city of Hebron, appears before a parole board in the army's Tel Aviv headquarters on March 14, 2018. (Flash90)

Former IDF soldier Elor Azaria, who was convicted of manslaughter for shooting dead an incapacitated Palestinian assailant in the West Bank city of Hebron, appears before a parole board in the army’s Tel Aviv headquarters on March 14, 2018. (Flash90)

The army’s prison parole board on Monday ordered Elor Azaria, a former IDF soldier convicted of manslaughter, released from prison in May, when he will have served two-thirds of his sentence.

Azaria is to be released on May 10, after completing 10 months of his 14-month sentence for killing an incapacitated Palestinian attacker in the West Bank city of Hebron in 2016, the Israel Defense Forces said.

The development came after last week Azaria appeared before the military parole board to ask for early release from prison, having served half of his sentence — the minimum amount of time before such a request can be made in the army criminal system. In civilian proceedings, convicts have to serve two-thirds of their sentence before seeking parole.

During the hearing, military prosecutors said they would agree to the early release.

Azaria, the so-called “Hebron shooter,” was found guilty last year of killing Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, who several minutes earlier had attacked two IDF soldiers with a knife. In February 2017, Azaria was sentenced to an 18-month prison term, which IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot later shortened by four months. Azaria began serving his prison term on August 9.

During last Wednesday’s proceedings, which took place in the army’s Tel Aviv headquarters, Azaria’s attorney Yoram Sheftel argued that his client had behaved well in prison.

Military prosecutors, meanwhile, said the soldier’s punishment had already been limited by the judges in his initial sentence and then shortened by Eisenkot, so a further reduction was not warranted at this time. Still, they said they would not oppose a parole request in two months’ time, after Azaria had served two-thirds of his sentence.

An IDF soldier loading his weapon before he appears to shoot an unarmed, prone Palestinian assailant in the head following a stabbing attack in Hebron on March 24, 2016. (Screen capture: B’Tselem)

Azaria has never expressed regret for his actions, something the military prosecutors also noted in their arguments. Then-Sgt. Azaria shot and killed Sharif on March 24, 2016, some 11 minutes after Sharif had been shot and disarmed when he and another Palestinian man attacked two IDF soldiers.

Azaria maintained that he opened fire because he believed Sharif had a bomb hidden under his clothes. A military court, however, dismissed that claim, citing the soldier’s nonchalance in the moments before he killed Sharif, and his statements to fellow soldiers that the assailant deserved to die for attacking his comrades.

The Hebron shooter case revealed deep divisions in Israeli society over the army’s activities in the West Bank, with some — mostly on the right — arguing that he had behaved heroically in killing the Palestinian assailant, while others said he had broken the law and deserved a harsher sentence than he received.

The former soldier — he was released from the military part of the way through his trial — garnered support from leading politicians, who expressed hope that they could sway President Reuven Rivlin to grant Azaria clemency.

In November 2017, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, Welfare Minister Haim Katz, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and approximately 50 other lawmakers signed a petition saying that Azaria should be released.

“The Azaria affair is tearing Israeli society apart, creating polarization and division, and your decision can put an end to all this and calm the discourse,” the petition read. “It is impossible to ignore the feelings of the general public, that Elor Azaria is a scapegoat who has become a symbol and paid an especially high price.”

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Hamas Praises The Murder Of Two Israeli Soldiers

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Palestinian terror groups praise car-ramming attack that kills two soldiers

Factions say terror attack a response to ‘Zionist crimes’ and US recognition of Jerusalem as capital of Israel

Israeli security forces and forensics are seen at the site where a Palestinian rammed a car into a group of Israeli soldiers near Mevo Dotan in the north of the West Bank on March 16, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / Jack GUEZ)

Israeli security forces and forensics are seen at the site where a Palestinian rammed a car into a group of Israeli soldiers near Mevo Dotan in the north of the West Bank on March 16, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / Jack GUEZ)

Several Palestinian terror groups and activists on Friday praised the “heroic” car-ramming attack in which two IDF solders were killed near Jenin, saying it was an “appropriate” response to US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

While no group claimed direct responsibility for the terror attack, it came after Palestinian groups had called for Friday to be a “day of rage,” in response to Trump’s December decision.

The Hamas terror group was the first to “welcome” the attack.

“This heroic and courageous operation underscores our people’s insistence on pursuing the path of resistance,” read a terse statement published by Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Abdel Latif al-Qanua, a Hamas spokesperson, said that the “heroic operation underlines the vitality and continuity of the intifada, and our people’s rejection of the US decision on Jerusalem.”

Another Hamas spokesperson, Sami Abu Zuhri, said that the attack was a “message” to those who have been calling on his terror group to lay down its weapons.

Israeli security forces and forensics experts inspect the destroyed vehicle that was used by a Palestinian terrorist in a car ramming attack on Israeli soldiers near West Bank settlement of Mevo Dotan on March 16, 2018. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

“This is a message to the effect that the weapons of the resistance are the uppermost,” he added. “It is also a message to the effect that there is no future for those who conduct security cooperation,” he said, referring to the cooperation between the Palestinian Authority forces in the West Bank and the IDF.

During ongoing reconciliation talks between Hamas and PA President Mahmoud Abas’ Fatah group, a key demand has been for Hamas to hand it’s weapons over to the control of the PA, a move Hamas has firmly rejected.

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group said the attack was a response to  “Zionist terrorism.” The group called on Palestinians to carry out more attacks to “foil the Zionist-American plot to obliterate the Palestinian cause.”

Talal Abu Zarifeh, a senior representative of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, one of several PLO terror factions, said that the car-ramming attack was a “natural response to Israeli crimes” and a sign that the uprising was continuing.

The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, another PLO terror group, said that the attack had “trampled Trump’s decision on Jerusalem – 100 days since he announced it.” The attack proves that the Palestinians are alert and prepared to thwart this decision and any other scheme targeting our cause and existence,” the group added.

On Twitter, some Palestinians launched a hashtag called “The Jenin Operation,” where they heaped praise on the attacker, identified as Ala Qabha, 26.

يسلم البطن الي جابك
جنين ارفعي راسك بأبطالك

 

Some Palestinians also said they believed the attack came to avenge the killing of Ahmed Jarrar, the Hamas terrorist who killed Rabbi Raziel Shevach in the northern West Bank earlier this year. Jarrar, a resident of Jenin, was killed by IDF troops in early February.

The Palestinian Authority had not commented on the attack.

The IDF confirmed that the incident was a terror attack. It said the troops were hit while standing near a military guard post Friday afternoon. One of the victims was pronounced dead at the scene. A second died a short time later, after attempts to save his life failed.

The scene of a car-ramming attack in the West Bank on March 16, 2018 (Magen David Adom)

One of the injured soldiers suffered severe head trauma and was fighting for his life. A second soldier was in serious condition.

The driver, Qabha, 26, of the village of Barta’a in the northern West Bank, was injured and taken to hospital, where he will be questioned, the army said. A second Palestinian man was treated by the Palestinian Red Crescent medical service. It was not immediately clear how he was involved.

 

Haaretz reported that Qabha was released from Israeli prison in April of last year after completing a 17-month sentence, though there were no immediate details on his crime. According to Hadashot news he was incarcerated for security-related activities.

Palestinian media reported that military forces searched the Qabha family’s home in Barta’a and questioned family members following the attack. Qabha’s brother was arrested, and the Israeli work permits of several family members were revoked.

Meanwhile Qabha’s family claimed the incident was an accident and not an attack, with one relative telling Haaretz that the young man was a painter, and had been on his way home from Jenin after buying supplies. “He’s not politically affiliated and doesn’t belong to any organization,” he said.

 

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Syria shoots down Israeli warplane as conflict escalates

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

(The Devil is in Tehran, His name is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the un-elected Dictator who calls himself the ‘Supreme Leader’)(trs) 

Syria shoots down Israeli warplane as conflict escalates

Crash site of an Israeli F-16 jet in northern Israel. Photo: 10 February 2018Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionThe Israeli F-16 jet crashed near a village in northern Israel

An Israeli F-16 fighter jet has crashed after being hit by Syrian air defences during an offensive in Syria, the Israeli military says.

The two pilots parachuted to safety before the crash in northern Israel. It is believed to be the first time Israel has lost a jet in the Syrian conflict.

The plane was hit during air strikes in response to an Iranian drone launch into Israeli territory, Israel says.

The drone was shot down. Israel later launched further strikes in Syria.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) say they hit aerial defence batteries and Iranian military sites in the latest strikes.

Israeli air strikes in Syria are not unusual, the BBC’s Middle East correspondent Tom Bateman says, but the loss of an Israeli fighter jet marks a serious escalation.

In other developments in the Syrian conflict on Saturday:

  • A Turkish helicopter was shot down as the country continued its offensive against Kurdish fighters in northern Syria. Two soldiers on board were killed, the Turkish military says
  • UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said the past week was one of the bloodiest in Syria since the conflict began in 2011 – with at least 277 civilian deaths reported

How did events unfold on Saturday morning?

The Israeli military says a “combat helicopter successfully intercepted an Iranian UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] that was launched from Syria and infiltrated Israel”.

It tweeted footage which it says shows the drone flying into Israeli territory before being hit.

In a further response, the IDF “targeted Iranian targets in Syria”, according to the military. The mission deep inside Syrian territory was successfully completed, it said.

After coming under Syrian anti-aircraft fire, the F-16’s two crew members ejected and were later taken to hospital. One of them was “severely injured as a result of an emergency evacuation”, the IDF said.

It is the first time Israel has lost an aircraft in combat since 2006 when an Israeli helicopter was shot down over Lebanon by a Hezbollah rocket, the Jerusalem Post reports.

All five crew on board – including a female flight mechanic – were killed in that incident.

Anti-aircraft effects over the Syrian-Israeli border in the Golan Heights. Photo: 10 February 20218Image copyrightEPA
Image captionAnti-aircraft fire smoke over the Syrian-Israeli border in the Golan Heights

Alert sirens sounded in areas of northern Israel and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights because of Syrian anti-aircraft fire.

Residents reported hearing a number of explosions and heavy aerial activity in the area near Israel’s borders with Jordan and Syria.

An Israeli F-16 takes off. File photoImage copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionThe fighter jet was carrying out strikes on Iranian targets in Syria, the Israelis say (file picture)

Syrian state media quoted a military source as saying that the country’s air defences had opened fire in response to Israeli “aggression” against a military base on Saturday, hitting “more than one plane”.

What did Israel do next?

Israel launched its second wave of strikes in Syria. Eight of the Syrian targets belonged to the fourth Syrian division near Damascus, IDF spokesman Jonathan Conricus said.

All the Israeli aircraft from this sortie returned safely.

“Syrians are playing with fire when they allow Iranians to attack Israel,” the spokesman warned.

He added that Israel was willing to exact a heavy price in response but was “are not looking to escalate the situation”.

Meanwhile Iran and the Tehran-backed Hezbollah movement in Lebanon – which are allied with the Syrian government – dismissed reports that an Iranian drone had entered Israeli airspace as a “lie”.

Russia expressed “serious concern” over the Israeli air strikes and called for all sides to show restraint.

What is the Iranian presence in Syria?

Iran is Israel’s arch-enemy, and Iranian troops have been fighting rebel groups since 2011.

Tehran has sent military advisers, volunteer militias and, reportedly, hundreds of fighters from its Quds Force, the overseas arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

It is also believed to have supplied thousands of tonnes of weaponry and munitions to help President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and the pro-Iranian Hezbollah, which is fighting on Syria’s side.

Tehran has faced accusations that it is seeking to establish not just an arc of influence but a logistical land supply line from Iran through to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Presentational grey line

A powerful new element

Analysis by BBC’s diplomatic correspondent Jonathan Marcus

For years Israel has been striking at weapons stores and other facilities in Syria with a single goal – to disrupt and, as far as possible, to prevent advanced Iranian missiles being delivered to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Syria has often been the conduit for these shipments, but the changing balance of power there, with the Assad regime’s survival bolstered by Iranian help, has introduced a powerful new element – a direct Iranian role in the crisis.

A more confident Iran is alleged by Israel to be setting up bases in Syria(whether for its own or its proxy Shia Muslim militia forces is unclear).

But it is also alleged to be developing missile factories, both there and in Lebanon, to make the supply lines to Hezbollah less vulnerable.

Israel’s campaign to disrupt missile supplies is becoming ever more complex.

And Iran risks becoming a direct actor in this conflict, ever closer to Israel’s own borders.

map
Presentational grey line

IDF Destroys Another Hamas Attack Tunnel

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

TUNNEL ENTERED ISRAEL BENEATH KEREM SHALOM GOODS CROSSING

IDF destroys Hamas attack tunnel that penetrated Israel and Egypt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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