Israel: IDF, We don’t apologize for killing terrorists

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

IDF responds to criticism: We don’t apologize for killing terrorists

Bennett excoriates army after spokesman says tunnel blast was intended to destroy infrastructure, not kill Islamic Jihad commanders; Liberman derides Jewish Home leader’s critique

Israeli soldiers sit on a tank close to the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip on October 30, 2017, near Kibbutz Kissufim in southern Israel. (AFP PHOTO/MENAHEM KAHANA)

Israeli soldiers sit on a tank close to the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip on October 30, 2017, near Kibbutz Kissufim in southern Israel. (AFP PHOTO/MENAHEM KAHANA)

After politicians Kcriticized the army on Tuesday for appearing to apologize for killing terrorist leaders in the bombing of a Gaza attack tunnel the day before, the military clarified that its comments were taken out of context and that it does not regret their deaths.

On early Monday afternoon, the Israel Defense Forces blew up an attack tunnel that had entered Israeli territory from the Gaza Strip. At least seven terrorists, including two senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad commanders, were killed in the blast and its aftermath, a dozen more were wounded and, as of Tuesday afternoon, five were still missing in the rubble, according to the coastal enclave’s health ministry.

Several hours after the demolition of the tunnel, IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis responded to a reporter’s question about the goal of the tunnel blast, saying that the operation was intended only to destroy the underground infrastructure and was “not in any way” meant to assassinate senior terrorist leaders.

Taking to Twitter in response to the comment, Education Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday morning accused the military of “apologizing” for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad commanders’ deaths.

“It is forbidden to apologize for successfully destroying terrorists,” Bennett wrote. “Let’s be clear – these were terrorists involved in digging an attack tunnel inside Israeli territory with which they intended to kill Israeli women and children.”

Head of the Jewish Home party and Education Minister Naftali Bennett leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on October 23, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Bennett, who is a member of the security cabinet, said that although Monday’s operation was the deadliest incident in the coastal enclave since the 2014 Gaza war, Israel does not want an escalation of violence with Gaza.

“We are not looking for escalation,” he tweeted. “As a member of the cabinet which has been working since Operation Protective Edge to remove the threat of the tunnels, I give my full support to the army’s actions. The purpose of the IDF is to defeat the enemy, and it should continue to do so.”

In response to Bennett’s statement, an army spokesperson said that the military did not regret the deaths of the terrorists and didn’t make “even one apology” about the army operation.

The body of Marwan Alagha, 22, is carried by mourners after he was killed when Israel blew up a tunnel built by the Islamic Jihad terror group stretching from the Gaza Strip into its territory, at Naser hospital in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on October 30, 2017. (SAID KHATIB / AFP)

The official said Manelis’s comment was in response to a question about the goal of the detonation, which was not specifically intended to kill terrorist leaders, but to destroy the infrastructure — “and that was done extremely well,” he said.

“The comments were responsible,” the spokesperson added.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, continuing the war of the words, attacked Bennett on Twitter, accusing him of harming Israel’s security.

“A briefing by the IDF spokesperson cannot be used for a blatant assault on the IDF and its commanders. Comments like this seriously damage the security of Israel and the IDF,” Liberman wrote.

“We will continue to operate with determination, strength and responsibility for the security of Israel’s citizens,” he said.

Opposition MK Elazar Stern (Yesh Atid), a retired IDF general, also slammed Bennett and the other right-wing politicians who criticized the military.

Israeli soldiers patrol close to the Israeli border with the Gaza Strip on October 30, 2017, near Kibbutz Kissufim in southern Israel. (AFP PHOTO/MENAHEM KAHANA)

“It is a shame that government ministers, instead of backing the IDF after an incident like this, chose once again to use it to score political points at the army’s expense,” he said in a statement.

Stern said he fully supported the army, and it was clear that there had been no apology. “The result of the IDF’s response was seven killed terrorists but a quiet night in the communities bordering the Gaza Strip — that is a great result,” he said.

The IDF said the terror tunnel was discovered inside Israeli territory near the Gaza Strip and is believed to have been dug after the 2014 Gaza war. The tunnel was being built by the Islamic Jihad terror group. It ran from the Gazan city of Khan Younis, crossed under the border for dozens of meters, and approached Kibbutz Kissufim.

The incident significantly raised tensions in the region, though so far there has been no military response from Islamic Jihad.

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Philippines: Islamic Murderers Seize Marawi City: This Should Be A Wake up Call To SE Asia

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

By Tom Allard | MARAWI CITY, PHILIPPINES

At the beginning of the battle that has raged for the past 12 days in Marawi City at the southern end of the Philippines, dozens of Islamist militants stormed its prison, overwhelming the guards.

“They said ‘surrender the Christians’,” said Faridah P. Ali, an assistant director of the regional prison authority. “We only had one Christian staff member so we put him with the inmates so he wouldn’t be noticed,” he said.

Fighters from the Maute group, which has pledged allegiance to Islamic State (IS), menaced the guards and shouted at prisoners: but no one gave up the Christian man. “When they freed the inmates, he got free,” said Ali.

It was a brief moment of cheer, but over the next few hours the militants took control of most of the city, attacked the police station and stole weapons and ammunition, and set up roadblocks and positioned snipers on buildings at key approaches. The assault has already led to the death of almost 180 people and the vast majority of Marawi’s population of about 200,000 has fled.

The seizing of the city by Maute and its allies on the island of Mindanao is the biggest warning yet that the Islamic State is building a base in Southeast Asia and bringing the brutal tactics seen in Iraq and Syria in recent years to the region.

Defense and other government officials from within the region told Reuters evidence is mounting that this was a sophisticated plot to bring forces from different groups who support the Islamic State together to take control of Marawi.

The presence of foreigners – intelligence sources say the fighters have included militants from as far away as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Chechnya and Morocco – alongside locals in Marawi, has particularly alarmed security officials.

For some time, governments in Southeast Asia have been worried about what happens when battle-hardened Islamic State fighters from their countries return home as the group loses ground in the Middle East, and now they have added concerns about the region becoming a magnet for foreign jihadis.

“If we do nothing, they get a foothold in this region,” said Hishammuddin Hussein, the defence minister of neighboring Malaysia.

Defense and military officials in the Philippines said that all four of the country’s pro-Islamic State groups sent fighters to Marawi with the intention of establishing the city as a Southeast Asian ‘wilayat’ – or governorate – for the radical group.

Mindanao – roiled for decades by Islamic separatists, communist rebels, and warlords – was fertile ground for Islamic State’s ideology to take root. This is the one region in this largely Catholic country to have a significant Muslim minority and Marawi itself is predominantly Muslim.

It is difficult for governments to prevent militants from getting to Mindanao from countries like Malaysia and Indonesia through waters that have often been lawless and plagued by pirates.

The Combating Terrorism Center, a West Point, New York-based think tank, said in a report this week that Islamic State is leveraging militant groups in Southeast Asia to solidify and expand its presence in the region. The key will be how well it manages relations with the region’s jihadi old guard, CTC said.

COMMANDER FIRED

The Maute group’s attack is the biggest challenge faced by Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte since coming to power last June. He has declared martial law in Mindanao, which is his political base.

His defense forces were caught off guard by the assault and have had difficulty in regaining control of the city – on Saturday they were still struggling to wipe out pockets of resistance.

On Monday, Brigadier-General Nixon Fortes, the commander of the army brigade in Marawi, was sacked.

An army spokesman said this was unrelated to the battle. But a military source, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters on Friday that Fortes was dismissed because not all his forces were in the city when the rebels began their rampage, even though military intelligence had indicated that Islamist militants were amassing there.

The assault came just months after security forces attacked the mountain lair of Isnilon Hapilon, a long-time leader of Abu Sayyaf, or “Father of the Sword”, a notorious Islamist militant group known for kidnapping.

He swore allegiance to Islamic State in 2014, and quickly got other groups to join him. Most important among them was the Maute group, run by brothers Omar and Abdullah Maute from a well-known family in Marawi.

In a video that surfaced last June, a Syria-based leader of the group urged followers in the region to join Hapilon if they could not travel to the Middle East. Hapilon was named IS leader in Southeast Asia last year.

The Philippines military said Hapilon was likely wounded in the raids but managed to escape to Marawi, where he joined up with the Maute group.

According to a statement on a social media group used by Maute fighters, the group wants to cleanse Marawi of Christians, Shi’ite Muslims, and polytheists – who believe in more than one God. It also wants to ban betting, karaoke and so-called “relationship dating.”

MOUNTAIN LAIRS

Some officials said Philippines security forces became complacent about the threat from IS after the January raids.

“We did not notice they have slipped into Marawi because we are focusing on their mountain lairs,” Philippines Defence Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters.

Over the past few months, Philippine and Indonesian intelligence sources said, Hapilon’s forces were swelled by foreign fighters and new recruits within Marawi. Many of the outsiders came to Marawi using the cover of an Islamic prayer festival in the city last month, said Philippines military spokesman Lt. Col. Jo-Ar Herrera.

Lorenzana said that Hapilon brought 50-100 fighters to join Maute’s 250-300 men, while two other groups, the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters  and the Ansar Al-Khilafah Philippines, together brought at least 40 militants with them.

On May 23, four days before the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, they launched their attack when Philippine forces made an abortive attempt to capture Hapilon inside Marawi.

After the military retreated in the face of a phalanx of armed guards, about 400 militants quickly fanned out across the city, riding trucks mounted with 50-calibre machine guns and armed with rocket-propelled grenades and high-powered rifles.

Within hours, they attacked the jail and nearby police station, seizing weapons and ammunition, according to accounts from residents.

The Dansalan College, a Protestant institution, and the Catholic Cathedral of Maria Auxiliadora, were both razed, and a priest and about a dozen other parishioners captured. They remain hostages.

A Shi’ite mosque was also destroyed, and a statue of Jose Rizal, the Philippines hero of the uprising against Spanish rule, was beheaded.

SNIPERS ON ROOFTOPS

Herrera said the attack had the hallmarks of a professional military operation. “There was a huge, grand plan to seize the whole of Marawi,” he said.

After the initial battle, IS flags flew across the city and masked fighters roamed the streets proclaiming Marawi was theirs, using loud-hailers to urge residents to join them and handing out weapons to those who took up the offer, according to residents.

The military brought in helicopters to fire rockets at militant positions as ground troops began to retake key bridges and buildings, though some residents this has also led to the deaths of civilians.

“ISIS people were running on the street, running away from them. They were bombing them in the street (but) it hit our house and the mosque. Many other houses too,” said Amerah Dagalangit, a pregnant 29-year-old in an evacuation center near Marawi.

“Many people died when the bomb exploded,” she said, adding that a Muslim priest and children were among the victims.

Military officials said they had not received any report of the incident. Reuters could not independently verify the account.

The military has said 20 civilians have been killed in the fighting and that all were at the hands of the militants. It also says 120 rebels and 38 members of the security forces have been killed, including 10 soldiers who died from friendly fire in an airstrike.

“PEOPLE WILL GET KILLED”

Officials in neighboring Indonesia worry that even if the Filipinos successfully take back Marawi in coming days, the threat will still remain high.

“We worry they will come over here,” said one Indonesian counter-terrorism official, noting that Mindanao wasn’t very far from the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

More than 2,000 people remain trapped in the center of Marawi, with no electricity and little food and water. Some are pinned down by the crossfire between the military and the militants, while others fear they will be intercepted by the militants as they flee, according to residents.

The bodies of eight laborers who had been shot in the head were found in a ravine outside Marawi last Sunday. The police said they had been stopped by the militants while escaping the city.

There will most likely be more civilian casualties in retaking the city, the military said.

“We are expecting that people will get starved, people will get hurt, people will get killed,” said Herrera, the military spokesman. “In these types of operations, you can’t get 100 per cent no collateral damage.”

(With Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Martin Howell)

Philippine Military Launches Airstrikes to End ISIS-Linked Siege of Marawi

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME AND THE AP)

Philippine Military Launches Airstrikes to End ISIS-Linked Siege of Marawi

(MARAWI, Philippines) — Philippine fighter aircraft unleashed rocket fire against militants on Saturday, prompting villagers to hoist white flags to avoid being targeted as the military turned to airstrikes to try to end the siege of a southern city by Islamic State group-allied militants.

The predominantly Muslim city of Marawi, home to some 200,000 people, has been under siege since a failed army raid Tuesday on a suspected hideout of Isnilon Hapilon, who is on Washington’s list of most-wanted terrorists.

Hapilon got away and fighters loyal to him took over parts of the city, burning buildings, taking cover in houses and seizing about a dozen hostages, including a Catholic priest. Their condition remains unknown.

At least 48 people have died in the fighting, including 35 militants and 11 soldiers, officials say, adding that an unspecified number of civilians are feared to have died.

While up to 90 percent of Marawi’s people have fled amid the fighting, many who were trapped or refused to leave their homes have impeded military assaults, officials said. That has slowed efforts to end the most serious crisis President Rodrigo Duterte has faced since he took power nearly a year ago.

“In as much as we would like to avoid collateral damage, these rebels are forcing the hand of government by hiding and holding out inside private homes, government buildings and other facilities,” the military said in a statement.

“Their refusal to surrender is holding the city captive,” it said. “Hence, it is now increasingly becoming necessary to use more surgical airstrikes to clear the city & to bring this rebellion to a quicker end.”

The violence prompted Duterte on Tuesday to declare 60 days of martial law in the southern Philippines, where a Muslim separatist rebellion has raged for decades. But the recent violence has raised fears that extremism could be growing as smaller militant groups unify and align themselves with the Islamic State group.

Hapilon’s group has received a “couple of million dollars” from the Islamic State group, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana told reporters without elaborating Friday.

As air force planes and rocket-firing helicopters pounded militant positions on Saturday, fleeing residents waved white flags or hoisted them on their roofs to signify that they are not combatants.

“I saw two jets swoop down and fire at rebel positions repeatedly,” Alexander Mangundatu, a security guard, told The Associated Press in Marawi as a plume of black smoke billowed from a distant commercial area that was hit. “I pity the civilians and the women who were near the targeted area. They’re getting caught in the conflict and I hope this ends soon.”

Military spokesman Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla said government forces are working to “clear the city of all remnants of this group.”

Some civilians refused to evacuate because they want to guard their homes, slowing down the government operations, he said.

“But that’s fine as long as civilians are not hurt,” Padilla said.

On Friday, Duterte ordered his troops to crush the militants, warning that the country is at a grave risk of “contamination” by the Islamic State group.

Duterte told soldiers in Iligan, a city near Marawi, that he had long feared that “contamination by ISIS” loomed in the country’s future, using the acronym for the Islamic State group.

“You can say that ISIS is here already,” he said.

Lt. Gen. Carlito G. Galvez Jr., a military commander, said about 150 trapped civilians have been rescued by troops from their homes, adding the militants were burning houses to distract troops. The gunmen were still holding out in two areas and soldiers have begun door-to-door searches.

As troops intensified their assaults, Galvez apologized to Muslim residents over the disruption during the holy fasting month of Ramadan.

Hapilon, who was recovering from wounds inflicted by an airstrike in January, is still hiding out in the city under the protection of gunmen who are desperately trying to find a way to extricate him, said Philippine military chief Gen. Eduardo Ano. Hapilon has also suffered a mild stroke, he said.

Ano predicted that the military operation would take about a week as soldiers go house to house to clear the city of militants.

In a sign that the long-standing problem of militancy in the south could be expanding, Solicitor General Jose Calida said foreigners, including Indonesians and Malaysians, were fighting alongside the gunmen in Marawi.

Ano said foreign fighters were believed to be inside, but he was more cautious. “We suspect that, but we’re still validating,” he said.

Hapilon is one of the most senior commanders of the Abu Sayyaf, which is notorious for kidnappings for ransom, beheadings and bombings. He pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in 2014. He also heads an alliance of at least 10 smaller militant groups, including the Maute, which has a presence in Marawi and was instrumental in fighting off government forces in this week’s battles.

Washington has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to Hapilon’s capture.

Egypt Conducts Air Strikes Against Terrorist Group In Eastern Libya That Massacred Christians Earlier Today

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

By Ahmed Aboulenein | MINYA, EGYPT

Egyptian fighter jets carried out strikes on Friday directed at camps in Libya which Cairo says have been training militants who killed dozens of Christians earlier in the day.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said he had ordered strikes against what he called terrorist camps, declaring in a televised address that states that sponsored terrorism would be punished.

Egyptian military sources said six strikes took place near Derna in eastern Libya at around sundown, hours after masked gunmen attacked a group of Coptic Christians traveling to a monastery in southern Egypt, killing 29 and wounding 24.

The Egyptian military said the operation was ongoing and had been undertaken once it had been ascertained that the camps had produced the gunmen behind the attack on the Coptic Christians in Minya, southern Egypt, on Friday morning.

“The terrorist incident that took place today will not pass unnoticed,” Sisi said. “We are currently targeting the camps where the terrorists are trained.”

He said Egypt would not hesitate to carry out further strikes against camps that trained people to carry out operations against Egypt, whether those camps were inside or outside the country.

Egyptian military footage of pilots being briefed and war planes taking off was shown on state television.

East Libyan forces said they participated in the air strikes, which had targeted forces linked to al-Qaeda at a number of sites, and would be followed by a ground operation.

A resident in Derna heard four powerful explosions, and told Reuters that the strikes had targeted camps used by fighters belonging to the Majlis al-Shura militant group.

Majlis al-Shura spokesman Mohamed al-Mansouri said in a video posted online that the Egyptian air strikes did not hit any of the group’s camps, but instead hit civilian areas.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack on the Christians, which followed a series of church bombings claimed by Islamic State in a campaign of violence against the Copts.

Islamic State supporters reposted videos from earlier this year urging violence against the Copts in Egypt.

At a nearby village, thousands later attended a funeral service that turned into an angry protest against the authorities’ failure to protect Christians.

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Ambulances and medics outside Maghagha Hospital in Minya Province, Egypt in this screen grab take on May 26, 2017. REUTERS TV
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“We will avenge them or die like them,” mourners said, while marching with a giant wooden cross.

GUNFIRE AND BLOOD

Eyewitnesses said masked men opened fire after stopping the Christians, who were in a bus and other vehicles on a desert road. Local TV channels showed a bus apparently raked by gunfire and smeared with blood.

Clothes and shoes could be seen lying in and around the bus, while the bodies of some of the victims lay in the sand nearby, covered with black sheets.

Eyewitnesses said three vehicles were attacked. First to be hit was a vehicle taking children to the monastery as part of a church-organized trip, and another vehicle taking families there.

The gunmen boarded the vehicles and shot all the men and took all the women’s gold jewelry. They then shot women and children in the legs.

When one of the gunmen’s vehicles got a flat tire they stopped a truck carrying Christian workers, shot them, and took the truck.

One of the gunmen recorded the attack on the Copts with a video camera, eyewitnesses said.

The attack took place on a road leading to the monastery of Saint Samuel the Confessor in Minya province, which is home to a sizeable Christian minority.

Security forces launched a hunt for the attackers, setting up dozens of checkpoints and patrols on the desert road.

Police armed with assault rifles formed a security perimeter around the attack site while officials from the public prosecutor’s office gathered evidence. Heavily armed special forces arrived later wearing face masks and body armor.

The injured were taken to local hospitals and some were being transported to Cairo. The Health Ministry said that among those injured were two children aged two.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has made a point of improving relations with Cairo, said his country stood with Sisi and the Egyptian people.

“This merciless slaughter of Christians in Egypt tears at our hearts and grieves our souls,” Trump said.

The Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Egypt’s 1,000-year-old center of Islamic learning, said the attack was intended to destabilize the country.

“I call on Egyptians to unite in the face of this brutal terrorism,” Ahmed al-Tayeb said. The Grand Mufti of Egypt, Shawki Allam, condemned the perpetrators as traitors.

The head of the Coptic Christian church, Pope Tawadros, who spoke with Sisi after the attack, said it was “not directed at the Copts, but at Egypt and the heart of the Egyptians”.

Pope Francis, who visited Cairo a month ago, described the attack as a “senseless act of hatred”.

ONGOING PERSECUTION

Coptic Christians, whose church dates back nearly 2,000 years, make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 92 million.

They say they have long suffered from persecution, but in recent months the frequency of deadly attacks against them has increased. About 70 have been killed since December in bombings claimed by Islamic State at churches in the cities of Cairo, Alexandria and Tanta.

An Islamic State campaign of murders in North Sinai prompted hundreds of Christians to flee in February and March.

Copts fear they will face the same fate as brethren in Iraq and Syria, where Christian communities have been decimated by wars and Islamic State persecution.

Egypt’s Copts are vocal supporters of Sisi, who has vowed to crush Islamist extremism and protect Christians. He declared a three-month state of emergency in the aftermath of the church bombings in April.

But many Christians feel the state either does not take their plight seriously enough or cannot protect them against determined fanatics.

The government is fighting insurgents affiliated with Islamic State who have killed hundreds of police and soldiers in the Sinai Peninsula, while also carrying out attacks elsewhere in the country.

(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; Additonal reporting by Eric Knecht, Mostafa Hashem, and Omar Fahmy in Cairo; Writing by Giles Elgood; Editing by John Stonestreet, Lisa Shumaker and Andrew Hay)