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

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

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

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

Yahya Sinwar, leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, speaks during a protest east of Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip on April 6, 2018. (AFP/Said Khatib)

Yahya Sinwar, leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, speaks during a protest east of Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip on April 6, 2018. (AFP/Said Khatib)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recent months have seen repeated rounds of intense violence between Israel and Hamas, along with weekly border protests at the Gaza border that have regularly included rioting, attacks on Israeli troops and attempts to infiltrate and sabotage the border fence.

Around 170 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since the weekly protests began, a Hamas ministry says. Hamas has acknowledged that dozens of those killed were its members.

One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper.

In addition to the border clashes, southern Israel has experienced hundreds of fires as a result of incendiary kites and balloons flown over the border from Gaza. Over 7,000 acres of land have been burned, causing millions of shekels in damages, according to Israeli officials.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AFP contributed to this report.

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China pledges $15 million to Palestinians amid major push (To Buy) Mideast influence

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

China pledges $15 million to Palestinians amid major push for Mideast influence

President Xi announces plan to give Arab states more than $23 billion for economic development, calls them ‘natural partners’ of China

China's President Xi Jinping gives a speech during the 8th Ministerial Meeting of China-Arab States Cooperation Forum at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on July 10, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / WANG ZHAO)

China’s President Xi Jinping gives a speech during the 8th Ministerial Meeting of China-Arab States Cooperation Forum at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on July 10, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / WANG ZHAO)

China will provide Palestinians with more than $15 million in aid, President Xi Jinping told top Arab officials Tuesday, as Beijing seeks to build its influence in the Middle East and Africa.

The 100 million yuan pledge to Palestinians was made as part of a plan to give Arab states more than $23 billion in lines of credit, loans and humanitarian assistance for economic development.

The money will be earmarked for “projects that will produce good employment opportunities and positive social impact in Arab States that have reconstruction needs,” said Xi, without providing further details.

It is part of a special Chinese program for “economic reconstruction” and “industrial revitalization,” Xi told participants at a China-Arab States forum in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.

Beijing is also prepared to provide another one billion yuan ($151 million) to countries in the region to “build capacity for stability maintenance,” Xi said, using a term commonly associated with policing and surveillance.

Xi said that Syria, Yemen, Jordan and Lebanon would receive $91 million in humanitarian assistance.

Since taking office, Xi has overseen a concerted effort to expand Chinese influence in the Middle East and Africa, including the construction of the country’s first military base in Arab League state Djibouti.

China has already provided vast sums to Arab countries, with Djibouti alone owing some $1.3 billion, according to estimates from the US-based China Africa Research Initiative.

The financial largess has raised concerns both at home and abroad over the vulnerability of poor nations to such massive debt.

Last year Sri Lanka was forced to hand over majority control of its Hambantota port to China after being unable to repay its loans.

Syrian President Bashar Assad addresses the newly elected parliament in Damascus, Syria, on June 7, 2016. (SANA, the Syrian official news agency, via AP)

China has also provided diplomatic support for Syrian President Bashar Assad in the country’s seven-year civil war.

At the heart of Xi’s vision is the “Belt and Road” initiative, a $1-trillion infrastructure program billed as a modern revival of the ancient Silk Road that once carried fabrics, spices and a wealth of other goods between Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

The Arab states’ position at the center of the ancient trade route makes them “natural partners” in China’s new undertaking, he said, adding he expected the summit would end with an agreement on cooperation on the initiative.

“Chinese and Arab peoples, though far apart in distance, are as close as family,” he said, describing a romanticized history of trade along the Silk Road.

The project, which has already financed ports, roads and railways across the globe, has spurred both interest and anxiety in many countries, with some seeing it as an example of Chinese expansionism.

“China welcomes opportunities to participate in the development of ports and the construction of railway networks in Arab states” as part of a “logistics network connecting Central Asia with East Africa and the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean,” said Xi.

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Hamas official: 50 of the 62 Gazans killed in border violence were our members

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Hamas official: 50 of the 62 Gazans killed in border violence were our members

Salah Bardawil’s confirmation means number of acknowledged members of terror groups who died on Monday and Tuesday is now 53

Palestinian demonstrators burn tires near the Gaza-Israel border, east of Gaza City, on May 14, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

Palestinian demonstrators burn tires near the Gaza-Israel border, east of Gaza City, on May 14, 2018 (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

A Hamas official on Wednesday acknowledged that 50 of the 62 Palestinians reported killed during Gaza border riots on Monday and Tuesday were members of the Islamist terrorist group, bringing the total number of known members of terror groups among the fatalities up to 53.

“In the last rounds of confrontations, if 62 people were martyred, 50 of them were Hamas,” said Hamas official Salah Bardawil in an interview with the Palestinian Baladna news outlet.

The Iran-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad had said on Tuesday that three members of its Saraya al-Quds military wing were killed by Israeli forces in Khan Younis.

The Israeli military shared a portion of Bardawil’s interview with an Arabic news outlet, accompanied by English captions.

IDF

@IDFSpokesperson

Hamas official, Dr. Salah Al-Bardawil is clear about terrorist involvement in the riots

“This proves what so many have tried to ignore: Hamas is behind these riots, and the branding of the riots as ‘peaceful protests’ could not be further from the truth,” said IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus.

According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, 62 people in total were killed during border clashes on Monday and Tuesday.

Israel has not put out its own official death toll, but officials have questioned the accuracy of the Hamas-provided figure. In one case, a Gazan doctor told the Associated Press that an 8-month-old baby, who the Gaza ministry said died after inhaling Israeli tear gas on Monday, had a preexisting medical condition and that he did not believe her death was caused by tear gas.

The Israel Defense Forces on Tuesday had said that at least 24 members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad were killed in day-long clashes Monday. At that stage, Hamas acknowledged 10 of the dead were its members.

Hamas press release on May 15, 2918, announcing the deaths of 10 of its Interior Ministry members in clashes with the IDF the day prior. (Courtesy)

The IDF said its number was based on a joint investigation with the Shin Bet security service.

“Most of the people [from terror groups] killed belonged to the Hamas terror group, and some to the Palestinian Islamic Jihad,” an IDF spokesperson said.

Among the dead, the IDF said on Tuesday, were all eight members of a cell of armed Hamas operatives who were killed in a gun battle as they sought to breach the fence in the northern Gaza Strip.

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said 60 people were killed in Monday’s demonstrations, most by gunfire, and more than 2,700 were injured. Another two Palestinian men were killed Tuesday as smaller protests broke out in Gaza, the ministry said.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and other senior officers monitor the Gaza security fence during violent protests along the border on May 14, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israel has blamed Hamas for the deadly violence, saying the terror group encouraged and led the protests, which included attacks on Israeli troops and attempts to breach the border fence. The IDF said Sunday that Hamas planned to send armed terrorists through any breach in the fence to “massacre” Israelis.

After the first “March of Return” protests in March, Hamas acknowledged that five of its terrorists were among the fatalities, but it subsequently refrained from acknowledging whether its men were among the dead.

On Thursday, Hamas’s Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar said he hoped to see a mass breach of the Israeli border during Monday’s protests timed to coincide with the US embassy’s move to Jerusalem.

For Hamas, the terror group that rules Gaza and seeks Israel’s destruction, Monday’s border protest was the culmination of a weeks-long campaign to try to break the blockade on the territory. Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent Hamas from acquiring weaponry and attacking the Jewish state.

Monday’s demonstrations also protested the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem, viewed as a major provocation by the Palestinians and the Arab world. Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Palestinian protesters look up at falling tear gas cannisters dropped by an Israeli quadcopter drone during clashes near the border with Israel east of Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on May 15, 2018. (AFP/ SAID KHATIB)

Hamas has said protests would continue in a weekly format, but it was not clear if it would be able to maintain momentum during the fasting month of Ramadan, which begins this week.

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As Israel Celebrates Dream of Independence, Many See Nightmare Taking Shape

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

As Israel Celebrates Dream of Independence, Many See Nightmare Taking Shape

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A worker hung flags next to the entrance to the American consulate in Jerusalem last week.CreditRonen Zvulun/Reuters

JERUSALEM — When Israel declared its independence in 1948, President Harry Truman rushed to recognize it. He took just 11 minutes, and Israelis, about to go to war to defend their infant state, were euphoric.

Seventy years to the day — and nearly as long since Israel declared the holy city of Jerusalem its “eternal capital” — the United States will formally open its embassy on a hilltop here two miles south of the Western Wall.

The embassy’s move from Tel Aviv and President Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital — reversing decades of American foreign policy — comes at a moment so fraught with both pride and peril that Israelis seem not to know what to feel.

Israelis find it hard to rejoice when they find themselves doing some of the same things they did back in 1948: listening for civil-defense sirens, readying bomb shelters and calling in reinforcements to confront threats to the north, south and east.

An escalating shadow war with Iran has broken into the open, pitting Israel against its most powerful adversary in the region. A mass protest in Gaza has spurred thousands of Palestinians, encouraged by Hamas, to try to cross into Israel, whose snipers have killed scores and wounded thousands of them. The bloodshed has brought the Israeli-Palestinian conflict back onto the international agenda after years as an afterthought.

Now, in East Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank, Israeli border police and troops are bracing for expressions of pent-up frustration, impatience and rage — at the United States for seeming to dispense with any pretense at balance; at Israel for its continuing occupation; at the Palestinian Authority for its weakness and corruption; and at the peace process itself, for inspiring hopes that have again and again proved false.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Mayor Nir Barkat of Jersualem looking at old and recent photos of the city on Sunday.CreditPool photo by Amir Cohen

“If you look at it from the outside, you’d see one of the most dramatic success stories of the 20th century,” said the historian Tom Segev, author of a new biography of Israel’s founding prime minister, “David Ben-Gurion: A State at All Costs.”

With Israel so strong and its Jewish population larger than ever, Mr. Segev said, “It’s really the realization of Ben-Gurion’s dream. But at the same time, the future is very bleak, and some of the problems he left us remain unresolved.”

It is hard for Israeli Jews to feel entirely at ease when they remain so estranged from one another and the nearly two million Arab citizens at home, and from millions of people next door: A lasting settlement with the Palestinians seems as elusive at it has been in more than a generation.

However besieged many Israelis may feel, objectively Israel has never been more powerful, in almost any sense of the word.

Its military routinely obliterates opposing forces with fighter jets, antimissile batteries and newfangled tunnel-destroying tools. Its spies whisk warehouses’ worth of secrets out from under its enemies’ noses. Its high-tech start-ups routinely sell for billions, its economy is the envy of the Middle East, its television shows thrive on Netflix. On Saturday, its entrant in the Eurovision Song Contest — a chicken-dancing feminist named Netta Barzilai — overcame a boycott attempt by Israel’s detractors to win by popular acclaim.

Warming relations with Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf States are even buoying hopes that Israel could begin to expand its tiny circle of friends in the region.

Monday’s move of the American mission to a fortified former consulate along the seam between East and West Jerusalem, from a beachfront bastion in Tel Aviv, is freighted with symbolism in manifold ways.

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Palestinians protesters running for cover from Israeli tear gas during clashes near the border east of Gaza City last week.CreditMohammed Saber/EPA, via Shutterstock

But the relocation of the chief American outpost from liberal Tel Aviv, a blue dot on the red political map of Israel, to a capital city that has largely replaced its secular Israeli population with a more religious one, neatly mirrors what is happening to support for Israel in the United States.

Ben-Gurion was prime minister for 13 years, all told. Benjamin Netanyahu will surpass that record in mid-2019 if he holds on to office. That is far from assured: He faces possible indictment in a web of domestic corruption scandals, and criminal charges could cause his governing coalition to collapse.

President Trump has gone further than perhaps any of his predecessors to support Israel and its right-wing leader, and no American president has done more to bestow gifts on an Israeli leader than he has.

From recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, to withholding money from the United Nations relief agency for Palestinian refugees — an agency Mr. Netanyahu would like to see eliminated altogether — to pulling out of the Iran nuclear agreement last week, Mr. Trump’s has showered Mr. Netanyahu with political prizes.

Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and a senior adviser on the Middle East, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, are among the high-ranking representative sent by the administration to attend Monday’s opening ceremony. Israel said all 86 countries with diplomatic missions in the country were invited to the event, and 33 confirmed attendance.

To Palestinians, the official unveiling of the embassy is just the most concrete and latest in a cavalcade of provocations from Washington and the Israeli government.

“It’s might makes right,” said Hind Khoury, a former diplomat for the Palestine Liberation Organization who now heads a sustainable development nonprofit based in Bethlehem. Not only are Palestinians now expected to forget about Jerusalem, she said, but also the losses of their homes in 1948 and again in the fighting of 1967.

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Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner at a reception ceremony on Sunday ahead of American Embassy’s move to Jerusalem.CreditAbir Sultan/EPA, via Shutterstock

“Accept Israel’s presence and dominance,” she said. “Accept home demolitions and expulsions and dispossession.

“Accept the uprooting of our olive trees, the violence of settlers,” she continued, picking up steam. “Accept settlements. Accept Israel’s control of all the Jordan Valley, and using it for its economic benefit. Accept that Israel didn’t live up to any of its commitments. Accept the siege of Gaza. Accept that East Jerusalem doesn’t belong to us anymore. Accept the racist legislation that Israel passes; that we’re prisoners in our land: I can’t get a visa because we’re ‘all terrorists.’ Accept the use of ‘anti-Semitism’ to fight anybody who wants to support Palestinian rights.”

“These are things we have to accept, or we’ll just get more hell,” she said, before adding: “Maybe I speak more like a mother and grandmother, but it’s so sinful to give such a legacy to the next generation.”

For Israeli Jews, a different set of grievances is being assuaged and activated by Monday’s embassy opening and all it stirs up.

The American-Israeli author Yossi Klein Halevi, whose new book “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor” is being published on Tuesday, sees the embassy move as a “rare moment of compensation” for what he called “the campaign to deny any Jewish connection to Jerusalem” — one expressed in votes of Unesco, or in the speeches of Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, when he invokes the Christian and Muslim attachment to Jerusalem but pointedly omits any Jewish one.

“There’s this deep resentment among Israelis about the war against our history and our rootedness in this city,” Mr. Halevi said.

Still, noting that his book “about reconciliation with my Palestinian neighbors is coming out at one of the worst moments in the tortured history of our relationship,” Mr. Halevi said he wished the embassy move could be accompanied by some kind of “affirmation by both Israel and the United States of the Palestinian presence in the city we share.”

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Israelis marching near the Western Wall in Jerusalem on Sunday.CreditLior Mizrahi/Getty Images

“I don’t think we should be laying out blueprints,” he said. “We’re far from that. But there should be a clear stating of our recognition that we’re not alone in Jerusalem. This would be an apt moment for a generous Israeli statement.”

Mr. Netanyahu’s advocacy against the Iran deal during the Obama administration did much to sour Jewish Democrats on the Israeli leader. His abandonment of a painstakingly negotiated deal to give Reform and Conservative Jews a bigger stake in Jewish life in Israel, and approval of a measure granting the Orthodox chief rabbinate’s monopoly over conversions to Judaism in Israel, drove a wedge between liberal American Jews and Israeli religious leaders.

Other policies, like efforts to deport African migrants, and an ongoing legislative attack by Mr. Netanyahu’s political allies on democratic institutions like Israel’s Supreme Court, have only added to many liberal Americans’ discomfort with Israel.

In effect, as the Trump administration gives physical expression to its affection for Israel, a rift appears to be widening between the world’s two main centers of Jewish life.

The immediate threats to Israeli security could of course fizzle. The rift between American and Israeli Jews could heal with a new administration in either place, if not before. Even the risk posed by the embassy move could prove no more dampening to the celebration, in retrospect, than the smashing of a glass at a Jewish wedding.

And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Middle East peace process “is most decidedly not dead,” despite the embassy move, telling “Fox News Sunday” that the United States still hopes to be able to “achieve a successful outcome” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Mr. Segev, the biographer, said he had learned in his research that Ben-Gurion had never cared much for Jerusalem, and had refrained from trying to take the city in 1948 in part because he knew it would be difficult to guard its Old City from extremists.

In that sense, Mr. Segev said, little seems to have changed.

“That’s what Jerusalem is all about,” he said. “That’s why it’s been a problem the last 3,000 years. And it may be a problem for the next 3,000 years.”

A version of this article appears in print on , on Page A1 of the New York edition with the headline: In Israel, Pride and Anxiety Greet U.S. Embassy’s Jerusalem Debut. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe