Five members of Jewish community among 17 killed in Florida massacre

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Five members of Jewish community among 17 killed in Florida massacre

Deaths of Jamie Guttenberg, Alyssa Alhadeff, Meadow Pollock, Alex Schachter, Scott Beigel announced by families, local community

Students grieve outside Pines Trail Center where counselors are present, after Wednesday's mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Thursday, February 15, 2018. (AP/Joel Auerbach)

Students grieve outside Pines Trail Center where counselors are present, after Wednesday’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Thursday, February 15, 2018. (AP/Joel Auerbach)

Four Jewish students and a teacher were confirmed Thursday to be among the 17 victims killed during a massacre at their Florida high school the day before.

The dead included four students — Jamie Guttenberg, Alyssa Alhadeff, Alex Schachter, Meadow Pollack — and teacher Scott Beigel, heralded for putting himself in the line of fire to save others.

The five deaths were reported by family members, friends, and community members. Rabbi Mendy Gutnick of Chabad of Parkland, who has been in touch with many of the families of those killed and injured, confirmed the five deaths to The Times of Israel.

This video screen grab image shows shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz, at Broward County Jail in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, on February 15, 2018.(Miguel GUTTIEREZ/AFP TV)

A former student, identified as Nikolas Cruz, armed with an AR-15 rifle, opened fire at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Wednesday, killing at least 17 people, officials said, in a harrowing shooting spree that saw terrified students hiding in closets and under desks as they texted for help.

Broward County officials said they would release a full list of victims later Thursday.

The Jewish community in Parkland was reeling over the massacre at the large school, with many members of the community belonging to the student body.

Rabbi Melissa Stollman, a rabbi at Congregation Kol Tikvah, a reform temple in Parkland, spent Thursday meeting with students and their families. “One student expressed how she heard something and she ran. She got out really fast and she ran far away. But other students were locked in closets for two and a half hours, not knowing what was going on,” she told The Times of Israel.

Rabbi Bradd Boxmann, also a rabbi at Kol Tivkah, said a “huge number” of congregants attended the school.

Guttenberg’s mother, Jennifer Guttenberg, was a specialist teacher in the synagogue’s pre-school, working with children to develop handwriting skills. Stollman’s two twins are in her class.

Guttenberg’s father announced her death in post to his Facebook page in which he wrote “My heart is broken. Yesterday, Jennifer Bloom Guttenberg and I lost our baby girl to a violent shooting at her school.”

Jamie’s own Facebook page was changed to “Remembering.”

The death of Alhadeff, 15, was announced by her mother Lori, in a post to her Facebook page. “My daughter Alyssa was killed today by a horrific act of violence,” Lori Alhadeff wrote.

Just two weeks ago, the Alhadeff family celebrated Alyssa’s brother’s bar mitzvah, which Gutnick officiated. The rabbi said that Alyssa had attended the local Chabad’s Hebrew School and teen programs. She flew to Israel in 2015 to have her bat mitzvah at the Masada desert fortress.

“It’s absolutely shocking,” Gutnick said. “I’ve been with that family most of the day today. No words really to say to them. There are no mechanisms we have to process this.”

On Thursday night, the families of children who were missing were told to wait at a local Marriott while more information came to light. Gutnick was there with some of the Jewish families who had not gotten in touch with their kids.

“Families obviously began to fear the worst as no news was coming about their children. Twenty families and their friends were gathered in one big room for seven hours while they waited to hear confirmation,” he said. “Finally, one by one, they were all told the worst news. You can imagine just the absolutely gut-wrenching feeling and emotional numbness that was taking place. It was devastating.”

On Wednesday night, Rabbi Jonathan Kaplan of nearby Temple Beth Chai described the scene at the hotel as “chaos and devastation.”

“Everyone is just waiting and praying. No words can describe what happened here,” he told JTA.

Medical personnel tend to a victim following a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Flordia, on February 14, 2018. (John McCall/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)

The parents of Pollack, 18, said Thursday morning that their daughter too was a victim, the Palm Beach Post reported. The night before, her father Andrew had spoken to the press of his harrowing search for his daughter.

Congregation Beth Am, in Longwood, Florida, in a post to its Facebook page, wrote that Alex Schachter was also killed in the shooting.

Beigel, a geography teacher, was also confirmed killed in media reports. Camp Starlight, a camp where he had worked, called him a “beloved friend and a hero.”

Students said Beigel tried to lock the door to the classroom where students were hiding to prevent the shooter from entering, but was gunned down.

Rabbi Shuey Biston of Chabad of Parkland said rabbis have coordinated with Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel to ensure that the bodies of any Jewish victims be released for burial as soon as possible, in keeping with Jewish tradition.

According to the rabbis, several teens who were in the school and survived the shooting came to the Thursday morning prayers to recite a traditional blessing giving thanks for salvation from a life-threatening event.

“This is a very close-knit community,” Gutnick said. “It’s a very high-density Jewish community, as well. Demographically, it’s one that always felt very pristine and sort of protected from any bad news or any crime or anything like that. It’s one of the safest cities in America. And this has changed the whole city. We’ve lost our innocence.”

He went on, “There is just a feeling of absolute numbness. Kids don’t know what to do, they don’t know what to think. Every single kid is traumatized. The emotional scarring on this city is absolutely devastating and people are hoping that we can come together and we can show solidarity and somehow manage to move on. But the truth is this city will never be the same.”

Agencies contributed to this report.

READ MORE:

Israel-Iran Fight Steps Into The Open

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

No longer shrouded by ‘foreign reports,’ Israel-Iran fight steps into the open

Long-heard warnings of war between Jerusalem and Tehran are poised to become reality – unless someone can stop it

Judah Ari Gross

Israeli soldiers survey the border with Syria from a military post in the Golan Heights, following a series of aerial clashes with Syrian and Iranian forces in Syria, on February 10, 2018. (Flash90)

Israeli soldiers survey the border with Syria from a military post in the Golan Heights, following a series of aerial clashes with Syrian and Iranian forces in Syria, on February 10, 2018. (Flash90)

On Thursday, the International Crisis Group think tank and advocacy firm warned in a new comprehensive report that Israel and Iran (plus its proxies) were barreling toward open conflict in Syria.

Those prescient warnings came true — in part, at least — throughout Saturday morning, beginning shortly before 4:30 a.m., with the violation of Israeli airspace by a drone that the Israeli military says was piloted by an Iranian operator from an airfield that Tehran had taken control of months before, with Syrian permission.

Israeli jets conducted reprisal raids in Syria, during which one of the F-16 fighter planes was apparently hit by shrapnel from an exploding anti-aircraft missile and crashed in northern Israel, in what appears to be the first downing of an Israeli plane since 1982.

The aircraft’s pilots bailed out; one of them was seriously injured.

A picture taken in the northern Israeli Jezreel Valley on February 10, 2018, shows the remains of an Israel F-16 that crashed after coming under fire by Syrian air defenses during attacks against ‘Iranian targets’ in the war-torn country. (AFP PHOTO / Jack GUEZ)

Air force jets then completed a second set of retaliatory strikes. In the two rounds, the Israeli military said, its aircraft targeted several Syrian air defense systems as well as four Iranian positions in the country.

This was the first time Israel publicly acknowledged conducting airstrikes against Iranian-held locations in Syria, though not the first time it had done so, according to foreign reports.

In the aftermath of the Saturday morning clash, Israeli, Syrian and Iranian politicians released tough, threatening statements aimed at one another. The United States backed Israel’s right to self-defense. Russia called for calm on all sides, but singled out Israel for violating Syrian sovereignty with its strikes, while conspicuously ignoring the Iranian drone’s airspace violation.

The aerial exchange thrust what had previously been a long-simmering but largely quiet conflict into the international spotlight and raised concerns that this bout will be the first of many clashes — and, in the nightmare scenario, the start of a full-fledged war across Syria, Lebanon and northern Israel.

I don’t think it’s the last time we’ll see such an event, but for the time being both sides will restrain their responses

However, the prevailing belief among Israeli defense analysts is that Saturday’s events were not the prelude to open war, but the beginning of an extended period of increased tension, which is liable to see additional clashes.

“I don’t think it’s the last time we’ll see such an event, but for the time being both sides will restrain their responses,” Sima Shine, a career defense official and current senior researcher at Tel Aviv’s Institute for National Security Studies think tank, told reporters on Sunday.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot (L) attends a briefing with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (R) in response to the escalation of tensions along the northern border on February 10, 2018. (Ariel Harmoni/Defense Ministry)

She added, during the phone briefing organized by the Media Central group, that escalation is in neither side’s best interest.

Amos Yadlin, a former fighter pilot and Military Intelligence chief, described Saturday as the “most significant day of fighting” in what Israel describes as its “campaign between wars,” often referred to in Hebrew by its acronym, Mabam.

“Despite the containment of the incident, the campaign is expected to continue,” Yadlin said.

In its report, released two days before Saturday’s flareup, the Crisis Group laid out how this campaign between Israel and the Iran-Syria-Hezbollah axis has developed and how it can be prevented from escalating further.

The organization tracks the current tensions to the Syrian regime’s battlefield victories over the past two and a half years, which it has achieved in large part due to support from the Russian military, which has provided significant air power since September 2015.

These have opened the Iran-led axis to shift toward preparing for a future conflict with Israel.

Only Moscow is in a position to mediate a bolstering of the deescalation agreement. Unless it does, the rules of the Syrian game are likely to be worked out through attack and response, with risk of escalation

According to the think tank, Russia is also the only entity able to prevent such a bloody war, having emerged from the Syrian civil war as the region’s sole remaining superpower after the United States dramatically scaled back its involvement in the conflict.

“Only Moscow is in a position to mediate a bolstering of the deescalation agreement. Unless it does, the rules of the Syrian game are likely to be worked out through attack and response, with risk of escalation,” according to the report.

In this photo released by an official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, right, shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting at the Saadabad Palace in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)

The group outlines three main issues that need to be addressed: the presence of Iranian and Shiite forces near the Israeli Golan Heights; the construction of Iranian military infrastructure in Syria; and ensuring any clashes that do take place remain confined to Syria.

The Crisis Group has also been working directly with Russia to try to persuade it to accept the role of mediator between Israel, Hezbollah, Iran and Syria.

“And we are seeing some traction with Russian officials,” Ofer Zalzberg, a senior Jerusalem-based analyst for the group and one of the report’s authors, told The Times of Israel last Wednesday ahead of the document’s publication.

The recipe for disaster

As Syrian dictator Bashar Assad vanquishes the remaining pockets of resistance in the country, the Israeli concern is that his allies — Iran, Hezbollah and Iran-backed Shiite militias — will be freed to focus on establishing positions along the Israeli border from which to antagonize the Jewish state, as well as permanent naval and air bases to bring in more advanced weaponry and conduct attacks.

Israel has designated these issues to be “red lines,” which it will not allow to be violated, and has said it will take military action if they are.

In its report, the Crisis Group warned that if the Iranian axis presses on with these efforts and Israel retaliates in kind, there is significant potential for escalation or even a large-scale war that could destabilize the entire region.

Israeli security forces inspect damage to a house after a Katyusha rocket attack by Hezbollah from southern Lebanon in the northern Israeli town of Nahariya, July 15, 2006. (Pierre Terdjman / Flash90)

The military assessments of what a war between Israel and Hezbollah would look like are chilling: Hezbollah launching over 1,000 rockets and missiles at Israeli cities and strategic sites each day, along with attempted infiltrations of Israeli communities along the Lebanese border. Israel conducting wave after wave of airstrikes against Hezbollah infrastructure, which the terrorist group has embedded deep inside civilian areas, ensuring significant noncombatant deaths, as well as large-scale IDF ground force maneuvers in southern Lebanon.

Zalzberg said a major part of the problem is that there are no established “rules of the game” between Israel and Iranian proxies in Syria, as there are in Lebanon, where Israel has been fighting Hezbollah off-and-on for decades.

That means the “rules” will be sorted out through back-and-forth, tit-for-tat clashes like Saturday’s. But this is a perilous path, fraught with opportunities for miscalculation and resulting in unintended casualties on both sides.

For instance, Israeli officials often refer to the “proverbial kindergarten” — the type of target that if hit, even accidentally, would prompt Israeli citizens to demand harsh and swift reprisals. As Iran and Hezbollah lack civilian targets in Syria, their equivalent might be a case of significant casualties from an Israeli airstrike, which would forced them to retaliate.

This is a current concern, following Saturday’s exchange, as the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a watchdog group, reported that at least six pro-regime fighters — including both Syrians and foreign nationals — were killed in Israel’s strikes and that “the death toll is expected to rise because there are some people in critical situation.”

Zalzberg added the potential for escalation in Syria is driven higher by the fact that different sides do not have a clear grasp of one another’s goals and viewpoints, citing a year’s worth of interviews by the Crisis Group with officials in Jerusalem, Tehran, Beirut, Amman, Moscow and Washington.

The report and its authors argue that it is ultimately in Russia’s best interest to avoid an all-out war between Israel and the Lebanon-based, Iran-backed Hezbollah, which would have the potential to completely destabilize the region.

Unlike in the 2006 Second Lebanon War between Israel and Hezbollah when the fighting was primarily limited to northern Israel and southern Lebanon, the view of both Israeli and Hezbollah officials is that the next conflict between the two groups would also include fighting in Syria.

Israeli artillery howitzers fire on Hezbollah targets at the Israeli-Lebanese border on July 18, 2006. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“A massive campaign by Israel will do enormous damage to [Damascus and its backers’] achievements, perhaps even destabilizing the regime itself,” the report noted.

According to Zalzberg, this is not a desirable situation for Russia, as Moscow would like to see Assad regain near-total control over Syria.

The analyst noted that this is at odds with Iran, which wants to see Assad in power, but does not necessarily want to see him becoming too powerful, preferring instead to have Syria controlled by a coalition, similar to Lebanon, so that its Shiite militias could play a more significant role in the country.

Russia and only Russia

Moscow’s active support for Assad and his other main supporters, Iran and Hezbollah, has left Israeli officials decidedly wary of their Russian counterparts.

The Crisis Group report quotes an unnamed Israeli Foreign Ministry official as saying of the Russians, “It’s hard to trust them. They tell us they are not selling weapons to Hezbollah, but we know for a fact that they do. Their policies are cynical. They are not an enticing mediator.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, shakes hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during an event marking International Holocaust Victims Remembrance Day at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow, January 29, 2018. (Vasily MAXIMOV/AFP)

Yet there is an understanding among some in Israel that, while not enticing, Russia is the only mediator that has significant leverage over Iran and Hezbollah.

Israel has already had to maintain a close, if uneasy, relationship with Moscow due to its involvement in the region.

After Turkey shot down a Russian fighter jets that had invaded its airspace, Moscow installed an S-400 missile defense system in Syria. With the system, one of the world’s most advanced anti-aircraft batteries, Russia can monitor the overwhelming majority of Israel’s active airspace, including Israeli military flights.

Or, as one Israeli official told the Crisis Group, “A fly can’t buzz above Syria without Russian consent nowadays.”

This came as a shocking blow to the Israeli Air Force, which had, until then, enjoyed aerial superiority in the region, and required Jerusalem and Moscow to set up a hotline to prevent any potential conflicts between the two militaries.

Israel has also worked diplomatically with Russia to secure a buffer zone around the southwestern Syrian border, in which Hezbollah and other Iran-backed Shiite militias would not be allowed to maintain a presence.

In this photo released on Friday, Dec. 29, 2017 by the Syrian official news agency SANA, Syrian government forces stand next to a bus which is waiting to evacuate Syrian rebels and their families from Beit Jinn village, in the southern province of Daraa, Syria. (SANA via AP)

The border area has naturally been of significant concern for Israel, which is loath to see Hezbollah set up military positions along the Golan Heights to join the significant infrastructure it has already put in place in southern Lebanon.

Last month, the Syrian military, with some assistance from Shiite militias, regained control over the area of Beit Jinn, or Beit Jann, which is located just 13 kilometers (8 miles) from Israel’s Mount Hermon ski resort.

Though it is currently focused on retaking the area of Idlib in northwestern Syria, this coalition is likely to soon focus its attention on the Quneitra and Daraa regions, near the Israeli border.

Though Israel secured its buffer zone for that area this summer, the Crisis Group report notes that it would be relatively easy for these groups to get around the restriction, “for instance by integrating the fighters into the Syrian army or simply having them don its uniforms.”

The advocacy group argues that before the Syria-Iran-Hezbollah axis moves toward the southwest, Russia should work to negotiate an agreement between it and Israel.

There is still time for Russia to try to broker a set of understandings to prevent a confrontation, protecting both its investment in the regime and Syrian, Israeli and Lebanese lives

The Crisis Group notes that Israel’s insistence that Iranian and Iran-backed troops stay out of southern Syria will be the most difficult to negotiate, as Hezbollah and the Shiite militias would not be inclined to accept it and could easily cheat by disguising themselves as Syrians.

However, the authors say this could be resolved by getting Russia to agree to prevent Iran from setting up the types of infrastructure most concerning to Israel, like a seaport through which the Islamic Republic could carry out attacks against Israeli natural gas fields, an airport to transport weapons to Hezbollah, or a factory for the production of precise missiles.

“There is still time for Russia to try to broker a set of understandings to prevent a confrontation, protecting both its investment in the regime and Syrian, Israeli and Lebanese lives,” the Crisis Group wrote.

READ MORE:

71 feared dead as Russian plane crashes near Moscow

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

71 feared dead as Russian plane crashes near Moscow

Rescue workers struggle to reach wreckage of Antonov An-148 jetliner; ministry says several causes possible, including bad weather, human error

Illustrative photo an Antonov AN-148 passenger jet taxing after landing at Moscow's Domodedovo airport, December 24, 2009. (Mitya Aleshkovsky/AP)

Illustrative photo an Antonov AN-148 passenger jet taxing after landing at Moscow’s Domodedovo airport, December 24, 2009. (Mitya Aleshkovsky/AP)

MOSCOW, Russia — A Russian passenger plane carrying 71 people crashed outside Moscow on Sunday after taking off from the capital’s Domodedovo airport, Russian media reported.

The Antonov An-148 plane operated by the domestic Saratov Airlines was flying to Orsk, a city in the Urals, and crashed in the Ramensky district on the outskirts of Moscow. Russian news agencies reported 65 passengers and 6 crew were on board.

News agencies said witnesses in the village of Argunovo saw a burning plane falling from the sky.

A source from Russia’s emergency services told Interfax that the 71 people on board “had no chance” of survival.

Plane crashed in Moscow, 60+ people on board, rescue can’t get to it as its in the middle of the forest. Its debris already being covered by snowfall. Will update more

 

The same news agency reported that the wreckage of the plane was spread over a wide area around the crash site.

Russian state television aired a video of the crash site, showing parts of the wreckage in the snow. Russia has seen record high snowfalls in recent days and visibility was reportedly poor.

The Russian-made plane was 7 years-old and bought by Saratov Airlines from another Russian airline a year ago.

Russian media reported that the emergency services were unable to reach the crash site by road and that rescue workers walked to the scene on foot.

A source at Domodedovo, Moscow’s second largest airport, told agencies that the plane disappeared from radars within two minutes of takeoff.

The Russian transport minister was on his way to the crash site, agencies reported. The transport ministry said several causes for the crash are being considered, including weather conditions and human error.

The governor of the Orenburg region, where the plane was flying to, told Russian media that “more than 60 people” on board the plane were from the region.

Prosecutors opened an investigation into Saratov Airlines following the crash.

Plane crashes are common in Russia, where airlines often operate ageing aircraft in testing flying conditions.

A light aircraft crashed in November in Russia’s far east, killing six people on board.

In December 2016 a military plane carrying Russia’s famed Red Army Choir crashed after taking off from the Black Sea resort of Sochi, killing all 92 people on board.

The choir had been due to give a concert to Russian troops operating in Syria.

Pilot error was blamed for that crash.

In March 2016, all 62 passengers died when a FlyDubia jet crashed in bad weather during an aborted landing at Rostov-on-Don airport.

READ MORE:
COMMENTS

Saudis okay airspace for direct India-Israel flights

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Saudis reportedly okay airspace for direct India-Israel flights; Riyadh denies

Israeli sources confirm agreement struck for route from Tel Aviv to Delhi; Air India says still awaiting regulatory approval

Illustrative: Air India planes parked on the tarmac at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, India, on May 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

Illustrative: Air India planes parked on the tarmac at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, India, on May 18, 2012. (AP Photo/Kevin Frayer)

Saudi Arabia reportedly okayed the use of its airspace for flights between Israel and India, according to Hebrew-language media Wednesday. However, a Saudi official quickly denied the claim.

The approval, which would cut hours off the flight route, would be a first and mark a major milestone in Israel’s attempts to deepen ties with Gulf Sunni states.

In a deal struck with Riyadh, Air India will begin offering direct flights from Tel Aviv to New Delhi on March 20, ahead of the Passover holiday, according to the Haaretz daily and the Kan broadcaster, citing Israeli aviation officials.

The Saudi Arabia Aviation Authority denied ever granting such approval, and a spokesman for Air India told Reuters that the airline is still waiting for the Indian aviation regulator to approve the move.

The report came as Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj was visiting Riyadh on an official trip.

Currently, El Al is the only airline offering direct flights from Israel to India, with a Tel Aviv-Mumbai route. In order to avoid Saudi Arabia, which forbids flights to and from Israel over its airspace, the plane must detour over the Red Sea and around the Arabian peninsula, adding over two hours to the flight.

The Israeli Tourism Ministry is hoping Wednesday’s approval will be a gateway for other Far East countries that had been discouraged from offering direct flights due to the need to bypass Saudi Arabia, Israel’s Globes business daily reported.

The report comes as Israel has tried to build ties with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states allied with the US, which have a common enemy in Iran. However, Riyadh has remained skittish about openly admitting to contacts with Israel.

The direct flight proposal was a main topic on the agenda during Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to India last month. Speaking at an economic forum in Mumbai, Netanyahu said the goal was for a “efficient and direct route” to be established between the countries.

READ MORE:
COMMENTS

PLO Secretary General Tells Nikki Haley To ‘Shut Up’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Erekat says US is pushing a Palestinian ‘coup,’ tells Nikki Haley to ‘shut up’

Top PLO official rails against the Trump administration for criticisms of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, but insists Palestinians are not looking for confrontation with US

PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat in his Ramallah office, November 23, 2015. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat in his Ramallah office, November 23, 2015. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat on Saturday accused the Trump administration of trying depose the Palestinian leadership in a “coup” and told the “impudent” US envoy to the United Nations Nikki Haley she should “shut up” with her criticism of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Erekat, who has led the Palestinian peace negotiations and is secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, singled out Haley, who slammed Abbas for a recent speech that was full of anti-Semitic tropes.

Erekat said that Haley’s “impudence” has gone as far as calling for removing Abbas from power.

“She called for overthrowing the democratically elected Palestinian president,” Erekat complained in an interview with the Palestinian Al-Watan Voice news website.

“This is the president who led the peace process and promoted the principle of the two-state solution,” Erekat said, referring to Abbas. “Now this [US] ambassador is accusing him of lacking courage, and is calling for replacing him.”

Only the Palestinian people have that right, he said. “The Palestinian people are loyal to their martyrs, prisoners, wounded, struggles, steadfastness, and heroism. This is the reality. The Palestinians are the only ones who are entitled to hold their leaders accountable.”

Erekat was reacting to a speech given by Haley to the UN on January 25.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley speaks during a UN Security Council meeting on the Middle East on December 18, 2017, at UN Headquarters in New York. (AFP Photo/Kena Betancur)

“President Abbas declared the landmark Oslo Peace Accords dead. He rejected any American role in peace talks. He insulted the American President. He called for suspending recognition of Israel. He invoked an ugly and fictional past, reaching back to the 17th century to paint Israel as a colonialist project engineered by European powers,” Haley said.

“A speech that indulges in outrageous and discredited conspiracy theories is not the speech of a person with the courage and the will to seek peace,” she said.

“I ask here today, where is the Palestinian King Hussein? Where is the Palestinian Anwar Sadat,” she said, referring to the Jordanian and Egyptian leaders who made peace with Israel. “If President Abbas demonstrates he can be that type of leader, we would welcome it. His recent actions demonstrate the total opposite.”

Erekat insisted that Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, together with Haley’s remarks, amounted to an attempt to stage a “coup” against the “Palestinian political system.”

“Nikki Haley needs to shut up and realize that the Palestinian leadership is not the problem,” the top PLO official added. “Instead, the problem is the Israeli occupation and the policies it continues to pursue. I’m not saying that we don’t make mistakes; every society and every government makes mistakes.”

Erekat said the goal of Israel and the US was to “undermine the Palestinian national project.”

“US and Israeli officials are saying that any Palestinian leader who insists on East Jerusalem becoming the capital of Palestine and is committed to the right of return, in accordance with United Nations resolution 194, should be removed from power and replaced,” he said.

The US and Israel are searching for Palestinian leaders who will accept the “liquidation of the Palestinian national project,”  Erekat said.

“The Palestinian leadership has told the Americans and Israelis that, even after 1,000 years, they will not find any Palestinian who will collaborate with their scheme,” Erekat said.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (C-R) speaks during a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 14, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Abbas Momani)

The Palestinians, Erekat stressed, are determined to pursue diplomatic efforts at the UN Security Council and other international forums in response to the policies of the Trump administration.

“We will take Trump’s decision [to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel] to the International Court of Justice and we will seek membership in more international agencies,” he said.

In the wake of the recognition, formally declared by President Donald Trump on December 6, the Palestinians have said the US cannot be an honest broker in the peace talks and have refused to meet with US officials, including Vice President Mike Pence, who visited the region last month.

Nevertheless, Erekat insisted that the Palestinians were not looking for a fight with the US.

“We don’t seek a confrontation or a fight with the US administration,” Erekat said. “On the contrary — they are the ones taking several steps. The US administration is itself saying that it’s not an honest broker in the peace process. Therefore, we are seeking, together with international parties, to convene an international conference for peace.”

READ MORE:

Israel said to consider sending direct aid to deteriorating Gaza

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Israel said to consider sending direct aid to deteriorating Gaza

In new security assessment, security officials assert Hamas not interested in conflict with Israel, but warn that economic collapse would make such a scenario inevitable

Palestinian children do their homework by candlelight during a power outage in Gaza City on September 11, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

Palestinian children do their homework by candlelight during a power outage in Gaza City on September 11, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mahmud Hams)

Israeli security officials are weighing sending food and medicine to the Gaza Strip for the first time, in an effort to prevent the deteriorating conditions from spiraling into violence, Hadashot news reported Saturday.

In a security assessment handed recently to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the defense establishment reiterated its belief that the Hamas terror group currently ruling Gaza is not interested in another conflict with Israel. However, an economic collapse would make such a scenario inevitable.

Until now, Israel has not directly sent humanitarian aid to Gaza but has helped facilitate the transfer of goods provided by the United Nations and others into the strip.

At the beginning of January the cabinet tasked the national security advisor with drawing up a plan for dealing with the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza and asked him to report back within three weeks. However, no plan has yet been filed, Hadashot said.

Responding to the Saturday report, a diplomatic official told Hadashot news that “the situation in the Gaza Strip is a result of the tension between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, which does not transfer money.”

Palestinian children hold bread patties during a protest against aid cuts, outside the United Nations’ offices in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on January 28, 2018. (SAID KHATIB/AFP)

“Israel has taken steps to ensure that this tension will have as little impact as possible on the humanitarian situation,” the official added.

A similar warning was made earlier this week by UN Middle East peace envoy Nickolay Mladenov, who said the Gaza Strip was on the verge of “full collapse.”

He argued that a key to saving Gaza from disaster was restoring the government of PA President Mahmoud Abbas to power there, a decade after it was forced out Hamas.

Repeated reconciliation efforts between Hamas and Fatah — the party that dominates the Palestinian Authority — have failed to reach an agreement that would return control of Gaza to the PA, most recently because Hamas refused to surrender its considerable arsenal of weapons and military infrastructure.

Earlier this month, the White House froze around $100 million in contributions to UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, after the Palestinians announced they would no longer accept the US as a mediator in peace talks with Israel. The Palestinians were angered after US President Donald Trump on December 6 recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Mladenov said he would raise those concerns at the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee meeting, which met last Wednesday in Brussels to coordinate international donor support for the Palestinians.

Israel has maintained a blockade on Gaza for over a decade, which it says is necessary to prevent the Hamas terror group, which is sworn to Israel’s destruction, from smuggling in weapons and material used for digging tunnels into Israel. Israel and Hamas have fought three wars, which have severely harmed Gaza’s infrastructure, and reconstruction efforts have been slow.

READ MORE:

Israel’s secret airstrike campaign in Sinai to help Egypt

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL AND THE NEW YORK TIMES)

 

Israel carrying out secret airstrike campaign in Sinai to help Egypt — report

Unmarked IAF drones, fighter jets, and gunships are conducting attacks against jihadist insurgents at the behest of Sissi, The New York Times reports

A picture taken from the Rafah border of the southern Gaza Strip with Egypt shows smoke billowing in Egypt's North Sinai on July 8, 2017. (AFP/Said Khatib)

A picture taken from the Rafah border of the southern Gaza Strip with Egypt shows smoke billowing in Egypt’s North Sinai on July 8, 2017. (AFP/Said Khatib)

Israeli drones, fighter jets, and helicopter gunships have carried out more than 100 airstrikes against Islamist terrorists in the Sinai, in a bid to help Egypt deal with the jihadist insurgency in the peninsula, the New York Times reported Saturday.

Israel was forced to take action, with the blessing of Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, as Egypt struggled to deal with the violent uprising that has killed hundreds of Egyptian security forces and civilians, the report said.

While security coordination between Jerusalem and Cairo is known to be close, the ties are still unpopular in Egypt, despite nearly three decades of peace. In order to keep the cooperation quiet, the Israeli aircraft are often unmarked and sometimes use indirect routes in a bid to cover up the origin of the strikes, the report said.

The report said Sissi had kept the Israeli strikes secret, only letting a small group of military and intelligence officials in on the cooperation, and has kept northern Sinai a closed military area, barring reporters from the region.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi in New York on September 19, 2017 (Avi Ohayun)

Israeli and Egyptian officials refused to confirm or comment on the report, which the paper said was based on interviews with seven current or former British and American officials involved in Middle East policy, all speaking on condition of anonymity.

The report quoted American officials as saying that Israel’s air campaign has played a decisive role in enabling the Egyptian armed forces to gain an upper hand against the jihadists.

According to the US sources, Israel began its airstrikes following the capture of a north Sinai town by the Islamists and the downing of a Russian charter jet over Sinai in October 2014 that killed 224 people. They said Israel has had a string of successes in killing the terrorist leaders.

In the wake of the Israeli strikes, the Islamists slowed their advance and switched their attention to softer targets like attacking mosques and churches, the report said.

However, Israel has complained to the US that Egypt is not upholding its end of the agreement, and that Cairo was supposed to follow up on the airstrikes by sending ground forces into the region.

READ MORE:
COMMENTS

Russian delegation ‘sought to stop Israeli strikes in Syria, Lebanon’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Russian delegation ‘sought to stop Israeli strikes in Syria, Lebanon’

Arabic daily says high-level team visiting from Moscow came to Jerusalem to discourage action against Iran and Hezbollah

Russian Federation Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, left, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, February 1, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Russian Federation Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, left, meets with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, February 1, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

A delegation of senior Russian security officials visiting Israel this weekreportedly sought to dissuade Jerusalem from striking Iranian and Hezbollah weapons facilities in Syria and Lebanon.

According to the London-based Arabic daily Asharq Al-Awsat, quoted by Israel’s Channel 10 news, the purpose of Wednesday’s visit, headed by Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, was Moscow’s desire to discourage Israeli intervention across the border, Channel 10 news reported.

The Russian delegation, which also included deputy ministers, army generals and intelligence officers, held talks with Israel’s National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat as well as heads of Israel’s National Security Council and top military, defense and intelligence officials.

Patrushev himself met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israel has been negotiating with the United States and Russia, the main brokers in Syria, to keep Iran-backed Shiite militias and the Hezbollah terrorist group away from the border.

Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and others have all said that Israel’s policy is to target shipments of advanced weaponry, including accurate long-range missiles, that are heading to or in the possession of Hezbollah. Foreign media reports have attributed dozens of airstrikes on Iranian-linked targets in Syria to Israel.

Last week’s visit by the Russian officials came on the heels of Netanyahu’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow to discuss Iranian military entrenchment in the region.

A satellite image showing the results of an alleged Israeli airstrike on a reported Iranian base being set up outside Damascus, from December 4, 2017. (ImageSat International ISI)

Netanyahu said his meeting with Putin focused on Iran, with the prime minister saying if Tehran continues to try and deepen its influence in Syria, Israel would work to “stop it.”

“The question is: Does Iran entrench itself in Syria, or will this process be stopped. If it doesn’t stop by itself, we will stop it,” Netanyahu told Israeli reporters during a telephone briefing.

“We also spoke about Lebanon, which is becoming a factory for precision-guided missiles that threaten Israel. These missiles pose a grave threat to Israel, and we will not accept this threat,” he added.

Netanyahu said that the weapons factories are currently “in the process of being built” by Iran. Israel is determined to do whatever is necessary to prevent those two developments, Netanyahu said.

Last month, Israel’s envoy to the United Nations said there are 3,000 soldiers from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps currently fighting in Syria, and accused Tehran of seeking to turn the country “into the largest military base in the world.”

Danny Danon told the Security Council that Iran controls 82,000 fighters in Syria, including 9,000 members of Hezbollah, 10,000 Shiite militiamen from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and another 60,000 Syrians.

Danon urged member states not to “allow Iran to continue funding worldwide terror, pursue its dangerous internal arms buildup, and grow its military presence abroad.”

READ MORE:

US Puts Hamas Chief Haniyeh On Terror Blacklist

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

US puts Hamas chief Haniyeh on terror blacklist

Treasury Department’s sanctions freeze any US-based assets terror leader may have and ban any US person or company from doing business with him

In this file photo taken on January 23, 2018 Hamas' leader Ismail Haniyeh delivers a speech in Gaza City on January 23, 2018. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

In this file photo taken on January 23, 2018 Hamas’ leader Ismail Haniyeh delivers a speech in Gaza City on January 23, 2018. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The United States on Wednesday put the head of Palestinian terror group Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, on its terror blacklist and slapped sanctions on him. The 55-year-old Haniyeh was named head of Hamas in May 2017.

“Haniyeh has close links with Hamas’s military wing and has been a proponent of armed struggle, including against civilians,” the State Department said in a statement. “He has reportedly been involved in terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens. Hamas has been responsible for an estimated 17 American lives killed in terrorist attacks.”

Haniyeh is now on the US Treasury sanctions blacklist, which freezes any US-based assets he may have and bans any US person or company from doing business with him.

Hamas, which is sworn to destroy Israel and has controlled the Gaza Strip for more than a decade, has been on the US terror blacklist since 1997.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (L) and Hamas’s leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar wave during a rally marking the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Islamist terror movement, in Gaza City, on December 14, 2017. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

The US government also slapped sanctions on Harakat al-Sabireen — a small Gazan terror group that splintered away from the Islamic Jihad and, like Hamas, is close to Iran — and two other groups active in Egypt: Liwa al-Thawra and HASM.

“These designations target key terrorist groups and leaders — including two sponsored and directed by Iran — who are threatening the stability of the Middle East, undermining the peace process, and attacking our allies Egypt and Israel,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement.

“Today’s actions are an important step in denying them the resources they need to plan and carry out their terrorist activities.”

The US decision to put Haniyeh on its terror blacklist will not affect Hamas’s activities, the movement said Wednesday. “It is a failed attempt to pressure the resistance,” said a statement from the group. “This decision will not deter us from continuing the resistance option to expel the occupation.”

Israel’s Intelligence Minister Israel Katz welcomed the decision.

“I wish to congratulate the US on the rightous [sic] decision to designate Ismail Haniyeh as a global terrorist,” Katz tweeted. “This man is one of the main reasons the citizens of the Gaza strip are suffering since the terror organization Hamas took power of the Strip in 2007.”

Haniyeh replaced Khaled Mashaal, who now lives in Doha in exile, atop the Hamas movement. Unlike Mashaal, Haniyeh will remain in the Gaza Strip.

Also known as Abu Abed, Haniyeh was born in Gaza’s Shati refugee camp in January 1963 to parents who fled when Israel was created in 1948.

Hamas has frequently highlighted his modest background as a counterpoint to officials within Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, who have been accused of being corrupt and too easily compliant with Israel or the United States.

After US President Donald Trump declared Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December, Haniyeh voiced rage over the decision, saying it “crosses every red line,” and called for a new intifada, or uprising.

“This Zionist policy supported by the US cannot be confronted unless we ignite a new intifada,” he said.

READ MORE:
COMMENTS

German car makers spark outrage with exhaust tests on humans

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

HUMANS AND MONKEYS FORCED TO INHALE DIESEL

German car makers spark outrage with exhaust tests on humans

Diesel exhaust tests evoke gas vans used by the Nazis in the Holocaust; major manufacturers disavow study

The exhaust pipes of a VW Diesel car are seen in Frankfurt, Germany, on August 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Probst, File)

The exhaust pipes of a VW Diesel car are seen in Frankfurt, Germany, on August 2, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Probst, File)

Public criticism of the German auto industry has escalated on reports that diesel exhaust tests were carried out on both monkeys and humans.

The tests were reportedly carried out by a research group funded by major German auto companies. The German government on Monday condemned the experiments and Volkswagen sought to distance itself from them, with its chairman saying that “in the name of the whole board I emphatically disavow such practices.”

The tests from German companies are particularly striking, as during the Holocaust the Nazis killed people by pumping exhaust gas into sealed “gas vans.

View image on TwitterView image on Twitter

“Monkeys and humans forced to inhale toxic diesel car emissions to demonstrate no health impact” as emissions research for German car manufacturers http://on.ft.com/2rSU9UC 
This was the same gassing test technique perfected by the Nazis’ gas vans ? @FT

Revelations of the tests add a twist to the German auto industry’s attempt to move past Volkswagen’s scandal over cheating on diesel tests and the resulting questioning of diesel technology across the industry.

Volkswagen Chairman Hans Dieter Poetsch said the tests must be “investigated completely and without reservation,” the dpa news agency reported.

A report by the New York Times found that the research group financed by top German car manufacturers commissioned experiments in which one group of monkeys was exposed to diesel exhaust from a late-model Volkswagen, while another group was exposed to fumes from an older Ford pickup.

Hans Dieter Poetsch, chairman of the board of directors of the Volkswagen stock company, prior to the annual shareholders meeting in Hannover, Germany, May 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn, file)

The experiments were carried out in 2014 before Volkswagen was caught using software that let vehicles cheat on emissions tests. They were intended to show modern diesel technology had solved the problem of excess emissions, but according to the New York Times report the Volkswagen car in the tests was equipped with illegal software that turned emissions controls on while the car was on test stands and off during regular driving.

Volkswagen admitted using the software in 2015. The Volkswagen scandal led to public scrutiny of diesel emissions as regulators discovered that other companies’ vehicles also had higher emissions on the road than during testing, though not necessarily through illegal rigging. The industry has had to fend off calls for diesel bans in German cities with high pollution levels.

Daimler AG said it was “appalled by the nature and extent of the studies,” and said that, though it did not have any influence on the studies’ design, “we have launched a comprehensive investigation into the matter.”

BMW said that it “did not participate in the mentioned study” on animal “and distances itself from this study.” It said it was investigating the work and background of the research group.

People leave the Volkswagen factory at Gate 17 in Wolfsburg, Germany. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

The Times report said the group that commissioned the studies, known by German initial EUGT, got all its funding from the three automakers. Volkswagen said in a statement, the founders were Volkswagen, BMW, Daimler and components and technology firm Bosch.

The New York Times report was followed by one in Monday’s edition of the Stuttgarter Zeitung daily that the now-closed research group also commissioned tests in which humans were exposed to nitrogen dioxide, which belongs to a class of pollutant known as nitrogen oxides. The group reportedly said the tests showed no effect on the subjects.

The human study, carried out by Aachen University, involved studying the effects of exposing 25 subjects, mostly students, to low levels of nitrogen dioxide like those that could be found in the environment — from a 40-liter bottle, not a diesel engine. The individuals gave informed written consent for the study, which was approved by the ethics committee of the university’s medical faculty, according to the study. The university said the study had no relation to the diesel scandal.

The German government condemned the reported tests on animals and humans. Transport Minister Christian Schmidt “has no understanding for such tests… that do not serve science but merely PR aims,” spokesman Ingo Strater told reporters in Berlin.

He called for the companies concerned to provide “immediate and detailed” responses, and said a ministry commission of inquiry that was set up after the emissions scandal broke will hold a special meeting to examine whether there are any other cases.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives at the headquarters of her Christian Democratic Union in Berlin for coalition talks, on January 28, 2018. (AFP Photo/Odd Andersen)

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said that “the disgust many people are feeling is absolutely understandable.”

“These tests on monkeys or even humans can in no way be ethically justified,” Seibert said. “They raise many critical questions for those behind these tests, and these questions must urgently be answered.”

He questioned the aims of the tests. “The automakers have to reduce emissions of harmful substances further and further,” he said. “They should not be trying to prove the supposed harmlessness of exhaust with the help of monkeys or even humans.”

Seibert said that the supervisory boards of the companies concerned “have a particular responsibility.”

The governor of the German state of Lower Saxony, a major shareholder in Volkswagen, added his voice to calls for quick answers.

Stephan Weil, who sits on VW’s supervisory board, stressed that “the behavior of the company must in every respect fulfill ethical demands.” He said he had not known about the tests.

READ MORE:
COMMENTS