Posts Tagged ‘Gaza Strip’

Hamas guard killed in rare suicide attack in Gaza Strip

August 17, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File / by Adel Zaanoun | Islamist group Hamas has run Gaza for a decade but has been criticised by more radical Salafist groups in the Palestinian enclave

GAZA CITY (PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES) (AFP) – A suicide bomber killed a Hamas guard in southern Gaza on Thursday, officials said, in what was seen as a rare Islamist attack against the Palestinian group that has run the impoverished enclave for a decade.

The incident occurred at around 1:00 am near the Gaza Strip’s lone crossing with Egypt along the Sinai Peninsula, where radical Islamists are waging an insurgency against Egyptian forces.

It would be the first time a suicide attack has targeted Hamas forces in Gaza, security sources said.

“Early this morning security forces stopped two people approaching the southern border (with Egypt),” a Hamas interior ministry spokesman said in a statement.

“One of them blew himself up,” it added.

Interior ministry spokesman Iyad al-Bozum later referred to it as a suicide attack.

Hamas’s military wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, said field commander Nidal al-Jaafari, 28, was killed in the attack.

Qassam posted a series of photos of Jaafari in military fatigues carrying different weapons.

The group blamed “fundamentalist jihadists” for the attack, but further details on their backgrounds and motivations were still being investigated.

Security sources said the attack took place a few hundred metres from the Rafah crossing with Egypt.

The two men approached a small security position there and five guards tried to stop them before one blew himself up, they said.

The second man was moderately wounded, while the four other guards were also wounded, including one seriously, security sources said.

Eyewitnesses said hundreds of security forces deployed along the border after the explosion.

Islamist group Hamas has run Gaza for a decade but has been regularly criticised by more radical Salafist groups in the strip.

There have been threats of retaliation in recent months over arrests, according to security sources in Gaza.

– Blockaded enclave –

Hamas has recently boosted its forces along the border with Egypt as it seeks to improve relations with Cairo.

Radical Islamists are also fighting Egyptian security forces in the Sinai Peninsula, which borders Gaza. There was no indication there was any link.

Egypt has kept the Rafah crossing mostly closed in recent years, though it opened it on Monday for four days to allow Muslims to travel to Mecca for the hajj pilgrimage, as well as for some humanitarian cases.

Bozum said the crossing would be open on Thursday as planned.

Egypt and Israel are the only countries bordering Gaza.

Israel has maintained a decade-long blockade on the strip it says is necessary to prevent Hamas from obtaining weapons or materials that could be used to make them.

Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, including Hamas, have fought three wars since 2008.

Hamas has occasionally sought to crack down on Salafist groups inside the Gaza Strip with arrests.

Such Salafist groups have in recent months claimed responsiblity for rocket fire into Israel, sometimes saying it was in revenge for Hamas’s arrests.

Some security sources questioned whether Thursday’s explosion was a new phase of the Salafists’ campaign.

The groups claim thousands of supporters in the Palestinian enclave of some two million people, while Hamas estimates there are dozens.

by Adel Zaanoun

Palestinian woman stabs, wounds Israeli in Jerusalem

August 12, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Israeli border police stand guard outside the flashpoint Damascus Gate to Jerusalem’s Old City on June 18, 2017

JERUSALEM (AFP) – A Palestinian woman stabbed and wounded an Israeli man near an east Jerusalem flashpoint on Saturday, before she was arrested, police said.

They said in an English-language statement that the incident occurred next to the Old City’s Damascus Gate, site of repeated past attacks.

It said that a “female Arab terrorist” stabbed the man, injuring him lightly.

The woman, a Jerusalem resident aged about 30, was arrested at the scene, police added.

The Old City is located in east Jerusalem, which was occupied by Israel in 1967 and later annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.

The July 14 killing there of two policemen by three Arab Israeli gunmen led to spiralling unrest after Israel responded by installing metal detectors at the entrance to the Al-Aqsa mosque complex, used as a staging point for the attack.

For nearly two weeks, worshippers refused to submit to the checks and staged mass prayers in surrounding streets.

Ensuing protests left six Palestinians dead.

The crisis abated when Israel removed the detectors but tension remains high.

A wave of unrest that broke out in October 2015 has killed 293 Palestinians or Arab Israelis, 47 Israelis, two Americans, two Jordanians, an Eritrean, a Sudanese and a Briton, according to an AFP toll.

Israeli authorities say most of the Palestinians killed were carrying out knife, gun or car-ramming attacks.

Others were shot dead during protests or clashes, while some were killed in Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip.

Abbas pledges to ramp up Gaza sanctions

August 6, 2017

AFP

© AFP | A Palestinian man works at a metal workshop during the few hours of electricity supply the residents of the Gaza Strip receive per day, on July 11, 2017

GAZA CITY (PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES) (AFP) – Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has pledged to increase sanctions on the Gaza Strip, drawing a fresh attack from its Hamas rulers.

Abbas, the leader of the internationally-recognised Palestinian government based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, has been seeking to weaken Islamists Hamas by cutting power supplies to crowded Gaza.

On Saturday, he said he would continue with sanctions on the coastal strip, despite UN concerns that it amounts to collective punishment of its two million residents.

“We will continue the gradual stopping of financial allocations to the Gaza Strip until Hamas commits to reconciliation” with the Abbas administration, the president said.

“Since the coup, we have paid a billion and a half dollars to the Gaza Strip,” Abbas said, referring to the 2007 overthrow of his Fatah movement by Hamas in Gaza.

“We will not allow this to continue,” the WAFA official Palestinian news agency reported him as saying in Arabic.

“Either things will go as they are meant to be, or we will continue to reduce these funds,” he said, accusing Hamas of stealing some of the funds.

The Islamist group responded late Saturday in a statement: “Attacking Hamas and threatening the people of Gaza with more sanctions is a blow to reconciliation efforts.”

It accused Abbas’s Palestinian Authority of working with Israel to isolate Gaza and bring suffering to its people.

Both sides have previously committed to reconciliation, but repeated attempts have failed.

The Palestinian Authority had been paying for some electricity to be delivered to Gaza since 2007, but in recent months has reduced the amount.

Gazans now receive only a couple of hours of electricity a day, delivered from the territory’s own power station and others in Israel and Egypt.

The Palestinian Authority has also cut stipends to its former Gaza staff forced out of office by Hamas, in a move analysts see as seeking to sow discontent in the enclave.

Israel’s Spy Agency Uncovers Gaza-Turkey-Hebron Terror Money Ties — Israel’s Shin Bet Finds Terrorism Money Laundering

August 3, 2017
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BY ANNA AHRONHEIM
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 AUGUST 3, 2017 12:18
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‘Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip and abroad recruit emissaries from Judea and Samaria who travel abroad to transfer terrorist funds and messages to operatives in the field,’ Shin Bet charges.
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Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh recieves royal welcome

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Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh receives royal welcome in Turkey. (photo credit:Courtesy )

A Hamas money laundering ring which funnelled hundreds of thousands of dollars from officials in Gaza to the West Bank city of Hebron via Turkey has been exposed, Israel’s Shin Bet internal security agency cleared for publication on Thursday.
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According to a statement by the Shin Bet internal security agency the complex money-laundering operation which began last year was uncovered in a joint operation by the Shin Bet, IDF and Israel Police who arrested five Hamas members in the West Bank and identified another operative in Turkey and another in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
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The scheme was run by senior Hamas activist Muhammed Mahed Bader from Hebron who was arrested in June. Bader, a member of the Palestinian legislative council recruited two other Hamas activists from Hebron, Mus’ab al-Haslom and Taha Othman, who were sent to Turkey to act as couriers under the guise of business trips.
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While in Turkey the two met with Hamas activist Haroun Nasser al-Din, another Hebron resident who was released from Israeli prison as part of the prisoner exchange deal for kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
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Al-Haslom and two others, his brother Yusri Hashalom and Umar Kimari are said to have been in contact with Majed Jaba, a Hamas activist originally from Hebron but exiled to the Gaza Strip after having been released as part of the Shalit prisoner deal.  Jaba is suspected of helping to facilitate the transfer of the funds.
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According to the Shin Bet Haroun gave Haslom and Othman tens of thousands of dollars.  The two purchased merchandise in Turkey and imported the goods via international shipping companies in Hebron and gave the money from the sales to Hamas operatives in Hebron, minus a commission.
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Al-Haslom was asked to transfer terror funds from Turkey to Hebron in order to finance the activities of Hamas members in the group’s headquarters in Hebron, in particular members of the Hamas Legislative Council.  In addition, al-Haslom was asked to transfer funds for Hamas activists who had been released from prison.
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The investigation revealed that $200,000 had been laundered in that manner.
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The Shin Bet stated that Hamas “frequently mobilizes relatives of the organization’s operatives in the field, or is assisted by merchants and businessmen who pay a significant personal and business price for this activity.”
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In addition to the money laundering the agency foiled the construction of a multi-million dollar concrete plant financed by Hamas which had been planned with the aim of laundering even more money.
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“The exposure of the infrastructure indicates the constant motivation of Hamas activists in Turkey and the Gaza Strip to increase terror from Hamas in the West Bank.  Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip and abroad recruit emissaries from Judea and Samaria who travel abroad to transfer terrorist funds and messages to operatives in the field,” read the Shin Bet statement.
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“The Shin Bet together with the IDF and the Israel Police will continue to act to expose and thwart terrorist activity directed by Hamas elements abroad and in the Gaza Strip,” the statement continued.
An indictment against the suspects is expected to be filed by the military prosecution in the coming days.
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Analysis: Jerusalem Shrine Crisis Hardens Leaders’ Positions — “A nation led by Prophet Muhammad will not be defeated.”

July 29, 2017

AMMAN, Jordan — The latest crisis over one of the most combustible spots in the Middle East has been defused for now, but has pushed the leaders of Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians into tougher positions that could trigger new confrontations. The standoff over a Jerusalem shrine holy to Muslims and Jews also signaled that the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict is shifting further from what was once seen as a territorial dispute toward a religious one.

Palestinian prayer in the east Jerusalem area of Wadi Joz, near the Temple Mount, July 28, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem)Palestinian prayer in the east Jerusalem area of Wadi Joz, near the Temple Mount, July 28, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem)

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WHAT STARTED IT?

On July 14, three Arab assailants opened fire from the walled compound at Israeli police guards, killing two. The shooting left Israeli police scrambling for ways to screen worshippers for weapons as they enter the Muslim-run site through eight gates.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved a police recommendation to install metal detectors — reportedly over objections from Israel’s military and a domestic security agency.

The new measures stoked Muslim fears that Israel is trying to expand control over the site under the guise of security — a charge Israel denies. Palestinians in Jerusalem, led by senior Muslim clerics, began staging mass street prayers in protest, four Palestinians were killed in street clashes with Israeli troops and a Palestinian killed three members of an Israeli family in a West Bank settlement.

Tensions ebbed after Israel removed the metal detectors and other devices earlier this week.

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SIDELINED PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT

Mahmoud Abbas, who runs autonomous enclaves in the West Bank, was in China and his return home a week into the crisis reinforced perceptions among many Palestinians that he is out of touch. Trying to assert a leadership role, Abbas announced a suspension of security coordination with Israel until the situation at the shrine is restored to what it was before July 14.

For years, Abbas’ forces worked with Israel to foil attacks by militants in the West Bank, often acting against a shared foe, the Islamic militant Hamas. Such mutually beneficial cooperation, though unpopular among Palestinians, survived many crises and failed efforts to negotiate the terms of Palestinian statehood in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in 1967.

Abbas threatened in the past to end security coordination, but never followed through. If he now restores such ties, he risks further harm to his domestic standing. If he doesn’t, Israel’s right-wing government could retaliate and threaten the survival of his Palestinian Authority.

The crisis highlighted Abbas’ fading influence in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem. He also risks being cut off completely from Gaza, the territory he lost to Hamas in 2007. In recent weeks, Hamas and a former Abbas-aide-turned rival, Mohammed Dahlan, forged a Gaza power-sharing deal that would open the blockaded territory to Egypt and further weaken ties with the West Bank.

Abbas, 82, was briefly hospitalized Saturday for what his office said was a routine checkup, but it also served as a reminder of his advanced age and lack of a successor.

Nearly two weeks of civil disobedience have gripped the Palestinian territories [Ahmad Gharabli/AFP]

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ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER UNDER FIRE

Netanyahu was lambasted by all sides in Israel.

The center-left accused him of making hasty decisions at a volatile site — the third holiest in Islam and the most sacred on in Judaism — that has triggered major rounds of Israeli-Palestinian violence, including one involving Netanyahu in the mid-1990s.

Netanyahu’s ultra-nationalist rivals, key to the survival of his coalition, said he capitulated to Arab pressure and effectively encouraged Palestinians to push for more concessions.

Netanyahu responded with a flurry of tough statements.

He ordered the resumption of plans to build a new West Bank settlement and reportedly gave the green light to draft legislation to bring several West Bank settlements under Jerusalem’s jurisdiction. He vowed to “kick Al Jazeera out of Israel,” accusing the Qatar-based satellite station of inciting violence over the shrine crisis. And he called for the death penalty — not imposed by Israel for more than half a century — for last week’s killer of the Israeli family.

Even if it’s mostly rhetoric, Netanyahu’ statements suggest that fending off his ultra-nationalist challengers is more important to him than calming the atmosphere. As both Netanyahu and Abbas harden positions, chances of the Trump administration — itself embroiled in turmoil — being able to revive peace talks seem close to zero.

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JORDAN’S ANGRY MONARCH

King Abdullah II publicly vented his anger about what he called Netanyahu’s “provocative” behavior. Such harsh words from an Arab leader known for his measured tone were prompted by twin crises between the two countries and signaled delicate ties had taken a hit.

Abdullah, Muslim custodian of the Jerusalem shrine, was involved in trying to defuse tensions there when he faced another complication: On Sunday, a guard at the Israeli Embassy in Jordan shot dead two Jordanians after one attacked him with a screw driver.

After a phone call between the king and Netanyahu, the guard returned to Israel and Israel removed the metal detectors. The sequence of events suggested a horse trade with problematic optics for Abdullah that might have been forgotten quickly — had Netanyahu not given a hero’s welcome to the guard and inflamed long-running resentment against Israel in Jordan.

Jordan has since charged the guard with murder, demanded he be tried in Israel and issued a veiled threat — through an unidentified official quoted by Jordanian media — that Israel’s ambassador would not be allowed to return to Jordan until the guard is held accountable.

Israel and Jordan share strategic security interests, but any open cooperation at this time might not be tolerated by the Jordanian public. Abdullah already faces other threats to Jordan’s stability, including rising unemployment and spillover from regional conflicts.

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FROM LAND DISPUTE TO HOLY WAR?

Recent events made it clear that the conflict in the Holy Land is no longer just a territorial dispute that can be resolved through creative partition ideas. Such efforts ran aground a decade ago, and the absence of a solution has given a bigger role to the religious component. The showdown over shrine was increasingly being framed as a zero sum game between religions.

After Israel captured the shrine in 1967, it left the administration in Muslim hands to avoid a conflagration with the Muslim world. The arrangement held into the 1990s, when more rabbis challenged a long-standing religious ban on Jews entering the site.

Increased visits by Jews — even if Israel enforces a Jewish prayer ban at the compound — have spooked Muslims, reviving fears of purported Israeli takeover attempts.

In the past two weeks, Palestinian protesters chanted Islamic not nationalist slogans. “A nation led by Prophet Muhammad will not be defeated,” was one of the rallying cries.

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Laub, the AP bureau chief in Jordan, has covered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since 1987.

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Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank contributed reporting.

Related:

Israeli security on high alert at the Old City of Jerusalem, July 28, 2017 (Marc Israel Sellem)Israeli security on high alert at the Old City of Jerusalem, July 28, 2017 (Marc Israel Sellem)

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Palestinians stand in front of Israeli police officers at Temple Mount.

Palestinians stand in front of Israeli police officers and newly installed metal detectors at an entrance to the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem’s Old City July 16, 2017. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Inspecting a body on Friday near what Jews call the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. The area, home to the complex of Al Aqsa Mosque, is Jerusalem’s holiest site for both faiths. This photo from just after the killing of Israelis on July 14, 2017. Credit Ammar Awad/Reuters

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The Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem.(Hadas Parush/Flash90)

EU court upholds Hamas terror listing

July 26, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | The European Union imposed travel bans and asset freezes on Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, after the September 11, attacks

LUXEMBOURG (AFP) – The European Union’s top court on Wednesday upheld the bloc’s decision to put Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas on its terrorism blacklist.

The European Court of Justice overturned a 2014 ruling by the bloc’s second highest court, saying it “should not have annulled Hamas’ retention on the European list of terrorist organisations”.

The lower court sparked outrage in Israel and Washington when it said Hamas should be dropped from the list because the EU had made the decision based on information from the media and internet.

But the Luxembourg-based ECJ said that in doing so, the General Court had “made an error in law” and it would now have to examine the case again.

However in a related ruling, the ECJ said Wednesday that the General Court’s 2014 finding that Sri Lankan rebel group the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) should not be on the terror list was correct.

The Hamas ruling came as a surprise since once of the ECJ’s senior lawyers had said in an opinion last September that Hamas should not have been included on the terror list because procedural mistakes invalidated the EU decision.

The court rarely rules against the advice of its top lawyers and there had been concerns that if the ECJ agreed with the General Court, then already tense EU-Israel relations would have been hit again.

– Internet and media reports –

Israel regularly berates the European Union for being soft on terrorism and bluntly rejects EU criticism of its Jewish settlements policy.

The European Union imposed travel bans and asset freezes on Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, after the September 11, 2001 Al-Qaeda terror attacks on New York and Washington.

Hamas opposed the sanctions from the start, arguing that it is a legally elected government and therefore has the right to conduct military operations against Israel.

Hamas has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007 and fought three wars with Israel, the last in 2014 which caused massive destruction and left more than 2000 dead.

The original 2014 ruling by the EU’s General Court annulled the EU sanctions listing on procedural grounds.

It said that rather than establishing independently that Hamas was a terrorist organisation, the European Council of EU member states had instead relied on publicly available information.

The EU states then appealed that decision, believing the lower court “was wrong in its assessment of the way in which the Council relied on information in the public domain”.

The EU maintains an active sanctions policy, targeting individuals, groups and states, including several other Palestinian entities.

Israel strikes Gaza after a missile was fired across the border from the Palestinian area

July 24, 2017

AFP

Image result for Israeli tank, photos

JERUSALEM (AFP) – 

Israel struck a position of Islamist group Hamas in Gaza on Monday, the army said, hours after a missile was fired across the border from the Palestinian enclave.

“An (Israeli) tank targeted a post belonging to the Hamas terror organisation in the southern Gaza Strip” in the early hours of the morning, the army said in a statement.

A Hamas security source told AFP on condition of anonymity that five strikes hit an observation post of the group’s military wing near Khan Yunis in southern Gaza.

The source said separate strikes hit farming land in central Gaza, with no injuries reported in either incident.

The Israeli strike came hours after a “projectile fired from the Gaza Strip” hit an open area inside Israel without causing any injuries, the army said.

Israel and Hamas, who run Gaza, have fought three wars since 2008.

Since the last one in 2014, a fragile ceasefire has been observed along the largely closed border.

Missiles and rockets are periodically fired at Israel, generally by hardline Islamist groups opposed to Hamas.

But Israel holds Hamas responsible for all rocket fire from Gaza regardless of who carried it out, and usually retaliates within hours.

Netanyahu tells Macron of doubts about Abbas, U.S. peace push — Wants parallel push backed by Arab states

July 18, 2017

Reuters

JULY 18, 2017 / 12:12 PM

The Associated Press

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, Sunday, July 16, 2017. French President Emmanuel Macron and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meet for bilateral talks after they honored victims of a mass deportation of French Jews to Nazi camps 75 years ago. (Stephane Mahe/Pool Photo via AP) THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has doubts about U.S. Middle East peace efforts, according to a transcript of a conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Israeli newspaper Haaretz obtained a transcript of part of the talks Netanyahu held with Macron when they met for the first time in Paris on Sunday.

Told by Macron that France supports U.S. President Donald Trump’s efforts to bring the Israelis and Palestinians back to negotiations, Netanyahu replied:

“It will be difficult to push forward quickly with the American initiative. I’m not sure that Abu Mazen (Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas) can deliver on his commitments, for internal political reasons.”

Israeli officials confirmed the gist of the transcript, which was in French, while French officials did not immediately comment.

Netanyahu said Israel had every intention of working with the Americans but would prefer a different approach.

“I’d like a parallel process with the Arab countries, at the same time as the process with the Palestinians,” he said, referring to the idea of forging a deal with Arab states along the lines of the Saudi peace initiative.

The Saudi initiative, first put forward in 2002, would offer Israel recognition by the Arab world and the “normalization” of relations in exchange for a full withdrawal from the territory Israel has occupied since the 1967 Middle East war, including East Jerusalem.

Netanyahu has expressed tentative support for parts of the initiative, but there are many caveats on the Israeli side, including how to resolve the complex Palestinian refugee issue.

The Palestinians are opposed to any Israeli attempt to cut them out of discussions, saying any peace with Arab states has to come via peace with the Palestinians first.

Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rdainah, said the Palestinians support Trump’s peace efforts, adding: “What is needed is not to waste time.”

Asked by Macron what he thought of the French initiative, proposed by former president Francois Hollande late in his term and based around an international peace conference, Netanyahu said:

“I am against. It is not a good initiative.”

The last round of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in 2014. Trump has pledged to try to revive them, calling Middle East peace the “ultimate deal”.

He has received both Netanyahu and Abbas in the White House and visited the region in May. He appointed his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as his chief negotiator, and a company lawyer, Jason Greenblatt, as the main go-between.

Palestinians want to establish an independent state in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

In 2005, Israel pulled out of Gaza and the enclave is now governed by the Islamist Hamas movement. Israel continues to occupy the West Bank, where the Palestinians have limited self-rule, and East Jerusalem.

IS Claims Attack in Egypt’s Sinai That Killed 23 Soldiers — Raqqa and Mosul may fall but the ideology remains strong

July 8, 2017

EL-ARISH, Egypt — The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for attacking a remote Egyptian army outpost in the Sinai Peninsula with a suicide car bomb and heavy machine gun fire. The assault killed at least 23 soldiers in the deadliest attack in the turbulent region in two years.

The IS made the claim after nightfall Friday, saying in an online statement that it had carried out the attack as the Egyptian army was preparing an assault on IS positions in Sinai.

The coordinated attack suggested the Sinai-based militants are among the region’s most resilient, after IS in Iraq and Syria, where the so-called caliphate is now witnessing its demise. And it underscored the struggles Egyptian forces face in trying to rein in the insurgency.

Egypt has for years battled militants in Sinai, where the jihadis have exploited the vast arid and underdeveloped region and its disgruntled Bedouin population as an ideal incubator for Islamic militancy even before the IS affiliate has emerged at the forefront of the insurgency.

Friday’s assault began in the early morning, when a suicide bomber rammed his vehicle into a checkpoint at a military compound in the village of el-Barth, southwest of the border town of Rafah.

Dozens of masked militants then descended on the site in 24 Land Cruiser SUVs and opened fire on the soldiers with machine guns, according to security officials.

The shooting lasted nearly half an hour, the officials added, speaking on condition of anonymity because of regulations. The troops at the compound were estimated to have numbered about 60.

When the attack subsided, the militants apparently looted the checkpoint, snatching weapons and ammunition before fleeing, the officials said. A number of militants were killed in the shootout, indicating the soldiers had fought back, and some of their vehicles were abandoned at the scene.

The suicide blast at the start of the attack likely disabled the checkpoint’s military communications system, prompting one of the officers to use his own cellphone to record an audio message and send it to a colleague via WhatsApp, seeking help and asking for prayers. The message was later widely circulated on social media.

“This might be the last seconds in my life,” a man’s voice calmly says in the recording. “Quickly, oh men, anyone who knows how to reach the command center, notify them to use artillery as we are still alive.”

He then praises God and ends by saying “we will either avenge them or die,” referring to his fallen colleagues.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the United States strongly condemns the Sinai attack and continues “to stand with Egypt as it confronts terrorism.”

The security officials initially put the death toll at 10 but later told The Associated Press that more bodies were pulled from under the rubble of a nearby building that was used as a rest house for troops.

According to the IS statement, a second car bomber was used in the attack to strike an army convoy sent as a reinforcement to the embattled soldiers. The authenticity of the IS claim could not be verified but it was circulated by IS supporters online and by the U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadi websites.

Earlier, Egyptian army spokesman Tamer el-Rifai confirmed the attack on his official Facebook page, saying that 26 army personnel were killed or wounded. He didn’t provide a breakdown.

He said the army on Friday foiled attacks that targeted a number of other checkpoints in the Rafah area and that 40 militants were killed. Local Sinai residents, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear for their safety, said they saw Apache helicopters carrying out airstrikes across Rafah after the attack. On his page, al-Rifai posted photographs of allegedly slain militants, dressed in military uniforms, typically worn by IS extremists.

The Defense Ministry posted a video on its official website showing aircraft taking off and striking vehicles and positions allegedly belonging to the militants who carried out Friday’s attack.

The attacked checkpoint was set up two months ago to cut a key militant supply line between the outskirts of Rafah, where the district is known to have a heavy IS presence, and central Sinai, where militants have found safe havens in the mountains, according to tribal leader Hassan Khalaf of the Swaraka, one of Sinai’s largest tribes.

The security officials said some senior officers had expressed opposition to the location of the checkpoint, arguing that it provided no real cover for the troops. The nearest army compound was an hour’s drive away, leaving the checkpoint with only the support of local armed tribesmen from the Tarabeen, with their own small checkpoints nearby.

The area was also the site of fierce battles in the spring between the tribesmen and militants.

Despite the insurgency, IS has so far not succeeded in seizing territory in Sinai but maintains a strong presence in the western and southern areas of Rafah, on the outskirts of the town of Sheikh Zuweid, and even inside the residential areas of Sinai’s largest city, el-Arish.

Over the past months, IS has focused its attacks on Egypt’s Christian minority and carried out at least four deadly attacks that killed dozens, prompting army chief-turned-President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to declare a state of emergency in the country.

The restive northern Sinai has been under a state of emergency since October 2014, after Islamic militants killed more than 30 soldiers in a single attack. There was a significant decline in attacks this year in Sinai, with the one major assault killing eight policemen in el-Arish in January.

On July 1, 2015, IS carried series of attacks, killing over 50 soldiers in Sinai. IS said at the time that it attacked some 15 army and police positions and staged three suicide bombings. However, the army denied the high death toll.

The Sinai attack came as the Islamic State group is fast losing its once vast territory in Syria and Iraq. The group’s offshoot in Libya has been uprooted in months-long battles in the central city of Sirte, while its branch in Yemen has failed to seize territories or compete with its al-Qaida rivals.

Faced with the challenge in Sinai, the Egyptian government has accused several Arab and Muslim countries of financing and providing safe haven to Islamic militants — including Qatar, Turkey, and the Hamas group in neighboring Gaza Strip.

Hamas, which is seeking to improve relations with Cairo, quickly condemned Friday’s attack.

“We considers it a criminal, terrorist, and cowardly attack that doesn’t target Egypt only, but the security and stability of the entire Arab nation,” Hamas’ spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said.

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Michael reported from Cairo.

Gaza restarts power station as Egypt fuel eases crisis

June 22, 2017
© AFP | Security forces stand guard as Egyptian trucks carrying fuel enter the Gaza Strip through the Rafah border crossing on June 21, 2017
GAZA CITY (PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES) (AFP) – The Gaza Strip’s sole power station has been fired up again, the energy authority in the Palestinian enclave said Thursday, after fuel supplies from Egypt helped to ease an energy crisis.

The announcement came after Egypt delivered a million litres of fuel to the station on Wednesday, three days after Israel began cutting electricity supplies to Gaza.

The energy authority said two of the four generators at the power station had resumed operations and residents would now receive around six hours of mains power a day — up from as little as two earlier in the week.

The power plant, damaged by successive wars, was shut down in April after running out of fuel following a row between Gaza rulers Hamas and the internationally recognised Palestinian Authority over taxes.

Islamists Hamas seized control of Gaza from president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah movement in a near civil war in 2007 and multiple attempts at reconciliation have failed.

However, the Palestinian Authority had continued to pay Israel for some electricity delivered to Gaza until this month, with Abbas indicating they would no longer do so — — prompting the Israeli reductions.

Israel had been supplying 120 megawatts of electricity to Gaza a month, making up about a quarter of the territory’s needs, but announced it would cease to do so this week.

Hamas official Basem Naim said the electricity supplied by the power plant was just enough to balance out the reduction.

He told AFP the Egyptian delivery was an “important step,” obtained after a meeting between Egyptian leaders, Hamas and Abbas’ great rival Mohammed Dahlan — in exile in the United Arab Emirates after a dispute with Abbas.

“We must now find a definitive solution to the electricity crisis because its impact is catastrophic,” said Naim.

Hamas has fought three wars with Israel since 2008.

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Thursday accused Abbas of seeking to spark a fresh conflict by increasing human suffering in Gaza.

He said Abbas’ “intention is actually to continue cuts and in a few months to stop paying for fuel, medicines, salaries and many other things.”

“In my opinion the strategy is to hurt Hamas and also to drag Hamas into a conflict with Israel.”