Posts Tagged ‘Gaza’

Israel says it fired at Palestinians tampering with Gaza fence; two killed

September 18, 2018

Two people were found dead near the site of an Israeli missile strike at the coastal strip’s border with Israel, Gaza medics said on Tuesday.

File photo: A young Palestinian protester uses a slingshot to hurl stones at Israeli forces during clashes following a demonstration at the Israel-Gaza border, on September 7, 2018

File photo: A young Palestinian protester uses a slingshot to hurl stones at Israeli forces during clashes following a demonstration at the Israel-Gaza border, on September 7, 2018AFP

The Israeli military said it had attacked a group suspected of tampering with the border fence.

There was no immediate word on the identities of those killed east of Qarara village, in the south of the Gaza Strip.

Shortly before midnight on Monday the Israeli military said one of its aircraft had fired at a group of suspected militants who had “suspiciously approached” the border fence and placed an object next to it.

Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005 but maintains tight control of its land and sea borders.

Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been stalled for several years and Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, where the Palestinians hope to establish an independent state, have expanded.

Israeli forces say that in recent days they have dismantled at least two bombs planted near the border fence, which has been the scene of weekly Palestinian demonstrations since March 30.

At least 179 Palestinians have been killed in the protests, according to medical officials in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

The Israeli army says it is defending its border against rioting protesters who have sought to breach the fence and enter Israel.

In a separate incident in Beit Rima village in the occupied West Bank, a Palestinian family said one of its members died while being arrested by Israeli soldiers.

The family of 24-year-old Mohammad al-Khatib said they believed he was beaten by the soldiers during a dawn raid on his home.

The Israeli military said its initial inquiry showed the troops used no violence and that it has launched an investigation.

Bashir al-Khatib, the man’s brother, said soldiers entered the house early on Tuesday morning and went to Khatib’s room.

The family told Reuters they heard shouting before seeing soldiers carrying an unconscious Khatib from the house. They were later told he was dead.

The Israeli military said Khatib was being sought for suspected security offences.

“During the arrest, he lost consciousness and was treated at the scene by the forces there. He was evacuated to an Israeli hospital for further treatment,” a military spokeswoman said.

“Initial investigation has shown he was arrested with no resistance (from him) or violence (by the soldiers).”

Vered Kvitel, a spokeswoman for Beilinson hospital, said that doctors had tried unsuccessfully to revive Khatib. “There were no bruises visible on his body,” she said.

Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, Dan Williams, Ali Sawafta and Maayan Lubell; Editing by Paul Tait and Ed Osmond



Palestinian dies during arrest by Israeli army: officials

September 18, 2018

A Palestinian died after being arrested during a raid in the occupied West Bank overnight, the Israeli army said Tuesday, with his family accusing soldiers of beating him.

The army confirmed the death of Mohammed Khatib, 24, in custody but said he not resisted arrest.

“The army apprehended a Palestinian suspected of hostile activities in Beit Rima during the night,” an army spokeswoman told AFP, referring to a village north of Ramallah in the West Bank.

“He was arrested without violence or resistance from his part. He lost consciousness and was treated by Israeli soldiers at the scene.”

© AFP | Israeli forces, seen here during a drill on August 13, 2018, regularly stage overnight raids to arrest Palestinians in the West Bank

He died later in hospital, she added.

The military did not provide further details on the reasons for his arrest.

Khatib’s brother Bashir told AFP by phone that the army had raided the house in the early hours of Tuesday morning.

“They entered Mohammed’s room while he was sleeping, and they beat him violently and we heard screaming,” he said.

“After a while he went silent, and a soldier carried him out on his back.”

The Palestinian Prisoners Club also said family members had accused the army of beating Khatib.

It said it held Israel responsible for his death.


Israeli fatally stabbed by Palestinian in West Bank

September 16, 2018

A Palestinian fatally stabbed an Israeli-American man near the entrance to a mall in the occupied West Bank on Sunday before being shot and wounded at the end of a brief foot chase, officials said.

The man killed, Ari Fuld, was a right-wing activist who has appeared regularly on television, but a police spokesman said there was no indication he was targeted for that reason.

Fuld, 45, was a father of four who lived in the Israeli settlement of Efrat, near the mall where he was stabbed.

Israeli forensic policemen inspect the site where an Israeli man was fatally stabbed by a Palestinian near a mall at the Gush Etzion junction near Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank on September 16, 2018
Israeli forensic policemen inspect the site where an Israeli man was fatally stabbed by a Palestinian near a mall at the Gush Etzion junction near Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank on September 16, 2018 (AFP Photo/AHMAD GHARABLI)

The Palestinian attacker was 17-year-old Khalil Jabareen, from the village of Yatta in the southern West Bank, according to Palestinian security sources.

Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Jabareen was moderately wounded.

Image result for Ari Fuld,, photos

Ari Fuld

The incident took place at the Gush Etzion Junction south of Jerusalem and Bethlehem, according to Israel’s military, which provided the details of the stabbing.

Surveillance footage shared on news sites and social media showed the assailant approaching an older man near the mall entrance and stabbing him several times.

He is then pursued by civilians and shot nearby.

There is regular friction between Israelis and Palestinians at the junction, which lies near a major Israeli settlement bloc and has been the site of numerous lone-wolf Palestinian attacks.

– Vocal defender of Israel –

Fuld created a Facebook page called “Israel Defense Page” and was a hardline defender of Israel in his television appearances.

During last year’s march by right-wing Israelis through east Jerusalem’s Old City to commemorate 50 years since Israel seized control of it in the Six-Day War, Fuld said it was a “miraculous day” for Jews.

“Today we are celebrating the unification of Jerusalem,” he said.

Image result for Israel Defense Page, photos

US ambassador to Israel David Friedman said on Twitter that “America grieves as one of its citizens was brutally murdered by a Palestinian terrorist.”

“Ari Fuld was a passionate defender of Israel & an American patriot.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said “in the name of every citizen of Israel, I send my condolences to the family of Ari Fuld, who was murdered today in a terrorist attack”.

“He was an advocate for Israel who fought to spread the truth about Israel.”

A wave of Palestinian knife attacks against Israelis broke out in 2015, but they have since become sporadic.

On September 3, a Palestinian wielding a knife approached an Israeli military checkpoint near the hardline Kiryat Arba settlement in the Hebron area and was shot dead by soldiers, according to the army.

In a stabbing attack on July 26 in the West Bank settlement of Adam, one Israeli was killed and two wounded. The 17-year-old Palestinian attacker was shot dead.

There are concerns that tensions between Israelis and Palestinians will increase this month as Jews celebrate their high holidays and pay more visits to holy sites.

In previous years, increased Jewish visits to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City — what Jews call the Temple Mount — have led to such tensions.

Image may contain: sky and outdoor

Israel annexed east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognised by the international community.

While protests and clashes have continued at varying levels along the blockaded Gaza Strip border since March 30, the West Bank has remained relatively calm.

In the Gaza unrest, at least 179 Palestinians have been killed since March 30. One Israeli soldier has been killed in the Gaza border area since then.

Israel accuses Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip, of seeking to use the protests to carry out attacks or infiltrations.

It says its actions are necessary to defend the border.

Image result for Ari Fuld,, photos

Palestinians and rights groups say protesters have been shot while posing little threat.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008.



UN bemoans unsustainable Palestinian economy

September 13, 2018

Palestinian citizens are trapped in an economy of jobless growth with no prospects, especially in Gaza, which is undergoing “de-development,” the United Nations trade and development agency UNCTAD said in an annual report published on Wednesday.

It said unemployment in the Palestinian territories was the highest in the world in 2017, at 27.4 percent, while agricultural production fell by 11 percent. Half of Palestinians under 30 were unemployed. The economy grew 3.1 percent but was flat on a per capita basis.

A Palestinian protestor covers his nose with a piece of cloth on the beach near the maritime border with Israel (background), in the northern Gaza Strip, during a demonstration calling for the lift of the Israeli blockade on the coastal Palestinian enclave, on September 10, 2018. (AFP)

“Every year the situation becomes more and more unacceptable and difficult,” UNCTAD Deputy Secretary-General Isabelle Durant told a news conference in Geneva, describing the economic situation as “absolutely unsustainable.”

A customs union between Israel and the Palestinian territories has isolated the Palestinian economy from the rest of the world and left it dependent on Israel, the report said.

“The major reason for this dark situation from the economic development point of view is a set of Israeli restrictions,” Mahmoud Elkhafif, coordinator of the report, said.

“These measures include permit systems for Palestinians to work in Israel, you have road blocks in the West Bank, you have earth mounds, trenches, road check points, gates and separation barriers.”

In Gaza, where real incomes have fallen 30 percent since 1999 and production capacity has been hit by successive military operations, households got an average of two hours of electricity daily, and only about 10 percent had drinking water.

“It is de-development, it is not development,” Elkhafif said.

Hamas, an Islamist movement designated a terrorist group by Western countries and Israel, seized control of the territory in 2007 following a brief civil war with forces loyal to Mahmoud Abbas, the Western-backed Palestinian president based in the West Bank.

Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005, but, citing security concerns, maintains tight control of its land and sea borders. Egypt also restricts movement in and out of Gaza on its border.

Abbas’s Palestinian Authority has also sought to use financial measures to isolate Hamas, last year slashing the salaries of thousands of government workers in Gaza by 30 percent.

Total international support dropped significantly, from $2 billion in 2008 to $720 million in 2017.

A further blow came this month when US President Donald Trump halted funding for the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, leaving a $200 million gap.

Durant said it was too early to assess the impact of the US move, and she hoped European or other donors might at least partially make up the shortfall.


US cuts $25 million from hospitals serving Palestinians

September 9, 2018

After cutting $200 million in Palestinian aid in August, US President Donald Trump is making further cuts. It comes as the US is preparing to unveil its peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians.

An injured Palestinian lies in hospital following protests in Gaza

The US government on Saturday said it was redirecting $25 million (€21.6 million) in aid for hospitals that mainly care for Palestinian patients.

The decision came after a review of assistance to the Palestinian Authority and in the West Bank and Gaza “to ensure these funds were being spent in accordance with US national interests and were providing value to the US taxpayer.”

“As a result of that review, at the direction of the president, we will be redirecting approximately $25 million originally planned for the East Jerusalem Hospital Network,” a US State Department official said, adding that “those funds will go to high-priority projects elsewhere.”

Read more: German-Israeli relations: What you need to know

According to the World Health Organization, the US funds have previously made it possible for many Palestinians to seek specialized treatment, such as cardiac surgery, neonatal intensive care or children’s dialysis, which are unavailable in the West Bank and Gaza.

The US State Department already announced a cut of more than $200 million in bilateral aid to the Palestinians in August following a funding review.

US hostility towards Palestinians has increased since Trump’s controversial decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December — a move that caused outrage among Palestinians and Muslims worldwide.

Palestinians angered

“This is not a formula of peacebuilding, this is a complete inhuman and immoral action that adopts the Israeli right-wing narrative to target and punish Palestinian citizens to compromise their rights to independence,” said Ahmad Shami, a spokesman for Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

“Such an act of political blackmail goes against the norms of human decency and morality,” Abbas added.

A statement from the Palestinian Foreign Ministry said the latest aid cut was part of a US attempt “to liquidate the Palestinian cause” and said it would threaten the lives of thousands of Palestinians and the livelihoods of thousands of hospital employees.

Read more: What is Jerusalem’s contentious holy site Temple Mount?

“This dangerous and unjustified American escalation has crossed all red lines and is considered a direct aggression against the Palestinian people,” it said.

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee, said: “Such an act of political blackmail goes against the norms of human decency and morality.”

Trump and his Middle East advisers are due to release the administration’s peace plan for Israel and the Palestinians.

“You’ll get money, but we’re not paying you until we make a deal,” he said in Washington on Thursday. “If we don’t make a deal, we’re not paying,” he added.

law/jlw (AFP, AP, Reuters)

Gaza teen dies of wounds from Israel border clash: ministry

September 8, 2018

A Palestinian teen died of his wounds Saturday a day after he was shot by Israeli troops during a protest on the Gaza border, the enclave’s health ministry said.

Ahmad Abu Tayoor, 17, was shot late Friday on the border close to the southern city of Rafah, the ministry said.

© AFP | Palestinian protesters watch as tear gas fired by Israeli troops fall during clashes along the Israel-Gaza border east of Gaza City on September 7, 2018

The Israeli army shot dead another 17-year-old Palestinian on Friday and wounded at least 45 others as thousands of demonstrators approached Gaza’s border with Israel in multiple locations.

Palestinians set tyres ablaze and threw molotov cocktails and grenades towards nearby Israeli soldiers, the army said.

There have been regular protests along the border since March 30 as Palestinians demand the right to return to homes their families fled or were expelled from during the war surrounding the creation of Israel in 1948.

At least 175 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in Gaza since then.

Over the same period, one Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper.

Israel accuses Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas of manipulating the protests and of seeking to use them as cover to carry out attacks.

This week, it closed its only people crossing with Gaza after violent protests damaged the infrastructure.

Israel said it would reopen the passage next Thursday providing the situation is calm.

Gaza has been under an Israeli blockade for more than a decade, and its Hamas rulers have fought three wars with Israel since 2008.

Some 80 percent of the enclave’s two million residents rely on aid, according to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.


Scarred by Previous Wars, Israeli Army’s Ground Forces Struggle to Keep Up

September 1, 2018

The army vowed to address the limitations exposed in Lebanon and Gaza, but is it ready for a ground maneuver deep in enemy territory? ■ Why Nasrallah, an avid Haaretz reader, is worried

A paratrooper brigade training, last year.
A paratrooper brigade training, last year. Eliyahu Hershkowitz

On Thursday, June 12, 2014, the members of the IDF General Staff gathered for an evening of “team-building” in the Kirya headquarters in Tel Aviv. The General Staff forum, headed by then-Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, heard to a lecture by Prof. Yoram Yovell titled “Between Body and Soul.”

Later that night, after the generals had all gone home, the IDF received the first report, still vague, about an incident in the West Bank. The picture became clear only the next morning. Three youths, yeshiva students in Gush Etzion, were hitchhiking and were picked up by a car driven by Palestinians masquerading as Israelis. The youths, whose bodies were found weeks later west of Hebron, were murdered by the kidnappers, members of a Hamas cell from Hebron.

>>Will Israel be forced to invade and reoccupy Gaza? | Opinion ■ Photos of 300 fighters in elite pre-state Israeli militia were found, and nobody can identify them ■ Israel’s defense chief takes flak for Gaza talks, but there’s still one area where he holds sway | Analysis

The IDF ended the summer of 2014 with scars to both its flesh and spirit, says one of the participants at the General Staff get-together that evening. “From the minute dozens of those released in the Gilad Shalit deal in the West Bank were rearrested, we were already on the slippery slope.” The worsening tensions with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, mostly concerning the tunnel the group dug near the Kerem Shalom border crossing, led to the blow-up – Operation Protective Edge – which began in the second week of July and ended this week, four years ago.

Protective Edge exposed the limitations of the army’s capabilities on the ground. This was the last link, for now, in the not very illustrious chain that began with the Second Lebanon War in 2006, if not earlier. After the failure and disappointment in Lebanon, the IDF announced widespread steps to fix the problems. The units returned to training much more seriously and reservists received new equipment.

But the change wasn’t deep enough after the war in Lebanon: The ground forces remained way down at the bottom of the list of the IDF’s priorities, while the political leadership remained doubtful about its ability to conduct maneuvers on the ground deep inside enemy lines during a war.

This was quite clear during the three operations the IDF has conducted since then in the Gaza Strip. During Operation Cast Lead at the turn of 2009, only a symbolic ground action was carried out, whose main goal was to prove to the enemy (and the Israeli public) that the army had rehabilitated itself from the trauma of the Second Lebanon War. In the next operation, Pillar of Defense in 2012, large numbers of reserve forces were called up but Israel tried to achieve a cease-fire after only a week of aerial attacks. And in Protective Edge, the IDF’s mission was limited to dealing with the attack tunnels, at a distance of no more than 1.5 kilometers inside the Gaza Strip.

Four years since the end of the last military operation, the doubts remain. What is the real state of the ground forces units? Is there a chance to close the gap between their effectiveness and that of the Air Force, intelligence branch and the technological units? And do the repeated public statements made by the army’s top brass about the necessity of ground maneuvers deep inside enemy territory during wartime have any value?

This debate has become much more important and loaded recently, given the coincidental timing of a number of unrelated events: IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot’s term is ending in a few months and the race is on to choose his successor; the harsh criticism leveled by the outgoing IDF ombudsman on the ground forces’ lack of readiness for war; and the ambitious and resource-filled plan “IDF 2030,” whose main principles were presented this month by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Are Netanyahu and Eisenkot on same wavelength?

When Eisenkot entered the chief of staff’s office back in February 2015, he found the ground forces in rather bad shape. As someone who had been the deputy chief of staff under Gantz during Protective Edge, it seems he was not surprised. The criticism that only a few individuals in the General Staff dared to express at the end of the fighting in Gaza became almost a consensus a few months later:

Reuven Rivlin, Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman and Lieutenant-General Gadi Eizenkot attend a graduation ceremony of new Israeli army officers at a base near Mitzpe Ramon, Israel, June 20, 2018.
Reuven Rivlin, Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman and Lieutenant-General Gadi Eizenkot attend a graduation ceremony of new Israeli army officers at a base near Mitzpe Ramon, Israel, June 20, 2018. Amir Cohen/Reuters

During Protective Edge, the IDF failed in suppressing the rocket and mortar fire from the Gaza Strip; the Air Force did not have enough precise intelligence about Hamas targets; the level of preparedness of the various units to carry out their missions, and first and foremost dealing with the tunnels, whose importance increased during the fighting, was too low; and the use of the forces on the ground during the fighting suffered from a lack of creativity.

In a document distributed throughout the military a month after his appointment, in preparation for the composing of the multi-year Gideon plan for the IDF, the new chief of staff wrote: “A deep change is needed in the IDF to carry out its missions.” Eisenkot asserted that the problems in the IDF did not end with questions about the leadership and values, but reflected a much deeper professional crisis within the ground forces. He found an army that had gotten fat in the all the wrong places in the decade after the Second Lebanon War. A large army that was not focused on its principle missions and had not undergone the necessary structural changes.

Gideon included a number of unprecedented changes. Eisenkot’s multi-year plan was not just a long shopping list of inflated requirements. It identified central discrepancies and tried to deal with them, with Eisenkot personally overseeing from up close the pace of implementation of his instructions.

The plan’s focus for the ground forces was on missions needed for a decisive victory on the ground. The updated version of the document on the IDF’s strategy, which was released in April this year, stated: “The operation of the forces will combine the physical and softer capabilities in all dimensions of the war, including: Rapid and lethal maneuvering to the objectives viewed by the enemy as valuable, multi-dimensional fire … and actions in the dimension of information, such as cyber [warfare] and awareness.”

The document differentiates between two approaches to operating the forces: The decisive victory approach and the approach of prevention and influence. As for decisive victory, the document states that during fighting according to this approach: “The military force will be used for attack whose goal is to move the war into the enemy’s territory as quickly as possible.” The IDF will prepare for attack in one or more regions, based on an “immediate and simultaneous integrated strike” that will include a “maneuvering endeavor with crushing capability – survivable, quick, lethal and flexible” alongside “wide-scale precise fire based on high-quality intelligence.”

Eisenkot’s unusual decision to release the document to the public, the first of its kind ever published, reflected an attempt to hold a public dialogue with the government and security cabinet. According to MK Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid), the chairman of the Knesset Subcommittee on Security Preparedness and Maintenance, Eisenkot is “basically telling them: In 2006 and in 2014, the political and military leadership were completely paralyzed as a result of the fears of the expected casualties in a ground maneuver. The result was that the operation lasted until in the end it was decided on a limited maneuver, which was conducted in an incorrect manner and achieved nothing. Eisenkot’s public message is: I am preparing the ground forces for a quick and lethal maneuver and you will have to decide whether to use it within a short time after war breaks out.”

But the report produced by Shelah’s subcommittee, which was released in September 2017, hinted at disparities between Eisenkot’s vision and its full implementation. The report states that Eisenkot has laid down the correct directions but equipping and building the forces is proceeding at too slow a pace. It seems the subcommittee was referring in part to the scope of the procurement plans for active defense, such as the Trophy armored protection system for tanks and armored personnel carriers, and the large gap between the regular army’s capabilities and that of some of the reserve brigades.

This criticism is all the more acute in light of the debate over future defense budgets. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman presented a request last year for a budgetary supplement of about 13 billion shekels ($3.6 billion), based on changes in the challenges facing the IDF – including the Iranian presence in Syria and the improved accuracy of the missiles in Hezbollah’s hands – along with the Defense Ministry’s new interpretations of previous agreements reached with the Finance Ministry.

Netanyahu, in a meeting of the security cabinet held two weeks ago, went even further. The strategic threats require setting the defense budget as a fixed percentage of the GDP, he said. Considering the optimistic economic growth rates he forecasts, about 3 percent a year, Netanyahu wants to add tens of billions of shekels to the defense budget over the next decade. He listed a number of main areas where he thinks money is needed, including precision weaponry, missile and rocket interception systems, both defensive and offensive cyber-warfare tools, completing the construction of the country’s border fences and improving protection for the home front. None of the areas presented by Netanyahu as candidates for increased spending as part of the strategic plan directly concern the ground forces, and large sums were included for implementing these capabilities in the multi-year Gideon plan.

Shelah says that Netanyahu “views the IDF as a boxer in a 15-round fight: Heavy, strong and well protected. This does not correspond with the principle of shortening the period of the fighting, which appears in the IDF’s strategy document. [Netanyahu] did not present a security doctrine, only a shopping list that does not come together in real capabilities. The large amount of money that will be spent on it will prevent the closing of the gaps remaining in the ground forces’ capabilities, and will turn what has already been invested into a white elephant. This is how we may well find ourselves without the ability for decisive victory, not in one way and not in any other way.”

The Gideon plan was designed for a specific direction and even though it was never fully implemented, it aspired to rehabilitate the ground forces. In his recent statements, it seems Netanyahu has made a U-turn: A battle of fire from far away, a great deal more than just maneuvering on the ground. Netanyahu’s ideas are not synchronized with what the General Staff has presented, not in the goals of the war and not in the view of how the military is used: stand-off attacks from a distance as opposed to contact up close.

“Lacking a decision, our view on the question of what we want to achieve in the war and how to do so, we may well invest many billions without them becoming a critical mass that will create a concrete achievement. Netanyahu is talking about tens of billions [of shekels] but every shekel we spend now without deciding first what we want, will be wasted,” warns Shelah.

Israeli soldiers prepare for combat in the Gaza Strip at an army deployment along the border between Israel and the Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory on July 29, 2014.
Israeli soldiers prepare for combat in the Gaza Strip at an army deployment along the border between Israel and the Hamas-controlled Palestinian territory on July 29, 2014.Jack Guez/AFP Photo

Palestinians clash with Israeli police in West Bank protest

August 31, 2018

Israeli security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets on Friday at rock-throwing Palestinians protesting against land seizures for Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, among the disputes stalling peace efforts.

Around a dozen of the hundreds of Palestinians gathered in the village of Ras Karkar were injured, witnesses said. An Israeli police spokesman had no immediate comment.

An Israeli soldier throws a sound grenade during a scuffle with Palestinian demonstrators at a protest against Israeli settlement construction, in the village of Ras Karkar, near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, August 31, 2018. (Reuters)

An Israeli court broke new judicial ground on Tuesday by giving legal recognition to a Jewish settlement built without Israeli government authorization on privately owned Palestinian land.

The international community considers all of the settlements built on land that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war to be illegal.

Some 500,000 Israelis live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas that are also home to more than 2.6 million Palestinians. Palestinians say rapid settlement expansion in recent years could deny them a viable and contiguous state.

The other Palestinian territory, Gaza, was largely quiet on Friday despite expected border demonstrations, a weekly event in the Hamas-controlled enclave since March 30.

Israel has killed most than 170 Palestinians during the Gaza protests, in what it called an effort to thwart breaches of the fortified frontier. Israel withdrew settlers and soldiers from Gaza in 2005.

The last round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014.

Germany to boost funds for UN Palestinian agency, as the U.S. cuts back

August 31, 2018

Germany will step up its contributions to the UN Palestinian agency following US cuts earlier this year. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said the loss of the UN agency “could unleash an uncontrollable chain reaction.”

A Palestinian refugee sits outside a UNRWA building in Bethlehem, West Bank. (picture-alliance/dpa/D. Hill)

The German government on Friday said it will significantly increase its funding for the UN agency that supports Palestinian refugees after the United States cut its contributions, according to letters seen by news agencies.

“We are currently preparing to provide an additional amount of significant funds,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in a letter to European Union foreign ministers.

So far this year, Germany has provided the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNWRA) with €81 million ($94.5 million).

Maas did not reveal how much more Germany would give, but did say it would not be enough to make up the agency’s current shortfall of $217 million.

US cuts hurt UNWRA

Under President Donald Trump, the US has provided the agency with $60 million (€51.5 million) this year, compared to $365 million for humanitarian aid and projects in 2017.

“It is therefore all the more important that we, as the European Union, jointly undertake further efforts,” Maas said, adding that UNRWA plays an important role in the stability of the region.

“The loss of this organisation could unleash an uncontrollable chain reaction,” he said.

Read more: Gaza feels bite of US cuts to Palestinian aid

The US was the UNRWA’s biggest donor and the agency has struggled with the lack of funds. The US said it slashed the funding because the agency needed to make unspecified reforms, and called on the Palestinians to renew peace talks with Israel.

Jordan said on Thursday it would lead a campaign to raise funds to help the UN agency survive, including an appeal to the Arab League.

law/rt (dpa, Reuters)


U.S. to End Funding to U.N. Agency That Helps Palestinian Refugees

August 31, 2018


The United States government has decided to stop all funding it gives to a United Nations agency that provides assistance to millions of Palestinian refugees, ending a decades-long policy of supporting it, according to a former senior United States aid official.

The move was pushed hardest by Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser on the Middle East, as part of a plan to compel Palestinian politicians to drop demands for many of those refugees to return to what they call their homeland, said the former official, R. David Harden, who worked at the United States Agency for International Development until April.

Employees of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and their families protest against job cuts announced by the agency outside its offices in Gaza City on July 31, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

Each year, the State Department transfers money by the end of September to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, known as Unrwa, which provides aid to Palestinian refugees across the Middle East. Earlier this year, the State Department released $60 million of $350 million allocated for the agency, but Mr. Kushner and Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, have decided not to give the remaining $290 million, said Mr. Harden, who was briefed on the plans and oversaw projects in the Palestinian territories for more than a decade.

The decision was made this month at a meeting between the officials, Mr. Harden said. Mr. Pompeo argued against cutting the funding so drastically, but Mr. Kushner took a strong stance and won out, he added.

By Edward Wong
The New York Times

Residents of the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, lined up to receive food supplies, in Damascus, Syria, in 2014. Credit UNRWA, via Associated Press

“What we’re seeing right now is a capricious move that has a very high risk of unsettling the region,” Mr. Harden said, noting that the relief agency supports about five million refugees across the Middle East.

Mr. Kushner has been working on a proposal for a peace process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and is seeking a way to get Palestinian leaders to drop demands for the right of most or all of the five million refugees to return to land now under Israel’s control.

The vast majority of the five million are descendants of the original displaced Palestinians, and the United Nations aid agency officially considers all of them refugees, consistent with international law and United Nations refugee protocols, said Peter Mulrean, director of the Unrwa Representative Office at the United Nations.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a news conference following the extraord

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a news conference following the extraordinary meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul, Turkey. (photo credit: REUTERS/OSMAN ORSAL)

Mr. Kushner and other American officials are seeking to change that designation by the United Nations agency, in hopes it will alter the debate over who has the right of return. Those American officials also believe that defunding the aid agency will give them leverage to force Palestinian leaders to drop or reduce the demand for right-of-return, which is one of the greatest points of contention between Israeli and Palestinian officials, Mr. Harden said.

Asked about the decision on Thursday night, a State Department official declined to comment.

The United States is the biggest donor to the United Nations agency, providing about 25 percent of the annual funding. The rest comes from European and Middle Eastern nations, among others.

The Trump administration announced last week that it was diverting $200 million set aside for Palestinian aid in the West Bank and Gaza. That money had been appropriated by Congress to the Agency for International Development and is part of a package of assistance given annually to help the Palestinians. About $35 million of assistance in this channel is still likely to go forward, Mr. Harden said.

Elizabeth Campbell, a spokeswoman for the United Nations relief agency, said that it had not yet been informed by the Trump administration that the government intended to end all financial support.

“We remain grateful for the funding that the United States has provided thus far,” she said.

Ms. Campbell noted that the agency provided food assistance to half the population in Gaza, among others, and ensured that all children there had access to education.

“Unrwa is a public good, providing critical services, such as vaccinations and prenatal care, that are otherwise unavailable to refugees,” she said.

At a security conference in Washington on Tuesday, Nikki R. Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, was asked about reports that the administration intended to end funding for the relief agency. The decision was first reported by Foreign Policy on Tuesday.

“First of all, you’re looking at the fact that there’s an endless number of refugees that continue to get assistance,” said Ms. Haley, who has been a critic of the agency. “But more importantly, the Palestinians continue to bash America.”

Ms. Haley said she had made a point of showing Mr. Trump the list of countries to which the United States provides donations, and then mentioning that not all of those countries voted in support of the United States at the United Nations. She said the lack of support from Palestinian leaders recently had been particularly galling.

Last week, John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, visited Israel and was equally critical of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, calling it “a failed mechanism.”

“I think it is long overdue that we have taken steps to reduce funding,” Mr. Bolton said, according to Reuters.

Mr. Harden said the government of Israel had traditionally opposed moves to cut United States funding to the agency, and Israeli leaders could still call American officials to try to persuade them to change their minds.

Gardiner Harris contributed reporting from Washington, and Rick Gladstone from New York.

A child works at a shop across from a poster of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat

U.S. envoy Kushner calls UNRWA corrupt, inefficient, unhelpful for peace

A Palestinian woman takes part in a protest against possible reductions of the services and aid offered by United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), in front of UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City August 16, 2015. (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM)