Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

Netanyahu says Israeli agents ‘periodically visit’ Iran to monitor nuke program

December 17, 2018

PM tells diplomats: Intelligence operatives working to thwart Tehran’s nuclear ambitions ‘all over the world,’ and visit Islamic republic to ‘catch up’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office, in Jerusalem, on December 16, 2018. (ABIR SULTAN / POOL / AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office, in Jerusalem, on December 16, 2018. (ABIR SULTAN / POOL / AFP)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told a group of diplomats on Sunday that Israeli agents continue to operate inside Iran as part of Israel’s efforts to thwart the nuclear ambitions of the Islamic republic.

“We are fighting all over the world in regards to Iran’s nuclear program,” he said at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs headquarters in Jerusalem.

“We also visit there periodically… to ‘catch up,’” Netanyahu added without giving specific details.

Netanyahu was a vocal opponent of the US-led nuclear deal between Iran and Western powers in 2015 that lifted painful economic sanctions against Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

The Israeli leader has repeatedly argued that the Obama-era deal will not prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, after its restrictions expire in the next decade or so. US President Donald Trump, with whom Netanyahu is closely allied, withdrew from the accord in May and reimposed sanctions.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a speech on files obtained by Israel, which he says prove Iran lied about its nuclear program, at the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, on April 30, 2018. (AFP Photo/Jack Guez)

Israel has admitted to covert operations inside Iran to thwart its nuclear program and undermine the agreement.

In April, Israel announced it had smuggled out of Iran more than 100,000 documents from a Tehran archive detailing the country’s nuclear program.

Netanyahu said at the time that the cache proved the Iranian leaders covered up their nuclear weapons program before signing the nuclear agreement. Iran has not acknowledged the alleged seizure.

In September, Netanyahu in his address at the UN General Assembly revealed what he said was a “secret atomic warehouse” outside Tehran, which contained nuclear materials that Iran was not allowed to posses without declaring them to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Both the archive and warehouse, he said in his UN speech, were proof that Iran had not given up its nuclear program.

He accused the IAEA of failing to investigate the cache of documents smuggled out of Iran by Israeli agents, and said he revealed the existence of the Tehran warehouse in an effort to goad the UN’s nuclear watchdog into taking action.

Photographs from the Iranian nuclear weapons archive, showcased by Israeli officials, of a metal chamber that Israeli officials said was housed at the Parchin military site and was built to conduct experiments as part of the Iranians’ rogue nuclear weapons program (Israeli government)

Last month, the Axios news site reported that the Trump administration promised Netanyahu that it would lean on the IAEA to examine the Israeli findings.

US Special Envoy Brian Hook told Israeli officials during a visit in November that the UN agency was “dragging its feet” in its investigation, and vowed that US officials would “work aggressively to make sure the IAEA seriously addresses all information provided by Israel, the US, and other countries regarding the Iranian nuclear program.”

Arab Ties

Netanyahu also addressed Israel’s burgeoning ties with the Arab world that have been largely driven by common fears over Iran.

“I won’t suspend efforts to reach peace with the Arab world until the Palestinians make peace with us. I won’t do it,” he says, describing a process of “normalization” with the region.

“We are going to the [Arab world] and are not subject to the whims of the Palestinians,” he says, repeating hopes that ties with the Arab world will open up new opportunities to reach a deal with the Palestinians.

The Arabs had in the past conditioned any normalization on Israel first reaching a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu visited Oman last month and there has been increasing speculation of a breakthrough with Saudi Arabia, amid ongoing behind the scenes cooperation.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) talks with Sultan Qaboos bin Said in Oman on October 26, 2018 (Courtesy)

He also said Israeli bilateral trade with Turkey is on the rise, despite diplomatic tensions between the two former allies.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/netanyahu-says-israeli-agents-periodically-visit-iran-to-monitor-nuke-program/

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Hamas chief praises West Bank ‘resistance’ after deadly attacks on Israelis

December 16, 2018

Hamas leader Ismail Haniya praised “resistance” in the occupied West Bank in a speech to tens of thousands on Sunday after recent deadly attacks against Israelis.

Haniya made the comments at a rally in Gaza City for the 31st anniversary of the Palestinian Islamist movement’s founding.

“We place our hopes in the West Bank, which is the main area where events are occurring and the most appropriate area to resolve the conflict with our Zionist enemy,” he told the crowd, which waived green Hamas flags.

Gaza Hamas leader Ismail Haniya waves upon his arrival at a rally in Gaza City on December 16, 2018 to mark the 31st anniversary of the founding of the Islamist Palestinian movement

Gaza Hamas leader Ismail Haniya waves upon his arrival at a rally in Gaza City on December 16, 2018 to mark the 31st anniversary of the founding of the Islamist Palestinian movement.  AFP

“The West Bank has shaken and stood up with glory, strength and skill, as if it wanted to say to our people on the occasion of this glorious anniversary that it was with the resistance, in total harmony.”

Members of Hamas’s armed wing, the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, participated in the rally in camouflage and carrying rifles, while presenting a range of weapons.

Hamas runs the Gaza Strip but also has a presence in the West Bank, where its rivals from Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah are based.

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

The group has claimed two recent deadly shootings in the West Bank, which has seen an upsurge in violence over the past week.

They included a December 9 attack near a settlement that led to the death of a baby prematurely delivered after his mother was shot and wounded. A total of seven people were wounded in the attack.

An October 7 shooting in the West Bank that killed two Israelis was also claimed by Hamas.

In another attack on Thursday, two soldiers were shot dead at a central West Bank bus station near a settlement.

The two Palestinians behind the attacks claimed by Hamas were shot dead by Israeli forces during arrest raids last week, Israeli officials said.

Israel’s security forces have also carried out raids in Ramallah and say they have also arrested at least 37 Hamas operatives in connection with recent violence.

Earlier Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he had issued a warning to Hamas after the recent attacks.

He referred to a controversial Gaza ceasefire in November that ended the worst escalation between Israel and Hamas since a 2014 war.

“I conveyed a clear message to Hamas — we won’t accept a situation of a truce in Gaza and terror in Judea and Samaria,” Netanyahu said, using the biblical name for the West Bank, as is Israel’s policy.

“We will exact a high price over them,” he said of the attacks.

As part of efforts to restore calm in Gaza, Israel has allowed Qatar to bring fuel and tens of millions of dollars to the besieged territory for salaries.

AFP

Netanyahu warns Hamas after deadly West Bank attacks

December 16, 2018

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday he had issued a warning to Hamas after recent deadly attacks in the occupied West Bank, including two shootings claimed by the Islamist movement.

Netanyahu referred to a controversial Gaza ceasefire in November that ended the worst escalation between Israel and Hamas since a 2014 war.

“I conveyed a clear message to Hamas — we won’t accept a situation of a truce in Gaza and terror in Judea and Samaria,” Netanyahu told a cabinet meeting, using the biblical name for the West Bank, as is Israel’s official policy.

“We will exact a high price over them,” he said of the attacks.

Hamas runs the Gaza Strip but also has a presence in the West Bank.

Mourners attend the funeral of Israeli soldier Yosef Cohen who was killed in a gun attack in the West Bank

Mourners attend the funeral of Israeli soldier Yosef Cohen who was killed in a gun attack in the West Bank Mourners attend the funeral of Israeli soldier Yosef Cohen who was killed in a gun attack in the West Bank AFP

Netanyahu’s comments came after two soldiers were shot dead at a central West Bank bus station near a settlement on Thursday.

On the same day, a baby prematurely delivered after his mother was shot and wounded in a separate attack nearby on December 9 also died.

Hamas claimed responsibility for the December 9 shooting and another in the West Bank on October 7 that killed two Israelis.

The two Palestinians behind those attacks were shot dead by Israeli forces during arrest raids last week, Israeli officials said.

Israel’s security forces say they have also arrested at least 37 Hamas operatives in connection with recent violence.

The attacks came after a deal to restore relative calm to the Gaza Strip that included Israel enabling Qatar to bring fuel and tens of millions of dollars to the besieged territory for salaries.

Hardline Israeli politicians opposed the Gaza agreement and have also criticised Netanyahu over the recent West Bank violence.

On Sunday, hundreds of settlers protested outside Netanyahu’s office in Jerusalem to call on the government to increase security measures as well as settlement construction.

Those moves would make Palestinian militants understand that “there’s no point to terror and hope in it,” said Hananel Dorani, chairman of settler group the Yesha council.

Participating in the protest were a number of ministers, including Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked of the far-right Jewish Home.

A ministerial committee headed by Shaked later gave initial approval to a bill that would help legalise settlement homes built on state land without government approval.

“The terrorists will know that we’re here to stay,” she said following the vote. “We won’t be deterred by attacks.”

On Thursday, Shaked said that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit had also approved of a way to help legalise some 2,000 West Bank homes considered illegal by Israel as they are located on privately owned Palestinian land.

Right-wing Israelis often call for increased settlement construction and approvals following Palestinian attacks.

All Israeli settlements are viewed as illegal under international law, but Israel differentiates between those it has approved and those it has not.

Israel occupied the West Bank in the 1967 Six-Day War.

Settlements there are seen as major stumbling blocks to a peace deal since they are built on land the Palestinians want for their future state.

Israel says 4th ‘attack tunnel’ found from Lebanon

December 16, 2018

Israel’s army said Sunday it has uncovered another Hezbollah “attack tunnel” leading from Lebanon into its territory, the fourth since it started a search-and-destroy operation this month.

Israel says the Iranian-backed Shiite militant group has dug the infiltration tunnels for use in a future conflict, and the military has been working to eliminate them.

The latest tunnel crossing into northern Israel was exposed at the weekend, the army said in a statement.

As with the other tunnels, soldiers placed explosives in it to keep out militants from the Lebanese side, it said.

The military refused to give the exact location, stressing the tunnel did not “pose an imminent threat”.

A picture taken on December 5, 2018 from a position near the southern Lebanese village of Kfar Kila shows the Israeli military, excavators, trailers and other vehicles operating on the other side of the border in search of Hezbollah tunnels

A picture taken on December 5, 2018 from a position near the southern Lebanese village of Kfar Kila shows the Israeli military, excavators, trailers and other vehicles operating on the other side of the border in search of Hezbollah tunnels A picture taken on December 5, 2018 from a position near the southern Lebanese village of Kfar Kila shows the Israeli military, excavators, trailers and other vehicles operating on the other side of the border in search of Hezbollah tunnels AFP

On December 4, the army announced an operation dubbed “Northern Shield” to destroy tunnels it said have been dug under the border by Hezbollah.

Israel fought a devastating war against Hezbollah in 2006 that was halted by a UN-brokered truce.

Hezbollah is the only group in Lebanon not to have disarmed after the country’s 1975-1990 civil war.

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“The Lebanese government is held accountable for the attack tunnels dug from Lebanese territory,” the Sunday statement said.

“This is another blatant breach of UN Resolution 1701 and of Israeli sovereignty,” it added, referring to the resolution ending the 2006 war.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the UN peacekeeping force in south Lebanon, UNIFIL, and international community should do more to curb Hezbollah’s “acts of aggression against Israel”.

UNIFIL has verified the existence of two of the tunnels Israel has exposed so far.

AFP

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Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during a session of the Doha Forum in the Qatari capital on December 15, 2018. (AFP)

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during a session of the Doha Forum in the Qatari capital on December 15, 2018. (AFP)
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https://www.timesofisrael.com/iranian-fm-we-have-perfected-the-art-of-evading-sanctions/

Bahrain defends Australia’s recognition of West Jerusalem as Israeli capital

December 16, 2018

After Arab League lashes out at Canberra, Manama’s FM says its comments are ‘irresponsible’ and asserts move does not hurt Palestinians

 

Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheik Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa speaking with journalists at a conference focused on combating international terror financing in Manama, Bahrain, on November 9, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Hasan Jamali)

Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheik Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa speaking with journalists at a conference focused on combating international terror financing in Manama, Bahrain, on November 9, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Hasan Jamali)

As Palestinians and the Arab League on Saturday condemned Australia’s recognition of West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, the move was somewhat surprisingly defended by one Arab nation — Bahrain.

The Arab League in a statement said it “strongly condemns” Australia’s move which it called “irresponsible and biased” and “contrary to international law.” It warned that the decision would only “encourage the occupation to continue its aggression, arrogance, settlement and defiance of international resolutions” and added that the move could have serious ramifications for Arab-Australian relations.

But Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa took issue with the statement, saying in a tweet: “These are irresponsible statements. Australia’s position does not hamper the legitimate demands of the Palestinians and first and foremost East Jerusalem as the Palestinian capital. It also does not contradict the Arab Peace Initiative.”

Israel and Bahrain do not have diplomatic relations, but are said to have solid clandestine ties. Both countries see in Iran a strategic threat.

Earlier this month Al Khalifa tweeted support for Israel’s operation to expose and destroy Hezbollah’s cross-border tunnels and in May said the Jewish state had the right to defend itself.

Australia on Saturday officially recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said, but a contentious embassy shift from Tel Aviv will not occur until a peace settlement is achieved.

Newly elected leader of the Liberal Party, Scott Morrison addresses media at a press
conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Aug. 24, 2018 (Lukas Coch/AAP Image via AP)

“The Australian government has decided that Australia now recognizes West Jerusalem, as the seat of the Knesset and many of the institutions of government, is the capital of Israel,” he said.

He said the decision respects both a commitment to a two-state solution and longstanding respect for relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

Morrison also committed to recognizing the aspirations for a future state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital when the city’s status is determined in a peace deal.

“All of Jerusalem remains a final status issue for negotiations, while East Jerusalem, under international law, is an integral part of the occupied Palestinian territory,” he said.

While the embassy move is delayed, Morrison said his government will establish a defense and trade office in Jerusalem and will also start looking for an appropriate site for the embassy.

Top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat speaks during at a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, July 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Nasser Shiyoukhi)

Top Palestinian official Saeb Erekat issued a withering response, calling on Arab nations to sever their ties with Canberra and saying the decision was “one wherein petty domestic politics steer irresponsible policies that contradict world peace and security.”

Erekat, who serves as a top aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and is head of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, also dismissed Australian claims that the move would help advance a two-state solution, saying Canberra refuses to recognize Palestine as a state, votes against the Palestinian right to self-determination, and continues to trade with Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Jordan also condemned Canberra, saying its move was “biased towards Israel” and only served to “perpetuate the occupation.”

Morrison’s move was seen by many Australians as a political stunt. Recognizing Jerusalem is expected to help the embattled Australian PM — who faces the prospect of an election drubbing next year — with Jewish and conservative Christian voters and win him friends in the White House.

Australia’s opposition Labor party slammed Morrison for putting “self-interest ahead of the national interest.”

“Recognizing West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, while continuing to locate Australia’s embassy in Tel Aviv, is nothing more than a face-saving exercise,” shadow minister for foreign affairs Penny Wong said in a statement.

“This is a decision which is all risk and no gain,” she said, adding it puts Australia “out of step” with the international community.

Both Israel and the Palestinians claim Jerusalem as their capital. Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it in a move never recognized by the international community. It sees the entire city as its capital.

For decades the international community maintained that the city’s status should be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians. Critics say declaring Jerusalem the capital of either inflames tensions and prejudges the outcome of final status peace talks.

Agencies contributed to this report

https://www.timesofisrael.com/bahrain-defends-australias-recognition-of-west-jerusalem-as-israeli-capital/

Israeli military demolishes home of Palestinian charged with killing soldier

December 15, 2018

Military says clashes broke out during operation to destroy family home of Islam Yousef Abu Hamid, who allegedly killed Ronen Lubarsky; PA said to offer to pay for reconstruction

IDF demolishes the home of a Palestinian accused of killing an Israeli soldier, Ramallah, December 15, 2018 (IDF Spokesperson's Unit)

IDF demolishes the home of a Palestinian accused of killing an Israeli soldier, Ramallah, December 15, 2018 (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

The IDF announced Saturday it had demolished the family home of a Palestinian man charged with killing Israeli soldier Staff Sgt. Ronen Lubarsky earlier this year.

The IDF detonated explosives in the four-story building inhabited by the family of Islam Yousef Abu Hamid in the al-Am’ari refugee camp close to Ramallah.

In a statement, the IDF said clashes broke out when Israeli forces entered the camp to carry out the order, with dozens of Palestinians throwing rocks at the troops and troops responding with crowd dispersal methods. No injuries were reported.

Mahmoud Al-Aloul, deputy chairman of the Fatah party, expressed support for Hamid’s family and said the Palestinian Authority would pay for the home to be rebuilt, the Walla news site reported.

The camp is densely populated, and the military reportedly had to cordon off a large area for the demolition to take place.

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Hamid killed Staff Sgt. Ronen Lubarsky, a member of the elite Duvdevan unit, by dropping a marble slab on the top of his head from a neighboring home during an IDF raid in May at the al-Am’ari refugee camp in Ramallah, according to the charge sheet.

Earlier this month the High Court of Justice upheld the IDF’s decision to demolish the family’s home.

Smoke rises from a house belonging to a Palestinian accused of killing an Israeli soldier, Ramallah, December 15, 2018 (Photo by ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)

Rejecting a petition from the family against a demolition order issued in September, the court ruled the entire home may be destroyed and not just the 2nd and 4th floors of the building where the assailant lived.

Ronen Lubarsky, an IDF soldier from the Duvdevan unit who died on May 26, 2018 after being critically injured by a slab thrown on his head two days earlier (Courtesy)

The Hamid family asked the court to nullify the IDF’s demolition order because their son had not yet been convicted of killing Lubarsky, while arguing that demolishing the entire building would cause disproportionate harm to the other occupants who were not involved in the attack.

The family also argued that the IDF only moved to demolish the entire building at the urging of the Lubarsky family.

However, Justice Yael Wilner rejected the Palestinian family’s petition, saying that Israeli military courts are not legally required to wait for a conviction before issuing demolition orders.

In the unanimous decision, Wilner acknowledged that razing the entire building would unfairly harm some residents, but said Israel’s security considerations and the need to establish deterrence against future attacks “did not justify reducing the scope of the demolition order.”

Security forces map for demolition the home of Palestinian who killed an IDF soldier, seen here in the al-Am’ari refugee camp in the West Bank, October 2, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Lubarsky’s father praised the court for rejecting the Hamid family’s petition, and called for his son’s killer to be sentenced to death.

“The decision is a victory for sanity,” he told the Kan public broadcaster on Sunday following the ruling. “We expect only more thing — imposing the death penalty on the terrorist who murdered Ronen.”

In September, Hamid’s family was informed that the IDF intended to destroy all four stories of the building, and not just two floors as had previously been stated.

The IDF noted that the home was erected on a plot where a building was previously demolished in the 1990s, following an attack by Hamid’s brother. At the time, the family was ordered not to rebuild the structure.

A military court filed an indictment in May against Hamid, 32, charging him with murder.

According to court papers, on the night of the clash, Hamid woke up to the sounds of dogs barking and soldiers shouting as they arrested two of his neighbors in an adjacent house.

Hamid climbed to the roof of a neighboring home where he chose the heavier of two marble slabs placed there. He lifted the 40-pound slab onto the railing of the roof and hurled it down onto Lubarsky, who was standing below.

The suspect then immediately climbed back onto the roof of his home and crawled inside as soldiers tended to their injured comrade.

Israeli troops on June 6, 2018, arrest a Palestinian man suspected of killing an IDF soldier by dropping a stone slab on his head in the al-Am’ari refugee camp in Ramallah the month before. (Israel Defense Forces)

Lubarsky, from the central city of Rehovot, was critically injured and died of his wounds two days later.

Hamid was also charged with obstruction of justice for efforts to tamper with the crime scene hours after the incident.

According to the indictment, Hamid went back to the adjacent rooftop and used cleaning materials to wipe his fingerprints off of the second marble slab that he had grasped earlier, but decided against using.

Vladimir Lubarsky (R) and Arik Lubarsky speak to reporters outside the Ofer military court in the West Bank on August 15, 2018. (Choosing Life Forum)

The IDF said that the soldiers had been on a mission to arrest members of a terror cell who had been carrying out shooting attacks. The raid was based on intelligence information obtained in coordination with the Shin Bet security agency.

A few days after Lubarsky was killed, the military carried out a raid in al-Am’ari, in an apparent effort to locate the soldier’s killer. Clashes broke out between residents and the Israeli troops, with 13 Palestinians lightly or moderately injured, the Palestinian Health Ministry said at the time. Hamid was arrested in the raid.

According to the Shin Bet, Hamid had been incarcerated in Israeli prison from 2004 to 2009 for terrorist activities committed on behalf of the Hamas terrorist group.

In a statement, the security service also said Hamid’s brothers were also members of Hamas.

Israel says the practice of demolishing terrorists’ homes is an effective means of discouraging future attacks, though it has been criticized by human rights groups as a form of collective punishment and by some analysts as an ineffective deterrent measure.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/idf-said-to-have-demolished-home-of-palestinian-charged-with-killing-soldier/

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Former Hamas chief calls for guerrilla warfare to ‘liberate West Bank’ and ‘all Palestine’

December 15, 2018

Khaled Mashaal says ‘resistance’ is ‘pinnacle of life’ and defines Palestinians: ‘I resist, therefore I am’

Khaled Mashaal speaks in Doha, Qatar, August 28, 2014. (AP/Osama Faisal)

Khaled Mashaal speaks in Doha, Qatar, August 28, 2014. (AP/Osama Faisal)

The former leader of the Hamas terror group has called on West Bank Palestinians to prepare for “guerrilla warfare” in the West Bank and ongoing “resistance” to force Israel to retreat from the territory.

Khaled Mashaal said this would be a step on the way to its retreat from “all of Palestine.”

Speaking on the Al-Jazeera TV network on December 2, Mashaal, in a play on René Descartes’ famous philosophical proposition, said: “The Palestinians say ‘I resist, therefore I am.’”

In comments translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute, Mashaal said that according to the Quran, “Jihad, resistance, and self-defense [are] the essence of life.

“The abandonment of Jihad leads to humiliation and death. Hence, resistance is the pinnacle of life. A person who lives under occupation, and who does not resist, is in fact dead.”

Mashaal, who headed Hamas’s political bureau between 1996 and 2017, claimed there was no alternative way to “liberate” the Palestinian nation.

“When did Israel withdraw from southern Lebanon? It wasn’t a result of negotiations — not in Madrid and not in Washington. It retreated as a result of resistance. When did it retreat from Gaza? After the (Second) Intifada in 2000 and the heroic resistance. Today we are being called and preparing to force Israel to retreat from Jerusalem and from the West Bank. Allah willing, this is on the way to its retreat from all of Palestine,” he said.

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Former Hamas Leader Khaled Mashal Calls for West Bank “Guerrilla Warfare,” States: “I Resist, Therefore I Am”

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He called on the West Bank’s Fatah to join Hamas in popular resistance against Israel, saying it should take an examplefrom the people of the Gaza Strip.

“The West Bank spans over 5,600 square kilometers, and has mountains and valleys. I’m from there, I know the landscape. It has everything necessary for guerilla warfare. Why are we not preparing for that?”

A Fatah spokesman on Thursday called on Palestinians to ignore calls for a new armed uprising against Israel in the West Bank, urging them to instead step up peaceful protests against the Jewish state’s military rule.

“We need to be smart…and not listen to the talk of the demagogues about the necessity of going to an armed confrontation,” Fatah spokesman Osama Qawasma told Palestine TV, the official Palestinian Authority television channel, Thursday night. “My words are candid. We must escalate popular resistance in the Palestinian lands.”

Hamas has for years called on Palestinians to stir up a confrontation with Israel in the West Bank.

On Friday the Palestinian Authority police cracked down on a Hamas protest in the southern West Bank city of Hebron, beating demonstrators with batons and throwing stun grenades.

Some 50 Hamas activists confronted Palestinian forces after Muslim prayers on Friday, as the terror group marked the 31st anniversary of its establishment.

Palestinian security forces beat a Hamas supporter as they try to disperse a rally marking the 31st anniversary of the founding of the terror group in Hebron on December 14, 2018. (Hazem Bader/AFP)

Hamas condemned the PA for suppressing the demonstrations. Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said in a statement on the Hamas website that the “barbaric behavior” was proof the PA “denigrated the blood of the martyrs.”

The Palestinian Authority, led by president Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah party, cooperates closely with Israeli security, while Hamas has fought three wars with the Jewish state since 2008.

Hamas cells continue operate in the West Bank despite PA and Israeli efforts to arrest them. The protests come amid a surge of terror attacks in the West Bank, some of them claimed by Hamas.

Two Israeli soldiers were killed Thursday and two other Israelis injured when a man opened fire at a bus stop at a settlement in the West Bank, before fleeing.

Hamas has claimed two other recent shooting attacks in the West Bank but has so far not taken responsibility for Thursday’s attack, near the settlement of Givat Assaf.

The Israeli military says it believes a Hamas cell conducted a drive-by shooting attack near the settlement of Ofra Sunday, in which seven people were wounded. Ove victim’s baby was delivered prematurely in an emergency operation, but died on Wednesday afternoon.

Agencies and Adam Rasgon contributed to this report.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/mashaal-calls-for-guerrilla-warfare-to-liberate-west-bank-and-all-palestine/

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Australia recognises West Jerusalem as Israeli capital

December 15, 2018

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has confirmed that his government will recognise West Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

However, he said Australia’s embassy would not move from Tel Aviv, until a peace settlement was achieved.

He added Australia also recognised the aspirations of the Palestinians to a state with a capital in East Jerusalem.

General view of Jerusalem
The status of Jerusalem has long been a highly contested issue. Reuters

The status of Jerusalem is one of the most contested issues between Israel and the Palestinians.

US President Donald Trump drew international criticism last year when he reversed decades of American foreign policy by recognising the ancient city as Israel’s capital. The US embassy was relocated from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May.

What did the Australian PM say?

Mr Morrison’s announcement comes after a period of consultation with politicians in Australia and allies abroad.

“Australia now recognises West Jerusalem, being the seat of the Knesset and many of the institutions of government, is the capital of Israel,” said Mr Morrison, speaking in Sydney on Saturday.

“We look forward to moving our embassy to West Jerusalem when practical… and after final status determination.”

Mr Morrison said that in the interim Australia would set up a defence and trade office in West Jerusalem.

Why the ancient city of Jerusalem is so important

The prime minister also stressed that Australia was supporting “liberal democracy” in the Middle East.

When the policy review was announced in October, it drew support from Israel, but criticism from the Palestinian side.

Mr Morrison’s predecessor, Malcolm Turnbull, had ruled out following the US in moving Australia’s embassy to Jerusalem.

Two other countries – Guatemala and Paraguay – have announced they would also make the switch, but Paraguay later reversed the decision after a change of government.

Why is the status of Jerusalem so contentious?

The status of Jerusalem goes to the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel regards Jerusalem as its “eternal and undivided” capital, while the Palestinians claim East Jerusalem – occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war – as the capital of a future state.

Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem has never been recognised internationally, and according to the 1993 Israel-Palestinian peace accords, the final status of Jerusalem is meant to be discussed in the latter stages of peace talks.

Since 1967, Israel has built a dozen settlements, home to about 200,000 Jews, in East Jerusalem. These are considered illegal under international law, though Israel disputes this.

In December 2017, UN member states voted decisively at the General Assembly in favour of a resolution effectively declaring US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital to be “null and void” and demanding it be cancelled.

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https://www.bbc.com/news/world-australia-46576716

Mohammed Bin Salman’s Woes Might Prove to Be Yemen’s Savior

December 15, 2018

To Trump and Netanyahu, punishing Saudi Arabia means rewarding Iran and harming a vital ally in the anti-Tehran alliance. But peace has the U.S. Congress on its side

The CIA’s Evidence Linking Saudi Crown Prince to Khashoggi Killing

After a week of meetings with government and rebel officials in Rimbo, Sweden, the special UN envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, admits that his job is no walk in the park.

Houthis don’t trust the distinguished 67-year-old diplomat, who was appointed in February. As a well-connected former British diplomat, he’s viewed by the rebels as someone who sells weapons to the Saudis for slaughtering them. Yemen’s government, meanwhile, suspects Griffiths of being too indulgent with the Houthis and of backing their impossible demands.

By 
Analysis 
December 14, 2018

All the same, he has the sides negotiating after a two-year break, and he has just pulled off a prisoner-swap deal that might be implemented within days.

The Houthis are holding about 8,000 prisoners, including the brother of Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, former Defense Minister Mahmoud al-Subaihi and a senior member of the Reform Party ruling Yemen’s south. The government is holding about 7,500 Houthi prisoners who were captured during the last four years of war.

Is Saudi Arabia repaying Trump for Khashoggi by attacking Linda Sarsour? | Analysis 

A girl walks near her house destroyed in an air strike carried out by the Saudi-led coalition in Faj Attan village, Sanaa, Yemen December 13, 2018.  REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi

Both sides say prisoners have been severely tortured in covert prisons, and The Associated Press has published an exposé in which people held prisoner by the Houthis recount their torture. This includes being hung by their wrists for days, food and sleep deprivation, beatings with clubs and rape threats. Similar descriptions come from Houthi prisoners in government prisons.

Both sides say the number of prisoners about to be exchanged is much smaller than the overall number. The organization set up by prisoners’ mothers has documented 18,000 arrests, including about 1,000 torture victims at more than 30 black sites.

The prisoners’ condition is a small part of the tragedy experienced by Yemen’s 29 million or so people; the United Nation says they are suffering “the greatest human tragedy” going on in the world. More than 10,000 people have been killed in this long war, and 40,000 to 50,000 have died from famine and disease.

Unlike Syria, where some 560,000 people have been killed according to the last count, in Yemen starvation is the greatest enemy; around 20 million people are suffering from it. In Syria, even during the worst fighting, people managed to obtain humanitarian aid, but in Yemen the routes for aid convoys are blocked.

The state’s most important port, Hodeidah, through which 90 percent of aid shipments are supposed to pass, is ruled by the rebels. Part of the city of Hodeidah, where some 600,000 people live, is ruled by the Arab coalition. From the north there are no safe routes for aid convoys, and in the south, one part of which is ruled by the regime and the coalition, and the other by Al-Qaida, it’s impossible to transfer food and medicine to the people besieged in the north.

Indeed, if the parties’ hugs and kisses when they signed the prisoner-exchange deal are translated into acts, it will mark an optimistic opening to a long, complex diplomatic campaign scheduled to last until Friday and resume at the beginning of next year. At the moment the goal is to agree to open the capital Sanaa’s airport and reach a joint-control arrangement on Hodeidah with UN supervision, to enable at least aid shipments.

Shi’ites and Sunnis

But the diplomatic moves could be thwarted. The war has morphed from a tribal-religious struggle between the Zaidi sect of the Shi’ites, led by the al-Houthi family representing some 40 percent of the population, and the Sunni administration, to an international war.

It’s not necessarily a religious war. The tribes that joined the al-Houthi family in north Yemen demanded political and economic rights based on their percentage of the population. A similar demand was made by the southern, mostly Sunni, tribes, which want their part in the oil revenues from the southern oil fields.

Theoretically, the deprived groups, both Sunni and Zaidi, could have formed an alliance of the kind that launched the Arab Spring in 2011, which led to the ousting of Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The ousted president, who conducted a violent campaign against the Houthis already before the revolution, switched sides to regain power. Last December he was assassinated by rebels because he tried to switch sides again and join the Saudis, who probably promised him a considerable part in the government if he withdrew his forces from the alliance with the Houthis.

This tribal war developed into a regional war for hegemony in 2015. In January that year, when Salman was crowned Saudi king, he launched the Arab coalition; key members are the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt and Sudan. The goal is to subdue the Houthis, who are seen as Iran’s allies.

A soldier allied to Yemen's internationally recognized government stands guard at the fish market in Aden, Yemen, Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018.
AP Photo/Jon Gambrell

The coalition chalked up a few important achievements like taking over the port of Aden and blocking the Houthis’ expansion southward. But despite this and the coalition’s American backing, the coalition failed to achieve a decisive victory. Brokerage attempts by Kuwait and the United Nations failed due to the Houthis’ refusal to withdraw from all the territory they conquered and hand over their weapons to the government.

Khashoggi’s ghost

Saudi Arabia’s efforts to set up a recognized government in Yemen headed by President Hadi turned into a farce when Hadi moved to Saudi Arabia, from where he’s “running” the affairs of a nonexistent state.

Around two months ago the body of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi rolled into the Yemeni swamp, as it were, placing Saudi Arabia and the Yemen war’s architect, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, on a collision course with Washington.

This also caused a confrontation between Congress and President Donald Trump. In March the Senate discussed halting U.S. weapons sales to the Saudis because of the high casualties in Yemen and its refusal to let humanitarian aid reach civilians in besieged cities. Mohammed went to Washington in a bid to persuade senators to drop the proposal, claiming that if Saudi Arabia can’t fight in Yemen, then Iran, Al-Qaida and the Islamic State will take its place.

>> Israel’s Iron Dome defense of Saudi Arabia aims to avert collapse of Trump and Netanyahu’s entire Middle East strategy | Analysis

That was also Trump’s argument, and the legislation got delayed to this month. Trump explained to members of Congress that if the United States doesn’t sell arms to Saudi Arabia, European countries will step in. This  made sense in view of Riyadh’s arms deals with France and Britain.

After Khashoggi’s murder, a few Republican and Democratic senators renewed the debate on the proposal, and this time it could pass, though Trump might veto it. Mohammed, who knows he’s persona non grata on Capitol Hill, hasn’t come to Washington for the recent debates.

Five large lobbying firms that worked for the kingdom have cut their ties with the royal family due to the murder. The Washington Post, where Khashoggi worked, made it clear to one lobbyist for the Saudis, Ed Rogers, that he’ll have to choose between writing his pieces for the paper or sticking with Riyadh. Congressmen say the lobbying firms have stopped sending them requests about arms sales to the Saudis.

Only Trump is still convinced that he can block the legislation. But judging by the speed in which senators and House members are moving the process forward (on Thursday, the senate voted to end aid), it appears that at least part of it will pass by the end of the year before the recess, with the more significant part passed at the beginning of the next session.

In Trump’s opinion, punishing Saudi Arabia is tantamount to rewarding Iran and harming a vital ally in the anti-Iran alliance. Here also lies the Israeli connection. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has actively participated in shaping Trump’s response to Khashoggi’s murder. According to the Israeli strategy, to block Iran, the Houthis have to be subdued, and only Saudi Arabia can do that.

Iran, for its part, supports negotiations between the sides, because it too isn’t capable of generating the victory for its side, the Houthis. And any diplomatic solution will yield political achievements for its protégés, who have been mired in financial and military difficulties. Griffiths, who holds the ends of all these threads, must now weave the arrangement that will stop the killing.

https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/.premium-mohammed-bin-salman-s-woes-might-prove-to-be-yemen-s-savior-1.6745036

Related:

Lebanese wary as Israel destroys Hezbollah border tunnels

December 14, 2018

As Israeli excavators dug into the rocky hills along the frontier with a Lebanese village, a crowd of young Lebanese men gathered to watch.

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The mood was light as the crowd observed in real time what Israel says is a military operation — dubbed “Northern Shield” — aimed at destroying attack tunnels built by the Lebanese Hezbollah militia. The young men posed for selfies, with the Israeli crew in the background, as they burned fires and brewed tea to keep warm.

Israeli soldiers shot yesterday at three suspected Hezbollah “activists” along the Lebanon border, the army said, days after uncovering a tunnel under the frontier. (AFP)

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But Lebanese soldiers were visibly on high alert, deploying to new camouflaged posts behind sandbags and inside abandoned homes. About two dozen UN peacekeepers stood in a long line, just ahead of the blue line demarcating the frontier between the two countries technically still at war.

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The scene highlights the palpable anxiety that any misstep could lead to a conflagration between Israel and Lebanon that no one seems to want.

The UN peacekeeping force has confirmed the presence of tunnels and said it is working with both sides to address the situation. (AFP)

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Underscoring such jitters, shadowy figures appearing across the misty hills of the border village of Mays Al-Jabal last weekend sparked panic, and Israeli soldiers fired in the air to warn a Lebanese military intelligence patrol, according to Lebanese reports. Israel said it fired at Hezbollah members who came to the site to dismantle sensors installed to detect tunnels.

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Israel’s tunnel search comes at a time when the civil war in neighboring Syria seems to be winding down. Hezbollah had sent hundreds of troops to Syria in 2013 to fight alongside the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad. With Assad’s forces emerging victorious, attention now seems to be returning to the tense Israel-Lebanon border.

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Israel said its troops have discovered at least three tunnels along the frontier — a tactic used by Hezbollah in previous wars — and called on the international community to impose new sanctions on Hezbollah.

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The militant group, which fought a bruising but inconclusive war with Israel in 2006, has not commented on the Israeli operation or statements.

The Israeli military drills into the soil south of the Lebanese border in an effort to locate and destroy Hezbollah attack tunnels that it says entered Israeli territory, on December 5, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israeli military drills into the soil south of the Lebanese border in an effort to locate and destroy Hezbollah attack tunnels that it says entered Israeli territory, on December 5, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

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Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri said Thursday that neither Israel nor Lebanon wanted to go to war, but noted that Israel violates Lebanese airspace and international waters on a regular basis.

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He said the Lebanese army “will deal with this issue” after receiving a full report from the UN peacekeeping force, but did not elaborate.

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The peacekeeping force, known as UNIFIL, has confirmed the presence of tunnels and said it is working with both sides to address the situation in line with UN Security Council resolutions.

The Israeli military drills into the soil south of the Lebanese border in an effort to locate and destroy Hezbollah attack tunnels that it says entered Israeli territory, on December 5, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

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In southern Lebanon on Thursday, Lebanese army soldiers observed the frontier in Mays Al-Jabal, taking photos of their Israeli counterparts operating only a few meters (yards) away. At times, the Lebanese soldiers asked the young men to move back, away from the frontier.

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Ali Jaber, a 21-year-old resident of Mays Al-Jabal, said he believes that Hezbollah is more popular after the Syria war, and that this is the reason Israel is now turning to it. “But whoever puts up a shield and is hiding and making fortifications must be scared,” he said.

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Hussein Melhem, a 19-year old electrician from the village, came to watch. His cheeks ruddy on a cold but clear day, he covered his head with a tight hood. He alleged that Israel is trying to change the border.

Israeli troops search for a Hezbollah border-crossing attack tunnel from southern Lebanon, along the northern border, on December 8, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

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“If they could occupy all of this, they would,” he said, in an apparent reference to Israel’s 18-year military occupation of southern Lebanon which ended in 2000. “But the resistance will prevent them.”

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As a seven-year-old in 2006, Melhem and his family left Mays Al-Jabal when Israel invaded. His village was badly damaged but has since largely recovered and he said he found their home intact.

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It is hard to forget about war in the villages and towns along the frontier. Pictures of Hezbollah fighters who died in the 2006 war, as well as the one raging in neighboring Syria, known locally as the “Sacred Defense,” are everywhere. Posts on town squares boast of defeating Israel or urge the locals to “know their enemy.”

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During the Syrian civil war, Israel has frequently carried out airstrikes in Syria against Iranian-allied forces, particularly Hezbollah. Israel says it aims to prevent sophisticated weaponry from reaching Hezbollah, which it considers its most pressing security concern.

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In Lebanon, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s warnings have raised suspicions that he is also using the tunnel operation as a diplomatic pressure card.

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Netanyahu has called for more sanctions against Hezbollah. In a visit to the frontier earlier this week, he warned that if Hezbollah tries to disrupt the search for tunnels, “it will be hit in a way it cannot even imagine.”

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In Israel, some newspaper commentators have been critical of the UN peacekeeping force, whose mandate Israel and the United States have unsuccessfully attempted to expand to include “intervention and deterrence.”

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About 20 kilometers (12 miles) to the north from Mays Al-Jabal, Israeli soldiers are also operating along another frontier to uncover what they suspect is a tunnel location.
There, a high concrete wall separates them from the Lebanese village of Kfar Kela.

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UN peacekeepers and Lebanese army separately patrol the area. Israel began building the wall in 2012, and this section was completed weeks ago. While graffiti covers the older slabs of concrete, water has collected under the newer segment of the wall.

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A UN peacekeeping force was working to clear the water after Lebanese residents complained it comes from irrigation drainage from the other side.

Associated Press