Posts Tagged ‘Israel’

Israel reopens Gaza crossing as truce talks press on

August 15, 2018

Israel reopened its only goods crossing with the Gaza Strip on Wednesday after closing it to most deliveries on July 9 over months of border tensions, as relative calm returned and truce talks pressed ahead.

The crossing is a vital lifeline for Gazans and their crippled economy, but Israel had closed it to goods except for food and medicine to pressure Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the blockaded Palestinian enclave.

The opening came as speculation increased over negotiations mediated by Egypt and UN officials to reach a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas.

© AFP | A truck carrying goods for Palestinians arrives at Kerem Shalom crossing in the southern Gaza Strip on August 15, 2018

Israel’s security cabinet was reportedly meeting Wednesday to discuss the indirect talks, but Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said any deal must include Hamas returning the remains of two soldiers it is believed to be holding — a major sticking point.

Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, including Hamas, have fought three wars since 2008 and tension since late March has led to fears of yet another full-blown conflict.

There have been three severe military flare-ups since July, the latest occurring on Thursday, when Israel responded to some 180 rockets and mortars fired from Gaza with widespread air strikes.

– ‘In your hands’ –

Lieberman warned that the crossing would again be closed if there was further violence and called on Gazans to pressure Hamas.

“Our message is that you must put pressure on the Hamas leadership,” he told Israeli public radio.

“It is all in your hands. If calm prevails, you benefit. If the violence resumes, you will lose.”

An AFP journalist at the goods crossing, known as Kerem Shalom, said dozens of trucks carrying various types of goods began passing into the Gaza Strip.

Israel also returned the fishing zone it enforces off the strip to nine nautical miles in the south of the enclave. The limit is six nautical miles in the north, which borders Israel.

On July 9, Israeli authorities closed the crossing to most deliveries, partly in response to kites and balloons being flown across the border carrying firebombs to burn Israeli farmland, causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.

Food and medicines have been allowed through, but fuel and cooking gas had been intermittently blocked, including since August 2. All other goods were turned away.

The fuel ban exacerbated an electricity crisis in the Gaza Strip, which already suffers from severe power shortages and relies on generators in many cases.

UN officials have repeatedly called for the blockade to be lifted, citing deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the enclave of two million people.

Israel says it is necessary to stop Hamas from obtaining weapons or materials that could be used for military purposes.

Gaza’s only other goods crossing is at Rafah on the Egyptian border.

That checkpoint had largely been kept closed in recent years, but Egypt opened it in mid-May and it is has mostly remained so since.

At the moment, the crossing is only open to people, according to Egyptian sources, but a Hamas source said goods such as cement and fuel have passed through since the May reopening.

– Truce talks –

Gaza border protests broke out on March 30 and have led to months of tension.

At least 169 Palestinians have been killed in Gaza by Israeli fire since March 30, mostly during clashes and protests.

One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper in July.

The efforts by Egypt and UN officials to reach a long-term truce face major hurdles.

Officials from Hamas and its allies Islamic Jihad travelled to Egypt on Tuesday for talks, a Hamas source said.

The negotiations have led to political recriminations in Israel.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett of the far-right Jewish Home party said Tuesday he would oppose a deal based on “a temporary calm.”

It was the first explicit public comments by an Israeli minister on the negotiations.

Bennett, who has ambitions to be prime minister in the future and is a member of the security cabinet, also used the statement to criticise Lieberman, a political rival.

He said he opposed a ground offensive into Gaza, but noted he had put forward an alternative plan to exact “a decisive price from Hamas.”

Lieberman said Wednesday “we have never spoken with Hamas and we will never do so. We receive proposals from the UN.”

Regarding Bennett’s comments, the defence minister dismissed them as “slogans.”



Hezbollah chief claims terror group stronger than Israeli military, ready for war

August 15, 2018

In speech marking 12 years since Second Lebanon War, Hassan Nasrallah also says Iran sanctions won’t affect support for his organization

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah delivers a broadcast speech through a giant screen, during a rally marking the 12th anniversary of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, in Beirut, Lebanon, on August 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah delivers a broadcast speech through a giant screen, during a rally marking the 12th anniversary of the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah war, in Beirut, Lebanon, on August 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

BEIRUT — The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement said Tuesday that US sanctions against Iran and his Iran-backed group will not have major effects on them and will not lead to regime change in Tehran.

In a televised address marking the 12th anniversary of the end of the 34-day Second Lebanon War with Israel in 2006, Hassan Nasrallah also boasted that his forces were stronger than the Israeli army and prepared for a fresh war with Israel.

Nasrallah claimed that the Trump administration was “mistaken” in thinking sanctions would lead to riots in Iran that would topple the regime, or even force Iran to reduce support for activity abroad.

Last week the US began restoring sanctions that had been lifted under the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, which President Donald Trump withdrew from in May. The administration says the renewed sanctions are meant to pressure Tehran to halt its support for international terrorism, its military activity in the Middle East and its ballistic missile programs.

“Iran has been facing sanctions since the victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1979,” Nasrallah said. “He (Trump) is strengthening the sanctions but they have been there since 1979 and Iran stayed and will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the victory of its revolution.”

The Hezbollah leader spoke to thousands of supporters gathered at a rally south of Beirut, where they watched his speech on giant screens as it was broadcast from a secret location.

Iran has been backing Hezbollah financially and militarily since the terror group was established after Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon.

Iranian protesters in central Tehran on June 25, 2018. (AFP Photo/Atta Kenare)

A number of protests have broken out against the Iranian regime for the country’s precarious economic situation, with demonstrators calling for an end to military adventurism and financial support for terror groups abroad.

According to the US, Iran sends Hezbollah an estimated $700 million a year.

Speaking about the restoration of the sanctions by Washington, Nasrallah said: “I can tell you and I have accurate information they are building dreams, strategies and projects that Iran will head toward chaos and the regime will fall. This is illusion, this is imagination and has nothing to do with reality.”

He added that Hezbollah is not scared of a possible war with Israel.

“No one should threaten us with war and no one should scare us by war,” he said, adding: “We are not scared or worried about war and we are ready for it and we will be victorious.”

A picture taken on July 26, 2017 during a tour guided by the Lebanese Shiite Hezbollah movement shows members of the group manning an anti-aircraft gun mounted on a pick-up truck in a mountainous area around the Lebanese town of Arsal along the border with Syria. (AFP PHOTO / ANWAR AMRO)

“Hezbollah might not be the strongest army in the Middle East but it is certainly stronger than the Israeli army,” Nasrallah said, according to Lebanese news outlet Naharnet. “Because we have more faith in our cause and greater willingness to sacrifice.”

“The resistance in Lebanon — with its arms, personnel, expertise and capabilities — is stronger than ever,” Nasrallah said.

Most analysts believe Hezbollah has been significantly weakened by years of fighting in Syria to bolster President Bashar Assad. However, Israeli officials say the terror group still has a massive missile arsenal that can threaten much of the country, and that a war will be incredibly damaging to both sides of the Lebanese border.

Nasrallah said Israel would fail to force Hezbollah away from the Syrian Golan border, where Jerusalem fears it and other Iranian proxy groups will set up bases to use for attacks against the Jewish state, and has pushed for Russia to enforce a buffer zone.

“The Israeli enemy, which has been defeated in Syria, is insolently seeking to impose its conditions in Syria, but this will not happen,” he said.


Jon Stewart, NY Times, Natalie Portman and Bernie Sanders blacklisted by Heritage House for ‘crimes committed against the Jewish people’

August 14, 2018

NY Times, Natalie Portman and Bernie Sanders also blacklisted by Heritage House for ‘crimes committed against the Jewish people’

Jon Stewart on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” Feb. 27, 2017. (Screenshot from YouTube)

Jon Stewart on “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” Feb. 27, 2017. (Screenshot from YouTube)

A hostel in Jerusalem’s Old City has published a list of “haters of Israel” who have been banned “because of crimes committed against the Jewish people,” drawing derision and ridicule from those blacklisted.

The Jerusalem Heritage House describes itself as an institution that provides “warm and comfortable accommodations for Jewish travelers in the heart of the Old City for a nominal fee.” It boasts of having hosted more than 60,000 guests since 1985.

Posted on Twitter by journalist Jacob Kornbluh, the list includes figures such as US comedian Jon Stewart, politician Bernie Sanders, former Obama administration ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, and actress Bette Midler. Also banned are members of the media including the staffs of The Times of Israel, Haaretz, CNN, and The New York Times, as well as the heads of the Anti-Defamation League and the Reform movement.

Members of the Israeli press corps responded with sarcasm, with the Times of Israel’s Judah Ari Gross tweeting, “Shucks, no Jerusalem Heritage House for me,” and The Jerusalem Post’s Amy Spiro joking that “Bette Midler has been banging on the doors of the Jerusalem Heritage House for hours begging to be let inside.”

In response, Daniel Sugarman of the Jewish Chronicle tweeted at Spiro to be quiet, jokingly inquiring if she wanted “to get the Jerusalem Post on the list too.”

Finding that the outlet was listed above other organizations on the list, Times of Israel Deputy Editor Joshua Davidovich sarcastically tweeted, “We’re #8 Wooooh! Suck it, @haaretzcom and @ADL_National.”

Israel and Hamas reportedly near truce after days of relative quiet

August 14, 2018

Jerusalem official quoted as saying Gaza ceasefire ‘virtually done,’ as defense minister mulls lifting border restrictions

A picture taken on August 9, 2018 shows people inspecting the rubble of a cultural center following an Israeli air strike on Gaza City. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

A picture taken on August 9, 2018 shows people inspecting the rubble of a cultural center following an Israeli air strike on Gaza City. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

Israel and Hamas are reportedly on the verge of reaching a ceasefire agreement following a lull in fighting after a major flareup last week that saw the sides on the cusp of a full-scale military confrontation.

An Israeli official told the Los Angeles Times that a deal with the terror group that rules the Strip is “virtually done.”

There was no official Israeli confirmation of progress toward a deal, but senior defense officials are set to discuss easing a closure of the Palestinian enclave later Tuesday.

Israeli and Hamas officials have reportedly been engaged in intensive efforts via Egypt and the UN in recent weeks to reach a long-term deal to return calm to the restive border region in exchange for easing restrictions on the Strip. Last week a Hamas official predicted a truce would be inked by the end of the month.

Israel has officially been mum on the talks with Hamas, which Jerusalem and others label a terrorist group.

Last week, Hamas announced it had reached an Egyptian- and UN-brokered ceasefire agreement with Israel, after a day in which dozens of rockets and mortar shells rained down on southern Israel and the military responded with extensive airstrikes.

Jerusalem officially denied that a deal had been reached, but the days since Hamas’ announcement have seen a significant decrease in violence in Gaza.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman is set to meet with senior members of the security establishment later on Tuesday to discuss easing restrictions on the Gaza Strip following the decrease in violence. A senior defense official said reopening the Kerem Shalom crossing and extending the fishing zone of the Gaza coast would be considered in the meeting.

Additionally, further economic incentives will be considered in the coming days if there is no renewal of violence, specifically the launching of incendiary airborne devices from Gaza toward Israeli territory. Over 7,000 acres of land have been burned, causing millions of shekels in damages, according to Israeli officials.

There has been a significant drop this week in arson attacks from the Palestinian enclave.

Palestinian security forces loyal to the Palestinian Authority stand at the gate of the Kerem Shalom crossing, the main passage point for goods entering Gaza, in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah, on July 9, 2018.(AFP PHOTO / SAID KHATIB)

On Sunday, the Israeli Fire and Rescue Services said it was the first day in several months that no fires were caused by incendiary balloons, kites or other devices flown from Gaza toward Israeli communities bordering the coastal enclave.

However, a spokesman later said it appeared that at least one fire was in fact started by the the arson devices. The defense official disputed that the blaze was started by arson.

Senior Israel officials maintain the country has not agreed to the ceasefire which Hamas announced late Thursday and said went into effect at midnight. Hamas, a terror group that seeks to destroy Israel, claims the deal was mediated by Egypt and other regional players.

Since Hamas announced the truce late Thursday, no rockets and mortars have been fired at Israel and the IDF has conducted no airstrikes, indicating a de-facto understanding even if no formal deal was signed.

The calm marks a rare respite in the border region over the lasts everal months, which have seen near daily arson attacks, shootings, rocket fire and border protests, as well as Israeli reprisal air raids and cross-border shellings.

Last month, an Israeli soldier was killed by a sniper. According to the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry, over 150 Palestinian haves been killed in the violence. Hamas has admitted that many of the fatalities were its members or those belonging to other Gaza terror groups.

Senior Israeli officials have said that “quiet will be met by quiet,” implying that the country is not seeking an escalation of violence, but has not openly committed to an end to hostilities. Instead, military officials hope the terror group has internalized the damage Israel can cause to its infrastructure.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, center, speaks with IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot, right, and other senior military officers during a visit to the Gaza Division on August 13, 2018. (Shahar Levi/Defense Ministry)

On Monday, Channel 10 news reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu travlled to Egypt to discuss the Gaza ceasefire efforts with President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.

Quoting US officials, the report said Netanyahu and Sissi met in May to discuss a potential deal for Gaza that would see a complete ceasefire with Hamas and the return of the Palestinian Authority to the Strip in exchange for the easing of the Israeli and Egyptian blockades and humanitarian gestures.

Israeli officials want to include the return of civilian captives and remains of soldiers being held in Gaza as part of the deal, but Hamas is reportedly seeking to leave that issue out of a potential truce and only commit to discuss it in a second round of talks.

A brushfire near Kibbutz Re’im east of the Gaza border, July 25, 2018. (Courtesy Fire and Rescue Services Southern District)

Despite the apparent truce and reprieve in rocket fire, some violence has continued on the Gaza border. On Friday, Israeli tanks struck two Hamas posts Friday evening after protesters hurled a grenade at troops during border clashes.

Around 9,000 Palestinians participated in the violent weekly border protests on Friday. Some protesters rioted near the fence, threw makeshift bombs, Molotov cocktails and rocks at Israeli soldiers, and burned tires to create a smokescreen. In one incident, a grenade was thrown at Israeli troops, but caused no casualties. Several attempts were made to breach the security fence.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said three Palestinians were killed in Friday’s violence.


Israeli defence minister says more Gaza violence inevitable

August 13, 2018

Another round of fighting between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip is inevitable, Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Monday, despite attempts to reach a long-term truce.

Lieberman said in a video statement distributed by his office that “the question is not to know if the next confrontation (with Hamas) will take place, but when”.

© AFP | A picture taken on August 9, 2018 shows smoke billowing over Gaza City after an Israeli air strike

Lieberman also appeared to suggest that all Palestinians killed in the Gaza Strip since protests and clashes along the border began on March 30 were linked to Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the enclave.

“Hamas has suffered 168 dead, 4,348 wounded and dozens of terror infrastructures destroyed,” he said.

Many of those killed have been young people protesting or clashing with soldiers near the border fence in the blockaded Gaza Strip. Two journalists and, according to the World Health Organisation, three medics have been among those killed.

Israel says its actions are necessary to defend the border and stop infiltrations or attacks. One Israeli soldier has been killed since March 30.

There have also been three major military flare-ups between Israel and Hamas since July on top of the months of tension along the border.

Thursday saw extensive Israeli air strikes in retaliation for the launching of more than 180 rockets and mortar rounds by Hamas and its allies beginning on Wednesday night.

Three Palestinians were killed in the Israeli strikes, including a mother and her 18-month-old daughter, while seven Israelis were wounded by Palestinian rocket fire as hundreds took refuge in bomb shelters.

It was one of the most serious escalations since the 2014 Gaza war and followed months of rising tensions.

There have been efforts by UN officials and Egypt to secure a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas, though Israeli officials have not commented on them.

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


Israel: No Gaza Ceasefire — Netanyahu: “We are in the midst of a campaign against terror in Gaza.”

August 13, 2018

Avi Dichter, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and former head of Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), warned that only Israel will dictate military options.

 AUGUST 12, 2018 23:29

 The Gaza Conundrum: Debating the merits of an Israel-Hamas ceasefire


Did Israel agree to a Gaza ceasefire with Hamas? Likud ministers say no

A member of Hamas' military police walks through rubble at a site that was hit by Israeli air strike

A member of Hamas’ military police walks through rubble at a site that was hit by Israeli air strikes in Gaza City on August 9, 2018. (photo credit: MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

The Israeli Security Cabinet met on Sunday for the second time within four days to discuss the Gaza violence as well as UN and Egyptian efforts for a long-term truce.

Israel demands nothing less than a complete cease-fire from Hamas, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday before the weekly government meeting.

“We are in the midst of a campaign against terror in Gaza,” Netanyahu said. “It entails an exchange of blows; it will not end in one strike. Our demand is clear: a complete cease-fire. We will not suffice with less than this. As of now, we have destroyed hundreds of Hamas military targets, and in each round the IDF exacts an additional heavy price. I will not reveal here our operational plans; they are ready.”

The prime minister said Israel’s objective is to restore quiet to residents of the South and the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip. “This goal will be achieved in full,” he added.

Netanyahu spoke as Israel is working on a three-pronged approach to Gaza: preparations for a military campaign; an understanding by which calm is restored; and the possibility of approving a long-term and extensive cease-fire deal.

The security cabinet also met on Thursday for four hours on the same issue, with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman and Transportation Minister Israel Katz holding a heated exchange.

According to KAN News, Katz yelled at Liberman: “Whatever happened to your promise to assassinate [Hamas leader Ismail] Haniyeh within 48 hours?”

Liberman responded: “Tell me, what have you contributed exactly?”

The United Nations has continued to pursue efforts toward a permanent cease-fire that would include the reconciliation of the rival Hamas and Fatah factions, as well as an economic package for the rehabilitation of Gaza.

Egypt hopes to hold separate talks this week in Cairo with Hamas and Fatah representatives as part of its push to sway Hamas to hand over control of the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian Authority.

But in Israel, the debate has focused more intensely on what is happening on the ground now, and if there is an understanding with Hamas for calm, particularly given that Hamas has held its rocket fire since Thursday.

It is unclear if Hamas stopped the rocket fire as the result of a mutual understanding reached with Israel, or if it was a unilateral decision.

Sunday was calm, after lower level violence continued over the weekend, with Palestinians launching a number of incendiary kites and balloons at Israel, an IAF air strike, and the death of two Palestinians during violent border riots.

Israel has imposed tight restrictions on the border, the kind that signify a situation of continued violence. It has continued its almost two-week ban on fuel and gas into Gaza and its more than a month long ban on commercial goods.

Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, a member of the security cabinet, told Army Radio that Israel is not negotiating with Hamas under fire, and that all the talks that have been held were between the Palestinian Authority and other envoys.

Israel is also not planning to do anything more than restore the situation that existed before the latest flare up with Hamas began at the end of March, Elkin said.

National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Minister Yuval Steinitz, also a member of the security cabinet, denied the reports of a cease-fire, telling KAN radio as much.

“In the last round [of violence] we hit the [Hamas] missile production badly,” Steinitz said. “We as a cabinet need to see the general picture – we have not signed a cease-fire agreement, and we are keeping our cards close to our chests. Ousting Hamas is an option we are closer to now than any time in the past… Not every time we are hit, we go to all-out war. Sometimes we go into smaller campaigns with acute reactions.”

Avi Dichter, chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and former head of Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), warned in an interview with KAN radio that only Israel will dictate military options.

“Gaza will be dismantled by political arrangement or military action,” Dichter said. “No one will determine the timing of the military campaign except for the State of Israel.”

Avi Gold contributed to this report.

Israel’s Military Prepares to Fight Hezbollah

August 13, 2018

Recognizing unique threats posed by terror groups, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) drills for reorganization that would dissolve established units into unified fighting force; anti-drone laser also tested

August 13, 2018
Israeli troops take part in an exercise on the Golan Heights in August 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israeli troops take part in an exercise on the Golan Heights in August 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The military has field-tested a new fighting method combining infantry, tanks and combat engineering into one unified force, as part of a major military reform meant to streamline the Israel Defense Forces, the army said Sunday.

The method was tested during a drill simulating war in the north against the Hezbollah terrorist group, during which the military also tried out new technologies, including an anti-mortar laser and more accurate artillery.

The restructured unit type was dubbed Tzakach Gideon, a Hebrew acronym that stands for Gideon brigade combat team, named after the Israel Defense Force’s multi-year Gideon Plan, a streamlining effort that the army began rolling out in 2016.

The details of this new organizational style were revealed earlier this year, and it saw its first trial during an exercise on the Golan Heights last week.

The drill saw infantry soldiers from the Golani Brigade, tanks from the 7th Armored Brigade and combat engineering troops from the 603rd Battalion working together, under one unified command. Currently, those different types of units can cooperate with one another, but with a far greater degree of independence.

The proposed change is designed to make the military’s ground forces more efficient and better suited to the types of fighting they are liable to encounter, specifically battles against terrorist groups, as opposed to national armies, officers involved in the project told reporters in February.

Chief among those terrorist groups is Hezbollah, a powerful Iran-backed proxy based in Lebanon that has been fighting in Syria in support of dictator Bashar Assad.

Israel considers the Shiite group to be its primary military threat in the region, and the IDF treats its readiness to face Hezbollah as the metric by which it determines how prepared it is for war.

Israeli tanks take part in an exercise on the Golan Heights in August 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

In addition to the new unit structure, last week’s exercise also tested a number of recently developed technologies, some of which are not yet fully operational.

According to the military, this included: a high-powered laser capable of shooting down incoming mortar shells or drones, known as Gideon’s Shield, or Magen Gidon; a “smart” trigger, which only allows a weapon to be fired when it is locked on its target; an improved night vision system; a powerful radar detection system; communication equipment that gives commander access to up-to-date intelligence; and a number of drones and autonomous vehicles.


Soldiers also tested a new model of precision-guided artillery shells, which are far more accurate than the varieties currently in the IDF’s arsenals.

“There is a tremendous improvement in our capabilities. If we don’t invest in technology, the battlefield will remain a kingdom of uncertainty,” IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot said during a visit to the exercise.

The military’s underlying understanding is that fighting more nimble non-state actors hiding among civilians, as with the Hezbollah terrorist group in southern Lebanon, is fundamentally different than squaring off against formal militaries on a deserted battlefield, and requires the IDF to be more flexible and more precise to avoid civilian casualties.

In addition, new technologies, like drones, require the military to develop techniques and systems to counter these emerging threats.

“We are aware of and monitoring the enemy’s changes, capabilities and developments, and against these things we are taking care to set up capabilties that will always put us two steps ahead of them,” said Col. Roman Gofman, commander of the 7th Armored Division.

“This is the first time that we are seeing a combined brigade fighting team. This is a battle in which tanks, infantry and combat engineering are coming together in a coordinated and synchronized way, where our forces are squaring off against the enemy,” he said.

The new Tzakach Gideon organizational style would have a ground forces brigade made up of at least six battalions, three infantry or armored battalions, one combat engineering battalion, a reconnaissance battalion and an administrative battalion, the IDF said Sunday.

It is expected to take several years before this reorganization is implemented throughout the military, and it will likely face opposition as old units, with decades of history, are dismantled.

“The heritage issue is a headache in and of itself,” a senior IDF Ground Forces officer said earlier this year.

Israel ‘closer than ever’ to defeating Hamas, says minister

August 12, 2018

An Israeli official has said Israel doesn’t want to start a war in Gaza, but admitted toppling Hamas was still “definitely an option.” Israel has denied it agreed to a ceasefire with Hamas following last week’s fighting.

Israeli airstrikes hit targets in Gaza (Reuters/M. Salem)

Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz told reporters Sunday that Israel was “closer than ever” to toppling Hamas in Gaza “if there is no other choice.”

The remarks by Steinitz, who also sits on Israel’s security cabinet, come on the back of two days of fierce cross-border violence between Hamas and Israel last week.

Steinitz also told local broadcaster Kan that Israel had not signed a ceasefire with agreement with Hamas following the latest escalations, contradicting reports coming from officials in Gaza.

Toppling Hamas was still “definitely an option,” the minister said, before adding that Israel was not interested in escalating the conflict into a full-scale war.

Gaza on the brink?

Tensions between the two sides have been mounting since March, when Palestinians in Gaza began staging regular protests near the border with Israel.

However, recent weeks have seen at least three major flare-ups. The most recent, on Thursday, saw Israel launch a series of airstrikes on Gaza after Hamas troops launched some 180 rockets and mortar rounds across the border the night before. Three Palestinians were killed by the Israeli strikes, including a mother and her 18-month-old daughter, while seven Israelis were wounded in the Palestinian rocket fire.

It marked the heaviest exchanges of fire between the two sides since 2014’s Operation Protective Edge.

Read more: Hamas official on Gaza bloodshed: ‘Not expected to be like this’

Netanyahu demands Hamas ceasefire

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke out for the first time about last week’s deadly flare-up on the Gaza border, demanding a “total” ceasefire from Hamas’ rulers.

“We are in the midst of a campaign against terror in Gaza,” Netanyahu said at the start of a Cabinet meeting. “It will not end with one blow.

“Our demand is clear: a total ceasefire. We shall not be satisfied with less than that,” he added.

Hardliners in Netanyahu’s Cabinet have called on the prime minister to act more strongly against the latest Hamas’ latest aggressions.

Read more: Ceasefire on Israel-Gaza border largely holds as UN warns sides are on ‘brink of war’

Little scope for a truce

The recent uptick in violence has seen UN officials and Egypt increase efforts to secure a truce deal between Israel and Hamas, albeit with little success so far.

Almost 170 Palestinian protestors have been killed by Israeli military fire during the protesters, while one Israeli soldier was killed by a Palestinian sniper, since clashes began on the border in March.

Hamas, considered a terrorist group by Israel and much of the West, has demanded the lifting of an 11-year blockade on Gaza imposed by Israel and Egypt.

Israel, meanwhile, has demanded Hamas and its followers stop launching incendiary projectiles across the border, burning swathes of Israeli territory.

On Sunday, Israeli daily Haaretz reported that officials in Jerusalem were formulating a plan to assassinate several senior Hamas leaders, although it would first wait to see the outcome of the upcoming negotiations brokered by Egypt and the UN before going ahead.

Netanyahu: Many Arabs protesting nation-state law want Israel to be a Palestinian state

August 12, 2018

Netanyahu says Palestinian flags seen at Tel Aviv rally demonstrates need to enshrine country’s Jewish nature in law

Israeli Arabs, some waving Palestinian flags, protest against the nation-state law' in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on August 11, 2018.  (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Israeli Arabs, some waving Palestinian flags, protest against the nation-state law’ in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv on August 11, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday said the protesters at a mass rally against the nation-state law who were waving Palestinian flags were seeking to destroy Israel and proved the contentious legislation was necessary.

“We have [here] conclusive evidence of the defiance against Israel and the necessity of the nation-state law,” he said at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, referring to the Arab-led demonstration in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Saturday.

“Many of the protesters want to abolish the Law of Return, the anthem and the flag, and turn Israel into a Palestinian state,” he said. “It’s clearer now more than ever that the nation-state law is needed to ensure the future of Israel as a Jewish state.”

The prime minister made similar remarks Saturday night on Twitter after images and videos of the flag-waving protesters were shared on social media.

“We will continue waving the Israeli flag and singing [the national anthem] Hatikva with great pride,” he posted.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on August 12, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / POOL / JIM HOLLANDER)

Some 30,000 Israelis packed Rabin Square for the protest march led by the Arab community against the newly passed law that critics say marginalizes the state’s non-Jewish citizens.

The law passed by the Knesset last month for the first time enshrines Israel as “the national home of the Jewish people,” and says “the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” It also defines Arabic as a language bearing a “special” status, effectively downgrading it from its de facto status as Israel’s second official language.

The government has argued the new law merely anchors the country’s existing character, and that Israel’s democratic nature and provisions for equality are already rooted in existing constitutional legislation.

But critics, both at home and abroad, say it undermines Israel’s commitment to equality for all its citizens outlined in the Declaration of Independence.

It has prompted particular outrage from Israel’s Druze minority, whose members say the law’s provisions render them second-class citizens. Last week, at least 50,000 Israelis attended the Druze-led demonstration against the law in Rabin Square.

At Saturday’s rally, dozens of activists waved Palestinian flags in defiance of a request by organizers at the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, who wanted to encourage the Jewish population to attend the march in solidarity.

Protesters carried signs in Hebrew and Arabic demanding “Justice and equality now” and others calling the law “apartheid.”

At times, some participants chanted in support of Palestine and against Israel, including cries of “In spirit and fire, we will redeem Palestine,” according to the Yedioth Ahronoth daily.

In Israel, Palestinian flags are often viewed with deep distrust because they are associated with the Palestinian national movement and its aim to subsume the Jewish state.

On Sunday, Culture Minister Miri Regev said she would take the issue of the Palestinian flags to the attorney general.

“There cannot be a situation where Palestinian flags are being waved in Tel Aviv,” she said. “I will turn to the attorney general [about this].”

“The fact that the left has joined up with the Arabs is absurd,” she added. “I’m sure [late prime minister Yitzhak] Rabin would turn in his grave if he saw what happened in Rabin Square.”

Arab Israelis and activists protest against the ‘Jewish Nation-State law’ in Tel Aviv on August 11, 2018 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Israel’s Arab citizens enjoy full citizenship rights but have long complained of discrimination in some areas like jobs and housing. They share the ethnicity and culture of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and often identify as Palestinian rather than Israeli, even if they are not per se Palestinian nationalists.

On Sunday, the leader of the Joint (Arab) List, Ayman Odeh, responded to the criticism, saying that only several dozen protesters waved Palestinian flags and the overall spirit of the rally was not nationalistic in nature

“Thirty thousand people gathered in Rabin Square to express their legitimate and just demand for equal civil rights for all,” he told Army Radio, and urged Israeli Jews to accept the Palestinian identity of Arab citizens.

“We are Arabs, and that needs to be internalized,” he said. “We have a culture, a language and a history.”

“I am a member of the Palestinian Arab people, and a citizen of Israel at the same time…. accept me as I am,” he said.

MK Ayman Odeh (R) takes part at a protest march against Proposed Nation-state Law in Tel Aviv on July 14, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Former MK Mohammad Barakeh, a longtime leader of the left-wing Hadash party who currently heads the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, told the crowd during his speech on Saturday the protest was called to “erase this abomination and remove the stain made by Netanyahu and his government called the nation-state law.”

Barakeh told a Times of Israel reporter at the event the committee had “asked the public not to bring [Palestinian] flags, but I can’t control what people do.”

On stage, Barakeh said it was the “flag of the oppressed Palestinian people, the flag they are trying to eradicate from history via the nation-state law.”

Israeli minister urges assassination of Hamas leaders

August 12, 2018


Miri Regev, the Israeli culture and sport minister.
Miri Regev, the Israeli culture and sport minister.

Israeli culture and sport minister has called for the assassination of the leaders of Hamas Palestinian resistance movement, stressing that Israel should reinstate its policy of targeted assassinations.

Miri Regev told a recent meeting of local leaders of Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip that the Palestinian resistance movement’s senior officials should “live in fear”.

“We must go back to the policy of targeted assassinations of leaders of this murderous terrorist group,” she added, referring to Hamas.

Other Israeli politicians likewise called on the Israeli leadership to come down harder on Hamas, which controls Gaza and has defended the enclave against three Israeli wars.

Leader of Israeli party Zionist Union Avi Gabbay, who was visiting the city of Sderot in the west of Negev Desert, was recently quoted by media as saying that Israel had “a strong army and weak politicians,” who would not intensify the regime’s aggression.

The current regime “doesn’t know how to deter a terrorist organization or to negotiate,” he added.

Israel has assassinated many Hamas figures over the past years.

Last March, it assassinated Mazen Fuqaha, one of the group’s senior figures, in Gaza. The victim was shot with four bullets to his head.

In 2010, Israel had itself embroiled in an international scandal when its operatives used false European and Australian passports to assassinate senior Hamas figure Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in the United Arab Emirates.

Oren Hazan, an Israeli lawmaker from Likud Party, also recently said, “We are not hitting Hamas hard enough for fear of an ongoing conflict, even though we are deep inside one”.

“If we would have hit them, they wouldn’t have allowed themselves to shoot 200 rockets in one day. So enough with the stories that we hit them hard. The public isn’t stupid, and neither is Hamas,” he added.

Besides staying prepared to take the territory under wholesale warfare, Israel regularly strikes Gaza, saying it needs to target Hamas.

Earlier in the week, Israeli raids on the coastal enclave killed three Palestinians who included a pregnant mother and a toddler.

A picture taken on August 8, 2018 shows a smoke plume rising following an Israeli airstrike in Gaza City, the Gaza Strip. (Photo by AFP)

Israel ramped up attacks on March 30, shortly after Gazans began weekly rallies near the territory’s fence in support of their right to return to their homeland.

The demonstrations and Israeli offensives especially hiked on May 14, the anniversary of the Nakba Day in 1948, when Israel claimed existence after a deadly war against Arab territories.

Nearly 160 Palestinians have been killed and some 17,500 others wounded during the Israeli military’s attacks targeting the March of Return protests, the Palestinian Health Ministry says.