Body Of Israeli ‘Taken’ From Hospital, Palestinian Teen Killed

Palestinian youths mourn over the body of 16-year-old Ahmed Amjad Shehadeh who was killed during clashes with Israeli soldiers in the West Bank city of Nablus the previous day, on November 23, 2022. (Photo by Zain Jaafar / AFP)

 

The body of an Israeli killed in a car accident was “taken” by Palestinian militants from a West Bank Hospital Tuesday, officials said, as a teenager was killed in clashes between the army and militants.

The Israeli army said the body of an 18-year-old Israeli-Druze who died in a “serious road accident” in the West Bank was “taken” from a hospital in Jenin, a stronghold of Palestinian militant factions in the north of the occupied West Bank.

Local sources told AFP the body was in the hands of an armed group.

Abductions of Israelis, dead or alive, have been used in the past as bargaining chips by armed Palestinian groups to secure the release of prisoners and the return of the bodies of Palestinians killed in clashes by Israel.


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In the major West Bank city of Nablus, 16-year-old Ahmed Amjad Shehadeh died after “a bullet penetrated his heart fired at him by Israeli occupation soldiers during the storming of the city”, the Palestinian health ministry said in a statement.

A further statement said that one other Palestinian was in a “critical” condition, while three others were being treated in hospital.

Witnesses in Nablus reported fighting throughout the night in the city, where a nascent militant group called “The Lions’ Den” has emerged in recent months.

The Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the armed wing of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s secular Fatah movement, said in a statement that some of its fighters had been involved in the clashes.

The Israeli army confirmed to AFP it was “operating in the city of Nablus to secure the entrance of Israeli civilians to Joseph’s Tomb”.

“Armed suspects in the area are shooting live fire at the forces. The forces are responding with live fire,” the statement added.

The clashes occurred as the army escorted pilgrims to the tomb, a flashpoint for West Bank violence, believed to be the last resting place of the biblical patriarch Joseph .

The Palestinian office of religious sites considers Joseph’s Tomb to be an Islamic archaeological monument.

Israel’s army organises monthly escorted pilgrimages to the site, and prohibits civilians entering on their own.

Violence has flared this year in the West Bank, where the Israeli army has launched near-daily raids since a series of attacks in Israel that killed several civilians.

The United Nations says more than 125 Palestinians have been killed this year across the West Bank.

Israel has occupied the territory since the 1967 Six-Day War.

Trump Gets Warm Reception At Republican Gathering As Rivals Lash Out

 

Donald Trump received a standing ovation at a Republican Party gathering Saturday, even as several possible White House rivals lashed out at his election denialism and insisted it was time to move on from the former US president.

In his first major appearance since announcing his intention to run again in 2024, Trump told the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas that the party had grown under his leadership.

The 76-year-old falsely insisted once again that the 2020 presidential election — which he lost — was rigged, and rejected responsibility for the GOP’s poor performance in the November midterms.

In 2020 “we had a really disgraceful election, many millions of votes more than we had in 2016… and the result was, in my opinion, an absolute sham,” he told the audience by video link.

“The election as rigged, and it’s too bad it was.”

Asked about how he could improve the party’s appeal to suburban voters, among whom it did badly in this month’s midterms, Trump insisted he had a record of picking winners.

“In the midterms, as you’ve probably heard, I was 222 wins and 16 losses, the press doesn’t want to mention that, and the Republican Party got five million more votes than the Democrats,” he said, despite the final vote tallies not yet being finalized.

“The Republican Party is a much bigger and more powerful party than it was before I got there,” he said.

Trump was warmly welcomed by the crowd, which had earlier heard from key party figures whose names are often mentioned as possibly 2024 presidential contenders.

Many of them hit out at Trump’s grievance-laden style of politicking, which Republican Party operatives have said was to blame for their tepid showing on November 8.

‘Joy and a smile’

New Jersey’s former governor and one-time Trump confidante Chris Christie said candidate quality had been the issue.

“Donald Trump picked candidates with one criteria. Not electability, not experience, not wisdom, not charisma, not the ability to govern, but ‘do you believe the 2020 election was stolen or not?’ If you do I endorse you. If you don’t I reject you,” he said.

“The fact of the matter is the reason we’re losing is because Donald Trump has put himself before everybody else.”

Chris Sununu, governor of New Hampshire, agreed.

“I got a great policy for the Republican Party. Let’s stop supporting crazy unelectable candidates in our primaries,” he said.

On Friday evening, Trump’s former secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, who is also understood to be mulling a run at the White House, urged fellow Republicans to be more forward-looking and more positive.

While he did not mention his old boss by name, Pompeo made none-too-subtle digs about the need to be doers, rather than complainers.

“As we present the conservative case, as we make the argument… we do so with joy, and a smile,” he said.

“We don’t simply rail against the machine… we don’t simply go on Fox News or send tweets, we actually do the hard work.”

Trump did not address the potential rivals in his appearance on Saturday, but has already begun his customary bomb-throwing about potential presidential competitors, dubbing Ron DeSantis, who is set to speak later Saturday, “Ron DeSanctimonious” and saying Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin’s name “sounds Chinese.”

The gathering, which also featured an address by Israel’s prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu, runs until Sunday.

Israel’s Netanyahu To Receive Mandate To Form Government

Israel’s ex-premier and leader of the Likud party Benjamin Netanyahu addresses supporters at campaign headquarters in Jerusalem early on November 2, 2022, after the end of voting for national elections. (Photo by Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

 

Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu will receive an official mandate Sunday to form a government that could be the most right-wing in the country’s history, sparking concern at home and abroad.

After a period of unprecedented political gridlock that forced five elections in less than four years, polls on November 1 gave the veteran leader and his far-right allies a clear majority in the 120-seat parliament, likely sealing Netanyahu’s return to power.

Sixty-four lawmakers recommended that President Isaac Herzog appoint Netanyahu to form a government, a presidency statement said Friday, following several days of consultations.

The former premier has been summoned “to accept the task of forming the government from the president on Sunday”, it added.

He will have 28 days to form a cabinet, with a 14-day extension available if required.

Netanyahu led Israel from 1996 to 1999 and then again from 2009 to 2021 in a record tenure in office.

His right-wing Likud party and its allies — two ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties and the extreme-right Religious Zionism bloc — won 64 seats in the Knesset, enabling Netanyahu to form a stable governing coalition.

The 73-year-old remains on trial over corruption allegations, which he denies.

‘Worried’

The presidency statement said 28 lawmakers had instead recommended Herzog tap Netanyahu’s centrist rival, outgoing premier Yair Lapid.

Four parties — including Mansour Abbas’s Arab-led Islamist Raam, which made history by supporting Lapid’s coalition government last year — refused to recommend any candidate.

Netanyahu will likely have to juggle demands from his extreme-right allies for policy commitments and cabinet posts, but is not expected to face insurmountable challenges during the coalition negotiations.

Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, co-leaders of the Religious Zionism bloc, have publicly demanded control of two key ministries — public security and defence.

Ben-Gvir, a firebrand known for anti-Arab rhetoric and incendiary calls for Israel to annex the entire West Bank, has repeatedly urged for the security services to use more force in countering Palestinian unrest.

Violence has soared between Israel and the Palestinians, and recent months have been the deadliest period in years in the Israeli-occupied West Bank according to the United Nations, with near daily army raids and an increase in clashes and attacks on Israeli forces.

‘Repugnant’

The electoral success of Religious Zionism has raised fears among its political opponents and Arab-Israelis, who for years have been at the receiving end of Ben-Gvir’s vitriol.

The US on Thursday labelled Ben-Gvir “repugnant” after he appeared at a memorial event for a Jewish extremist.

Herzog, whose role is largely symbolic, was reported to have tried to convince Lapid and his defense minister Benny Gantz to form a unity cabinet with Netanyahu, in order to keep Ben-Gvir from entering government.

The presidency publicly denied the claims.

But Herzog was caught sending a warning about Ben-Gvir.

“You have a partner who the entire world around us is worried about,” he said this week following a meeting with ultra-Orthodox leaders, apparently unaware his microphone was switched on.

He also told Ben-Gvir Thursday that “there is a certain image of you and your party which seems, and I’ll say it in all honesty, worrying in many regards.”

He said he had received “questions from Israeli citizens and world leaders… very sensitive questions on human rights”.

Aryeh Deri, head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party — which was invigorated after winning 11 seats — is also expected to play a major role in the government, with his eyes on either the interior or finance ministries, according to Israeli media.

Deri was convicted of tax evasion in 2021, and was previously jailed for fraud.

The new administration is expected to make judicial reform a key priority, as it moves to redress what it has condemned as an activist, leftist agenda of Israeli judges.

Netanyahu Eyes Comeback On Eve Of Israel Election

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a visit to the Tikva market in Tel Aviv on October 28, 2022, ahead of the November general elections. (Photo by GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

 

 

 

Israeli politicians were making their final campaign pitches Monday before the divided country holds its fifth election in less than four years, with hawkish ex-premier Benjamin Netanyahu eyeing a comeback.

The 73-year-old Likud party leader served as prime minister for longer than anyone in Israel’s history before he was ousted in June 2021 by an ideologically-divided coalition crafted by the current caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid.

That motley alliance lasted only one year, triggering Tuesday’s vote, which will see Netanyahu and his allies try to secure the 61-year seat parliamentary majority in the 120-seat Knesset that has repeatedly eluded them.

The election comes in a year that has seen violence flare in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with near daily clashes in the occupied West Bank all summer.

“Bibi” Netanyahu has long billed himself as the Jewish state’s guarantor of security, but has also been weakened by a trial on corruption charges which he denies.

To beat the camp around centrist Lapid and form a government, Netanyahu’s right-wing party will almost certainly have to rely on its long-standing ultra-Orthodox Jewish allies.

He is also expected to turn to the extreme-right co-led by Itamar Ben-Gvir, known for his virulent anti-Arab rhetoric and incendiary calls for Israel to annex the entire occupied West Bank.

The final pre-election polls, released Friday, underscored that Israel remains mired in an unprecedented era of political deadlock.

The so-called Netanyahu bloc was predicted to take 60 seats in three surveys, from Israel’s Channel 12, Channel 13 and the Kan network.

The polls suggested 56 seats for anti-Netanyahu parties and four seats for an alliance of Arab-led parties that is not expected to back any Israeli government.

If the vote breaks along those lines, with neither camp reaching 61 seats, Israel could potentially be headed for an astonishing sixth election within months.

Lapid voiced confidence on Monday, telling lawmakers from his Yesh Atid party that it will “win these elections” by offering voters a stark choice: “the anger of the past or the shared good of the future.”

‘Once was enough’

Netanyahu has pushed the message that the coalition that ousted him last year — which included an Arab-led party for the first time in Israeli history — was “dangerous” for Israel.

Jerusalem busses have been covered with Likud campaign posters picturing four Netanyahu rivals and the message “Once Was Enough”.

They show Lapid, Defence Minister Benny Gantz and Raam party leader Mansour Abbas who joined the “change” coalition after rejecting Netanyahu’s effort to court him.

The fourth face is that of Ahmad Tibi, an Arab opposition lawmaker with the Hadash-Taal party, even though he never joined Lapid’s coalition.

“The future of Israel is at stake,” Netanyahu told army radio Monday. “What kind of government will we have — that of Lapid and the Muslim Brotherhood?” he asked, referring to Raam’s Islamist roots.

“We’ve got to break the tie and win.”

Violence raging

The election comes amid one of the deadliest recent phases in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has seen some commentators voice fears of a “third intifada” or uprising.

“We are sure the Israeli election will not bring a partner for peace,” Palestinian prime minister Mohammed Shttayeh said Monday.

Following a series of fatal attacks on Israelis in March, in which many victims were civilians, Israel has carried out more than 2,000 raids in the West Bank, pursuing Palestinians it accuses of having ties to militant groups.

More than 120 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in the West Bank this year — including many fighters but also non-combatants — the heaviest toll in the territory since 2015.

There have also been more deadly attacks on Israelis, with three people killed by Palestinian gunmen this month.

The Israeli army has declared it will close West Bank crossings on election day except for humanitarian and medical transports or in exceptional circumstances.

The rising violence could help Netanyahu, commentator Nadav Eyal argued in Israel’s Yediot Ahronot newspaper.

“Terrorism often gets the last word in Israeli elections,” Eyal wrote. “When that happens, it is usually centre-left governments that pay the electoral price.”

Netanyahu Eyes Return To Power As Israel Votes Yet Again

Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a visit to the Tikva market in Tel Aviv on October 28, 2022, ahead of the November general elections. (Photo by GIL COHEN-MAGEN / AFP)

 

Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu is eyeing a return to power when the country holds its fifth election in four years Tuesday, his chances potentially boosted by the rise of the extreme-right.

The longest-serving leader in Israeli history, the 73-year-old right-winger and security hawk is for the first time in years campaigning from the opposition.

He is up against the centrist caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who last year manoeuvred a motley alliance of eight parties into a coalition that managed to oust Netanyahu from power.

Lapid sails into the November 1 election just days after a diplomatic breakthrough — finalising a landmark maritime border deal with foe Lebanon that unlocks offshore gas riches for both sides.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, is hoping his record 15 years in power can convince the electorate that only he has the necessary experience to lead the country, despite his ongoing corruption trial.

The polls have Netanyahu’s Likud emerging as the largest party in parliament, the Knesset — but in a political system dominated by coalitions, his path to the premiership is far from certain.

Even while the ballots are still being counted, both leaders are likely to enter intense negotiations with smaller parties as they seek to reach the 61 seats needed for a parliamentary majority.

For Netanyahu that means rekindling his longstanding ties to the ultra-Orthodox, while he has also courted the extreme-right alliance of Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich.

The duo’s Religious Zionism alliance is surging in the polls and could clinch third place, more than doubling its current six seats.

The backing of the extreme-right could serve as Netanyahu’s ticket back into high office, a move which would likely come in exchange for handing significant powers to Ben-Gvir.

‘Crisis of confidence’

With Lapid’s Yesh Atid party behind Likud in the polls, one of his aides said he “wants to make sure Netanyahu does not get these 61 (seats) with his allies”.

Such a strategy means both convincing Israelis to turn away from the Likud leader and making sure that his potential allies win votes.

Under Israel’s electoral system, parties need to win a minimum of four seats to make it into parliament.

“Lapid is trying to say that he is the only one who can bring together the anti-Netanyahu members of the Knesset,” said Gayil Talshir, a political scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“He has to make sure his potential partners are getting above the threshold,” she added.

Multiple parties are teetering on the four-seat threshold, notably all three Arab-led groups which have previously opposed Netanyahu.

Mansour Abbas, leader of Raam which became the first Arab party to join a ruling coalition last year, told AFP there is a “crisis of confidence with the Arab public”.

Arab-Israelis make up around 20 percent of the population and if their turnout falls, as expected, Netanyahu’s bloc could win more seats.

Netanyahu’s future

Overall Israeli turnout is expected to remain relatively high, despite voters being “absolutely fatigued” according to veteran pollster Dahlia Scheindlin.

As with the last four polls held since April 2019, the political crisis will not end with election day.

Coalition talks can take weeks and, if they fail, there is a chance the electorate will soon go to the polls yet again.

Scheindlin said voters “haven’t changed their minds significantly over the last few cycles”, but that their leaders’ positions could shift.

“What is different is the shape of the parties and possibly the decisions of the party leaders who will have to decide which coalitions to go into,” she said.

“That changes from election to election, it could change this time too.”

The outcome of this latest vote may have wider consequences for Netanyahu who is fighting corruption charges.

Securing the premiership could pave the way for Netanyahu to seek immunity from prosecution, with the backing of Religious Zionism which is vowing to overhaul the justice system.

If he remains in opposition, he could “negotiate a plea bargain” according to Talshir.

After releasing a memoir this month, she said, Netanyahu after decades on the political stage may be “preparing the ground for his departure”.

Defying Warnings, Jews Embark On Ukraine Pilgrimage

Prime Minister of Israel Yair Lapid this month urged citizens to avoid Uman.

 

Thousands of Israeli ultra-Orthodox Jews have vowed to brave the dangers of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and make a pilgrimage there during the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashana.

Among those who said they would not be deterred by the war or by government travel warnings and head to the Ukrainian city of Uman was Avraham Burstein, 51, a musician and actor.

“It is like being in love, I simply have to go,” he said as he tuned his accordion at his Yiddish music school in Jerusalem.

Burstein has travelled to Uman, some 200 kilometres (125 miles) south of Kyiv, every year since 1989, only missing the pilgrimage once, in 2020, when the Covid pandemic shut down international travel.


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That year he still attempted to enter Ukraine and “tried from eight different countries”, he chuckled, insisting that this year he would make it to Uman for the holiday which begins on September 25.

Most of those travelling are, like Burstein, members of the Breslov branch of haredi Judaism, loyal followers of Rabbi Nachman, from Bratslav in modern-day Ukraine, who died in 1810.

Nachman was the founder of an ultra-Orthodox movement that settled in Uman in the early 1800s. Before his death, he asked that his followers visit his tomb to celebrate Jewish holidays.

“For us, it would be nice if he was buried in London, or in Amsterdam, even in Berlin,” said Burstein. “But he chose to be there, and he asked us to come every year for Rosh Hashana, so we have to go.”

‘Let me go’

The pilgrimage was greatly suppressed during the era of the Soviet Union, and it was only after its collapse in 1991 that the annual visits began to balloon into the tens of thousands.

“All my life growing up, I prayed to God: please one time let me go to Rabbi Nachman’s grave, just one time,” said Burstein.

“It was so difficult” because of the stringent Soviet restrictions on entry, he said. “North Korea was easier to go to. It was like the moon.”

Though he said he had not yet booked his ticket, Burstein planned to travel later this week with his two sons.

Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid this month urged citizens to avoid Uman, warning of a “life-threatening danger”, and the Ukranian embassy in Israel last week issued a similar warning.

Uman was badly hit by Russian missiles in the early weeks of the war, and just last month a civilian was killed by a Russian missile in the district, according to a statement from a regional official, Ihor Taburets, posted on messaging service Telegram.

Burstein said he could “understand the prime minister and president asking us not to go — they are responsible for the security of the people”.

But he argued that, given the frequent security incidents in his home country, “if you are coming from Israel, you don’t worry about the danger”.

Sold-out flights

Direct flights to Kyiv have been cancelled since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began, yet thousands of pilgrims have already set out on their journeys.

One haredi travel agent in Jerusalem, who asked not to be named for fear of rebuke in the community, said flights to countries bordering Ukraine had largely sold out for the rest of the month.

At Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport last week, flights to Moldova and Romania were packed with Breslov haredim heading for Uman.

“Why should we be worried? If you believe in God you’re not afraid of anything,” Avraham Elbaz told AFP as he checked in for his flight to the Moldovan capital Chisinau.

In September 2020, thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews were trapped for days between the borders of Belarus and Ukraine after Kyiv refused to allow them entry due to the Covid pandemic.

Before the pandemic, more than 50,000 pilgrims travelled annually during Rosh Hashana, said Gilad Malach, director of the Ultra-Orthodox in Israel programme at the Israel Democracy Institute think-tank.

He estimated that anywhere between 5,000 and 10,000 pilgrims would attempt the journey this year.

“The majority, when there are restrictions, understand the reasons not to go, whether that is Covid-19 or the war,” Malach told AFP.

“But for the hardcore hasidim, it’s one of the basic commitments that they have,” he added, saying their belief is that “you should do anything to get there”.

“The more it is forbidden or hard, the more you are appreciated as a follower if you succeed in overcoming the obstacles and visiting the grave.”

For Burstein, the war has only heightened the journey’s importance.

“We hope that because of our prayer there, we can bring peace to the world,” he said.

Two Palestinians Killed, 40 Wounded As Israeli Troops Raid West Bank

Palestinian protesters hurl rocks at Israeli security forces vehicles during their raid in the old town of Nablus, in the occupied West Bank, on August 9, 2022. (Photo by JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

 

Two Palestinians, including a senior militant commander, were killed Tuesday as Israeli forces raided a house in the occupied West Bank city of Nablus, the army said.

The latest violence comes two days after deadly fighting between Israel and Islamic Jihad militants in the coastal enclave of Gaza was halted by a truce.

In the old city of Nablus, an AFP correspondent reported Palestinians trading gunfire with Israeli security forces.

At least 40 Palestinians were wounded, four of them in serious condition, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

“The terrorist Ibrahim al-Nabulsi was killed in the city of Nablus,” the Israeli army said in a statement, adding that “another terrorist who was staying in the house” also died.

Nabulsi was a commander of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, one of the main militant groups present in the West Bank operating under the ruling Fatah party.

Clashes with the Israeli army also broke out in other parts of Nablus, as Palestinians hurled stones at the troops.

Heavy gunfire was heard as dozens of Israeli military vehicles brought traffic in one of the West Bank’s largest cities to a standstill.

“A violent clash developed with dozens of rioters who threw stones and threw explosives at the forces, who responded by means of crowd dispersal and shooting. Several injuries were confirmed,” the army said.

“All the forces have left the city, there are no casualties to our forces,” it added.

Israeli security forces have conducted near-daily operations in the West Bank in recent months, focusing on militants from the Islamic Jihad group.

At least 57 Palestinians have been killed since late March, mostly in the West Bank.

They have included suspected militants and also non-combatants, among them Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American dual national, who was covering an Israeli raid in Jenin.

Attacks on Israeli targets have killed 19 people over the same period, most of them civilians killed in attacks inside Israel. Three Israeli Arab attackers have also been killed.

 Deadly Gaza fighting

On Friday, Israel launched what it called a “pre-emptive” aerial and artillery bombardment of Islamic Jihad positions in the Gaza Strip, leading militants in the coastal enclave to fire more than a thousand rockets in retaliation, according to the army.

An Egypt-brokered ceasefire reached Sunday and ended three days of intense fighting that killed 46 Palestinians, 16 of them children, and wounded 360, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

Israel insists that some the children and other civilians counted in the Palestinian toll were killed by Islamic Jihad rockets that fell short or misfired.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid said Monday that the bombardment had “landed a devastating blow to the enemy”, and that the “entire senior military command of Islamic Jihad in Gaza was successfully targeted.”

Islamic Jihad said 12 of its members had been killed, including commanders Taysir al-Jabari and Khaled Mansour.

Mohammad al-Hindi, a senior member of the group, said the ceasefire deal “contains Egypt’s commitment to work towards the release of two prisoners”.

They were named Bassem al-Saadi, a senior figure in the group’s political wing who was arrested in the West Bank early last week, and Khalil Awawdeh, a militant also in Israeli detention.

African Union Head Condemns Israeli ‘Attacks’ In Gaza

Palestinians assess the damage in a building, following Israeli air strikes in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, on August 7, 2022. (Photo by SAID KHATIB / AFP)

 

The chairman of the African Union Commission on Sunday condemned Israeli “air strike attacks” in the Gaza Strip as violence escalates in the troubled region, with 31 Palestinians reported dead.

“Moussa Faki Mahamat strongly condemns the continued air strike attacks by Israel on Gaza that have killed more than 30 Palestinian civilians, including 6 children,” an AU statement said.

The “targeting of civilians and the continued illegal occupation by Israeli security forces of the Occupied Territories, are in stark violation of international law, and complicate the search for a just and lasting solution”, the statement said.

The recent fighting is the worst in Gaza since a war last year devastated the impoverished coastal territory, home to some 2.3 million Palestinians, and forced Israelis to seek shelter from rockets.

Israel has stepped up its bombardments of positions of Islamic Jihad, an Iran-backed group designated as a terrorist organisation by several Western nations, and the militants have fired over 500 rockets in return.

The relationship with Israel is a rare point of contention for the AU, a body that values consensus, with powerful member states, notably South Africa, loudly protesting a decision by Faki last year to accept Israel’s accreditation to the bloc as an observer.

The decision was a major diplomatic win for Israel, but opposing member nations said it contradicted numerous AU statements -– including from Faki himself –- backing the Palestinian Territories.

In its statement on Sunday, the AU reiterated its support for “the Palestinian people in their legitimate quest for an independent and sovereign State” with East Jerusalem as its capital.

AFP

Iran Foils Attacks On ‘Sensitive’ Sites, Arrests Pro-Israel Spies

 

Iran’s intelligence ministry announced Saturday the arrest of agents linked to Israel’s Mossad who entered the Islamic republic to carry out attacks against “sensitive” sites, state news agency IRNA reported.

The suspects entered Iran from northern Iraq but were arrested before they could carry out their mission, IRNA said, citing a statement from the ministry.

“The members of the terrorist organisation work for the Zionist spy agency Mossad who were sent to (Iran) to carry out terrorist operation… against sensitive sites,” IRNA reported.

The statement did not say how many suspects were arrested or give their nationalities, nor did it identify the targets of the purported plots.

“The members of the network were in contact with Mossad through one of Iran’s neighbouring countries… and intended on carrying unprecedented terrorist activities in some sensitive locations and pre-determined targets,” it said.

The suspects entered Iran from Iraq’s Kurdistan region at an unspecified date and “modern communication equipment” and “explosive devices” were seized during their arrests, the statement added.

Iran and Israel have been engaged in a years-long shadow war, with the Islamic republic accusing its arch-foe of carrying out sabotage attacks against its nuclear sites and assassinations of key figures, including scientists.

But tensions have ratcheted up following a string of high-profile incidents that Tehran has blamed on Israel.

The Islamic republic has pointed at Israel for the killing of Revolutionary Guards Colonel Sayyad Khodai at his Tehran home on May 22.

Two other senior Guard members have also died — one in a reported accident and the other in a shooting — earlier this year.

In April, Iran said it arrested three people linked to Mossad and a month earlier claimed it had foiled an attack on a nuclear plant also planned by suspects linked to Israel.

Israel Announces New Permits For Gaza Workers

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem,on June 12, 2022. Maya Alleruzzo / POOL / AFP

 

Israel announced an extra 2,000 entry permits for Palestinians in Gaza Thursday, bringing the total number of permits for workers from the blockaded enclave to 14,000.

“Following a security assessment, the minister of defence has decided to raise the quota of entry permits for work and commerce in Israel by an additional 2,000,” COGAT, the Israeli defence ministry body responsible for civil affairs in the Palestinian territories, said.

“All the latest civil measures regarding the Gaza Strip are dependent on the continued maintenance of stable security over time, and their expansion will be considered in light of the situation as evaluated,” it said in a statement.

Israel has maintained a strict blockade on the Gaza Strip since 2007, when the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas seized power.

Only the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt is outside Israeli control and it too has remained largely closed.

A recent World Bank report put the unemployment rate among Gaza’s more than two million people at nearly 48 percent.

Work in Israel provides a lifeline for thousands of Gazans, who can earn far higher wages on Israeli farms and construction sites than they do in Gaza.

In May, Israel closed its only crossing for people travelling to or from Gaza for nearly two weeks, as violence rocked the occupied West Bank, even though the Gaza border remained quiet.

AFP

Israel Urges Lebanon To Speed Up Talks On Maritime Border

A Lebanese flag waves during a remembrance ceremony at the port of Lebanon’s capital Beirut on August 4, 2021, on the first anniversary of the blast that ravaged the port and the city. (Photo by PATRICK BAZ / AFP)

 

Israel on Wednesday urged Lebanon to speed up negotiations on its disputed maritime border ahead of an expected visit to Beirut by the US mediator in the contentious talks.

The call came days after Israel moved a gas production vessel into an offshore field, a part of which is claimed by Lebanon.

Lebanon cried foul after the ship operated by London-listed Energean Plc arrived in the Karish gas field on Sunday, urging US envoy Amos Hochstein to visit Beirut to mediate.

In a joint statement Wednesday, the Israeli ministers for defence, energy and foreign affairs restated Israel’s view that Karish “is a strategic asset of the State of Israel”.

“The rig is located in Israeli territory, several kilometres (miles) south of the area over which negotiations are being conducted between the State of Israel and the state of Lebanon,” the statement said.

“The rig will not pump gas from the disputed territory,” it added, stressing Israel was “prepared to defend” the site.

“We call on the state of Lebanon to accelerate negotiations on the maritime border,” the statement said, adding that “locating gas-based energy sources” would help both countries.

The speaker of Lebanon’s parliament, Nabih Berri, said Hochstein was expected in Beirut in the coming days.

Lebanon and Israel last fought a war in 2006, have no diplomatic relations and are separated by a UN-patrolled border.

They had resumed negotiations over their maritime border in 2020 but the process was stalled by Beirut’s claim that the map used by the United Nations in the talks needed modifying.

Lebanon initially demanded 860 square kilometres (330 square miles) of territory in the disputed maritime area but then asked for an additional 1,430 square kilometres, including part of Karish.

‘Battle Of Flags’ Flares In Israel-Palestinian Conflict

An Israeli military vehicle drives while displaying Israeli flags past a lamp post displaying a Palestinian flag in the town of Huwara near Nablus in the occupied West Bank on May 30, 2022. (Photo by JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

 

Dozens of Israeli soldiers stood guard in the occupied West Bank town of Huwara, where the Palestinian flag was blowing in the warm breeze from an electricity pole.

Suddenly, a Jewish settler jumped from a car, hoisted himself up the pole and tore down the flag, to the fury of Palestinian onlookers.

The soldiers watched on, without intervening.

“Many martyrs fell for the sake of this flag, many people were killed,” said Zafer al-Sayegh, a local store-owner. “It’s not possible for us to take it down.”

In recent weeks, the Israel-Palestinian conflict has flared with an intense wave of violence again, and so has the latest round of the “battle of the flags”.

As passions have become inflamed, Israelis have marched with the blue-and-white Star of David standard while for Palestinians the black, white and green flag with the red triangle has served as a symbol of defiance.

Unrest erupted at the funeral last month of American-Palestinian Al Jazeera TV journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, killed during an army raid in the West Bank, when Israeli police attacked mourners waving the flag.

This week, members of the Israeli parliament even announced plans to ban the flying of the Palestinian flag.

– ‘Our dignity’ –

In Huwara, many storefronts have Hebrew writing, a reminder of more peaceful days when Jews would come to trade with Palestinians.

That goodwill has vanished, as Israelis living in nearby settlements, considered illegal by most of the international community, have repeatedly entered the town’s outskirts to pull down Palestinian flags, angering residents and prompting clashes between Palestinians and the army.

The Palestinians say the army has stood by and watched, refusing to stop what they call settler provocations.

Today, the Israeli army has a heavy presence in Huwara.

The main roads into town are blocked with mounds of dirt and rubble, and squads of nervous soldiers patrol the back streets on foot, making Huwara look like a town under siege.

“They have made an issue of the Palestinian flag,” Wajeh Odeh, a former mayor of the town, told AFP.

“To us, it’s a symbol. It means everything, it means our dignity, it means our right to defend ourselves against the Israelis.”

– ‘Invent provocations’ –

The flag is also an issue in annexed east Jerusalem, which was captured by Israel in 1967.

At the funeral of Abu Akleh last month, Israeli police were filmed beating pallbearers as officers waded into crowds of mourners to tear down Palestinian flags.

In a rare scene that afternoon, east Jerusalem’s Old City was awash with thousands of Palestinians defiantly waving the flag.

Two weeks later, tens of thousands of Israeli nationalists held their annual “flag march” through the same Old City, leaving it awash in blue and white to mark Israel’s 1967 capture of the eastern sector of the city.

It is not illegal to wave the Palestinian flag in Jerusalem, Laura Wharton, a liberal member of the city’s municipality, told AFP, though the police regularly make arrests on the grounds that the flags are being used as a provocation.

She described the police’s crackdown on flags as an attempt by the Israeli far right to “invent provocations where there aren’t any”.

– ‘Colours of enemy’ –

This week, Israel’s parliament passed a preliminary vote on a bill proposed by right-wing Likud party lawmaker Eli Cohen to treat the Palestinian flag as the colours of an enemy state.

A description of the bill on parliament’s website said the Palestinian flag is being waved by “those who do not recognise the State of Israel” or who spell “an existential danger” to it.

It argues that the flag’s public display is therefore an act outside legitimate protest and “a red line not to be crossed”.

Cohen argued on Twitter that it was “time to end… incitement of hatred by strengthening our sovereignty”.

Wharton said the issue of flags is “spiralling” out of control.

“The more it is made a point of dispute with the ultra-right,” she said, “the more the Palestinians, especially the youth, are using it to bait them.”

AFP