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

Israel Signs UAE Free Trade Deal, Its First In Arab World

A handout image provided by the United Arab Emirates News Agency (WAM) on May 31, 2022. (Photo by WAM / AFP)

 

Israel signed a free trade deal with the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday, its first with an Arab country, building on their US-brokered normalisation of diplomatic relations in 2020.

Israel’s ambassador to the oil-rich UAE, Amir Hayek, tweeted “mabruk” — congratulations in Arabic — with a photo of Emirati and Israeli officials holding documents at a signing ceremony in Dubai.

The Emirati envoy to Israel, Mohamed Al Khaja, hailed as an “unprecedented achievement” the deal that, according to the Israeli side, scraps customs duties on 96 percent of all products traded.

“Businesses in both countries will benefit from faster access to markets and lower tariffs as our nations work together to increase trade, create jobs, promote new skills and deepen cooperation,” Khaja tweeted.

The 2020 deal was part of the US-brokered Abraham Accords that also saw Israel establish diplomatic ties with Bahrain and Morocco.

Two-way trade between Israel and the UAE last year totalled some $900 million dollars, according to Israeli figures.

UAE-Israel Business Council president Dorian Barak predicted that trade would soon multiply between the regional powerhouse economies.

“UAE-Israel trade will exceed $2 billion in 2022, rising to around $5 billion in five years, bolstered by collaboration in renewables, consumer goods, tourism and the life sciences sectors,” he said in a statement.

“Dubai is fast becoming a hub for Israeli companies that look to South Asia, the Middle East and the Far East as markets for their goods and services.”

Nearly 1,000 Israeli companies will be working in and through the UAE by year’s end, he said.

– Trade diplomacy –

The UAE was the first Gulf country to normalise ties with Israel and only the third Arab nation to do so after Egypt and Jordan.

Talks for a free trade agreement began in November and concluded after four rounds of negotiations.

The latest was held in March in Egypt between Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, UAE’s long-time de facto ruler who became president this month after the death of his half-brother Sheikh Khalifa.

Israel had in March hosted a meeting of the top diplomats from the United States, UAE, Bahrain and Morocco.

Sudan in 2020 also agreed to normalise ties with Israel, but the strife-torn northeast African country has yet to finalise a deal.

Israel has already struck free trade agreements with other countries and blocs, including the United States, European Union, Canada and Mexico.

In February, Israel signed a trade deal with Rabat to designate special industrial zones in Morocco.

– Palestinian issue –

The Abraham Accords broke with long-standing pan-Arab policy to isolate Israel until it withdraws from the occupied territories and accepts Palestinian statehood.

Palestinians condemned the agreements struck under then US president Donald Trump, and the conflict continues to inflame tensions, including between Israel and the UAE.

Tuesday’s signing came two days after thousands of flag-waving Israelis marched through Jerusalem’s Old City during a nationalist procession marking Israel’s 1967 capture of east Jerusalem.

Israel annexed east Jerusalem in 1980, a move never recognised by the international community.

The UAE on Monday “strongly condemned” what it called Israel’s “storming” of Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque compound, one of Islam’s holiest sites.

The UAE “reiterated its firm position on the need to provide full protection for Al Aqsa Mosque and halt serious and provocative violations taking place there”, reported the official WAM news agency.

Tension In Jerusalem Ahead Of Israeli ‘Flag March’

Demonstrators chant slogans and wave Israeli flags in Jerusalem on May 29, 2022, ahead of the ‘flags march’ to mark “Jerusalem Day”. (Photo by RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP)

 

A tense Jerusalem braced for Israel’s “flag march” on Sunday as Palestinian groups threatened retaliation over the annual rally that sparked a war last year.

Israel deployed 3,000 police on the day that marks its 1967 capture of east Jerusalem, home of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound located on what Jews revere as the Temple Mount.

Flag-waving Jewish nationalists chanting pro-Israel slogans, among them a far-right lawmaker, in the morning visited Al-Aqsa, where Israeli police said several Palestinians threw rocks toward the officers.

Isolated clashes also broke out at the Old City’s Damascus Gate where dozens of Jewish nationalists danced in front of Palestinians, one of whom raised his shoe in an Arab insult. Police reported 18 arrests over “disorderly conduct”.

Across annexed east Jerusalem, many Palestinian flags flew from rooftops ahead of the “Jerusalem Day” march due to start at 4:00 pm (1300 GMT).

The march last year sparked unrest that led the Islamist armed group Hamas to fire rockets from the blockaded Gaza Strip, triggering an 11-day war.

Hamas warned last week that marchers must not pass through the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, saying it would use all means to confront them.

The route of the march has never included Al-Aqsa, a site which Jewish groups are permitted to visit but where they are not allowed to pray.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said Sunday the march would be held “along the regular route” and urged participants to be “respectful”.

– Pro-Israel chants –

Police said that in the morning some 1,800 people ascended to the compound during a regular visitation window — more than normal, but made up mostly of tourists.

Some Jews had “violated visitation rules” and several people were detained, police said without providing further details, before the day’s time window for visits concluded.

One group sang pro-Israel chants including “Yerushalayim rak shelanou” or “Jerusalem belongs to us only”.

Far-right nationalist lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir, who was among those who went to Al Aqsa, later said his visit aimed “to reaffirm that we, the State of Israel, are sovereign” in the Holy City.

Most of the international community does not recognise Israeli control over east Jerusalem, which Palestinians see as the capital of a future state.

Some participants in Sunday’s march were set to pass through Damascus Gate on their way to the Western Wall, a controversial route for which police force Palestinians businesses to close.

Israel has since April been hit by a series of attacks targeting mostly civilians and has in turn launched military raids targeting armed groups in the occupied West Bank.

Despite the recent violence, tensions have been more muted in the run-up to Sunday’s rally compared to last year.

– Fear of war –

Security analyst Shlomo Mofaz judged that Bennett was betting on the likelihood that for now “Hamas does not have any interest in another war”.

“The main policy of Hamas today is to encourage people inside Israel (to attack), while they continue to reconstruct the Gaza Strip,” said the former intelligence officer.

Some observers believe unrest could be fuelled by fallout from last week’s killing of Iranian Revolutionary Guards colonel Sayyad Khodai in Tehran.

According to The New York Times, Israel has informed the United States that the Jewish state’s operatives were responsible for gunning him down.

Without addressing Khodai’s killing, Bennett said that “the era of the Iranian regime’s immunity is over … Whoever arms terrorists … will pay the full price”.

Iran backs Hamas, and Mofaz argued that Tehran may “encourage” Palestinian armed factions to launch rockets at Israel.

Gaza resident Mohamed Al Moughrabi, 20, said that although fear of a new war was high, he expected that “the situation will not be like last year”.

AFP

Violence Clouds Jerusalem Funeral Of Al Jazeera Journalist

Mourners carry the coffin of slain veteran Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh during her burial at the Mount Zion Cemetery outside Jerusalem's Old City on May 13, 2022, two days after she was killed while covering an Israeli army raid in the West Bank. HAZEM BADER / AFP
Mourners carry the coffin of slain veteran Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh during her burial at the Mount Zion Cemetery outside Jerusalem’s Old City on May 13, 2022, two days after she was killed while covering an Israeli army raid in the West Bank. HAZEM BADER / AFP

 

Thousands of people packed Jerusalem’s tense Old City on Friday for the burial of veteran Al Jazeera reporter Shireen Abu Akleh, after Israeli police stormed the start of the funeral procession.

Television footage showed pallbearers struggling to stop Abu Akleh’s coffin from falling to the ground as baton-wielding police officers charged towards them, grabbing Palestinian flags from mourners.

The White House described the scenes as “deeply disturbing” while the European Union said it was “appalled” by the “unnecessary force” used by Israeli police before and during the funeral.

The Jerusalem Red Crescent said 33 people were injured during the procession, of whom six were hospitalised.

READ ALSO: UAE President Sheikh Khalifa Dies At 73

Israeli police said they made six arrests. A government official said mourners had thrown “rocks and glass bottles”.

In the occupied West Bank, an Israeli commando was killed during a fresh shootout with Palestinian gunmen near the flashpoint city of Jenin. The Islamic Jihad group said its fighters were responsible.

Israel and the Palestinians have traded blame over the fatal shooting of Abu Akleh during an Israeli raid in Jenin on Wednesday.

The Israeli army said an interim investigation could not determine who fired the fatal bullet, noting that stray Palestinian gunfire or Israeli sniper fire aimed at militants were both possible causes.

Al Jazeera has said Israel killed her “deliberately” and “in cold blood”.

Abu Akleh, a Christian and a Palestinian-American, was a hugely revered reporter and her funeral in her native Jerusalem drew massive crowds.

As her body left St Joseph’s hospital in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem, Israeli police stormed the crowds who were hoisting Palestinian flags.

The Jewish state forbids public displays of Palestinian flags and routinely intervenes against those who parade them at demonstrations or other gatherings.

‘Inhumanity’

Police said they had warned the crowd to stop “nationalistic” songs and were forced to act as “violent rioters (were) trying to disrupt the proper course of the funeral.”

But prominent Palestinian figure Hanan Ashrawi said the police charge on pallbearers showed Israel’s “inhumanity.”

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said: “We regret the intrusion of what should have been a peaceful procession.”

Asked if she condemned the Israeli forces’ actions, she responded: “I think when we said they were disturbing, we obviously were not justifying them.”

US President Joe Biden discussed ways to address the rising violence in White House talks with King Abdullah II of Jordan.

“The leaders… discussed urgent mechanisms to stem violence, calm rhetoric and reduce tensions,” the White House said in a statement.

The French consulate general said “police violence” at the hospital had been “deeply shocking”.

Thousands of Palestinian mourners attempted to follow the coffin towards the cemetery just outside the walled Old City.

Police briefly attempted to prevent them but ultimately relented, allowing thousands to stream towards the graveside, and did not intervene as Palestinian flags were waved, AFP reporters said.

‘Sister of all Palestinians’

In a sign of Abu Akleh’s prominence, she was given what was described as a full state memorial service on Thursday at Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s compound in Ramallah before being transferred to Jerusalem.

“Her voice entered every home, and her loss is a wound in our hearts,” said mourner Hadil Hamdan.

The United States, European Union and United Nations have backed calls for a full investigation into Abu Akleh’s killing.

Israel has publicly called for a joint probe and stressed the need for Palestinian authorities to hand over the fatal bullet for forensic examination, but the Palestinian Authority has rejected holding a joint probe with Israel.

Grief over her killing spilt beyond the Palestinian territories, with protests erupting in Turkey, Sudan and elsewhere.

She “was the sister of all Palestinians,” her brother Antoun Abu Akleh told AFP.

Fresh violence

Fresh violence erupted in the West Bank, including a raid and clashes around Jenin refugee camp.

The Israeli officer killed was identified as Noam Raz, a 47 year old father of six. Police said he was wounded “during a shootout with armed terrorists,” and later died.

The Palestinian health ministry said 13 Palestinians were wounded in the clashes, one of them seriously.

An AFP photographer said Israeli forces had surrounded the home of a suspect, besieging two men inside and firing anti-tank grenades at the house in an effort to flush them out.

Tensions were already running high after a wave of anti-Israeli attacks that have killed at least 18 people since March 22, including an Arab-Israeli police officer and two Ukrainians.

A total of 31 Palestinians and three Israeli Arabs have died during the same period, according to an AFP tally, among them perpetrators of attacks and those killed by Israeli security forces in West Bank operations.

 

AFP

After Israel Ruling, West Bank Families Fear Evictions ‘At Any Time’

Mourners carry the body of veteran Al Jazeera Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Aqleh, who was shot dead as she covered a raid on the West Bank’s Jenin refugee camp, on May 11, 2022 before it is transferred for burial from a hospital in Jenin. (Photo by JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

 

 

The threat of losing his West Bank land has loomed over Ali Mohammed Jabbareen for more than two decades, but he now fears an Israeli court decision may finally force him to go.

Jabbareen, 60, lives in the Palestinian village of Jinba, part of the Masafer Yatta area in the Israeli-occupied West Bank that has been at the centre of a protracted legal battle.

In the early 1980s, the army declared the 3,000 hectare (7,400 acre) area a restricted military area — calling it “Firing Zone 918”.

The army said it was uninhabited, and that anyone claiming to live there was doing so illegally.

The roughly 1,000 Palestinians who live there say Masafer Yatta was their people’s home long before Israeli soldiers set foot in the West Bank.

Israel’s top court ruled against the Palestinians last week, saying they had “failed to prove” their claim to permanent residence before its declaration as a military training zone.

The European Union condemned the decision on Tuesday, saying “the establishment of a firing zone cannot be considered an ‘imperative military reason’ to transfer the population under occupation”.

The ruling made no specific mention of evictions, which are usually followed by demolitions such as one carried out Tuesday at Silwan in annexed east Jerusalem.

But Jabbareen fears they could be carried out with little notice.

“We have no information about the demolitions,” he told AFP as he gazed through the open door of his one-room house at an Israeli military patrol stirring up dust on the unpaved road nearby.

Army units with clearance to destroy his home, “could come at any time”, he said.

– ‘No other place to go’ –
Masafer Yatta residents insist they lived in the area even as control of the West Bank changed hands — from the British mandate period through Jordanian rule from 1948 to 1967, the year the Israeli occupation began.

The isolated community is in the West Bank’s “Area C” — which is under full Israeli control — and is more than an hour’s drive from the nearest paved road.

Few of the homes are connected to a water supply system or power grid.

Jabbareen built his house into a rocky outcrop in the heart of his farmland. It is currently home to 12 people, who scratch out a living raising sheep and growing vegetables.

“This is my land and they want to expel me from it,” he said.

Some residents of Masafer Yatta were first kicked out in 1999.

The following year, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) helped some of the families challenge their expulsion in court.

They secured a temporary reprieve that remained in force pending the high court’s final decision last week.

Roni Pelli of the ACRI said the verdict was “inherently flawed”.

“The villages in Masafar Yatta are the homes of the petitioners, and they have no other home.”

She insisted expelling them was “illegal,” and backed a long-standing allegation made by Israeli critics that the army uses the military zone designation as a pretext to grab West Bank land.

The Israeli human rights group Akevot, which specialises in state and military archival research, has obtained a document from 1981 in which then agriculture minister and future prime minister Ariel Sharon proposed to set up the firing zone.

Sharon, in the document, says the military zone declaration will ultimately make it easier to expel the Palestinian residents.

– ‘We are the opposite’ –
It was not immediately clear if the residents have any further legal recourse to ward off evictions.

Inside Jabbareen’s house, where blankets are piled high against a wall, he gestured to a nearby Jewish settlement and reflected on what he termed grossly unequal treatment in the West Bank.

Some 475,000 settlers now live in the West Bank in communities considered illegal under international law, alongside some 2.7 million Palestinians.

They are frequently granted permission to build permanent structures with proper electrical connections, while many Palestinians are denied building permits and live under the threat of eviction, he said.

“They build with concrete,” he said of the settlers.

“They are provided with electricity and water. The army is guarding them, but we are just the opposite.”

Russia Accuses Israel Mercenaries Of Fighting Alongside Ukraine

Dark smoke rises following an air strike in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv, on May 3, 2022.
Yuriy Dyachyshyn / AFP

 

A spokeswoman for Russia’s foreign ministry on Wednesday claimed Israeli mercenaries were fighting alongside the far-right Azov Regiment in Ukraine, further fuelling tensions with Israel after Russia suggested Adolf Hitler had “Jewish blood”.

“Israeli mercenaries are practically shoulder to shoulder with Azov militants in Ukraine,” Maria Zakharova told pro-Kremlin Sputnik radio in an interview.

Azov rose to prominence in 2014, when its far-right activists took up arms to fight pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region but have since fallen under the command of Ukraine’s military.

They have been fighting alongside the Ukrainian army against Russian troops, which on February 24 launched a military campaign in the pro-Western country.

Its members are part of the Ukrainian resistance in the port city of Mariupol, holed up inside the Azovstal steel plant against which Russian forces launched a major assault on Tuesday.

By suggesting that Israelis are fighting alongside Azov — viewed by Russia as “fascists” and “Nazis” — Moscow is compounding tensions that started after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Sunday that Hitler had “Jewish blood”.

His remarks sparked outrage in Israel, which called the statement “unforgivable and outrageous” and a “terrible historical error”.

Russia’s foreign ministry on Tuesday accused Israel of backing “the neo-Nazi regime in Kyiv”. Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky is of Jewish descent.

-AFP

Israel Says Iran Tried To Recruit Agents Via Facebook

In this file illustration photo taken on March 25, 2020, a Facebook app logo is displayed on a smartphone in Arlington, Virginia. Olivier DOULIERY / AFP
In this file illustration photo taken on March 25, 2020, a Facebook app logo is displayed on a smartphone in Arlington, Virginia. Olivier DOULIERY / AFP

 

Israel’s internal security agency on Monday accused Iran of using a fake Facebook profile to try and get Israelis to collect information and harm people in their country.

Shin Bet’s allegation comes days after Israel claimed that the Islamic republic of Iran had plotted to assassinate an Israeli diplomat in Turkey, as global powers seek to revive a nuclear deal with Tehran.

According to the Shin Bet, the profile of a young Jewish-Canadian woman called Sara Puppi with ties in Israel was fake and belonged to an Iranian agent using the social network to befriend primarily Israelis.

READ ALSO: Ukraine To Evacuate More Civilians From Besieged Mariupol

After contact was made, Puppi would use the WhatsApp messaging app to try and persuade her new friends “to gather information on Israeli figures while gauging their willingness to harm them, using pressure and promising thousands of dollars”, the Shin Bet said.

“Emotional and romantic manipulations were also used,” the agency added in a statement.

It said that Shin Bet agents had posed as “friends” of Puppi — whose account had more than 2,000 friends before disappearing on Monday — and received a Bitcoin payment from her.

“The Iranian operative behind the account used a business cover story to give various missions,” the Shin Bet said.

Puppi expressed a will to harm LGBT people as well as “business representatives and diplomats from Arab countries operating in Israel”, it said.

Those behind the account also tried to damage Israel’s ties with Russia by encouraging people to criticise Russian President Vladimir Putin over the Ukraine war, the Shin Bet said.

The Shin Bet told AFP they could link the account to Iran with intelligence they obtained.

Meanwhile, Israel claimed on the weekend it had “foiled” alleged bids by Iran “to assassinate a US general in Germany, a journalist in France and an Israeli diplomat in Turkey”.

The plots “were ordered, approved and funded by the senior leadership of the Iranian regime and were intended to be executed by the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps)”, said a statement from the prime minister’s office.

A suspect, named as Mansour Rasuli, was detained and interrogated by Mossad agents in Iran and allegedly confessed he had been tasked by the Islamic republic to carry out the killings, it said. Rasuli was then freed.

The premier’s office refused to provide further details and there was no immediate reaction from Iran.

 

AFP

Israel Hits Gaza After Rocket Attack As Jerusalem Tensions Spike

A general view shows the remains of the Shorouq building, levelled by an Israeli airstrike during the May 2021 conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Gaza City on April 19, 2022.  AFP

 

Israel carried out its first airstrike on the Gaza Strip in months early Tuesday, in response to a rocket fired from the Palestinian enclave after a weekend of violence around a Jerusalem holy site.

The army also said its special forces had made five arrests overnight in the occupied West Bank, which has seen a string of deadly Israeli raids since several recent fatal attacks against the Jewish state.

The latest tensions have focused on the highly contested Al-Aqsa mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem’s Israeli-annexed Old City.

Palestinian worshippers gathering there for Ramadan prayers have been outraged by visits by religious Jewish under heavy Israeli police protection — as well as restrictions on their own access.

The violence, coinciding with the Jewish Passover festival as well as the Muslim holy month, has sparked fears of a repeat of last year’s events, when similar circumstances sparked an 11-day war that levelled parts of Gaza.

On Monday, warning sirens sounded after a rocket was fired into southern Israel from the blockaded enclave, controlled by the Islamist group Hamas, in the first such incident since early January.

The Israeli military said that the rocket had been intercepted by the Iron Dome air defence system.

Hours later, the Israeli air force said it had hit a Hamas weapons factory in retaliation.

Hamas claimed to have used its “anti-aircraft defences” to counter the raid, which caused no casualties, according to witnesses and security sources in Gaza.

Deadly attacks

No faction in the crowded enclave of 2.3 million inhabitants immediately claimed responsibility for the rocket.

But it comes after weeks of mounting violence, with a total of 23 Palestinians and Arab-Israelis killed, including assailants who targeted Israelis in four deadly attacks.

Those attacks claimed 14 lives, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally.

The rocket fire also followed a weekend of Israeli-Palestinian violence in and around the Al-Aqsa mosque compound that wounded more than 170 people, mostly Palestinian demonstrators.

Diplomatic sources said the United Nations Security Council was to meet Tuesday to discuss the spike in violence.

Israeli police said they had refused to authorise a march Jewish nationalists had planned around the walls of the Old City.

A similar parade last year, following a similar wave of violence, was interrupted by rocket fire from Gaza which in turn triggered the 11-day war.

This month has also seen violence in the West Bank.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said Tuesday it had treated 72 people following a demonstration in the village of Burqa, against a march by Israeli settlers demanding the re-establishment of a nearby settlement evacuated in 2005.

The Red Crescent said four people had been directly hit by tear gas canisters and seven had been hit by rubber-coated bullets.

 Regional Arab disquiet

Incidents at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, the holiest site in Judaism and the third-holiest in Islam, have triggered repeated rounds of violence over the past century.

Jews are allowed to visit the site at certain times, but they are prohibited from praying there.

The latest spike in violence has strained Israel’s diplomatic relations with some Muslim countries and drawn wider international concern.

On Tuesday, the United Arab Emirates summoned Israel’s ambassador to convey “strong protest and denunciation” of events at Al-Aqsa, particularly “attacks on civilians” and “incursions” by Israeli security forces.

The UAE only established ties with Israel in 2020. Jordan, custodian of east Jerusalem’s holy sites, had already summoned Israel’s charge d’affaires on Monday.

United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken called both Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid on Tuesday.

Blinken’s calls followed State Department spokesman Ned Price announcing the previous day that the US had “urged all sides to preserve the historic status quo” at the Al-Aqsa compound and avoid “provocative” steps.

Abbas stressed his complete rejection of any changes to the legal and historical status quo, the official Palestinian news agency WAFA said.

Lapid meanwhile said he emphasised to Blinken “Israel’s responsible and measured efforts in the face of riots by hundreds of Islamic extremists.”

Hamas has vowed to defend Al-Aqsa’s status as “a purely Islamic site”.

But analysts have said in recent weeks that the movement does not want a war at present, partly because its military capacities were degraded by the last one.

They say Hamas is also wary that a new conflict could prompt Israel to cancel thousands of work permits lately issued to residents of impoverished Gaza.

But Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian faction that Israel says has thousands of fighters and rockets in the enclave, warned Monday that it will not be forced “into silence” over events in Jerusalem.

AFP

Israel Welcomes Fleeing Ukrainian Jews

Volunteers in the Israeli northern town of Nof Hagalil gather objects donated to welcome refugees fleeing the war in Ukraine, on March 6, 2022. – “Nof Hagalil is built on immigration,” said mayor Ronen Plot, who arrived in Israel nearly 50 years ago from Moldova. (Photo by JALAA MAREY / AFP)

 

In a parking lot under his municipality office in northern Israel, Nof Hagalil mayor Ronen Plot juggled phone calls as volunteers unloaded blankets and clothes donated for refugees fleeing war in Ukraine.

“Nof Hagalil is built on immigration,” said Plot, 67, who arrived in Israel nearly 50 years ago from Moldova. “We will absorb as many people as we can.”

After the Russian invasion began, Plot posted on Facebook, inviting Ukrainian “olim”, or Jewish immigrants, to his town and urging residents to pitch in.

“If a big immigration wave arrives, we’d be happy to take part in the Israeli effort,” he wrote.

Under Israel’s “law of return”, anyone with at least one Jewish parent or grandparent is entitled to citizenship.

Among those responding to Plot’s invitation was Chaim Gershman, who reached Nof Hagalil on Thursday with his wife Ora and their four children. His mother Nelja, 60, arrived a day later.

Gershman said he had just one hour to pack, as Russian bombs fell on his community near Kyiv. He left wearing work clothes from fixing a faucet.

“At first, we didn’t believe a thing like this will happen and we thought it was fake,” said Gershman.

He said when he arrived in Israel, he chose Nof Hagalil because of the mayor’s posts.

“I saw a man inviting, saying come to our city, we’ll welcome you,” he said.

Plot said his community offers a familiar environment because more than half its 50,000 residents speak Russian.

Shops sell Belarusian herring and Georgian sparkling water, and street signs are translated into Russian.

The mayor said he located 600 empty hotel rooms and 300 vacant apartments to house the Ukrainians who are “exhausted”.

“They endured a lot of misery, they are hungry and tired and it’s awful.”

– ‘We left everything’ –

The Gershmans fled the Kyiv-area town of Anatevka, built in the image of the fictional Jewish village made famous in the musical “Fiddler on the Roof.”

Escorted by police, the family drove 17 hours to reach the Moldovan border, only stopping once for 10 minutes amid explosions.

“We left everything we had, our whole lives,” Ora Gershman, 35, said.

Now, the seven family members sleep in two adjoining rooms in Nof Hagalil’s Plaza Hotel. The children have enrolled in school, while the parents organise paperwork and search for permanent accommodation.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has avoided forceful condemnation of Russia’s invasion, stressing Israel’s strong ties with Moscow and Kyiv.

Chaim Gershman said he did not “understand how one can stay neutral when it is clear who the aggressor is”.

“Putin has said they will only attack military targets but at the moment they are bombing without distinction,” he said.

– ‘Impossible’ rate –

Authorities say as many as 100,000 “olim” and their families could arrive from both Ukraine and Russia, evoking an earlier wave of about a million people who immigrated from the collapsing former Soviet Union.

Interior minister Ayelet Shaked estimated Sunday that about 15,000 Ukrainians could reach Israel by the end of March, with 90 percent unqualified for “return” rights. She said that was an “impossible” rate for the country of 9.4 million people.

“We are the insurance policy for the Jewish people,” Shaked, of Bennett’s religious nationalist Yamina party, told Israeli public radio.

Israeli citizens who host non-Jewish Ukrainians who are not their immediate relatives must post a 10,000 shekel ($3,046) deposit per traveller, returnable when they depart.

Minister of Diaspora Affairs Nachman Shai wrote on Twitter: “Such a demand at this time is inhuman and immoral and prevents refugees fleeing the war and without family in Israel from seeking refuge here.”

Ukraine’s ambassador to Israel, Yevgen Korniychuk, told reporters on Monday that an agreement had been reached on deposits for non-Jewish refugees and thanked Shaked, without providing specifics.

– Arab neighbours –

The arrival of Jews to Nof Hagalil touches a historical nerve.

It was built as a Jewish town in the 1950s on land appropriated from the neighbouring Arab city of Nazareth. Israel’s founding prime minister David Ben Gurion aimed to “Judaize” the Galilee, which was inhabited mostly by Israel’s 20 percent Arab minority.

Arab citizens of Israel are the descendants of Palestinians who remained during Israel’s 1948 war of independence, while more than 700,000 others fled or were forced from their homes. Israel has not allowed most Palestinian refugees to return.

With time, Arab citizens have moved into Nof Hagalil, and today they comprise about a quarter of its population.

One of them is Saed Diab, 39, the banquet manager of the Plaza Hotel that is hosting refugees. He said he donated hand-me-down clothing for the new arrivals.

“I was in Kyiv on holiday just before the coronavirus. Nice city, good people,” he said.

“I’m sorry for what’s happening to them.”

AFP

Israelis, Arabs, Iranians Flee Ukraine Amidst Shelling

Family members wait for the arrival of Israeli passengers arriving from Ukraine via the border with Romania on an Israeli ‘Israir’ rescue flight at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, on March 1, 2022. JACK GUEZ / AFP

 

Israelis, Iranians and Tunisians landed back in their home countries Tuesday to the tearful relief of relatives, as evacuations of nationals caught up in the Russian invasion of Ukraine gathered pace.

The evacuees had all been forced to make harrowing escapes by land through the war zone to board repatriation flights in neighbouring countries after Ukraine closed its airspace to civilian traffic at the start of the invasion last week.

One of the first repatriation flights bringing home Israeli evacuees landed at Ben Gurion airport from Romania.

Badr Tawil, 23, a student who fled Ukraine’s under-fire second city Kharkiv, said he had escaped chaos.

“We just woke up once and we heard the sounds around us. Bombs everywhere. So we decided to leave, just to leave Ukraine,” he said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Monday his office had helped 4,000 Israelis leave Ukraine since Russia invaded.

“We will do everything to not leave any Israeli behind, or any Jew behind,” he told journalists.

Many of the Israelis repatriated on Tuesday were members of the Arab minority, who make up 20 percent of the Jewish state’s population.

A student, who identified himself only as Hussein, described a terrifying escape from the war zone.

“For four days, we have been sleeping in staircases and train stations,” he said.

“We had a really difficult time without food. I was in Ukraine in Kharkiv. It is the last year of my studies, but now I left everything to return.”

Uda Abu Saied, whose son Muhammad returned on the flight, said she had been terrified for his safety.

“I wasn’t sure if my son would return or not. He was in the most dangerous place,” she said.

“They went on their own with the bus for 24 hours, and I imagined all kinds of scenarios like a missile hitting and killing them, or maybe that they would get captured.”

The foreign ministry said Monday that one Israeli had been killed in Ukraine when the convoy he was travelling in came under fire as he tried to reach neighbouring Moldova.

The foreign ministry said authorities had contacted the man’s wife, who was in Ukraine with their children.

‘Nightmare’

Israeli passengers arriving from Ukraine via the border with Romania on an Israeli ‘Israir’ rescue flight are welcomed by their family upon arrival at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, on March 1, 2022.JACK GUEZ / AFP

 

Iran’s state media said a first repatriation flight carrying nationals fleeing Ukraine landed in Tehran from Poland at around 7:00 am (0330 GMT).

In Tunis, a group of 106 Tunisian students and a baby arrived on a special repatriation flight by military aircraft from the Romanian capital Bucharest.

In emotional scenes, they were welcomed by their relatives.

Foreign Minister Othman Jerandi, who was at the airport, said a further 480 Tunisian students would be repatriated in the coming days via Romania or Poland.

“We went through a nightmare, through a war,” said engineering student Aymen Badri.

Fellow engineering student Hamdi Boussaa said getting across the border into Romania had been “a very complex operation”.

Some 1,700 Tunisians live in Ukraine, mostly students.

In all, more than 10,000 Arab students attend university in Ukraine, drawn to the former Soviet republic by its low cost of living.

Other Arab governments are also planning repatriation flights.

Morocco, which has around 8,000 students enrolled in Ukrainian universities, said it was organising special flights from Bucharest, Budapest and Warsaw on both Wednesday and Thursday.

Evacuees will be charged 750 dirhams (70 euros) per head for the one-way trip to Casablanca.

The Palestinian foreign ministry said it was scrambling to assist some 2,600 nationals trapped in Ukraine, hundreds of them students.

More than 660,000 people have fled Ukraine to neighbouring countries since Russia launched its invasion last week, the UN refugee agency said on Tuesday.

That includes hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians, mostly women and children, as well as third-country nationals.

-AFP