Netanyahu’s Rule Threatened By Deadlocked Israeli Polls

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greets supporters at his Likud Party headquarters in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv.

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s long grip on power appeared in jeopardy on Wednesday after elections left him tied with his main challenger Benny Gantz raising the prospect of tough negotiations to build a unity government or even the end of the premier’s record long rule.

In a sign of the demanding negotiations to come, sources in Netanyahu’s office told AFP he was cancelling a planned trip next week to the UN General Assembly in New York due to the “political context” in Israel.

He had been due to meet his “friend” US President Donald Trump on the fringes of the international gathering to discuss a defence treaty between the two allies.

But Israel’s longest-serving premier is staying home as he battles to retain his grip on power.

According to Israeli media, with more than 90 percent of ballots counted, Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud had 31 seats, while Gantz’s Blue and White took 32 places in Israel’s 120-member parliament.

The reports cited elections committee sources, as the data results had not yet been officially posted.

Gantz’s slim lead, however, gave no obvious path for either party to form a majority coalition, raising the possibility of negotiations towards a unity government.

“There are only two options, a government led by me or a dangerous government dependent on the Arab parties,” Netanyahu told a press conference in Jerusalem on Wednesday night.

“In these times, more than ever, when we face enormous security and political challenges, it cannot be that there will be a government that depends on anti-Zionist Arab parties,” he said.

Throughout his campaign, Netanyahu warned, as he has in previous elections, that left-wing and Arab voters were showing up in large numbers to try to oust him.

Media said the mainly Arab Joint List alliance was set to become the third-largest bloc in parliament with 13 seats.

End of “Netanyahu era” ?

“The Netanyahu era is over,” said Ahmed Tibi, one of the list’s leaders. “If Gantz calls, we shall tell him our conditions for supporting him.”

If the initial results hold, it will be a major setback for Netanyahu, who hoped to form a right-wing coalition similar to his current administration as he faces the possibility of an corruption indictment in weeks ahead.

Gantz, addressing supporters in Tel Aviv, called for a “broad unity government” but cautioned that he was waiting for final results.

“We will act to form a broad unity government that will express the will of the people,” the former armed forces chief said.

“We will begin negotiations and I will speak with everyone.”

Ex-defence minister Avigdor Lieberman could prove to be kingmaker, with the reported results giving his secular-nationalist party Yisrael Beitenu nine seats.

He has not declared in favour of either of the two leading contenders.

“There is only one option for us,” he has stated.

“That is to form a broad, liberal, national unity government” with Yisrael Beitenu, Blue and White and Likud.

Such a government would not include the ultra-Orthodox Jews.

The staunchly secularist Lieberman has long campaigned against what he sees as their undue clout which he accuses of seeking to impose Jewish religious law on Israel’s secular population.

He would also not partner with Arab parties.

‘Disease of hatred”

“Israel has a problem,” the top-selling daily Yediot Aharonot newspaper wrote Wednesday.”We have been afflicted with the disease of hatred.”

“Some people want to sharpen the divisions and to see a clear division between ‘left’ and ‘right’ but that is precisely the way to worsen the disease.”

Whatever the shape of the next Israeli government, the Palestinians are prepared to talk peace, said their foreign minister, Riyad al-Maliki.

“Whoever will be able to form a government, we are ready to sit with him or her in order to restart the negotiations,” Maliki told reporters in Oslo, accompanying president Mahmud Abbas on a two-day visit.

Arab turnout

Israel’s Arab parties have traditionally not endorsed anyone for prime minister.

“The main difference in this vote is the turnout among Arab citizens,” Joint List leader Ayman Odeh told journalists outside his home in the northern city of Haifa.

“There’s no doubt that this is what made the difference. Without that, Netanyahu would already be prime minister.”

The election was the second in five months for Israel.

President Reuven Rivlin, who must appoint someone to attempt to form the next government, said there was a “need to avoid a third”.

Netanyahu suffered one of the biggest defeats of his political career after the previous elections in April.

His Likud along with its right-wing and religious allies won a majority, but he failed to form a coalition and opted for a second election rather than risk having Rivlin choose someone else to try.

The stakes could not be much higher for 69-year-old Netanyahu, who many believe will seek immunity from prosecution should he survive as prime minister.

Israel Election: Exit Polls Show Possibility Of Another Deadlock

Children accompany an ultra-Orthodox Jewish man to a voting station in the city of Bnei Brak during the Israeli parliamentary election on September 17, 2019. Menahem KAHANA / AFP

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main challenger Benny Gantz were locked in a tight race in the country’s general election after polls closed Tuesday, exit surveys showed, raising the possibility of another deadlock.

Three separate exit polls carried by Israeli television stations showed Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud and Gantz’s centrist Blue and White alliance with between 31 and 34 parliament seats each out of 120.

Ex-defence minister Avigdor Lieberman’s nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, which could play a kingmaker role, could win between eight and 10 seats, according to the polls.

If the exit polls are reasonably accurate — and they have in the past been off base — either Netanyahu or Gantz will face tough negotiations to form a government.

After the exit polls were released, Lieberman called for a unity government with his party, Likud and Blue and White as he addressed supporters, saying the country was facing an “emergency”.

“There is only one option for us,” he said, adding the unity government should exclude the country’s ultra-Orthodox religious parties, which he accuses of having undue influence on politics.

The exit survey results prompted initial cheers at Blue and White’s post-election party in Tel Aviv, where they were shown on large screens, before doubts began to set in.

“We have an advantage, but I see that we are dependent on Lieberman,” said supporter Dina Margoli, 40.

At Likud’s post-election rally, music played and chants of “Bibi king of Israel” broke out, using Netanyahu’s nickname.

“Hopefully when the real results come some of these results will change and we’ll be able to form a coalition like we wanted to before,” Likud parliament member Sharren Haskel told AFP.

“And if not we’ll have to try and find another way to do it.”

Immunity?

The stakes could not be much higher for the 69-year-old Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister but who is facing possible corruption charges in the weeks ahead.

He spent the day warning he was on the verge of losing if his supporters did not turn out to vote, including in appearances at Jerusalem’s main market and its central bus station, wielding a megaphone to exhort the crowds.

He repeatedly warned, as he has in previous elections, that left-wing and Arab voters were showing up in large numbers to vote him out, appearing on Facebook live to do so.

Gantz voted in his hometown of Rosh Haayin near Tel Aviv and called on the country to reject corruption and “extremism”.

Later he visited a shopping mall in the northern city of Haifa and addressed the public through a megaphone on the beach in Tel Aviv.

Fears of election fatigue did not materialise, with turnout at 69.4 percent, higher than in April polls.

Netanyahu, prime minister for a total of more than 13 years, suffered one of the biggest defeats of his political career following an election in April.

His Likud along with its right-wing and religious allies won a majority, leading President Reuven Rivlin to task him with forming a government.

But following weeks of discussions, Netanyahu failed, opting for an unprecedented second election rather than risk Rivlin choosing someone else.

Many believe that if he wins, Netanyahu could seek to have parliament grant him immunity from prosecution ahead of a possible corruption indictment in the weeks ahead.

He spent the final days of the campaign seeking to appeal to right-wing nationalists — key to his re-election bid — and to boost turnout among his base.

Those efforts included a controversial pledge to annex the Jordan Valley, a third of the occupied West Bank.

He issued unfounded warnings that the vote could be stolen by fraud in Arab communities, leading critics to accuse him of racism.

But Netanyahu has also highlighted the country’s growing economy and his relationships with world leaders such as US President Donald Trump.

‘Normal again’

Gantz has presented himself as an honourable alternative.

He repeatedly spoke of Netanyahu’s willingness to form a coalition with far-right parties that could help him secure immunity.

Gantz says his alliance, which includes three former armed forces chiefs of staff, wants a unity government that the vast majority of Israelis would support.

A campaign by Lieberman’s nationalist Yisrael Beitenu to “make Israel normal again” appeared to have resonated with voters.

The staunch secularist has long campaigned against what he sees as the undue clout of ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties, which he accuses of seeking to impose Jewish religious law on Israel’s secular population.

Lieberman has demanded legislation to make military service mandatory for the ultra-Orthodox as for other Jewish Israelis — a demand he refused to drop after April polls, eventually blocking Netanyahu’s efforts to form a coalition.

Separately, if exit polls showing Israel’s newly reunified Arab parties with between 11 and 13 seats are accurate, they could potentially block Netanyahu from continuing as prime minister by recommending Gantz.

AFP

Israel Votes On Netanyahu’s Political Survival

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara cast their votes at a voting station in Jerusalem on September 17, 2019. Heidi Levine / POOL / AFP

 

Israel voted in its second election in five months Tuesday that will decide whether to extend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s term as the country’s longest-serving prime minister despite corruption allegations against him.

The stakes could not be much higher for the 69-year-old right-wing leader who, as in April polls, faces a strong challenge from ex-military chief Benny Gantz and his centrist Blue and White alliance.

Netanyahu voted in Jerusalem alongside his wife Sara and said he expected a close election, urging Israelis to turn out in large numbers.

“President (Donald) Trump said yesterday that the elections will be tight,” Netanyahu said in reference to Monday’s comments calling the polls “50/50” by the US leader, who has been a strong supporter of the premier.

“I can guarantee you this morning that they are very tight.”

Gantz voted in his hometown of Rosh Haayin near Tel Aviv and called on the country to reject corruption and “extremism”.

“We want new hope. We are voting today for change,” Gantz said after voting with his wife Revital.

“We will succeed in bringing hope. We will succeed in bringing change, without corruption and without extremism, all together.”

Polls opened at 7:00 am (0400 GMT) and were due to close in most areas at 10:00 pm.

Some 6.4 million people are eligible to vote.

The first exit surveys will be released just after polls close, while official results are not expected until Wednesday.

There were early signs that concerns over election fatigue may not materialise.

Turnout by 10:00 am was 15 percent, the highest by that time since 1984, according to the election committee.

Opinion polls have indicated another tight race, showing Netanyahu’s Likud and the Blue and White winning around 32 seats each in the 120-seat parliament.

Ex-defence minister Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu’s former right-hand man turned rival, could play a kingmaker role with his campaign to “make Israel normal again.”

 Immunity? 

Netanyahu suffered one of the biggest defeats of his political career following the April vote.

His Likud along with its right-wing and religious allies won a majority, leading President Reuven Rivlin to task the premier with forming a new government.

But following weeks of discussions, Netanyahu failed, leading him to opt for an unprecedented second election rather than risk having Rivlin choose someone else.

The danger for Netanyahu extends beyond remaining prime minister, a post he has held for a total of more than 13 years.

If he wins, many believe he will seek to have parliament grant him immunity from prosecution, as he faces the possibility of a corruption indictment in the weeks ahead.

Recognising the stakes, Netanyahu spent the final days of the campaign seeking to appeal to right-wing nationalists — key to his re-election bid — and to boost turnout among his base.

Those efforts have included a controversial pledge to annex the Jordan Valley, which makes up a third of the occupied West Bank.

He has issued unfounded warnings that the vote could be stolen by fraud in Arab communities, leading critics to accuse him of racism.

But Netanyahu has also highlighted the country’s growing economy and his relationships with world leaders such as Trump.

He has tried to label his main opponents “weak” and “leftist” despite their security credentials.

 ‘Normal again’ 

Gantz has campaigned by presenting himself as an honourable alternative.

He has repeatedly spoken of Netanyahu’s willingness to form a coalition with far-right parties that could help him secure immunity.

Gantz says his alliance, which includes three former armed forces chiefs of staff, wants a unity government that the vast majority of Israelis would support.

Opinion polls show the campaign by Lieberman’s nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party has resonated with voters.

His “make Israel normal again” slogan refers to what the staunch secularist says is the undue influence of ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties on the country’s politics.

He accuses them of seeking to impose Jewish religious law on Israel’s secular population and wants legislation ending the exemption of the ultra-Orthodox from mandatory military service.

Lieberman prevented Netanyahu from forming a coalition after April polls by refusing to relent on his demand that the ultra-Orthodox be required to serve in the military like other Jewish Israelis.

It is not clear he will endorse Netanyahu as prime minister again, which could be enough for Rivlin to allow Gantz to try to form a government.

Israel’s newly reunified Arab parties could also prove decisive with a performance similar to 2015 elections, when they became the third-largest force in parliament.

If so, they could block Netanyahu from continuing as prime minister by recommending Gantz.

AFP

UN Fumes Over Israel’s Plan To Annex West Bank

Benjamin Netanyahu, Prime Minister of Israel speaks at the United Nations during the United Nations General Assembly in New York City.  Stephanie Keith/Getty Images/AFP

 

The United Nations on Tuesday warned Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that his plan to annex the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank if re-elected would have no “international legal effect.”

Netanyahu issued the deeply controversial pledge as he gears up for September 17 elections. He also said Israel would move to annex Israeli settlements throughout the West Bank.

Such moves could effectively kill any remaining hopes for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, long the focus of international diplomacy.

“The secretary-general’s position has always been clear: unilateral actions are not helpful in the peace process,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

“Any Israeli decision to impose its laws, jurisdictions and administration in the occupied West Bank is without any international legal effect,” the spokesman added.

“Such a prospect would be devastating to the potential of reviving negotiations, regional peace, and the very essence of a two-state solution.”

The Jordan Valley accounts for around one-third of the West Bank, which Israel occupied in the 1967 Six-Day War — a move never recognized by the international community.

AFP

Netanyahu Accuses Iran Of Destroying Secret ‘Nuclear Site’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a press conference in Berlin on June 4, 2018. 
Tobias SCHWARZ / AFP

 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday accused Iran of having a previously undisclosed site aimed at developing nuclear weapons that it destroyed.

Iran destroyed the site located near the city of Abadeh, south of Isfahan, sometime between late June and late July after realising that Israel had detected it, Netanyahu alleged.

In an address on live television, with photos of the alleged site on a screen behind him, Netanyahu referred to an intelligence trove he had previously announced last year.

“Today we reveal that yet another secret nuclear site was exposed in the archives that we brought from Tehran,” Netanyahu said.

“In this site, Iran conducted experiments to develop nuclear weapons… When Iran realised that we uncovered the site, here’s what they did: They destroyed the site, they just wiped it out.”

The prime minister, whose country is an arch-enemy of Iran, did not provide further details on the alleged experiments, or when they purportedly were held.

When he announced the intelligence trove allegedly obtained from a secret compound in Tehran, Netanyahu said he had new “proof” of an Iranian nuclear weapons plan that could be activated at any time.

But while Netanyahu then accused Iran of lying about its atomic ambitions, he did not provide evidence that Tehran had actively worked to obtain the bomb since its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

Netanyahu’s latest statement comes just days ahead of Israel’s September 17 polls in which he is facing a difficult re-election campaign.

Iran has been scaling back its commitments under the 2015 deal in response to US President Donald Trump’s pullout from the accord and reimposition of sanctions.

AFP

Israel Accuses Iran Of Building Precision Missiles In Lebanon

File Photo of a missile being fired at an undisclosed location.

 

The Israeli army on Thursday accused Iran of collaborating with Lebanon’s Hezbollah to assemble precision-guided missiles that could cause “massive” human casualties in Israel.

Tehran and the Shiite movement plan to convert “stupid rockets into precision-guided missiles”, Israeli army spokesman Jonathan Conricus told journalists in a conference call.

He said Iran had tried between 2013 and 2015 to transport precision-guided missiles to Hezbollah through war-torn Syria, where both back the Damascus regime.

But that strategy failed due to “Israeli operations”, said the army, without elaborating.

READ ALSO: Court Bids Launched To Stop Johnson Suspending UK Parliament

Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria against what it says are Iranian and Hezbollah targets.

Conricus said that in 2016, “Iran and Hezbollah changed their strategy… (to one of converting) existing rockets into precision-guided” projectiles.

He accused Tehran of planning to smuggle in the required components.

Conricus estimated that Hezbollah currently has some 130,000 rockets, an arsenal he said does not by itself amount to “accurate” weaponry, even if such projectiles constitute a “threat”.

“However if they are able to produce a precision-guided arsenal… that will create a different and much more dangerous situation,” he added.

Conricus accused Hezbollah of being “willing to strike civilians and strategic facilities… in order to create a massive amount of casualties and damage in Israel”.

“Hezbollah does not yet have an industrial capability to manufacture precision guided missiles” but continues to work towards that goal, he added.

The allegations come after Hezbollah — with which Israel has fought several wars — accused the Jewish state of carrying out a drone attack Sunday on its Beirut stronghold.

Israel’s military did not confirm whether it was behind the weekend attack, which saw one drone explode and another crash without detonating.

The Shiite movement’s chief Hassan Nasrallah said Sunday that an armed  drone had “hit a specific area,” without elaborating.

According to the UK’s Times newspaper, the drones fell near Iranian installations manufacturing a fuel used by precision missiles.

The Beirut attack came after Israel on Saturday launched strikes in neighbouring Syria, saying it was to prevent an Iranian attack on the Jewish state.

 ‘Be warned’ 

The Israeli army said that Mohammed Hussein-Zada Jejazi — head of the Lebanese branch of the Quds Force — was the mastermind of the alleged Iranian-Hezbollah missile plot.

The Quds Force is an elite organisation that runs the external operations of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

The Israeli army also released a photo that it said showed Jejazi.

It accused Lebanese citizen Fouad Shokr — a high-ranking Hezbollah commander — and two other Iranians, Majid Nua and Ali Asrar Nuruzi, of also being involved.

Israel’s military said Majid Nua was an engineer with specialist knowledge of surface-to-surface missiles.

Netanyahu on Thursday said Israel was “determined to stop our enemies from possessing destructive arms.”

“Today I tell them: ‘dirbalak’,” he said — Arabic for “be careful”.

AFP

Israeli Strikes In Syria Hit Hezbollah Post – Nasrallah

This picture taken on August 25, 2019 from the Israeli side of the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights shows self-propelled artillery guns positioned along the border with Syria.
Jalaa MAREY / AFP

 

The head of Hezbollah said Sunday that Israeli strikes overnight in Syria had hit a position used by his Lebanese Shiite group, killing two of its members.

“There were just Lebanese youth from Hezbollah in the place that was bombarded,” a non-military facility, Hassan Nasrallah said.

Israel earlier claimed to have targeted an Iranian force and other “Shiite militias”.

Israel Bombed Iraq Weapons Depot – Report

Iraqi Flag

 

Israel has carried out at least one strike against a weapons depot in Iraq, The New York Times reported Thursday.

There have been a series of blasts in Iraq over the past month at training camps and arms depots used by the Hashed al-Shaabi paramilitary forces, which are mainly composed of pro-Iranian militias.

READ ALSO: Iran Showcases Long-Range Missile System

Israel has repeatedly bombed Iranian targets in neighboring Syria, but an expansion of the campaign to Iraq — where the Jewish state struck the Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981 — would risk damaging Washington’s relations with Baghdad.

A senior Middle Eastern intelligence official said Israel bombed a base north of Baghdad last month, while two American officials said the Jewish state carried out multiple strikes in Iraq in recent days, the Times reported.

The Hashed’s deputy commander Abu Mehdi al-Muhandis, whose virulent anti-Americanism as a militia leader earned him a US terror blacklisting, has been unequivocal in blaming Washington for the blasts.

But Faleh al-Fayyadh, the official head of the Hashed, has walked back the accusations, saying investigations were ongoing.

“Preliminary investigations” found the incidents were “an external, premeditated act,” he said.

“The investigations will continue until the responsible entities are accurately identified to be able to take the appropriate stances.”

Israel, South Korea Announce Free-Trade Deal

South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee (L) and Israeli Economy and Industry Minister Eli Cohen stand after signing a free trade agreement between Israel and the Republic of Korea in Jerusalem on August 21, 2019.  Gil COHEN-MAGEN / AFP

 

Israel and South Korea announced Wednesday they have concluded a free-trade agreement to eliminate tariffs on goods ranging from cars and medical equipment to lipstick and video games.

Israeli Economy Minister Eli Cohen called the deal “historic”, saying it was Israel’s first such agreement with an east Asian nation.

It was not clear when the agreement could enter into force.

“The advantage of this agreement will go beyond our economic ties,” Cohen said at a ceremony to announce the deal.

“I’m confident that this will also mark the start of a new era and an even closer friendship between Israel and Korea.”

South Korean Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee said at the ceremony that “I hope that Israeli companies will take full advantage of Korea as a stepping stone into the vast Asian market.”

Before Wednesday’s ceremony, the pending agreement had been the subject of political controversy in Israel over claims it would not apply to goods from Israeli settlements.

Cohen denied that was the case and said if businesses in settlements were in any way disadvantaged they would be compensated by the government, as is the case with other trade deals.

The issue is a sensitive one in Israel, particularly ahead of September 17 elections. Israeli settlements are viewed as illegal under international law.

Negotiations on the agreement stretched three years.

According to Israel’s economy ministry, trade between the two countries reached $2.5 billion last year, an increase of nearly 15 percent over 2017.

South Korea is home to companies including Samsung, the world’s biggest smartphone and memory chip maker, and carmaker Hyundai.

The deal foresees tariffs removed on Israeli imports of goods including vehicles, industrial machinery and video game consoles, according to Israel’s economy ministry.

Israeli exports to South Korea of goods including medical equipment, fertiliser, wine and cosmetics would also see tariffs eliminated, it said.

Israel is a major exporter of arms and defence equipment, but there was no mention of those being included in the deal.

AFP

Israel Bars Visit By Two US Congresswomen After Trump Call

 

Israel said Thursday it will bar a planned visit by two US congresswomen who have supported a boycott of the country over its treatment of the Palestinians, a decision strongly encouraged by President Donald Trump.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the highly unusual move against Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib necessary, charging that their “sole purpose is to harm Israel and increase incitement against it”.

US politicians called on Israel to reconsider, while senior Palestinian official Hanan Ashrawi labelled it “an outrageous act of hostility against the American people and their representatives”.

READ ALSO: Unexploded World War II Bomb Discovered In Russia

Omar said it was a “chilling” decision and an “insult to democratic values.”

Omar and Tlaib, who is of Palestinian origin, were expected to arrive in Israel at the weekend for a visit that would have taken them to the Palestinian territories.

Israeli officials said they would consider a separate humanitarian request from Tlaib to visit family members in the occupied West Bank, a trip for which she would have to pass through Israel.

Israel announced its decision shortly after Trump called on the country to bar the Democratic congresswomen who are among his sharpest critics.

“It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit,” Trump wrote on Twitter.

He continued with typical bombast: “They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds. Minnesota and Michigan will have a hard time putting them back in office. They are a disgrace!”

Tlaib is from Michigan and Omar from Minnesota.

– ‘The squad’ –
Netanyahu alleged the itinerary of the congresswomen showed they intended to strengthen the boycott movement against Israel.

“As a vibrant and free democracy, Israel is open to any critic and criticism, with one exception,” Netanyahu said.

“Israel’s law prohibits the entry of people who call and act to boycott Israel, as is the case with other democracies that prevent the entry of people whom they see as harming the country.”

In 2017, Israel passed a law banning entry to foreigners who support boycotting the country.

The law was passed in response to a movement to boycott Israel.

Israel sees the movement as a strategic threat and accuses it of anti-Semitism — a claim activists deny.

Both Omar and Tlaib have been critical of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and treatment of Palestinians.

The Democrats have also faced accusations of anti-Semitism, which they firmly deny.

Israel’s ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, had previously signalled the two would be allowed to visit out of respect for Washington, Israel’s most important ally.

But the two are also outspoken critics of Trump, who has a close relationship with Netanyahu.

Known as “the squad,” the congresswomen — along with two other progressive congressional allies, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley — have been in Trump’s crosshairs.

He has taken aim at all four in a series of xenophobic comments, telling them to “go back” where they came from and accusing them of “love” for America’s “enemies like Al-Qaeda”.

– ‘Unprecedented’ –
Tlaib and Omar, who fled war-torn Somalia as a child and arrived in the US as a refugee, are the first two Muslim women elected to Congress.

Tlaib is also the first woman of Palestinian descent in Congress.

Ahead of Israel’s announcement, prominent Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren tweeted that barring the two women “would be a shameful, unprecedented move”.

Republican Marco Rubio said he disagreed with it since “being blocked is what they really hoped for all along.”

Members of Congress are regular visitors to Israel and the Palestinian territories and blocking them is highly unusual.

It comes at a time when Jewish groups in the US have expressed concern over whether bipartisan support for Israel in Washington is eroding.

Democratic candidates for president in the US have openly criticised Netanyahu, who is seeking re-election in Israel on September 17 after polls earlier this year failed to yield a coalition.

Influential US pro-Israel lobby AIPAC said it disagreed with the views of the congresswomen, but opposed the decision to bar them.

Trump Asks Israel To Deny Two US Muslim Lawmakers Access

Netanyahu Seeks To Calm Israeli Concerns Over Trump's Syria Pullout
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu/AFP

 

Israel would “show great weakness” if it allows a visit by two Muslim members of the US Congress who support a boycott of the Jewish state, US President Donald Trump said Thursday.

First-term House Democrats Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, who are expected to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories at the weekend, are the first Muslim women to serve in Congress — and have been at the receiving end of Trump’s ire before.

They are part of the so-called “squad,” a quartet of House Democrats, all women and all ethnic minorities, whom Trump has repeatedly attacked on social media and in campaign speeches.

“It would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit,” Trump tweeted.

“They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds,” he said.

“They are a disgrace!”

Omar and Tlaib have been vocal in their criticism of Israel’s policies towards Palestinians.

Israeli officials have acknowledged the visit is being discussed at the highest levels, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holding consultations about the matter Wednesday.

A final decision is being weighed, and Israel may end up barring the two lawmakers, a government official said Thursday despite previous signals that they would be allowed in.

“There is a possibility that Israel will not allow the visit in its current proposed format,” the official said.

Trump sparked a firestorm of outrage last month when he said the four “squad” lawmakers, all US citizens, should “go back” to their countries of origin.

Omar is a refugee who fled Somalia as a child, and Tlaib was born in Detroit, Michigan to Palestinian immigrants.

Omar has been at the centre of a swirling debate about anti-Semitism and discrimination since she joined Congress in January.

Her remark that US political backing for Israel is fueled by money from a pro-Israel lobbying group, and her open support for a boycott and divestment movement against the Jewish state, led to fierce criticism from both sides of the political aisle.

AFP

Israel Police, Palestinians Clash At Flash-Point Jerusalem Holy Site

 

Israeli police and Palestinian worshipers clashed at a flash-point Jerusalem holy site on Sunday as overlapping Jewish and Muslim holidays led to tensions there.

Police fired sound grenades as Palestinian protests intensified at the highly sensitive Al-Aqsa mosque compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount.

The Palestinian Red Crescent reported injuries without specifying a number.

Sunday marked the start of the Muslim Eid al-Adha holiday and thousands of Palestinians prayed at the Al-Aqsa mosque.

It coincided with the Jewish Tisha B’av holiday, which typically sees an increase in Jewish visits to the holy site.

In a bid to ease tensions, police barred Jewish visits to the site on Sunday but Muslim worshipers still feared they would be allowed in and protested there.

The clashes with police broke out afterward.

The compound, which includes the Al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock, is one of the most sensitive sites in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

It is the third-holiest site in Islam and the most sacred for Jews, who revere it as the location of the two biblical-era temples.

It is located in east Jerusalem, occupied by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.

Jews are allowed to visit but not pray there to avoid provoking tensions.