Israel Shoots Down Rocket Fired At Southern Port From Gaza

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip fired two rockets at a southern Israeli port city on Monday and Israel’s Iron Dome interceptor shot down one while the other fell into the sea, a military spokeswoman said.

The pre-dawn salvo on Ashkelon, about 12 km (7 miles) north of Gaza, was unusual given the relative restraint of Palestinian militants since last November’s war between the coastal enclave’s Islamist Hamas rulers and the Jewish state.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the launches, which came as Hamas tips into financial and political crisis after being cut off from neighboring Egypt by the new, military-guided interim government in Cairo. Hamas has also been challenged at times by more radical, armed Gaza Islamists.

Hamas has tried to mend ties with Egypt while appealing to rival Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose administration holds sway in the occupied West Bank, to abandon U.S.-sponsored peace talks with Israel.

It has also signaled readiness to fight again, taking responsibility last week for a tunnel which the Israelis discovered running into their territory from Gaza and said was likely intended for kidnapping soldiers or setting off underground explosives.

The Israeli military spokeswoman said a mortar bomb was fired across the border from Gaza on Sunday, but caused no damage or casualties.

Jonathan Rededicates Self To Country’s Development During Pilgrimage

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan along with his entourage has kicked off his holy pilgrimage to Israel with a tour of some holy sites in Jerusalem.

The tour was used as a rededication by the President to the development of the country.

The President also took time to tour the holy sites within the walls of old Jerusalem.

The walk down the way of the cross in particular was used by the president to make supplications on behalf of the country.

On the first day, the tour started with a visit to the garden of Gethsemani, the Upper Room in Mount Zion and the Church of St. Peters, where Peter was said to have denied Jesus.

Supplications were made in Chapels to mark every holy site by Christian Ministers, as they prayed for the President, as well as the unity and continued existence of the country back home.

The second day of President Jonathan’s tour started with the Wailing Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem and the President was received by the Rabbi of the Wall, who led the pilgrims to offer supplications.

President Jonathan was led afterwards to the tunnels underneath the Wall to the Station of the Cross, which marked Jesus’ travails from the seat of Pontus Pilate to the Calvary.

The journey ended at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, with President Jonathan offering prayers at every station along the way.

The experience no doubt awakens the sense of sacrifice in officials in the President’s entourage and perhaps an obligation to leave their country better for the next generation.

It will be recalled that the President left Nigeria for the year’s holy pilgrimage on Thursday 23rd October.

According to a statement by the Special Adviser to the President (Media & Publicity), Reuben Abati, the President will also be meeting with President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and members of the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset.

There will also be talks between President Jonathan’s delegation and the Israeli government officials, with a focus on the enhancement of bilateral relations between Nigeria and Israel in areas of trade, economic development, infrastructure, transportation, agriculture, communications, culture, education and tourism.

According to the statement, President Jonathan will also be meeting with the President of the Palestinian National Authority, Mr. Mahmoud Abbas.

Those among the entourage of the President on the holy pilgrimage are Senator Emmanuel Paulker, the Minister of Agriculture, Mr. Akinwunmi  Adesina, the Minister of Water Resources, Mrs Sarah Ochekpe, the Minister of Works, Arc. Mike Onolememen, the Minister of State (Foreign Affairs), Prof Viola Onwuliri, and the National Security Adviser, Colonel Sambo Dasuki.

The President, who is expected to be back in the country next week, may meet and interact with some other Nigerians who are already in Israel for the holy pilgrimage.

1,500 Settlement Homes Approved By Israel

A 10-minute drive from where negotiators sat down to resume long-stalled Middle East peace talks, Israeli bulldozers were busy on Monday reshaping land that Palestinians want for their future state.

Settler homes are popping up across East Jerusalem and major roads are being built to burgeoning Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. Israel has just approved plans for 1,500 new homes on the territory it seized in the 1967 Middle East war, in a settlement called Ramat Shlomo.

The non-stop building on the land that is at the heart of the conflict raises serious doubts about whether the latest round of U.S.-brokered talks can result in a deal to create an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, a rights groups says.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the driving force behind the resumption of talks following a three-year hiatus, has said it is a major problem but there is time for a final push.

Israel has rejected criticism of its construction plans, saying the new homes would be erected in settlements within blocs it intends to keep in any future peace deal with the Palestinians.

The settler numbers are imposing. In 2010, when the Palestinians quit negotiations over settlement building, some 311,110 Jewish settlers living in the West Bank, now, according to Israel’s Army Radio, this has surged to 367,000.

Adding in East Jerusalem, then the number of Israelis living beyond the 1967 lines rises to nearly 600,000. Few, if any, would willingly quit their homes as part of a peace deal.

The sheer quantity of planned new homes has stunned outsiders and prompted condemnation from Nabil Abu Rdaineh, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Negotiators from both sides have met three times since the talks resumed in Washington last July.

U.S., Russia Push For Rapid Talks To End Syria Carnage

Russia and the United States agreed to bury their differences over Syria and to try to convene international talks with both sides in the civil war to end the carnage that is inflaming the Middle East.

Visiting Moscow after Israel bombed targets near Damascus and as President Barack Obama faces new calls to arm the rebels, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Russia had agreed to try to arrange a conference as early as this month involving both President Bashar al-Assad’s government and his opponents.

An East-West disagreement that has seen some of the frostiest exchanges between Washington and Moscow since the Cold War has deadlocked U.N. efforts to settle the Syrian conflict for two years, so any rapprochement could bring an international common front closer than it has been for many months.

But with Syria’s factional and sectarian hatreds more entrenched than ever after 70,000 deaths, it is far from clear the warring parties are ready to negotiate. There was no immediate comment from the Syrian government, which has offered reforms but dismisses those fighting it as “terrorists”.

The late hour of the announcement in Moscow – Kerry was kept waiting for three hours by President Vladimir Putin – also meant leaders of the Western-backed opposition umbrella group the Syrian National Coalition were not available for comment. Many on the body have insisted Assad’s exit is a condition for talks.

Inside the country, where rebel groups are numerous and have disparate views, a military commander in the north, Abdeljabbar al-Oqaidi, told Reuters he would want to know details of the U.S.-Russian plan before taking a view. “But,” he added, “if the regime were present, I do not believe we would want to attend.”

Alarmed at the prospect of the conflict spilling across an already volatile and economically important region, however, the major powers have, as Kerry told Putin on Tuesday, “very significant common interests” in pushing for a settlement.

“The alternative,” Kerry later told a joint news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, “is that Syria heads closer to an abyss, if not over the abyss and into chaos.

“The alternative is that the humanitarian crisis will grow. The alternative is that there may be even a break-up of Syria.”

GENEVA AGREEMENT

Last year at a conference in Geneva in June, Washington and Moscow agreed on the need for a transitional government in Syria but left open the question of what would happen to Assad, whose departure Obama has called for but which Russia, accusing the West of meddling, says should be a matter for Syrians only.

Rejecting a characterization of Moscow as the protector of Assad, to whose army it has been a major arms suppliers since the days of his father’s rule, Lavrov said Russia was not concerned by the fate of “certain” individuals.

“The task now is to convince the government and all the opposition groups … to sit at the negotiating table,” he said.

Kerry said the conference should be held “as soon as is practical – possibly and hopefully by the end of the month”. Neither he nor Lavrov said where it might take place.

Kerry said there would be “a growing crescendo of nations who will want to push for a peaceful resolution, rather than the chaos that comes with the break-up of a country”.

Kerry said the decision on who takes part in any transitional government should be left to the Syrians.

Lavrov said the aim would be “to persuade the government and the opposition together … to fully implement the Geneva communique” on creating a transitional government.

Russia, backed by China which shares its mistrust of Western enthusiasm for toppling some autocrats, has refused appeals to consider sanctions on Assad, vetoing three U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning his crackdown on opposition groups.

ASSAD DEFIANT

Recent developments have helped focus minds on the risks of wider war in the Middle East: intelligence reports that Assad’s troops may have used chemical weapons had renewed calls for Obama to arm the rebels or even offer U.S. forces; Islamist fighters pledging allegiance to al Qaeda has highlighted how some of the rebels are also hostile to the West; and Israeli air strikes said to target Iranian arms headed for Lebanon’s Hezbollah have underlined the risk of escalation.

In what appeared to be another sign of the country’s travails, Internet connections between Syria and the outside world were cut off on Tuesday, according to data from Google Inc and other global Internet companies.

Google’s Transparency Report pages showed traffic to Google services pages from Syria suddenly stopping shortly before 3 p.m. EDT (1900 GMT). Most websites within Syria were rendered unreachable as well, other experts said, as the county appeared to shut itself off.

REBELS TAKE U.N. PEACEKEEPERS HOSTAGE

Speaking before the announcement in Moscow, Assad was quoted by a sympathetic Lebanese television channel as saying he would defy Israel, the United States and Arab powers who oppose him.

“The recent Israeli aggressions expose the extent of the complicity between the Israeli occupier, regional countries and the West in promoting the current events in Syria,” he said.

“The Syrian people and their heroic army … are capable of confronting this Israeli adventure, which represents one of the faces of terrorism that is targeting Syria every day.”

While showing little desire to embroil U.S. forces in Syria after winding down engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama has rejected criticism that he might back out of a commitment to act if Assad crossed a “red line” of using chemical weapons.

On Tuesday, he pointed to the killing of Osama bin Laden and the toppling of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, brought down by a U.S.-backed rebellion, as evidence that “we typically follow through on our commitments”. It is still unclear if chemical weapons were used.

The chaos in Syria, where a fifth of the 25 million population has been driven from their homes, was underlined by the latest incident of rebels taking U.N. peacekeepers hostage on the ceasefire line with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon strongly condemned the incident and called for the four Filipinos’ immediate release. They were detained as they patrolled close to an area where 21 Filipino observers were held for three days in March.

The Yarmouk Martyrs Brigade said the peacekeepers were seized for their own safety during clashes in the area.

More widely, the violence in a religiously and ethnically diverse country at the heart of the Arab and Muslim world has inflamed a confrontation between Iran and its fellow Shi’ite allies like Hezbollah on the one hand and the Sunni Arab powers, including U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, who back the Sunni rebels against Assad’s Alawite minority, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam.

Iran, at daggers drawn with Israel and the West over its nuclear program, warned of unforeseeable consequences if Assad were toppled and said only a political settlement to Syria’s civil war would avoid a regional conflagration.

“God forbid, if there is any vacuum in Syria, these negative consequences will affect all countries,” Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said in Jordan. “No one knows what will happen.”

Thanks For Not Disappearing In Israel, Orji Tells Pilgrims

The Abia state governor, Theodore Orji on Wednesday expressed his gratitude to the pilgrims who visited Israel and returned to the state without attempting to run off.

During his speech at a thanksgiving service in honour of those who participated in the 2013 pilgrim to Israel at the Micheal Okpara auditorium, Umuahia, the governor said that the return of all the pilgrims is a good testimony for the state.

Mr Orji disclosed that the state spent about N450,000 including $500 Basic Travel Allowance (BTA) for each person embarking on pilgrimage and hinted that the administration would continue to sponsor those going on pilgrimage.

“No amount of money is big for Abia people to keep in touch with God.” Mr Orji said.

He urged the citizens of the state to continue praying for those in leadership and for peace.

Iran Denies Training Suspected Nigerian Terrorists

The Islamic Republic of Iran has denied allegations that it had trained militants arrested in Nigeria on charges of planning attacks on U.S. and Israeli targets in Nigeria.

Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said such allegations were “made up as the result of the ill will of enemies of the two countries’ good relations”, Iranian state television reported on Friday.

“Iran and Nigeria have friendly and close relations and despite the vast efforts of the two countries enemies, in recent years relations and cooperation have always improved” he said.

The State Secret Service (SSS) on Thursday confirmed the arrest of Abdullahi Mustapha Berende and two other Nigerians in December after Berende, allegedly made several suspicious trips to Iran, where he interacted with Iranians in a “high-profile terrorist network”.

According to the SSS, Berende and his Iranian handlers were involved in “grievous crimes” against Nigeria’s national security.

Berende, who will now be charged in court, admitted to reporters at the SSS headquarters that he had carried out surveillance for the Iranians.

In 2004, Israeli sources said an Iranian diplomat was arrested on suspicion of spying on the Israeli Embassy in the Federal Capital Territory. Tehran denied any arrest.

In 2010, authorities at a Lagos Port found a hidden shipment of rockets, rifle rounds and other weapons from Iran, supposedly bound for Gambia.

A Nigerian and an Iranian face criminal charges over the shipment.

 

Two smugglers, including Israeli Arab, killed in shootout at Israel border

Israel Defence Forces confirmed today the killing of two men suspected to be smugglers in a shooting incident that involved IDF soldiers near the Israel-Egypt border, the Hareetz reported.

One of the two suspected smugglers who were gunned down today was an Israeli Arab, according to reports. They had been spotted after illegally crossing the border from Egypt into Israel. IDF soldiers had shouted a warning, ordering them to stop, before opening fire on the infiltrators and shooting the two suspects in the leg.

The suspected smugglers, alongside another suspect had attempted running back across the border into Egypt.

Two of the three suspects were killed in the ensuing gun battle with Egyptian border patrol, while the third fled into Sinai. The IDF says it is currently investigating the identities of both men, whose bodies are now with the Egyptian authorities.

One of the men is believed to be an Egyptian citizen, while the other an Israeli Arab, who Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram said died in the border town of Rafah.

Earlier this month, four smugglers were fired upon after illegally crossing the border by both Egyptian and Israeli forces patrolling the border, resulting in one death.

Israel to Help Nigeria Tackle Terrorism

Israel has offered to assist Nigeria in tackling the menace of terrorism in the country.

Israel to Help Nigeria Tackle Terrorism

The Deputy Head of Mission of the Israeli Embassy, Mr George Deek made the announcement at a gathering in Abuja.

Drawing examples of terrorism in Israel, Mr Deek said the embassy is willing to provide assistance to Nigeria in training and equipping Nigeria’s security agencies on counter terrorism to halt the menace eating up the Federal Government of Nigeria and the citizens.

“We are willing to help Nigeria fish out and expose the aliens who are perpetrators of the heinous and inhuman acts of terrorism and the technical knowledge of how to prevent suicide bombing is intelligence because without intelligence you cannot prevent and pre-empt a suicide bomber.
We want to assist Nigerians on how to encounter these aliens because Nigeria is our neighbour which must not be left alone at this trying period.”Mr. Geroge Deek said.

He called on the Federal Government to put in place strong policy to combat terrorism, adding, “The government and the people should exercise a very strong policy to prevent and pre-empt such occurrences with an iron face by not allowing terrorist determine its way of life.”

Palestinian Retaliate Israeli Air Strike that Killed 3 and Wounded Others

 

Hamas strikes back on Israel

Reuters – Palestinian militants fired rockets into southern Israel on Friday, 9 December, in retaliation against the Israeli air strike that killed three Palestinians and wounded several others.

The rocket fire was captured in a video obtained by Reuters, which was released to the foreign news organisations by the Salahudeen Brigades.

The video showed milit

ants on Friday launching rockets into nearby towns in Southern Israel. According to Reuters reports, the militants also released a statement declaring that they would attack Israeli towns close to the Gaza Strip.

The rocket attack is the latest in a string of violence between Israel and Gaza that erupted on Thursday 8 December, when the Israeli air force killed three Palestinians and militants by firing rockets deep across the border. One of the militants killed was from Gaza’s governing Islamist group Hamas, whom Israel accused of planning to send gunmen to attack it through the neighbouring Sinai region of Egypt.

Palestinian militants responded to Thursday’s air strike with a barrage of rockets, some of which landed near Beersheba, a city 35 km (30 miles) from Gaza. No one was hurt. Air-raid sirens summoned residents of southern Israel to shelters.

Another Israeli air strike followed before dawn on Friday, hitting a Hamas training camp in Gaza City. The blast flattened a nearby home, killing its owner and wounding his wife and six of their children, two critically, according to hospital officials.

In a statement voicing regret for the civilian casualties, the military said Palestinian rockets stored next to the camp had stoked the explosion. Hamas accused Israel of a “massacre”.

Palestinian militants stepped up rocket attacks as night fell. Three groups said they had fired more than a dozen projectiles across the border. Israel police said at least ten of them landed in Israeli territory, causing no casualties.

Witnesses in Gaza reported heavy activity of Israeli drones over head.

Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Hamas administration in Gaza, said the group was pursuing “intensive contacts with several Arab and international parties” and wanted immediate cease on the “aggression”.

Hamas spurns peacemaking with the Jewish state but has in the past proposed truces as it sought to consolidate control over Gaza and negotiate power-sharing with the rival, U.S.-backed Fatah faction of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.