Palestinian President Fires Advisers As Financial Crisis Hits

Palestinian President Abbas Improving In Hospital - Officials
Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas . Photo: Francois Mori / POOL / AFP

 

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has fired all of his advisers, his office said Monday, amid a financial crisis in the occupied West Bank that has prompted deep salary cuts.

Abbas’s office did not provide further details on the number of advisers or the costs involved, pointing only to a brief statement issued through official Palestinian news agency WAFA.

The move comes amid a spending crunch following Israel’s decision in February to withhold around $10 million a month in tax transfers.

Israel collects some $190 million a month in customs duties levied on goods destined for Palestinian markets that transit through its ports.

It then transfers the money to the Palestinian government.

The amount it deducted — $138 million for the year — corresponds to what Israel says the Palestinian Authority paid prisoners in Israeli jails, or their families, in 2018.

Prisoners who have carried out attacks on Israelis are among those receiving the payments, and Israel says that encourages further violence.

Palestinians view prisoners as fighting against Israel’s occupation and say the funds support families that have lost their main breadwinners.

Abbas has accused Israel of blackmail and refused to take any of the tax transfers, which account for some 65 percent of PA revenues.

The PA has cut salaries for most its tens of thousands of employes by half to keep the government afloat.

On top of the tax dispute, the United States has also cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Palestinians via various programmes.

Jihad Harb, a Palestinian political analyst, said it appeared Abbas had decided to sack his advisers after receiving a report in June on payments to ministers and officials.

“It is clear that president Abbas received the report from the committee that examined the salaries and benefits of employees,” Harb told AFP.

He “wants to reduce his office’s spending by taking austerity measures to confront the current budget crisis.”

AFP

Israeli Army Kills Four Armed Palestinians On Gaza Border

Israeli soldiers take cover as Palestinian protesters hurl stones during clashes following a weekly protest in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on August 9, 2019. Jaafar ASHTIYEH / AFP

 

The Israeli army said its troops shot dead four heavily armed Palestinians on the Gaza border early Saturday, alleging one of them had managed to cross and throw a grenade at soldiers.

There have been frequent clashes along the Gaza border since the Palestinians began organising regular mass protests there in March 2018.

But Saturday’s exchange was unusual due to the weaponry the Israeli army said was involved on the Palestinian side.

“The terrorists were equipped with AK-47 assault rifles, RPG grenade launchers and hand grenades,” an army statement said.

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A spokeswoman said “the army opened fire after one of the terrorists scaled the barrier and hurled a grenade at the soldiers.”

No casualties were reported in Israeli ranks.

Army spokesman Jonathan Conricus said the four Palestinians were all wearing “uniforms” — without elaborating — and were equipped with food and a medical kit as well as the rifles.

“At this stage, we are still trying to determine why they had this medical kit with them,” he told reporters.

Conricus restated Israel’s longstanding position that it holds Gaza’s rulers Hamas responsible for all attacks emanating from the territory, since they control it.

 Hamas condemns killings 

A Hamas statement condemned Israel’s killing of the four Palestinians as a “crime”.

But the Islamist rulers of the Palestinian enclave made no claim of responsibility and did not say if the four were members of its armed wing.

Palestinian sources said the four men all came from the village of Wadi al-Salqa, close to the Israeli border.

Palestinian demonstrations at the border demanding the lifting of Israel’s more than decade-old blockade have often led to violence and a deadly response from the Israeli army.

At least 301 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in Gaza or the border area since March 2018, the majority during the demonstrations.

Seven Israelis have also been killed.

The protests have declined in intensity in recent months following a truce brokered by UN officials and Egypt.

Under the truce, Israel agreed to take steps to ease aspects of its blockade in return for calm on the border.

Sporadic violence has continued but the Israeli army has said most of it has consisted of lone-wolf attacks.

On August 1, a Palestinian seeking to avenge his brother’s death by Israeli fire entered Israel from Gaza armed with a Kalashnikov assault rifle and hand grenades. He was killed and three Israeli soldiers wounded, the army said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is widely seen as wanting to avoid a major flare-up in the Palestinian territories as Israel prepares for a snap general election on September 17, its second this year.

But he is likely to face political pressure to act firmly against any significant attack.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008.

The attack came as Palestinians prepare to mark Eid al-Adha, the feast of sacrifice.

Israel is still conducting a manhunt in the occupied West Bank for the killers of an off-duty soldier whose body was found  with multiple stab wounds on Thursday just 50 metres (yards) from the gates of the settlement where he lived.

His killing had already raised Israeli-Palestinian tensions.

AFP

Israel Strikes Gaza After Border Bombs

Palestinians protest with Palestinian flags as they try to climb the barbed-wire fence by the border with Israel east of Gaza City on March 22, 2019.
Said KHATIB / AFP

 

Israeli aircraft targeted Hamas positions in the Gaza Strip early Sunday after Palestinians there threw explosive devices at the border fence during “riots”, the army said. 

Also Sunday, the health ministry in Gaza announced the death of a Palestinian wounded previously in clashes with Israeli forces.

Palestinians in Gaza had thrown a number of explosive devices toward the border fence with Israel, one of which set off air raid sirens in the south of the country late Saturday, the army said.

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“In response to multiple explosive devices that were hurled and exploded during Gaza riots near Israel’s border fence this evening, an IDF aircraft targeted two Hamas observation posts in the southern Gaza Strip,” a statement from the military read.

There were no immediate reports of casualties in Gaza.

The Gaza health ministry, however, announced the death of 24-year-old Habib al-Masri, who was wounded in clashes with the Israeli army. It gave no details on when he was wounded.

On Friday, two Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire in separate border clashes.

And on Saturday, the Israeli army launched two separate airstrikes against groups of Palestinians in Gaza who had allegedly flown balloons rigged with explosives into Israel.

The Gaza health ministry said two Palestinians had been wounded.

At least 258 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire in Gaza since weekly border protests began nearly a year ago.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniya is calling for a mass turnout for border protests scheduled for the first anniversary of the demonstrations, on March 30.

Israel holds Hamas responsible for all attacks from Gaza, controlled by the Islamist group since 2007.

AFP

Trump’s Mideast Envoy Meets UN Council

File: US President Donald Trump.
/ AFP

 

President Donald Trump’s Middle East advisor Jason Greenblatt met with the UN Security Council on Friday but gave no details of a much-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, diplomats said.

“There were no details,” Kuwaiti Ambassador Mansour al-Otaibi told reporters after the closed-door meeting. “There was a discussion from our side about the plan.”

The plan is expected to be released after the Israeli elections in April, but the Palestinians have already rejected it as biased in favour of Israel.

The Palestinians have refused to talk to the Trump administration since the US president recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017.

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They see the Eastern part of the disputed city as the capital of their future state and have said Washington’s pro-Israel bias meant the US could no longer be the main mediator in a stalled Palestinian-Israeli peace talks.

The council also discussed, at the request of Kuwait and Indonesia, Israel’s decision to withhold tax transfers from the Palestinian Authority over its payments to prisoners jailed for attacks on Israelis.

“This is Palestinian money. They shouldn’t withhold it,” said the Kuwaiti ambassador.

Diplomats said the United States was a lone voice in defence of Israel at the closed-door council meeting, with the Europeans and others arguing that the payments should resume.

Greenblatt did not answer questions from reporters after the meeting.

AFP

Police Arrest Palestinian Over Killing Of Israeli

Palestinian demonstrators protest under tear gas canisters fired by Israeli forces during a demonstration near the fence along the border with Israel, east of Gaza City, / AFP

 

A Palestinian suspected of having killed a young Israeli woman has been arrested in a raid in the West Bank city of Ramallah, an Israeli police spokesman said on Saturday.

The body of Ori Ansbaher, 19, was found on Thursday evening in the south of Jerusalem, and she was buried on Friday in the Israeli settlement of Tekoa.

The suspect comes from the flashpoint city of Hebron in the south of the occupied West Bank, police said.

All other details of the woman’s killing remain the subject of an Israeli gag order.

READ ALSOFresh Israeli Strike Injures 18 In Gaza

Previous Israeli statements about her murder came only from top diplomats and politicians.

Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Danny Danon, accused the UN Security Council of staying silent in the face of what he charged was the complicity of the Palestinian Authority (PA) of president Mahmud Abbas in such attacks.

“The PA maintains its policy of paying salaries for terrorists and educating its youth with incitement, and a 19-year-old girl was brutally murdered in Israel,” he said.

“The Security Council has the responsibility and moral duty to make a clear condemnation of this barbaric murder and to act firmly against the culture of terror in the Palestinian Authority.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed in a statement on Friday evening that “the security forces will track down those responsible for this killing and we will treat them with the full force of the law.”

Netanyahu’s principal challenger in an April 9 general election, former armed forces chief of staff Benny Gantz, said he had full confidence in the ability of the security forces to arrest the killer.

The West Bank was hit by a bout of unrest in December as tensions eased in the Gaza Strip. but they later eased in the West Bank too.

The future of the West Bank is set to be one of the main issues of the Israeli election campaign.

Gantz, who is running on a centre-right ticket, has hinted that he may be ready to pull back from the territory as part of a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partners are campaigning for the unilateral annexation of large swathes of the Palestinian territory.

Some 650,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank, including annexed east Jerusalem.

The settlements are seen as illegal under international law and a major obstacle to peace, as they are built on land the Palestinians see as part of their future state.

Turkey Urges Israel To ‘Immediately Stop’ Gaza Strikes

Erdogan Demands Punishment For All Behind 'Planned Khashoggi Murder'
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during a ceremony marking the second anniversary of the attempted coup at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey.  ADEM ALTAN / AFP

 

Turkey on Tuesday called on Israel to “immediately stop” strikes against the Gaza Strip, urging the international community to act as the escalation in violence threatened to descend into full-blown conflict.

“Israel must immediately stop its attacks against the Gaza population,” Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said, quoted by state news agency Anadolu.

“The international community, which stays silent in the face of Israel’s attacks, must take responsibility and take action,” he added.

Barrages of rocket and mortar fire into Israel and Israeli air strikes on Gaza this week have threatened a new war between the two sides.

Six Palestinians were killed in less than 24 hours as Israeli strikes targeted militants, while dozens of residents were injured in Israel following rockets and mortar rounds from the Gaza Strip. A Palestinian living in southern Israel was also killed.

The escalation, triggered by a secret operation by Israeli special forces which went awry on Sunday, came after months of tension with growing fears of a fourth conflict in 10 years between Israel and Hamas that governs the Gaza Strip.

As an unwavering supporter of Palestinians, Ankara often criticises Israeli policy, although relations improved between Turkey and Israel in 2016 after a diplomatic crisis that lasted several years.

AFP

Palestinian Killed In Israel Strike

A picture taken on November 12, 2018, shows a ball of fire above the building housing the Hamas-run television station al-Aqsa TV in Gaza City during an Israeli air strike. Bashar TALEB / AFP

 

An Israeli strike in the northern Gaza Strip killed a Palestinian on Tuesday, Gaza’s health ministry said, raising the death toll in the enclave to five in less than 24 hours.

The Israeli military said its aircraft had fired towards a militant who was part of a group launching projectiles at its territory, without confirming the death.

Barrages of rocket and mortar fire into Israel and Israeli air strikes on the Gaza Strip have threatened a new war between the two sides.

The ministry identified the man killed as Khaled al-Sultan, 26. Another person was wounded, it said.

The Israeli military says it has hit around 150 targets in the Gaza Strip since Monday afternoon, while nearly 400 rockets and mortar rounds have been fired from Gaza at Israel.

The latest round of violence began on Sunday with a deadly Israeli special force operating inside the Gaza Strip that prompted Hamas to vow revenge.

Palestinian militants responded with rocket and mortar fire, as well as a missile that hit a bus and severely wounded an Israeli soldier. Israel hit back with major air strikes.

Israel and Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip, have fought three wars since 2008.

AFP

Prince William Makes Historic Visit To Jordan

Jordanian Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah (R) greets Britain’s Prince William, Duke of Cambridge, at Amman’s Marka military airport on June 24, 2018. KHALIL MAZRAAWI / AFP

 

Prince William flew into Jordan on Sunday at the launch of a Middle East tour that will see him become the first British royal to pay official visits to both Israel and the Palestinian territories.

He was greeted at Amman’s Marka military airport by Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah, hosting William for the two-day visit in Jordan.

The 36-year-old Duke of Cambridge’s Royal Air Force plane touched down at the small airport in eastern Amman, where he was given a red-carpet welcome by the heir to the Jordanian throne.

Royal guards carrying rifles fitted with bayonets and wearing Jordan’s traditional red-and-white chequered keffiyeh scarves stood to attention as the prince, in a dark suit, descended from the plane.

The visit by the second in line to the British throne has been billed as a chance to bond with 23-year-old Prince Hussein, a fellow graduate of Britain’s Royal Sandhurst Military Academy.

On Sunday evening, William attended a birthday party in honour of his grandmother, Queen Elizabeth II, whose official 92nd birthday was celebrated on June 9, at the British ambassador’s residence.

“I greatly admire the resilience you in Jordan have shown in the face of the many security and humanitarian challenges that have confronted you as a result of conflicts in this region,” William said at the party.

“The way in which you opened your doors to hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria, not to mention your longstanding commitments to Palestinian refugees, is remarkable,” he said.

“In so many ways, Jordan as an open and stable society is a beacon of hope for many other people in the Middle East.”

On Monday, William will visit the ancient Roman ruins of Jerash, north of the capital, as well as a vocational training college for young Jordanians and Syrian refugees.

That evening, he will begin his history-making visit to the Jewish state and occupied West Bank during which he will meet both Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

 Seeds of conflict 

Kensington Palace has underlined the “non-political nature of His Royal Highness’s role — in common with all royal visits overseas”.

But the region is a minefield of sensitivities.

The visit comes at a particularly volatile time after US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as capital of Israel and moved Washington’s embassy there, sparking Arab outrage and deadly clashes.

Britain governed the region under a League of Nations mandate for almost three decades until Israel’s independence 70 years ago, and is still blamed by both sides for sowing the seeds of a conflict that continues to wrack the region.

Ahead of William’s arrival, the official schedule’s reference to east Jerusalem as “in the Occupied Palestinian Territories” sparked anger among right-wing Israeli politicians.

Official visits by British royals take place at the request of the UK government, but statements from the prince’s household have given little explanation for the timing of this trip.

Israel has long pushed for an official visit by a member of the British monarchy.

Other members of William’s family — including his father Prince Charles — have made unofficial visits to Israel and east Jerusalem in the past.

During the trip, William will have plenty of reminders of Britain’s role in the region.

In Jerusalem, he will stay at the King David hotel, which was Britain’s administrative headquarters during its rule of Palestine prior to Israeli statehood in 1948.

In 1946, militant Jews waging violent resistance against British rule bombed the building, killing and wounding scores of people, many of them British civil servants or military personnel.

Whilst in Jerusalem, William will lay a wreath at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial.

He will also visit the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem and pay tribute at the tomb of his great-grandmother, Princess Alice of Greece, who has been honoured by Israel for sheltering Jews during World War II.

In the West Bank city of Ramallah, he is to hold talks with Abbas and also meet Palestinian refugees and young people.

AFP

Israel Targets Palestinians Launching ‘Fire Balloons’ From Gaza

Israeli troops take a position as they clash with Palestinian youth in the Amari refugee camp near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank after they stormed the camp on May 28, 2018. 
ABBAS MOMANI / AFP

 

The Israeli army on Saturday wounded two Palestinians in the Gaza Strip attempting to launch incendiary balloons across the border into Israel, officials said.  

An Israeli military spokeswoman said an “aerial device” had fired at a group near the Gaza border that was launching “fire balloons” carrying flammable material into Israel.

Palestinian security sources said a drone had fired on people east of the al-Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip.

Two people were wounded, according to Ashraf al-Qudra, spokesman for Gaza’s health ministry.

Some twenty fires were started Saturday by balloons and kites carrying flammable material from the enclave over the border fence and into Israel, Eli Cohen, spokesman for fire brigades in southern Israel, told AFP.

Since major border protests broke out on March 30, more than 300 fires have been recorded, he added.

At least 130 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli gunfire in the same time span.

No Israelis have been killed.

On Wednesday, the UN General Assembly approved a resolution condemning Israel for excessive use of force against Palestinian civilians in Gaza — under Israeli siege for more than a decade.

Palestinians are calling to return to the homes their families fled or were forced from in 1948 during the war surrounding the creation of Israel.

Israel says any such return would mean the end of it as a Jewish state and accuses Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas of using protesters as human shields.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008 and observe a tense ceasefire.

AFP

Israel Kicks As Argentina Cancels Friendly Match Over Palestine

Ofer Eini, President of the Israeli Football Association (IFA) takes part in a press conference on June 6, 2018, in the Israeli town of Ramat Gan, east of Tel Aviv, to announce that the IFA will file a formal complaint to FIFA, against the Palestinian Football Association, following the cancellation of the game between the Israeli and Argentina.  JACK GUEZ / AFP

 

Israel cried foul Thursday after Argentina cancelled a football match with the Jewish state, worried that a strengthening cultural boycott could affect its hosting of the 2019 Eurovision song contest.

The World Cup warm-up match, planned for Saturday in Jerusalem, was called off Tuesday after a campaign by the Palestinians, with Israeli newspapers pointing fingers at Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev, who was behind the game’s relocation from the northern Israeli city of Haifa to the divided holy city.

An opinion piece in the left-wing Haaretz newspaper said Regev had scored an “own goal” after “imposing politics on sports”, and the centrist Yediot Aharonot featured a sick nine-year-old boy who broke out in tears when he learned he would not be accompanying Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi onto the pitch.

Politicians were quick to seize on the cancellation, with opposition leader Isaac Herzog telling public radio Thursday it was “a failure with Regev’s name on it”.

The Argentine Football Association said that with the World Cup beginning on June 14, the squad needed to “focus on what is really important”.

The Palestinians said the Argentinians pulled out of the match after they realised Israel was using its presence in Jerusalem for political gain.

Regev rejected the notion that moving the match brought about its cancellation, saying Messi and his family received threats over the game.

“Terror defeated him,” Regev told public radio on Thursday.

Eurovision fears 

Unconfirmed reports in Israeli media spoke of a possible rescheduling of the game — again in Jerusalem — but officials feared the high-profile cancellation would cause long-term damage to the Jewish state’s international standing.

Rotem Kamer, head of the Israel Football Association, said Argentina cancelled the match because of pressure from Palestinians and the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement — which leads a global campaign against Israel, targeting the country’s economy, art scene and sports.

“It’s inconceivable that teams won’t come here in official capacities,” Kamer told public radio.

“This is a red flag and we’ll have to see how it develops.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, quoted by Israeli media accompanying him on a visit to London, said he was concerned “there could be pressure to cancel other events in other fields as well”.

Israel sees the BDS movement as a strategic threat and accuses it of anti-Semitism — a claim activists firmly deny, calling it an attempt to discredit them.

Several politically active musicians have called off shows in Israel in the past few years, including Lauryn Hill and Elvis Costello, with New Zealand singer Lorde pulling out of a Tel Aviv show in December.

Netanyahu did not specify which other events might face pressures, but when Israel won the Eurovision 2018 song contest — winning the Jewish state the right to host the contest next year — Regev said it would be held in Jerusalem.

Israel considers Jerusalem its “indivisible” capital, while Palestinians claim the eastern part of the city — occupied by Israel in 1967 and later annexed — as the capital of their future state.

US President Donald Trump’s recent transfer of the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem sparked protests in the Gaza Strip in which dozens of Palestinians were killed.

On Thursday, Israeli officials involved in the song competition were cited by Haaretz as saying there was “unease” in the European Broadcasting Union about holding the contest in Jerusalem next year.

An EBU spokesperson told AFP on Thursday that the final decision on the location of next year’s contest would be made “by the host broadcaster in conjunction with the EBU and its members”.

Regev, meanwhile, has dug in her heels.

“If they try to relocate the Eurovision from Jerusalem, I’ll suggest to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to invest the 50 million shekels ($14 million) and give up hosting the Eurovision in Israel,” she told Yediot Aharonot.

AFP

Israeli Army Raids Palestinian Camp After Soldier’s Death

Israeli troops take a position as they clash with Palestinian youth in the Amari refugee camp near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank after they stormed the camp on May 28, 2018.
ABBAS MOMANI / AFP

 

The Israeli army raided a Palestinian refugee camp in the occupied West Bank Monday, AFP journalists said, in an apparent hunt for suspects in the killing of a soldier.

Dozens of Israeli troops entered the Amari Refugee Camp in Ramallah in the early hours of Monday, closing off all the entrances, AFP journalists said.

At least 13 Palestinians were lightly or moderately injured during the raid as clashes broke out, the Palestinian Health Ministry said, with soldiers firing tear gas and bullets.

Residents said a number of Palestinians were arrested, though there was no immediate confirmation or statement from the army.

Israeli forces later withdrew from the camp.

It came days after an Israeli soldier was killed during a raid inside the camp.

Sergeant Ronen Lubarsky, 20, of the Duvdevan special forces unit, was struck on the head by a stone block thrown during an arrest raid Thursday and died early Saturday.

Israeli media said the block was a granite slab dropped from a third-floor window.

Those responsible were not arrested at the time.

Amari is located inside Ramallah, seat of the Palestinian Authority, in an area theoretically under the full control of the Palestinian government.

Israeli forces regularly carry out night raids in Palestinian-governed parts of the West Bank to arrest suspects they accuse of militant activities against Israel.

Amari, home to around 6,000 Palestinians according to the United Nations, is a regular flashpoint where Israeli raids have sparked fierce clashes in the past.

AFP

Palestinian President Abbas Improving In Hospital – Officials

Palestinian President Abbas Improving In Hospital - Officials
Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas . Photo: Francois Mori / POOL / AFP

 

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s condition was improving and he could leave hospital as early as Tuesday, a senior official and a medical source said Monday.

Abbas, 83, was admitted to the Istishari Arab Hospital near Ramallah in the occupied West Bank on Sunday with complications following an ear operation.

He was awake and his condition was improving on Monday, a senior official said on condition of anonymity. A medical source confirmed Abbas was getting better.

The Palestinian president is expected to leave the hospital Tuesday and could return straight to work, the official added.

Abbas’s health is the subject of regular speculation, with no clear successor identified.

Senior official Saeb Erekat downplayed fears about his condition late Sunday.

“The president is suffering from an inflammation of the ear that developed following the operation he undertook recently,” Erekat told AFP.

A source familiar with his condition had earlier said he was suffering from chest pain and a high fever.

It is the third time Abbas has been in hospital in a week, initially for the ear operation on Tuesday then for tests on Saturday.

In February, he underwent what was then described as routine medical tests in the United States.

Abbas won a four-year term as president in 2005, but he has remained in office in the absence of elections.

Abbas argues the split between his Fatah party and Islamists Hamas, who control the Gaza Strip, has made elections politically impossible.

A moderate, he has been involved in decades of negotiations with Israel but is unpopular among Palestinians, with the majority wanting him to step down.

AFP