Israeli mayor imposes partial ban on Arab workers


An Israeli mayor has imposed a partial ban on employing Arab workers in his city in a sign of mounting security concerns after a surge in deadly Palestinian attacks.

Ashkelon Mayor Itamar Shimoni announced on Facebook that he was stopping “until further notice” the work of Arab laborers building bomb shelters in nursery schools in the city of 113,000, which is close to the Gaza Strip.

He also said guards would be posted at about 40 pre-schools near construction sites where Arabs work.

Many Israeli building workers come from the country's Arab community, which makes up some 20 percent of the population, and Shimoni's edict drew criticism from senior government officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The prime minister said in a statement there was “no place in Israel for discrimination against its Arab citizens” and an entire community must not be blamed for the actions of “a small and violent minority”.

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said she had asked the attorney-general to examine the mayor's move, which came two days after two Palestinians killed four rabbis and a policeman in an attack on a Jerusalem synagogue.

Shimoni brushed off the threat of legal action.

“Whoever thinks this is illegal can take me to the Supreme Court,” he told Channel Two television. “I prefer, at this time, to be taken to the Supreme Court, and not, God-forbid, to be taken to a funeral of a kindergarten child.”

Tuesday's deadly attack stunned Israelis and followed several incidents in recent weeks in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in which Palestinians killed five people.

On Thursday, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch ordered that gun control rules be loosened so that private guards could carry weapons off-duty. More gun permits will be issued to retired military and security officers.

Palestinians have been waging stone-throwing protests in Jerusalem since July, when a Palestinian youth was burned to death by Israelis in alleged revenge for the killing of three Jewish teens by militants in the occupied West Bank.

Visits by far-right Israelis to Jerusalem's most sacred compound – where al-Aqsa mosque now stands and Biblical Jewish Temples once stood – have also raised Muslim fears that Israel will lift its decades-old ban on Jewish worship at the site. Israel says it has no such plans.

Editing by Crispian Balmer

Rocket crashes through roof of Ashkelon home, injuring 28


A rocket fired from Gaza struck a home in Ashkelon and injured 28 while damaging about 50 neighboring apartments.

The family living in the home was running to a safe room when the rocket struck early Tuesday morning; they were not injured. The rocket left a large hole in the roof and destroyed two rooms.

Israeli security forces said later that the warhead was exceptionally large and could be a new type of rocket, perhaps intended to travel longer distances, the Times of Israel reported.

Later Tuesday, a rocket from Gaza landed on the playground of a kindergarten in Ashdod.

Also Tuesday morning, the Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted a rocket over Tel Aviv. The armed wing of Hamas claimed responsibility, saying it fired long-range rockets at Tel Aviv and Haifa in response to attacks on several buildings in Gaza overnight.

Israeli military aircraft fired on two residential towers in Gaza City early Tuesday morning, destroying the buildings. The IDF said they served as Hamas command and control centers.

The 16-story Little Italy complex, which also contained a commercial area, collapsed, as did the 14-story al-Basha building, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported.

Residents fled the buildings prior to the airstrikes after receiving phone calls with recorded warning messages from the Israeli military, according to Maan.

The Israel Air Force also attacked a boys’ school in Gaza City from where the Israeli military said the mortar that killed 4-year-old Daniel Tragerman was launched, The Associated Press reported. The displaced Palestinians sheltering in the school were warned to evacuate before the attack.

Train service in southern Israel suspended over security fears


Train service between Ashkelon and Sderot in southern Israel was halted due to security reasons.

Sunday night’s halt to service on the line that runs near the border with Gaza — a day before the end of a five-day cease-fire with Hamas and other groups in Gaza — was “until further notice,” Israel Railways said on its website.

The Defense Ministry reportedly ordered the cessation of train service and told the rail service to fortify the line against anti-tank fire from Gaza.

Train service between Ashkelon and Sderot was closed during large portions of the recent conflict in Gaza.

The Transportation Ministry will add buses between the two southern Israeli cities in the meantime, according to reports.

Two IDF soldiers killed in Gaza, Thai worker dies in Ashkelon attack


Two Israeli soldiers were killed in Gaza fighting and a foreign worker died from injuries suffered in a mortar attack from Gaza on a hothouse in Ashkelon.

Lt. Nathan Cohen, 23, of Modiin, was killed “in combat” and Capt. Dmitri Levitas, 26, of Jerusalem, was killed by sniper fire, both on Tuesday night, the Israeli army said in a statement.

Their deaths bring the number of Israeli soldiers killed since the July 8 launch of Operation Protective Edge to 29. Another soldier declared missing is widely presumed to be dead.

On Wednesday, the migrant worker from Thailand killed in Ashkelon became the third civilian killed by Gaza rockets since the start of Israel’s operation to halt a bombing barrage from the coastal strip. He died after being flown by helicopter to Barzilai Medical Center in that southern Israeli city.

Civilian visiting soldiers is first Israeli killed in Gaza conflict


A civilian bringing food to Israeli soldiers near the Gaza border was the first Israeli killed by rocket fire from the Gaza Strip during Operation Protective Edge.

The 37-year-old man was pronounced dead upon arrival at Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon on Tuesday afternoon; he had received emergency treatment in the field. He was visiting soldiers at the Erez border crossing when he was hit by mortar fire.

Nearly 200 Palestinians in Gaza have been killed during the first eight days of the operation.

About 40 rockets were fired at Israel during the 7 p.m. hour, bringing the day’s total to nearly 100.  Israel observed a cease-fire for about six hours on Sunday, but rockets from Gaza continued to rain down on Israel.

Following the resumption of Israeli attacks on Gaza Tuesday, Israel’s Air Force attacked 30 targets across Gaza, including 20 underground launchers, tunnels, an ammunition depot, and the house of an Islamic Jihad official, Haaretz reported, citing the Israel Defense Forces.

Also Tuesday afternoon, rocket fire from Gaza hit a second power line that provides electricity to Gaza, lowering the strip’s power supply by 20 percent. The Israel Electric Company said it will not repair the lines until it can be sure of its employees’ safety.

Rocket seriously injures Israeli teen in Ashkelon; dual citizens leave Gaza


An Israeli teenager was seriously injured by a rocket fired from Gaza that landed in Ashkelon.

Another Israeli man was wounded in the rocket strike on Sunday afternoon in a residential area of the southern Israeli city.

“Hamas has chosen to attack our cities with massive and indiscriminate rocket fire,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday at the beginning of the regular Cabinet meeting. “I said from the outset that we would respond in strength against this criminal firing at our citizens and this is what we are doing.”

Early Sunday morning, four Israeli Navy commandos were injured in a ground battle on a beach near Gaza City, where they destroyed long-range rockets and its launcher, according to the Israel Defense Forces. Three Hamas fighters reportedly were killed in the clash.

Also Sunday morning, nearly 700 Palestinians with foreign passports, including dozens of dual Palestinian-Americans, left Gaza for Israel. From there they will travel to their other home locations.

Since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge early on July 8, more than 800 rockets have been fired from Gaza on southern, central and northern Israel, according to the IDF. Some 147 rockets have been intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

The IDF said its forces have struck 1,320 of what it calls “terror targets” across Gaza, including 735 concealed rocket launchers, 64 training bases and militant compounds, 58 weapons storage and manufacturing facilities, 32 Hamas leadership facilities, 29 communications infrastructures and additional sites used for terrorist activities.

Cities throughout northern Israel on Sunday checked and opened public bomb shelters following two salvos of rockets fired from Lebanon since the start of Protective Edge.

Also Sunday, the Temple Mount was closed to visitors after Palestinians rioted, throwing rocks and explosives at Israeli policemen. Two officers were injured in the unrest.

Rocket seriously injures Israeli teen in Ashkelon, dual citizens leave Gaza


An Israeli teenager was seriously injured by a rocket fired from Gaza that landed in Ashkelon.

Another Israeli man was wounded in the rocket strike on Sunday afternoon in a residential area of the city.

“Hamas has chosen to attack our cities with massive and indiscriminate rocket fire,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday at the beginning of the regular Cabinet meeting. “I said from the outset that we would respond in strength against this criminal firing at our citizens and this is what we are doing.”

“One must understand how our enemy operates,” he said. “Who hides in mosques? Hamas. Who puts arsenals under hospitals? Hamas. Who puts command centers in residences or near kindergartens? Hamas. Hamas is using the residents of Gaza as human shields and it is bringing disaster to the civilians of Gaza; therefore, for any attack on Gaza civilians, which we regret, Hamas and its partners bear sole responsibility.”

Early Sunday morning, four Israeli Naval commandos were injured in a ground battle on a beach near Gaza City, where they destroyed long-range rockets and its launcher, according to the IDF. Three Hamas fighters reportedly were killed in the clash.

Also Sunday morning, nearly 700 Palestinians with foreign passports, including dozens of  dual Palestinian-Americans, left Gaza for Israel. From there, they will travel to their other home locations.

Since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, more than 800 rockets have been fired from Gaza on southern, central and northern Israel, according to the IDF. Some 147 rockets have been intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

IDF forces have struck 1,320 of what it calls “terror targets” across Gaza, including 735 concealed rocket launchers, 64 training bases and militant compounds, 58 weapons storage and manufacturing facilities, 32 Hamas leadership facilities, 29 communications infrastructures and additional sites used for terrorist activities, according to the IDF.

Cities throughout northern Israel on Sunday checked and opened public bomb shelters, following two salvos of rockets fired from Lebanon since the start of Operation Defensive Edge.

Also Sunday, the Temple Mount was closed to visitors after Palestinians rioted, throwing rocks and explosives at Israeli policemen. Two officers were injured in the unrest.

Rocket from Gaza intercepted by Iron Dome over Ashkelon


At least three rockets were fired from Gaza at southern Israel, including one that was intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system over Ashkelon.

Two rockets were fired from Gaza at about 10 p.m. on Thursday toward Ashkelon; the Code Red alarm system was sounded throughout Ashkelon.

One of the rockets was intercepted by Iron Dome.

A rocket was fired several hours earlier toward Sderot, but exploded in an open area, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

At least 15 rockets have been fired at Israel since last week, the IDF said, and over 200 rockets have been launched from Gaza at Israel since the beginning of the year.

Rocket from Gaza hits Israeli home


A rocket fired from Gaza struck a home in southern Israel, causing damage but no injuries.

Also Wednesday, a car with Palestinian license plates attempted to run down several Israeli soldiers at a post near Bethlehem.

The rocket hit a home in a kibbutz in the Shaar HaNegev region between Beersheva and Ashkelon, the Israeli military said, but did not reveal the extent of the damages. A second rocket landed in an open area.

At least three rockets fired from Gaza landed in Ashkelon this week. More than a dozen rockets have been fired at Israel in the past two weeks, the Israel Defense Forces said, and over 200 rockets have been launched from Gaza at Israel since the beginning of the year.

In the car incident, the soldiers fired at the approaching vehicle and reportedly detected a hit, according to reports. The attackers fled the scene.

Israel bombs Gaza targets in retaliation for rocket fire


Israel’s Air Force bombed four terror sites in the Gaza Strip in retaliation for a rocket attack from Gaza on southern Israel.

The airstrikes late Monday night hit a terror activity site in the southern Gaza Strip, a weapon manufacturing facility in the northern Gaza Strip, and weapon storage facilities in central and southern Gaza, the Israeli military said.

The rockets from Gaza on Ashkelon earlier that evening had landed in an open field, causing no injuries.

A day earlier, two rockets fired from Gaza on Ashkelon were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system, while another two landed in open areas.

More than a dozen rockets have been fired at Israel in the past two weeks, the Israel Defense Forces said, and over 200 rockets have been launched from Gaza at Israel since the beginning of the year.

Iron Dome intercepts rockets over Ashkelon


Two rockets fired from Gaza at Ashkelon were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system, while two others landed in open areas of the southern Israeli city.

Israel’s Air Force retaliated for the attack late Sunday night by striking five terrorist-related sites in Gaza.

Israeli military aircraft bombed three weapon storage and manufacturing facilities as well as two terror activity sites, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.

The two rockets intercepted by Iron Dome were headed for populated areas of the city. No injuries and some shrapnel damage were reported from the rockets that landed in southern Israel.

More than 10 rockets have been fired at Israel in the last two weeks. Over 200 rockets have been launched from Gaza at Israel since the beginning of the year, according to the IDF.

Judaism in the time of climate change


When human life is in danger, Jews stop and pay attention. In fact, we set aside Shabbat and virtually every other law not only when human life is clearly and certainly in danger, but also whenever there is a reasonable possibility that life is threatened. According to Mishnah Ta’anit, the Sages declared a day of communal fasting and prayer when only a tiny amount of wheat in Ashkelon had been ruined by shidafon, a dry, destructive wind, and another when two wolves — capable of killing children — were merely spotted in an inhabited area. When a real possibility of danger to life lurks, we don’t avert our eyes. As a matter of spiritual course, we take notice and consider how to respond. This is the way we live.  

We’re at an interesting and challenging juncture right now in humanity’s journey on Earth. There’s at least a reasonable possibility, and many respected voices insist that it is more than just that, that in the coming years and decades, we will be dealing with a natural world that is less accommodating and more hostile to human life than the one we’ve come to know. We will experience bigger and more destructive storms, longer and deeper droughts, and more frequent wildfires. Insects and fungi will spread to places where they didn’t previously appear, threatening crops. These are reasonable enough possibilities that normative Jewish law and thought indicate that we are obliged to pay attention to them — and to their possible consequences. 

Accordingly, simply as a regular Jew doing what regular Jews do, I recently began the process of trying to place these possibilities into a religious framework, into a framework of appropriate spiritual response. Here are three ideas, drawn from our classical sources, that I believe serve to create this framework, both for today and, more important, for tomorrow and beyond. 

1. Solidarity: In Genesis 41, Yosef accurately interprets Pharaoh’s dream about the upcoming years of plenty and years of famine, and then finds himself charged with the awesome responsibility of storing food during the good years so that it can be eaten in the bad ones. In the middle of that story, the Torah reports that “two sons were born to Yosef, before the years of famine came.” The Talmud asks: Why did the Torah specifically point out that the sons were born during the years of plenty? From Yosef’s behavior, the Talmud concludes, we learn that it is prohibited to engage in marital intimacy during years of famine. There is a limitation on pleasure-taking during times of suffering.  

This conclusion is codified into Jewish law with only with slight modifications. Nonetheless, the medieval Tosafists challenged the Talmud’s analysis, pointing out that Yocheved, the daughter of Levi, was born just as Jacob and family were entering Egypt. Clearly, she must have been conceived during the years of famine! Many have offered answers to this question, but among the most compelling comes from a 19th-century thinker, Rabbi Baruch HaLevi Epstein. For Levi, a refugee fleeing famine in Canaan, there would have been no reason to refrain from marital relations, Epstein explains. The Talmud’s teaching is specifically about people like Yosef, who due to their own personal social or economic circumstances, are not personally affected by the famine. The Talmud is teaching us to vicariously experience other’s people’s suffering, and to consciously cultivate a sense of solidarity with people whose lives have been turned upside down by nature’s unfortunate surprises. Out of this solidarity, the Talmud hopes, we will develop the will and the strength to make political and economic decisions that respond to the challenges experienced by others.

2. Priority: To illustrate just how highly Jews prioritize human life over all other considerations, consider this halachic decision made by Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Spektor in the spring of 1868. In the midst of drought that had dramatically affected numerous crops, peas and beans were among the few foods readily available, especially to the poor.Rabbi Spektor decided that the custom forbidding kitniyot (legumes) would be lifted for Pesach of that year. While this may sound like a no-brainer, we know rabbis face pressures around decisions such as these. Would he be accused of overstepping his authority? Was he setting a dangerous precedent for the waiving of other time-honored customs? Was such a move especially perilous at a time when Jews in other parts of Europe were abandoning Jewish practices? Rabbi Spektor might have decided differently based upon any of these considerations. But he did not, because human life and welfare had to be given higher priority than any of the political or historical considerations that in other circumstances might militate against taking action. In times of trouble, human life must the highest priority. 

3. Prayer: On the morning after he petitioned God to spare Sodom and Gomorrah, the Torah records that Avraham returned to the spot overlooking the cities and saw nothing but smoke. The feared destruction had occurred. The Talmud asserts that Avraham prayed at that moment. We can’t help but wonder, though, what kind of prayer he would have said at that point. I think it was a prayer similar to the one that we ourselves say each morning. “Place in our hearts the ability to understand and discern.” Teach me, God, what I should be doing differently. What changes do I need to make in the way I conduct my own life, in the way that my household and my society conduct their lives, so that next time the outcome will be different, so that destruction can be averted? “You, who shine light upon the earth and its inhabitants with compassion.” You, God, are a benevolent God, who created out of love, and who does not desire the death of Your creatures. Standing in Your presence, we do not despair. We continue to look forward, for we know we stand before God who desires life.   

No one knows for certain what lies ahead. But, as religious people, we prepare ourselves for the possibility of danger to human life, through readying our eyes and hearts to see and feel, our arms to reach and respond, and our souls to seek Divine wisdom through prayer. We know before whom we stand. And we know what He expects of us when we live in challenging times.


Yosef Kanefsky is rabbi of B’nai David-Judea Congregation and president of the International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF). A regular contributor to the Journal, he blogs at

Israel denies ceasefire agreement, strikes back at Gaza


More rockets from Gaza struck southern Israel a day after a barrage from the coastal territory that left thousands of Israelis in bomb shelters.

Four rockets were fired Thursday morning at Ashkelon and Ashdod, with two landing in open fields between the cities and one intercepted over Ashkelon by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.

Ashdod closed schools without rocket-proof shelters following the attacks.

Hours later, Israel’s Air Force retaliated by targeting seven “terror sites” in the southern Gaza Strip, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would continue to respond militarily to the attacks.

“Our policy in the South is clear — we attack anyone who attempts to hurt us and we will react with a powerful force,” Netanyahu said Thursday morning. “I want to clarify that whoever tries to hurt our Purim celebrations, we will respond with force.” Purim begins on Saturday evening.

Israel’s security Cabinet was set to meet Thursday morning to discuss the escalation in attacks from Gaza.

On Wednesday evening, the Islamic Jihad terror organization fired dozens of rockets at southern Israel, with 41 landing in Israeli territory, including five in residential neighborhoods. Iron Dome shot down at least three of the rockets.

The IDF responded by hitting what it called in a statement 29 “terror locations” in Gaza with artillery fire. Israeli residents were instructed to remain within 15 seconds of a bomb shelter overnight.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attacks and urged restraint from all sides. The U.S. State Department earlier condemned the rocket attacks and said Israel has a right to defend itself.

Wednesday’s attack was the largest on Israel since the 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense, the IDF said.


Egypt brokered a ceasefire on Thursday aimed at ending a flare-up of rocket attacks from Gaza on Israeli towns and Israeli air strikes in the Palestinian enclave, the Islamic Jihad militant group said.

Israel denied the agreement, but a senior Defense Ministry official said earlier in the day he expected the fighting to die down soon.

“Following intensive Egyptian contacts and efforts, the agreement for calm has been restored in accordance with understandings reached in 2012 in Cairo,” Khaled al-Batsh, an Islamic Jihad leader, wrote on Facebook, referring to a truce that ended an eight-day Gaza war two years ago.

Batsh said Islamic Jihad, which began launching rockets into Israel on Wednesday after Israeli soldiers killed three of its fighters a day earlier, would hold its fire as long as Israel did the same.

Minutes before Batsh posted word of the truce on Facebook, Israeli aircraft struck targets in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip near the border with Egypt, wounding three Palestinians, witnesses said. The Israeli military said “seven terror sites” had been hit.

Hours earlier, sirens sounded in the southern Israeli towns of Ashkelon and Ashdod. Police said rockets had landed in open areas, causing no casualties.

On Wednesday, the Israeli military carried out 29 air strikes and fired tank shells at militant targets in Gaza after Islamic Jihad launched 60 rockets towards Israel in the heaviest such barrage in nearly two years.

No casualties were reported on either side of the frontier in Wednesday's incidents.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement that Israel would “hit back with increasing force” against anyone who tried to ruin celebrations over the next few days of the Jewish holiday of Purim.

Palestinian sources noted that Gaza's ruling Hamas Islamist movement had not joined in the rocket attacks – a sign that it hoped to avoid widening the conflict.

But, the sources said, Hamas also had not moved immediately to try to stop the launchings, apparently concerned it would be seen by Palestinians as less committed than Islamic Jihad to confronting Israel.

Islamic Jihad has strong ties with Israel's arch-foe Iran and is the second largest faction in the enclave.

Last week Israeli forces seized a ship in the Red Sea which it said was carrying missiles to armed groups in Gaza. Officials said the arms may have been intended for Islamic Jihad.

Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Ralph Boulton

Israeli military calls up reservists on second day of Gaza rocket barrage


The Israel Defense Forces called up a limited number of reservists following a second day of rocket attacks from Gaza on southern Israel.

The reservists — for air defense, according to the Israel Defense Forces — were summoned on Thursday, when 17 rockets were fired at Israel. Seven landed in Israel and two were intercepted by the Iron Dome system. The remainder hit Palestinian areas. Another rocket struck southern Israel after the announcement was made but caused no damage.

At least seven rockets were fired at southern Israel shortly after the Islamic Jihad terrorist group in Gaza said it would abide by the cease-fire mediated by Egypt in 2012 amid an Israeli operation to stop rocket attacks.

Four rockets were fired Thursday morning at Ashkelon and Ashdod, with two landing in open fields between the cities and one intercepted over Ashkelon by Iron Dome. Ashdod closed schools without rocket-proof shelters following attacks.

Hours later, Israel’s Air Force retaliated by targeting seven “terror sites” in the southern Gaza Strip, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would continue to respond militarily to the attacks.

“Our policy in the South is clear — we attack anyone who attempts to hurt us and we will react with a powerful force,” Netanyahu said Thursday morning. “I want to clarify that whoever tries to hurt our Purim celebrations, we will respond with force.” Purim begins on Saturday evening.

Israel’s security Cabinet met Thursday morning to discuss the escalation in attacks from Gaza.

The previous evening, Islamic Jihad fired dozens of rockets at southern Israel, with 41 landing in Israeli territory, including five in residential neighborhoods. Iron Dome shot down at least three of the rockets. The IDF responded by hitting what it called in a statement 29 “terror locations” in Gaza with artillery fire. Israeli residents were instructed to remain within 15 seconds of a bomb shelter overnight.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the attacks and urged restraint from all sides. The U.S. State Department in its condemnation of the attacks said Israel has a right to defend itself.

Wednesday’s attack was the largest on Israel since the 2012 Operation Pillar of Defense, the IDF said.

With Islamic groups replacing traditional foes, Israel faces long-term instability on its borders


Three weeks ago, militants in Gaza landed a rocket near the Israeli city of Ashkelon.

Two weeks ago, Egypt raised its state of emergency in the Sinai Peninsula, warning of an increase in jihadist activity there.

Last week, a rock thrown by a West Bank Palestinian critically wounded a 3-year-old Israeli girl.

And this week, Israel plans to ask the United States for support should it strike Syrian weapons convoys en route to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Along both its northern and southern frontiers, Israel faces more political instability than it has in decades — conditions that some security experts fear could open a door to greater terrorism.

The upheavals of the Arab Spring may have reduced the threat of a conventional war with a neighboring state, but the prospects for peaceful borders — let alone full normalization with the Arab world — have dimmed, forcing Israeli military planners to prepare for long-term uncertainty.

“For the first time in decades, we have four active borders that have terror activities: Lebanon, Syria, Sinai and Gaza,” said Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, the director of military intelligence for the Israel Defense Forces. “The change that’s happening is deep and foundational. The central characteristic of this change, even if it seems banal, is instability and uncertainty.”

Kochavi was speaking last week at the Herzliya Conference, an elite policy and security gathering dominated this year by concerns about terrorist activity on Israel’s frontiers. Kochavi said terrorists are “filling the vacuum” of unstable states. While the consequences have been minimal, officials say the danger of an attack is growing.

“Not a week goes by, not to say hardly a day, when I don’t have to deal with an issue that you didn’t even hear about, that could have resulted in a strategic threat,” IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz told the conference.

Of particular concern to defense officials is the Syrian border, beyond which a civil war has been raging for two years — one that is threatening to spill over. Israel has begun building a fence on the perimeter of the Golan Heights and in January bombed a weapons convoy it feared was being shipped from Syria to Hezbollah operatives in Lebanon.

The possibility that Syrian arms, including stockpiles of chemical weapons, could wind up in the hands of terrorist groups is among the primary security concerns facing Israel. But the threats go deeper.

As secular strongmen have vanished from the stage — first in Egypt, and potentially in Syria — Islamists are rising in their place. It's a development that could recast the Arab-Israeli conflict in religious rather than geopolitical terms.

“We’re seeing a decline in national identity and a rise in religious identity” in the Arab world, said Dan Meridor, Israel’s outgoing minister of intelligence. “The old paradigm of war is changing its face.”

On the whole, religiously inspired terrorist groups can be difficult to deter. Generally they are less susceptible to diplomatic pressure than nation states. And unlike the dictators they appear to be replacing, the groups enjoy more popular support.

“We used to have three or four enemies,” Meridor said. “Now we have 10,000 or 20,000. Our enemies are greater and are not necessarily states. How do you deter a group that’s not a state?”

Beyond the problem of deterrence is the question of victory. Israel's recent skirmishes with terrorist groups — notably its 2006 war against Hezbollah and its 2009 and 2012 campaigns against Hamas in Gaza — have led to something closer to stalemate than the decisive victories achieved in past conventional wars.

Lurking behind a few of the non-state actors, though, is a state with which Israelis have become all too familiar: Iran. The Islamic Republic is Hezbollah’s primary funder and one of the few remaining allies of the teetering Assad regime in Syria.

Kochavi said that Iran and Hezbollah have organized an army of 50,000 in Syria and are trying to increase their influence there.

“Iran and Hezbollah are both doing all in their power to assist Assad’s regime,” Kochavi said. “Iran and Hezbollah are also preparing for the day after Assad’s fall, when they will use this army to protect their assets and interests in Syria.”

Experts said that in the face of four insecure borders, Israel’s best bet is to stay alert and hang tough. But Danny Rothschild, director of the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya’s Institute of Policy and Strategy, told the conference that Israel needs to be proactive in directing the Middle East toward peace and prosperity.

“Israel needs to be more involved in shaping the future of the region, even in a quiet way,” he said. “I have a feeling events will make it deal with issues, even if it hasn’t intended to.”

Israeli army jeep hit by bullets near Gaza


An Israeli army vehicle was hit by a volley of bullets near the Gaza Strip as Palestinians staged riots near the fence separating Gaza from Israel.

Army Radio reported that the incident on Friday, in which no one was hurt, was the first such attack since Israel’s assault on Hamas targets in Gaza as part of Operation Defensive Shield last year.

On Tuesday, a rocket launched from Gaza landed near Ashkelon. Rioting also occurred on Friday in a number of places in the West Bank and in Jerusalem.

Southern Israel hit by Gaza rocket for first time in three months


rocket fired from Gaza hit southern Israel for the first time in three months, causing some damage.

A long-range Grad rocket struck early on Feb. 26 in the industrial zone of Ashkelon.

The al-Aksa Martyrs’ Brigades, the military wing of the Fatah party led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, claimed responsibility, saying it was in response to the death of Arafat Jaradat, a Palestinian man who died in an Israeli jail.

Palestinians have rioted in several areas of the West Bank since Jaradat’s death on Feb. 23, and two Palestinian children were injured in riots on Feb. 25 following the funeral. The Palestinians claim Jaradat died as a result of Israeli torture; Israel refutes the claim.

“We will never be free without fighting, and we must struggle in every way possible, including armed struggle, against the Israeli enemy,” said a statement issued by the the al-Aksa Martyrs’ Brigades following the attack.

The last time a rocket fired from Gaza struck Israel was during last November’s Pillar of Defense, an eight-day defensive operation by the Israeli army. Some 1,500 rockets were fired from Gaza on southern Israel during the operation.

No Color Red alert was sounded to warn residents of the approaching rocket. A military source told Ynet that the alert did not sound because it was believed the rocket would hit an unpopulated area.

There was no Iron Dome anti-missile battery in the vicinity either, as it had been redeployed since the threat of rockets being fired from Gaza had been determined to be low.

Southern Israel remains under steady rocket barrage


Communities in southern Israel came under a steady barrage of rockets and the Israeli military said it inflicted “severe damage on the rocket launching capabilities of terror organizations” as its Operation Pillar of Defense neared the end of its first week.

At least 50 rockets were fired from Gaza toward southern Israel on Monday through the early afternoon. A woman in Ashkelon was wounded from rocket fragments while searching for a bomb shelter. Rockets fell in Sderot, Ashkelon, Ofakim and Shaar Hanegev. The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted rockets over those communities and over Beersheva.

Overnight Sunday, the Israel Defense Forces targeted some 80 of what it called “terror sites” throughout the Gaza Strip, including underground rocket launching sites, tunnels and training bases, “inflicting severe damage to the rocket launching capabilities of terror organizations operating out of the Gaza Strip,” according to the IDF spokesman.

The IDF also targeted buildings owned by senior terrorist operatives used as command posts and weapons storage facilities, it said. The IDF also targeted rocket-launching squads as they prepared to fire rockets toward Israel.

More than 90 Palestinians — terrorists and civilians — have been killed since the start of the operation on Nov. 14, according to the IDF. Three Israelis have been killed.

More than 540 rockets have fallen inside Israel in the six days since the start of Pillar of Defense, all but 35 in non-residential areas. Iron Dome has intercepted some 320 of them, the IDF said.

As it pummels Gaza, Israel faces a Hamas with stronger missiles and closer allies


In some ways, Israel’s latest confrontation with Hamas looks like past conflicts in the Gaza Strip. Operation Pillar of Defense has left some key Hamas leaders dead, depleted weapons supplies and hit more than 1,000 targets in Gaza.

“We are exacting a heavy price from Hamas and the terrorist organizations” in Gaza, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at his Sunday Cabinet meeting.

But there are also some important — and more worrisome — differences that Israel is seeing in Hamas this time around. The terrorist organization that rules Gaza is using more powerful missiles, with a range that can reach the Israeli heartland, and Hamas has closer and stronger allies at its side.

In the past, Hamas rockets threatened only Israel’s South. At their farthest, the projectiles could reach the desert metropolis of Beersheva and the southern coastal cities of Ashkelon and Ashdod.

This time, however, the rockets have flown nearly 50 miles, reaching the densely populated center of the country: Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, making Hamas’ rockets no longer just a problem for Israel’s “periphery.” Taken together with Hezbollah’s increasing firepower from Lebanon, terrorist missiles can reach virtually all of Israel.

Israel's Iron Dome anti-rocket system, which shoots incoming missiles out of the air, has helped limit the damage from Hamas' rocket attacks. The system is deployed to eliminate missiles headed for Israeli population centers, and Israeli officials say the interception rate is near 90 percent. As of Monday, Iron Dome shot down 350 of 1,000 missiles overall aimed at Israel; most landed in unpopulated areas and were not targeted by Iron Dome.

Complicating matters further for Israel, Hamas has a steadfast ally in Egypt’s new Muslim Brotherhood-led government. Last week, Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil visited Gaza and voiced support for Hamas. Egypt also recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv after the assassination of Hamas military chief Ahmed Jabari, which marked the beginning of the Israel Defense Forces’ Operation Pillar of Defense.

On Saturday, Hamas hosted Tunisia’s foreign minister, Rafik Abdessalem, who during his visit to the Gaza Strip condemned “blatant Israeli aggression.”

Cairo’s sympathies make the conflict especially complicated for Israel, which hopes to safeguard its treaty with Egypt even as it attempts to subdue Hamas. So far, the government of Egypt is playing the role of mediator between Israel and Hamas as the two sides discuss a possible cease-fire.

By Monday, the conflict had claimed three Israeli fatalities — from a missile strike on an apartment building in the town of Kiryat Malachi — and dozens of injuries. In Gaza, about 100 Palestinians were reported dead and more than 600 injured.

Even as cease-fire negotiations took place, some 75,000 Israeli reserve troops were activated, and military personnel and equipment arrived at the Gaza frontier in preparation for a possible ground invasion. On Saturday night, rows of military jeeps and armored cars sat parked at a gas station near the border while dozens of young soldiers in full uniform — some with helmets and others with vests — stood in groups or clustered with middle-aged officers around tables. For many, the immediate concern was about where to find some food.

“There’s nothing open,” one soldier complained as he watched a nearby restaurant shutter its doors.

Chaim, a soldier who did not give his last name due to IDF restrictions on speaking to the media, told JTA that Israel should act forcefully.

“Everyone wants to go in,” he said of a ground invasion. “We’ve waited too long. I’m calm. We have a father in heaven.

“We need to keep going,” he said, until the terrorists “don’t exist.”

Yossi, a soldier from Ashkelon, a frequent target of Gaza’s missiles, said he’s excited to serve.

“I take it,” he said of the rocket fire, “and I also defend.”

Polls show Israelis are strongly supportive of the operation in Gaza, and Netanyahu’s political opponents have lined up behind him, notwithstanding the elections in January.

“Israel is united in the war against terror,” Labor Party leader Shelly Yachimovich, a Netanyahu rival, wrote last week on her Facebook page. She called Jabari an “arch-terrorist,” writing, “His assassination is right and just.”

The Obama administration also supported the Israeli operation.

“There’s no country in the world that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders,” President Obama said at a news conference Sunday. “We are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself from missiles landing on people’s homes and workplaces, and potentially killing civilians.”

Israel hits Hamas government buildings, reservists mobilized


Israeli aircraft bombed Hamas government buildings in Gaza on Saturday, including the prime minister's office, after Israel's cabinet authorized the mobilization of up to 75,000 reservists in preparation for a possible ground invasion.

Palestinian militants in Gaza kept up cross-border salvoes, firing a rocket at Israel's biggest city Tel Aviv for the third straight day. Police said it was destroyed in mid-air by an Iron Dome anti-missile battery deployed hours earlier, and no one was injured.

Hamas, the Palestinian Islamist group that runs the Gaza Strip, said Israeli missiles wrecked the office building of Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh – where he had met on Friday with the Egyptian prime minister – and struck a police headquarters.

In the Israeli Mediterranean port of Ashdod, a rocket ripped into several balconies. Police said five people were hurt.

With Israeli tanks and artillery positioned along the Gaza border and no end in sight to hostilities now in their fourth day, Tunisia's foreign minister travelled to the enclave in a show of Arab solidarity.

Officials in Gaza said 41 Palestinians, nearly half of them civilians including eight children and a pregnant woman, had been killed since Israel began its air strikes. Three Israeli civilians were killed by a rocket on Thursday.

In Cairo, a presidential source said Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi would hold four-way talks with the Qatari emir, the prime minister of Turkey and Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal in the Egyptian capital on Saturday to discuss the Gaza crisis.

Egypt has been working to reinstate calm between Israel and Hamas after an informal ceasefire brokered by Cairo unraveled over the past few weeks. Meshaal, who lives in exile, has already held a round of talks with Egyptian security officials.

Israel uncorked its massive air campaign on Wednesday with the declared goal of deterring Hamas from launching rockets that have plagued its southern communities for years. The salvoes recently intensified, and are now displaying greater range.

The operation has drawn Western support for what U.S. and European leaders have called Israel's right to self-defense, along with appeals to both sides to avoid civilian casualties.

Hamas, shunned by the West over its refusal to recognize Israel, says its cross-border attacks have come in response to Israeli strikes against Palestinian fighters in Gaza.

“We have not limited ourselves in means or in time,” Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Israel's Channel One television. “We hope that it will end as soon as possible, but that will be only after all the objectives have been achieved.”

Hamas says it is committed to continued confrontation with Israel and is eager not to seem any less resolute than smaller, more radical groups that have emerged in Gaza in recent years.

The Islamist movement has ruled Gaza since 2007. Israel pulled settlers out of Gaza in 2005 but maintains a blockade of the tiny, densely populated coastal territory.

RESERVE TROOP QUOTA DOUBLED

At a late night session on Friday, Israel's cabinet decided to more than double the current reserve troop quota set for the Gaza offensive to 75,000, political sources said.

The move did not necessarily mean all would be called up or that an invasion would follow. Tanks and self-propelled guns were seen near the sandy border zone on Saturday, and around 16,000 reservists have already been summoned to active duty.

The Gaza conflagration has stirred the pot of a Middle East already boiling from two years of Arab revolution and a civil war in Syria that threatens to spread beyond its borders.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to visit Israel and Egypt next week to push for an end to the fighting in Gaza, U.N. diplomats said on Friday.

Hamas's armed wing claimed responsibility for Saturday's rocket attack on Tel Aviv, saying it had fired a longer-range, Iranian-designed Fajr-5 at the coastal metropolis, some 70 km (43 miles) north of the Gaza Strip.

After air raid sirens sounded, witnesses saw two white plumes rise into the sky over the southern outskirts of Tel Aviv and heard an explosion when the incoming rocket was hit.

The anti-missile battery had been due to take delivery of its fifth Iron Dome battery early next year but it was rushed into service near Tel Aviv after rockets were launched toward the city on Thursday and Friday. Those attacks caused no damage or casualties.

In Jerusalem, targeted by a Palestinian rocket on Friday for the first time in 42 years, there was little outward sign on the Jewish Sabbath that the attack had any impact on the usually placid pace of life in the holy city.

In Gaza, some families abandoned their homes – some of them damaged and others situated near potential Israeli targets – and packed into the houses of friends and relatives.

ISRAEL'S GAZA TARGETS

The Israeli army said it had zeroed in on a number of government buildings during the night, including Haniyeh's office, the Hamas Interior Ministry and a police compound.

Taher al-Nono, a spokesman for the Hamas government, held a news conference near the rubble of the prime minister's office and pledged: “We will declare victory from here.”

A three-storey house belonging to Hamas official Abu Hassan Salah was also hit and totally destroyed early on Saturday. Rescuers said at least 30 people were pulled from the rubble.

In Washington, U.S. President Barack Obama commended Egypt's efforts to help defuse the Gaza violence in a call to Morsi on Friday, the White House said in a statement, and underscored his hope of restoring stability there.

On Friday, Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Kandil paid a high-profile visit to Gaza, denouncing what he called Israeli aggression and saying Cairo was prepared to mediate a truce.

Egypt's Islamist government, freely elected after U.S.-backed autocrat Hosni Mubarak fell to a popular uprising last year, is allied with Hamas but Cairo is also party to a 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

In a call to Netanyahu, Obama discussed options for “de-escalating” the situation, the White House said, adding that the president “reiterated U.S. support for Israel's right to defend itself, and expressed regret over the loss of Israeli and Palestinian civilian lives”.

Hamas fighters are no match for the Israeli military. The last Gaza war, involving a three-week long Israeli air blitz and ground invasion over the New Year period of 2008-09, killed over 1,400 Palestinians. Thirteen Israelis died.

But few believe Israeli military action can snuff out militant rocket fire entirely without a reoccupation of Gaza, an option all but ruled out because it would risk major casualties and an international outcry.

While Hamas rejects the Jewish state's existence, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who rules in areas of the nearby West Bank, does recognize Israel but peace talks between the two sides have been frozen since 2010.

Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell, Jeffrey Heller and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem and Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Images as Operation Pillar of Defense Continues


Obama, Netanyahu talk ‘de-escalation’


President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed “de-escalation” of the Gaza conflict.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu called the President today to provide an update on the situation in Israel and Gaza,” said a White House statement released late Frdiay.  “The Prime Minister expressed his deep appreciation to the president and the American people for the United States’ investment in the Iron Dome rocket and mortar defense system, which has effectively defeated hundreds of incoming rockets from Gaza and saved countless Israeli lives.”

The statement continued: “The president reiterated U.S. support for Israel’s right to defend itself, and expressed regret over the loss of Israeli and Palestinian civilian lives. The two leaders discussed options for de-escalating the situation.”

The reference to de-escalation came the same day that Netanyahu appeared ready to expand the operation into a ground war, as Palestinian rockets for the first time reached the outskirts of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

“With respect to the ongoing operation the prime minister said that the IDF is continuing to hit Hamas hard and is ready to expand the operation into Gaza,” said a statement from Netanyahu's office Friday, recounting his meeting with the Israeli president, Shimon Peres.

In a separate statement, the White House said Obama had spoken to the Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, and also discussed de-escalation.

“The president commended Egypt’s efforts to de-escalate the situation and expressed his hope that these efforts would be successful,” the statement said.  “The president expressed regret for the loss of Israeli and Palestinian civilian lives, and underscored the importance of resolving the situation as quickly as possible to restore stability and prevent further loss of life.”

Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood movement is close to Hamas, has condemned the Israeli strikes and has called for a cease-fire.

Israel's Cabinet on Friday approved a call-up of 75,000 reservists, Haaretz reported.

The operation, launched Wednesday by Israel after an intensification of rocket fire from Gaza, has claimed some 30 Palestinian lives, including a number of children; a top commander of the Hamas terrorist group, killed in the first minutes of attacks; and an alleged informant killed by Hamas.

A rocket killed three Israeli civilians in the southern town of Kiryat Malachi.

Barak: Current episode with Gaza ‘not over’


Israel's Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the current episode of rocket fire from Gaza is not over, during a visit to the border with Gaza.

Barak on Tuesday held a security analysis with the Israel Defense Forces chiefs in the area, including Gaza Division Commander Brig. Gen. Mickey Edelstein; Commander of the Southern Command Maj. Gen. Tal Russo; and Deputy Chief of Staff Maj.-Gen. Yair Naveh.

“Hamas and the other terrorist organizations are suffering as a result of intense strikes [by the IDF] in Gaza. But it is certainly not over and we will decide how and when to act if necessary.  I do not want to address either timing or means [of operation]; it would not be right to provide this information to the other side,” Barak said, according to a statement from the Defense Ministry.

“We do not intend to allow – in any shape or form – the continued harming of the day to day life of our citizens.   And we intend to reinforce the deterrence – and strengthen it – so that we are able to operate along the length of the border fence in a way that will ensure the security of all our soldiers who are serving around the Gaza Strip.”

Barak added that even if other Gaza terrorist organizations are shooting some of the rockets, that Israel holds Hamas, which is in charge of Gaza, responsible for all of the attacks. 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with the security cabinet on Tuesday morning to discuss possible responses to the attacks from Gaza.

A long-range Grad missile fired from Gaza on Tuesday morning struck Ashdod, but did not cause any injuries or damage. Early Tuesday morning, Israel Air Force aircraft fired at and struck a weapon storage facility in the central Gaza Strip, and two launching sites in the northern Gaza Strip, according to the IDF.

On Monday, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned Gaza terrorists for the rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. He also called on Israel to be restrained in its response.

“The secretary-general reiterates his call for an immediate cessation of indiscriminate rocket attacks by Palestinian militants targeting Israel and strongly condemns these actions,” Ban’s spokesman said in a statement. “Both sides should do everything to avoid further escalation and must respect their obligations under international humanitarian law to ensure the protection of civilians at all times.”

At least 160 rockets have been fired at southern Israel from Gaza since Saturday night, according to reports.

Netanyahu in meeting with envoys talks tough on stopping Gaza barrage


Israel will “take whatever action is necessary to put a stop” to the barrage of rockets from Gaza targeting the country, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told ambassadors.

Netanyahu met Monday in Ashkelon with some 100 foreign envoys to talk about Israel's response to the escalation of rocket fire on southern Israel in the past three days.

“I don’t know of any of your governments who could accept such a thing,” Netanyahu said at the meeting. “I don’t know of any of the citizens of your cities who could find that acceptable and something that could proceed on a normal basis. I think the whole world understands that this is not acceptable.

“So we’re going to fight for the rights of our people to defend themselves. We’ll take whatever action is necessary to put a stop to this.”

Israel's foreign missions reportedly were instructed to tell their host governments that Israel has lost patience with the situation on the Gaza border and could take some action, Israel Radio reported. As many as 150 rockets have been fired from Gaza at southern Israel since Saturday, according to reports.

“The prime minister is interested in preparing international public opinion for an Israeli military operation in Gaza,” Haaretz reported a source in the Prime Minister's Office as saying.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak reportedly met Monday with Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz and the commander of the IDF's Southern Command, Tal Russo, to discuss and possibly change the IDF's policy regarding rocket fire from the Gaza Strip. Ynet reported that senior intelligence officials also attended the meeting.

Israeli politicians spoke out Monday on the possibility of a heightened Israeli response to the Gaza provocation, including a ground operation.

Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich told Army Radio that such an operation should not occur on the eve of national elections, which are set for Jan. 22.

Opposition leader Shaul Mofaz, head of the Kadima Party, called for the targeted killing of terrorist leaders. Mofaz is a former IDF chief of staff.

Home Front Defense Minister Avi Dichter, who lives in Ashkelon, called for a ground invasion of Gaza, saying that terror cannot be destroyed just by air power.

Informal ceasefire between Israel and Gaza, brokered by Egypt, holding


Israel and Hamas reportedly were observing an informal ceasefire, brokered by Egypt.

The ceasefire reportedly went into effect at midnight on Thursday morning, though a lone mortar shell was fired at southern Israel at about 9 a.m. Thursday, several hours after the unofficial truce was scheduled to begin.

“The contacts Cairo made resulted in a verbal promise by Hamas to calm the situation down and Israel said it was monitoring calm on the ground and would refrain from attacks unless it was subject to rocket fire from Gaza,”  an unnamed Palestinian official told reporters.

Israel denied that there was any agreement.

The cease-fire came after two days of rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian terrorists in Gaza on Southern Israel, and Israeli strikes against rocket launching sites. Some 79 rockets hit Israel on Tuesday night and Wednesday.

At least five private homes were hit directly by the rockets and three foreign workers were injured, two seriously.

The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted at least seven rockets aimed at Ashkelon.

Schools that were closed in much of southern Israel opened on Thursday, with the Home Front Command still recommending that residents living within 10 miles of Gaza remain near bomb shelters.

Hamas' military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, and the Popular Resistance Committees both have claimed responsibility for the rockets.

The escalation on Israel's southern border follows a border attack Tuesday on an Israeli patrol near the security fence with Gaza that seriously injured an Israeli soldier, who lost his arm in the explosion.

On Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that the radius for communities to be reinforced against rocket attacks would be expanded at a cost of about $65 million.

Sacramento approves sister-city relationship with Ashkelon despite opposition


Sacramento City Council voted unanimously to approve a sister-city relationship with Ashkelon, despite opposition from pro-Palestinian organizations.

The Tuesday night vote came after testimony from opponents and supporters, the Sacramento Bee reported.

Some of the 250 spectators crowded into council chambers held Israeli flags; others wore T-shirts reading, “Got human rights? Palestinians don’t,” or carried signs that read that read “I am a Palestinian Sacramentan, therefore I cannot visit Ashkelon on a sister-city delegation.”

The California capital already has a sister-city relationship with nine cities, including what it calls “Bethlehem, Palestine,” and has been discussing adding an Israeli town for several years. The council twinned with Bethlehem in 2009 and at the time agreed to choose a city from Israel as well.

The sister-city program involves cultural, educational and people-to-people exchanges.

Groups that opposed the twinning included No Human Rights, No Sister City; Palestinian Americans for Peace; and the Sacramento Jewish Voice for Peace. Stand With Us and Christians United For Israel circulated letters and petitions in support of the plan.

Despite truce, rockets still falling on Israel


Rockets continued to fall on southern Israel despite a truce with Gazan terrorist groups.

The Iron Dome missile defense system intercepted five rockets fired at Ashkelon shortly after the truce, which was mediated by Egypt, went into effect at 8 p.m. Sunday. Several rockets also hit southern Israel on Sunday.

An Israeli man, 50, was seriously injured by shrapnel when a rocket exploded near a factory in Sderot.  A school in Sderot also was damaged by rocket fire.

Israel struck several targets in Gaza over the weekend, according to the Israeli military, including a terror cell about to detonate a rocket. Hamas reported that at least three Palestinians were killed in retaliatory attacks over the weekend, including a child and a terrorist.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the start of the regularly scheduled Cabinet meeting on Sunday said “the IDF is taking strong action against those who are attacking us and it will take even stronger action if need be. Our policy is to use force in order to restore security and quiet to the residents of the south.”

At least 150 rockets fired from Gaza have struck southern Israel since the cross-border attacks began last week, the Israel Defense Forces reported.

Cross-border violence continues between Israel and Gaza


An Israeli air strike killed a Palestinian militant and wounded two men in the Gaza Strip on Friday, Israel and Hamas medical officials said, two days after an Egyptian-brokered truce had calmed an outbreak of cross-border violence.

The strike in central Gaza followed the firing of two rockets at Israel earlier in the day. There were no reported casualties in those incidents.

An Israeli military spokeswoman confirmed there was an air strike after a Hamas medical official in Gaza said a militant had been killed and two other people were wounded in an Israeli strike at al-Bureij refugee camp in central Gaza.

Israel said its jets had targeted militants preparing to fire rockets at Israel. In Gaza, the Popular Resistance Committees, militants often involved in shooting rockets, said the man killed in the attack belonged to their group.

The violence broke a two-day lull in cross-border attacks when Hamas militants in Gaza said they would abide by an Egyptian-brokered deal to withhold fire as long as Israel also stopped shooting.

Egypt feared the fighting near its borders could spark wider violence at a time when Cairo was confronting fresh popular protests over the uncertain outcome of a presidential vote.

Hamas’s involvement in the fighting had added to Egypt’s and Israel’s concerns, as the Islamist group which governs Gaza had largely avoided direct involvement in confrontations with Israel since a devastating 2009 Israeli offensive.

The militant killed on Friday was the ninth person in Gaza killed by Israeli air strikes since Monday, including a 14-year-old boy. Israel launched these attacks after an attack from Egyptian Sinai that killed an Israeli man.

Israel responded on Monday by killing two of the attackers, then targeted militants in Gaza including some it blamed for the Egyptian border incident and others it said fired rockets.

The Israeli military said more than 130 rockets and mortars fired from Gaza have struck Israeli towns since Monday, some of them launched after the truce was called.

Reporting by Saleh Salem; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Louise Ireland

Egypt brokering cease-fire between Israel and Palestinians


As rockets continued to fall on southern Israel, Egypt reportedly was working to broker a cease-fire between Israel and Palestinian terror groups in Gaza.

There was little information reported about Thursday’s cease-fire talks, which are aimed at stopping the terror groups’ rocket attacks on southern Israel and retaliatory strikes by Israel.

Elementary schools, in session until the end of the month, were closed in Ashkelon on Thursday after two rockets were fired at the southern city early that morning. One was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system.

Several mortars and Kassam rockets also were fired at Israel on Thursday.

Hamas’ armed wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigade, claimed responsibility for firing eight rockets at Israel before midnight on Wednesday, according to the Palestinian Ma’an news service.

The Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigade said it would cooperate with Egyptian mediation efforts, but only if Israel halts its retaliatory airstrikes on Gaza.

Hamas also said it would not disassemble its launchers and is ready to “defend and attack,” according to Ma’an.

At least 70 rockets hit southern Israel on Wednesday; 120 have struck Israel since Monday, when the cross-border attacks began.

Gaza rocket injures foreign worker in Israel


Rockets fired from Gaza on southern Israel over the weekend injured a foreign worker.

Two rockets fired at southern Israel on Saturday night landed near Ashkelon. A foreign worker from Thailand suffered shrapnel wounds in the attack.

A rocket from Gaza had landed in the same area on Friday night. Following that strike, the Israeli Air Force a night later attacked an Islamic Jihad terrorist cell in southern Gaza preparing to launch a rocket into Israel, according to reports. The Israeli strike killed one of the cell members, Palestinian sources told reporters.