An Israeli flag is seen near the minaret of a Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City. Nov. 30, 2016. Photo by Ammar Awad/REUTERS.

Hamas closes border between Israel and Gaza


Hamas closed the border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Israel following the assassination of one of its commanders.

The border crossing was closed Sunday in an effort to prevent the assassin or assassins from leaving Gaza. The Rafah border crossing with Egypt also reportedly has been closed by Hamas.

Thousands attended the funeral for Mazan Fukha in Gaza on Saturday, which was attended by Hamas senior official Ismail Haniyeh, Ynet reported.

Fukha was assassinated on Friday night outside of his Gaza home, according to reports. Hamas is blaming Israel’s Mossad for his death. Mourners shouted “revenge” against Israel during the funeral, the AFP news agency reported.

The Israeli side of the Erez crossing, the only place where people cross in and out of Gaza, will remain open. The Kerem Shalom crossing, which is used for goods and humanitarian aid, also will remain open, according to Israeli officials.

Fukha, who Israel says founded Hamas in the West Bank and helped coordinate terror attacks against Israelis, was jailed in Israel after being found responsible for suicide attacks that killed hundreds of Israelis during the second Intifada.

He was released from prison in Israel in 2011, as part of the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange and ordered deported to Gaza.

Israel, EU reach research deal, finessing settlement issue


Israel struck a compromise deal with the European Union on Tuesday allowing it to join a prestigious EU scientific research project, Israeli government sources said, resolving a dispute over Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Israeli participation had been jeopardized by new EU guidelines unveiled in July effectively barring EU money from being allotted to Israeli research institutes and other entities with operations in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had said the restrictions were unacceptable. But with the deadline for signing onto the lucrative Horizon 2020 science program less than a week away, the two sides managed to overcome their differences.

“A compromise has been reached that will allow this project to move forward,” said an Israeli government official, who asked not to be identified. “Both sides understand that the other side has a different position on the politics, but there is an understanding that there is a mutual interest to cooperate in the issues of science and technologies.

“Ultimately, we believe it is a two-way street, and both sides have much to gain from this sort of cooperation.”

The EU is Israel's biggest economic partner, accounting for almost a third of all its exports and imports.

Yet despite deep historical links, relations between Israel and Europe have grown rockier in recent years, with the EU increasingly vocal in criticism of Jewish settlements, saying they imperil the chances of peace with the Palestinians.

Matters came to a head in July when the EU's Executive Commission announced it would bar financial assistance to any Israeli organization operating in the West Bank from 2014.

The move finally put some teeth into EU opposition to settlements built on territory Israel seized in a 1967 war and which are now home to more than 500,000 Israelis. Palestinians want the land for part of a future independent state.

A second Israeli official, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said the compromise was reached between Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Under the compromise reached, the EU prohibition of funds for groups in the West Bank will be referenced in an appendix to the deal while Israel will add its own appendix stating it does not recognize the new guidelines, the official said.

Israeli companies and organizations that have operations on West Bank land can request funds if they ensure the money does not cross the pre-1967 border.

Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Gazan breached border fence for moshav attack


The Gaza Palestinian who stabbed a woman in an Israeli farming town near the Egyptian border had breached an unguarded border fence.

The attacker entered the Sde Avraham home of Yael Raam-Matzpun early Monday morning. Raam-Matzpun managed to send her four children to safety and fight off the attacker, sustaining stab wounds to her face and shoulder.

She locked the assailant in the bathroom, but he escaped through a window. Israeli soldiers pursued the attacker, and he was shot and killed him when he put the soldiers' lives at risk, according to reports.

The breach in the border fence came during a protest by Palestinians on Nov. 23 near Khan Younis, according to Ynet.

Raam-Matzpun and other residents of the southern Israeli moshav said they were lucky the attack did not end like the one in March 2011 in Itamar, a West Bank settlement, when five members of the Fogel family were killed by two assailants.

Gaza boy killed by Israeli troops, Palestinian officials say


A Palestinian boy who died in southern Gaza was killed by Israeli troops, Palestinian officials said.

The boy, 13, was hit by machine-gun fire from Israeli helicopters or tanks that targeted houses and farms near Khan Yunis, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported, quoting a Gaza medical official.

The Israel Defense Forces said it did not mount such an attack, but did say its troops came under fire while on patrol near the Gaza border and fired back, Ynet reported. A helicopter gunship was involved in the retaliation.  

Several hours later, an Israeli soldier was injured by a mortar shell fired from Gaza.

Syrian clashes intensify near Turkey border


NATO said on Tuesday it had drawn up plans to defend Turkey if necessary against any further spillover of violence from Syria's border areas where rebels and government forces are fighting for control.

Rebel suicide bombers struck at President Bashar Assad's heartland, attacking an Air Force Intelligence compound on the edge of Damascus, insurgents said. Activists living nearby said the bombing caused at least 100 casualties among security personnel, based on the ambulances that rushed to the scene.

“Assad…is only able to stand up with crutches,” Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, once a close ally of Assad, told a meeting of his ruling AK Party.

“He will be finished when the crutches fall away.”

Erdogan, reacting to six consecutive days where shells fired from Syrian soil have landed on Turkish territory, has warned Ankara will not shrink from war if forced to act. But Ankara has also made clear it would be reluctant to mount any major operation on Syrian soil, and then only with international support.

Syrian forces and rebels have clashed at several sites close to the Turkish border in the last week. There has been no sign of any major breakthrough by either side, though activists said rebels killed at least 40 soldiers on Saturday in a 12-hour battle to take the village of Khirbet al-Joz.

It was not clear whether the shells landing on the Turkish side were aimed at Turkey or simply the result of government troops overshooting as they attacked rebels to their north.

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said in Brussels the 28-member military alliance hoped a way could be found to stop tensions escalating on the border.

“We have all necessary plans in place to protect and defend Turkey if necessary,” he said.

Just outside Hacipasa, a village nestled among olive groves in Turkey's Hatay border province, the sound of mortar fire could be heard every 10-15 minutes from around the Syrian town of Azmarin. A Syrian helicopter flew high over the border.

Villagers used ropes and small metal boats to ferry the injured across a river no more than 10 meters wide into Turkey. On the Syrian side, men wearing surgical masks and gloves tended to the wounded on mats laid on the ground.

“They are burning houses in the town,” said Musana Barakat, 46, an Azmarin resident who makes frequent trips between the two countries, pointing at plumes of thick smoke in the distance.

“There are rebels hiding in and around the town and they are going to make a push tonight to drive Assad's forces out,” he said, a Syrian passport sticking out of his shirt pocket.

A crowd gathered around a saloon car, the blood-stained body of a man who had been pulled wounded from the fighting slumped across its back seat. Those with him said he had been rescued alive but died after being brought over the border.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul said on Monday the “worst-case scenarios” were now playing out in Syria and Turkey would do everything necessary to protect itself.

Gul and Erdogan, in seeking Western and Arab support, have repeatedly warned of the dangers of fighting in Syria spilling over into a sectarian war engulfing the entire region.

Turkey's chief of general staff General Necdet Ozel flew by helicopter to several bases in Hatay province on Tuesday, part of Turkey's 900-km (560-mile) border with Syria.

U.N. special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi will go to Syria soon to try to persuade President Bashar al-Assad's government to call an immediate ceasefire.

SUICIDE BOMBERS

The militant Islamist group al-Nusra Front said it had mounted the suicide attack on the air force intelligence building in Damascus because it was used a centre for torture and repression in the crackdown on the revolt against Assad.

“Big shockwaves shattered windows and destroyed shop facades. It felt as if a bomb exploded inside every house in the area,” said one resident of the suburb of Harasta, where the compound was located.

But much of the fighting in the 18-month-old uprising has concentrated around the border area.

The shelling of the Turkish town of Akcakale last Wednesday, which killed five civilians, marked a sharp escalation.

Turkey has been responding in kind since then to gunfire or mortar bombs flying over the border and has bolstered its military presence along the frontier.

“We are living in constant fear. The mortar sounds have really picked up since this morning. The children are really frightened,” said Hali Nacioglu, 43, a farmer from the village of Yolazikoy near Hacipasa.

A mortar bomb landed in farmland near Hacipasa on Monday.

Unlike the flat terrain around Akcakale, the border area in Hatay is marked by rolling hills with heavy vegetation. Syrian towns and villages, including Azmarin, are clearly visible just a few kilometers away.

“It's only right that Turkey should respond if it gets fired on but we really don't want war to break out. We want this to finish as soon as possible,” said Abidin Tunc, 49, a tobacco farmer also from Yolazikoy.

NATO member Turkey was once an ally of Assad's but turned against him after his violent response to the uprising, in which activists say 30,000 people have died.

Turkey has nearly 100,000 Syrian refugees in camps on its territory, has given sanctuary to rebel leaders and has led calls for Assad to quit.

Additional reporting by Khaled Yacoub Oweis in Amman, Adrian Croft in Brussels, John Irish in Paris; Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Daren Butler and Ralph Boulton

Israelis look nervously across to Syria


The Golan Heights on the border between Israel and Syria is a favorite holiday destination for Israelis, and thousands were hiking and picnicking there during the recent holidays. But the Israeli army asked some visitors to leave after a group of 50 Syrians, some of them armed, approached the border with Israel in the area of Mount Hermon, which in the winter functions as Israel’s only ski resort.

Some of the fighting between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad and the Syrian rebels has moved closer to the Israeli border, and several mortar rounds have landed inside Israeli territory. Israeli officials believe these mortars were not aimed at Israel.

“The army’s intelligence forecasts according to which the [Syrian side of the] Golan Heights would become a loosely governed area are proving true,” Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Intelligence Chief Aviv Kochavi said during a tour of the Syrian border. “The weakening of the Syrian regime’s grip [on the border region] and the increasing infiltration of global jihad elements pose a new threat, which the army is preparing for.” 

Israeli officials say the border between Israel and Syria has been one of the quietest since the end of the Yom Kippur War in 1973. But as the fighting in Syria continues, there is fear that it could spread over the border into Israel. Syria has always demanded the return of the Golan Heights, which Israel captured in 1967. Israel has always said it will discuss the future of the Golan Heights as part of a peace deal with Syria. Perhaps as a warning to Syria, Israeli troops held a “surprise” training exercise with thousands of reservists near the border last month.

“I was on the Golan Heights this week, and we heard shots and yelling,” former National Security Adviser Uzi Dayan said. “We should move more troops to the border and maintain the security fence. We need to be prepared for all possibilities, including a terror attack from Syria.”

The fence between Israel and Syria was built after the 1973 war. In June 2011, at least 14 pro-Palestinian protesters were killed trying to cross into Israel from Syria during an anti-Israel demonstration.

Israel is closely watching events in Syria, where 19 months of bitter fighting has yet to bring a decisive victory for either Assad or the rebels.

“Assad’s control is failing,” Dayan said. “It doesn’t mean he will fall immediately, but in the long run he won’t be in power. It is possible that someone will assassinate him, or an entire division with its commanders will go to the other side and it will be over.”

Israel is worried about what happens after Assad. The most likely possibilities are either that Syria will become a Sunni state, as the majority of the population is Sunni, or will fragment into several small mini-states. Assad is a member of the Alawite minority, a branch of Shia Islam.

The Druze community in the Golan Heights is watching the situation especially closely. Although they live under Israeli sovereignty, many of the Druze in the Golan Heights consider themselves to be Syrians. Only about 10 percent of the 22,000 there have accepted Israeli citizenship.

At the beginning of the fighting in Syria, most of the Druze in the Golan supported Assad.

“Assad has been very supportive of the Druze in the Golan,” Gid’on Abbas, a Druze former general in the Israeli army said. “But many Druze have gotten killed in the fighting in Syria, and there are a lot of mixed feelings. There have even been brawls in some villages between those who support Assad and those who oppose him.”

Abbas shared Dayan’s belief that the end of the Assad government is only a matter of time.

“He will not be able to continue indefinitely,” he said. “In the past few weeks, the different rebel groups have tried to band together and present an alternative to the regime.”

The fall of Assad presents both dangers and opportunities for Israel, say these analysts. Chaos is always dangerous, and cross-border terror attacks could spark a harsh Israeli response. Israel is also concerned that Syria could provide Hezbollah terrorists in south Lebanon with chemical weapons that could eventually be used against Israel.

Yet, at the same time, the current conflict could have benefits for Israel.

“From Israel’s point of view, it’s not a bad thing if the fighting in Syria lasts forever,” said Dayan. “Syria is becoming weakened economically, politically and socially, and it will never return to what it was. Hezbollah will also no longer have a godfather and help from Syria, which will weaken them as well.”

Abbas, the Druze leader, believes that if Assad falls, more Druze in the Golan Heights will ask for, and receive, Israeli citizenship.

“They will want to be more cemented to Israel than to Syria,” he said. “The residents of the Golan see and hear what’s happening on the other side. They see so many civilians getting killed and there is a feeling that there is no control. Nobody even knows who’s against whom anymore.”

Egypt sentences 14 to death for Sinai attacks


An Egyptian court on Monday sentenced 14 Islamists to death for attacks on security forces in the Sinai Peninsula, showing Egypt's determination to put down militancy in a region critical to relations with neighbouring Israel.

The Jewish state has voiced concern about security in Sinai, where at least four cross-border attacks have taken place since President Hosni Mubarak was toppled in February 2011.

The Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, has made the issue a priority since he was elected in June.

Sixteen Egyptian border guards were killed in August, and hundreds of police and troops with tanks, armoured vehicles and helicopters have been sent to raid militant hideouts and seize weapons in an operation coordinated with Israel.

The court in Ismailia sentenced 14 members of the Tawheed wal Jihad group to hang for killing three police officers, an army officer and a civilian in attacks on a police station and a bank in the town of Arish in June and July last year.

Eight were tried in absentia, court sources said. Four other militants were sentenced to life imprisonment.

“This court decision is a milestone. It gives a strong message to the militant groups that the state, President Mohamed Morsi's government, will not tolerate attacks on the Egyptian armed forces and police,” said Nageh Ibrahim, an expert on Islamists who is himself a former militant.

The verdicts prompted cries from the accused.

“Morsi is an infidel and those who follow him are infidels,” shouted one.

Others cried “God is Greatest” as they listened to the judge from inside their metal cage in court. The men all had beards and traditional white robes and some held Korans.

The prosecutor said that Tawheed wal Jihad (“Monotheism and Holy War”) propagated a hardline Islamist view that allowed adherents to declare the head of state an infidel and to wage war on the government.

The same group was accused of carrying out a series of bomb attacks in 2004 and 2005 against tourist resorts in South Sinai, in which 34 people died.

Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, Egypt's highest Islamic legal official, sanctioned the death penalty before it was pronounced.

“The accused wanted to spread corruption in the earth,” he said. “They went out armed with deadly weapons, machine guns and explosives to target security forces … all in the name of Islam. They therefore deserve the death sentence.”

Ibrahim, who was jailed during the 1990s but later became one of the leading Islamists to call for an end to violence against the state, said the verdicts would deter other militants from attacking Israel.

“Morsi's government is adamant about stemming any attacks across the border because this will give Israel an incentive to reoccupy Sinai. Now is the time for development, not war,” Ibrahim said.

The U.S.-brokered 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel sets strict limits on military deployment in the Sinai, which is designated a demilitarised buffer zone.

Additional reporting and writing by Marwa Awad; Editing by Kevin Liffey

IDF soldier, assailants killed in skirmish near border with Egypt


One Israeli soldier and three armed assailants have died in a skirmish near the border with Egypt.

Army Radio reported that two soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces were hit Friday morning after the assailants opened fire on them while they were patrolling the border with Egypt.

The other Israeli soldier who was hit sustained medium injuries, according to the report, which the IDF Spokesperson confirmed.

One of the dead assailants had a suicide bomb belt around him, the IDF said, describing the three as terrorists.

“The IDF stopped a very big terrorist attack,” IDF spokesman Brig.-Gen. Yoav Mordechai said.

The incident, according to the report, happened near the Har Charif bulge, some 30 miles southwest of Mitzpe Ramon.

Last month, an Israel Air Force aircraft fired a missile on an armored personnel carrier that a team of terrorists had stolen from an Egyptian army base and driven  across the border. The terrorists killed 16 Egyptian troops in the takeover. In June, terrorists launched an anti-tank missile at a convoy of construction workers building the border fence along the Israel-Egypt frontier. One Israeli civilian and two terrorists were killed in the attack.

Over the past few months terrorists in Sinai launched rockets at Eilat and the border region on a number of occasions, but no Israelis were injured.

African migrants remain trapped at border following hearing


A group of African migrants remain trapped at the border with Egypt after Israel's Supreme Court decided to hold another hearing next week on their situation.

The decision to hold a second hearing was made at a court hearing on Thursday. The hearings are in response to a petition filed by the We are Refugees, an Israeli NGO. The petition calls for Israel to provide food, water and medical care to the refugees.

Also Thursday, Israeli police and troops blocked a delegation from the Israeli chapter of Physicians for Human Rights from visiting the trapped migrants.

The 20 African migrants have been trapped for a week between Israel's border fence with Egypt, and Israeli soldiers have been ordered not to let them in.The soldiers reportedly are providing water to the migrants, who include a pregnant woman and a teenage boy. The migrants have refused to be sent back to Egypt.

The Prime Minister's Office on Wednesday evening released a statement saying that Israel is not obligated under international law to allow the migrants to enter, since they do not face persecution in Egypt.

Also Wednesday, the envoy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Israel, William Tall, called on Israel to allow the refugees to enter Israel and apply for asylum.

Last month, a group of migrants stuck along the border was allowed to enter Israel after four days. They were sent to a holding facility for illegal migrants.

Agreement reached on African migrants at Israeli border


Israel said it will allow two female African migrants — one who is pregnant — and a teen to enter the country, and turn over more than a dozen other refugees who have been trapped at its border to Egyptian authorities.

Thursday's decision by the Israel government came hours after the Israeli Supreme Court decided to hold another hearing on the migrants' situation on Sunday. The hearings are in response to a petition filed by We are Refugees, an Israeli NGO, that calls on Israel to provide food, water and medical care to the refugees.

Officials in the Prime Minister's Office called the decision a humanitarian solution to the problem of the 20 African migrants who have been trapped for a week between Israel's border fence with Egypt, The Jersusalem Post reported.

Later Thursday, an Israeli official told the French news agency AFP that the agreement was reached between military commanders from both Israel and Egypt, along with the migrants, who had refused to be sent back to Egypt.

Israeli soldiers have been ordered not to let in the refugees but reportedly have provided them with water.

“It is important that everyone understand that Israel is no longer a destination for infiltrators,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement Thursday evening after the agreement was announced. “We are determined to stop the flood of infiltrators that has been here. We built this fence and it has already lowered the number of infiltrators by 90 percent. We will intensify steps against those who employ illegal infiltrators, and we will continue the effort to return infiltrators to their countries of origin.”

Also Thursday, Israeli police and troops blocked a delegation from the Israeli chapter of Physicians for Human Rights from visiting the trapped migrants.

The Prime Minister's Office on Wednesday evening released a statement saying that Israel is not obligated under international law to allow the migrants to enter, since they do not face persecution in Egypt. Also Wednesday, the envoy for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in Israel, William Tall, called on Israel to allow the refugees to enter Israel and apply for asylum.

Last month, a group of migrants stuck along the border was allowed to enter Israel after four days. They were sent to a holding facility for illegal migrants.

Egypt replaces tanks with armored vehicles in Sinai


Egypt's military is deploying light armored vehicles in Sinai to replace some heavy tanks whose presence at the border area had raised concerns in Israel, security sources said on Tuesday.A source said last week the army had begun withdrawing some of the tanks, after they had been deployed as part of an operation against militants who attacked and killed 16 border guards on August 5.

Disorder has spread in Sinai since former President Hosni Mubarak's overthrow last year. Analysts say Islamists with possible links to al Qaeda have gained a foothold, which has alarmed Israel.

The unrest has occurred mainly in North Sinai, where many people have guns and where Bedouin tribes have long complained of neglect by central government. They say they have seen no benefits from the expanding Sinai tourist resorts.

Hundreds of troops, along with tanks, armored vehicles and helicopters were sent to the area in a joint operation with police to raid militant hideouts, arrest suspects and seize weapons, including rockets and other arms, rife in the area.

But Israeli officials have privately voiced concerns about heavy equipment being sent to areas where there have been restrictions on weapon deployments under a 1979 peace treaty, the first such treaty reached between Israel and an Arab state.

“Twenty tanks have been withdrawn from the central sector of Sinai toward Suez,” a security source said, adding that about 20 armored vehicles have reached Al-Arish city, the administrative centre of North Sinai.

The sources did not give a clear answer to whether the withdrawal of tanks was taken in response to Israel's concerns or say how many tanks were still in Sinai.

The army said last week it would broaden its campaign in Sinai, involving a redeployment of forces but did not specify which areas they would redeploy to.

“The operation is entering a new phase that requires different equipment capable of facing and handling the situation in Sinai,” military official told Reuters on Tuesday.

Another security source said the tanks were removed to be replaced with more “useful equipment”.

Analysts said there was no doubt that the tanks were taken out to assuage Israeli concerns. “Egypt's decision to remove tanks was taken to calm Israel after it voiced concerns about the presence of tanks near its borders,” Safwat al Zayaat, a retired army general and military expert said.

“As if the tanks were, as Egypt is saying now, not useful then why did it send them there in the first place?” he said.

A security source said security forces defused a land mine and a bomb on Tuesday planted by militants east of Al-Arish. It was the fourth such incident since last week.

No one had yet claimed responsibility for the killing of the border guards on August 5. But a Sinai-based Islamist militant organization, the Salafi Jihadi Group – which denies any involvement in the border attack – warned the Egyptian army that the crackdown would force it to fight back.

Reporting by Yusri Mohamed in Ismailia, Yasmine Saleh and Marwa Awad; Writing by Tamim Elyan; Editing by Alison Williams

Egypt broadens Sinai campaign against militants


Egypt’s military said on Wednesday it would broaden its offensive against militants in the Sinai Peninsula, a campaign that has raised concerns in Israel about the movement of heavy armor into the area near its border.

After militants attacked and killed 16 border guards on Aug. 5, Egypt launched an operation using the army and police to raid militant hideouts, arrest suspects and seize weapons, including rockets and other arms, that are rife in the area.

Disorder has spread in Sinai since former President Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow last year. Analysts say Islamists with possible links to al Qaeda have gained a foothold. This has alarmed Israel.

Israeli officials have privately voiced concerns about heavy equipment being sent to areas where there are restrictions on weapon deployments under a 1979 peace treaty.

Egypt has sent hundreds of troops, along with tanks, armored vehicles and helicopters into the North Sinai region since the start of military operations there on Aug.8.

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi told Reuters on Monday in his first interview with international media that Egypt was committed to all treaties and, without naming Israel, said no other states should worry about its actions in Sinai.

“As of the morning of Aug. 29, in continuation of the military operation, there will be a redeployment of forces in various locations in Sinai to complete the hunt for terrorist elements,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

A military source told Reuters this would involve spreading security forces over a wider area to root out militants.

The campaign is led by the defense minister and head of the armed forces, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, appointed by Morsi in a shake-up of the military top brass on Aug. 12. The Islamist president has promised to restore order.

Sisi briefed Morsi on the Sinai operation on Monday.

The ministry statement on its website said 11 militants had been killed and 23 arrested in the campaign. It said 11 vehicles had been seized, along with ammunition, including five boxes of Israeli-made ammunition, but did not give details.

WEAPONS SMUGGLING

The 1979 peace treaty limits the military presence in the desert peninsula though in recent years Israel has agreed to allow Egypt to deploy more forces there to stem weapons smuggling by Palestinian gunmen and crime.

An Egyptian security source said on Wednesday tanks were being withdrawn from the border area in a move that could calm Israel’s concerns. Three other security sources confirmed this and said the tanks were being moved to another part of Sinai, without giving further details.

No one had yet claimed responsibility for the killing of the border guards. But a Sinai-based Islamist militant organization, the Salafi Jihadi Group – which denies any involvement in the attack – warned the Egyptian army last week that the crackdown would force it to fight back.

Leaders of the Cairo-based Jihad Group, which fought against Mubarak but has since renounced violence, met earlier in the week in Sinai with members of the Salafi Jihadi Group in an attempt to defuse tensions.

“We went to prevent a new rivalry with the state,” said Magdy Salem, a member of the Cairo group. He said the visit was approved by Morsi.

The unrest has occurred mainly in North Sinai, where many people have guns and where Bedouin tribes have long complained of neglect by central government. They say they have seen no benefits from the expanding Sinai tourist resorts.

Mubarak’s military-backed government worked closely with Israel to keep the region under control. Diplomats say security contacts continued after Mubarak’s fall. But Egyptian security sources said Israel should not expect day-to-day reports.

Israel denies pro-Palestinian activists entry to West Bank


Pro-Palestinian activists were denied entry into the West Bank from Jordan by Israeli authorities.

Approximately 100 members of the Welcome to Palestine movement attempted to cross into the West Bank on Sunday via the Allenby Bridge.

The activists said they were carrying one ton of school supplies to give to Palestinian children in Bethlehem-area refugee camps, The Associated Press reported.

They traveled in two buses: One crossed from Jordan to the Israeli side of the crossing, where it was denied entry. The second was not permitted to leave Jordan, according to reports.

In April, Welcome to Palestine campaign activists arrived from several European countries and North America at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, where they declared their intention to travel to the West Bank in order to highlight that there is no way to visit what they call Palestine without traveling through Israel. Dozens were detained at the Israeli airport, and dozens more were prevented from leaving from their point of origin.

Last July, some 300 activists flew to Israel for a protest fly-in. About 120 were detained.

Clinton urges Egypt, Israel to talk about Sinai


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Egypt’s foreign minister to keep lines of communication open with Israel amid tensions over an Egyptian push against militants in the neighboring Sinai desert, the State Department said on Thursday.

Clinton spoke with Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr on Wednesday and stressed the importance of acting transparently as Cairo deploys aircraft and tanks in Sinai, for the first time since a 1973 war with Israel, to pursue Islamist militants blamed for killing 16 border guards in an August 5 attack.

“This call was in keeping with a series of contacts we’ve had in recent days with both Egyptians and Israelis encouraging both sides to keep the lines of communication open,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

Israeli officials have expressed concern over the Egyptian deployment, saying the vehicles’ entry into the Sinai was not coordinated and was in violation of a 1979 peace treaty.

But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has not lodged a formal protest, preferring to try and resolve the issue in quiet contacts including U.S. mediation to avoid worsening ties with Cairo, already strained since Hosni Mubarak was toppled by a popular revolt last year.

Nuland said the Sinai security situation should be addressed “in a way that first and foremost strengthens Egypt’s security but also has a positive impact on the security of neighbors and the region as a whole.”

Nuland declined to say whether the United States believed Egypt had been insufficiently transparent or failed to keep Israel informed.

“Our view is that effective mechanisms do exist and that they just need to continue to be used,” she said.

The U.S.-brokered 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel sets strict limits on military deployment in the Sinai, which is designated as a demilitarized buffer zone.

But Israeli media have speculated that coordination with Egypt may suffer after a shakeup this month of Egypt’s military, including Islamist President Mohammed Mursi’s dismissals of officials Israel had long been in contact with.

Reporting By Andrew Quinn; Editing by Vicki Allen

Egypt’s deployment of armor in Sinai worries Israel


Israel is concerned about the deployment of Egyptian armor in a push against militants in the neighboring Sinai desert, saying the vehicles’ entry wasn’t coordinated and is in violation of a 1979 peace treaty, an Israeli official said on Monday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has not lodged any formal protest preferring to try and resolve the issue in quiet contacts including U.S. mediation, to avoid worsening ties with Cairo already strained since Hosni Mubarak was toppled by a popular revolt last year.

Egyptian security sources said this week they were preparing to deploy aircraft and tanks in Sinai for the first time since a 1973 war with Israel, in a crackdown on Islamist militants blamed for killing 16 border guards in an August5 attack.

The U.S.-brokered 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel sets strict limits on military deployment in the Sinai.

The Israeli official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said Egypt had already sent “some” armored vehicles into the desert peninsula and that “Israel is bothered by the entry of armored vehicles in Sinai without coordination.”

Egyptian television footage showed General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Sinai addressing troops with tanks and heavy equipment behind them. Other images from his visit broadcast by Egypt’s private ON TV showed a row of six tanks and five armored personnel carriers.

While Israel does not view the armor as a threat, the official said, it wants to make sure it has a say over what weaponry is deployed in the Sinai, which the peace treaty intended as a demilitarized buffer zone.

“There is no precedent for armored vehicles being deployed in Sinai and certainly not without any coordination,” he said.

Israel had urged Egypt to crack down on the militants, and its security cabinet had approved an Egyptian request to use attack helicopters in Sinai two weeks ago, after the Islamist gunmen who attacked Egypt’s security personnel also penetrated Israel’s border where they were killed.

But local media say Israel was worried coordination with Egypt may suffer after a shakeup this month of Egypt’s military, including Islamist President Mohammed Morsi’s dismissals of officials Israel had long been in contact with.

In Cairo, Yasser Ali, a spokesman for Morsi, told Reuters security measures in Sinai were “crucial” to Egypt’s security.

An Egyptian military source told Reuters the Sinai security sweep was in keeping with agreements reached with Israel a year ago after eight Israelis died in a cross-border attack.

“We don’t need to issue a daily report to Israel on the operation as it is a matter of sovereignty and national security,” the source went on to say.

Additional reporting by Edmund Blair, Yasmine Saleh and Omar Fahmy in Cairo; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Myra MacDonald

Report: Morsi ‘interested in amending’ peace treaty with Israel


Following unrest in the Sinai including a terrorist attack that killed 16 soldiers, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi “is interested in amending” the country’s 1979 Camp David Accords with Israel “with regards to the deployment of forces in Sinai,” said his judicial adviser, Mohamed Gaddalah, the Egyptian newspaper Al-Masri Al-Youm reported.

The Camp David peace treaty currently stipulates that Egypt restrict military forces in the Sinai, which is partially demilitarized.

Additionally, Morsi has ordered his army chief to appoint new commanders for Egypt’s airforce, navy, military intelligence and military police, Gaddalah said.

“President Morsi is chief of command and it is his right to change the military establishment and high command as needed and demand changes to existing international military agreements,” he said.

Egyptian troops move into Israeli border zone


Gunmen fired shots towards a police station in the main administrative center of Egypt’s North Sinai on Thursday, underscoring lawlessness in the desert region bordering Israel as a Egyptian military offensive there entered its second day.

Hundreds of troops in armored cars drove out of the town to hunt Islamist militants blamed for killing 16 Egyptian border guards on Sunday, the biggest spike in violence which has been growing steadily since last year’s overthrow of Hosni Mubarak.

The gunfire in Arish, the nerve center of the government’s otherwise shaky control of the North Sinai region, showed how difficult it will be for Egypt to impose order. It followed attacks on checkpoints in the town on Wednesday.

Israel has welcomed Egypt’s offensive while continuing to express worries about the deteriorating situation in Sinai, home to anti-Israel militants, Bedouin tribes angered by neglect by Cairo, gun-runners, drug smugglers and al Qaeda sympathizers.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Egypt was acting “to an extent and with a determination that I cannot previously recall”.

“Whether this ends with (their) regained control of Sinai and allows us not to worry as much as we have in the past few months, this I do not know,” he told Israel Radio.

The unidentified gunmen in Arish fled before police could respond, a security source said, denying a report by state television that police had fought back.

Hundreds of troops and dozens of military vehicles had reached the town, security sources said, part of an offensive not seen since Egypt’s 1973 war with Israel.

Dozens of armored vehicles, some equipped with machine-guns, could then be seen driving out of al-Arish towards the settlement of Sheikh Zuwaid which military aircraft attacked on Wednesday. The troops saluted passers-by and flashed victory signs, or filmed their departure with video cameras.

PUBLIC ANGER

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi – whose Islamist background in the Muslim Brotherhood has been eyed with suspicion by Israel since he was elected in June – on Wednesday fired the region’s governor and country’s intelligence chief in response to public anger over Sunday’s attack.

No one has claimed responsibility for the assault, in which the assailants seized two armored vehicles to storm an Israeli border crossing. One made it through before the attackers were killed by Israeli fire.

Israel says militants based in Sinai and Palestinian hardliners in neighboring Gaza pose a growing threat to its border. It says Palestinians use illegal tunnels to smuggle in guns and travel across to join those on the Egyptian side.

Israel has also been wary of Morsi’s ideological affinity with Hamas, the Islamist group ruling Gaza, fearing he would take a softer position on Palestinian militancy than Mubarak.

Morsi has brushed aside accusations that his politics would make it difficult for him to take a strong stance against violent groups sworn to Israel’s destruction.

His response to Sunday’s attack, which happened during the evening “iftar” meal which breaks the daytime fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, may also be underpinned by public anger over the deaths of the border guards.

In Egypt, there is wide respect for rank-and-file soldiers who are often poorly paid conscripts working in isolated places far from their families.

Comments suggesting outgoing intelligence chief Mourad Mwafi had been aware of a threat but took no action fueled that anger – despite suggestions he had been used as a scapegoat.

“…we never imagined that a Muslim would kill his Muslim brother at iftar,” Egypt’s state news agency MENA quoted Mwafi as telling his Turkish counterpart.

Mursi’s powers, are in any case, hemmed in by the army, which retains a strong role in setting security policy.

Residents in al-Arish, meanwhile, welcomed the security sweep, seeing it as an opportunity to curb criminality among Bedouin tribes, including those in Sheikh Zuwaid, who make their living smuggling goods and people through a network of more than 1,000 tunnels into Gaza.

“We want the army to return to the border,” said 45-year-old shopkeeper Hassan Mohamed. “The tunnels have destroyed the lives of people in Arish. We want them to hit the Bedouin hard.”

Reporting by Tamim Elyan and Yusri Mohamed in Sinai, Yasmine Saleh and Shaimaa Fayed in Cairo and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Writing by Tom Pfeiffer; Editing by Myra MacDonald

Little sign of battle in Egypt’s Sinai region


Egypt poured troops into North Sinai on Thursday in an offensive meant to tackle militants in the Israeli border region, but residents were skeptical, saying they had seen no sign of anyone being killed in what they described as a “haphazard” operation.

The offensive is crucial to maintaining good relations with Israel, which fears Islamist militants based in the increasingly lawless desert region could link up with hardliners in neighboring Gaza to launch attacks on the Jewish state – potentially threatening a 1979 peace treaty with Egypt.

Army commanders said as many as 20 “terrorists” had died in the offensive launched after suspected Islamist militants killed 16 Egyptian border guards on Sunday and drove a stolen armored car into Israel which was then destroyed by Israeli forces.

Hundreds of troops and dozens of military vehicles had reached al-Arish, the main administrative center in North Sinai, security sources said on Thursday.

Armored vehicles, some equipped with machine guns, could then be seen driving out of al-Arish towards the border settlement of Sheikh Zuwaid – which had been targeted by aircraft on Wednesday. The troops saluted passersby and flashed victory signs, or filmed their departure with video cameras.

But residents interviewed later in Shaikh Zuwaid and surrounding villages said they had seen no sign of fighting.

In al Toumah, a village surrounded by olive fields, one witness said he saw troops firing in the air.

“We thought they were chasing someone, but their arms were directed up and we didn’t see who they were fighting with,” the witness, who declined to be named, said. “We couldn’t find any bodies or signs of battle after they left.”

In Shaikh Zuwaid, controlled by Bedouin tribal leaders since police deserted the area last year, life continued as normal, its markets bustling. Witnesses reported a military presence on the outskirts, but no fighting since Wednesday’s air strikes.

CHALLENGE FOR NEW PRESIDENT

Lawlessness has been growing in North Sinai, a region awash with guns and bristling with resentment against Cairo, since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in February last year.

On Thursday night, thousands of Egyptians protested in Cairo in an area where the funeral of the 16 soldiers killed in the border attack was held on Tuesday, demanding a tougher response to the killings.

“We want death to those who killed our martyrs in Rafah,” one banner said. The crowd closed down a main street, creating a huge traffic jam.

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, elected in June, has vowed to restore stability in what the military has billed the biggest offensive in the region since Egypt’s 1973 war with Israel.

He has also brushed aside accusations that his background in the Muslim Brotherhood, and ideological affinity with the Islamist Hamas rulers in Gaza, might lead him to take a softer line on militants bent on the destruction of Israel.

Israel has welcomed Egypt’s offensive while continuing to express worries about the deteriorating situation in Sinai, home to anti-Israel militants, Bedouin tribes angered by neglect by Cairo, gun-runners, drug smugglers and al Qaeda sympathizers.

Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak said Egypt was acting “to an extent and with a determination that I cannot previously recall”.

“Whether this ends with (their) regained control of Sinai and allows us not to worry as much as we have in the past few months, this I do not know,” he told Israel Radio.

In the region itself, all signs pointed to problems ahead.

In al-Arish, gunmen fired shots towards a police station early on Thursday before running off. That followed attacks on checkpoints in the town on Wednesday.

In al Toumah village, residents said troops had searched fields and raided one house, finding nothing.

Some residents complained the army’s limited actions so far – including Wednesday’s air strikes – seemed indiscriminate.

“We are not against attacking militants, but the pilots have to set their targets properly because we have been subjected to haphazard bombardment which led to the destruction of homes and cars,” said Mohamed Aqil in al-Goura village near Sheikh Zuwaid.

“They said they killed 20 militants, where are they? Show them to us,” said one resident at al Goura.

INTELLIGENCE CHIEF SACKED

Morsi on Wednesday fired the region’s governor and Egypt’s intelligence chief in response to public anger over the deaths of the 16 border guards, the deadliest assault on Egyptian security forces in northern Sinai since the 1973 war.

No one has claimed responsibility for the assault which happened during the evening “iftar” meal which breaks the daytime fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

But with wide respect in Egypt for rank-and-file soldiers who are often poorly paid conscripts posted far from their families, public anger has focused on outgoing intelligence chief Mourad Mwafi.

Media outlets had quoted him as saying Egypt had been aware of a threat before the attack “but we never imagined that a Muslim would kill his Muslim brother at iftar”, he said.

Israel says militants based in Sinai and Palestinian hardliners in neighboring Gaza pose a growing threat to its border. It says Palestinians use illegal tunnels to smuggle in guns and travel across to join those on the Egyptian side.

Egypt began work to block the tunnels on Wednesday. It has also closed the Rafah border crossing, drawing an appeal from Ismail Nahiyeh, the head of the Hamas government, to reopen what he called “lifeline” for Gaza.

Residents in al-Arish welcomed the security sweep, seeing it as an opportunity to curb criminality among Bedouin, including those in Sheikh Zuwaid, where many make a living smuggling goods and people through more than 1,000 tunnels into Gaza.

“We want the army to return to the border,” said 45-year-old shopkeeper Hassan Mohamed. “The tunnels have destroyed the lives of people in al-Arish. We want them to hit the Bedouin hard.”

Additional reporting by Yusri Mohamed in Sinai, Yasmine Saleh in Cairo, Maayan Lubell and Steven Scheer in Jerusalem; Writing by Myra MacDonald and Tom Pfeiffer; Editing by Michael Roddy

Sinai border attack seen as test in Egypt-Israel relationship


The attack this week along the Israel-Egypt border poses dilemmas both for Israel and for the new Egyptian president.

Should Israel accede to pressure to modify its 1979 peace treaty with Egypt and allow more Egyptian troops into the Sinai to quell the unrest there?

For Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, who hails from the Muslim Brotherhood, will his crackdown on militancy in the Sinai be seen domestically as his offering a helping hand to Israel, a country much of his constituency still views as an implacable foe?

After the attack, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Gazan Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, which is affiliated with the Brotherhood, blamed Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency for the attack. Hamas claimed it was an attempt to disrupt Morsi’s new Islamist government, and the Muslim Brotherhood reportedly called for a review of the Egypt-Israel peace treaty.

But it’s not clear that Morsi endorsed that statement; rather, he ordered the Egyptian army to take “control” of the Sinai.

Israeli defense and government officials are saying that Sunday’s attack—in which militants in the Sinai Peninsula killed at least 15 Egyptian soldiers before breaching the Israeli border and being stopped by deadly Israeli fire—is an important moment in the Israel-Egypt relationship.

Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, called the attack a “wake-up call” for Egypt.

As part of the 1979 peace treaty, Egypt agreed to leave the Sinai mostly demilitarized, with specific restrictions on the number of troops and type of weaponry allowed there. Israel agreed to ease those restrictions in January 2011 after protests against then-President Hosni Mubarak intensified and attacks began on the gas pipeline between Egypt and Israel.

Since Mubarak’s fall, the Sinai has become increasingly lawless, with multiple bombings of the Egypt-Israel gas pipeline before Egypt halted gas delivery earlier this year; stepped up smuggling between Egypt and Hamas-controlled Gaza; and terrorist attacks launched against Israel from the Sinai. African migrants from Sudan, Eritrea and elsewhere also have used the Sinai as a base for sneaking into Israel.

This week’s assault was the deadliest incident along the border since Mubarak’s fall, although an attack last summer left eight Israelis dead in Eilat. Aside from the Egyptian soldiers killed in Sunday’s attack at the Rafah security checkpoint, several Egyptian soldiers may have been kidnapped by the terrorists, according to reports. Barak identified the attackers as members of the Global Jihadi terrorist group.

After killing the Egyptians, attackers used two vehicles to cross the border into Israel at the Kerem Shalom checkpoint. Israeli helicopters responded, killing the terrorists. At least six were wearing suicide vests, according to the Israel Defense Forces. Israeli intelligence had information on the planned attack, enabling the military to have helicopters in the area to strike the terrorists, an IDF spokesman said Monday. Israel shared its intelligence with Egypt in advance of the attack, according to reports.

“I think that it is clear that Israel and Egypt have a common interest in maintaining a quiet border,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday while touring the site of Sunday’s attack. “However, as has been made clear on numerous occasions, when it comes to the security of the citizens of Israel, the State of Israel must and can rely only on itself.”

The border crossing was reopened on Tuesday.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry issued a condolence message to Egypt on the deaths of its troops. The message pointed out that the attack “aimed at shattering the peace agreement between Israel and Egypt.”

The message said, “Peace between the two countries has been, and still is, an interest common to both peoples; Israel will continue to act in a spirit of cooperation with Egypt in order to preserve this vital interest and ensure security and stability in the region.”

The attack came two days after Israeli authorities warned Israelis to return immediately from the Sinai, citing a terrorist threat.

“From information at our disposal, it arises that terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip and additional elements are actively planning to perpetrate terrorist attacks, especially abductions, against Israeli tourists in Sinai in the immediate term,” said a warning issued by the National Security Council Counter-Terrorism Bureau.

The following day, the U.S. Embassy in Israel called on American citizens to “take precautions” in traveling to the Sinai. The embassy’s security message pointed out that there have been multiple kidnappings in the Sinai of U.S. citizens in the past four years, and that kidnappings of foreign tourists in the Sinai have increased since January.

In mid-June, terrorists infiltrated Israel from Egypt and killed an Israeli contractor in a border attack.

Israel began construction last year to complete its border fence with Egypt, both to halt the infiltration of illegal migrants and to prevent attacks. The fence will include barbed wire, cameras and motion detectors, and is set to be completed by the end of the year.

“There is no doubt that if they had entered a town here or an army base by surprise, they could have caused very serious damage,” Barak said Monday at the site of the attack. “This will not be the last time that we come across attempts to harm us.”

Israel moves tanks to border with Egypt after attack kills civilian


Israel reportedly moved tanks close to the border with Egypt following a cross-border attack in which an Israeli civilian was killed.

The move Monday was in violation of the Camp David Accords. The tanks were later withdrawn from the area, according to Haaretz. 

The terrorists who infiltrated Israel from Egypt killed an Israeli contractor during a border attack.

The terrorists detonated an explosive device Monday morning near two Israeli vehicles carrying contractors who are working on the border fence between Israel and Egypt. Gunfire was also directed at the vehicles, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Three terrorists had infiltrated into Israel in a place where the border fence is not yet complete. Some terrorists remained on the Egyptian side of the border, the IDF said. The incident took place near the Philadelphi Corridor, a narrow strip of land along the border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt

Golani Brigade soldiers who arrived at the scene within minutes of the incident opened fire on the terrorists, killing two. One of the terrorists was carrying a large explosive device that went off after he was fired upon, according to the IDF. No terrorists remain inside of Israel, according to Brig.-Gen Yoav Mordechai of the IDF Spokespersons Unit.

The attack comes a day after two long-range Grad missiles fired from the Sinai Peninsula were discovered in southern Israel.

“We see here a disturbing deterioration in Egyptian control in the Sinai,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Monday during a meeting with his Polish counterpart, Tomasz Siemoniak, in Tel Aviv.  “We are waiting for the results of the election.  Whoever wins, we expect them to take responsibility for all of Egypt’s international commitments, including the peace treaty with Israel and the security arrangements in the Sinai, swiftly putting an end to these attacks”

IDF troops returned later Monday to the scene of the attack to retrieve the terrorists’ bodies, according to reports. A helmet, vest, uniforms, and Kalashnikov rifles were found near the terrorists.

The Israel-Egypt border project currently employs 1,500 workers, according to Ynet.

Palestinian assailant stabs Israeli border guard in Hebron


An Israeli border guard was stabbed by a Palestinian assailant near the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

The border guard was lightly wounded in the head during Monday evening’s attack and taken to the hospital.

Another border guard shot the Palestinian assailant in the chest during the attack, seriously wounding him, according to reports.

It is unknown if the assailant is a member of a terrorist organization.

Monday’s attack came days after an Israeli soldier was killed by a Palestinian gunman that infiltrated the border with Gaza.

Israeli troops fire at Palestinians near Gaza border


Israeli troops fired at armed Palestinians who came too close to the border fence with Gaza despite warnings.

At least seven people were injured, two seriously, according to the Palestinian Ma’an news agency.

Ma’an identified most of the men as farmers.

The IDF spokesperson’s office said that the troops feared that the men were approaching the border fence in order to lay down explosives in an attempt to attack or kidnap soldiers. The troops opened fire after repeated warnings, according to reports.

In a separate incident, tank shells reportedly were fired at suspected Palestinian terrorists near the Karni Crossing.

Israel kills Gazan gunman along tense border


Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian gunman suspected of trying to plant explosives beneath a fence at the border with Gaza, the Israeli military said on Sunday.

Soldiers on Sunday recovered the remains of the gunman alongside an assault rifle, a statement from the Israeli military spokesman said.

None of the militant groups in the Hamas Islamist-ruled Gaza Strip claimed responsibility for the incident, which Israel said occurred after dark on Saturday.

The tense frontier has been largely quiet since an Egyptian-brokered truce silenced a violent outbreak last month when Israel killed 25 Palestinians in air strikes launched at Gaza, most of them militants, and gunmen fired 200 rockets at Israel.

Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Alison Williams

Global March to Jerusalem could bring thousands of Arabs to Israel’s borders


If pro-Palestinian calls for a so-called Global March to Jerusalem are heeded, thousands of Arabs from the West Bank, Gaza, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria could converge on Israel’s borders.

The day, March 30, marks Land Day, which commemorates the deaths of six Arab Israelis killed in 1976 during protests against Israeli government land policies that confiscated privately owned Arab land.

While last year’s Land Day commemorations were held without incident, rallies two months later to mark the anniversary of what the Palestinians call the Nakba—the “catastrophe” of Israel’s founding in 1948—brought thousands of Arabs from Lebanon, Syria and Gaza to march on Israel’s borders, and 13 marchers were killed.

A month later, on June 5, hundreds of Syrian protesters stormed the border with Israel on Naksa Day, the anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War, and there were more casualties.

“The IDF is prepared for any eventuality and will do whatever is necessary to protect Israeli borders and residents,” the Israel Defense Forces’ spokesman told JTA this week when asked how the IDF is preparing for Land Day.

Citing senior defense officials, Haaretz reported that the IDF is prepared for “relatively serious events.” The Israeli daily added that the most current intelligence assessments believe that the demonstrations Friday will be “limited.”

Preparations for Land Day security have used last year’s Nakba and Naksa day rallies as models, according to reports. Security forces have updated their knowledge of non-lethal crowd dispersal methods, while border troops have gone on higher alert and additional IDF troops have been moved to the borders.

Israeli officials reportedly were most concerned about the Lebanese border and asked the Lebanese government to rein in protesters. The main Lebanese demonstration is planned for the Beaufort Castle, which is several miles north of the Israeli city of Metullah, rather than the border with Israel, the Lebanese branch of the Global March to Jerusalem announced last week. The number of demonstrators at Beaufort will be limited to 5,000, according to the Lebanese Daily Star newspaper, citing organizers of the march.

March general coordinator Ribhi Halloum told reporters earlier in the week that the march would be peaceful.

“The aim of the Al Quds march is to express a message of protest and condemnation against the policy of Israeli occupation in the occupied Palestinian territories,” he said, using the Arabic name for Jerusalem. “We will under no circumstances agree to violence or a violation of the borders. We will maintain the policy of nonviolent protest we have agreed to uphold.”

Land Day events also will be held inside Israel’s borders under the auspices of the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee with the banner “Save the lands and prevent the Judaization of Jerusalem.”

Israeli police have been cautioned to keep out of Arab villages in Israel in order to maintain calm.

Meanwhile, jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti, who is serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison for his role in five murders during the second intifada, called on Palestinians to launch a popular resistance campaign against Israel. His statement, issued in advance of Land Day, called on the Palestinian Authority to stop all coordination with Israel in the economic and security realms and to stop peace negotiations.

Israel and the Palestinian Authority currently are not engaged in negotiations.

VIDEO: YouTube video purports to show Israeli border police tossing gas grenade at Palestinians


Israeli troops were captured on film throwing a tear gas grenade at Palestinians in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh.

In the clip, shot last Friday by freelance photographer Mati Milstein in Nabi Saleh, a tear gas grenade is tossed out the window of a passing Border Police jeep, causing a group of Palestinians who were standing by the side of the road to flee.

Regular demonstrations are held in the village every week against Israel’s confiscation of villagers’ land, in which Palestinian youth and Israeli soldiers regularly clash.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Israeli troops foil terror attack on Egypt border


Israeli troops thwarted a terror attack on Israel’s border with Egypt.

During a routine patrol on the Israel-Egypt border to prevent smuggling, Israeli soldiers stopping a smuggling attempt witnessed a man leave a bag on the Israeli side of the border and flee back to Egypt. The bag was found to contain a “powerful explosive device,” according to a statement from the Israel Defense Forces.

Army sappers detonated the device in a controlled explosion.

According to the IDF, terrorists likely were planning to use the explosive device as a roadside bomb against Israel soldiers patrolling near the southern border.

“This incident is a reminder that the smuggling routes along the Israel-Egypt border are constantly being used by terror organizations to execute terror attacks against the citizens of Israel and IDF soldiers,” said the IDF statement, which also praised the soldiers’ alertness.

Two Palestinians planting bombs killed by Israeli troops


Two Palestinians were reported killed in an Israeli military strike near the Gaza border.

Israeli troops fired Wednesday on Palestinians that the Israeli military said were placing explosives near the border fence in order to harm or kidnap Israeli soldiers. Two other Palestinians were reported injured in the attack.

The explosives that were being planted also exploded during the attack, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

“The IDF will not tolerate any attempts to harm its civilians or Israel Defense Forces soldiers,” the IDF said in a statement, adding that it held Hamas responsible for violence emanating from Gaza.

Gunmen fire on Israeli troops at Gaza border


Palestinian gunmen fired on Israeli soldiers working on the border fence between Israel and Gaza.

The soldiers were conducting what the Israeli military called routine work on the fence near Kibbutz Zikim and northern Gaza on Thursday. An Israel Defense Forces vehicle was damaged in the attack, which included mortar shells.

Israeli troops returned fire in the direction of the attack, assisted by an air strike by the Israel Air Force. Palestinian hospital sources told Israeli media that two of the Palestinian attackers were killed in the reprisal attack.

Palestinian sources told Israeli media that the soldiers were shot upon after they illegally entered Gaza.

There have been no rockets shot at Israel from Gaza since Tuesday evening, after a barrage of more than 40 rockets struck Israeli over three days.

Israeli, Lebanese troops exchange fire


Israeli and Lebanese troops exchanged fire on Israel’s northern border; no Israeli soldiers were injured.

The gunfight is the first skirmish on the Israel-Lebanon border since May when Nakba Day protesters attempted to breach Israel’s border. Ten protesters died and more than 100 were injured in that incident.

On Monday morning, Lebanese soldiers opened fire at Israel Defense Forces paratroopers who were on patrol and Israeli forces returned fire, according to reports, some of which say that the paratroopers were taking part in a training exercise. Lebanon says that the Israeli soldiers had entered their territory.

Lebanese sources say one of its soldiers was hurt, but the UNIFIL peacekeeping force has reported that there were no injuries. UNIFIL is investigating the incident but reportedly said that Israeli troops had not crossed into Lebanese territory.

“Israel is not looking to inflame the border,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said following the clash, during a meeting of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. He asserted that the soldiers acted appropriately, saying: “There was an incident, the soldiers in the area acted as necessary. They are determined to protect themselves and the border.”

Lebanese President Michel Suleiman said following the incident that Israel was “renewing its aggression” on the border.

The border remained quiet following the incident.

Work stepped up on Israel-Egypt border fence


Construction has been completed on the first permanent section of a border fence between Israel and Egypt.

On Wednesday, Israeli Defense Ministry Director Gen. Udi Shani toured the fence site, which will be nearly 135 miles long when it is completed in mid-2012. A decision to speed up construction of the border fence was made in the ministry just days after Egypt opened its Rafah border crossing with Gaza in the Sinai.

Infiltration of the border by illegal migrants has dropped by 50 percent since construction of the fence began in November 2010, Shani reportedly was told.

African migrants generally enter Israel through its largely unmonitored border with Egypt’s Sinai.

More than 33,000 African migrants have entered Israel, including 2,600 since the beginning of the year, according to the Population, Immigration and Borders Authority.