Earthquake rattles Eilat


An earthquake rattled the Sinai Peninsula and Israel’s southernmost city, Eilat.

The temblor struck very early Monday morning and measured about 5.0 on the Richter Scale. There were no reports of damage.

The earthquake’s epicenter was in the Red Sea, about 100 miles from Eilat.

It comes a month after a small earthquake was felt in southern Israel, including the Dead Sea.

More than a year ago, in July 2015, an earthquake measuring 4.4 on the Richter Scale and centered in the Dead Sea was felt in Israel. A month earlier, an earthquake reported to be between 5.1 and 5.5 magnitude was felt in southern Israel, with an epicenter in the Sinai Peninsula.

Hundreds of people died and were injured in a 6.2 magnitude quake in 1927 that centered on the Dead Sea.

Israel promised acess to Straits of Tiran after Saudi-Egypt deal, says defense chief


Israel was guaranteed in writing free passage through the Straits of Tiran after Saudi Arabia’s planned takeover of two strategic Red Sea islands, Israel’s defense minister told reporters Tuesday.

Egypt agreed to hand over the islands, which it has controlled for more than 60 years, as part of a deal to build a bridge over the sea between the two countries that was announced during a weekend visit by King Salman of Saudi Arabia.

The deal had raised questions about Israel’s continued access to the passage, the revocation of which was a casus belli of the 1976 Six-Day War between Israel and its neighbors. But Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said Israel was consulted early in talks over the deal and gave its consent.

“An appeal was made to us – and it needed our agreement, the Americans who were involved in the peace agreement and of the MFO,” Yaalon said, referring to the Multinational Force and Observers peacekeeping forces at the Israeli-Egyptian border. “We reached an agreement between the four parties – the Saudis, the Egyptians, Israel and the United States – to transfer the responsibility for the islands, on condition that the Saudis fill in the Egyptians’ shoes in the military appendix of the peace agreement.”

In the document given to Israel, Saudi Arabia, which does not have formal relations with Israel, pledges to abide by the principles that have governed Israeli-Egyptian relations since their 1979 peace treaty, Haaretz reported. According to the treaty, the Straits of Tiran and the entire Gulf of Aqaba are international waterways open to free passage by Israel and overseen by the international observers.

The islands being relinquished to Saudi Arabia, Tiran and Sanafir, stand sentry at the entrance to the Gulf of Aqaba. The Israeli city of Eilat and the Jordanian city of Aqaba are located at the northern tip of the gulf. The Saudi-Egyptian deal has faced public criticism in Egypt as a blow to national pride.

Multi-generation trip to Israel: Who said only adults get to have all the fun?


Many parents these days are looking to give their kids an unforgettable vacation experience. A family vacation is always about spending quality time together. A family vacation in Israel means spending that quality time to not only get closer to each other, but to also build a lasting love for the land and its heritage and to create memories to cherish over the years.

The best news about traveling to Israel with your kids is that the country is very child-friendly.  Throughout the year, Israel offers dozens of nature park activities as well as museums, sports attractions, water parks, beautiful beaches, relaxing spas and great food.

The Children’s Museum offers a great opportunity for children (and adults too!) to experience the life of a blind person while traveling through a dark room with only your sense of hearing and touch to guide you.  Other museum options appropriate for both children and grownups are the Madatech, the science museum in Jerusalem, as well as the science museum in Haifa and the famous “Mini Israel,” a park located 15 minutes outside Jerusalem.

Exploring Israel’s outdoor activities and beautiful nature are always a wonderful way to spend the day. There are various parks that have waterfalls, amazing flower gardens and stunning views. Other than the cold winter months, 90% of the year family trips can be spent enjoying the outdoors. Although the summer months can be quite humid, it will give you and your kids the opportunity to put the phones down for a few hours. Choosing between different levels of difficulty, Israel offers some of the most amazing hiking trails and walks such as the Yehudia, El-Al Rainfall and David Waterfall in the Dead Sea.   

Another great option is visiting the various petting zoos at some of the many kibbutzim and moshavim, some of which also offer country-style accommodations. And kids never forget their first view of the world from high atop a camel when they visit a Bedouin tent. Some kibbutzim and moshavim also offer special activities based on their produce or special history – one has a honey museum while another shows off its pioneer past by offering a chance for kids to dress-up in costume.

Eilat, Tiberius, Tel Aviv and other major cities offer kid-friendly hotels and resorts with kids' clubs. You can send the kids there for a couple of hours so you can take time to enjoy the spa, sit with a good book at the pool or just relax. Kids’ clubs usually host arts and crafts and other activities with around the clock child care with experienced caretakers. In Eilat kids can swim with the dolphins at a beautiful private beach where the family can spend the whole day together combining water activities and rest.

We recommend making planning your daily outings part of the fun; gather around the computer screen and start building your go-to wish-list with your kids by searching “Israel + Kids”. Even if you planned the trip by yourself without the kids, spend a few moments walking through your plans with them so they will be a part of the trip and have a chance to be more involved in the activities you do together.  Look into the possibility of having your travel planner include a youth counselor on your tour who will work with the kids. Another option is a private tour, where you can communicate with your guide ahead of time and plan all the sites and experiences you and your family will love best. The possibilities are endless! The most important thing is to have fun and enjoy every minute of this beautiful country. Make it a trip to remember!

Visit Israel Ministry of Tourism for more details.

‘Sky Defender’ protects flights to Eilat against missiles from Sinai


Arkia Israel and Israir Airlines, which share the route to Israel’s southern tourism Mecca Eilt, have received a protective system against ground-to-Air missiles. The upgrade was installed for fear of terrorist organizations operating in the Sinai who might try to harm Israeli passenger jets flying near the border with Egypt, Yediot Ahronot reported Monday.

The order to install the systems on planes was issued two weeks ago by the security apparatus, in the days when ISIS-affiliated Islamists attacked Egyptian army and police bases in the Sinai. In recent days, Israelis flying to Eilat have noticed a prominent addition to the belly of the Israeli passenger aircraft.

The anti-missile defense system, known as Magen Rakia (Heb: Sky Defender), is an active protection system for civil aircraft against missile attacks, developed by El-Op (a subsidiary of Elbit Systems). The Magen Rakia system incorporates advanced fiber-laser with thermal imaging technology manufactured by Elbit, to produce a strong signal that jams a number of wave lengths, causing infrared-guided shoulder-fired homing missiles to stray from their path and lose their target.

The system is mounted inside a pod, on the belly of the aircraft. It has four sensors that allow detection, identification, tracking and ultimately disrupting the orbit of each rocket fired towards the airplane.

When a missile is launched at the plane, it is perceived and recognized by the infrared sensors. The sensors follow the missile until it reaches the appropriate distance, then directs at it a laser beam that “blinds” the missile’s guidance system “eye,” causing the missile to veer off course and miss the plane.

Last February, Elbit and the Ministry of Transportation conducted a final, successful test of the system, which has proven its effectiveness against a variety of threats. This was followed by a process of fitting Israeli passenger planes to carry the system.

Israel has committed $76 million to the development and procurement of the new system.

In recent days, several Arkia and Israir Boeing 757 and Airbus A320 planes began to carry the system, and additional installations are in the works.

Clean-up of Israeli desert oil spill could take years


Ecologists said on Wednesday it could take years to clean up a massive oil spill that flooded an Israeli nature reserve with up to five million litres of crude and threatened to spread to the Red Sea shore and neighbouring Jordan.

A breached pipeline started spewing oil into Evrona desert reserve – famed for its rare deer and douma palms – a week ago, causing what experts called the worst spill in Israel's 66-year history.

Clean-up teams have started sucking up the slick and have dug pools and erected barriers to stop it spreading further. But they warned that any rainfall could swell the black streams and overwhelm their defences.

After the clean-up, experts would still have to deal with the damage caused to the fragile environment, they added.

“How exactly do you take care of a deer that is running and limping because of the oil? … How do you clean the vegetation? This is very complicated business,” Roey Talbi, an ecologist with Israel's Nature and Parks Authority, told Army Radio.

“We don't have experience with something of this scale. Clean-up could take months, it could take years,” said Tali Tenenbaum, a spokeswoman for the Nature and Parks Authority.

The breach occurred during maintenance on the pipeline between the city of Eilat on the Red Sea and Ashkelon on the Mediterranean coast, about 12 miles north of Eilat, near the border with Jordan.

Between 3 and 5 million litres of oil leaked, of which about 2 million have since been drained with suction equipment, said the Eilat Ashkelon Pipeline Company which owns the line. Some 20,000 tons of contaminated earth has been removed.

EAPC, a state-run company, is funding the clean-up and is considering bringing in foreign experts to help with rehabilitation, a spokesman said.

At least three drugs smugglers killed in attack along Egypt border


At least three attackers in Egypt's Sinai peninsula, probably drugs smugglers, were killed after they opened fire on Israeli soldiers across the border on Wednesday and wounded two, the Israeli military said.

The attackers fired guns and an anti-tank missile at the Israelis and two soldiers were wounded by fire directed at them from Egypt, the army said in a statement.

“(An) inquiry suggests the cross-border attack on a patrol was a violent drugs smuggling attempt,” it said. “The perpetrators opened fire from three locations including from a car driving along the border… (Soldiers) responded and killed at least three of the attackers.”

Egyptian security sources said Egyptian forces later clashed with several gunmen who had likely attacked the Israeli border patrol. No casualties were reported in the confrontation and there was no immediate comment from the Egyptian military.

Security concerns and an influx of tens of thousands of African migrants prompted Israel to erect the fence, a 160 mile long barrier that runs from the Red Sea port of Eilat to the Gaza Strip on the Mediterranean.

The fence was completed in 2012. Earlier that year, attacks by Islamist militants operating from Sinai killed an Israeli soldier and a civilian who was working on it.

Islamist militants are active in the peninsula, which borders southern Israel, though assaults across the fenced frontier are rare.

Egypt, which signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979, has been trying to curtail Islamist militant operations in Sinai. Wednesday's attack occurred about half-way between Eilat and the Gaza Strip, the army said.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitch and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem and Mahmoud Mourad in Cairo; Editing by Tom Heneghan

Rockets strike southern Israeli port of Eilat


Three rockets exploded in and near the Israeli Red Sea resort of Eilat on Tuesday, and rescue teams were investigating reports that several people were injured, a military spokesman said.

They were the first rockets to strike Eilat since a week-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza, though rockets fired from Egypt have struck in the city previously in the past few years.

Two rockets struck inside the city that borders both Egypt and Jordan and which is filled with hotels and tourist attractions. A third landed in an open area, the spokesman said.

The spokesman could not say from where the rocket was fired. Israel Radio said officials suspected it was fired from Egypt.

Hundreds of rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza in the past week, during an Israeli offensive against militants that has killed 180 people, though no rockets have been shot from Gaza as far south as Eilat.

Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Ken Wills

Minor earthquake rocks Jerusalem


A minor earthquake rocked Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.

The temblor measured 3.5 on the Richter scale and was felt in Jerusalem and on the northern edge of the Dead Sea on Thursday morning, according to the Geophysical Institute of Israel.

The epicenter of the quake was located north of the Dead Sea. It also was felt in some areas of central Israel.

An earthquake measuring 4.9 on the Richter scale shook Eilat in June.

El Al cancels Eilat flights over safety concerns


El Al Airlines halted flights to the southern resort city of Eilat, after questioning the safety of new flight paths.

El Al made the announcement that it would cancel its three daily daytime flights from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport to Eilat on Tuesday, after new landing and takeoff patterns for Eilat, designed to reduce the chances of a terrorist attack from Egypt, were put in place on Monday. The airline’s nighttime flights, whose routing has not been changed, were not cancelled.

El Al said the new traffic patterns did not meet international aviation safety standards, according to Reuters.

“El Al expects the aviation authorities to urgently deal with the matter to allow the safe and regular operation of flights to Eilat,” the company said in a statement.

Last month, Israeli authorities ordered the closure of Eilat’s airport based on a tip from Egyptian security services that a radical Muslim terrorist cell planned to launch mid-range missiles at the airport.

In April, two long-range rockets fired from the Sinai Desert by an Islamist terrorist group hit Eilat

Other Israeli airlines that fly from Ben Gurion to Eilat have not cancelled their flights. El Al said it would reimburse passengers for their tickets and provide free bus service to Eilat.

Amid violent clashes, Egypt closes border with Gaza


Egypt closed the border between Sinai and the Gaza Strip as clashes between its government security forces and protesters backing deposed President Mohamed Morsi continued for a second day.

The Rafah crossing was closed “indefinitely,” the French news agency AFP reported Thursday, citing an unnamed Egyptian security official. The crossing was closed due to fears of terrorist activity in the Sinai Peninsula.

Rafah is the only border crossing out of the Gaza Strip that is not controlled by Israel.

The death toll in the clashes has risen to at least 421, and the injured at more than 3,000, according to reports.

The violence began Wednesday after government security forces raided two major sit-in protests in Cairo calling for the reinstatement of Morsi.

On Tuesday, a rocket fired by terrorists affiliated with al-Qaida at the southern Israeli city of Eilat was intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.

Last week the Eilat airport was closed for several hours due to warnings by Egyptian officials about a terror attack from the Sinai.

Group tied to al-Qaida says it fired on Eilat


A jihadist group affiliated with al-Qaida claimed responsibility for a rocket attack on Eilat.

The Iron Dome anti-missile system intercepted the rocket fired early Tuesday morning by the Mujahideen Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem, which operates in Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula, from the Sinai near the Israel border.

The Iron Dome battery was moved to the Eilat area about a month ago.

The Mujahideen Shura Council in its statement claiming responsibility said the attack was carried out to avenge the deaths of four jihadi terrorists on Friday in a drone attack in the Sinai. The attack was blamed on Israel, though Israel has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility.

“Eilat and other Jewish towns will not be enjoying security, tourism or economy. Jews will pay for the blood of the jihad fighters,” the statement said.

Israeli authorities late last week ordered the closure of the Eilat airport for several hours following a warning from Egyptian security services about a possible attack, according to reports.

Hotels in Eilat, a major tourist destination for Israelis and Europeans, are nearly filled at this time of year.

Israel shuts airport at Egypt border, citing security


Israel took the rare step of shutting its southernmost Eilat airport near Egypt's Sinai peninsula for two hours on Thursday citing security concerns, military officials said.

A military spokeswoman said the airfield in the Red Sea city was shut “due to security assessments”. Two hours later a military official and Israel Radio said it had been reopened.

The reports said Israel's military chief of staff Lieutenant General Benny Gantz had made the decision after an assessment, but gave no further details.

The airport in the city wedged between Jordan and Egypt, brings tourists to Israel's Eilat resort and the closure followed heightened concerns about Islamist militant activity in the neighboring Sinai.

Air traffic often has been disrupted at Eilat by desert winds but the air strip has seldom been shut altogether.

Israel said last month that it had boosted its rocket defenses near its southern border to counter possible attacks from militants deeply opposed to the Jewish state.

A rocket fired from Sinai landed in Israel in July and its remnants were found in hills north of Eilat, which abuts Egypt to the west and Jordan to the east.

Violence in the Sinai has surged since the army ousted Islamist President Mohamed Mursi on July 3, with almost daily assaults against Egyptian forces reported in the desert expanse.

Egypt's army said on Wednesday it had killed 60 militants in Sinai in the month since Mursi's ouster, and that an additional 64 militants were injured in the Sinai campaign between July 5 and August 4.

The militants have killed around 40 people including Egyptian security personnel in this period, Egyptian medical officials said.

Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Omar Fahmy, Maggie Fick, Shadia Nasralla in Cairo; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Michael Roddy

Rocket fired from Egypt found in Israel


Israeli troops found the remains on Tuesday of the first rocket to be fired from Egypt since the July 3 overthrow of the Islamist government there, a military official said.

Both Israelis and Egyptians reported hearing several explosions in the southern city of Eilat on Thursday, the day after President Mohammed Morsi was toppled from power in Egypt.

Israel detected no signs of any cross-border shooting, but found the remains of a rocket on Tuesday, an official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

An Israeli military spokesman said the rocket remnant had been discovered in the hills north of Eilat, a resort city on the Red Sea that abuts Egypt to the west and Jordan to the east.

The rocket was the first since the latest bout of unrest in Egypt that has put Israel on edge in part because of an increase of Islamist militancy in the Sinai region since an uprising toppled autocratic president Hosni Mubarak in 2011.

In Egypt, a hardline Salafist Islamist group called Ansar Bayt al-Maqdes, whose name means “Followers of Jerusalem,” issued a statement claiming to have fired rockets at Eilat, targeting fuel depots and residential areas.

Additional reporting by Shadia Nasralla in Cairo; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Mark Heinrich

U.S. military aircraft, passenger plane have near-miss over Eilat


A U.S. military aircraft and an Israeli passenger plane nearly collided over Eilat.

A C-130 Hercules aircraft flying from Bahrain to Jordan and the Arkia plane came within two miles of each other, according to reports.

The military aircraft tried to land at the Eilat Airport believing it was the King Hussein International Airport in Aqaba. The Israeli control tower helped the U.S. plane make it to Jordan.

It was the second time in two weeks that there has been a near-miss over Eilat.

New Israeli study explains coral’s pulsation


This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

Do you find yourself dragging; craving a nap in the late afternoon? You're not alone. Soft coral beneath the waters near the southern Israeli resort city of Eilat does the same thing.

A new study by scientists from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Technion, Israel's institute of technology, discovered that a soft coral called Heteroxenia, found in the reefs off Eilat, pulsates continually except for a period of one-half-hour just before sunset. The study does not answer the napping question, but the scientists do have a theory.

“During the day the coral uses the photosynthesis to generate its food, and during the night it goes through respiration like other animals,” Uri Shavit, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at the Technion in Haifa told The Media Line. “Just before sunset when the level of oxygen is very high it can take a rest without harming its metabolism.”

What the study, funded by Israel's National Science Foundation, was trying to discover was why, unlike all other species of coral, the Heteroxenia pulsates incessantly, using up valuable energy. The reason, they found, is that the level of photosynthesis, which transforms sunlight into chemical energy, is between five and eight times greater with the movement than without it.

“Corals, which are animals, are important for the ecosystem because they live in symbiosis with algae,” Maya Kremien, a graduate student at Hebrew University who worked on the study told The Media Line. “The pulsation creates the optimal conditions for the photosynthesis of the algae.”

The study appears in the current issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in the United States (PNAS). Kremien worked on the project for four years, developing an underwater measuring device called a particle imaging velocimeter (PIV) which measures the flow of water around the coral.

“By taking hundreds of thousands of images with the PIV, we basically have velocity vector maps,” Shavit said. “We found that the coral pulsates almost 24-hours a day. It's very beautiful. You can sit and watch it for hours.”

The study comes amid concern that the coral reef in Eilat, which is one of the most diverse in the world, has been gradually degrading. Of the nine miles of Israeli coastline along the Red Sea, less than one mile has been designated as a nature preserve. The development of the city of Eilat, sewage outflow and industrial installations have all taken a toll on the coral reefs.

In a previous study, the same group of Israeli scientists found that the motion of water is needed to increase the flow of oxygen away from the corals. This time they found that the pulsation means the coral will not be filtering the same water each time. In addition, each polyp, or coral flower, pulsates at a different rate.

The research could have some practical applications as well, in engineering or medicine.

“We are not there yet but there are a lot of interesting questions that could lead to practical use,” Shavit said. “Nature is very smart through evolution and people mimic nature in other fields. We learned to fly from birds, and to swim from fish.”

They are not sure what people can learn from coral, but they are sure it will be valuable.

Long-range rockets strike Eilat


Two long-range rockets fired from the Sinai Desert struck the Israeli resort city of Eilat.

The rockets launched Wednesday morning fell in open areas in the southernmost Israeli city, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

Israeli forces found the remnants of the two rockets. One landed in a construction site in south Eilat.

A Sinai-based Islamist group claimed responsibility for the attack. Magles Shoura al-Mujahddin said in a statement on its website that the rockets were retaliating for the Israeli army's actions against protesters demonstrating over the death of a Palestinian prisoner, Haaretz reported.

Local residents and tourists had been ushered into bomb shelters following a warning siren before the two explosions.

An Iron Dome missile defense system battery deployed in the Eilat area tracked the rockets but did not operate to shoot them down, according to reports.

Following the attack, the Eilat airport was closed for several hours.

Jordan denied reports that at least two other rockets fired from the Sinai hit Aqaba.

A rocket last landed in Eilat in April 2012.

Eilat shooting raises questions about recruitment for Israel programs


The recent shooting of an Israeli hotel employee by an American Jewish intern is raising questions about how Israel internship programs for Diaspora Jews recruit and screen applicants.

The assailant, William Herskowitz, was killed by police following a brief standoff last Friday shortly after the fatal shooting, in which he reportedly used the firearm of a hotel security guard to kill 33-year-old Armando Abed in the dining room of the Leonardo Club Hotel in the southern Israeli resort city of Eilat.

Herskowitz had been enrolled in Oranim’s Eilat Hotel Experience, an internship program for American Jews interested in the hospitality industry. He had worked in several positions at the hotel and took a course in hotel management. Oranim is a tour provider that offers long- and short-term Israel programs to young adults.

According to Oranim, Herskowitz had lost his job a day earlier for lack of discipline.

To get into the program, according to current and past Oranim employees, Herskowitz had to fill out an online form, pass a two-part phone interview with Oranim recruiters and send in a medical history form.

Past recruiters at Oranim and other long-term internship programs in Israel noted the difficulty of gauging the personalities of potential participants from across the ocean.

“On one hand you can have a phone conversation with someone and they sound fine, handle themselves well,” said a former Oranim recruiter who asked to remain anonymous. “You can have a doctor sign off on this form and not report certain medical disorders, and how would you know? People can seem completely normal on the phone or Skype, and then things surface once they get to Israel.”

Oranim's spokesman, Yuval Arad, said that Herskowitz had a clean medical record and no criminal history. While Oranim's online application included a resume, Oranim did not ask Herskowitz for references or a personal essay on why he chose the program — safeguards required by similar programs.

A recruiter for the WUJS Intern Tel Aviv program, which like Oranim combines work with Hebrew study and travel, said her program requires a personal essay and a video interview — and references, if deemed necessary — in order to ensure that recruiters know which applicants to watch closely, even after they arrive on the program.

“It is possible for people to fall through the cracks, but if you work for a program you know who your red flags are from the first conversation and monitor their behavior closely on the program,” said Amy Gross, the WUJS recruiter. However, she added, sometimes “all the monitoring in the world can’t prevent someone from doing something crazy.”

Career Israel, another long-term internship program in Israel, requires applicants to submit a recommendation.

Herskowitz also received funding for the program from Masa Israel Journey, an umbrella organization for 200 long-term Israel programs. In order to receive the stipends, which run into the thousands of dollars per person, participants must be Jewish and aged 18 to 30.

Following the shooting, the Jewish Agency for Israel, which governs Masa, said that it would be convening a panel “to examine the processes by which the American participant was accepted to the Oranim program in Eilat,” according to an email. A subsequent statement to JTA called the incident “a truly anomalous event.”

The former Oranim recruiter, as well as the group’s spokesperson, said the phone interview was enough to determine whether an applicant was fit for Oranim’s programs.

“You can tell by having a conversation with somebody if they sounded competent, if they sounded strange or if they had a strange reason for coming to Israel,” the former recruiter said, adding that recruiters sometimes called applicants’ grandparents to get more insight into them.

Arad, Oranim’s spokesman, said the organization has to rely on the applicants themselves to provide reliable information.

“You don’t ask a person, ‘Are you crazy?’ ” Arad said. “They need to give medical assurances. What can you learn from the resume of an 18-year-old?”

American gunman killed in Israeli hotel shoot-out


An American man opened fire in an Israeli seaside hotel packed with tourists on Friday after losing his job there, killing one person before being shot dead in a stand-off with security forces.

The firefight erupted in the popular Red Sea resort of Eilat when New York native William Hershkovitz, 23, attacked a security guard at the Leonardo Club hotel and snatched his gun, officials and witnesses said.

He then shot dead one of the hotel chefs, whom police identified as 33-year-old Armando Abed.

Police and military counter-terrorism officers swiftly surrounded the hotel, and Hershkovitz barricaded himself in the kitchen. After failed negotiations, there was an exchange of fire and Hershkovitz was shot dead, Eilat police spokesman Lior Ben-Simon said.

An Israeli hotel guest, Aviram Sela, said he had tried to wrestle the gunman to the ground before he started shooting, while terrified tourists dived for cover behind a sofa in the hotel lobby.

“We saw him beat the guard and grab his weapon and the magazine,” Sela told Israeli television, adding that the gunman then took aim at a member of Sela's family.

Hershkovitz had arrived in Israel in August as part of a five-month Israeli government-sponsored programme meant to help foreigners become acquainted with the country, said Israel Way, the company that runs the trip.

He and about 80 other participants in the programme were working in hotels throughout Eilat.

Hershkovitz on Thursday was told to leave the programme after hotel staff had lodged complaints against him.

He “had met all admission requirements and his medical record was clean,” Israel Way said in a statement. The internationally funded Jewish Agency, another of the programme's sponsors, said it had appointed a panel to examine how Hershkovitz had been accepted.

Jewish agency launches inquiry into fatal hotel shooting


The Jewish Agency is opening an inquiry into its Oranim program after an American participant gunned down a hotel employee in Eilat.

“In response to the tragic incident in Eilat, the Chairperson of the Jewish Agency, Natan Sharansky expressed his deep sorrow at the loss of life and has appointed a panel to examine the processes by which the American participant was accepted to the Oranim program in Eilat,” a statement said Friday.

The shooter, identified in Israeli media only as being Jewish, in his 20s and from New York City, was killed by Israeli soldiers shortly after he gunned down a hotel worker in Eilat and holed up in a hotel room.

Israel Radio reported that the soldiers rushed to the hotel Friday morning after the tourist used the firearm of a security guard at Eilat’s Leonardo Club Hotel to kill an employee in the hotel’s dining room.

Y-Net identified the victim as Armando Abed, a 33-year-old sous-chef from Mi'ilya in the Western Galilee.

The soldiers from the Israel Defense Forces anti-terrorist unit surrounded the room in which the man was holed up after the shooting, reports said. Police negotiated with him to surrender but the soldiers shot and killed him after he opened fire on police negotiators.

The man was in Israel as part of an exchange program for American young people and had reportedly recently been fired as a hotel employee.

“The Oranim program is one of 200 long term programs which are funded by Masa Israel, a joint project of the government of Israel and the Jewish Agency for Israel,” the Jewish Agency said in its statement. “Since 2003, over 70,000 young Jews from around the world have participated in Masa programs, which include volunteer work, study and internships.”

The shooter reportedly arrived in the morning hours to hotel’s kitchen, where he began fighting with the employee whom he killed.

He reportedly snatched a firearm from a female security guard who arrived at the kitchen to break up the fight.

He escaped with the firearm and holed up in one of the rooms, police said, adding that he did not take any hostages with him.

The incident may have started over a financial dispute between the two dead men, according to Israel Radio.

Israel opens schools with record number of students


Israeli schools opened for more than 2 million students, a record for the country.

The number of students included 145,374 first-graders, including Moshe Holtzberg, whose parents were murdered in the November 2008 terrorist attack on the Chabad House in Mumbai, India.

Many cities by Monday had not completed their new preschool buildings in time for the start of the term to accommodate the government’s decision to provide free preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds, the Times of Israel reported.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday at the start of the weekly Cabinet meeting: “Hello to all the first-graders. This is what Israeli children who are starting the 2012-2013 school year will hear tomorrow. Each one of us remembers this exciting day. I remember it, with my book bag, pencil case and empty notebooks. Today, the technology has changed a little, but the excitement is the same, the children’s great excitement, and that of the parents, teachers and principals as well.”

Netanyahu also spoke Sunday with Moshe Holtzberg, who is living in Israel with his grandparents, Shimon and Yehudit. Netanyahu wished him well and said the prayers of the entire Jewish people are with him.

Meanwhile, the Education Ministry and the city of Eilat agreed late Sunday that children of African migrants will be integrated into the regular school system instead of the separate school system they had attended. The agreement came after the Israeli Supreme Court ordered the end to the forced segregation.

Under the agreement, the migrant children will attend special classes in their regular neighborhood schools to help them overcome their language and educational gaps, and will be integrated into regular classrooms when possible after careful evaluation.

Eilat parents had threatened to keep their children at home until the threat of integrating the migrant children was rescinded.

Monday reportedly was the first time that the school year in Israel did not begin on Sept. 1; a new yearly school schedule was introduced last year.

Eilat explosions believed to be rocket attack


Two loud explosions heard in Eilat are believed to have been caused by a long-range Grad rocket attack.

After the Wednesday evening explosions, security forces began searching the area for the rockets, which could have been fired from the Sinai.

No reports of injuries or damage were logged following the alleged attack in the southern Israeli city, a popular resort area.

A beach concert by the Israeli singer Eyal Golan was stopped after 10 minutes due to the alleged threat.

Rockets have been fired at Eilat and its environs from the Sinai several times in the past two years.

In June, two rockets landed in open areas near Mitzpe Ramon and Ovda, near Eilat. In April, at least two rockets struck Eilat in an empty area near an apartment building. In 2010, rockets struck both Eilat and Aqaba, Jordan.

Israel to deploy Iron Dome system on Egypt border


Israel said on Wednesday it would deploy a battery of Iron Dome rocket interceptors at a southern frontier town opposite Egypt, a move that follows cross-border attacks in the area.

Israeli media reported that it was the first time the interceptors, which have been used against Palestinian rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip, were being set up at Eilat, near Israel’s borders with Egypt and Jordan.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said the battery “will be placed near Eilat as part of an operational deployment program which includes changing the locations of the batteries from time to time.”

An official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the interceptors were set up near Eilat on Monday.

Iron Dome, a system produced locally with U.S. funding, uses radar-guided missiles to blow up Katyusha-style rockets with ranges of 5-70 km (3-45 miles) and mortar bombs in mid-air.

Israel’s border with Egypt has grown tense since a popular uprising ousted Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak last year. Two rockets fired across the frontier have struck in the Eilat area this year, without causing casualties. Egypt has denied they were shot from its territory.

Last month an unidentified gunman crossed Egypt’s Sinai border and killed an Israeli worker. Eight Israelis died in another cross-border attack in that area in August.

Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace accord with Israel, in 1979, followed by Jordan in 1994.

Concerns have arisen about how the peace will fare under Egypt’s new president, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi, although he pledged when he took office last month to uphold his country’s treaties.

Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Janet Lawrence

Egyptian gas pipeline to Israel attacked for 14th time


Egypt’s pipeline carrying gas to Israel and Jordan was attacked for the 14th time in more than a year.

The explosion occurred Monday morning at the entrance to El Arish in the northern Sinai Peninsula, Reuters reported. The attack comes days after a rocket fired from the Sinai struck a residential area in the southern Israeli resort town of Eilat.

The pipeline has been closed since a similar attack on Feb. 5. It has been blown up 14 times since uprisings began in February 2011 against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who was deposed. No arrests have been made in any of the attacks.

The supply of gas to Israel has been halted numerous times in the last year, leading to a scramble to find alternate fuel sources to produce electricity that are more expensive.

Egypt supplies Israel with more than 40 percent of its natural gas needs to produce electricity; electricity prices have risen by more than 20 percent in Israel since the attacks began.

Rocket from Sinai strikes Eilat


A long-range Grad rocket fired from the Egypt hit a near a residential area in Eilat.

The rocket fired from the Sinai Peninsula exploded in the southern resort town early Thursday morning. No injuries were reported. The rocket landed in a construction site, according to reports.

Three explosions were heard in the city, but the other two rockets have not been located, according to reports. City residents and tourists flooded the police and other emergency numbers with concerned calls.

The attack came a day before the start of Passover, when hundreds of tourists – both from Israel and abroad – flock to the Red Sea resort town.

Egypt’s security chief denied that the attack had originated in Sinai, according to the French news agency AFP. However sources told the news service that security officials were investigating the border area for launchers or other evidence.

“We are building a security fence but it will not stop missiles; for this too a situation will be found. We will strike at those who attack us,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday morning.“There can be no immunity for terrorism; it must be fought and we are doing so. In the end, nobody will defend the Jews if the Jews do not defend themselves; this is an important principle.”

He said the Sinai was “turning into a terrorism zone.”

In August 2011, eight Israelis were killed in a terrorist attack on a bus and cars traveling near Eilat. Israel claimed the Palestinian attackers entered Israel through the border with Sinai.

The previous year, several long-range rockets were fired at Eilat from the Sinai.

Israel is currently constructing a 16-foot-tall border fence from Eilat to Gaza, to keep out terrorists and migrants.

Grad rocket traces found in south Eilat, after strong explosions shake the city


Security forces found traces of a Grad rocket near a building site in the Shahamon neighborhood in south Eilat early on Thursday morning, after strong explosions shook the city.

The strong explosions were heard approximately twenty minutes after midnight on Wednesday. No injuries were reported, although there were reports of some city residents suffering from shock after hearing the explosions. 

Police and security forces are continuing to search for traces of rockets, which are thought to have been fired toward the city from the Sinai Peninsula.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Get hot: Soothe your soul at Israeli hot springs


That Tel Aviv and Los Angeles are located on almost the same latitude is not the only parallel between these two metropolises. Near both locales, geothermal activity deep below the Earth’s surface reveals mineral-rich thermal waters. Where to indulge in balneotherapy — treating disease by bathing — in Southern California is no secret, but some of Israel’s unique getaways may remain off your radar. Some actually date back thousands of years to the Talmud and the Roman Empire. These hot springs and “wellness attractions” are an ideal way to soothe your soul, from Israel’s north to south, in the brisk temps of winter after a long flight or any time you’d like to relax on a visit to the Holy Land. 

SOUTHERN GOLAN HEIGHTS 

Hamat Gader
Hamat Gader, the site of ancient Greek city Gadara, is home to Israel’s largest and oldest spa complex. Established by the 10th Legion of the Roman Empire as the second-largest bathhouse in the entire empire, second-century Roman ruins stand within this massive 40-acre parkland. Hamat Gader’s 107-degree mineral water is pumped into two massive outdoor hot pools (one shaded, one open to the elements); an outdoor pool with a delicious, massaging hot waterfall; Jacuzzi beds; an indoor facility; and a higher-ticket-price, secluded area within the on-site hotel’s beautiful grounds. Relaxing in these waters is believed to speed up cell renewal, and relieve urinary tract and digestive issues. The young and young-at-heart will love the massive water slide that culminates in a dizzying bowl and lands you with a massive splash into a deep, cool plunge pool (not recommended for guests with neck and back problems). Within Hamat Gadar’s massive grounds, you can indulge in a wide range of spa treatments, seven restaurants (including kosher Asian, fish/meat, vegetarian), hot and wet saunas and a full gym. You can also visit the Hamat Gader crocodile farm, home to 200 beasts of various species, one of the largest in the Middle East. 

Hamat Gader is located on the southeastern part of the Sea of Galilee, a short distance from Tiberius. (4) 665-9964. hamat-gader.com/eng.

Tiberias Hot Springs
Mineral water from a whopping 17 different hot springs flows into the Tiberias Hot Springs. With almost 100 types of minerals erupting from more than 600 feet below sea level, the original location offers separate pools for men and women, and a newer Chamei Tiveria HaTzi’eira across the street offers a family-friendly environment. Known in the Talmud for their curative powers, these mineral waters and the accompanying services are a new twist on the ancient destination famous since antiquity. Complete with a gym, Finnish sauna, and health and beauty treatments, including a luxurious mud wrap, it is located a stone’s throw from Hamat Tiberias National Park. Enter the gardens through the Ernest Lehman/Haman Suleiman Museum (admission charged) and take care to avoid scalding yourself on the channels of steaming water flowing in the open air. Catch a glimpse of the ruins of ancient medicinal baths and the opulent historic Severus synagogue dating from the time of the Sanhedrin. This floor, the earliest synagogue mosaic in the country, features highly detailed images of menorahs and a zodiac calendar.
Located on Route 90 out of Tiberias South. Call the spa at (4) 672-8580,  and obtain more park information at parks.org.il.

COASTAL PLAIN 

Hamei Ga’ash
While prospecting for oil in the 1980s, mineral springs were discovered at Ga’ash. Named for the biblical mountain beside the grave of Joshua, this kibbutz-run hot springs and day spa is located about 20 minutes north of Tel Aviv. Five hot springs feed the site and a beautiful, massive pool boasting 40 thermo-mineral water jets complements a water massage center with high-pressure sulfur jets and exceptionally large wet and dry saunas. Spa services include shiatsu, peeling (exfoliation), mud, reflexology and hot stone treatments. Packages are available that include a kosher meat meal, robe service and massage. To extend your visit overnight, bookings at the rural guesthouse, located within walking distance to the beach, include free admission to the spa and a 10 percent discount on spa services and restaurant meals.

Book treatments in advance by calling (9) 952-9404. hameigaash.co.il.

JUDEAN DESERT

Ein Gedi Spa
As the lowest point on Earth, the Dead Sea is full of extremes. It boasts a 23 percent oxygen level in the air, the highest on the globe, and rates of 30 percent salinity, 8.6 times saltier than the ocean. Combine these conditions with the highest levels of calming bromine both evaporating off the sea and concentrated in the water at the Ein Gedi Spa, and a visit here is one serious recipe for deep relaxation. Soak in the sea itself, or even better, one of six intense sulfur pools — pumped from nearby hot springs. Legendary Dead Sea dips are multipurpose, scientifically proven to soothe muscles, joints, skin problems and respiratory concerns with unique healing properties unparalleled the world over. And Dead Sea mud, available in a large unlimited-use vat on the Ein Gedi Spa beach, reportedly absorbs toxins, strengthens hair and boosts circulation. Tram service to the beach, mud and access to single-sex and co-ed sulfur pools are included in the admission price. There is an additional nominal cost for towel and locker service. Located near Kibbutz Ein Gedi, which also offers tranquil accommodations.

(8) 659-4813. ein-gedi.co.il.


Ein Gedi Spa Photo by Daniel Baránek

EILAT

Dolphinarium
True to its name, the Dolphin Reef in Eilat is, of course, home to a pod of beautiful bottlenose dolphins. With paid admission, guests observe their natural activity in an ecological park. With higher-priced bookings, guests also swim, snorkel and dive with these amazing sea creatures. Unbeknownst to many visitors, however, the reef also boasts a lush garden hiding a large wooden terrace. Step inside this multilevel, massive sukkah and you’re treated to a feast for the senses. Tiny white lights twinkle over abundant cushions and couches to create a tranquil, “shanti” vibe, complete with views overlooking the Red Sea. All this is merely a backdrop for one of the coziest escapes in the entire south, if not all Israel. Contained in the lower level of the structure is a trifecta of Relaxation Pools. Although open year-round, these pools are heated just right, making them even more tempting in cooler temperatures. Three stress-reducing flavors provide options to chill out in the shallow fresh water, give yourself an impromptu salt exfoliation in the zero-gravity, complete flotation, high-intensity salt pool or make like a dolphin in sea water. These womb-like pools boast other added features: underwater music, flotation “noodles” and staff to arrange these colorful supports under your neck and limbs and gently guide you through the water. For ages 18 and up, each two-hour visit includes light refreshments and towel service. Advance reservations required, with additional costs for guided flotation sessions. For extra cozy points, book your visit at night. But since the cost includes admission to the Dolphin Reef beach for the day, arrive earlier to catch a glimpse of these amazing mammals.

(8) 630-0111. dolphinreef.co.il.


Dolphinarium, Eilat Photo courtesy Israel Ministry of Tourism

Calling Israel
When outside of Israel, add 011-972 before the phone number. Within Israel, add a zero before the area code

Award-winning journalist Lisa Alcalay Klug has written hundreds of articles for mainstream and Jewish media outlets, including The New York Times, Los Angeles Times and Jerusalem Post. She is the author of “Cool Jew: The Ultimate Guide for Every Member of the Tribe,” a National Jewish Book Award Finalist. Her next book, “Hot Mamalah: The Ultimate Guide for Every Woman of the Tribe,” debuts October 2012 everywhere books are sold. cooljewbook.com.

School trips near Eilat canceled over terror threat


Israel’s Education Ministry has canceled school trips to parts of southern Israel following warnings of a terror attack.

School and youth group trips planned for the area around Eilat were canceled Monday and through the rest of the week after the Defense Ministry announced an imminent threat of a terror attack near Eilat. The trip cancellation does not include Eilat.

Work on the Israel-Egypt border fence also was temporarily suspended.

During an attack in August on Highway 12, which runs between Israel’s border with Egypt and Eilat, terrorists entered Israel from the Sinai, killing at least seven Israelis. In the ensuing shootout between the terrorists and Israeli troops, five Egyptian troops also were killed.

Israel, Gaza militants agree to halt fire


Israel and Islamic Jihad militants agreed to halt fire on Friday after days of deadly cross border violence, a Palestinian official said.

Eight Palestinians, including a local commander of the Islamic Jihad in Gaza, were killed since a truce was called on Monday, raising to 26 the number of Palestinians killed in Israeli air strikes in the past week.

An Israeli man has also been killed in rocket attacks launched by Gaza militants since the weekend.

The Palestinian official who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Israel and the Islamic Jihad group both told Cairo they would abide by the Egyptian and United Nations mediated truce announced on Monday.

A statement issued overnight by Taher al-Nono, spokesman of the Hamas government in Gaza, said his administration held talks with Egypt and the United Nations to press Israel to stop attacks and urged factions to stop rocket fire into Israel.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said no rockets had been fired from Gaza since Thursday.

The surge of violence began on Aug. 18 when gunmen who Israel said had infiltrated from Gaza via Egypt’s neighbouring Sinai desert killed eight Israelis on a desert border road.

Seven of the attackers were killed by Israeli forces and Egypt said five of its men died in the crossfire.

Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jon Hemming

Three Eilat terrorists were Egyptian, newspaper claims


Three of the terrorists in last week’s coordinated attacks near Eilat were Egyptian members of an extremist Islamic group, an Egyptian newspaper reported.

The Egyptian daily newspaper Al-Masry Al Yaoum reported that one of the terrorists had escaped from an Egyptian prison during the recent spring revolution that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak. The identities of the terrorists were discovered during an investigation into the incident by the Egyptian security forces, according to the newspaper. The three terrorists were killed in firefights with Israeli troops.

The Egyptian investigation also reportedly found that Israeli troops entered the Sinai Peninsula in pursuit of the terrorists, and that the troops exchanged fire with Egyptian forces. Five Egyptian policemen and soldiers were killed in the fighting.

Meanwhile, protesters demonstrating in front of the Israeli Embassy in Cairo are calling for a million-man protest demanding the expulsion of Israel’s ambassador to Israel, Al Masry Al Yaoum reported. Protesters also marched in front of the home of the Israeli ambassador.

The newspaper also reported that Egyptian Ambassador to Israel Yasser Reda declined an iftar dinner invitation by Israeli President Shimon Peres and sent his deputy instead, a move perceived as a sign of disapproval.

Israeli air strike kills chiefs of Gaza’s PRC group


An Israeli air strike killed the leader of an armed Palestinian faction, a top lieutenant and three other members in the southern Gaza Strip Thursday, the group said, hours after Israel blamed gunmen from the territory for cross-border attacks.

The Popular Resistance Committees (PRC), a faction that often operates independently from Gaza’s Islamist Hamas rulers, identified their dead leader as Kamal al-Nairab and said their military chief, Immad Hammad, had also been killed.

A sixth fatality in the attack on Rafah town was a nine-year-old boy who had been in the same house as the militants, local Palestinians said.

Hours earlier, gunmen killed seven people in a triple attack in southern Israel. Israel said the gunmen had come from Gaza through neighboring Egypt, a charge denied by Hamas.

“The Israeli military is already taking action against the head of the Committees in Gaza,” Defense Minister Ehud Barak told reporters at the site of the gun attacks.

Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Dan Williams; editing by Crispian Balmer

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