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.

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.”

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

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.

Egypt FM: Gaza border crossing to be permanently opened

Egypt’s foreign minister said in an interview with Al-Jazeera on Thursday that preparations were underway to open the Rafah border crossing with Gaza on a permanent basis.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil al-Arabi told Al-Jazeera that within seven to 10 days, steps will be taken in order to alleviate the “blockade and suffering of the Palestinian nation.”

The announcement indicates a significant change in the policy on Gaza, which before Egypt’s uprising, was operated in conjunction with Israel. The opening of Rafah will allow the flow of people and goods in and out of Gaza without Israeli permission or supervision, which has not been the case up until now.