Israel to pay Turkey $20 million in compensation after six-year rift


Turkish lawmakers on Wednesday submitted to parliament a settlement deal with Israel that would see Israel pay Ankara $20 million within 25 days in return for Turkey dropping outstanding legal claims, ending a six-year rift.

Relations between the two countries crumbled after Israeli marines stormed a Turkish ship in May 2010 to enforce a naval blockade of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, killing 10 Turks on board.

Israel had already offered its apologies for the raid. Both countries are to appoint ambassadors, and Turkey is to pass legislation indemnifying Israeli soldiers as part of an agreement partly driven by the prospect of lucrative Mediterranean gas deals.

Reports: Senior Hamas official defects to Israel, Gaza hit with airstrike


A senior Hamas officer from Gaza reportedly has defected to Israel.

Bassam Mahmoud Baraka, who is believed to have extensive knowledge of Hamas’ underground tunnel networks, has been missing for several days and may have fled to Israel, Haaretz reported Tuesday, citing several Palestinian media outlets.

Baraka, the son of a Muslim religious judge affiliated with Hamas, is believed to have given himself up to Israeli soldiers waiting for him at the border, the Palestinian reports said.

Fatah websites said the Red Cross informed Baraka’s family that he was in Israeli custody.

Meanwhile, Israel reportedly launched an airstrike into Gaza, causing damage but no injuries.

According to The Times of Israel, Palestinian sources on Tuesday said Israelis were targeting a Hamas tunnel opening when they hit an agricultural area near the border.

The Israel Defense Forces confirmed there were explosions near the border but said they were related to an Air Force test. The IDF did not say whether the explosions occurred in Israel or Gaza.

Israeli troops come under mortar fire from Gaza


Israeli troops came under mortar fire from Gaza while performing engineering work near the border fence.

The Israel Defense Forces responded to the Wednesday morning attack by shelling Hamas-run military posts in Gaza, the IDF said.

No Israeli soldiers were injured in the morning mortar attack; a second mortar was reported fired at troops on Wednesday afternoon.  The Hamas military post fired on by Israel was damaged but there were no Palestinian casualties, Ynet reported, citing Palestinian sources.

The shelling on the border was the second attack in less than 24 hours. Israeli troops working near the border with northern Gaza on Tuesday afternoon came under gunfire. An Israeli army engineering vehicle was hit in the fire from northern Gaza and damaged by the bullets, and no troops were injured, the Israel Defense Forces said. There has been no claim of responsibility from Gaza.

Tuesday’s incident came several hours after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited troops in the southern border area of Gaza, and remarked on the relative quiet of the border area in the two years since Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza.

Israel bombs Gaza targets in retaliation for Hamas shelling


Israel bombed five targets in Gaza after Hamas fired more than five mortar rounds into Israel in a 24-hour period — an escalation attributed to Israel’s intensified efforts to detect and destroy Hamas’ underground tunnels leading toward and across its border.

Israel Air Force warplanes struck five targets near the Gazan border town of Rafah Wednesday evening, the Israel Defense Forces confirmed in statements on Twitter.

The IDF confirmation followed Palestinian media reports of the bombings, The Times of Israel reported. No injuries have been reported yet.

In a statement on Twitter, IDF Spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner said Israel “will continue to operate in order to protect the civilians of Israel from all Hamas terrorist threats above and beneath ground.”

“Our efforts to destroy the #Hamas terror tunnel network, a grave violation of Israel’s sovereignty, will not cease or be deterred.”

Shortly before launching the strikes, Israeli officials warned Hamas to cease firing mortars at its troops on the Gaza border or face a strong military retaliation, according to Israeli news website Walla.

Hamas said in a statement that Israel bore “full responsibility” for the escalation in hostilities.

In the 24 hours preceding the Israeli strikes, five mortars were fired at Israeli troops near the Gaza-Israel border, and soldiers responded with tank fire.

The IDF said it believes Hamas’ recent attacks near the border are an effort to prevent Israel from finding and destroying new tunnels leading toward and into Israel. New technology has helped locate more tunnels in recent weeks.

In a statement Wednesday night, Al-Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ military wing, warned Israel to stop digging near the border in its search of tunnels.

The Hamas statement said the digging is an incursion into Gazan territory and a breach of the 2014 ceasefire, according to The Times of Israel.

“[Al-Qassam Brigades] will not allow this aggression and the enemy should not make any pretexts whatsoever, and leave the Gaza Strip immediately,” the statement reads.

Gaza terror tunnel into Israel discovered


A Hamas-built tunnel from Gaza into Israel aimed at executing terror attacks has been discovered, the Israel Defense Forces said Monday.

The tunnel is the first to be found since Operation Protective Edge, the summer 2014 Gaza War, according to the IDF, which worked in conjunction with the Shin Bet security service in discovering the tunnel. The IDF said it has destroyed the tunnel openings on both the Israeli and Gazan sides.

In a statement, the IDF said the tunnel was built by the terrorist organization Hamas “in order to infiltrate Israel and execute terror attacks against the people of the southern communities.” In a statement Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel is “investing considerable capital” in countering the tunnels, and that the effort “will not end overnight.”

“Israel will respond strongly to any attempt to attack its soldiers and civilians,” Netyanyahu said. “I am certain that Hamas understands this very well.”

But Hamas vowed that the destruction of this tunnel did not signal an end to conflict, according to the Times of Israel.

“What the enemy has discovered is only a drop in the sea from what the resistance has prepared to defend its people, to liberate the holy places, its prisoners and land,” Hamas’s military wing said in a statement Monday.

The 2014 war, which saw more than 2,100 Palestinians and some 70 Israelis die, was fought largely over the tunnels. Following several attempted infiltrations into Israel, the IDF invaded Gaza hoping to root out the tunnel network, resulting in brutal battles across the coastal territory. Israel withdrew after destroying or otherwise eliminating the threat of some three dozen tunnels.

The tunnel discovered Monday began in a southern Gaza residential neighborhood, according to Haaretz. On the Israel side it is located between the border fence and Israeli military bases, and was about 100 feet below ground.

It is not known when the tunnel was constructed and how many branches it has.

Hamas blames Israel after operative killed in Gaza tunnel collapse


Another tunnel under Gaza has collapsed, killing a Hamas operative digging it, and the terrorist group’s military wing is blaming Israel.

The tunnel collapse Thursday in southern Gaza killed Muhammad Musa al Astal of Khan Younis, the Times of Israel reported. Days earlier, a tunnel collapsed in eastern Gaza, injuring five Hamas members.

Citing unnamed Palestinian sources, The Jerusalem Post said some Hamas operatives are blaming Israel for the tunnel collapses and are afraid to enter the tunnels. The operatives say they have seen Israeli soldiers on the border using liquid explosives and “causing small earthquakes” to destroy tunnels.

Seven tunnels have collapsed in the past two months, according to the Times of Israel, including one that killed a nephew of Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar.

In January, senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh announced at a funeral for seven Hamas operatives that were killed in a tunnel collapse that Palestinian “heroes” are digging tunnels to be used in future attacks on Israel.

At that time, the Times of Israel reported that Hamas had more than 1,000 people working around the clock, six days a week, digging tunnels lined with concrete and “being dug 30 meters deep, with sophisticated engineering equipment and more advanced technological support, including engineers’ blueprints.”

Hamas’ vast network of tunnels, many leading into Israel, was a major issue during Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s 2014 war in the Gaza Strip. During the war, Israel destroyed more than 30 tunnels, which were used to smuggle weapons, as well as stage terrorist attacks and kidnappings inside Israel. Thousands of people, the majority of them Palestinians, were killed in the 2014 war, and much of Gaza’s infrastructure was severely damaged.

Why the world turns a blind eye to the battle between Hamas and the PA


Civil servants in Gaza have gone on strike. For a change, this strike has nothing to do with Israel. On the contrary, 50,000 Gazan workers are striking against Hamas.

In Gaza, striking involves more than parading with placards and not going to work. In Gaza, strikes and protests are dangerous acts. People who protest in the Hamas-controlled territory tend to disappear. But this time, these workers are taking a firm stand by telling the leaders of Gaza that it is time for them to truly lead.

Public workers in Gaza have not been paid regularly since 2014. They allege that they have received only 40 percent of their regular salaries.

Schools and courts are closed. Governmental bureaucrats are staying home. Medical facilities (except emergency care) are shuttered. Sanitation workers are letting garbage pile up. Every worker who receives a salary from the government is taking part in the strike (except for public security employees; they have been receiving their full salaries).

In June 2014, a unity agreement was signed between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. The agreement stipulated that a technocratic unity government would be put in place. That never happened.

Instead, the sometimes violent conflict between Hamas and Fatah, the ruling faction of the Palestinian Authority, has continued. They battle over policies and politics and, when words do not suffice, they murder each other. And no one — other than the people of Gaza — seems to care. The world deems the violence taking place between Fatah and Hamas as infighting. The civil service workers of Gaza want to change that.

Salaries are important, surely, but this strike was called in order to regain international attention.

The strike was coordinated to coincide with Palestinian unity talks between Hamas and the PA that were taking place in Doha. But other than a few Arabic news websites, the story barely made a bleep. Even while striking, the workers of Gaza have struck out.

We are told that the 2014 agreement was about solving issues regarding workers’ rights. But the total deal was never made public. What we do know is that Hamas thinks it is the responsibility of the PA; the Palestinian Authority believes that is not so.

Hamas ousted Fatah and the PA from Gaza in a bloody coup in 2007. The fighting was brutal. There were public murders. Entire Gazan families and family leaders, people who had been part of the Gaza elite for decades, were publicly humiliated and forced to flee.

After the coup, Hamas replaced the entire civil service branch, which had numbered 70,000 people, with 50,000 of its own replacements. The Palestinian Authority continued to pay the original employees even though they were removed from their jobs and many had relocated to the West Bank. The pay was intermittent, but they still were paid.

The 2014 unity agreement stipulated that the PA would hire and pay Hamas workers “according to need.” The essential point in the agreement was that Hamas would return all PA employees to their former positions. This never happened.

Perhaps the world is weary of what happens in Gaza; after all, it’s been going on, almost unchanged, for so long. Certainly there are other sexier, gorier altercations and civil wars being waged.

Or maybe the world is interested only when Israel is involved.

Look for yourselves. A quick Google search of “government strike in Gaza” brings results about the last strike in 2014. And Googling “strike in Gaza” or “Gaza strike” brings up only matches of military and terror attacks.

What is certain is that money is coming into Gaza and that money is not going toward running the state. And because of the tensions between Fatah and Hamas, the money coming into the Palestinian Authority is not going to Gaza to help run the Hamas state.

Monies coming into Gaza go into the military infrastructure. Gaza’s leaders are rebuilding tunnels and training terrorists. Unless there is direct supervision of the money and the materials they are receiving, Hamas is not going to sidestep ideology and begin using it to rebuild society. It might say that the tunnels are being rebuilt for security and defense, not for warring against Israel, but those statements echo as hollow as the promise to work alongside the PA to rebuild their society.

As much as some people would like to blame Israel for the horrors taking place in Gaza, this strike proves the point: Responsibility lies squarely and solidly with Hamas. Even the civil servants of Gaza know that Hamas is not interested in building a society. Hamas is taking the money and using it to prepare for war against Israel.

The world had better start paying attention to Hamas again.


Micah Halpern is a columnist and a social and political commentator. His latest book is “Thugs: How History’s Most Notorious Despots Transformed the World Through Terror, Tyranny, and Mass Murder,” Thomas Nelson (2007). Reprinted with permission from Observer.

Israelis near Gaza fear Hamas is tunneling beneath them


Nissim Hakmon and his neighbors say they hear banging and clattering at night. They are convinced it can only mean one thing: Hamas is tunneling under their homes from Gaza and will one day emerge, guns blazing, to attack or kidnap them.

The Israeli government says its investigations have not come up with any evidence the night-time noises reported by villagers living near Gaza emanate from tunnels, but assertions by Hamas of extensive cross-border digging has only fueled concern.

“The fear among everyone here is constant,” Hakmon told Reuters in his village of Pri Gan, near the Gaza Strip. “I've heard the sound of a hammer and chisel and my neighbor says she can hear them digging under the cement. We're stressed out.”

The Palestinian Islamist group which runs Gaza used tunnels running out of the strip to give its heavily outgunned fighters the advantage of surprise during its 2014 war with Israel.

Twelve soldiers were killed by Hamas tunnel raiders and one was kidnapped. No civilians have been targeted by the fighters, who describe the tunnels as a defensive tool in case of future conflict. But that is little reassurance to the villagers.

Underground infiltration by gunmen from Gaza “is something we know deep inside is just a matter of time, even though we tell the kids everything is okay,” Hakmon said.

POLITICAL PRESSURE

Hakmon's worry is being echoed by some others who live on the Gaza periphery, putting extra political pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over his handling of the standoff with the Palestinian territory since the war in 2014.

Beset by a months-long surge of street attacks by Palestinians from the West Bank and Jerusalem, Israel has little desire to see a fresh flare-up in Gaza, where Hamas has mostly held its fire in the past 18 months. 

The movement announced last week it had rehabilitated cross-border tunnels destroyed during the war – a muscle-flexing message to Israel, its security partner Egypt and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Islamists' U.S.-backed rival. 

“The resistance factions are in a state of ongoing preparation underground, above ground, on land and sea,” Hamas deputy leader Ismail Haniyeh said at a rally called to honor seven tunnelers who were killed in a cave-in on Tuesday.

Hamas has twice the number of tunnels as those used in the Vietnam war against U.S. forces, Haniyeh said – a tall order, but bold enough a claim to shore up the worries voiced in Pri Gan, 4 km (2 miles) away from the Gaza border, and elsewhere.

The residents' alarm, amplified by local media, and calls for preemptive military action by opposition politicians, roused Netanyahu to warn Hamas on Sunday. 

“Should we be attacked through Gaza Strip tunnels, we will take forceful action against Hamas, with far greater force than was used in Protective Edge,” he said, referring to the 2014 war, which killed more than 2,100 Palestinians, most civilians. 

“We are working systematically and level-headedly against all threats, including the Hamas threat, through both defensive and offensive measures.” 

Israel lost six civilians in the war as well as 67 soldiers.

Military engineers unearthed and destroyed 32 tunnels, Israeli officials say, and have since, with U.S. help, been developing a half-dozen technologies for detecting digs along the sandy, 65-km (40 mile) frontier with Gaza.

When those counter-measures might be ready is a closely guarded secret. Hamas, for its part, may be hoping to lay down as many new tunnels as possible before the system is in place. 

“We are not asking for war, but getting ready for one should Israel launch it,” Hamas military spokesman Abu Ubaida said.

“GUNS DRAWN”

Israel's refusal to elaborate on its anti-tunnel efforts has fanned fears in the 30-odd villages near the Gaza frontier. 

Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon told Israel Radio on Monday that military experts “rush anywhere that someone claims to hear noises (but) those tests have not shown that the noise is from the digging of tunnels”.

The conservative government has found itself in the unfamiliar situation of preaching restraint after center-left opposition leader Isaac Herzog demanded any tunnels be bombed. 

“What are the prime minister and defense minister waiting for? For terrorists to surface with guns drawn?” Herzog said.

Yaalon shot back that such discussions should be held behind closed doors, and argued that the passive build-up of an enemy's capabilities did not necessarily warrant initiating hostilities.

“It might also be proposed that we go and attack (Lebanese guerrilla group) Hezbollah's 100,000 rockets in the north or the hundreds of missiles that Iran has aimed at us,” Yaalon said.

Hakmon does not share the government's equanimity, and says he and other Pri Gan residents are going around armed, locking their doors and shuttering their windows as a precaution.

“We are waiting for the army, or, God forbid, for the worst to happen,” he said.

8 Hamas members missing in Gaza tunnel collapse


Eight members of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas have not been accounted for since an underground tunnel collapsed in Gaza.

Rain and flooding caused the collapse of the tunnel, located near Jabaliya in northern Gaza, on Wednesday, various media outlets reported.

“The resistance tunnel collapsed last night due to the weather and flooding,” an unidentified Palestinian “security source” told Agence France Presse.

“There were 11 resistance men inside,” the source continued. “Three of them escaped in the first hour after the accident, but the security operation … continues to search for the eight others.”

Hamas’ vast network of tunnels, many leading into Israel, was a major issue during Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s war with Hamas in the summer of 2014. During the war Israel destroyed more than 30 tunnels, which were used to smuggle weapons, as well as stage terrorist attacks and kidnappings inside Israel.

According to Haaretz, the Israel Defense Forces believes Hamas, which governs Gaza, is building new tunnels leading into Israel and is rebuilding its arsenal of rockets. Haaretz said it “is reasonable to assume that the number of tunnels crossing under the border is close to that on the eve of Protective Edge.”

Numerous tunnels in Gaza have collapsed recently.

One in central Gaza collapsed on Saturday, killing a 30-year-old man, AFP reported, citing Hamas officials. In December, 14 Palestinians were trapped for hours in another tunnel, near the Gaza-Egypt border, after it flooded.

Third intifada? The Palestinian violence is Israel’s new normal


Israelis have become accustomed to dismal news in the past few weeks – mornings and evenings punctuated by stabbings, car attacks and rock throwing.

The cycle of random violence has left dozens of Israelis and Palestinians dead, and many fearing the worst: The start of a third intifada, or armed Palestinian uprising, that could claim hundreds more lives.

But since the second intifada started in 2000, fears of a repeat have proved unfounded. Conditions in Israel and the Palestinian territories have changed since that time, and short bursts of low-level violence are the new normal.

“It’s a matter of days until this stops,” said Nitzan Nuriel, the former head of the prime minister’s Counter-Terrorism Bureau. “This has no goal. It will be forgotten. The reality is we have waves of terror. It doesn’t matter what the reason is.”

Israelis have been bracing for a third intifada ever since the second one ebbed to a close in 2005. Waves of terror have risen and fallen, along with concerns that the region is on the verge of another conflagration.

Most recently, a string of attacks in late 2014, including the murder of four rabbis in a synagogue, sparked talk of a third intifada. But those clashes died out after several weeks. Another rash of attacks came and went two years ago.

Now, after two weeks of near-daily attacks, some Israelis and Palestinians are already calling this string the third intifada. But during the past 15 years, Israel has created safeguards to keep Palestinian violence in check.

“Every night we have actions to detain people who are involved in terrorist activities,” Israel Defense Forces spokesman Peter Lerner told JTA. “We have operational access at any given time to any place.”

After hitting a peak in 2002, attacks on Israelis waned the following year when Israel completed the first part of a security barrier near its pre-1967 border with the West Bank. Part fence and wall, the barrier has proved controversial. Its route cuts into the West Bank at points in what critics call an Israeli land grab. And the restrictions on Palestinian movement imposed by the barrier, as well as the fence around Gaza, have led some to call Gaza an open-air prison.

The separation barrier winding through the West Bank. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Israel's security barrier winding through the West Bank has proven controversial since it first started being built in the early 2000s. Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90/JTA

Still, the barrier coincided with a sharp decrease in Israeli deaths from terrorism. Terrorists have infiltrated it repeatedly, but successful Palestinian terror attacks dropped 90 percent between 2002 and 2006. Militants attacking Israel from Gaza now shoot missiles over the barrier or dig tunnels under it.

The current wave of violence has mostly involved attacks in the shadow of the security barrier – either in the West Bank or in Jerusalem. Both are Palestinian population centers with easy access either to Jewish communities. A handful of stabbings have taken place in central Israel, perpetrated by Palestinians who were able to sneak across the barrier.

The unorganized, “lone wolf” attacks occurring across Israel have created an atmosphere of insecurity and tension, even as the attacks have been relatively small in scale. There’s a feeling, some say, that an attack could happen anywhere at any time.

“No one is in charge to say tomorrow we stop the attacks,” said Shimon Grossman, a medic with the ZAKA paramedical organization who is responding to the ongoing violence just as she did in the second intifada. “Whoever wants to be a shaheed [‘martyr’] takes a knife and stabs people.

“It’s very scary for people because they don’t know when the end will be, what will stop it. Last time people knew to stay away from buses. Now you don’t know who to be afraid of.”

Another significant obstacle to a third intifada has been the West Bank Palestinians themselves, who have worked with Israel for eight years to thwart terror attacks. In 2007, Hamas seized full control of the Gaza Strip, violently ousting the moderate Fatah party, which controls the West Bank’s Palestinian Authority.

Since that takeover, the P.A. and Israel have viewed Hamas as a shared enemy and coordinated on security operations aimed at discovering and arresting Hamas terror cells.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accused P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas of inciting the ongoing violence. But Abbas has maintained security coordination with Israel through the clashes and has a history of opposing violence. Nuriel said that while Abbas is not to blame for the attacks, he stands to benefit from them.

“He has an interest for the conflict to get headlines,” Nuriel said. “He wants to show there’s chaos here. He wants to show it’s in places that Israel controls.”

But a majority of Palestinians are fed up with Abbas and oppose his stance on nonviolence. Rather, Palestinian society as a whole appears to support violence against Israelis. A poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey research last week found that 57 percent of Palestinians support a return to an armed intifada, an increase of 8 percent from earlier this year. Half believe the P.A. has a mandate to stop security coordination with Israel, and two-thirds want Abbas to resign.

“This is an explosion of a whole generation in the face of the occupation,” said Shawan Jabareen, director of Al-Haq, a Palestinian civil rights group. “No one can say when it will stop unless people get hope that things will change. But if they see there’s no hope, I don’t know which way it will take.”

Even if the attacks continue, according to former Israeli National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror, Israel will retain the upper hand. The best course of action, he wrote in a position paper this week, is to maintain current security operations and be cautious in using force.

“Now we no longer have to prove anything,” Amidror wrote in the paper for the Begin Sadat Center for Security Studies. “Israel is a strong, sovereign state, and as such it must use its force prudently, only when its results have proven benefits and only as a last resort.”

Hamas political chief confirms negotiations with Israel


Hamas political chief Khaled Meshaal confirmed that his organization is negotiating with Israel over a long-term truce and described the talks as “very positive.”

In an interview with a London-based Qatari newspaper published Friday, Meshaal said former British Prime Minister Tony Blair is one of the mediators and that talks have not yet produced an agreement.

In the interview, according to the Times of Israel, Meshaal listed five obstacles standing in the way of a long-term cease-fire with Israel: reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, which was badly damaged in last summer’s war between Israel and Hamas; removal of the blockade and opening of the border crossings; addressing Gaza’s high rate of unemployment; allowing the construction of a seaport and airport, and building water and electricity infrastructures in the territory.

Meshaal said, “We do not want wars, but the legitimate resistance against the occupation will continue so long as the occupation and settlements continue, but we do not seek wars.”

Earlier this week Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied reports that his government was negotiating with Hamas, the Islamist terrorist organization that governs Gaza. “Israel officially clarifies that there have been no meetings with Hamas. Not directly, not through another country and not through intermediaries,” he said in a statement issued Monday.

Family of Ethiopian-Israeli believed held by Hamas rallies for his release


The family of an Ethiopian Israeli believed to be imprisoned in Gaza by Hamas rallied on his behalf outside an Israeli prison where Palestinian prisoners are held.

The rally Monday outside the Hadarim Detention Center was the first on behalf of Avera Mengistu, 29, whose family says he is mentally ill. Approximately two dozen demonstrators demanded that Hamas release Mengistu, who crossed the border into Gaza in September by climbing over a barrier. His disappearance was not made public until July, when a court-imposed gag order was lifted. He is one of two Israeli civilians believed to be held by Hamas. The other, a Bedouin, has not been publicly identified.

The rally was deliberately held on a Monday, the day that relatives of Palestinian prisoners are allowed to visit. Activists held signs in Hebrew and Arabic demanding the Palestinians send a message to Hamas to release Mengistu, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Speaking to the families of Palestinian security prisoners in Israel, Mengistu’s brother Ilan said that “while you are visiting your loved ones in Israel, Avera Mengistu, an innocent 29-year-old civilian, is being held in Gaza. Despite the fact that he is not well and was never a soldier, Hamas continues to keep him captive and refuses to release him or give any information on his whereabouts.”

Members of the Mengistu family said hundreds of supporters had sought to join the protest at the prison, but the police had limited the crowd to 26 demonstrators, according to Haaretz.

Hamas has provided no information about the condition of Mengistu or the Bedouin man, nor has it said it is holding them.

U.N. calls on Palestinians in Gaza to hand over Israeli nationals


United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on Palestinians in Gaza to provide information about two Israelis believed to be held there.

Ban on Monday also called for their prompt return to their families, The Associated Press reported.

Ethiopian-Israel Avera Mengistu is believed to have climbed over the security fence between Israel and Gaza last September. His presumed captivity, which Hamas denies, was under a gag order that was lifted last week. Also missing is an Israel Bedouin who crossed over to Gaza in April and has not returned.

The U.N. will monitor developments in the case, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told AP.

Meanwhile, Israeli media reported that Mengistu’s father has been homeless for the past three years.

The Ashkelon municipality offered to pay for hotel bills or rent for Haili Mengistu, and said it would increase welfare payments to the family, Ynet reported.

The Mengistus made aliyah in the mid-1980s during Operation Moses, and moved first to Jerusalem and then to Ashkelon. They divorced three years ago. Since then, Haili Mengistu has been moving from relative to relative and sleeping on the streets.

Israel negotiated several months ago with Hamas for the release of the two men, but Hamas instead tried to hand over an Eritrean national who had entered Gaza looking for work, Israel’s Channel 2 reported Monday night.

Hamas negotiator on Israeli detainees was released in Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange


This article first appeared on

Two Israelis missing in the Gaza Strip, Israel says it holds Hamas responsible


This story was provided by The Media Line.

Avraham Mengistu, 29, an Ethiopian-Israeli who reportedly suffers from mental illness, has been missing in the Gaza Strip for ten months, it was revealed following the lifting of a gag order. An Israeli government spokesman said that Mangisto left his home in the southern city of Ashkelon early in the morning on September 8, 2014 and never returned after he crossed the border into the Gaza Strip.

Israeli defense officials said they believe he was originally arrested by Hamas, apparently after he met a group of Palestinian fishermen in Gaza. There is no current information about his fate, raising the possibility that he may no longer be alive or that he is being held by a more radical organization in Gaza or in the Sinai, where Islamic State-linked gunmen have been battling Egyptian soldiers.

A second Israeli citizen, a Bedouin resident of the south, has also been reported missing, but his name has not been given. Israel Radio said he had visited Gaza several times in the past.

Most of the attention in Israel focused on Mangisto, as it reminded Israelis of the capture of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, on the border with Gaza, in 2006. He was released five years later in exchange for more than 1000 members of Hamas who had been held in Israeli jails. In recent months, Israel has rearrested dozens of those who had been freed in exchange for Gilad Shalit. But the fact that Mengistu crossed into Gaza of his own free will makes Israel far less likely to make serious concessions to Hamas in exchange for him. 

The information about Mengistu came as Israel was holding indirect talks with Hamas to receive the bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed during last summer’s fighting between Israel and Hamas. More than 2200 Palestinians were killed as well as 73 Israelis in the fighting that began exactly a year ago.

Hamas this week held a military parade in which they showed a large model of three Israeli ID tags, one with the name of Oron Shaul, one of the missing Israeli soldiers. The other two tags had question marks on them. Israeli analysts said one apparently referred to Hadar Goldin, another soldier who is held by Hamas, and the third apparently referred to Mengistu.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Israel is doing everything possible for his return.

“We are working to return the two Israelis who crossed the fence into Gaza,” Netanyahu said in a statement. “We hold Hamas responsible for their welfare. I have appointed a representative to coordinate all activity on the issue and to be in contact with the families. Yesterday I spoke with the parents and siblings of Avraham Mengistu and I told them that from as soon as the incident became known we have spared no effort to return him to Israel. We agreed to meet soon. I expect the international community, which expresses its concern over the humanitarian situation in Gaza, to issue a clear call for these citizens to be released and to see to their return.”

A spokesman for the Islamist Hamas movement said the group is not holding Mengistu, and it had no information as to his fate. Palestinian sources said he was originally held by Hamas, which released him after they realized he was not a soldier. They said he then used an underground tunnel from Gaza into Egypt and he was no longer in Egypt.

His family appealed to the Israeli government to do more to find him. 

“My brother apparently crossed the Gaza border and there's been no trace of him since then,” his brother Ilan told reporters. I ask the Israeli government to do everything to return my brother home safely. I ask the international community to do everything to help.”

Hamas still firmly in control of Gaza


This story orginally appeared on The Media Line.

One year after the heavy fighting between the Islamist Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip and Israel, Hamas remains firmly in control of Gaza and reconstruction of the 12,000 uninhabitable homes in Gaza has barely begun. Senior Israeli army officials are recommending that Israel open more border crossings between Gaza and Israel to enable more goods to enter Gaza and more Palestinians to leave.

“Since 2000, the number of people coming to UNRWA (the UN agency that handles Palestinian refugees) has gone from 80,000 to 860,000,” UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told The Media Line. “The Israeli blockade which is a form of collective punishment must be lifted soon and that includes exports. At the moment there have been no meaningful exports at all.”

The UN says that of the 2262 Palestinians killed in the fighting, 1500 were civilians, among them 551 children and 305 women. Israel disputes the figures saying more than half of those killed were Hamas fighters. Seventy-one Israelis, most of them soldiers, also died in the fighting.

Israeli airstrikes caused widespread devastation in parts of Gaza, which Israel says were used as launching pads for rocket strikes on Israel or as hiding places for Hamas weapons. Gunness said 12,000 homes in Gaza are uninhabitable after being totally or almost totally destroyed. While large amounts of ruble have been removed, reconstruction has barely started. Qatar has offered to build hundreds of new homes there.

In recent weeks, there has been speculation that Israel and Hamas are engaged in indirect negotiations over a long-term cease-fire. Israel has not responded to several rockets fired from Gaza in the past few weeks, which were apparently fired not by Hamas but by Salafi elements who are challenging Hamas.

Some Israeli analysts say that accepting a long-term truce with Hamas would be a mistake.

“All we would be doing is giving them the time they need to rehabilitate their capability,” General Yakov Amidror, a former national security advisor to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told The Media Line. “We will then have to face them when they are strong enough. There is no logic in such an argument.”

He said Hamas lost almost two-thirds of its rocket capabilities during the fighting with Israel, half of which was destroyed in Israeli air strikes, and half was fired. Other military analysts say Hamas has restored its short-term rockets although not the longer-term missiles which can hit Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

While that may be true, Amidror counters, Israel’s Iron Dome proved effective at stopping the rockets, meaning that Israel has established a position of deterrence vis a vis Hamas.

“What Hamas needs is something different than what it had a year ago because nothing worked for Hamas,” he said. “Its RPGs were destroyed, Iron Dome coped with the missiles and the rockets and the tunnels were not a great success. The question is does Hamas have something new that we don’t know about.”

Hamas is facing a challenge from Islamic State, he said, which has established a strong presence in neighboring Sinai and is challenging Egypt. But in Gaza at least Hamas remains firmly in control.

Israeli press reports say that the army is recommending that Israel ease freedom of movement from Gaza. Egypt has also kept a tight hold on its Rafah crossing, afraid of being inundated with Palestinians who want to escape life in Gaza. For example, the officers said, Israel could allow thousands of Palestinians to travel via the Erez crossing through Israel to Jordan, where they could fly abroad. Israel could also reopen the Karni crossing for goods into and out of Gaza.

Chris Gunness of UNRWA agrees that could make a difference in people’s lives.

“It would make a huge difference,” he said. “Freedom of movement for civilians would be a very welcome thing.”

Israel says Islamic State’s Sinai assault aimed to help Hamas get arms


Israel accused Hamas on Tuesday of supporting last week's assaults by Islamic State affiliates on Egyptian forces in the Sinai in hope of freeing up arms smuggling to the Gaza Strip.

The remarks followed Israeli allegations that Hamas members provided training and medical treatment for the Sinai insurgents – charges dismissed by the Palestinian Islamist group as a bid to further fray its troubled ties with Cairo.

Egypt said more than 100 insurgents and 17 of its soldiers were killed in Wednesday's simultaneous assaults, carried out against military checkpoints around the North Sinai towns of Sheikh Zuweid and Rafah. Islamic State's Egypt affiliate, Sinai Province, took credit for the attacks.

Rafah straddles the border between Egypt and Gaza and had long seen smuggling to the Hamas-controlled enclave. But Cairo has been cracking down on such activity and deems Hamas a threat to Egyptian interests.

An Israeli intelligence colonel responsible for monitoring the borders with Egypt and Gaza said on Tuesday that Hamas, short of weaponry after its war against Israel last year, supported the Sinai assaults with the “objective of opening up a conduit” for renewed smuggling.

“Why was it is so very important for them (Hamas) to develop the connection with Sinai Province? Because they need the raw materials that would enable the military build-up in Gaza,” the colonel said in remarks aired by Israel Radio.

“To carry out high-quality smuggling required a special operation,” added the colonel, whose name was not published.

Hamas said Israel was conducting “a systematic incitement campaign”.

“The Egyptian side understands that Hamas had no connection to what happened in Sinai and also realizes the efforts Hamas is making to keep Gaza away from what happens there,” said Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for the Palestinian movement.

Egyptian officials were not immediately available to respond to the Israeli colonel's allegations.

On Friday, Egyptian military sources said there was evidence that individuals from Hamas had participated in the Sinai battles but not of any wider organizational links.

Though they share hostility to Israel, Hamas and Islamic State have been at odds within Gaza. The insurgents threatened last week to extend their self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq to Gaza by toppling Hamas, which they described as insufficiently stringent about religious rule.

That strife ends at the Sinai border, Israel argues.

“Hamas is fighting ISIS (Islamic State) in the Strip, but on the other side there is cooperation between Hamas elements from Gaza and ISIS in Sinai,” Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said in a statement on Tuesday.

Israel, Palestinians say to investigate Gaza warcrime accusations


Israel and the Palestinians promised on Monday to investigate alleged war crimes committed by their forces during the 2014 Gaza war, amid growing calls for an end to impunity on both sides.

During an often virulent three-hour debate at the U.N. Human Rights Council, boycotted by Israel, the president of the Geneva forum rebuked envoys of Saudi Arabia and Venezuela for referring to Israel as a “racist regime” and its “genocidal aggression”.

The council examined a report issued by U.N. investigators last week saying Israel and Palestinian militant groups committed grave abuses of international humanitarian law during the Gaza conflict that may amount to war crimes.

“This report will be another source of information for our internal investigation,” Eviatar Manor, Israel's ambassador, told reporters inside the U.N building in Geneva as hundreds of pro-Israeli supporters demonstrated outside.

“A substantial number of cases have been reviewed, investigated and closed. There are about 100 cases which are still open. Alleged war crimes are very, very serious crimes.”

CIVILIAN STATUS

Investigations had to be serious and comprehensive “before indictments are being prepared so that the indictments will also carry with them weight and assure prosecution”, Manor said.

In a 50-day war, more than 2,100 Palestinians were killed, mostly civilians. Israel put the number of its dead at 67 soldiers and six civilians. Israeli air strikes and shelling hammered the densely populated Gaza Strip, dominated by the Islamist Hamas movement, causing widespread destruction of homes and schools. Hamas and other militant groups launched thousands of rockets and mortar bombs out of the enclave into Israel.

Israel's military said this month the killing of four Palestinian boys in an air strike on a Gaza beach was a case of mistaken identity that did not warrant criminal charges.

Mary McGowan Davis, chair of the U.N. commission on the inquiry, told the forum Israel's Military Advocate General “incorrectly applied international humanitarian law by reversing the presumption of civilian status in case of doubt.

“This example does not augur well for the investigative process,” she said.

The Palestinian Authority last week submitted its first evidence of alleged Israeli war crimes to the International Criminal Court, trying to speed up an ICC inquiry into abuses.

Palestinian Ambassador Ibrahim Khraishi told the council: “It is important to operate universal jurisdiction as long as Israel continues this pattern.

The Palestinian Authority was discussing setting up a committee to probe allegations of violations by Gaza militants, in line with the U.N. recommendations, he said. “This would show we are completely willing to uphold our legal commitments.”

Owning up to truths: The UNHRC and its report


The report on last summer’s conflict between Israel and Hamas by a committee representing the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) elicited the usual response from the Israel government – even before its formal release on Monday!  Prime Minister Netanyahu declared that the committee had ascertained that Israel was ““guilty even before the examination began.”  His government released its own report a day earlier maintaining “unequivocally that our military actions during that conflict were in full accordance with international law.”  

One can readily imagine how Netanyahu and his government arrived at this conclusion.  Since its inception in March 2006, the UNHRC has a history of training much of its attention on Israel-Palestine.  As of last year, nearly half of the resolutions it passed were condemnations of Israel.  This is, by any standard, disproportionate and betrays a deep skew that requires correcting.  Both Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-Moon, the previous and current Secretaries-General of the United Nations, have criticized this over-emphasis on Israel.  Annan argued in 2006 that while Israel should hardly be immune to criticism, “the Council should give the same attention to grave violations committed by other states as well.”  Indeed, the world, and even more particularly, the Middle East, are rife with gross violators of human rights, both state and non-state actors.  

And yet, the flaws of the UNHRC must not provide a shield for Israel to hide behind.  This has become a favored tactic.  Last year, it was the genocidal Iranian threat that was intended to give Israel a free pass; more recently, it’s become the BDS movement that precludes any serious critique of the Occupation.  This is not to say that Iran is a benign kitten nor that Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) doesn’t include some nefarious elements in its midst.  It is to say that these two causes can and do serve as bogeymen–instruments of deflection for the Israeli government to avoid troubling issues over which it has some measure of control.

Now it is the biased nature of the UNHRC that forestalls self-scrutiny by Israel of its massive asymmetric use of power in Gaza.   But we should take a closer look.  The UNHRC report was not, as the talking points of the Israeli government insist, the Schabas report, named after the Canadian law professor whose seeming bias led him in February to resign his role as committee chair.  Rather, it was written by New York jurist Mary McGowan-Davis, a former federal prosecutor and New York State Supreme Court justice, along with Senegalese diplomat Doudou Diène.  Given the limitations at hand—neither Israel nor Hamas would allow access to the committee—McGowan-Davis put together a credible account of what transpired in the summer of 2014.  It is not a perfect report.  But it does do what Israel supporters have long complained reports of this nature do not do: it focused attention on both sets of combatants.  The report sets the frame by describing the broad backdrop: “The hostilities of 2014 erupted in the context of the protracted occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, and of the increasing number of rocket attacks on Israel.”  Only if one were to deny that there has been an Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory after 1967 would this framing description appear biased. 

The report then moves on to make the following key points:

  • Israel’s blockade of Gaza undermined the fragile economic infrastructure of the Strip, contributing to a sense of extreme desperation;
  • Palestinian rocket attacks and tunnel-building undermined Israelis’ sense of security in their own country;
  • The brutal murders of three Israeli Jewish teenagers in June 2014 and of a Palestinian teenager the next month created an environment boiling over with rage and calls for revenge;
  • In the resulting war in Gaza, “the scale of the devastation was unprecedented;”
  • The use of rockets by Palestinian militants against Israeli civilians was a violation of “international humanitarian law, in particular of the fundamental principle of distinction, which may amount to a war crime;”
  • In six cases investigated, the committee found no justification for Israeli rocket attacks on apartment buildings in Gaza.  To attack a residence inhabited by civilians “in the absence of a specific military target” violates the principle of distinction and, in this case, may be a war crime;  
  • Accountability is sorely lacking.  Israel’s own self-investigations to date have almost always exonerated its own personnel, lending a sense that “impunity prevails across the board for violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law allegedly committed by Israeli forces;”  
  • Meanwhile, accountability on the Palestinian side is “woefully inadequate.” The Palestinian leadership has “consistently failed to ensure that perpetrators of violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law are brought to justice.”

 

Contrary to what has been reported—and claimed by the Netanyahu government—this is not a case of the UNHRC picking on Israel unfairly.  Rather, the committee was seeking to capture the underlying casus belli and ensuing scale of destruction set against the vast power differential between the two sides.  It took both sides to task, in proportionate ways, without insisting that the case be remanded immediately to the International Criminal Court.  On the contrary, it called upon “the Government of Israel to conduct a thorough, transparent, objective and credible review of policies governing military operations and of law enforcement activities in the context of the occupation.”  To all those who believe in and/or agitate for Israeli democracy, this seems like a perfectly reasonable and indeed necessary step.


David N. Myers teaches Jewish history at UCLA.

Israel disputes U.N. report finding it may have committed Gaza war crimes


Israel disputed on Monday the findings of a U.N. report that it may have committed war crimes in the 2014 Gaza conflict, saying its forces acted “according to the highest international standards”.

There was no immediate comment from Hamas, the dominant Palestinian movement in the Gaza Strip, which the report said might bear responsibility for war crimes that included “indiscriminate” firing of rockets at Israeli towns.

“It is regrettable that the report fails to recognize the profound difference between Israel's moral behavior during Operation Protective Edge and the terror organizations it confronted,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement, referring to the 50-day Gaza war last July and August.

“In defending itself against attacks, Israel's military acted according to the highest international standards.”

Saeb Erekat, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said in a statement: “The State of Palestine will review the findings and recommendations of the (U.N.) commission with the highest consideration, in line with its staunch commitment to ensuring respect for these esteemed bodies of international law.”

Echoing previous Israeli statements during the year-long U.N. inquiry, the foreign ministry said the report by the U.N. Human Rights Council was commissioned by “a notoriously biased institution” that has a “singular obsession” with Israel.

Citing such alleged bias and what it called a lack of the necessary expertise to conduct a professional and serious examination of an armed conflict, the ministry said Israel would consider the report “in light of these essential failings”.

U.N. report: Israel, Palestinians may have committed war crimes in Gaza


U.N. investigators said on Monday that Israel and Palestinian militant groups committed grave abuses of international humanitarian law during the 2014 Gaza conflict that may amount to war crimes.

They called on all sides to cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC), which has opened a separate preliminary investigation. The Palestinian Authority is expected to make its first formal submission to the Hague-based court this week.

“The most that we can hope for out of this long and arduous process of inquiry is that we will push the ball of justice a little further down the field,” Mary McGowan Davis, chairwoman of the U.N. commission of inquiry, told a news conference.

A ceasefire last August ended 50 days of fighting between Gaza militants and Israel in which health officials said more than 2,100 Palestinians, mostly civilians, were killed. Israel put the number of its dead at 67 soldiers and six civilians.

Israeli air strikes and shelling hammered the densely-populated Gaza Strip dominated by the Islamist Hamas movement, causing widespread destruction of homes and schools.

Hamas and other militant groups launched thousands of rockets and mortar bombs out of the enclave into Israel.

“The (U.N.) commission was able to gather substantial information pointing to serious violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law by Israel and by Palestinian armed groups. In some cases, these violations may amount to war crimes,” the independent investigators said in a report issued on Monday following a year-long inquiry.

The investigators called on Israel to carry out credible domestic investigations of senior political and military officials, if crimes were substantiated.

They called on Israel to explain its “targeting decisions” to allow independent assessment of its attacks on Gaza Strip which they said had killed 1,462 civilians.

“The commission is concerned that impunity prevails across the board for violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law allegedly committed by Israeli forces…” it said.

The report said Israel should break with its “recent lamentable track record in holding wrongdoers responsible”.

ISRAEL DISPUTES ACCUSATIONS, HAMAS IGNORES THEM

Israel disputed the findings, saying its forces acted “according to the highest international standards”. The Foreign Ministry said the report regrettably failed to “recognize the profound difference between Israel's moral behavior … and the terror organizations it confronted” in the war.

Israel previously dismissed the inquiry as inherently biased against it and a waste of time.

The independent investigators also condemned what they said had been executions of 21 alleged Palestinian “collaborators” with Israel by militants in Gaza, saying these killings appeared to constitute war crimes.

The report further said Palestinian armed groups had fired nearly 5,000 rockets and 1,750 mortar bombs, many toward major Israeli cities and towns. It cited “the inherently indiscriminate nature of most of the projectiles launched into Israel and (of) the targeting of civilians, which violate international humanitarian law and may amount to a war crime”.

The investigators were denied access to Gaza and Israel but based their report on more than 280 interviews with victims and witnesses, as well as 500 written submissions.

The report said Israeli political and military leaders did not alter their actions in the war despite much evidence of lethal devastation in built-up Gaza neighborhoods and this raised questions about potential war crimes.

Hamas, in a statement posted on its website, called for prosecuting Israeli leaders but ignored accusations against it.

“Hamas welcomes the condemnation of the Zionist occupation stated in the U.N. report because of its (Israel's) aggression against Gaza and Israel's commission of war crimes. This requires bringing leaders of the occupation before the International Criminal Court. The world must put an end to the occupation's crimes against our people and against Gaza.”

Hamas previously denied wrongdoing, saying it fought Israel to protect the Palestinian people in Gaza. The enclave has been under Israeli blockade for years and the two sides have waged two other wars since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007.

Palestinian unity government resigns


The Palestinian unity government between Hamas and Fatah has resigned and the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister has been asked to form a new government.

Resignation letters were given to P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Wednesday, the French news agency AFP reported. The possible collapse of the 14-month-old-government was signaled on Tuesday, despite P.A. denials.

Abbas received the resignations from the Palestinian Authority’s prime minister, Rami Hamdallah, then asked Hamdallah to form a new government, AFP reported, citing Nimr Hammad, a close aide to Abbas.

The Palestinian unity agreement was signed in April 2014.

Hammad reportedly said that Hamas would be included in consultations to form a new government. Hamas reportedly had been against the dissolution of the government and said it was not consulted by Fatah, Abbas’ party, before the resignation were submitted.

The announcement of the resignation comes amid reports of indirect talks between Hamas and Israel in order to reach a long-term truce in the wake of last summer’s Gaza conflict. Arab and European countries reportedly have mediated the talks.

Fatah official: Palestinian unity government on verge of collapse


The Palestinians’ unity government forged last year between Hamas and Fatah will dissolve within the next 24 hours, a senior Palestinian official said.

“The government will resign in the next 24 hours because this one is weak and there is no chance that Hamas will allow it to work in Gaza,” Amin Maqbul, secretary general of the ruling Fatah movement’s Revolutionary Council, said Tuesday, according to the French news agency AFP.

The unity government has been stymied by disagreements over the governance of Gaza, which has essentially remained under Hamas control and been in disarray since the Israel-Hamas war last summer.

An unidentified Palestinian government source denied to AFP that dissolution was imminent. The source did confirm, however, that the idea had been under discussion for weeks, since a government delegation was forced to abort a late April trip to Gaza because of a dispute with Hamas over salaries for government workers there.

The unity government established in May 2014 followed a reconciliation agreement between the two rival Palestinian factions. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas belongs to the Fatah party.

IDF closes one war crimes probe, opens three new ones


 Israeli military prosecutors closed a probe into the death of four children in Gaza last year and opened three new ones — including an alleged revenge shelling.

The Israel Defense Forces’ announcement Thursday on the closure of the probe said the children’s deaths on a Gaza beach in July as a result of an airstrike were an accident and did not affect the legality of Israel’s military actions in Gaza. No action is being taken against those involved. The strike was on a compound known to be in use by Hamas’ naval commando unit, the statement said.

Also on Thursday, the Military Advocate General announced it would look into the death of nine people in July at a café in Khan Younis hit by IDF artillery

A second probe concerns the suspected revenge shelling of a Palestinian clinic. Armored Corps troops are believed to have targeted the clinic as payback for the slaying of two of their comrades on July 22 by a Palestinian sniper whom the suspects believed fired on them from the clinic. The third probe concerns the alleged beating of a Palestinian prisoner.

All incidents occurred during Israel’s war on Hamas in Gaza in July and August of 2014 following Hamas’ firing of rockets at Israel civilians. A United Nations committee of inquiry into Israel’s actions in Gaza — which the Palestinians and other countries said amounted to war crimes — is due to submit its report next week.

Additionally, the advocate general said it would indict three soldiers suspected of looting in Gaza on July 29.

The International Court of Justice is also looking into Palestinian complaints on Israel’s summer offensive in Gaza. Some legal analysts have said the ICC, a U.N. court, has no jurisdiction to investigate the matter or prosecute alleged offenders because Israel’s judiciary is investigating the conduct of its own troops in compliance with international judicial standards. However, Israel’s critics dispute this.

So far, the Military Advocate General has received 190 complaints about Israeli troops’ conduct during Israel summer offensive, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said in a statement. Of those, 105 have been processed. Of the processed complaints, seven have been deemed to merit criminal investigations. Another 15 incidents were investigated by local units and not at the general staff level.

Hamas gains in popularity in Gaza, West Bank since war with Israel


The Islamist Hamas movement that dominates Gaza has gained in popularity among all Palestinians since last year's war with Israel, but most feel the devastation caused by the conflict outweighs its achievements, a new poll shows.

Pollster Khalil Shikaki of the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey also reported what he called “the highest number ever recorded” — 50 percent — of Palestinians in the impoverished and isolated Gaza Strip considering emigration.

“There's a very high level of frustration we are seeing in Gaza more than at any other time in the past year,” Shikaki told reporters by teleconference from the West Bank, referring to results of the June 4-6 survey.

Rebuilding has been slow in Gaza since the 2014 war, in which Palestinian militants launched thousands of rockets and mortar bombs at Israel while Israeli air strikes and artillery battered Gaza, a small densely populated enclave. More than 2,100 Palestinians, mainly civilians, were killed while 67 soldiers and six civilians were killed on the Israeli side.

When asked who they would support if a parliamentary election were to be held, 39 percent of those polled in Gaza said they would vote for Hamas, up from 32 percent a year ago.

In the West Bank, where the Fatah party of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas exercises self-rule alongside Israeli settlements, support for Hamas has risen to 32 percent from 27 percent three months ago. Fatah weighed in at 36 percent backing, down from 41 percent in March.

Shikaki said Hamas's rising appeal in the West Bank could be attributed in part to frustration with a prolonged impasse in diplomacy between Abbas and Israel on a Palestinian state in territory Israel captured in the 1967 war. But 63 percent of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank were unhappy with the achievements of the Hamas-Israel war “compared to the human and material losses” Gaza suffered, the poll also showed.

Shikaki said Abbas, the president since succeeding the late Yasser Arafat in 2004, held a slight edge in personal popularity over Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader in Gaza.

But Abbas' performance rating had dipped to 44 percent from 50 percent at the outset of last year's Fatah-Hamas unity deal, which has still not yet been fully implemented on the ground.

Hamas triumphed in the last Palestinian parliamentary election held in 2006. Fresh elections have been repeatedly postponed since Hamas's seizure of power from Fatah in Gaza in a brief 2007 civil war.

Israel hits Gaza targets in retaliation for rocket attack


Israel retaliated on Thursday for rockets fired at it from Gaza with bombing raids against three militant training camps, and a radical group sympathetic with Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks on Israel.

Witnesses and medics said the predawn attacks on two camps belonging to Hamas, which dominates the Gaza Strip, and to the smaller Palestinian group Islamic Jihad caused some damage but no casualties.

Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said in a statement that Israel held Hamas responsible for the rocket attacks from Gaza “even if those doing the shooting are rogue gangs from global jihadi groups trying to challenge Hamas by shooting at us”.

The rockets aimed at the Israeli city of Ashkelon and town of Netivot on Wednesday night were the second such attacks in the past week. They broke a hiatus in cross-border fire since a 50-day Israeli war with Hamas ended with an Egyptian-brokered truce in August.

A radical Islamist Salafist group posted a statement on Twitter claiming responsibility for firing the rockets. Calling itself the Omar Brigades, the group said it was retaliating for Hamas's killing of an Islamic State supporter in a Gaza shootout on Tuesday.

“We are continuing with our jihad against the Jews, the enemies of God, and no one will be able to deter us,” the statement said, using the term in Arabic for holy war.

In last week's rocket fire, Gaza militants launched their deepest strike at Israel since the 2014 war, hitting near the port city of Ashdod.

Israel blamed Islamic Jihad militants for that rocket assault and launched retaliatory air strikes then as well.

Rockets fired from Gaza at southern Israel


Three rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza, police said on Wednesday, after warning sirens were heard in Israeli towns near the border.

There were no casualties, police said. No militant groups in Gaza issued any claims of responsibility.

A week ago Gaza militants launched their deepest strike at Israel since a 50-day war of last summer, striking near the port city of Ashdod.

Israeli warplanes launched strikes in response at four targets and then the tensions subsided. Israel blamed Islamic Jihad militants for that attack and media reports said Hamas Islamists who dominate in Gaza had arrested militants behind that strike.

The latest rocket strike follows a Gaza shootout on Tuesday in which Hamas security forces killed an activist of a rival Islamist militant group.

Witnesses said the slain man in Gaza was active with a Salafist group, radicals supportive of struggles being led in the region by Islamic State and al-Qaeda.

Israel, Palestinians pull back after Gaza exchange of fire


Israel and Palestinian militants appeared to be pulling back on Wednesday from further hostilities after Israel responded with air strikes to a rocket attack from the Gaza Strip.

No casualties were reported on either side of the border, and Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon blamed the rocket launching late on Tuesday on “elements in the Islamic Jihad” group in the Hamas Islamist-run enclave.

His comments followed Israeli media reports that infighting among Islamic Jihad militants may have precipitated the rocket firing without the permission of Hamas authorities.

The reports also said that Hamas, whose forces are dominant in the territory of 1.8 million Palestinians, had arrested Islamic Jihad members behind the missile strike, the deepest into Israel since the end of last year's 50-day Gaza war.

An Islamic Jihad spokesman was not available to comment. Hamas officials had no comment on the reported arrests.

The projectile struck near the Israeli port city of Ashdod, some 20 kilometers (12 miles) from the Gaza frontier, Israeli security forces said, and hours after the attack there was still no claim of responsibility.

Israeli warplanes hit back early on Wednesday, striking four “terror infrastructures” in the southern Gaza Strip, the Israeli military said. Gaza residents said the targets included training camps used by Islamic Jihad militants.

No further fighting was reported, and it appeared that Israel chose to attack evacuated or open areas in a signal to Hamas that it hoped to avoid escalation.

It also issued a warning that further rocket strikes would draw a more powerful response.

“If there is no quiet in Israel, the Gaza Strip will pay a very heavy price, which will cause anyone planning to challenge us to regret their actions,” Yaalon said in a statement.

In comments posted on a pro-Hamas website, Sami Abu Zuhri, a spokesman for the group, said Israel was responsible for “the escalation last night and it must stop these foolish acts”.

Last year, militants in Gaza launched thousands of rockets and mortar bombs into Israel during a July-August war in which Israeli shelling and air strikes battered the small, coastal Palestinian enclave.

The region has been largely quiet since an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire that halted seven weeks of fighting.

Hamas says Islamic State has no foothold in Gaza


Islamic State sympathizers in the Gaza Strip are making their presence felt on social media, but the enclave's Hamas rulers said on Thursday the group has no real foothold in the Palestinian territory.

Statements signed “Supporters of the Islamic State” have appeared recently on Twitter and several websites, accusing the Islamist group Hamas of arresting dozens of jihadists and threatening attacks in Gaza unless they are released.

Hamas said it had detained what it described as “lawbreakers” after an explosion earlier this month near a Hamas security headquarters and another blast outside the headquarters of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

A senior security official loyal to Hamas described the explosions, for which no group has claimed responsibility, as no more than “noise bombs”, saying Islamic State existed “only on the Internet” in Gaza.

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, said “there is nothing called the Islamic State in the Gaza Strip”, adding that the group only had “some supporters” in the territory.

“We do not fight people because of what they think, but at the same time, we do not allow any violations of security, whether by groups or individuals,” Abu Zuhri said.

Gaza-based political analyst Hani Habib said some activists identifying with ultra-conservative Salafi Islam were using social media to try to draw the attention of Islamic State and seek its recognition.

“They were inspired by the presence of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and moreover in the Egyptian Sinai peninsula,” said Habib, dismissing any notion that Salafis in Gaza had formally joined Islamic State.

Islamic State, an ultra-hardline offshoot of al Qaeda, has declared a caliphate in captured territory in Iraq and Syria and has gained global notoriety for posting gruesome videos of its members killing captives. It is sometimes referred to as ISIS.

Salafi groups began to surface in Gaza in 2006 and have had a tense relationship with Hamas, which seized the territory from forces loyal to the Western-backed Fatah group in 2007.

A senior Israeli security official said it was hard to assess whether there was a serious Islamic State presence in Gaza.

“There are lots of these hardline, ‘right-of-Hamas’ Islamist groups operating in Gaza. That’s been the case for years. So if one decides to change its name to something ISIS-related, that’s not in itself so significant,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“The fact is that Hamas is trying to curb them, and mainly because they are a threat to its rule.”

Hamas imposed taxes create new hardships for Palestinians in Gaza


This story originally appeared on The Media Line.

The Islamist Hamas, which controls the densely populated Gaza Strip, has added another burden to the lives of residents of Gaza with the introduction of new import taxes on items considered non-essential. The announcement has local merchants fuming, with some threatening to cease imports into Gaza altogether.

Over 400 items will be affected, including a variety of crops, meat, fruits, vegetables, clothing and electronics. Most of the items are imports from Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

“The purpose of the law is to ease the suffering of the poor in the Gaza Strip,” said Ahmad Abu Halbiya, a member of Hamas’s parliamentary block who passed the new tax. “We’ll collapse as a society in Gaza if we do not impose these taxes. It’s not much but it will benefit the citizens of Gaza – especially the security police who need money for cars.” Abu Halbiya said that flour and medicines, as essential goods, would be exempt from the tax.

Abu Halbiya acknowledged that Hamas’s 40,000 employees will be the main recipients of the new tax revenue.

The new tax was drafted after members of parliament studied the basic needs of the people of Gaza, said Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesperson. Abu Zuhri justified the decision by saying that “The civil servants of Gaza haven’t received regular salaries in over a year. The Strip cannot function without civil servants, who are the pillar of every state.” The tax will be brought in gradually so as to not overly burden Gazans, starting at around 1% and eventually increasing to 10%.

The payment of civil servants in Gaza has been a controversy in the past with Hamas and Fatah, which controls the West Bank, disputing who should cover the cost of workers wages.

“The introduction of these types of taxes, is unacceptable to the Palestinian private sector, at this time,” Nabil Abu Meilq, President of the Palestinian Contractors in Gaza, told The Media Line. He explained that merchants and citizens should have been considered when this tax was proposed and that not enough time was spent discussing the effects that the new ruling will have. In the context of Gaza’s damaged economy, which has deteriorated since the fighting with Israel in 2014, this tax will make things worse as customers will simply buy less and this in turn will affect merchants, he said.

Dozens of merchants recently gathered in front of the Gazan legislative building to demand an abolition to the import taxes.

“Life here gets impossible, we can’t take it anymore,” Saleem Nazal, a merchant at the gathering told The Media Line. “Further decisions like this will lead to more families dying in the Mediterranean Sea, looking for a better life away from Gaza.” Nazal said that if the government decision were to go through then he would no longer be able to afford to import fruit and vegetables.

But not everybody was sympathetic to the merchants. Jamal Nassar, a Hamas member of parliament, said he could not understand the vendors’ rage.

“The [price] increase falls on the consumer, not on you,” he told a group of merchants, “so why this vicious attack? None of you is affected; it’s the citizen who are. If I am bad to the citizen, let him not vote for me.”

Nassar’s comments at a press conference provoked some Hamas parliamentarians, and members of the Popular Front Party (PFP), to publically distance themselves from the tax. Parliamentarians said that the taxation would lead to additional unemployment and poverty and that Nasser’s tone towards the electorate would cause people to turn on Hamas.

“Such laws will defeat Hamas from the inside,” Fathi El-Sheikh, a parliamentarian from the Islamic party, told The Media Line. “More limitations and the imposition of additional taxes on food and clothing will cause people to turn against Hamas for the first time.” Increased taxes and the existing limitations on the hours of electricity available in the Gaza Strip, with unemployment at 55%, risked creating an explosion which Hamas would not be able to control, said El-Sheikh.

Electricity supply in Gaza has long been intermittent with many homes receiving only a few hours of electricity a day.

El-Sheikh pointed to the humanitarian situation in Gaza as the cause of his concern. The United Nations declared a humanitarian emergency in Gaza last July – a crisis which has not dissipated with over 100,000 resident still displaced in January of this year. Gisha, a humanitarian NGO dealing primarily with the humanitarian situation in Gaza, said last month that over 70% of Gaza residents are in need of humanitarian assistance and that even prior to last summer’s fighting 57% of Gazans suffered from food insecurity.

Access and trade into Gaza has been limited since the imposition of a blockade by Israel in 2007, following the rise to power of the Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip. The blockade was increased in 2013 when the Egyptian government moved to cut off tunnels maintained by Hamas from Gaza into Sinai.