IDF attempted ’08 operation to capture Hamas commander to swap for Shalit


Israel attempted to capture the former head of Hamas’ military wing in 2008 in order to exchange him for then-captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, according to newly released documents.

The operation involved special forces and the top brass of Israel’s defense establishment. Soldiers were dispatched to Gaza to nab Ahmed Jabari, formerly the head of Hamas’ military wing, as he was driving to visit one of his two wives, the Times of Israel reported. The Israel Defense Forces then planned to offer Jabari in exchange for Shalit, whom Hamas had captured two years earlier.

But the operation was aborted when Jabari’s car made an unexpected turn.

After indirect negotiations with Hamas, Shalit was exchanged for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in 2011. In November 2012, Israel assassinated Jabari at the beginning of Operation Pillar of Defense, an eight-day conflict with Hamas in Gaza.

Rocket explodes in Israel, first attack from Gaza since November truce


A rocket fired from Gaza exploded in Israel on Tuesday, the first such attack since a November truce and an apparent show of solidarity with West Bank protests after the death of a Palestinian in an Israeli jail.

Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, a militant group in Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's West Bank-based Fatah movement, claimed responsibility for the rocket strike, the Palestinian Ma'an news agency said. No casualties were reported.

Hamas, the Islamist group that controls the Gaza Strip, said it was investigating. There was no military response from Israel, hours after the rocket slammed into a road near its southern city of Ashkelon.

The rocket was the first to hit Israel since a November 21 truce brokered by Egypt that ended eight days of cross-border air strikes and missile attacks in which 175 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed.

Tuesday's strike came after a surge of unrest in the West Bank, that has raised fears in Israel of a new Palestinian Intifada (uprising).

On Monday, thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank turned out for the funeral of Arafat Jaradat, 30, who died in disputed circumstances in an Israeli prison on Saturday.

Israeli police shot and wounded five Palestinian youths during confrontations in Bethlehem and outside a West Bank prison later the same day, leaving a 15-year-old boy in critical condition, Israeli and Palestinian medical sources said.

An Israeli military spokeswoman, commenting on the incident, said troops had opened fire at Palestinians who threw homemade hand grenades at a Jewish holy site called Rachel's Tomb, in the Bethlehem area.

Before the rocket attack from Gaza, media reports said Israeli officials had hoped the Palestinian protests were winding down a week after they were launched in sympathy with four prisoners on intermittent hunger strikes.

The U.S. State Department said American diplomats have contacted Israeli and Palestinian leaders to appeal for calm.

The United Nations coordinator for the Middle East peace process, Robert Serry, called for an investigation of Jaradat's death. Jaradat had been arrested a week ago for throwing stones at Israeli cars in the West Bank.

Palestinian officials said he had died after being tortured in prison. But Israel said an autopsy carried out in the presence of a Palestinian coroner was inconclusive.

Palestinian frustration has also been fuelled by Israel's expansion of Jewish settlements in territory captured in a 1967 war and deadlocked diplomacy for a peace agreement since 2010.

Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Jeffrey Heller

Shalit reveals how he survived in first public interview since freedom


One year after his release, Israeli Channel 10 News aired parts of an interview with former Hamas captive Gilad Shalit on Oct. 11, during which Shalit revealed details of how he survived his ordeal and spent his days in captivity.

“During the day, I played all kinds of games with them, like chess and dominos. I also played all kinds of odd games with myself, mainly games related to sports. I would form a ball out of socks or shirts and try to aim for the garbage bin. I would invent all kinds of activities and also write things at times. For example, I would play the geographical game known as ‘country-city,’” Shalit said.

Shalit said he didn’t maintain a consistent diary. “I wrote all kinds of random notes and followed sports events. I would draw a map of Israel, Mitzpe Hila [where he and his family reside] and all the homes there, just to remember the place and imagine it. I did that in the early days of captivity, so that I wouldn’t forget. Some [captors] didn’t like the fact that I was writing things down. They thought I was gathering information.”

Regarding the moment of his release, Shalit only remembers feeling tense. “During the ride (to Egypt), I felt very anxious. I didn’t know if something would happen, if they would try to hurt me, or something would go wrong at the last moment. When I got out of the vehicle and realized I was in Egypt, I felt relief. I saw dozens of people, hundreds of them, after being in contact with only a few people for all those years. There were so many people there. It was a strange feeling, a sense of shock. I also began to feel relieved.”

Read a translation of the full interview on the Israelife blog.

Shalit gives first interview in Israel since release


Gilad Shalit in his first interview in Israel since his release spoke of how he passed the time in captivity and his sense of great “relief” upon being set free.

Israel's Channel 10 played excerpts from the interview, undertaken near the first anniversary of Shalit's release by Hamas in a prisoner exchange from his more than five-year captivity in the Gaza Strip. The full interview will be broadcast in coming days, according to Channel 10.

Shalit, who was an Israeli soldier when he was taken captive, said he played board games with himself and made a basketball out of socks that he aimed at the wastebasket. He said he also drew maps — of the country, of his community and of his favorite places — so he would not forget them.

Speaking of his release, Shalit said he felt a sense of great “relief” when he crossed into Egypt and that he was disconcerted by the “flurry” of people around him after only seeing a few people for nearly six years. Shalit said he felt a lot of “pressure” during the trip from where he was hidden to the Rafah border before being set free.

He added wryly that when he was forced to be interviewed on Egyptian television, the interviewer was the first woman he had seen since being taken captive.

Read a translation of the full interview on the Israelife blog.

Palestinian hunger strikers denied release


Israel’s Supreme Court rejected an appeal for the release of two hunger-striking Palestinians.

In its decision on Monday, the court reportedly said that Bilal Diab, 27, of Jenin, and Thaer Halahla, 33, of Hebron, both members of the Islamic Jihad terrorist organization, remained a terror threat to Israel and that a hunger strike is not enough of a reason to release them.

They have been on a hunger strike for 70 days and are hovering near death, according to reports.

The men are protesting being held in administrative detention. A prisoner can be held in administrative detention, without charges being brought, for up to four months; it can also be renewed.

Diab has been in an Israeli jail for nine months, and Halahlah has been in custody for 22 months.

The court said that the length of the time that the men had been in custody merited a review of the concept of administrative detention and that individual cases should be investigated more thoroughly.

Some 1,400 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails are on an open-ended hunger strike launched three weeks ago. The mass hunger strike is calling for an end to solitary confinement and isolation; for allowing families of prisoners from the Gaza Strip to visit their loved ones; and allowing prisoners to have newspapers, learning materials and specific television channels. It is also protesting administrative detention.

Ten of the hunger strikers reportedly are currently under hospital supervision.

Hamas has threatened consequences if any of the hunger strikers die. “If that happens, you can expect both the expected and the unexpected from us,” Gaza City Hamas leader Khalil al-Haya said over the weekend.

Israeli prisons commissioner Aharon Franco last week told Palestinian hunger strikers that he had named a panel to address the prisoners’ demands, according to Arab news sources.

More than 4,000 Palestinian prisoners are being held in Israeli jails, with some 320 in administrative detention.

Two high-profile hunger strikers were released earlier this year after cutting deals with Israeli authorities.

Thousands rally in Gaza, West Bank for hunger striker


Several thousand Palestinians rallied in Gaza and the West Bank Friday in support of jailed Islamic Jihad leader Khader Adnan, who is on the 62nd day of a hunger strike to protest against his detention by Israel.

“We are all Khader Adnan,” chanted crowds gathered in the Gaza Strip, with activists from the main political parties joining forces in a rare display of Palestinian unity.

Adnan, 33, has been refusing to eat since mid-December following his arrest in the occupied West Bank. He is being held under so-called “administrative detention,” which means Israel can detain him indefinitely without trial or charge.

The Islamic Jihad group, which advocates the destruction of the state of Israel, has said it will escalate violence if Adnan dies, following reports that his health was deteriorating.

“We will pursue our Jihad and resistance. We will sail in the sea of blood and martyrdom until we land on the shore of pride and dignity,” top Islamic Jihad leader Nafez Azzam said during a Friday sermon at Gaza’s oldest al-Omari mosque.

The Physicians for Human Rights group in Israel (PHR), which has been monitoring Adnan’s condition in an Israeli hospital, said Friday he was “in immediate danger of death,” adding that he had suffered “significant muscular atrophy.”

The Israeli army has said in a statement that Adnan was arrested “for activities that threaten regional security.” It has not given further details.

Adnan owns a bakery and a fruit and vegetable shop in his West Bank village, Arabeh. He has served as a spokesman for the Islamic Jihad, which describes him as a local leader.

MORE HUNGER STRIKERS

At least 5,000 people took to the streets of Gaza, waving a mix of black Jihad flags, the green flags of Islamist group Hamas and the yellow flags of the secular Fatah movement of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Witnesses said hundreds had also demonstrated in the northern West Bank city of Jenin.

Palestinian officials said many other prisoners in Israeli jails had started hunger strikes to support Adnan, including Hassan Salama, a senior armed commander of Hamas who is serving life terms for masterminding suicide bombings against Israelis.

Palestinian prisoners have regularly staged hunger strikes in the past to try to gain better conditions or to denounce the Israeli occupation of Palestinian Territories.

However, such protests usually end quickly and officials said no-one had persisted for as long as Adnan, who is married with two children and whose wife is expecting a third infant.

The Islamic Jihad’s Azzam accused Arab states and Western powers of ignoring Adnan’s protest. “Shame on the nations of hundreds of millions (of Muslims) for the fact that Khader Adnan is still in prison,” he said in his Friday sermon.

Hamas, which governs Gaza, said it was pushing the Arab League and Egypt to press for the release of Adnan.

“The Palestinian people, with all its components and its factions, will never abandon the hero prisoners, especially those who lead this hunger strike battle,” said Hamas’s top authority in the Mediterranean territory, Ismail Haniyeh.

The PHR rights group said Adnan could die even if he broke his fast. “There is a risk to his health even if he starts eating now because his system has got used to not having any food at all,” a spokesman said.

Additional reporting by Jihan Abdallah in Ramallah; editing by Crispian Balmer

Gilad Shalit undergoes surgery to repair abduction injuries


Gilad Shalit has undergone surgery to repair wounds from his 2006 abduction.

The successful surgery Friday at Rambam Hospital in Haifa removed seven pieces of shrapnel in Shalit’s hand, according to news reports.

Shalit was released from captivity two and a half weeks ago in exchange for over a thousand Palestinian prisoners. He will spend his second weekend of freedom at Rambam for observation.

Earlier this week, a lawmaker from the haredi Orthodox Shas Party, Menshulam Nahiri, criticized Shalit for not spending his first weekend in synagogue.

Shas lawmaker chides Shalit for his Shabbat at the beach


A lawmaker from the haredi Orthodox Shas Party said Gilad Shalit should have spent his first Shabbat of freedom not at the beach but praying in synagogue.

Meshulam Nahari also said during a Shas convention this week that the 25-year-old soldier should have recited the benediction of deliverance in synagogue, a Jewish prayer of thanksgiving recited when someone survives a difficult or dangerous time, Ynet reported.

Photos of Shalit at the beach were published in the Israeli daily Haaretz; a Haaretz photographer had been camping on the beach with his family when he saw the Shalits arrive early in the morning.

Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef has called on Nahari to help bring Shalit closer to Judaism, Nahari said according to Ynet.

Nahari invited the Shalit family to come to his home to say the benediction prayer, Ynet reported.

Shalit was freed last month in a prisoner swap for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails after spending more than five years in captivity. The Israeli media has for the most part respected the family’s wish for privacy.

Shalits trying to adjust to new normal


A week after Gilad Shalit returned to Israel after being held in captivity for more than five years in Gaza, things were getting back to normal at the Shalit family home—sort of.

The Israel Police said they would remove a barrier placed in front of the family’s house in Mitzpe Hila. The flowers, placards and other paraphernalia that littered the streets of the northern Israeli town following the celebration marking Shalit’s return have been cleaned up. Even the Shalit protest tent opposite the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem was taken down and carted away.

But with the 10-day moratorium on Israeli media intrusion in the Shalits’ town set to expire, and with Israelis still eager for images of the newly released soldier, it’s unlikely that Gilad, 25, will be able to have a normal life anytime soon.

On Monday, Israeli President Shimon Peres paid a visit to the Shalit family home, the first visit by an Israeli official. Almost immediately, photos and video of Peres and Gilad Shalit sitting side by side on the family couch landed on Israeli news websites and TV programs.

“You have no idea how thrilled I am to meet you here in your home alive, healthy and whole,” Peres said. “I came to express to you how proud I am, and how proud the entire nation is, by your ability to withstand extremely difficult conditions in captivity.”

Shalit thanked the president.

A day earlier, Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni, head of the Kadima Party, slammed the prisoner swap that brought Shalit home Oct. 18 in exchange for the release of 1,027 Arab prisoners, saying it has weakened Israel and strengthened Hamas.

Her criticism during interviews with the Israeli daily Yediot Achronot and Reshet Bet Radio did not sit well with lawmakers in the coalition or the opposition. They swiftly assailed Livni for waiting until Shalit was freed to voice her opposition to the deal, saying it showed a lack of leadership. Livni reportedly did not go public earlier with her dissent at the request of Noam Shalit, the soldier’s father.

The Israeli Cabinet approved the deal by a 26-3 vote.

In the few days since his release, Shalit has been captured by news photographers lying in wait for his next move. He was pictured taking a short walk with his mother—and several security guards—on the first morning following his release and riding a bicycle near his home. He also has played Ping-Pong. On the Simchat Torah holiday, he met with old friends, his father told reporters.

The Shalits are starting to learn that they have to maneuver to avoid the paparazzi. On Saturday, Shalit and his father left home early and took a side road to evade photographers on their way to a beach outing reportedly at Gilad’s request. But a photographer from Haaretz was camping on the beach with his family and snapped a photo of the soldier swimming near the shore as his father watched over him.

“In the last few years I have taken many photographs of the Shalit family surrounded by countless cameras,” photographer Yaron Kaminsky told his newspaper. “It was nice to just run into them like that, at the beach, during Gilad’s first Saturday since being freed from captivity.”

Kaminsky said he told Noam Shalit that he had taken the photo and received his tacit approval to publish it.

Meanwhile, supporters and curiosity seekers continue to flock to Mitzpe Hila for a glimpse of Gilad or simply to have their photo taken in front of the Shalit family home. Many are leaving flowers, drawings and packages containing candy and other gifts for the family.

Noam has provided reporters with several updates since his son returned. On Oct. 20, he said he does not believe Hamas’ claims that Gilad was not tortured while in captivity.

“Gilad went through harsh things, at least in the first period. It is correct that after that, after that first period, the way he was treated improved,” the elder Shalit said.

During the same news conference in front of the family home, Noam Shalit also told reporters that Gilad had an appetite for food but that he was having trouble sleeping through the night. On the day of his release, Gilad appeared wan and pale.

Noam added that his son had few requests and that he was “going with the flow.”

Israel, Hamas reach Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange deal, officials say


Israel and Hamas reached a prisoner exchange deal that will secure the release of abducted Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit, officials at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said on Tuesday.

Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office said that “a brief window of opportunity has been opened that would possibly lead to Gilad Shalit’s homecoming,” adding: “The window appeared following fears that collapsing Mideast regimes and the rise of extremist forces would make Gilad Shalit’s return impossible.”

The officials’ comment came following a report by Al-Arabiya, according to which a deal has indeed been reached between Israel and Hamas geared at the release of the IDF soldier, in Hamas captivity since 2006.

Netanyahu called an emergency cabinet meeting scheduled for later Tuesday in which ministers are to discuss the status of talks geared at securing Shalit’s release.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Hamas founder, father of Israel spy, released from Israeli prison


Israel released from prison one of the founders of Hamas, who had been imprisoned for five years for terrorist activities.

Sheik Hassan Yousef, one of Hamas’ most prominent figures in the West Bank, was released Thursday along with 200 Palestinian prisoners as a gesture in honor Ramadan, said the Israel Prison Service.

Yousef was due to be released in mid-September. He was in the news last year when it was revealed that his son, Mosab Hassan Yousef, had served as a spy for Israel within Hamas for more than a decade, preventing dozens of attacks. He subsequently was disowned by his father.

Israel accepts terms of German deal for Shalit


Efforts are intensifying for the release of Israeli hostage Gilad Shalit on the fifth anniversary of his capture by the terrorist organization Hamas.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel had accepted a German-mediated deal for Shalit’s release, and was awaiting Hamas’ response.

“This proposal was harsh; it was not simple for the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said Sunday according to a statement released after the weekly Cabinet meeting.  “However, we agreed to accept it in the belief that it was balanced between our desire to secure Gilad’s release and to prevent possible harm to the lives and security of the Israeli people.  As of now, we have yet to receive Hamas’s official answer to the German mediator’s proposal.”

Mass rallies were planned this weekend in Israel, including a protest Saturday outside Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence in Caesaria, the Shalit campaign’s weekly protest in Jerusalem on Sunday and a 24-hour event at Herzliya Studios, Israel’s largest TV facility, where dozens of celebrities and politicians will each spend an hour in “solitary confinement” in solidarity with the captured soldier.

A rally was also planned for the Italian capital of Rome, where the mayor was to help release 1,826 yellow balloons, corresponding to the number of days Shalit has been in captivity.

On Friday, The Obama administration called for Gilad Shalit’s immediate release. “Nearly five years have now passed since Hamas terrorists crossed into Israel and abducted Gilad Shalit,” it said.  “During this time, Hamas has held him hostage without access by the International Committee of the Red Cross, in violation of the standards of basic decency and international humanitarian demands.  As the anniversary of his capture approaches, the United States condemns in the strongest possible terms his continued detention, and joins other governments and international organizations around the world in calling on Hamas to release him immediately.”

France’s foreign minister, Alain Juppe, said France “has not forgotten Gilad Schalit” and noted that he is the French hostage held the longest in captivity.

“On the eve of the sad anniversary of the fifth year of Gilad Schalit’s captivity, I want to reiterate that the situation of our compatriot, held in defiance of the most basic principles of international humanitarian law, is unacceptable,” Juppe said in the statement, which was posted on the website of the French Embassy in Israel.

Shalit is a citizen of both France and Israel, and according to the website meetgilad.com is an honorary citizen of Paris, Rome, New Orleans and Miami. He has also just been named an honorary citizen of Baltimore.

Twelve Israeli, Palestinian and international human rights organizations issued a joint statement Friday calling on Hamas to end its “illegal” and “inhumane” treatment of Shalit, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the International Federation for Human Rights and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. Some of those groups had never before spoken out on his behalf, according to a report by the International Middle East Media Center, which called the joint statement “unprecedented.”

Amnesty International said in a press release that it is circulating a petition among its worldwide membership, calling upon Hamas to ease the suffering of Shalit and his family, and will present the petition to Hamas’s prime minister in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has issued a statement saying the lack of information about Shalit was “unacceptable,” and demanded that Hamas issue proof immediately that he is still alive.

Shalit, 24, was captured on June 25, 2006, taken across the border from Israel into Gaza, and has been held since then by Hamas.

Get out of jail free


Candles in the wind