Yahya Sinwar, left, and Ali Khamenei (Getty Images via JTA)

I’m rubber, you’re glue: Iran and Hamas impose sanctions targeting US, Israel


Israel’s archenemies apparently couldn’t wait until April Fool’s Day.

On Sunday, geopolitics got all “hafouch,” or turned upside down, as they say in this country. Iran imposed penalties on U.S. firms for working with Israel, and Hamas closed its border with the Jewish state. Stereotypically, of course, it’s the other way around, with the United States and Israel doing the sanctioning of Iran and Hamas.

According to Iran’s IRNA state news agency, the “reciprocal” sanctions on 15 U.S. companies are for alleged human rights violations and cooperating with Israel. IRNA quoted Iran’s foreign ministry as saying the companies had “flagrantly violated human rights” and cooperated with Israel against the Palestinians.

Iran’s seizure of the companies’ assets and ban on contact is largely symbolic since the companies don’t do business with Iran. Among the targeted firms are Re/Max Real Estate, which Tehran accuses of “buying and settling home in settlements located in the occupied territories.”

Emily Landau, a senior researcher at the Institute for International Security Studies, a leading Israeli think tank, said Iran actually has a long history of using the United States’ tools against it.

“This is well-known Iranian tactic of turning the tables on the U.S.,” she wrote in an email to JTA. “Iran has done it many times before over the past years. They take the same messages that the U.S. sends them, about how Iran must do this or the other, and sends them back in reverse.”

Meanwhile, in a rare move, Hamas shut the Erez crossing, which is how people move between Israel and Gaza, due to the assassination of a senior official in its military wing Friday. Hamas officials have blamed the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad for the killing of one of its top military leaders, who was shot dead by unknown gunmen Friday in Gaza.

“The closure is being implemented as part of the steps taken by Hamas security forces as a result of the crime of the assassination of Mazan Fukha,” the spokesman for the Interior Ministry said in a post on his official Facebook page.

Israel has maintained a blockade of Hamas-run Gaza since 2007, but it grants permits for people to cross through Erez for business or humanitarian reasons. Hamas apparently suspects that collaborators with Israel were involved in the shooting. Israel has not commented.

So far, Hamas has refrained from responding with rockets. Israeli analyst Avi Issacharoff wrote in The Times of Israel Sunday that Hamas may be looking to avoid a new war.

“Yet, for all its rhetoric, Hamas has yet to show any firm evidence of Israeli involvement, a fact that may give the organization the political maneuvering room to avoid a dramatic response that could lead to a full-fledged confrontation,” he wrote.

But he noted the group’s new Gaza chief, Yahya Sinwar, was known to be dangerous and unpredictable when he was head of Hamas’ military wing, and Israel-Hamas tensions can heat up quickly in the summertime.

U.S.-Iran relations have also gotten hotter President Donald Trump took office in January. Twice in as many months the United States has imposed new sanctions on foreign individuals and companies for allegedly supporting Iran’s weapons program. Last month’s sanctions also targeted Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

In response to a proposal by U.S. lawmakers to go further and brand Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization, a senior Iranian lawmaker threatened that his country could do the same to the CIA.

Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but in international conflict it tends to escalate.

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

Hamas closes border between Israel and Gaza


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia.

IDF targets Hamas positions after rockets fired from Gaza at southern Israel


JERUSALEM – Israel’s military targeted two Hamas positions in the northern Gaza Strip hours after two rockets were fired from Gaza at southern Israel.

One of the rockets fired on Saturday landed near the southern Israeli coastal city of Ashkelon and the second appeared to fall in Gazan territory. The launches triggered the Code Red rocket alarm system.

No injuries or damage was reported in the attack on Israel. No casualties were reported in Israel’s strike on the Hamas targets later on Saturday.

On Sunday morning the Code Red alarm system sounded in several Gaza border communities. The IDF said it was a false alarm.

A member of Palestinian security forces loyal to Hamas stands guard at a site, which according to the Gaza police, was hit by an Israeli air strike, in the east of Gaza City. March 16. Photo by Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/REUTERS.

Israel strikes 2 Hamas targets in Gaza in response to rocket fire


Israeli airstrikes hit two Hamas positions in northern Gaza overnight Thursday in response to a rocket fired from the strip at southern Israel.

No damage or injuries were reported from the Gaza rocket strike, which struck an open area of the Sdot Negev Regional Council, near the Gaza border, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

The Code Red rocket warning system did not sound in the area since it was determined that the rockets would fall in an unpopulated area.

The Palestinian news agency Maan reported there were no injuries from the Israeli Air Force strikes but three electric lines were downed.

The IDF said it holds Hamas responsible for any strikes emanating from Gaza.

President Donald Trump greets Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on Feb. 15. Photo by Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

Why Trump shook up the two-state solution


At his press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Donald Trump uttered words that will live in Mideast infamy— “I’m looking at two-state and one-state. I like the one that both parties like.”

On the surface, those words appear innocuous—let the parties decide their future. But in truth, they represent a diplomatic earthquake. No Western leader has ever had the guts to challenge the conventional wisdom that the two-state solution is the only desirable outcome to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ever since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, this two-state idea, which really means the establishment of a Palestinian state, has been the shiny object worshipped by diplomats around the world and repeated like a mindless mantra at one failed peace conference after another.

By disrespecting this shiny object, Trump introduced the idea that the object may, in fact, not be worth all the worship. His ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, tried to soften Trump’s stance when she expressed U.S. support for the two-state solution, but she pointedly added, “we are thinking out of the box as well.”

Thinking out of the box is what Trump did when he refused to bow down to the two-state idol. What may have looked so beautiful twenty years ago—two states for two peoples living next to each other in perfect harmony—has become, in reality, a potential disaster for all sides. For one thing, the high likelihood that Hamas and ISIS would swoop in and turn the West Bank into another terror state is disastrous not just for Israel, but for the Palestinians and the United States. This is the kind of mud on the idol of a Palestinian state we rarely hear about.

One reason we rarely hear about it is that the notion of a Palestinian state is still as shiny as ever. On the Israeli side, it would mean separating from two million Palestinians and securing its future as a Jewish democracy. And on the Palestinian side, it would mean securing their national aspirations. Those ideals are still in play, but only in the abstract. In reality, even moderate commentators like Aaron David Miller have called the two-state solution “dead.”

It doesn’t matter who you blame for this death. The fact is, the more the world has pursued the two-state solution, the more distant it has become. No conflict in modern history has generated more frequent miles, fancy hotel rooms and media coverage than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Former Secretary of State John Kerry made over twenty trips to the region to try to jumpstart talks. He could barely manage to arrange “talks about talks.”

A fresh observer like Donald Trump, with his business background, probably looked at this dead corpse and figured he had little to lose by shaking things up. Since the obsession with the two-state solution seems to have killed the two-state solution itself, maybe he figured: Let’s see what happens if we lose that obsession. A good dealmaker, after all, never shows desperation and keeps his options open.

Ironically, putting an alternative on the table may well improve the odds of a two-state solution, if the parties end up seeing that the alternative is even worse. We’ve never had a serious debate about this, partly because, up until now, that alternative has come from the fringes. Trump has now put it front and center. The New York Times published a remarkable op-ed the other day by Jewish settler leader Yishai Fleisher, who calmly laid out five alternatives to the two-state solution. That sounds to me like a new chapter in a long debate.

A wild card that is sure to influence this debate is Trump’s desire to involve in the peace process Arab states that have grown closer to Israel. Maybe this is Trump’s way of shaking up the Palestinians and telling them they’re no longer the only game in town.

Let’s face it. A huge reason for the death of the two-state solution has been the chronic refusal of the Palestinian leadership to make any concessions or even to make any counter-offers to Israeli proposals– which is consistent with their continuous promotion of Jew-hatred and glorifying of terrorism. They’ve never paid a price for this. If anything, the world has rewarded them. My guess is, they’re now looking at Trump and saying, The party’s over. This guy’s not going to coddle us. He’s going to demand some real concessions, or else.

Will this Trumpian disruption lead to anything good? Will it empower the moderates on all sides and create a perfect storm of circumstances that can bring the two-state corpse back to life?

Who knows. The only thing we know for sure is that when you’re looking at certain death, any alternative is welcome.


David Suissa is president of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal and can be reached at davids@jewishjournal.com.

10 US Muslim leaders urge Hamas to release remains of Israeli soldiers


Ten U.S. Muslim leaders, including both Muslims in Congress, urged Hamas to return to Israel the remains of two soldiers.

“In the name of Almighty God the most merciful and compassionate, we appeal to you on the basis of humanity and charity to release the remains of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, two Israeli soldiers killed in action, to their families,” said the letter sent Sept. 21 to Khaled Meshal, a leader of Hamas, the terrorist group that controls the Gaza Strip.

Signatories include Reps. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and Andre Carson, D-Ind., the two Muslim congressmen; M. Ali Chaudry, the former mayor of Basking Ridge, New Jersey.; Sayyid Syeed, the director of interfaith alliances at the Islamic Society of North America; and Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who directed an unsuccessful and controversial effort to build an Islamic community center near the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York.

“Both Israelis and Palestinians have felt the pain of war, of losing loved ones and children far too soon,” the letter said. “The Holy Qur’an reminds us that ‘Whoever pardons and makes reconciliation will receive his reward from Allah.’ We ask you to act upon these words and allow the Goldin and Shaul families to bury their loved ones.”

Shaul and Goldin were killed during the 2014 war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

Rabbi Marc Schneier, the president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, initiated the letter. He made it public on Sunday at the annual Washington conference of the Israeli-American Council, where Goldin’s parents were in attendance.

“Here, in the presence of the Goldin family, I am proud to share that many of the most prominent leaders of America’s Muslim community have joined their humanitarian campaign,” Schneier said. “We are hopeful that these voices can make an impact in bringing Hadar and Oron home.”

The Israeli-American Council’s CEO, Shaul Nicolet, praised the foundation “for taking a leadership role in this campaign to bring Israel’s boys home.”

Goldin’s parents last week opened an exhibition of their son’s artwork at United Nations headquarters in New York in a bid to raise awareness about their quest to return their son’s remains.

Shaul’s father, Herzl, died Sept. 2, from intestinal cancer. His family released a letter he had written to his son.

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.

Gaza reconstruction proceeding too slowly


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

Two years after the fighting between Israel and the Islamist Hamas movement in the Gaza Strip, about 70,000 Palestinians have not returned to their homes that were damaged in the fighting. Just 200 homes have been completely rebuilt and the families have returned.

“We ask the international community to increase their donations and the countries who pledged billions to respect their pledge,” Adnan Abu Husna, spokesman for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA, told The Media Line. “The people of Gaza should not get to the point that they feel they are forgotten.”

Abu Hasna said that nearly 140,000 homes were damaged either totally or partially, mostly from Israeli airstrikes. Of those, 9500 were completely demolished, and 5000 were so damaged that people cannot live there. At an international donors conference soon after the fighting ended, UN officials asked for $724 million, but only received $257 million.

Abu Hasna says the UN has helped nearly 70,000 families with some type of financial assistance. While thousands of families were originally housed in UN schools, all of those whose homes were destroyed have either rented new homes, paid for by the UN, or are living with relatives.

The pace of reconstruction has been glacial, partly because Israel accuses the Islamist Hamas, which controls Gaza, of diverting cement and other materials to build weapons and tunnels. Those allegations were strengthened last week, when the Israeli Shin Bet announced charges in two separate cases, against local employees in Gaza allegedly working for Hamas.

In the first case, Israel accused Mohammed al-Halabi, the head of World Vision in Gaza, of diverting more than seven million dollars each year since 2010 to Hamas in Gaza. “We condemn any diversion of funds from any humanitarian organization,” World Vision International President Kevin Jenkins said in a statement. “If any of these allegations are proven to be true, we will take swift and decisive action,” although added that the organization had “not seen any of the evidence,” and suggested the numbers had been exaggerated.

“World Vision's cumulative operating budget in Gaza for the past ten years, was approximately $22.5 million, which makes the alleged amount of up to $50 million being diverted hard to reconcile,” the statement read. The organization suspended its operations in Gaza.

In the second case involving the UN Development Program, Israel charged Wahid Borsch, funneled resources to Hamas to build a naval port for Hamas commandos. UNDP denied any wrongdoing, saying that “the rubble in question was transported to its destination according to written instructions from the Ministry of Public Works and Housing of the Palestinian Authority as to where it should be placed.”

UNDP officials also questioned the details of the case, saying they had not yet seen the evidence against Borsch.

“We are waiting for the proof on all of these things,” Dania Darwish, a spokeswoman for UNDP told The Media Line. “Wahid is a contractor at UNDP. He does not have any management responsibilities. UNDP has strict processes and guidelines that must be followed.”

In any case, even if all of the damaged homes are rebuilt, the economy in Gaza faces growing challenges. A World Bank report found that Gaza’s unemployment is the highest in the world, and many of Gaza’s residents are completely dependent on UN food aid.

Although Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, it continues to control what goes into and out of Gaza. Palestinians call it a blockade, while Israel says it has worked to prevent a humanitarian crisis.

“Everyone talks about what is going in to Gaza, but we also have to think about what is going out,” UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness told The Media Line. “Unless Gaza can export there won’t be a viable economy there. There have been no meaningful exports from Gaza since 2007.”

A spokesman for Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) said they were unable to provide details of Palestinians exports allowed to leave Gaza.

Israeli envoy: Hillary Clinton led the way to Gaza cease-fire in 2012


Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador the the United States, credited Hillary Clinton with the leading role in achieving a cease-fire in Israel’s 2012 conflict with Hamas.

Clinton flew to the region and conducted shuttle diplomacy between Egypt and Israel to end hostilities between Israel and Hamas through indirect negotiations. Dermer said that because of the quick cease-fire, the eight-day conflict was the only one of Israel’s three rounds of fighting with Hamas to not include an Israeli ground operation in Gaza.

“She came in and had to get it right, and had, I think, basically one shot,” Dermer said at an event hosted by the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. “A lot of lives were saved.”

Dermer said the talks defined “how the U.S. and Israel work together as allies.”

He also defended Israeli settlement expansion in areas that would likely be part of a Palestinian state in a negotiated agreement. Dermer admonished the international community for criticizing Israeli building in settlements that would likely remain part of Israel. And he said that settlers living deeper in the West Bank should, in the event of Palestinian statehood, be given the option of gaining citizenship in that state.

“When you think settlers are undermining the prospects of peace, you are saying Palestine must be ‘judenrein,'” he said, using a Nazi German term meaning “free of Jews.” “There is no reason, concretely and in principle, why Jews should not be able to live in a future Palestinian state.”

Early in the event, a protester disrupted Dermer, standing in front of him, holding a banner and yelling “Occupation is not a Jewish value. Settlements are an obstacle to peace. We need justice and peace. We need equality for all people in Palestine and Israel.” After security guards escorted her out, protesters outside chanted “Free, free Palestine.”

Dermer said the next U.S. president should pursue the peace process by engaging with the Palestinian Authority and the wider Arab world on parallel tracks. As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has suggested, Dermer said shared opposition to Iran and the Islamic State terror group could draw Israel and Arab states closer together.

“The Arab states in the region understand the dangers of Iran, understand the danger of ISIS, and see Israel as a potential ally in that struggle,” he said. “One of the opportunities for a new administration is to take this new realignment in the Arab world and see how to translate that into a policy that advances peace.”

Israel says Arab citizen illegally crosses into Gaza Strip


An Israeli from the country's Bedouin Arab minority illegally crossed into Gaza on Tuesday, Israel's military said, an incident that may affect a proposed prisoner swap with the Palestinian enclave's Hamas authorities.

Hamas says it is holding two Israeli soldiers whom the army declared dead after they were lost in action in the 2014 Gaza war. The Islamist militant group also says it has two Israeli civilians who previously walked into the fenced-off enclave.

The man who entered Gaza on Tuesday was not authorized to do so and was believed to be inside Palestinian territory, a military spokeswoman said. She declined to say how she knew he is a Bedouin Arab citizen, or to elaborate on the incident.

“This matter is under investigation,” the spokeswoman said.

Palestinian authorities did not immediately comment, but witnesses in the Gaza Strip reportedIsraeli spotter aircraft overhead.

Israeli officials previously said they sought to recover the two soldiers' remains and the two civilians held by Hamas, signaling willingness to repeat past amnesties of jailed Palestinians in a trade. Hamas has conditioned any discussion of the four on a preliminary release of detainees byIsrael.

Relatives of the two Israeli civilians who previously entered Gaza, one of whom is Jewish and the other a Bedouin, have described them as suffering from psychological problems.

Will Gaza Get a Port?


A proposal by an Israeli minister to construct an island to serve as a port that would open up the blockaded Gaza Strip to the world has gained adherents from Israeli security experts, who view it as a way to avoid further rounds of conflict with the coastal enclave run by the militant Hamas movement.

But the initiative by transport and intelligence minister Yisrael Katz is receiving a cold reception from both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, both of which doubt Israel is actually interested in alleviating the suffering of Gazans.

For almost the last decade, since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007, the Strip has been under Israeli and Egyptian blockade, its contact with the outside world closed off and its economy ravaged by the strictures and three wars with Israel. The goods that do pass into Gaza come overland after rigorous Israeli inspection.

Israel says the sea blockade is aimed to stop smuggling of weapons to Hamas but Palestinians and their supporters view it as a collective punishment originally aimed at turning the population against the Islamist group.

But now, Katz says, his plan for a port on an artificial island off the Gaza coast can remove Gaza's isolation while safeguarding Israel's security.

''The artificial international island that will be linked to the coast by a bridge with a security checkpoint will give the Strip a humanitarian and commercial outlet to the world without endangering Israel's security,'' he told reporters during a press conference last week.

Katz came up with his proposal based on assessments of security specialists that the situation in Gaza, where there is no economic horizon, is untenable and ''that in the end Gaza will collapse,'' his spokeswoman, Maayan Sarig, told The Media Line. He also hopes the project will reduce international pressure on Israel over its blockade.

Katz's plan calls for creating an eight square kilometer island linked to Gaza by a four and a half kilometer bridge. He says that in the future an airport could be established, and hotels could be built. The cost of creating the island would be five billion dollars, to be paid for by the international community.

The bridge will have a security checkpoint to be controlled by international security forces while Israel would maintain control at sea, according to the plan.

On an island, isolated on all sides by the sea, it would be easier to achieve full monitoring of goods than if the port were on the mainland, security experts say.

The plan has been in the works for several years but Katz is now pressing for its early approval by the security cabinet after its main opponent, former defense minister Moshe Yaalon, stepped down from the cabinet last month. Yaalon doubted that inspection arrangements could be devised guaranteeing Israel's security, according to the Haaretz newspaper.

A spokesman for the new defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, declined to comment on the plan as did a spokesman for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Katz's office says the plan has the backing of security specialists. Shaul Shay, former deputy head of Israel's National Security Council, voiced enthusiasm for it during an interview with The Media Line.

''It's a good idea,'' he said. ''Gaza needs a port that will enable passage of goods and necessities for its 1.5 million people,'' he said. But, he stressed, Israel would need to have oversight of the security inspections. ''We can't rely on someone else for this.''

Shay, who is affiliated with the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, said the plan, if implemented, would reduce chances of another round of conflict to follow up three wars in the last eight years. ''Everything that gives hope is good,'' he said, adding that such a project will create many jobs.

''A project of this size with international funding makes the chance that they will start something against Israel smaller, it gives them something to lose. The more they have to lose the lower will be their motivation to open a round (of hostilities).''

Military commentator Erez Wiener, writing in the NRG website, also voiced backing for the plan and said it would provide a window of opportunity to invite Turkish participation in development of the port, something that could push forward Israeli-Turkish reconciliation, which was agreed upon Sunday to end a six year rift. ''A project like this with international funding can be an excellent vent to release hot air and to provide hope to Gaza residents,'' he wrote.

But Palestinians from both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority voiced criticism and distrust of Katz's intentions. ''This seems to be from the imagination. I don't know if there is seriousness on the Israeli side to do that,'' said Ghazi Hamed, a Hamas leader who is deputy foreign minister in Gaza. ''From time to time, the Israelis talk of giving, facilitating and support but the situation in Gaza is still miserable.'' He said that what is needed is a comprehensive lifting of the Israeli siege on the Strip. ''We need Israel to lift the siege, to open the crossings, to allow for export and import and for all building materials and free movement and access of people to and from Gaza and to establish the seaport and airport.''

Asked if Hamas would agree to an Israeli or a third party role at the port, Hamed said it is not time to answer that question.

''Let's talk about the principle-if Israel agrees to the principle to lift the siege, establish the seaport and open the crossings we can talk about other arrangements.''

Meanwhile, Hossam Zumlot, strategic affairs adviser to West Bank based Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, accused Israel of trying to reinforce the split between the West Bank and Gaza. ''This is a dubious and politically motivated plan to ensure the continuation and institutionalization of Palestinian division, the final severing of Gaza from the rest of the occupied territory of the state of Palestine and delivering a lethal blow to the prospects of a two state solution.''

''We question the motive,''Zumlot added. ''If the motive is elimination of human suffering than lift the illegal, criminal siege imposed for nine years. But the motive is not that.”

Jeremy Corbyn says he regrets support for Hamas, Hezbollah


Britain opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn said he regrets supporting Hamas and Hezbollah, and that comments by former London Mayor Ken Livingstone asserting that Hitler supported Zionism were “wrong.”

Corbyn testified on Monday before the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee hearing on rising anti-Semitism.

Corbyn, a harsh critic of Israel who in 2009 called Hezbollah and Hamas activists “friends” after inviting representatives from both terrorist groups to visit the British Parliament as his guests, is accused of encouraging vitriol against Israel and Jews by not distancing himself from groups such as Hamas.

“It was inclusive language I used which, with hindsight, I would rather not have used,” he said of using the term “friends” to describe Hezbollah and Hamas activists. “I regret using those words. I have done so on many occasions.”

Corbyn was asked about remarks that Livingstone made in April during a radio interview, in which he asserted that Hitler’s policy when he was elected in 1932 that Jews should be moved out of Europe and be moved to Israel was  “supporting Zionism.” Livingstone was suspended from the party for the remark.

“Ken Livingstone made remarks that are wholly unacceptable and wrong,” Corbyn said.

Corbyn rejected a question about whether he was fostering an atmosphere of anti-Semitism in the Labor Party that he heads.

“That is unfair. I want a party that is open for all,” Corbyn asserted. “A long time ago there were sometimes anti-Semitic remarks made, when I first joined the party and later on. In recent years, no, and in my constituency not at all.”

He rejected reports saying that he compared Israel to the Islamic State in a speech against anti-Semitism delivered last week.

It is reported to be the first time that an opposition leader has given testimony to a select committee hearing.

Netanyahu to U.N. chief: Urge Hamas to free Israelis, return bodies


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon to use his position to help pressure Hamas to repatriate two Israeli citizens and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers.

In a joint appearance here during Ban’s 48-hour visit with Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Netanyahu also called on the U.N. to “highlight Hamas’s crimes and understand that our security measures are aimed only at keeping our citizens safe from this threat and we use judicious force in this regards.”

Ban and Netanyahu also met with the families of presumed killed Israeli soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, whose bodies are being held by Hamas in Gaza. Two Israeli citizens are also being held by Hamas in Gaza — Avera Mengistu, a 28-year-old Ethiopian-Israeli, and an unidentified Bedouin-Israeli who crossed into Gaza of their own volition.

“Hamas is cruelly and illegally holding the remains of our soldiers and holding our citizens. I ask you to use your standing to help return home these soldiers and these citizens. It’s a humanitarian position and elementary humanitarian requirement that Hamas and its criminal activities is of course throwing into the winds,” Netanyahu said Tuesday during an appearance with Ban in front of reporters before the two leaders started a private meeting.

Netanyahu reminded Ban of his stated goal during a 2013 visit to Israel to work to halt anti-Israel bias in the international body.

“Regrettably, the goal of treating Israel fairly remains unfulfilled across a wide spectrum of U.N. activities and U.N. forums,” Netanyahu said.

“I know that your desire for all countries to be treated fairly and equally remains true today. I urge you to dedicate your last six months as the Secretary General of the United Nations in trying to right this wrong. And when I say that, it’s not just for Israel’s sake. It’s for the credibility of the UN,” Netanyahu said.

Ban called on Israel to work quickly toward a two-state solution.

“I encourage you to take the courageous steps necessary to prevent a one-state reality of perpetual conflict,” Ban says. “No solutions to the conflict will be possible without the recognition that both Palestinians and Jews have undeniable historic and religious connection to this land. No solutions can come through violence. It must be based on mutual respect and recognition of the legitimate aspirations of both peoples.”

Earlier on Tuesday Ban visited the Gaza Strip, where he called on Israel to lift the “suffocating” blockade on the coastal strip, Reuters reported.

“The closure of Gaza suffocates its people, stifles its economy and impedes reconstruction effort. It is a collective punishment for which there must be accountability,” Ban said.

The call to lift the closure came a day after Israel and Turkey announced a reconciliation agreement which keeps the blockade in place.

‘Dig’ producer sues insurer, saying 2014 Hamas rockets were terrorism, not war


USA Network’s owner is suing the company’s insurer for refusing to cover expenses after filming of the series “Dig” in Israel was interrupted by Hamas rocket attacks.

The Atlantic Specialty Insurance Company is denying a $6.9 million claim because it defines the 2014 rocket attacks as war, not terrorism, the Hollywood Reporter reported Monday. The insurer excludes coverage for war or warlike action, according to the suit.

The mystery-thriller miniseries is set in Jerusalem and began filming in Israel, but shifted production to New Mexico in the summer of 2014 when Israel was hit by multiple rockets fired by the terrorist group Hamas, which governs Gaza. 

 

Israel launched the seven-week Operation Protective Edge in response to multiple Hamas attacks that summer.

In a complaint filed in a California federal court on Monday, Universal Cable Productions, of which USA Network is a subsidiary, the company is arguing that the coverage should have been provided because the insurance policy does not exclude acts of terrorism, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

The complaint alleges that a representative of the insurance company told NBCUniversal in a letter dated July 28, 2014, that “the terrorism coverage should not apply” because the focus of the acts “is not the United States or its policy” and “the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury has not certified” that summer’s events as “acts of terrorism.”

The suit also argues that the Gaza Strip is not a “recognized sovereign nation.”

“The United States government does not recognize the Gaza Strip as a sovereign territorial nation, and does not recognize Hamas as a sovereign government,” the complaint argues. “Rather, the United States government has officially designated Hamas as a terrorist organization. Nevertheless, Atlantic has ignored the United States government position and applicable law.”

The production company called the insurer’s position “a self-serving attempt to invoke the war exclusion and avoid its coverage obligations.”

The complaint also references State Department reports and travel advisory warnings about Hamas and says that the insurer initially agreed that an insured event had occurred but then changed its position.

The series, which was canceled after airing for one season in the spring of 2015, was created by “Homeland” creator and Israeli director Gideon Raff. Pro-Palestinian groups objected when it was announced that it would be filmed in the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, which has been a flashpoint in Israeli-Palestinian relations.

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.

Israel Air Force destroys Hamas post after mortar fire


Retaliating for the firing of mortars on Israeli troops near the border with Gaza, Israel Air Force aircraft destroyed a Hamas facility south of Gaza City.

The strike Friday morning, in which a missile was launched at a Hamas watch post, followed the targeting from the Gaza Strip of soldiers patrolling the fence along the southern part of the Gaza Strip, Army Radio reported. The firing of two mortar rounds at Israel Defense Forces troops resulted in no injured and no damage.

The strike Friday was the third time in three days that Israel has retaliated for mortar attacks from Gaza. One woman was killed Thursday during one such attack, according to Palestinian sources in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

At least 16 mortar rounds were launched into Israel from Gaza this week – double the number recorded in the previous four months. Israel holds Hamas directly responsible for the recent attacks, which broke a lull in April, when no launches were recorded, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said in a statement.

On Thursday, the IDF said it had uncovered a tunnel from Gaza leading into Israel, whose function was to enable terrorist attacks on Israeli soil. Stretching for hundreds of yards, the tunnel was 90 feet underground, according to the IDF.

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.

Jerusalem bus bombing was Hamas suicide attack, Israel says


The recent bus bombing in Jerusalem was a suicide terror attack planned by Hamas, and several members of the cell responsible were arrested, Israeli security forces said Thursday.

The bomber was identified by the Shin Bet security service as Abed al-Hamid Abu Srour, a 19-year-old Palestinian from near Bethlehem in the West Bank. He was among the 21 people injured in the attack Monday on the No. 12 bus, and died of his injuries Wednesday.

The Shin Bet and Israeli police, who are jointly investigating the attack, partially lifted Thursday a gag order on the case.

Abu Srour, who lost both of his legs in the explosion and underwent several surgeries, died at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem. Afterward, Hamas claimed in a statement that the teenager was a member of its military wing.

Several Hamas members from Bethlehem have been arrested on suspicion of helping Abu Srour carry out the attack, according to the Shin Bet. Their names remain under gag order.

Abu Srour’s father on Thursday denied that his son was a terrorist.

“I was not expecting that my son would do such act. My son did not make me feel even for 1 percent, that he has feelings or thoughts like that. Never. I know that my son failed in one subject in his secondary schools exam and was preparing to take the exam again and pass it and focus on his future. This is the deal that we had together, me and him,” Mohammad Abu Srour said, according to The Jerusalem Post.

The family discovered a will written by Abu Srour, according to the French news agency, AFP, which cited the Hamas-affiliated Palestinian Information Center website. The Arabic website reported that Srour’s father had been asked to identify his son’s body.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health later announced the body had been identified, according to the Palestinian Maan news agency.

Six people wounded in the attack remain hospitalized, including a teenage girl in serious condition.

The victims had burns on their upper bodies, as well as wounds from nails and ball bearings packed into the explosive device. The wounds, according to Avi Rivkind, head of Hadassah’s trauma unit, were similar to those from previous Jerusalem terror attacks.

The attack was the first bus bombing in Israel in several years. Such attacks terrorized Israelis during the second intifada, a violent Palestinian uprising from 2000-2005.

The attack followed a six-month wave of Palestinian stabbings and shooting attacks in Jerusalem, the West Bank and across Israel. The rate of the attacks had slowed to normal levels, though Israeli officials remained concerned about a flare-up in violence surrounding upcoming religious holidays, including Passover.

Bernie Sanders and Israel’s ‘disproportionate’ use of force


There’s been much agitation recently over Bernie Sanders’ accusation that Israel used disproportionate force in Gaza during the 2014 summer war with Hamas.

In an April 1 meeting with the New York Daily News, Sanders cited Israel’s killing of more than 10,000 civilians, an inflated figure, during that conflict as evidence of Israel’s use of disproportionate force. When an interviewer looked it up and found that the United Nations estimate was 1,462 killed, the Independent senator from Vermont and Democratic presidential candidate immediately accepted the revised figure but held to his view that Israel’s actions were disproportionate.

Sanders reiterated the assertion of disproportionality during last week’s debate with rival Hillary Clinton, saying that the war wounded some 10,000 civilians. His unusually critical position on Israel has generated a great deal of commentary, both supportive and critical, especially given his Jewish background.

On Monday, JTA sent some questions to the Sanders campaign to try to drill down a bit more why the candidate believes Israel’s response was disproportionate, what he thinks the United States should have done to ensure a “more proportionate” response and whether he believes the U.S. is using disproportionate force in its own wars against terrorists in places like Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria.

The Sanders campaign declined to address JTA’s questions, instead directing us to a page on the campaign website outlining Sanders’ Mideast policies.

Here are the questions we sent the Sanders campaign:

1. Sen. Sanders has said he believes Israel’s use of force in Gaza in the 2014 conflict was disproportionate. Is that conclusion based on the militant-to-civilian Palestinian death ratio, the lopsided Israeli-to-Palestinian ratio of civilian deaths, or something else?

Israel contends that Palestinian civilian deaths largely were the result of Hamas intentionally conducting its military operations from within civilian areas – rocket launchings from residential neighborhoods, the use of a hospital as a military baseattacks from schools. Israel also contends that its own low Israeli civilian death toll was the result of its sophisticated defense systems, including its Iron Dome missile-defense system and the precautions Israeli civilians took.

Would the senator feel differently about proportionality if more Israeli civilians had been killed? Does the senator believe Israel should have held its fire in responding to rocket attacks from civilian areas? What sorts of steps does the senator believe Israel should have taken (but did not) in minimizing civilian casualties?

2. Should the United States take (or have taken during the 2014 conflict) steps to pressure Israel to use more proportionate force toward the Palestinians? Should the United States withhold some military aid to Israel to get the Israelis to shift policy toward the Palestinians? Should the United States withhold its veto in the U.N. Security Council as a means of pressuring Israel to shift its Palestinian policies? Would you, as president, consider withholding Israeli military aid or the Security Council veto?

3. Sen. Sanders has spoken several times about the disproportionality of Israel’s response in the 2014 Gaza conflict. What is his view on the proportionality on the use of American force in Afghanistan, Syria, Yemenand elsewhere? Does he believe Israel or the United States has a worse record on civilian deaths killed in military strikes?

 

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.

Citing Hamas violation, Israel temporarily blocks Gaza cement imports


Israel has temporarily barred cement and other construction materials from entering the Gaza Strip after finding that Hamas was diverting some of the materials for its own use.

The Coordinator for Government Activities in the Territories, or COGAT, said the cement freeze went into effect on Sunday, the Times of Israel reported.

According to an announcement on the Israeli coordinator’s Arabic-language Facebook page, the deputy director of Hamas’ Economic Ministry has confiscated an undisclosed amount of cement that had been earmarked for rebuilding private-sector infrastructure damaged in the 2014 war with Israel.

Reconstruction agreements between Israel and the Palestinians prohibit Hamas, which governs Gaza, from accessing any imported construction materials over Israeli concerns that Hamas will use the materials to rebuild its vast network of underground tunnels designed for launching terrorist attacks against Israel and kidnapping Israeli soldiers.

Hamas has acknowledged rebuilding the tunnels, and numerous Hamas workers have died in recent months when tunnels they were working on collapsed.

“We are disappointed that Hamas continues to harm and take advantage of the Palestinian population, only to advance the personal interests of the organization,” COGAT wrote on its Facebook page, according to the Times of Israel.

The United Nations condemned the “deviation of materials” in a statement released Monday but did not mention Hamas.

“Those who seek to gain through the deviation of materials are stealing from their own people and adding to the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza,” said Nickolay Mladenov, the U.N.’s special coordinator for the Middle East peace process.

Hamas says it holds two Israeli captives, remains of two others


Hamas said for the first time that it is holding two Israeli men and the remains of two Israeli soldiers.

The Islamist group’s military wing released a televised statement Friday through official Hamas media, The Jerusalem Post reported.

The statement said the group is demanding Israeli concessions in exchange for information about the condition of the “four prisoners of war.”

The two Israelis who are believed to be alive — an Ethiopian Jew and a Bedouin Israeli Arab, both said to be mentally ill — have been missing since separately crossing the border into the Gaza Strip. Hamas, which governs Gaza, had not previously acknowledged having any information about the men’s whereabouts.

Avraham Mengistu, the Ethiopian-Jew, was 29 and suffering from severe depression when he illegally wandered across the border in 2014. His family recently traveled to Geneva to appeal for international help in bringing him home.

The Bedouin, who is from the Negev, has not been publicly identified. He is said to have mild psychological issues and a history of entering Jordan, Egypt and Gaza.

The two dead Israelis whose remains are in Gaza are Lt. Hadar Goldin and St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul, both killed during Operation Protective Edge in 2014.

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.

Cruz highlights Iron Dome funding in national security address


Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz hailed the success of Israel’s Iron Dome defense system in intercepting rockets fired by Hamas from Gaza as he unveiled his plan to rebuild the U.S. military on Tuesday. This statement came despite Cruz voting against the annual National Defense Authorization Act, a comprehensive defense budget authority bill that helps fund missile-defense programs like the Iron Dome.

Speaking aboard the USS Yorktown in South Carolina, Cruz pledged to invest in the U.S. military to ensure that it has the resources it needs to protect our homeland and maintain its status as a beacon of freedom and opportunity across the world. “America needs a strong military to protect our great nation and the freedoms we hold dear,” said Cruz. “Rebuilding the American military will be one of the most serious tasks facing the next Commander in Chief. We will invest in our military with a simple goal: more tooth, less tail.”

A rebuilt military and a strong defense, according to Cruz, will restore America’s strength so “it will be feared by our enemies and trusted by our allies.” The Texas Senator highlighted the success of the Iron Dome, funded in large part by the U.S. Congress, as he also called for greater collaboration with the Jordanian, Egyptian and Israeli militaries, and to partner with them on the war against terror.

As Cruz was delivering his remarks, the Rubio campaign distributed a memo that accused Cruz of lying on national security matters. As Rubio did in the past, his campaign pointed out that in 2013, Cruz signed on to Senator Rand Paul’s budget resolution proposal that, among other cuts, slashed defense funding and international aid, “including aid to Israel.” 

“Senator Cruz will say or do anything to win an election including lying to cover-up his own weak record on national security. Senator Cruz is the only candidate in this race who has consistently sided against our military and intelligence professionals and whose foreign policy vision changes with his poll numbers,” Joe Pounder, Rubio’s spokesman said in a statement.

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.

Israelis near Gaza border concerned about stepped-up tunnel construction


Israelis living next to the Gaza border are reporting that they can literally feel the effect of Palestinians digging tunnels nearby.

Gadi Yarkoni, the head of the Eshkol Regional Council, said Thursday that many residents of Moshav Pri Gan are complaining that they have heard increased underground digging in the past few weeks and that it even causes the floors of their homes to shake, the Times of Israel reported.

Yarkoni expressed disappointment that the Israel Defense Forces still has not built protective barriers to block cross-border tunnels, despite promises to do so after Operation Protective Edge, its summer 2014 war in Gaza. No money has been allocated for the $700 million project, the Times of Israel said, citing a Haaretz report.

Other evidence of tunnel digging has been surfacing in recent weeks.

Eight members of the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas disappeared Wednesday when rain and flooding caused an underground tunnel near Jabaliya to collapse. A tunnel 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.

Hamas’ vast network of tunnels, many leading into Israel, was a major issue during the 2014 war. During its operation, 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 IDF 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.”

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.

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