Screenshot from YouTube

Israeli man stabbed by Palestinian in supermarket


An Israeli man was seriously wounded in a stabbing by a Palestinian assailant at a supermarket in central Israel in what police say was a nationalistic terror attack.

The victim in the early Wednesday afternoon attack in the central Israeli city of Yavneh is an employee of the supermarket, part of the large Shufersal chain.The assailant, a 19-year-old man from a village near Hebron in the West Bank, was originally identified as a supermarket employee, but security officials later said that he had entered Israel illegally.

The victim, 42, was taken to a hospital in Rehovot, where he is in serious condition with several stab wounds to his  upper body. As of late Wednesday afternoon he remain in surgery with life-threatening injuries.

Civilian bystanders wrestled the attacker,  to the ground. Some then kicked the stabber, Ynet reported. He was turned over to the Israel Security Agency, or Shin Bet, for questioning.

Israeli forces kill two Palestinian assailants


Israeli security forces said they shot dead two Palestinian assailants on Saturday in separate incidents in Jerusalem and the West Bank, as 12 weeks of heightened violence showed no sign of abating.

Since the start of October, Israeli forces or armed civilians have killed at least 128 Palestinians, 79 of whom authorities described as assailants. Most others have been killed in clashes with security forces.

Almost daily Palestinian stabbing, car-rammings and shooting attacks have killed 20 Israelis and a U.S. citizen, raising fears of a wider escalation a decade after the last Palestinian uprising subsided.

In the latest fatal incident, the Israeli military said a Palestinian rammed his car into Israeli soldiers at a West Bank checkpoint. “Forces responded to the imminent danger and fired toward the perpetrator,” the military said, adding that one soldier had been wounded and evacuated to hospital.

The 56-year-old Palestinian man died after being taken to hospital, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.

The Palestinians disputed the Israeli military's account of the incident. Jamil Dawoud, 49, said he was traveling in the car behind the one of the man shot, at the checkpoint where soldiers were inspecting the vehicles and that the soldier who opened fire appeared to misunderstand what had happened.

“There were three soldiers. One soldier signaled for the man to come forward, a soldier was on the edge of the road and he tried to move backward when he slipped. The second soldier opened fire, firing four bullets at the man, after that they tried to give him first aid,” Dawoud said.

Hours earlier police officers shot dead a Palestinian who tried to stab a policeman near Jerusalem's walled Old City.

Officers approached a man they said was following Jewish worshippers, spokeswoman Luba Samri said, and asked to see his identification papers. “The terrorist whipped out a knife and tried to stab a police officer. He was swiftly shot and neutralized,” Samri said.

The incident was captured on security camera footage.

Palestinian leaders say a young generation sees no hope for the future living under Israeli security restrictions and with a stifled economy. The latest round of U.S.-brokered peace talks collapsed in April 2014.

Violence has also been triggered by Muslim anger over stepped-up Israeli visits to Jerusalem's al Aqsa mosque complex. The site, Islam's holiest outside Saudi Arabia, is also revered by many Jews as a vestige of their biblical temples.

Israeli leaders says Islamist groups who call for the destruction of Israel have played a major role in inciting the recent violence.

Palestinians attack Israeli soldiers, civilians with knives – one killed


Three Palestinians attacked Israeli soldiers in the West Bank and civilians in the Tel Aviv suburbs with knives on Monday and one of them was shot dead,Israeli authorities said. 

Now in its second month, the worst spate of violence since the 2014 Gaza war has been caused by tensions over Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque compound, a site sacred to both Muslims and Jews, and by deadlocked talks with Israel on Palestinian statehood.

The Israeli military said troops approached two Palestinians at a petrol station near a checkpoint inside the West Bank boundary. One of them tried to stab a soldier and was shot dead, the army said. Palestinian officials said he was 16 years old. 

The second Palestinian was arrested, the Israeli army said.

Later, a 19-year-old Palestinian from the West Bank city of Hebron stabbed three people in the Tel Aviv suburb of Rishon Lezion before being overpowered and arrested, Israeli police said. They said two of those stabbed, one an 80-year-old woman, were in serious condition. The third was slightly hurt.

In Netanya, north of Tel Aviv, another West Bank Palestinian in his 20s stabbed a 70-year-old man, seriously wounding him, and was shot and wounded by police, Israeli authorities said. 

At least 67 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces since Oct. 1. Forty of them were armed mainly with knives, while others were shot during violent protests, Israel says. An Israeli air strike in retaliation for a cross-border rocket attack also killed a Gaza woman and her daughter.

Eleven Israelis have been killed in stabbings and shootings by Palestinians.

A growing number of visits by religious Jews to al-Aqsa plaza – Islam's holiest site outside Saudi Arabia and revered in Judaism as the location of two destroyed biblical temples – have stirred Palestinian allegations that Israel is violating a long-running agreement banning non-Muslim prayer there.

Israel has accused Palestinian officials of inciting the violence by spreading the allegations, which it says are false.

In West Bank stabbing attacks, 1 woman injured and assailant killed


An Israeli woman was stabbed in the back in the West Bank shortly after a Palestinian man who attempted to stab an Israeli soldier in Hebron was shot and killed.

The woman was moderately wounded in the Wednesday afternoon attack outside the Rami Levy supermarket at the Gush Etzion Junction, the Israeli military reported. The attacker was caught and detained by police.

The supermarket has been profiled in the international media for having both Jewish and Palestinian employees as well as shoppers.

In the Hebron attack an hour earlier, the alleged assailant was shot by security officials after attempting to stab a soldier near the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.

The Palestinian Maan news agency reported that Israeli soldiers planted a knife on the Palestinian man.

It was the fourth attack in Hebron in four days.

Soldier and Eritrean migrant killed, 11 people wounded in Beersheba attack


An Israeli soldier and Eritrean migrant were killed and at least 11 people were wounded in a shooting and stabbing terror attack at the Central Bus Station in Beersheba.

Police said the Palestinian assailant stabbed a soldier and grabbed his M-16 rifle, then opened fire on the bus station.

Migrant Haftom Zarhum, 29, was also shot by police and died hours later at Soroka Hospital in Beersheba. Video images show him lying in a pool of his own blood being kicked by bystanders who thought he was an assailant. Eleven others were wounded in the terror attack.

It is not known how the attacker entered the bus station in the southern Israeli city with weapons, since security guards are posted at all entrances.

Four of the wounded are police officers, according to police, and were taken to Soroka Hospital in Beersheba.

Bus and train service to the area was suspended.

Palestinian protesters rioted Sunday evening in the West Bank cities of Hebron and Tulkarem, throwing rocks, firebombs and burning tires at Israeli soldiers and security officers.

Viral video puts Israelis and Palestinians at sharp odds


To Palestinians, the video shows a 13-year-old boy being left to die in the street as Israelis shout abuse at him. To Israelis, it shows a teenage knife attacker bleeding as police keep angry locals back and wait for an ambulance.

The two minutes of amateur footage has become one of the most divisive videos to emerge from a wave of violence sweeping Jerusalem, where clips of attacks are being shared at high speed on social media in what has been dubbed a smartphone intifada.

The problem, as with so much in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is about interpretation.

Palestinians watch the shaky video, with voices in Hebrew shouting “Die, son of a bitch,” and draw one set of conclusions that fuel anger and alarm. Israelis watch the same – and subsequent police CCTV footage showing the two Palestinian teenagers running through the streets with knives and attacking an Israeli boy – and come to totally different conclusions.

 

Posted by د . ناصر اللحام on Monday, October 12, 2015

 

“Both sides are living in different dimensions,” said Daniel Nisman, an intelligence and security analyst who runs the Levantine Group. “You can have an incident happen and it's interpreted in two completely different ways instantly.”

And it is also immediately shared with tens of thousands of people on social media platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook, where each community's outrage is reinforced in an echo chamber, driving an ever-deeper wedge between the two sides.

The video in question shows 13-year-old Ahmed Manasra, a Palestinian from Beit Hanina in northern Jerusalem, lying on the street in Pisgat Zeev, a nearby Jewish settlement, with his legs twisted behind him and blood coming from his head after being hit by a car.

It was taken on Monday, minutes after two Israelis, including a boy on a bicycle, were stabbed outside a nearby shop. Israeli police have accused Manasra and his 15-year-old cousin of carrying out the attacks. The family has denied they did it.

The footage shows police keeping passersby back while abuse is shouted. After a minute or so, an ambulance arrives, although it is not immediately clear if Manasra is treated. At one point he sits up, but the police tell him to lie back down and they can be seen checking him for explosives. No knife is visible.

OUTRAGE ON BOTH SIDES

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian leaders quickly expressed outrage, referring to the boy and his cousin as having been “executed” by Israel “in cold blood.”

Ahmed's uncle told Reuters the boys had done nothing wrong, were not carrying knives and had gone to the area to rent video games. The boy was killed senselessly, he said.

In fact, Ahmed Manasra is still alive and is being treated in an Israeli hospital. His cousin was shot and killed by police at the scene. The Israeli boy stabbed remains in serious condition, while the second victim was lightly wounded.

Israel on Thursday released photographs showing Manasra sitting up in Jerusalem's Hadassah hospital, wearing green medical overalls and bandages around his head. In several of the pictures he is looking straight at the camera.

On Wednesday, two days after the first video emerged, Israeli police circulated closed-circuit TV footage showing the build up to the attack and the incident itself.

Two boys, one wearing the same t-shirt as Ahmed Manasra, can be seen chasing after a man with knives drawn. The man runs away and the boys turn towards some nearby shops. Another camera then captures them running along the street with knives drawn.

A third camera angle shows the moment they appear to stab the boy on the bicycle, and a fourth angle shows one of the stabbers running across the street before being shot by police.

CCTV DELAY

All the evidence presented by Israeli authorities pointing to the fact the teenage cousins carried out the stabbings has done little to quell Palestinian anger – the first video is still being watched much more than the CCTV footage.

Akram Attallah, a Palestinian political analyst who spoke before the CCTV images emerged, described the video of Manasra lying wounded as akin to the photograph of the Syrian boy lying dead on a beach in Greece.

“It was provoking to the national dignity of every Palestinian and therefore an immediate response was inevitable,” he said, suggesting it may have spurred other attacks.

From Israel's point of view, the way the videos of attacks are being distributed rapidly on social media, often whipping up a frenzy of anger, is a difficult phenomenon to counteract. Seven Israelis and 32 Palestinians, including 10 attackers, have been killed in a two-week surge in violence.

“The Israeli side that has the CCTV footage showing the actual attack had to wait two days before putting it out because of internal investigations,” said Nisman. “By then, the damage had already been done. It's too late.”

Abbas has not responded since the images of the boy alive in hospital were released. In online postings, many Palestinians have said they believe he is dead and a “martyr”. Asked for comment on Thursday, one Palestinian official said he now believed Ahmed was alive, but was still not convinced he and his cousin carried out the stabbings.

Israel says Facebook, YouTube videos encouraging Palestinian attacks


Israel said on Thursday it had asked Facebook and YouTube to remove videos it says have been encouraging Palestinian violence against Israelis in the past week.

Four Israelis have been killed in Jerusalem and the West Bank in the past week, and two Palestinians have been shot dead and scores injured in clashes with security services. Three suspected Palestinian assailants have been killed by police.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon, providing an excerpt from a letter sent to Google Israel, whose parent company owns YouTube, said contact had also been made with Facebook.

“The videos depict recent terror attacks, praise the assailants and present Jews and Israelis in a hateful and racist manner, and since their publishing, three more attacks have taken place so far,” the letter said.

Spokespeople for Facebook and Google Inc said they could not comment on specific videos or contacts with governments.

“YouTube has clear policies that prohibit content like gratuitous violence, hate speech and incitement to commit violent acts, and we remove videos violating these policies when flagged by our users,” said Google spokesman Paul Solomon.

The letter to Google included two YouTube video links, one of which has already been removed.

In one clip, archived on an Israeli news site, a song in Arabic-accented Hebrew calls for the killing of “Zionists” while another is an animation of the drive-by shooting of an Israeli couple killed in the West Bank a week ago.

Asked about the Israeli appeal, a Facebook spokeswoman said: “We want people to feel safe when using Facebook. There is no place for content encouraging violence, direct threats, terrorism or hate speech on Facebook.”

The spokeswoman declined to comment on whether Facebook had received complaints about anti-Arab postings.

But she said Facebook, as a rule, urged people “to use our reporting tools if they find content that they believe violates our standards so we can investigate and take swift action.”

Social media sites often flare-up when Israeli-Palestinian violence rises, such as the 2014 Israel-Gaza war, with fiery debates between users and sometimes even officials or fighters on either side, spreading across digital platforms.

A comment posted this week on the Facebook page of a prominent far-right Israeli settler activist called for people to use clubs to beat Arabs in Jerusalem's Old City, where two Israelis were stabbed to death.

Hushed Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation continues


In the aftermath of back-to-back terrorist attacks – one perpetrated by Jewish terrorists against a Palestinian family, killing an 18-month toddler; and one carried out by a Palestinian terrorist on a mother of three young children – Israeli and Palestinian security officials are seeking signs that the joint security cooperation itself not become a casualty of the growing tension.

Last Friday, the Dawabsha home in the West Bank village of Duma was firebombed, the ensuing flames killing 18-month old Ali and burning his mother and brother over most of their bodies. Israeli officials, including President Rivlin and Prime Minister Netanyahu, wasted no time in issuing unequivocal, public condemnations while law enforcement was greenlighted to apply to the Jewish terror suspects the same controversial rules of administrative detention about which the Palestinians bitterly complain.

In an interview with the Israeli news platform YNet, long-time Palestinian leader and football association head Jibril Rajoub was more candid than his compatriots when he said the strong and unambiguous denunciation across Israeli society resonated with Palestinian leadership and played a major role in withholding calls for revenge. Most Palestinian officials accused the Israelis of systematic inactivity when it comes to investigating crimes committed by other Israelis.

So despite Rajoub’s words, there was no surprise at the almost immediate response of Molotov cocktails being thrown into Israeli traffic, one hitting a vehicle and causing severe burns to the young woman behind the wheel. This, despite the fact that the Palestinian Authority (PA) had ordered its security services in all regions of the West Bank to take precautions to ensure that local youths do not seek revenge in clashes with Israelis forces or civilians.

Referring to Israelis who live in Jewish communities located on land Israel acquired in the 1967 war that is claimed by Palestinians for the Palestinian state-in-formation, Maj. Gen. Adnan Damiri, spokesperson for PA internal security, told a news conference that, “Settlers who commit terrorist crimes against our people, especially those that came on Friday to burn and kill the Dawabsheh family in Nablus, have become from now on wanted by Palestinian security forces. They will be chased through the legal proceedings in order to defend the lives and property of our people,” Damiri said.

General Damiri went on to say that he had no confidence in the Israeli authorities to bring the toddler’s murderers to justice. If they are caught, he suggested in a thinly-veiled threat, the perpetrators will likely “only be imprisoned for a few hours or days.” Damiri finished by calling on Israel, the United States, the United Nations, and the international community to designate Jewish extremist groups as terrorist organizations.

“Even after Jewish colonial settlers attacked a village with Molotov-cocktails, burning to death one-and-half year-old Ali Dawabsheh and severely burning three of his family members, we have not been ordered to cooperate [with security coordination with the Israelis],” Major General Akram Rajoub, governor of Nablus, told The Media Line. “There is no shared committee to investigate what has happened – the Israelis never asked and they ignored our requests in this regard.”

Suggesting that in his experience the Israeli security forces will know exactly who conducted the attack but will not share such information with any PA investigation, Rajoub invoked a                                           political path, laying the blame well beyond those who threw the Molotov Cocktail: “The killer in this crime is not an individual, but the settler bloc – a group of terrorists, mass murderers and thieves of Palestinian land – which enjoys the full support and protection of the Israeli government,” Rajoub said, noting that under terms of the 1993 Oslo Accords, Israel is obligated to provide security for Palestinians living in the region designated “Area C” which is off-limits to the Palestinian security services.

“The attack would not have happened without the insistence of the Israeli government on continuing settlement activities and protecting settlers in the occupied territories,” Ghassan Daglas, chief of Nablus council’s file on settlements, told The Media Line. As a result, the PA has decided to go to the UN Security Council to request the adoption of a resolution condemning settler attacks against Palestinians “and ongoing development of Jewish communities in Palestinian territory,” Daglas said. The crime of the murder of Ali Dawabsheh will be put before the International Criminal Court as part of this move, he added.

In response to the threat of violence from Jewish extremists, groups of unarmed youths have begun volunteering to patrol Palestinian villages at night, Daglas confirmed. People from the villages of Burin, Qasra and Loban, all near Nablus, have initiated local patrols unaffiliated with any government body. In the event of a threat, volunteers will use mosque speakers to warn local residents and simultaneously send a message to the District Coordination Office (DCO) which communicates with the Israeli army.

Such communication used to be a regular occurrence. Mark Prowisor, former security chief for the Israeli community of Shilo, told The Media Line that prior to and during the early days of the second Intifada there were meetings between the security personnel of the Jewish communities and the chief of the Palestinian police, something he says no longer exists. But most of the Israelis interviewed for this article suggested that while collaboration between Israeli and Palestinian security officials continues in many forms as needed, even if Palestinians are unlikely to speak about.

Regarding the current incidents, Israel Police spokeswoman Luba Samri told The Media Line that, “There has been no need until now to cooperate with the Palestinian police [regarding the firebomb on the roadway]. We are cooperating in the case of the Duma attack but the Palestinians will deny it. In the case of the Molotov attack against the Israeli, they don’t need it yet.”

Miri Ovadia, a spokeswoman for Israel’s Binyamin Regional Council, a post-1967 area of Jewish settlement on the West Bank (Samaria to the Israelis), paints a picture more positive than the Palestinian portrayal. She told The Media Line that, “We see normal level coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians in business, in joint construction projects in Jewish communities all over Israel [“joint” meaning Palestinians working in Israeli communities because it’s illegal for Israelis to work in the Palestinian territories.] Yet, she says there are many frequent attempts by Palestinians to harm Israelis on the roads.

For the past five years the PA has been complaining to the Israeli and American governments about the increasingly dangerous attacks by Jewish extremists in the West Bank, Daglas said, but claims the PA is powerless to prevent such crimes because they are not able to arrest Israeli citizens according to the Oslo Accords and placing CCTV cameras to watch for threats from Jewish communities is not permitted by the Israeli Army.

Spokesperson Ovadia, meanwhile, added that if she knew who the assailants of the Dawabsheh family were, “of course I would hand them over.”

Sinai-based militants claim responsibility for bus blast in Egypt; Israel prepared to treat victims


The Islamist militant group Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis said on Tuesday the bombing of a tourist bus in Egypt's Sinai that killed two South Koreans and the Egyptian driver on Sunday was a suicide attack carried out by one of its fighters, and threatened more strikes against economic targets.

The attack on the bus, which was travelling to Israel from St. Catherine's Monastery, a popular tourist destination in the south Sinai, was the first assault on tourists since President Mohamed Morsi's ouster spurred an Islamist insurgency.

“Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis has successfully sacrificed one of its heroes to detonate the bus headed toward the Zionists, and this comes as part of our economic war against this regime of traitors,” the group said in a statement.

Islamist militancy has risen sharply in Egypt, including the largely lawless region adjoining Israel and the Gaza Strip, since the army deposed Islamist Mursi in July, following mass protests against his rule.

Since then the army has launched a wide-scale operation in Sinai targeting Islamist militants, and security forces launched a crackdown on Islamists and Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood which authorities labeled a terrorist organization. The Brotherhood denies any links to violence.

“With God's will we will be watching this treacherous gang of infiltrators and we will target their economic interests in all places in order to paralyse their hands from (hurting) Muslims,” the Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis statement said.

The attack marks a shift in strategy among Sinai's militants to targeting “softer” tourist and economic targets. Egypt's vital tourism industry has already been hit hard by three years of political turmoil and street protests.

Islamist militants launch near-daily attacks on security forces in northern Sinai, while the south, with its many Red Sea resorts, had been seen as a relatively safe tourist destination.

Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis has claimed responsibility for several bombings, including an attempt to kill the interior minister in Cairo last year. The organization also said it was behind a missile attack on a military helicopter last month that killed five soldiers.

The bus attack revived memories of an Islamist uprising in the 1990s that often targeted tourists and took years for then-President Hosni Mubarak to crush.

In 2004, a bombing at the Sinai resort of Taba killed 34 people, including Israeli tourists.

Army chief Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who was behind Mursi's ouster, is expected to announce his candidacy for the presidency soon.

Sisi had hoped a political roadmap unveiled after Mursi's overthrow would stabilize Egypt, which has a peace treaty with Israel and controls the Suez Canal, a busy world shipping channel on the Sinai's western edge.

Israel preparing to treat any casualties from Egypt border blast

Israeli police said they were preparing medics to treat any casualties from an explosion on Sunday in Egypt's Sinai peninsula near the border with Israel.

“The event is happening on the Egyptian side, and we are making our preparations,” a police spokesman said. An Egyptian army source said an explosion on a tourist bus wounded four people. (Reporting by Dan Williams, Editing by Jeffrey Heller)

Reporting by Asma Alsharif and Ali Abdelatty; Editing by Mohammad Zargham

Nasrallah warns Israel that Hezbollah will avenge commander’s killing


Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on Friday vowed to avenge Israel for the killing of a senior Hezbollah commander in Beirut earlier this month.

Hassan Laqqis, who fought in Syria's civil war for the Lebanese Shi'ite militia, was shot dead outside his home on December 4.

A previously unknown group, Ahrar al-Sunna Baalbek brigade, claimed responsibility at the time of the attack, but Hezbollah quickly blamed Israel, with which it fought a 34-day war in 2006.

“All the indicators and clues points to the Israeli enemy,” Nasrallah said, in his first public comments since the attack.

“Our killer is known, our enemy is known, our adversary is known … When the facts point to Israel, we accuse it,” he said in televised remarks to supporters in southern Beirut.

Israel has denied any role in the shooting and hinted that the motive may have been Hezbollah's military support for Syrian President Bashar Assad in his war with mainly Sunni Muslim rebels.

The 2-1/2 year-old civil war in Syria has polarized the Middle East between Sunni Muslim powers, such as Turkey and the Gulf Arab states who support the rebels, and Shi'ite Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah, who back Assad.

The president's Alawite faith is an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam.

Hezbollah has sent several thousand fighters to Syria, helping to turn the tide in Assad's favor this year. But Nasrallah said on Friday that would not prevent it from avenging the killing of Laqqis.

“If the Israelis think … that Hezbollah is busy and that Israel will not pay the price, I say to them today, 'You are wrong',” he said.

“The killers will be punished sooner or later and the blood of our martyrs – whether large or small – will not be wasted. Those who killed will not be safe anywhere in the world. Vengeance is coming.”

The open role of Hezbollah fighters in the Syrian civil war and the steady flow of Lebanese Sunnis joining the anti-Assad rebels have fuelled sectarian strife in Lebanon.

Car bombs killed dozens of people in Beirut in August and a twin suicide attack on the Iranian embassy in the Lebanese capital killed at least 25 people last month.

But Nasrallah mocked critics who he said blamed Lebanon's woes – from sectarian tension to the flooding of a road during winter storms – on Hezbollah's intervention in Syria.

“Why isn't there a government? Because Hezbollah entered Syria. Why haven't we held elections? Hezbollah is in Syria. Why is the economic situation like this? Hezbollah is in Syria. Why did the tunnel on the airport road become a lake? Because Hezbollah is in Syria. This of course isn't logical.”

Reporting by Laila Basasm and Stephen Kalin; Editing by Mike Collett-White

Fire at Palestinians’ home seen as bid to avenge Israeli soldier’s murder


Five Palestinians were treated for smoke inhalation after their home was set ablaze in a “price tag” attack believed to be in revenge for an Israeli soldier’s murder.

“Regards from Eden, Revenge” was spray-painted on the house, which is located in a Palestinian village northeast of Ramallah. Its five residents were treated at a nearby hospital.

Pvt. Eden Atias, 18, of Nazareth-Illit was stabbed to death Wednesday morning on a public bus in Afula by a 16-year-old Palestinian male who was in Israel illegally. Atias was traveling back to his army base.

Thousands attended his funeral on Wednesday evening.

The Palestinian homeowner told the daily Haaretz that four “settlers” approached the house, poured flammable liquid near the door and set it alight.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said the incident appeared to be in response to Atias’ murder, according to Reuters.

Meanwhile, on Thursday, two Palestinians arrested last month on suspicion of murdering an Israeli army colonel admitted to the killing, calling it a “gift to the Palestinian people.”

The suspects, aged 18 and 21, told Israel’s Shin Bet security agency that they had originally planned to rob Saraya Ofer, but decided to murder him when they realized he was a senior Israel Defense Forces official, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Saraya Ofer was the nephew of brothers and leading Israeli businessmen Yuli and Sammy Ofer.

Palestinian killed after firing on Israelis at bus stop


Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian man who opened fire at a West Bank bus stop.

The attack occurred Thursday evening at the Tapuah Junction in the northern West Bank. Israeli media identified the weapon as a homemade gun and as a flare gun.

It is not known if he was targeting Israelis standing at the bus stop or soldiers standing nearby, according to The Jerusalem Post.

No one was injured in the attack.

In April, a Palestinian man stabbed to death Eviatar Borovsky, an Israeli father of five from the Itamar settlement, as he waited for a ride at the same traffic junction.

Also at the junction, during the same week in January, a Palestinian man from Ramallah stabbed a Jewish teenager in the stomach, and three Palestinians carrying seven bombs and a knife were arrested. The three Palestinians told police they had planned to carry out a terror attack.

Report: Israel attacked two targets in Syria


Israel attacked two targets in Syria, the Saudi-owned Al-Arabiya network reported.

The attacks in Latakia and Damascus on Wednesday night targeted SA-8 portable missiles that were to be transferred to Hezbollah in northern Lebanon, according to the report published Thursday evening, which cited unnamed sources. The missile shipments were destroyed, according to the report.

Syria had not responded to the report of the attacks by Thursday night.

Thursday’s report came after news of a massive explosion Wednesday at the Latakia air base, where advanced anti-aircraft missiles produced in Russia are believed to be stored. Israeli drones were reported to have flown in Lebanese air space earlier in the day.

Israel carried out a July 5 air attack near Latakia, a major Syrian port city, targeting advanced anti-ship cruise missiles sold to the Syria government by Russia, according to reports in The New York Times and other news sources.

In January, Israel reportedly struck a weapons convoy in Syria carrying Russian-made missiles en route to Hezbollah. In May, Israel reportedly hit Syrian missile stockpiles on two occasions.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied the attacks, though U.S. officials have identified Israel as the attacker in all three incidents.

Smoke pours from Kenya mall as forces ‘close in’


Thick smoke poured from the besieged Nairobi mall where Kenyan officials said their forces were closing in on Islamists holding hostages on Monday, the third day since Somalia's al Shabaab launched a raid that has killed at least 62 people.

It remained unclear how many gunmen and hostages were still cornered in the Westgate shopping center, after a series of loud explosions and gunfire were followed by black smoke billowing from one part of the complex.

Kenya's interior minister told a news conference militants had set fire to mattresses in a supermarket on the mall's lower floors. The ministry later said the blaze was under control.

Two attackers had been killed on Monday, the minister added. Another assailant had died on Saturday.

The gunmen came from “all over the world”, Kenya's military chief said, adding: “We are fighting global terrorism here.”

President Uhuru Kenyatta dismissed on Sunday a demand that he pull Kenyan forces out of neighboring Somalia.

Kenyatta, who lost one of his own nephews in Saturday's bloodbath, said he would not relent in a “war on terror” in Somalia, where Kenyan troops have pushed al Shabaab onto the defensive over the past two years as part of an African Union-backed peacekeeping mission across the northern border.

Security officials near the mall said the explosions heard at lunchtime were caused by Kenyan forces blasting a way in, but Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku said he had no information on any blasts and a military spokesman declined to comment when asked if militants had set off charges.

Al Shabaab warned it would kill hostages if police moved in.

Echoing other officials, who have highlighted successes in rescuing hundreds of trapped people after Saturday's massacre, Ole Lenku said most of the complex was under the authorities' control and escape was impossible.

A senior police officer said the authorities, who have been receiving advice from Western and Israeli experts, were “closing in”. Ole Lenku said: “We are doing anything reasonably possible, cautiously though, to bring this process to an end.

“The terrorists could be running and hiding in some stores, but all floors now are under our control.”

Ole Lenku said all the attackers were men, after witnesses had reported seeing women brandishing arms in the attack.

But three sources, one an intelligence officer and two soldiers, told Reuters that one of the killed attackers was a white woman. This is likely to fuel speculation that she is the wanted widow of one of the suicide bombers who attacked London's transport system in 2005.

Asked if it was Samantha Lewthwaite, called the “white widow” by the British press, the intelligence officer said: “We don't know.”

CINEMA

President Uhuru Kenyatta refused on Sunday to pull Kenyan troops out of Somalia, where they have pushed al Shabaab on to the defensive over the past two years as part of an African Union-backed peacekeeping mission across the northern border.

Asked on Sunday about whether captives had been wired with explosives, he declined comment. Kenyatta said all the gunmen were in one place. But a Kenyan soldier told reporters near the mall on Monday that the assailants and hostages were dispersed.

“They're in the cinema hall, with hostages. There are other terrorists in different parts,” the soldier said. “They are on the upper floors, the third and fourth floors.”

Previously, officials had indicated that the militants may have been grouped in a supermarket on the lower floors.

The president, who lost a nephew in Saturday's killing, vowed to hold firm in the “war on terror” in Somalia and said, cautiously, that Kenyan forces could end the siege.

“I assure Kenyans that we have as good a chance to successfully neutralize the terrorists as we can hope for,” he said. “We will punish the masterminds swiftly and painfully.”

It was unclear who the assailants were. Al Shabaab – the name means “The Lads” in Arabic – has thousands of Somali fighters but has also attracted foreigners to fight Western and African Union efforts to establish a stable government.

A London man, Jermaine Grant, faces trial in Kenya for possession of explosives. Police suspect an al Shabaab plot to attack restaurants and hotels used by Westerners and have been hunting for another Briton, Samantha Lewthwaite, the widow of a suicide bomber who took part in the London 7/7 attacks of 2005.

Some British newspapers speculated on the role the “White Widow” might have played at Westgate. The term “black widow” has been used by Chechen militants in Russia for women taking part in bombings and assaults after the deaths of their husbands.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, confirming that at least three Britons were already among the dead, said: “We should prepare ourselves for further bad news.”

U.S. President Barack Obama called Kenyatta to offer condolences and support. Israel, whose citizens own stores in the Israeli-built mall and have been targeted by Islamists in Kenya before, said Israeli experts were also helping.

As well as Kenyans, foreigners including a French mother and daughter and two diplomats, from Canada and Ghana, were killed. Ghanaian Kofi Awoonor was a renowned poet. Other victims came from China and the Netherlands. Five Americans were wounded.

Kenya's president, son of post-colonial leader Jomo Kenyatta, is facing his first major security challenge since being elected in March. The crisis might have an impact on his troubles with the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

Judges there let his vice president, William Ruto, fly home for a week, suspending a trial on Monday in which Ruto is charged with crimes against humanity for allegedly coordinating violence after an election in 2007. Kenyatta is due to face trial on similar charges later this year.

MULTINATIONAL AFFAIR

Ole Lenku acknowledged “support” from foreign governments but said Kenyan forces were managing without it so far. Western powers have been alarmed by a spread of al Qaeda-linked violence across Africa, from Nigeria and Mali in the west, though Algeria and Libya in the north to Somalia and Kenya in the east.

Nairobi saw one of the first major attacks by al Qaeda, when it killed more than 200 people by bombing the U.S. embassy in 1998. While some analysts said the latest raid may show al Shabaab lashing out in its weakness after the successes of Kenyan troops in Somalia, the risk of further international violence remains.

Julius Karangi, chief of the Kenyan general staff, called the gunmen “a multinational collection”. He said they had set the fire as a distraction but could now have no hope of evading capture: “If they wish, they can now surrender,” he said.

“We have no intention whatsoever of going backwards.”

On Sunday, President Kenyatta said 10 to 15 assailants were holding an unknown number of hostages in one location, apparently the supermarket. On Monday, it was not clear whether they may be more dispersed, including on the upper floors.

A spokesman for al Shabaab warned they would kill hostages if Kenyan security forces tried to storm their positions. “The mujahideen will kill the hostages if the enemies use force,” Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage said in an audio statement posted online.

On Twitter, the group posted: “They've obtained large amounts of ammunition and are, by the blessings of Allah alone, still firm and still dominating the show.”

The Red Cross and Ole Lenku put the death toll so far at 62. The Red Cross said it had also recorded 63 people as missing.

Survivors' tales of the assault by squads of attackers throwing grenades and spraying automatic fire have left little doubt the hostage-takers are willing to go on killing. Previous raids around the world, including at a desert gas plant in Algeria nine months ago, suggest they are also ready to die.

SECURITY CHALLENGE

It remains unclear who the assailants are. Al Shabaab – the name means “The Lads” in Arabic – has thousands of Somali fighters but has also attracted foreigners to fight Western and African Union efforts to establish a stable government.

A London man, Jermaine Grant, faces trial in Kenya for possession of explosives. Police suspect an al Shabaab plot to attack restaurants and hotels used by Westerners and have been hunting for the “white widow” Lewthwaite.

The term “black widow” has been used by Chechen militants for women taking part in attacks after their husbands have died.

Kenya's president, son of post-colonial leader Jomo Kenyatta, is facing his first major security challenge since being elected in March. The crisis might have an impact on his troubles with the International Criminal Court at The Hague.

Judges there let his vice president, William Ruto, fly home for a week, suspending a trial on Monday in which Ruto is charged with crimes against humanity for allegedly coordinating violence after an election in 2007. Kenyatta is due to face trial on similar charges in November.

Al Shabaab's siege underlined its ability to cause major disruption with relatively limited resources, even after Kenyan and other African troops drove it from Somali cities.

“While the group has grown considerably weaker in terms of being able to wage a conventional war, it is now ever more capable of carrying out asymmetric warfare,” said Abdi Aynte, director of Mogadishu's Heritage Institute of Policy Studies.

Others said divisions within the loose al Shabaab movement may have driven one faction to carry out the kind of high-profile attack that may help win new support.

Al Shabaab's last big attack abroad was a double bombing in Uganda that killed 77 people watching soccer on TV in 2010.

Reporting by Edmund Blair, James Macharia, Duncan Miriri, Richard Lough, Drazen Jorgic, Humphrey Malalo, Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Kevin Mwanza in Nairobi, Pascal Fletcher in Johannesburg, Feisal Omar and Abdi Sheikh in Mogadishu, Roberta Rampton in Washington, Anthony Deutsch at The Hague, Myra MacDonald in Tbilisi and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Writing by Edmund Blair and Alastair Macdonald; editing by David Stamp

Pope, in Syria peace appeal, calls for end to spiral of death


A somber-looking Pope Francis made an impassioned appeal before 100,000 people on Saturday to avert a widening of Syria's conflict, urging world leaders to pull humanity out of a “spiral of sorrow and death.”

Francis, who two days ago branded a military solution in Syria “a futile pursuit”, led the world's 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in a global day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria, the Middle East and the world.

“Violence and war lead only to death, they speak of death! Violence and war are the language of death!” Francis said at the midpoint of a five-hour prayer service. Police and the Vatican estimated a crowd of about 100,000 in St Peter's Square.

The United States and France are considering military action against Damascus to punish President Bashar Assad for an Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in Syria's civil war that killed hundreds of people. Assad's government denies responsibility.

A number of people held up Syrian flags and placards reading “Hands off Syria,” and “Obama, you don't have a dream, you have a nightmare”. But they were not allowed into St Peter's Square, in keeping with the pope's intention for a religious service.

The service was punctuated by music, prayer, the reciting of the rosary and long periods of silence in which the participants were asked to meditate on the need for peace to vanquish the destruction of war.

“We have perfected our weapons, our conscience has fallen asleep, and we have sharpened our ideas to justify ourselves. As if it were normal, we continue to sow destruction, pain, death!” said Francis, who wore his simple white cassock instead of ceremonial robes to the service.

“At this point I ask myself: Is it possible to change direction? Can we get out of this spiral of sorrow and death? Can we learn once again to walk and live in the ways of peace?”

He then asked “each one of us, from the least to the greatest, including those called to govern nations, to respond: Yes, we want it!”

When he announced the prayer vigil last Sunday, Francis asked Catholics around the world to pray and fast and invited members of other religious to take part in any way they saw fit in the hope that a wider war could be averted.

“That's very scary, very scary,” said Lennie Tallud, a clinical lab scientist visiting St Patrick's Cathedral in New York. Asked whether she thought prayers would make a difference, she said: “Definitely, for sure. No doubt. I think it would – 100 percent.”

Services were held by Christians around the world, including in Jerusalem, Assisi and Milan in Italy, in Boston and Baghdad.

 

MUSLIMS PRAY WITH POPE

Yaha Pallavicini, a leader of Italy's Muslim community, attended the prayer service with other Muslims.

“Praying for the intention of peace is something that can only help fraternity and, God willing, avoid more war,” he told Reuters. “As Muslims who want peace we have to work so that the values of faith and dialogue prevail over the destruction of peoples.”

In his address, the pope, who for most of the service sat silently behind an altar on the steps of the largest church in Christendom, stressed the power of prayer to change the world.

“This evening, I ask the Lord that we Christians, and our brothers and sisters of other religions, and every man and woman of good will, cry out forcefully: violence and war are never the way to peace!” he said.

“Let everyone be moved to look into the depths of his or her conscience and listen to that word which says: Leave behind the self-interest that hardens your heart, overcome the indifference that makes your heart insensitive towards others, conquer your deadly reasoning, and open yourself to dialogue and reconciliation,” he said.

His words struck a personal chord with Marina Verkotenh, a pilgrim from Russia. “I think it's very important for all the people to unite here at this square and to bring together all our forces to unite and to pray, and also to bring attention to all the people who decide this question, these important questions about war and peace,” she said.

At least one senior U.S. clergyman publicly expressed reservations about President Barack Obama's campaign for military action against Syria.

“As Congress debates a resolution authorising military force in Syria, I urge you instead to support U.S. leadership for peace. Only dialogue can save lives and bring about peace in Syria,” Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski said in a message sent to U.S. senators from Florida and to his representative in the U.S. House of Representatives. (Additional reporting by Noreen O'Donnell in New York, editing by Mark Heinrich)

Republican Jewish Coalition endorses Obama’s Syria call


We hear a lot of rhetoric about putting country above politics, but the Republican Jewish Coalition comes through this week with a robust endorsement of President Obama’s call for congressional backing for a Syria strike.

The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) issued an Action Alert today to our 45,000 members, calling on them to reach out to their elected officials in the House and Senate, to ask them to support the upcoming resolution authorizing the use of military force against the Bashar Al-Assad regime in Syria.

The Action Alert stressed the moral threshold that has been crossed by Syria’s use of chemical weapons against its own people.

We also emphasized that it is in America’s vital national interests that we continue to be able to project – in Syria and elsewhere – a credible military deterrent.

The RJC believes that this not a Republican or Democrat issue. We encouraged our members to reach out in a bipartisan fashion to Republican and Democrat officials to ask for their support of the resolution.

Okay, so the statement does not mention Obama (the action alert does), and the use of “Democrat” as an adjective remains as absurd as ever.

And let me caveat, naturally, that I can’t enter into whether a strike is the right or wrong way to address the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime.

But what is salient here is that the RJC makes a case that goes against its partisan mission in two ways: It endorses a Democratic president’s legislation (I remember generic praise from Jewish Democrats for past GOP presidents, but I don’t remember a specific endorsement of a legislative initiative.) More significantly, the RJC is wading forcefully into an emerging internecine struggle within its own party. Opposition to a Syria intervention is not confined to Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.). A number of establishment mainstreamers (including Liz Cheney) are opposed as well.

As Israelis mob gas mask distribution centers, army urges calm


Daniela Hayoum arrived at a Tel Aviv post office at 7 a.m. and took a number.

The line of people waiting for gas masks was long and Hayoum stepped away to run errands. She returned in the afternoon to find hundreds of Israelis crowding under a hot sun on the building’s wide steps, some holding umbrellas and others food.

On the street below, medics treated a woman suffering from the heat. On the sidewalk, men sold cold water and bagels. Hayoum began to push her way through.

“They want me to stand for four hours here,” said Hayoum, of nearby Ramat Gan. “I don’t trust the government or the army. They say we’re prepared, but the Home Front Command won’t answer the phone.”

For two days, Israelis have been descending on centers like this to receive free government-issued gas masks in preparation for a possible Syrian chemical weapons attack. On Thursday, citing the long lines, the government extended the hours of distribution.

The gas mask frenzy signifies a striking mood change here. An alleged chemical weapons attack last week by the Syrian government and subsequent murmurings of a possible U.S. strike have focused Israeli attention on the Syrian civil war like never before.

U.S. officials had harsh words following the alleged chemical weapons attack that killed hundreds in a Damascus suburb. Secretary of State John Kerry called it a “moral obscenity” and accused Syrian President Bashar Assad of attempting a cover-up after carrying out the attack. The White House reportedly has begun preparations for a strike on Syria in coordination with European allies.

Although the United States appeared to tone down its rhetoric on Thursday, the fear in Israel is that Assad will respond to an American strike by bombing Israel. On Monday, a government official in Iran, which backs the Assad regime, told an official state news agency that “the Zionist regime will be the first victim of a military attack on Syria.”

The Israel Defense Forces called up nearly 1,000 reservists this week. Following his third security consultation in as many days — a rare occurrence — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sought to reassure Israelis.

“There is no reason to change daily routines,” Netanyahu said Wednesday. “At the same time, we are prepared for any scenario. The IDF is ready to defend against any threat and to respond strongly against any attempt to harm Israeli citizens.”

Still, the IDF is urging calm and says the chances of a Syrian attack are low. An IDF source told JTA that the Home Front Command has not issued any special instructions to civilians and that “what you’re seeing now is a response from the public.”

“Right now there isn’t any sense of panic,” said the source, who asked to remain anonymous. “There isn’t a freakishly high concern. Everybody is relatively calm. If it was clear that there could be a chance that something would happen, we’d see the consequences of that in terms of Home Front Command instructions to the public.”

Daila Amos, a spokesperson for the Golan Regional Council, said life is continuing normally on the Golan Heights, where stray shells from the fighting across the Syrian border have fallen several times in the past year and where residents are used to a heightened troop presence.

“Unfortunately, during this last year the idea that something could happen has been on our minds,” Amos told JTA. “We hear the bombs almost every day. To think that a number of meters from us these terrible things are happening is not easy.”

Several Israeli analysts say that Assad will likely refrain from attacking Israel even in the case of a U.S. strike. Bombing Israel would draw the IDF into the Syrian civil war, which would weaken Assad and could turn the tide of battle decisively against him, they say.

But Meir Elran, director of the Homeland Security Program at Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies, says he no longer believes Assad is acting rationally.

“I wouldn’t attack Israel,” Elran said. “But I also wouldn’t use chemical weapons against my own people.”

The timing of a U.S. strike also remains unclear. There is some question over whether Assad himself ordered the attack and United Nations inspectors are still collecting evidence from the site. They are expected to report to the U.N. secretary-general over the weekend.

Still, Israelis aren’t taking any chances.

Hila Kostinsky, who returned to Israel two weeks ago after 12 years in the United States, said she felt a responsibility to get gas masks for her two children.

“We’re still trying to protect them,” she said. “It’s what you expect when you move back to Israel.”

West could hit Syria in days, envoys tell rebels


Western powers could attack Syria within days, envoys from the United States and its allies have told rebels fighting President Bashar Assad, sources who attended the meeting told Reuters on Tuesday.

U.S. forces in the region are “ready to go”, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said, as Washington and its European and Middle Eastern partners honed plans to punish Assad for a major poison gas attack last week that killed hundreds of civilians.

Several sources who attended a meeting in Istanbul on Monday between Syrian opposition leaders and diplomats from Washington and other governments told Reuters that the rebels were told to expect military action and to get ready to negotiate a peace.

“The opposition was told in clear terms that action to deter further use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime could come as early as in the next few days, and that they should still prepare for peace talks at Geneva,” one of the sources said.

Ahmad Jarba, president of the Syrian National Coalition, met envoys from 11 states in the Friends of Syria group, including Robert Ford, the U.S. ambassador to Syria, at an Istanbul hotel.

United Nations chemical weapons investigators, who finally crossed the frontline to take samples on Monday, put off a second trip to rebel-held suburbs of Damascus. Washington said it already held Assad responsible for a “moral obscenity” and President Barack Obama would hold him to account for it.

However, with Russian and Chinese opposition complicating efforts to satisfy international law – and Western voters wary of new, far-off wars – Western leaders may not pull the trigger just yet. British Prime Minister David Cameron called parliament back from its summer recess for a session on Syria on Thursday.

He and Obama, as well as French President Francois Hollande, face tough questions about how an intervention, likely to be limited to air strikes, will end – and whether they risk handing power to anti-Western Islamist rebels if Assad is overthrown.

In France, which took a vocal lead in helping Libyan rebels topple Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, Hollande was about to address ambassadors. A French diplomatic source said Paris had no doubt Assad's forces carried out the gas attack and would “not shirk its responsibilities” in responding.

In an indication of support from Arab states that may help Western powers argue the case for war against likely U.N. vetoes from Moscow and Beijing, the Arab League issued a statement holding Assad's government responsible for the chemical attack.

In Saudi Arabia, the rebels' leading regional sponsor, Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal called for “a decisive and serious stand by the international community to stop the humanitarian tragedy of the Syrian people.”

Fears of international conflict hit some financial markets, notably in neighboring Turkey, as well as emerging economies that could be hit hard by a chill in world trade.

U.S. FORCES READY

Asked if U.S. forces were ready to strike Syria just “like that”, Hagel told the BBC: “We are ready to go, like that.”

“We have moved assets in place to be able to fulfill and comply with whatever option the president wishes to take,” he said. A senior U.S. official told Reuters that Obama had yet to decide on military action.

Top generals from the United States and European and Middle Eastern allies met in Jordan for what could be a council of war.

Hagel said the United States would have intelligence to present “very shortly” about last week's mass poisoning. But he noted after calls with his British and French counterparts that there was little doubt among U.S. allies that “the most base … international humanitarian standard was violated”.

Turkey, Syria's neighbor and part of the U.S.-led NATO military pact, called it a “crime against humanity” that demanded international reaction.

The Syrian government, which denies using gas or obstructing the U.N. inspectors, said it would press on with its offensive against rebels around the capital.

Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem said U.S. strikes would help al Qaeda allies and called Western leaders “delusional” if they hoped to help the rebels reach a balance of power in Syria.

In Britain, whose forces have supported the U.S. military in a succession of wars, Cameron called for an appropriate level of retribution for using chemical weapons.

“Our forces are making contingency plans,” a spokesman told reporters. London would make a “proportionate response”.

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said: “President Obama believes there must be accountability for those who would use the world's most heinous weapons against the world's most vulnerable people.

“The indiscriminate slaughter of civilians, the killing of women and children and innocent bystanders by chemical weapons is a moral obscenity … And despite the excuses and equivocations that some have manufactured, it is undeniable.”

How an intervention, likely to be limited to air strikes, would affect the course of Syria's two and half year old civil war is far from clear. The conflict is largely at a stalemate.

Turmoil in Egypt, whose 2011 uprising inspired Syrians to rebel, has underlined the unpredictability of revolutions. And the presence of Islamist militants, including allies of al Qaeda in the Syrian rebel ranks, has given Western leaders pause. They have held back so far from helping Assad's opponents to victory.

REGIONAL CONFLICT

Russia, a major arms supplier to Assad, has said rebels may have released the gas and warned against attacking Syria. Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov criticized Washington for cancelling bilateral talks on Syria that were set for Wednesday.

The Syrian conflict has split the Middle East along sectarian lines. Shi'ite Muslim Iran has supported Assad and his Alawite minority against mainly Sunni rebels, some of them Islamists, who have backing from Gulf Arab states.

In Tehran, a foreign ministry spokesman said: “We want to strongly warn against any military attack in Syria. There will definitely be perilous consequences for the region.”

Syrian foreign minister Moualem, who insisted the government was trying to help the U.N. inspection team, told a news conference in Damascus that Syria would hit back if attacked.

“We have means of defending ourselves, and we will surprise them with these if necessary,” he said. “We will defend ourselves. We will not hesitate to use any means available.”

Assad's forces made little or no response to three attacks by Israeli aircraft earlier this year which Israeli officials said disrupted arms flowing from Iran to Lebanon's Hezbollah.

China, which has joined Moscow in vetoing measures against Assad in the U.N. Security Council, is also leary of Western use of force to interfere in other countries' affairs. Beijing's official news agency ran a commentary on Tuesday recalling that the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 on the grounds that it possessed banned weapons, which were never found.

DAMASCENES ANXIOUS

The continued presence of United Nations experts in Damascus may be a factor holding back international military action.

A U.N. statement said the investigators had put off a second visit to the affected areas until Wednesday to prepare better.

Some residents of the capital are getting anxious.

“I've always been a supporter of foreign intervention but now that it seems like a reality, I've been worrying that my family could be hurt or killed,” said one woman, Zaina, who opposes Assad. “I'm afraid of a military strike now.”

The Syrian opposition proposed 10 targets to the envoys in Istanbul, sources told Reuters. One opposition figure said the rebels were preparing for a possible government collapse:

“The Americans are tying any military action to the chemical weapons issue. But the message is clear; they expect the strike to be strong enough to force Assad to go to Geneva and accept a transitional government with full authority,” the source said.

“If the strike ends up to be crippling, and if they hit the symbols of the regime's military power in Damascus it could collapse,” the source said.

Some American advocates of the rebel cause questioned the merit of a limited offensive using cruise missiles.

Senator John McCain, who ran against Obama in 2008, said it would be “counterproductive”, by leaving Assad in power. He called for providing unlimited weapons supplies to the rebels.

“While we take worse than half measures and the conflict goes on, it becomes more regional, spreading to Lebanon, spreading to Jordan, and of course Syria and Iraq become al Qaeda transit zones as we watch Iraq unravel,” he told Reuters.

Opposition activists have said at least 500 people and possibly twice that many were killed by rockets laden with poison, possibly the nerve gas sarin or something similar. If so, it was the worst chemical weapons attack since Saddam Hussein gassed thousands of Iraqi Kurds in 1988.

Israelis have been claiming state-issued gas masks in case Syria responds to a Western attack by firing missiles at Israel, as Saddam did in 1991. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to “respond forcefully” to any attempt to target it.

Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny and William Maclean in Beirut, Phil Stewart in Bandar Seri Begawan, Andrew Osborn in London, John Irish in Paris, Timothy Heritage in Moscow, Ben Blanchard in Beijing, Seda Sezer and Daren Butler in Istanbul, Yeganeh Torbati in Dubai and Lesley Wroughton, Steve Holland and Paul Eckert in Washington; Writing by Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Peter Graff

Israel accused of attacking Syrian army base, weapons convoy


Syrian rebel groups said Israel attacked a Syrian army base near the Golan Heights border.

The reports follow Arab media reports that Israeli Air Force planes bombed Syrian army posts. In addition, the rebel group called the Military Revolutionary Council in Golan Quneitra said Israel bombed a convoy carrying missiles to Hezbollah in Lebanon from Syria.

Western media did not confirm the reports of the alleged attacks over the weekend, which took place east of the Syrian border with Israel on the Golan Heights.

In recent months, Israel has been accused of bombing weapons warehouses and convoys in Syria. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied the reports in U.S. and other media.

‘Price tag’ attackers put on same legal ground as terrorists


Planning and carrying out “price tag” attacks in Israel will now be defined as “illegal organizing,” which puts the acts on the same level as Islamic terror groups.

The new designation announced Monday by Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon means that the Jewish perpetrators of such violence would face the same legal repercussions as Palestinian terrorists.

The new designation will allow Israeli security services and police to hold suspects in jail longer, keep them under arrest until the end of legal proceedings and investigate without the presence of an attorney.  Those who plan and fund price tag attacks will be subject to the same proceedings.

“Price tag perpetrators’ conduct is identical to the conduct of modern terrorist groups, including ideological inspiration and covert action,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement. “Its main objective is to prevent the legitimate Israeli government from carrying out actions, whether of state or regarding law enforcement, and to sow fear among the nation’s leaders of making decisions of one kind or another.”

The designation was approved last month by Israel’s Cabinet.

The announcement came Monday after the arrest of a 22-year-old right-wing Israeli from Bnei Brak for last year’s price tag attack on the Latrun Monastery.

From schools to bomb shelters, Israel lagging on promise to disabled


A thick concrete bomb shelter sits by the side of a central street in this embattled southern Israeli town, but Naomi Moravia can’t get inside.

Shelters like this one are crucial in Sderot, which is located about a mile from the Gaza Strip and is the frequent target of cross-border missile attacks that send residents running for cover.

But Moravia can’t run. She can’t even get up on the sidewalk.

Pushing a lever on her wheelchair, she rolls down the street looking for a ramp or a dip in the curb that she can ascend without tipping backward.

If she can manage to reach a shelter in time, she often won’t fit inside, stymied by tight corners impossible to negotiate in a wheelchair. Of five shelters in Sderot’s central district that Moravia tried to enter recently, only one was accessible.

“If there’s a siren and I’m not in a protected room, all I can do is sit in my wheelchair and pucker my butt,” said Moravia, the chairwoman of the Israeli activist group Struggle for the Disabled. “I just wait to hear the boom. There’s nothing I can do.”

The dearth of wheelchair-accessible shelters in Sderot, officials and activists say, is emblematic of Israel’s sorry record in providing for a disabled population estimated by the government to be 1.5 million.

Despite the 1998 passage of Israel’s Law of Equal Rights for Disabled People, which promises the disabled “active and equal participation in society in all areas of life,” Israel has been lax on regulation and enforcement. Public buildings and buses often are inaccessible to those in wheelchairs. Disabled children face an unresponsive education system. And the Defense Ministry has yet to formulate regulations to accommodate the needs of the disabled.

Part of the reason is that the government agency tasked with enforcing the equal rights law, the Commission for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities, has an annual budget of just over $2 million and a national oversight staff of 11.

Israel has “very nice laws that will not be applied,” said Ahiya Kamara, the commission’s head.

“If we rely on enforcement, woe unto us,” said Ilan Gilon, a Knesset member from the Meretz party who helped draft the equal rights law. “A state needs to be accessible to its citizens.”

For disabled Israelis, the challenges can begin early. Elad Cohen, now 10, was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome as a toddler. As a result, his Tel Aviv public school refused to readmit him in 2006 and Elad’s mother, Revital, had to pay out of pocket for a caretaker in a private preschool.

When Elad transferred back to public school, the state offered to pay about $5 per hour to a caretaker, enough for someone with only a high-school education — a similar standard as exists in some U.S. states.

“The state wants to do two things: not tell you what your rights are, and if you know what your rights are, find any way to deny them from you,” said Revital, who consults privately for parents of disabled children.

A series of recommendations endorsed by the Education Ministry in 2009 would have afforded nearly all disabled children the right to integrate into general classrooms at public expense. But the government has applied those recommendations in only three school districts and has no timetable for implementing them nationwide.

The ministry’s director of special education, Ra’aya Levy-Goodman, told JTA the goal is for every child who would benefit from integration — and not have a detrimental effect on their classmates — to attend public school. Since 2011, she said, the number of severely disabled children integrated into regular classrooms has tripled, from 300 to 900.

“Every child who wants and who can should be in general education,” she said. “But special education isn’t a punishment, it’s a right. And there are children who need it.”

The challenges facing the disabled continue well beyond their school years. Until 2011, no regulations existed to make public buildings handicap accessible. Regulations adopted by the Ministry of Housing and Construction that year set standards for bomb shelters in a range of public structures, but full implementation was not required until 2021.

Israel’s limited but growing railway network is handicap accessible, but the more extensive bus system is not. Transit Ministry spokesman Avner Ovadia told JTA that suggestions for improved accessibility have been solicited from advocacy groups.

Home front security, though, remains the biggest gap in special needs regulations. Disability rights activists worry that the state’s intense focus on protecting its citizens has not been fully extended to the disabled, though they cannot recall any deaths due to a lack of accessibility among the more than two dozen Israeli civilians killed by rockets since 2004.

Under a provision of the equal rights law added in 2005, the state has until 2018 to implement an emergency services accessibility plan. But Israel’s government has passed an austerity budget, which could make implementation less likely.

In the meantime, the Home Front Command’s website suggests that in case of emergency, the disabled should make sure to stay in a shelter with “other people.” For assistance, the disabled are directed to turn to “relevant organizations” and their local municipalities.

As a result, much of the burden of assisting disabled Israelis in wartime has fallen to nonprofits. When Hezbollah began raining missiles on northern Israel in 2006, volunteers from the Struggle for the Disabled evacuated 500 disabled Israelis to southern hotels. The organization paid for the service through donations.

“They turned to the Welfare Ministry, and everyone from the Welfare Ministry had left their office,” said Yisrael Even Zahav, a former government consultant who coordinated the volunteers. “They were left alone.”

A Welfare Ministry spokesperson told JTA that the ministry “works extensively, without connection to regulations, to make emergency services accessible” in conjunction with government-funded group homes and regional councils.

Some activists hope that Israel’s adoption last year of the nonbinding U.N. Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities will lead to further legislation. But many are skeptical.

“It’s like a yahrtzeit,” Gilon said of the convention. “They talk about it one day and 364 days they forget about it. It doesn’t matter to most people.”

IDF chief warns Syria against more attacks on Israel


The Israeli military’s chief of staff,  Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, warned that Syria would pay the price if it continues to attack Israel.

Syrian President Bashar Assad “guides and encourages the widening of activity against Israel, in various dimensions and via the Golan Heights,” Gantz said Tuesday, hours after Syria fired on and damaged an Israeli army jeep, and Israel retaliated with a missile attack. “We will not allow the area of the Golan Heights to become a comfortable place for Assad.

“If Assad impairs the situation in the Golan Heights, he will have to bear the consequences,” the military chief warned at ceremony at Haifa University.

No one was injured when Syria opened fire on an Israeli army patrol early Tuesday morning in the Golan Heights, the Israel Defense Forces said. It was the third time this week that Syria targeted Israeli positions.

In retaliation, the IDF said an Israeli missile struck the source of Tuesday’s gunfire.

The IDF lodged a complaint with the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force, a peacekeeping force that was established in 1974.

The Syrian military claimed in a statement issued Tuesday that its military destroyed an Israeli military vehicle and its occupants. The statement said the jeep crossed the cease-fire line in the Golan Heights.

Gantz said that the nighttime patrol was clearly patroling along the border fence and did not cross into Syrian territory. Earlier Tuesday, Gantz toured the Israeli-Syrian border and talked with the soldiers and commanders of the Nahal Brigade who are stationed there.

Israeli troops manning a border observation point in the Golan Heights were fired on Sunday and Monday. The Israelis did not retaliate but lodged a separate complaint with the U.N. observer force.

Also Tuesday, Israel transferred an injured Syrian national from the border to a hospital in northern Israel for surgery to treat shrapnel wounds.

Israel shoots down drone from Lebanon, Israeli Military says


An Israeli fighter plane shot down a drone from Lebanon over the Mediterranean sea on Thursday as it was approaching the Israeli coast, the military said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was flying in a military helicopter to an event in northern Israel when the unmanned aircraft was spotted along the Lebanese coast by Israeli air defences. His helicopter landed briefly until the interception was completed.

There was no indication from Israeli officials who provided information about the incident that Israel suspected any connection between the dispatch of the drone and Netanyahu's flight, whose details had not been made public.

“I view with great gravity this attempt to violate our border. We will continue to do what is necessary to defend the security of Israel's citizens,” Netanyahu said in a speech at his destination, a Druze village where he met community leaders.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the alleged aerial infiltration.

Asked whether Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed Lebanese guerrilla group that sent a drone into southern Israel in October, was behind the incident, a military spokesman said an investigation was under way and the navy was trying to salvage wreckage from the aircraft.

“On my way here, in a helicopter, I found out there was an infiltration attempt by a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) into Israeli air space,” Netanyahu said in the Druze village of Julis, some 15 km (9 miles) from the Lebanese border.

“Within a short time, Israeli pilots intercepted this aircraft and shot it down over the sea.”

The military said the unmanned aerial vehicle was detected in Lebanese skies and intercepted by a F-16 fighter jet some 5 nautical miles west of the Israeli port city of Haifa.

A military spokesman said the drone had been flying at an altitude of about 6,000 feet and had been monitored by Israel for about an hour before it was destroyed by an air-to-air missile.

“We don't know where the aircraft was coming from and we don't know where it was actually going,” the spokesman said.

In the incident in October, a Hezbollah drone flew some 35 miles into southern Israel before being shot down by an F-16.

Israel and Hezbollah fought a war in 2006, and Lebanon has complained to the United Nations about frequent Israeli overflights, apparently to monitor the group's activities.

On Monday, Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon said Israel would not permit “sophisticated weapons” to fall into the hands of Hezbollah “or other rogue elements” in Syria's civil war.

“When they crossed this red line, we acted,” Yaalon said at a news conference with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, in comments widely interpreted as confirming reports that an Israeli air strike in Syria in January had targeted a Hezbollah-bound arms convoy. (Editing by Alison Williams)

Israeli pols slam Kerry for marathon-Mavi Marmara comparison


Israeli lawmakers are condemning U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's comparison of the Boston Marathon bombing victims to the 2010 deaths of Turkish citizens aboard the Mavi Marmara ship.

Lawmakers from political parties on the right and left slammed Kerry's remarks of Sunday. However, senior Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, did not respond.

“It is never helpful when a moral equivalency is made confusing terrorists with their victims,” Deputy Defense Minister Danny Danon of Netanyahu's Likud party said of Kerry's statement, according to The Jerusalem Post.

The Mavi Marmara in May 2010 attempted to evade a maritime blockade of Gaza. Nine Turks were killed in the ensuing violence when Israeli naval commandos boarded the ship.

Kerry spoke to reporters following meetings in Istanbul.

Asked about the recent thawing of relations between Israel and Turkey, Kerry said of the Mavi Marmara incident in May 2010, “I know it’s an emotional issue with some people. I particularly say to the families of people who were lost in the incident, we understand these tragedies completely and we sympathize with them. And nobody — I mean, I have just been through the week of Boston and I have deep feelings for what happens when you have violence and something happens and you lose people that are near and dear to you. It affects a community, it affects a country. We’re very sensitive to that.”

Turkey and Israel agreed to normalize ties after Netanyahu, prodded by President Obama, apologized last month for the raid and agreed to compensate the families of the nine Turks.

In the wake of the incident, Turkey withdrew its high-level diplomats from Israel and froze deals with Israel's military.

What Boston hospitals learned from Israel


Minutes after a terrorist attack killed three at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, doctors and nurses at the city’s hospitals faced a harrowing scene — severed limbs, burned bodies, shrapnel buried in skin.

For Boston doctors, the challenge presented by last week’s bombing was unprecedented — but they were prepared.

Many of the city’s hospitals have doctors with actual battlefield experience. Others have trauma experience from deployments on humanitarian missions, like the one that followed the Haitian earthquake, and have learned from presentations by veterans of other terror attacks like the one at a movie theater in Colorado.

But they have benefited as well from the expertise developed by Israeli physicians over decades of treating victims of terrorist attacks — expertise that Israel has shared with scores of doctors and hospitals around the world. Eight years ago, four Israeli doctors and a staff of nurses spent two days at Massachusetts General Hospital teaching hospital staff the methods pioneered in Israel.

According to the New Yorker magazine, every Boston patient who reached the hospital alive has survived.

“We had periods where every week we had an attack,” said Dror Soffer, director of the trauma division at the Tel Aviv Medical Center, who participated in the delegation. “It becomes your routine.”

Techniques that were “routine” in Israel by 2005, and helped save lives in Boston last week, began evolving in the 1990s, when Israel experienced a spate of bus bombings. Israeli doctors “rewrote the bible of blast trauma,” said Avi Rivkind, the director of surgery at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center, where 60 percent of Israeli victims have been treated.

Much of what Israel has learned about treating attack victims was done on the fly. In 1996, a 19-year-old soldier arrived at the Hadassah hospital following a bus bombing with severe injuries to her chest and esophagus. Doctors put chest drains on her lungs and performed endoscopies twice a day to stop the bleeding. Both techniques are now regular practices.

“We were sure she was going to die, and she survived,” Rivkind said.

Rivkind is an internationally recognized expert in terror medicine and widely considered one of the great brains behind Israeli innovations that have been adopted around the world.

Trained at Hebrew University, the Hadassah Medical Center and the Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems in Baltimore, he has contributed to several volumes on trauma surgery and post-attack care, and authored a number of seminal medical studies. Rivkind was the personal physician for the late Israeli President Ezer Weizman, helped care for Ariel Sharon when the prime minister fell into a coma following a stroke, and has performed near-miraculous feats, once reviving a soldier shot in the heart who had been pronounced dead in the field.

But not everything Rivkind has learned about treating attack victims comes from a story with a happy ending. In 2002, Shiri Nagari was rushed to Hadassah after a bus bombing. She appeared to have escaped largely unharmed, but 45 minutes later she was dead. It was, Rivkind later wrote, the first time he ever cried after losing a patient.

“She seemed fine and talked with us,” he said. “You can be very injured inside, and outside you look completely pristine.”

Organizing the emergency room, Rivkind said, is as important as treating patients correctly. During the second intifada, Hadassah developed what he called the “accordion method,” a method of moving patients through various stages of assessment with maximal efficiency. The process has since become standard in hospitals across Israel and around the world.

Criticism is not Islamophobia


Criticism is the oxygen of journalism. Here at the Jewish Journal, we will criticize anything that we believe deserves criticism, including religion. We will criticize preachers who use Christianity to express hatred and bigotry toward gays as much as we will criticize religious Jews who use the Torah to humiliate women rabbis wearing prayer shawls at the Western Wall.

Personally, I’ve shown my revulsion at some of the stuff written in the Torah — like the admonition to stone your son to death if he desecrates the Sabbath—and I’ve railed against missionary Christians who twist the Torah in order to convert Jews.

But I have to confess — like most of the mainstream media in America, I’ve been very reluctant to criticize Islam.

When, several years ago, virtually every American paper refused to publish satirical cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, I should have criticized that response. I understood that fear and intimidation probably played a role, given the riots that followed their publication in a Danish paper.

But it’s not as if the media has ever been afraid to publish cartoons that make fun of Jesus or Moses or Buddha — so why should they single out Muhammad for special treatment?

If you ask me, I think it’s time we stop walking on eggshells with Islam.

It’s not healthy. This notion that any critique of Islam equates to Islamophobia is absurd and patronizing. It says to Muslims: “We criticize Judaism and Christianity because we think they can handle it, but we don’t think you can.” That’s insulting to Islam and to Muslims.

Every religion needs a good dose of criticism. That’s how they improve and become more human. That’s how they shed their outdated and immoral layers, like slavery and oppression of women. Where would Judaism be today without the centuries of relentless self-reflection and self-criticism that goes on to this day?

How could it be wrong or Islamophobic to criticize a religious text that might justify the stoning to death of women or the killing of infidels?

After terror attacks that appear to have an Islamic connection, such as last week’s Boston massacre, we often hear defensive talk about how Islam is a “religion of peace.” To back this up, Muslim commentators like to quote a verse in the Koran (Surah 5, verse 32) that mentions the Talmudic idea that if you kill one human being, it is as if you have killed an entire world.

The problem, though, is that commentators usually fail to mention the verse that immediately follows, which is anything but peaceful: “The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be murdered or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have a grievous chastisement.”

Verse 32 works for me. Verse 33 turns my stomach.

The way I see it, the future of Islam and its reputation in the world will hinge on which verse will win out—verse 32 or verse 33.

So far, it looks like the wrong verse is winning. Since 9/11, close to 20,000 acts of terrorism have been recorded throughout the world under the name of Islam, many of those against Muslims themselves.

It’s suicidal and counterproductive for the world to pretend that violence-prone religious texts like verse 33 do not exist, especially if those texts are used to instigate violence against “infidels” and other mischief-makers.

Religions shouldn’t get an automatic pass at respect. They have to earn it. If you’re a member of a religion where some members use the religion as an excuse to kill people, your job is not to convince me that you’re a religion of peace, but to convince your co-religionists who are actually doing the killing.

It’s ironic that verse 32 borrows from Jewish texts. Muslims who believe in that peaceful verse might want to borrow something else from the Jews: a big mouth.

These Muslims of verse 32 have been too quiet for too long. If they want the world to show more respect for their cherished religion, they must rise up and make more noise against their violent minority who believe in verse 33.

There’s no dishonor in self-criticism. Jews do it all the time. Maybe that’s why you don’t see much criticism of Islam in Jewish papers—we’re too busy criticizing ourselves.

But criticism is not an end in itself– it must lead to results. The Muslims of verse 32 must win the moral battle against the Muslims of verse 33, even if it takes a century. And they must not recoil at criticism that may come from outsiders who have good intentions. In fact, they must use it to shame their violent cohorts.

Constructive criticism of violent texts is not Islamophobia. It’s the beginning of positive change. Painting all criticism of Islam with the Islamophobic brush is just as wrong as painting all Muslims with a violent brush. It suffocates debate and the very process of evolution.

To borrow from another Jewish mantra, constructive criticism is good for the Jews, good for the Muslims and good for the world.

Israel at 65


I watched the video of the Boston Marathon bombings and thought, of course, of the bus bombings that wracked Jerusalem and Tel Aviv a decade ago. The mundane calm violently shattered. The screams giving way to sirens. The bodies sprawled on the ground. And the smoke — movies never show how much smoke explosions really cause, because there would be too much to see anything.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one making these associations.

Dr. Alasdair Conn is chief of emergency services at Massachusetts General Hospital, where at least 22 of the severely wounded victims were rushed.

“This is like a bomb explosion we hear about in Baghdad or Israel or other tragic points in the world,” Conn told The New York Times.

The way Dr. Conn put it jarred me. Sixty-five years after its founding, Israel is vibrant, creative, tough, embattled, intense, exhausting — but tragic? Nope.

It’s not because enemies, like the terrorist or terrorists who attacked Boston, haven’t tried for years to reduce Israel to a nation of blood and tears. Just since the Second Intifada, the terror death toll of Israeli Jews and Arabs has topped 1,000. In the latest attack, in July of last year, a Hezbollah bomb planted on a bus full of Israeli tourists in Bulgaria claimed six lives.

Numbers don’t begin to reveal the human agony behind each of these attacks. Beyond the casualties and their anguished loved ones, there are the wounded, who bear the scars for life. Israel has known tragedy, and how.

But Israel — as a nation, as a set of ideals, as a population within its (somewhat iffy) borders — continues to thrive. If any one word could describe Israel, it would not be tragic. It would be resilient.

Research now shows that people who fare best in life are ones who’ve undergone some adversity — not too much, and not too little.

“In our trauma-focused age,” psychologist Anthony Mancini writes,we sometimes lose sight of our innate capacity to endure. We seem to assume that ‘traumatic events’ must result in ‘trauma.’ And yet the research tells us the opposite. Most people cope with the worst things with only modest and transient disruptions in functioning.”

By that measure, Israel was forged in just the right degree of adversity.

The sites of some of the worst terror attacks in modern history bear no lasting signs. Israeli leaders made a decision early on to restore attack sites to normality as soon as possible. The message that sends is the same as what grass reminds each time you mow it — “we’ll be right back.” All that marks the place is a plaque or some kind of permanent memorial — because preserving memory of sacrifice is also a way of ensuring resilience.

Israel’s economy has a kind of unplanned resilience — not relying on any one commodity or industry, but constantly inventing new ones. So, too, its agriculture, which has moved from simply growing stuff to engineering the finest ways to breed, plant, irrigate, harvest, process and ship produce. Dozens of other countries can grow cheaper potatoes, but all over Europe you’ll pay six bucks a kilo for Israel’s Avshalom brand.

Part of this resilience is born of an innate restlessness. But it also comes from being not just a country, but a People. As Gidi Grinstein, founder of the Israeli think tank Re’ut has pointed out, Jewish longevity and success is in large part due precisely to worldwide networks of communities that could grow when others shrank, or disappeared, that could help when others were hurting.

“A secret of Jewish survival, security and prosperity over centuries of exile has been its geographic spread among nations, cultures and languages,” Grinstein writes.

Israel was supposed to herald the Ingathering of the Exiles, when the far-flung Jews, called, disdainfully, the galut, would all drop their briefcases and flock to Zion.

Thankfully, our innate sense of resilience kept us from doing exactly that. Israel grew strong and has prospered by drawing on the talents and resources and experiences of Jews, non-Jewish friends and, yes, former Israelis throughout the world.

The last Israeli election, which saw the ascendancy of parties informed by a more open — that is a more American-Jewish — approach to Judaism is a good indicator of how Israel’s future also depends on the strength and ideas of outside Jewish communities. It doesn’t just take a village, it takes a web — or, to be geeky about it, it takes an interconnected network.

What binds these networks together is a common story, a shared narrative of struggle, endurance, redemption. That story has enabled Israel, in the words of the late Israeli Prime Minister Levi Eshkol, to emerge “stronger than before from the test of fire and blood.” That story has been both a source of hope, and its fuel.

Because, really, what is resilience but a fancy word for hope — HaTikvah. And if we lost that — now that would be tragic.

Israel launches air strike on Gaza; First since truce


Israel launched an air strike on the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, the first such attack since an eight-day war in November, Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls the territory, and Israel's military said.

“Planes bombarded an open area in northern Gaza, there were no wounded,” a statement from the Hamas Interior Ministry said. An Israeli military spokeswoman confirmed there had been a strike in Gaza, but gave no further details.

Israel and Hamas agreed to an Egyptian-mediated truce in November, after eight days of fighting, in which 170 Palestinians and six Israelis were killed.

Israel launched the 2012 offensive with the declared aim of ending rocket fire from the West Bank into its territory.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Israeli military said Palestinians launched three rockets at Israel. Two landed in Gaza and one hit an open area in southern Israel, causing no damage or injuries.

No Palestinian group claimed responsibility for the rockets.

Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jason Webb

Cyprus court jails Hezbollah man for plotting to attack Israelis


A Cyprus court sentenced a member of Lebanon's Shi'ite Muslim Hezbollah movement to four years in jail on Thursday on charges of plotting to attack Israeli interests on the island.

In a case bearing similarities to a deadly bus bombing in Bulgaria targeting Israelis last year, the Cypriot court convicted Hossam Taleb Yaccoub on five counts of participating in a criminal organization and agreeing to commit a crime.

Yaccoub, 24 when he was arrested, was accused of tracking movements of Israeli tourists at Larnaca airport, and routes of buses transporting them.

He was detained in Cyprus two weeks before a suicide bomber killed five Israeli tourists in the Bulgarian resort of Burgas in July, an attack Sofia blamed on Hezbollah. The group denies involvement.

Yaccoub, a Swedish national of Lebanese origin, pleaded not guilty. He admitted he was a member of Hezbollah, saying he would carry out innocent errands for a handler code-named Ayman, whom he could not fully identify because he always wore a hood.

“There is no doubt these are serious crimes which could have potentially endangered Israeli citizens and targets in the Republic,” the three-bench court said during sentencing.

Yaccoub's jail term will run concurrently with his period in custody since July.

The United States, which, like Israel, considers Hezbollah a terrorist organization, has said the guilty verdict on Yaccoub announced by the Cypriot court on March 21 highlighted the need for the European Union to crack down on the Lebanese group.

The EU, to which Cyprus belongs, has resisted pressure from the United States and Israel to blacklist Hezbollah, saying that doing so might destabilize Lebanon and add to regional tensions.

Writing by Michele Kambas; Editing by Alistair Lyon

Researchers say Stuxnet was deployed against Iran in 2007


Researchers at Symantec Corp. have uncovered a version of the Stuxnet computer virus that was used to attack Iran's nuclear program in November 2007, two years earlier than previously thought.

Planning for the cyber weapon, the first publicly known example of a virus being used to attack industrial machinery, began at least as early as 2005, according to an 18-page report that the security software company published on Tuesday.

Stuxnet, which is widely believed to have been developed by the United States and Israel, was uncovered in 2010 after it was used to attack a uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, Iran. That facility has been the subject of intense scrutiny by the United States, Israel and allies, who charge that Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb.

Symantec said its researchers had uncovered a piece of code, which they called “Stuxnet 0.5,” among the thousands of versions of the virus that they had recovered from infected machines.

Stuxnet 0.5 was designed to attack the Natanz facility by opening and closing valves that feed uranium hexafluoride gas into centrifuges, without the knowledge of the operators of the facility, according to Symantec.

The virus was being developed early as 2005, when Iran was still setting up its uranium enrichment facility, said Symantec researcher Liam O'Murchu. That facility went online in 2007.

“It is really mind blowing that they were thinking about creating a project like that in 2005,” O'Murchu told Reuters in ahead of the report's release at the RSA security conference, an event attended by more than 20,000 security professionals, in San Francisco on Tuesday.

Symantec had previously uncovered evidence that planning for Stuxnet began in 2007. The New York Times reported in June 2012 that the impetus for the project dated back to 2006, when U.S. President George W. Bush was looking for options to slow Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Previously discovered versions of Stuxnet are all believed to have been used to sabotage the enrichment process by changing the speeds of those gas-spinning centrifuges without the knowledge of their operators.

Since Stuxnet's discovery in 2010, security researchers have uncovered a handful of other sophisticated pieces of computer code that they believe were developed to engage in espionage and warfare. These include Flame, Duqu and Gauss.

Stuxnet 0.5 was written using much of the same code as Flame, a sophisticated virus that researchers have previously said was primarily used for espionage, Symantec said.