Israeli forces patrolling in Bethlehem, in the West Bank, July 20, 2017. (Mamoun Wazwaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Three Israelis reportedly killed, one wounded in West Bank stabbing attack


Three Israelis reportedly were killed and one wounded in a stabbing attack in a West Bank settlement north of Ramallah.

Two men and a woman reportedly died of their wounds, while a woman in her 60s was seriously injured in the attack in Halamish, according to The Times of Israel. Israeli media reports said the attacker was shot but survived.

Israel TV’s Channel 10 said the assailant, who entered the home of victims, was in his late teens and had posted on Facebook that he was upset by events at Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, where Palestinians and Israeli security forces clashed this week over the Israeli government’s decision to keep in place indefinitely metal detectors at the entrance to the Temple Mount.

Eli Bin, the head of Israel’s rescue service Magen David Adom, said an off-duty soldier next door heard screams, rushed to the home and shot the attacker through a window, according to ABC News. Bin said the attacker was wounded and evacuated to hospital.

On Friday, three Palestinians reportedly were killed in clashes between rioters and police in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Six Israeli police officers were injured in the rioting, touched off after Israel installed metal detectors at the Temple Mount in response to a July 14 terrorist shooting near the holy site that killed two Israeli police officers. The previous night, some 42 people were wounded in clashes between security forces and Palestinian protesters, who rioted during rallies against the introduction of the metal detectors, Army Radio reported.

The Temple Mount compound contains the Haram al Sharif area that is holy to Muslims.

Family of slain Palestinian teen asks Israel’s Supreme Court to raze Jewish killers’ homes


The family of a Palestinian teen killed in a revenge attack by three Jewish extremists has asked Israel’s Supreme Court to order the demolition of the murderers’ homes.

“The state needs to operate in the same way against Jewish terrorists as it does against Palestinians,” the family of Muhammad Abu Khdeir said Wednesday in its request, according to The Times of Israel. “Just like the homes of Palestinian terrorists are sealed, the same should be done to Jews.”

The family turned to the Supreme Court after the Defense Ministry determined last month that there was no need to demolish the Jewish killers’ homes, since Jewish terrorism is not as widespread as Palestinian terror, according to The Times of Israel, which saw the official letter sent to the family.

Abu Khdeir, of eastern Jerusalem, was kidnapped and killed on July 1, hours after the bodies of three kidnapped Jewish teens were discovered near Hebron. Abu Khdeir’s charred body was discovered in the Jerusalem Forest, where he was burned alive by the killers.

In May, Yosef Ben-David, 31, of Jerusalem, was sentenced to life in prison plus 20 years.

The names of Ben-David’s accomplices, who were both 16 at the time of the killing, have not been released publicly. The accomplices were sentenced last April: one to life in prison, the other to 21 years.

TSA agent killed, 6 hurt in Los Angeles airport shooting


A gunman opened fire with an assault rifle in a terminal of Los Angeles International airport on Friday, killing a Transportation Security Agent and injuring at least six other people before he was shot and captured, authorities said.

The incident prompted scenes of chaos at the airport, which halted departing flights and evacuated the terminal. Streets surrounding the airport were also shut down.

“An individual came into Terminal 3 of this airport, pulled an assault rifle out of a bag and began to open fire in the terminal,” Patrick Gannon, chief of the Los Angeles Airport Police said at a press conference.

A U.S. Transportation Security Administration spokesperson said on Twitter that one of its agents had been killed in the shooting and another was wounded. The tweet was later deleted.

A spokesman for the Los Angeles County Coroner said it was handling one person who was killed in the shooting – a male, approximately 40 years old.

Earlier, the Los Angeles Times and ABC News reported that a TSA agent had been killed, citing law enforcement sources.

A Los Angeles fire department spokesman said seven people were hurt and that six of them were taken to area hospitals.

Los Angeles police spokeswoman Officer Norma Eisenman said a suspect had been taken into custody and was believed to be the only person involved in the shooting.

Three male victims hurt in the incident were taken to Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, where one was listed in critical condition and two others in fair condition, said Mark Wheeler, a spokesman for the hospital.

'PEOPLE STARTED RUNNING'

The condition of the other victims or the gunman was not immediately clear.

Passenger Robert Perez told a local CBS affiliate that airport security agents had come through the terminal shouting that a man had a gun.

“I heard popping and everybody dropped to the ground,” Perez said.

Alex Neumann told cable network CNN that he was in an area inside the airport past a security checkpoint when he heard loud noises and screaming and saw people running in a scene that amounted to mayhem.

“We were at the food court and all of a sudden I hear a big commotion and people started running. People were running and people getting knocked down,” Neumann said, adding that he heard screams. “Mayhem is the best way of describing it.”

Television images showed at least one person being loaded into one of several ambulances at the scene, and passengers were seen being evacuated from the area.

Footage showed emergency responders setting up what appeared to be a triage area outside an airport terminal.

“The general public is being held back… Other than arriving flights, flight operations have been temporary held,” airport spokeswoman Katherine Alvarado said in an emailed statement.

President Barack Obama was briefed on the incident and White House officials are in touch with law enforcement officials on the ground, White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

Palestinian killed after infiltrating Israeli army base


A Palestinian was shot dead after breaking through the gates of an army base near Jerusalem on a tractor.

The Israel Defense Forces is calling Thursday evening’s incident at the Rama base near the Palestinian town of Al-Ram a terror attack.

The Palestinian, identified as Younis Obaidi from the eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina, broke through the front perimeter of the base and began destroying military vehicles, according to reports.

Soldiers warned Obaidi several times to stop his actions before he was shot by two soldiers, according to the IDF. An Israeli soldier was injured in the incident.

The IDF said Palestitnians were rioting at the scene and that security forces were called to the area to contain the riots.

Last December, two Palestinians infiltrated the same base and stole a soldier’s gun. The base is northeast of Jerusalem and just outside its municipal boundaries.

Two soldiers killed by gunmen in North Sinai, security and medical sources say


Two Egyptian soldiers were killed and four were injured on Thursday when gunmen opened fire on a military checkpoint near the North Sinai town of Sheikh Zuweid, security and medical sources told Reuters.

Militants also attacked four other army sites in Sheikh Zuweid, which lies near Egypt's border with Israel and the Palestinian Gaza Strip, injuring at least three soldiers.

Egypt's lawless Sinai peninsula has seen a spike in violence since the army ousted the country's Islamist president on July 3.

In separate attacks in Sinai on Wednesday, two soldiers were killed in a gun battle and four militants died when their explosives-laden car detonated near a police base.

Medical sources said around 20 policemen and soldiers have been killed in Sinai since president Mohamed Mursi's exit.

Army sources estimate there are around 1,000 armed militants in Sinai, many of them members of local nomadic tribes, divided into different groups with varying ideologies or clan loyalties, and hard to track in the harsh terrain.

Some want to establish Islamic law in Egypt, and are likely to have been incensed by Mursi's removal. Weapons are flowing in, especially from Libya, and a number of the groups are thought to have links with al Qaeda.

Reporting by Yusri Mohamed; writing by Shadia Nasralla; Editing by Noah Browning and Alison Williams

Rabbi shot in southern Russia in possible anti-Semitic attack


A Chabad rabbi working in southern Russia was shot and seriously wounded in what police say may have been an anti-Semitic attack.

Unknown assailants shot Artur (Ovadia) Isakov, 40, on Wednesday night as he exited his car and headed into his home in Derbent, in the predominantly Muslim Republic of Dagestan near Chechnya, according to Jtimes.ru, a Russian-Jewish news site.

One bullet entered his right lung and his liver, according to the report. Isakov cried out for help after he was hit and was evacuated to a hospital at about 1 a.m. RIA Novosti, the Russian news agency, reported that he has been put on an artificial respirator and is in intensive care.

Police said they are considering “religious motivations” but are exploring all leads.

Ramazan Abdulatipov, the acting president of Dagestan, released a statement blaming “extremists and terrorists [who] do not want a happy, normal life for us all.” He said, “Only ignorant people, enemies of Dagestan, are able to do this. Dagestan is outraged.”

Berel Lazar, Russia’s chief rabbi, has chartered a plane to transport Isakov to Israel as soon as his condition becomes stable enough to permit travel, according to Israel Radio.

In a statement, the European Jewish Congress expressed “deep concern and shock” following the shooting.

“We are of course aware of the growth of Islamist extremism in the region, and violence perpetrated by these groups, but we should reserve comment while we await the results of the police investigation,” said Serge Cwajgenbaum, the organization’s secretary-general.

Tight-knit Camp Towanga community mourns tragedy


When a massive oak tree toppled over on a stage where five counselors were having breakfast at Camp Tawonga, killing one and severely injuring two others, news of the tragedy quickly rippled across the Bay Area Jewish community.

Founded in the 1920s, the camp located near Yosemite National Park is a pillar of California Jewish life, and thousands of Bay Area Jews are among its alumni.

The death of Annais Rittenberg, 21, a senior at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and an art counselor at Towanga, in the July 3 accident hit close to home.

“Tawonga has been the main Jewish part of my life,” said Moorea Blythe, 18, a counselor at the camp.

In the Bay Area, which has among the lowest affiliation rates of any major Jewish community, Tawonga’s pluralist, nondenominational approach has been a key to its success. Many campers come from homes that are unaffiliated with a synagogue or Jewish institution, and the camp’s philosophy reflects the population.

Tucked into a forest adjacent to Yosemite, Towanga features many of the standard trappings typical of summer camps. But its pluralistic culture emphasizes spirituality over organized prayer and allows campers significant leeway in crafting their own approach to Jewish life.

“Maybe some like to pray, others like to connect to their spirituality through nature,” Jamie Simon, the camp director, told JTA. “We want to offer a lot of different modalities for connections to Judaism, and hopefully something will ring true for each child.”

The area where the camp is located is also near and dear to the hearts of Bay Area Jews.

At San Francisco’s Temple Sherith Israel, a stained-glass window installed in 1905 depicts Moses bringing the tablets bearing the Ten Commandments down from El Capitan, the vertical rock formation towering over the Yosemite Valley.

Hannah Horowitz grew up north of San Francisco in an area with few Jews. A former camper and counselor at Towanga, she said the camp helped her connect to nature and make connections with other Jewish youth.

“For the first time, I had a whole community of Jewish peers that I was really close with,” Horowitz said.

Joni Gore had a similar experience. She grew up attending a Conservative congregation, but only at Tawonga was she was able to explore Judaism on her own terms, she said.

“Tawonga helped shape my Judaism by making me focus more on a cultural aspect and on what kind of a person I wanted to be, not necessarily that I have to go to synagogue every Saturday,” Gore said.

David Waksberg, CEO of Jewish Learning Works, San Francisco’s board of Jewish education, said the camp has been successful at helping the campers find their Jewish identity meaningful.

“Tawonga has done a great job in delivering Jewish learning in an experiential way to northern California families in ways that are authentic and meaningful to people here,” he said.

At least 51 killed in Egypt, Islamists call for uprising


At least 51 people were killed on Monday when the Egyptian army opened fire on supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi, in the deadliest incident since the elected Islamist leader was toppled by the military five days ago.

Protesters said shooting started as they performed morning prayers outside the Cairo barracks where Morsi is believed to be held.

But military spokesman Ahmed Ali said that at 4 a.m. armed men attacked troops in the area around the Republican Guard compound in the northeast of the city.

“The armed forces always deal with issues very wisely, but there is certainly also a limit to patience,” the uniformed Ali told a news conference, at which he presented what he said was video evidence, some of it apparently taken from a helicopter.

Emergency services said 435 people were wounded.

Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood urged people to rise up against the army, which they accuse of a military coup to topple the leader, threatening an escalation in Egypt's political crisis.

“The massacre at the Republican Guard defies description,” said Mohamed El-Beltagy, a leading member of the Brotherhood's political wing, on its Facebook page.

At a hospital near the Rabaa Adawiya mosque where Islamists have camped out since Morsi was ousted, rooms were crammed with people wounded in the violence, sheets were stained with blood and medics rushed to attend to those hurt.

“They shot us with teargas, birdshot, rubber bullets – everything. Then they used live bullets,” said Abdelaziz Abdel Shakua, a bearded 30-year-old who was wounded in his right leg.

As an immediate consequence of the clash, the ultra-conservative Islamist Nour party, which initially backed the military intervention, said it was withdrawing from talks to form an interim government for the transition to new elections.

A spokesman for the interim presidency, Ahmed Elmoslmany, said work on forming the government would go on, though Nour's withdrawal could seriously undermine efforts at reconciling rival factions.

The military has said that the overthrow was not a coup, and it was enforcing the will of the people after millions took to the streets on June 30 to call for Morsi's resignation.

But pro- and anti-Morsi protests took place in Cairo, Alexandria and other cities, and resulted in clashes on Friday and Saturday that left 35 dead.

It leaves the Arab world's largest nation of 84 million people in a perilous state, with the risk of further enmity between people on either side of the political divide while an economic crisis deepens.

SHOTS DURING PRAYERS

A Reuters journalist at the scene saw first aid helpers attempting mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on a dying man.

Al Jazeera's Egypt channel showed footage from inside a makeshift clinic near the scene of the violence, where Morsi supporters attempted to treat bloodied men.

Seven dead bodies were lined up in a row, covered in blankets and an Egyptian flag. A man placed a portrait of Morsi on one of the corpses.

Footage broadcast by Egyptian state TV showed Morsi supporters throwing rocks at soldiers in riot gear on one of the main roads leading to Cairo airport.

Young men, some carrying sticks, crouched behind a building, emerging to throw petrol bombs before retreating again.

Footage posted on YouTube on Monday showed a man on a rooftop wearing what appeared to be a military helmet opening fire with a rifle five times, apparently in the direction of a crowd in the street below.

In the clip, which could not be independently verified, two bloodied men were shown carried away unconscious.

State-run television showed soldiers carrying a wounded comrade along a rock-strewn road, and news footage showed a handful of men who looked like protesters firing crude handguns.

The rest of the city was for the most part calm, though armored military vehicles closed bridges over the Nile to traffic following the violence.

The military overthrew Morsi on Wednesday after mass nationwide demonstrations led by youth activists demanding his resignation. The Brotherhood denounced the intervention as a coup and vowed peaceful resistance.

POLITICAL IMPASSE

Talks on forming a new government were already in trouble before Monday's shooting, after the Nour Party rejected two liberal-minded candidates for prime minister proposed by interim head of state Adli Mansour, the top constitutional court judge.

Nour, Egypt's second biggest Islamist party, which is vital to give the new authorities a veneer of Islamist backing, said it had withdrawn from the negotiations in protest at what it called the “massacre at the Republican Guard (compound)”.

“The party decided the complete withdrawal from political participation in what is known as the road map,” it said.

The military can ill afford a lengthy political vacuum at a time of violent upheaval and economic stagnation.

Scenes of running street battles between pro- and anti-Morsi demonstrators in Cairo, Alexandria and cities across the country have alarmed Egypt's allies, including key aid donors the United States and Europe, and Israel, with which Egypt has had a U.S.-backed peace treaty since 1979.

The violence has also shocked Egyptians, growing tired of the turmoil that began two-and-a-half years ago with the overthrow of autocrat Hosni Mubarak in a popular uprising.

In one of the most disturbing scenes of the last week, video footage circulated on social and state media of what appeared to be Morsi supporters throwing two youths from a concrete tower on to a roof in the port city of Alexandria.

The images, stills from which were published on the front page of the state-run Al-Akhbar newspaper on Sunday, could not be independently verified.

On Sunday, huge crowds numbering hundreds of thousands gathered in different parts of Cairo and were peaceful, but nonetheless a reminder of the risks of further instability.

BITTER BLOW

For many Islamists, the overthrow of Egypt's first freely elected president was a bitter reversal that raised fears of a return to the suppression they endured for decades under autocratic rulers like Mubarak.

On the other side of the political divide, millions of Egyptians were happy to see the back of a leader they believed was orchestrating a creeping Islamist takeover of the state – a charge the Brotherhood has vehemently denied.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she deplored the loss of life: “All those who claim legitimacy must act in a responsible way for the good of the country and avoid any provocation or escalation of violence,” she said in a statement.

Washington has not condemned the military takeover or called it a coup, prompting suspicion within the Brotherhood that it tacitly supports the overthrow.

President Barack Obama has ordered a review to determine whether annual U.S. assistance of $1.5 billion, most of which goes to the Egyptian military, should be cut off as required by law if a country's military ousts a freely elected leader.

Egypt can ill afford to lose foreign aid. The country appears headed for a looming funding crunch unless it can quickly access money from overseas. The local currency has lost 11 percent of its value since late last year.

On Monday, British energy firms BG Group and BP said they had pulled 160 expatriate staff out of Egypt due to spreading unrest, although operations and production were not expected to be affected.

Egypt's share index lost 3.6 percent on Monday.

Additional reporting by Shadia Nasralla, Ashraf Fahim, Asma Alsharif, Mike Collett-White, Alexander Dziadosz, Maggie Fick, Tom Finn, Sarah McFarlane, Tom; Perry, Yasmine Saleh, Paul Taylor and Patrick Werr in Cairo and Barbara Lewis in Brussels; Writing by Mike Collett-White; Editing by Alastair Macdonald

Falling tree at Calif. summer camp kills counselor


A tree fell through a dining hall at a Jewish summer camp in Northern California, killing one and requiring four others to be airlifted to a nearby hospital.

NBC News reported that a counselor, Annais Rittenberg, was killed.

A Cal Fire spokesman, Daniel Berlant, posted on Twitter that emergency crews were responding to a “mass casualty” event on Wednesday at Camp Tawonga, with 20 reported injuries, the Los Angeles Times reported.

There were conflicting reports as to whether any children were injured in the incident. Gregg Rubenstein, director of finance for the camp, told The Associated Press that the staff was still assessing the situation but no campers were among the injured.

A spokesman for the Tuolumne County Sheriff’s Office, Sgt. Jim Oliver, told myMotherLode.com that children had been trapped under the tree but were not necessarily injured.

Founded in 1925, Camp Tawonga is located near Yosemite National Park and headquartered in San Francisco.

One dead, dozens hurt as police clash with Egypt protesters


At least one protester was shot dead and dozens wounded on Friday when riot police clashed with demonstrators demanding the overthrow of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, witnesses said.

Youths threw petrol bombs and shot fireworks at the outer wall of Morsi's Cairo presidential compound as night fell. Police responded by firing water cannon and tear gas leading to skirmishes in the surrounding streets.

Two witnesses said they had seen a protester shot dead in Cairo with live ammunition in front of them.

“It's verified. I am at the morgue. He was shot with two bullets, and that's the report of the hospital. The shots were in the neck and the right side of the chest,” said one of the witnesses, lawyer Ragia Omran. Medical and security sources confirmed Mohamed Hussein Qurany, 23, was killed with live bullets.

The head of Egypt's ambulance service said at least 54 people had been wounded across the country, mostly in Cairo.

The renewed violence brought an end to a few days of calm after the deadliest week of Morsi's seven months in power. Protests marking the second anniversary of the uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak have killed nearly 60 people since January 25, prompting the head of the army to warn this week that the state was on the verge of collapse.

With multi-colored fireworks bouncing off their shields and bursting among them, helmeted and baton-wielding riot police chased protesters at the palace and set their tents ablaze. Petrol bombs briefly set fire to a building inside the compound.

The head of the Republican Guard, which protects the palace, condemned what he described as attempts to climb the compound walls and storm a gate. In a statement to the state news agency, he urged protesters to keep their demonstration peaceful.

Earlier, men dressed in mourning black marched through the Suez Canal city of Port Said, scene of the worst bloodshed of the past eight days, chanting and shaking their fists.

“There is no God but God and Mohamed Morsi is the enemy of God,” they chanted. Brandishing portraits of those killed in recent days, they shouted: “We will die like they did, to get justice!”

There were also scuffles earlier near Cairo's central Tahrir Square, where police fired teargas at stone-throwing youths. In Alexandria, protesters blocked roads, staged a sit-in on the railway and tried to break into the TV and radio building.

The protesters accuse Morsi of betraying the spirit of the revolution by concentrating too much power in his own hands and those of his Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood accuses the opposition of trying to overthrow the first democratically elected leader in Egypt's 5,000-year history.

Mohamed Ahmed, 26, protesting at the presidential palace, said: “I am here because I want my rights, the ones the revolution called for and which were never achieved.”

For the Port Said marchers, Friday was also the first anniversary of a soccer stadium riot that killed 70 people last year. Death sentences handed down on Saturday against 21 Port Said men over the riots helped fuel the past week's violence there, which saw dozens shot dead in clashes with police.

VIOLENCE DISAVOWED

Friday's marches took place despite an intervention by Ahmed al-Tayyeb, head of the 1,000-year-old al-Azhar university and mosque, who hauled in politicians for crisis talks on Thursday where they signed a charter disavowing violence. Morsi's foes said the pact did not require them to call off demonstrations.

“We brought down the Mubarak regime with a peaceful revolution and are determined to realize the same goals in the same way, regardless of the sacrifices or the barbaric oppression,” tweeted Mohamed ElBaradei, a former head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog who has become a secularist leader.

The main opposition National Salvation Front denied it was to blame for the demonstrations turning violent. Morsi's office said it would “hold the political forces that may have participated in incitement fully politically responsible, pending results of investigation.”

Tahrir Square, ground zero of the uprising against Mubarak, has become a graffiti-scarred monument to Egypt's perpetual turmoil, strewn with barbed wire and burnt-out cars. Vendors sold flag bracelets, pharaonic statues, sunflower seeds, water and fruit while the protesters gathered.

A man with a microphone shouted to the crowd, calling for Morsi to be put on trial. “We came here to get rid of Morsi,” said furniture dealer Mohammed al-Nourashi, 57.

UNGOVERNABLE

The rise of an elected Islamist after nearly 60 years of rule by secular military men in the most populous Arab state is the most important change achieved by two years of Arab revolts.

But seven months since his narrow election victory over an ex-Air Force commander, Morsi has failed to unite Egyptians and protests have made the country seem all but ungovernable. The turmoil has worsened an economic crisis, forcing Cairo to drain its currency reserves to prop up its pound.

Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie, on his Facebook page, blamed the unrest on “regional and international forces which aim for instability and to stir up problems and ignite strife to damage Egypt … to thwart the democratic transition”.

Brotherhood followers have clashed with demonstrators in the past, especially at the presidential palace which they regard as a symbol of his legitimacy. But the group has kept its men off the streets during the latest violence.

It is far from clear that opposition politicians could call off the street demonstrations, even if they wanted to.

“You have groups who clearly just want a confrontation with the state – straightforward anarchy; you've got people who supported the original ideals of the revolution and feel those ideals have been betrayed,” said a diplomat. “And then you have elements of the old regime who have it in their interests to foster insecurity and instability. It is an unhealthy alliance.”

Many Egyptians are fed up.

“We are exhausted. This protests thing is a political game whose price the people are paying. I hate them all – liberals and Brotherhood,” said Abdel Halim Adel, 60, near the presidential palace.

Additional reporting by Tom Perry, Shaimaa Fayed and Alexander Dziadosz in Cairo, Abdul Rahman Youssef in Alexandria and Yusri Mohamed in Ismailia; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Stephen Powell

Israeli troops reportedly kill Palestinian teen in West Bank


A Palestinian teenager reportedly was shot and killed in the West Bank by Israeli soldiers during an attempt to breach the security fence.

The Palestinian Maan news agency identified the teen as Samir Ahmad Abdul-Rahim, 17. The report said he was shot in the head, chest and leg, and died in a Palestinian hospital on Tuesday.

The Israel Defense Forces said that soldiers arrived in the Palestinian village of Budrus, located near Ramallah, after an attempt by Palestinian teens to break through the security fence. The soldiers shot at the teen as he attempted to breach the fence after warning him, Haaretz reported. The IDF said soldiers shot at the teen's legs.

Maan reported that the teens had just left their school after completing final exams and threw rocks at the soldiers.

On Monday, a Palestinian farmer in Gaza was shot and killed by Israeli soldiers after he approached the border fence.

Gaza rocket kills three in southern Israel, Israeli media says


A rocket fired from the Gaza Strip on Thursday struck an apartment building in southern Israel, killing three people, Israeli media said.

It was the first report of Israeli fatalities since Israel launched an air assault on the Gaza Strip a day earlier.

Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch, Editing by Jeffrey Heller

Suicide car bombers strike in heart of Aleppo, killing 48


Three suicide car bombs and a mortar barrage ripped through a government-controlled district of central Aleppo housing a military officers' club on Wednesday, killing 48 people according to activists.

The coordinated attacks hit just days after rebels launched an offensive against President Bashar Assad's forces in Syria's biggest city, leading to heavy fighting and a fire which gutted a large part of its medieval covered market.

The state news agency SANA said suicide bombers detonated two explosive-laden cars in the main square, Saadallah al-Jabiri, which is lined on its eastern flank by the military club, two hotels and a telecoms office.

The explosions reduced at least one building to a flattened wreck of twisted concrete and metal, and were followed by a volley of mortar bombs into the square and attempted suicide bombings by three rebels carrying explosives, it said.

Another bomb blew up a few hundred meters (yards) away on the edge of the Old City, where rebels have been battling Assad's forces.

State television showed three dead men disguised as soldiers in army fatigues who it said were shot by security forces before they could detonate explosive-packed belts they were wearing. One appeared to have a trigger device strapped to his wrist.

Another pro-Assad station, al-Ikhbariya TV, broadcast footage of four dead men, including one dust-covered body being pulled from the rubble of a collapsed building and loaded onto the back of a pickup truck.

The facades of many buildings overlooking the square were ripped off and a deep crater was gouged in the road. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 48 people were killed, mostly from the security forces, while SANA put the death toll at 31.

Wednesday's attacks in Aleppo followed last week's bombing of the military staff headquarters in Damascus, another strike by Assad's outgunned opponents against bulwarks of his power.

In July, rebels killed four of Assad's senior security officials including Assad's brother-in-law, the defense minister and a general in a Damascus bombing which coincided with a rebel offensive in the capital.

Government forces have since pushed rebel fighers back to the outskirts of Damascus. But they have lost control of swathes of northern Syria as well as several border crossings with Turkey and Iraq and failed to push the fighters out of Aleppo.

A pro-Assad Lebanese paper said on Tuesday that Assad was visiting the city to take a first-hand look at the fighting and had ordered 30,000 more troops into the battle.

Many rich merchants and minority groups in Aleppo, fearful of instability, remained neutral while protests spread through Syria. But rebels from rural Aleppo swept into the city in July and still control districts in the east and south.

REGIONAL CONFLICT

Opposition activists say 30,000 people have been killed across the country in the 18-month-old uprising, which has grown into a full-scale civil war with sectarian overtones and threatens to draw in regional Sunni Muslim and Shi'ite powers.

Sources in Lebanon said seven members of Lebanon's Shi'ite Muslim militant group Hezbollah, a close ally of the Syrian president, were killed inside Syria on Sunday in a rocket attack. Three were killed instantly while four others were wounded and died subsequently, they said.

The sources said the Hezbollah fighters were operating in the border area, monitoring the flow of weapons into Syria from Lebanon.

Hezbollah's website and television station said the group held funerals this week for two fighters killed while performing “jihadi duties”, but gave no further details.

Hezbollah has given strong public political support to its ally in Damascus but has not confirmed a military presence on the ground in Syria – wary of inflaming sectarian tensions in Lebanon, where many Sunni Muslims support the anti-Assad rebels.

The mainly Sunni rebels are supported by Sunni powers including Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and have attracted Islamist fighters from across the Middle East to their cause.

Assad, from the Alawite minority which is an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, is backed by Iran and Russia.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said on Tuesday NATO and world powers should not seek ways to intervene in the war or set up buffer zones between rebels and government forces.

He also called for restraint between NATO-member Turkey and Syria, after tensions flared when a mortar round fired from inside Syria struck the territory of Turkey. Ankara has threatened to respond if the strike were repeated.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned that hostilities in Syria could engulf the region and accused some Syrians of trying to use the conflict to settle scores with Tehran.

Ahmadinejad said that a national dialogue and elections – rather than war – were the only way to solve the Syrian crisis.

Efforts to address the conflict at the United Nations have been blocked by a standoff in the Security Council between Western powers seeking a tough stance against Assad and Russia and China, which fear a U.N. resolution against Syria would be the first step towards military intervention.

An Egyptian attempt to bring together Egypt, Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia to search for a regional solution to the crisis also appeared to be going nowhere after Saudi Arabia stayed away for a second time from a meeting of the four countries.

Additional reporting by Dominic Evans and Laila Bassam in Beirut, Editing by Samia Nakhoul and Angus MacSwan

U.S. envoy to Libya killed over anti-Muslim movie


The U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other American diplomats were killed, and the U.S. embassy in Cairo was attacked over an anti-Muslim movie.

Amb. John Christopher Stevens and three unnamed diplomats were killed Tuesday night in a rocket attack on their car in Benghazi, the White House confirmed Wednesday morning.

On Tuesday evening, Egyptian protesters climbed over the wall of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, pulled down an American flag, and then tried to set it alight.

The attacks follow the release online of an Arabic translation of a movie directed by Sam Bacile, a 56-year-old California real-estate developer, titled “Innocence of Muslims.”

[UPDATE: More information on “Sam Bacile” here]

The two-hour movie, which according to the Associated Press cost $5 million to make and was financed by more than 100 Jewish donors, attacks the Islamic Prophet Muhammad, making him out to be a fraud.

The film was screened one time at a movie theater in Hollywood, Bacile told the AP.

Bacile went into hiding on Tuesday night, speaking to international media from an undisclosed location.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton condemned the attack. “The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind,” she said in a statement.

Palestinians injured in possible West Bank firebombing


Six Palestinians were injured when a taxi caught fire near a West Bank Jewish settlement.

Palestinians said Thursday’s fire was the result of a settler throwing a firebomb at the vehicle. Israeli police said a second firebomb was located near the site of the attack, which took place near the Bat Ayin settlement, Haaretz reported.

Police investigators looking into the incident were trying to determine the cause of the fire and whether the car was actually hit by the incendiary projectile or overturned for other reasons.

The Palestinian Ma’an news agency reported that a family of four, including two 4-year-olds and their parents, were among the victims, who were transported to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Karem hospital by Magen David Adom ambulance.

Israel names five victims of Bulgaria terror attack


The names of the five Israelis killed in a suicide bombing in Bulgaria were released Thursday, after Israeli authorities had confirmed their identification and informed the families.

The names of those killed are Maor Harush, 24, and Elior Price, 25, from Acre; Itzik Kolangi, 28, and Amir Menashe, 28, from Petah Tikva; Kochava Shriki, 42, from Rishon Letzion. The sixth victim was the Bulgarian bus driver, Mustafa Kyosov, 36.

Friends and relatives visiting the families of Harush and Price in Acre said that the two were “friends in their life and in their death.” On Wednesday, the two boarded the flight along with another friend, Daniel Fahima, who was seriously wounded in the attack. The three were planning on taking a six-day vacation and were expected to return to Israel next week on Monday.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Strangers to hate crimes, Bulgarian Jews reeling from Burgas bombing


Until this week, leaders of Bulgaria’s small, generally placid Jewish community said felt untouched by hate crimes or terrorism.

But after Wednesday’s apparent suicide bombing of a bus carrying Israeli tourists in the Black Sea city of Borgas, Jews in the country are speaking of a basic change in their sense of security.

“We used to convene without a shred of fear in the Jewish community’s buildings,” said Kamen Petrov, vice president of Maccabi Bulgaria. “I guess we had been unprepared. Things will have to change from now on. We thought something like this could not happen in Bulgaria.”

Wednesday’s explosion outside Sarafovo Airport in Burgas killed six Israeli tourists, a Bulgarian bus driver and the suspected suicide bomber. More than 30 Israelis were injured. The Israelis had just arrived on a charter flight from Israel.

Maxim Benvenisti, president of the Organization of Jews in Bulgaria, said that three years ago the community had drafted emergency plans to respond to potential terror attacks.
“We discussed such scenarios. But we see that it’s one thing to discuss them, and it’s another to see the scenario happening before your eyes,” he told JTA. Bevenisti said security measures will now be tightened. “The situation needs to be improved,” he said.

Bulgarian President Rosen Plevneliev said Wednesday that at a meeting a month ago, with representatives of the Mossad, Israel’s foreign intelligence service did not warn Bulgarian officials of the possibility of a terrorist attack.

Bulgaria’s Jewish community had increased its security arrangements in February, following warnings from the local Israeli Embassy, according to Martin Levi, vice chairman of the Jewish community in Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital. Among other measures, security at the entrances to the community building in Sofia and other Jewish institutions were tightened. Bulgarian authorities had been made aware of the warnings, he said.

That came in the wake of the discovery by Bulgarian authorities of a bomb on a charter bus for Israelis that was heading to a Bulgarian ski resort from the Turkish border.

“We took the alerts seriously and upped security, but the Bulgarian authorities were dismissive,” Levi said. “Some argued Bulgaria was immune because it had such excellent relations and cultural attachment to Muslim populations. I am deeply disappointed in how the authorities handled this.”

He learned of the attack while in Hungary, where he is helping instructors run a summer camp for some 260 Jewish children from the Balkans. Next week, a summer camp for Bulgarian Jewish children will open in Bulgaria.

The camp has taken additional precautions as well, he said, without offering details.

“We want to beef up security without causing panic,” Levi said. “We try to tell the children as little as possible about the attack and continue with our program. We don’t want this to become ‘the summer camp of the terrorist attack.’”

The flow of Israeli tourists into Bulgaria picked up in 2009, following the deterioration in Israel’s relation’s with Turkey. Bulgaria’s minister of tourism was quoted as saying that nearly 150,000 Israelis were expected to visit Bulgaria this year. Some 20 percent of standing reservations from Israel have been canceled since the attack.

Tania Reytan, a sociologist at the University of Sofia who is Jewish and promotes interfaith dialogue, said she has limited faith in the effectiveness of additional security measures in the long run.

“The biggest security gap is in the extremist’s mind,” she said. “We need to reach out more to the other communities and explain who we are and what our values are.”

Though Bulgaria has a pro-Israel foreign policy, she said, “Israel is always mentioned in a negative context in Bulgaria.” The terrorists picked Bulgaria, she said, “because they sought for the weakest link in the European Union, and they found it.”

Some observers are worried that the attack could have negative repercussions for the generally positive relations between Bulgarians Jews and Muslims. Approximately 8 percent of Bulgaria’s 7 million people are Muslim, the vast majority of them ethnic Turks.

Bulgaria has an estimated 3,500 to 5,700 Jews.

Relations between Jews and Muslims in Bulgaria have historically been “peaceful and friendly,” said Benvenisti, president of the Organization of Jews in Bulgaria.

On Thursday, Bulgarian Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov said the bomber was believed to have been about 36 years old and had been in the country between four and seven days. “We cannot exclude the possibility that he had logistical support on Bulgarian territory,” the minister said. He declined to elaborate.

Nitzan Nuriel, former head of Israeli Counter-Terrorism Bureau, speculated that the suicide bomber might have been homegrown – either recruited locally or having crossed over from Turkey.

Representatives of Bulgaria’s Muslim community issued strong condemnations of the attack, as did representatives of various other ethnic and religious groups and associations.

“We refuse to believe that the bomber is a Bulgarian Muslim. We don’t believe that any of them could undertake such action,” said Ahmed Ahmedov, spokesman for the chief Bulgarian mufti.

Mufti Mustafa Alsih Hadzhi, in an official statement to the Bulgarian media, denounced Wednesday’s attack as a “barbarian act” and expressed condolences with the families of the victims. Ahmedov said that the attack should not be interpreted as a religious act, but as some kind of “economic provocation” aimed at crippling the local tourist business.
Despite the attack, some Israelis seem undeterred from coming to Bulgaria.

Rabbi Yossi Halperin of Varna – a city situated about 50 miles north of Burgas and where flights to and from Burgas were rerouted after the attack – said he found “a good number of recent arrivals” from Israel when he went to Varna’s airport “to help people through all the confusion.”

Svetlana Guineva reported for this story from Sofia, Bulgaria; Cnaan Liphshiz reported from The Hague, and Dianna Cahn contributed to this report from Belgrade, Serbia.

Bomb kills powerful Assad kin; battle in Damascus


A bomber killed three of Bashar Assad’s top military officials on Wednesday – including his powerful brother-in-law – in a devastating blow to the Syrian leader’s inner circle as rebels closed in vowing to “liberate” the capital.

Slain brother-in-law Assef Shawkat was one of the principal figures in the tight, clan-based ruling elite that has been battling to put down a 16-month rebellion against four decades of rule by Assad and his father.

The defense minister and a senior general were also killed and other top security officials wounded in the attack on a crisis meeting of top Assad security aides that took place as battles raged within sight of the nearby presidential palace.

A security source said the bomber was a bodyguard entrusted with protecting the closest members of Assad’s circle. State television said it was a suicide bomb. Two anti-Assad groups claimed responsibility.

The government vowed to retaliate, and residents said army helicopters fired machine guns and in some cases rockets at several residential districts. Television footage showed rebels storming a security base in southern Damascus.

By nightfall, activists said Syrian army artillery had begun shelling the capital from the mountains that overlook it.

Assad’s own whereabouts were a mystery – he did not appear in public or make a statement in the hours after the attack. The White House said it did not know where the Syrian leader was.

Diplomacy moved into overdrive as countries spoke of the conflict entering a decisive phase. Washington, which fears a spillover into neighboring states, said the situation seemed to be spinning out of control. Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said “the decisive fight” was under way.

The U.N. Security Council put off a scheduled vote on a Syria resolution. U.S. President Barack Obama spoke with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who has acted as Assad’s main protector in the diplomatic arena.

State television said Shawkat and Defense Minister Daoud Rajha had been killed in a “terrorist bombing” and pledged to wipe out the “criminal gangs” responsible. It later said General Hassan Turkmani, a former defense minister and senior military official, had died of his wounds, while Intelligence chief Hisham Bekhtyar and Interior Minister Mohammad Ibrahim al-Shaar were wounded but were “stable”.

The men form the core of a military crisis unit led by Assad to take charge of crushing the revolt which grew out of a popular protests inspired by Arab Spring uprisings that unseated leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya.

“I heard … a loud explosion but it was not a very big bang. I went down to take a look and I saw a lot of men in plain clothes with rifles,” one resident near the scene told Reuters by telephone. Windows on the third floor of the national security building were shattered.

Security sources said Assad was not at the meeting where the attack took place. The armed forces chief of staff, Fahad Jassim al-Freij, quickly took over as defense minister to avoid giving any impression of official paralysis.

“This cowardly terrorist act will not deter our men in the armed forces from continuing their sacred mission of pursuing the remnants of these armed terrorist criminal gangs,” Freij said on state television. “They will cut off every hand that tries to hurt the security of the nation or its citizens.”

The explosion appeared to be part of a coordinated assault on the fourth day of fighting in the capital that rebel fighters have called the “liberation of Damascus” after months of clashes which activists say have killed more than 17,000 people.

It began early on Wednesday with fighting around an army barracks in the district of Dummar, hundreds of meters from the presidential palace, and was followed by blasts close to the base of the elite 4th armored division in the southwest. The unit, led by Assad’s brother Maher, has been instrumental in crushing protests around Syria.

Assad’s enemies described victory as imminent.

“This is the final phase. They will fall very soon,” Abdelbasset Seida, leader of the opposition Syrian National Council, told Reuters in Qatar. “Today is a turning point in Syria’s history. It will put more pressure on the regime and bring an end very soon, within weeks or months.”

U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said: “This is a situation that is rapidly spinning out of control.” He called for maximum global pressure on Assad to step down.

Panetta said Assad’s government would be held responsible if it failed to safeguard its chemical weapons, which Western and Israeli official have said have been moved from storage sites.

Kofi Annan, the former U.N. Secretary-General who has acted as a peace envoy but whose calls for a ceasefire have fallen on deaf ears, said world powers should act to halt the bloodshed.

“DECISIVE BATTLE”

A video posted by activists who said it was filmed in the southern Qadam district showed at least two bodies lying in pools of blood and one rebel commander said at least 45 civilians had been killed in Damascus on Wednesday.

There was no way to confirm the figure, and he gave no tally of rebel or security forces casualties. The Syrian government restricts access by international journalists.

Western leaders fear the conflict, which has been joined by al Qaeda-style Jihadists, could destabilize Syria’s neighbors – Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Jordan.

Syrian Information Minister Omran Zoabi blamed Western and Sunni Arab governments for the crisis. “They are responsible for every drop of blood. And they will be accountable,” he said.

“I stress to them that this is the decisive battle in all of Syria,” Zoabi said on state television.

Rebels say they have brought reinforcements from outside the city to topple Assad by attacking the power base of the ruling elite for the first time.

Syrian forces hit rebel positions across the capital after the attack on the security meeting, with activists saying government troops and pro-government militia were flooding in.

State television broadcast footage it said was filmed on Wednesday showing men in blue army fatigues ducking for cover and firing – the first time official media has shown clashes in the heart of the capital.

REBEL CLAIMS

Two rebel groups claimed responsibility for the attack on the security meeting.

“This is the volcano we talked about, we have just started,” said Qassim Saadedine, a spokesman for the Free Syrian Army, a group made up of army defectors and Sunni youths.

Liwa al-Islam, an Islamist rebel group the name of which means “The Brigade of Islam”, said it had carried out the attack by planting a homemade bomb in the building.

Fighting also erupted overnight in the southern neighborhoods of Asali and Qadam, and in Hajar al-Aswad and Tadamon – poor, mainly Sunni Muslim districts housing Damascenes and Palestinian refugees.

Assad and the ruling elite belong to the minority Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam whose power was cemented after a coup in 1970. The elite has endured more than a year of rebellion but recent high level defections have signaled support beginning to fall away.

Two Syrian brigadier-generals were among 600 Syrians who fled from Syria to Turkey overnight, a Turkish official said on Wednesday, bringing the number of Syrian generals sheltering in Turkey to at least 20.

In Damascus, government troops used heavy machine guns and anti-aircraft guns against rebels moving deep in residential neighborhoods, armed mostly with small arms and rocket-propelled grenades.

Rebel fighters have called the intensified guerrilla attacks in recent days the battle “for the liberation of Damascus”.

Still, some opposition figures did not predict easy victory.

“It is going to be difficult to sustain supply lines and the rebels may have to make a tactical withdrawal at one point, like they did in other cities,” veteran opposition activist Fawaz Tello said from Istanbul.

“But what is clear is that Damascus has joined the revolt.”

Additional reporting by Mariam Karouny, Oliver Holmes and Erika Solomon in Beirut, Marcus George in Dubai and Jonathon Burch in Ankara; Writing by Philippa Fletcher; Editing by Peter Graff

Israel strikes Gaza sniper squad, killing two


Israel’s Air Force fired on what it called a terrorist squad of snipers operating near the security fence in the northern Gaza Strip.

Two Palestinian men were killed and four were injured in Monday’s strikes, according to the Palestinian Ma’an news service, which identified the casualties, in their 20s, as members of Islamic Jihad’s military wing, the Al-Quds Brigades. Ma’an said they were “en route to take part in a militant operation” against Israeli soldiers.

The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement that the squad killed in Monday’s action was among those responsible for recent sniper attacks along Israel’s security fence with Gaza, including one late last week in which snipers fired on an Israeli farmer working in his fields near Kibbutz Nir Oz in southern Israel.

Military sources said the incident is not related to Monday’s attack on the Israel-Egypt border in which one civilian was killed and two terrorists shot dead. 

Overnight Sunday, Israeli aircraft hit what the military said was a weapons manufacturing facility in southern Gaza and a terror activity site in central Gaza. Five Palestinians, including a woman and child, were injured in the attacks. 

The sites were targeted in response to the rocket fire toward southern Israel, the IDF said. This year, more than 275 rockets have been fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip, Israel’s military said.

Seven killed on Israel’s Egypt and Gaza borders


Militants who crossed into Israel from Egypt’s Sinai Desert fired on Israelis building a barrier on the border on Monday, killing one worker, before soldiers shot dead two of the attackers, Israel’s military said.

Israel later launched air strikes killing four Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, including two militants from the Islamic Jihad group on a motorcycle. Two other militants were killed while trying to fire a rocket, Israel said.

The Sinai attack, launched soon after the Muslim Brotherhood declared victory in Egypt’s presidential election, raised Israeli concerns about lawlessness in the area since the fall of president Hosni Mubarak last year.

“We can see a disturbing deterioration in Egypt’s control of the Sinai’s security,” Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said, commenting on the attack.

“We are waiting for the election results. Whoever wins, we expect him to take responsibility over all of Egypt’s international commitments, including the (1979) peace treaty with Israel and security arrangements in the Sinai, and to put an end to these attacks swiftly,” he told reporters.

Three gunmen crossed into Israel from the Sinai Desert, the Israeli military said.

“A terrorist squad opened fire and possibly also fired an anti-tank rocket at an area where (Israel) is constructing the border fence,” spokesman Yoav Mordechai said.

Soldiers who rushed to the scene killed two of the militants but could not find the third, who may have returned to Egypt, the military said.

A military source said the dead worker was an Arab citizen of Israel. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, which took place about 30 km (18 miles) from the Gaza Strip.

Israel is building a fence along the frontier to curb an influx of African migrants and boost security, and hopes to complete it by the end of the year. It will run along most of the 266 km (165 miles) from Eilat, on the Red Sea, to the Gaza Strip.

In August last year, militants crossed over the Egyptian border and killed eight Israelis, in the most serious attack in the area since the Egyptian popular uprising.

On Saturday, at least two rockets were fired deep into southern Israel, causing no damage or casualties. It was not clear whether they had been launched from Sinai.

Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip, ruled by the Islamist group Hamas, have launched rockets at Israel from the coastal territory in the past. Israel says Palestinian militants have also crossed into Sinai to launch similar attacks.

Late on Sunday, Israeli aircraft carried out a series of strikes in the Gaza Strip in response to rocket fire from the enclave. Medical sources in Gaza said seven people were wounded.

Additional reporting by Saleh Salem in Gaza; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan and Maayan Lubell; Editing by Kevin Liffey

Israeli soldier, Gaza gunmen killed in clash


A Palestinian gunman broke into Israel on Friday and killed a soldier before being shot dead himself in a rare cross-border attack that Israel blamed on the Islamist group Hamas.

Israel hit back, with a missile-strike killing one militant and wounding two others in the southern Gaza Strip. Militants also fired rockets out of the Palestinian enclave, but they did not cause any damage, the Israeli army said.

Sources in Gaza said the gunman killed in the cross-border attack was affiliated with the Islamic Jihad. However, the faction, which operates independently of Hamas, denied responsibility, suggesting the infiltrator might have been acting alone.

Hamas, which governs Gaza, had no immediate comment.

The Israeli army said the gunman crossed through the border fence with the intention of killing civilians and had ambushed soldiers sent to intercept him.

Palestinian witnesses heard an explosion and shooting near Abassan, a border village that is also close to the Egyptian frontier shared by Israel. They said Israeli forces set off smoke bombs to obscure the view as helicopters circled.

Though hostile to Israel, Hamas has largely sat out recent cross-border fighting and has appeared unwilling to rock the boat. Rather, it is focused on power-sharing talks with its Palestinian rivals and is monitoring developments in Egypt.

Reporting by Dan Williams and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Crispian Balmer

French voters moving on from Toulouse, but Jews can’t let it go


If Isaac Sitrin is worried about being targeted by Jew-hating thugs, then he is hiding it well.

After determining that a fellow train passenger is Jewish and willing to lay tefillin, he ushers the passenger to the center of Gare du Nord train station. Praying aloud, Sitrin performs the ritual ceremony as his wife and daughters wait nearby.

“We feel safer now. [President] Nicolas Sarkozy put cops everywhere and got the killer right away. Many Jews will vote for him after Toulouse,” Sitrin says in reference to the slaying of a rabbi and three children last month by a Muslim radical at a Jewish school.

Police killed the suspected murderer, Mohammad Merah, two days later in a gunfight. And authorities upped security around Jewish institutions, banned some radicals from entering France and made dozens of arrests.

The Toulouse attack will have a “decisive effect” on how Jews vote in France’s presidential election, says Michel Zerbib, news director at Radio J, the French Jewish station. “We can expect even greater Jewish support for Sarkozy than in 2007.”

Meanwhile, Zerbib says, the non-Jewish electorate has shifted its attention to the central issue of the race: the French economy. “But Jews see what happened as an existential threat,” he says. “They cannot let go.”

Influential members of the French Jewish community praise Sarkozy, leader of the center-right UMP party, for his performance. Yet many feel let down by Sarkozy, once their undisputed favorite. Influential French Jews balk at the Socialist attitude to “new anti-Semitism” and harsh criticism of Israel, and say they have few alternatives to Sarkozy.

That’s good news for the extreme right, now under softer leadership and hungry for Jewish approval to upgrade its public image.

On April 2, the Jewish umbrella group CRIF organized a meeting in Paris for the community with Pierre Moscovici, national secretary of the Socialist Party and a campaign manager for Socialist presidential hopeful Francois Hollande.  Moscovici, a Pris-born Jew, says Hollande is “friendly to Israel and strict but fair with its government—out of commitment to the creation of a Palestinian state.”

“In addition, the Socialist Party has other rigorous men and women of principle who are both friendly and demanding when it comes to Israel. They firmly oppose anti-Semitism,” he says.

CRIF President Richard Prasquier believes “many Jews will vote for the Socialists.” But opinion shapers and Jewish community leaders also judge Hollande on the actions of some of his party members before and after the Toulouse shooting.

“Hollande is seen as responsible for the left’s unwillingness to face the new Muslim anti-Semitism in France,” Zerbib says—anti-Semitism that leads extremists to stage reprisals on French Jews for Israeli actions.

Professor Shmuel Trigano, an expert in French Jewry and lecturer at Paris-Nanterre University, speaks of “a near total silence of the Socialist Party on hundreds of anti-Semitic attacks” and complains of “disproportionate criticism of Israel.”

In January, Socialist parliament member Jean Glavany wrote a parliamentary report accusing Israel of “water apartheid” and theft in the Palestinian territories. CRIF called the document biased.

Regardless of their misgivings about the Socialist Party, many Jews are displeased with Sarkozy. The Cevipof study of Jewish voters shows they are more disappointed in the president than is the general electorate.

In the past two years, Sarkozy’s approval rating has dropped 19 percentage points among Jews—from 62 percent in 2007-09 to 43 percent in 2009-11. Among non-Jews, Sarkozy’s popularity fell 14 points, to 32 percent in January. The study was based on a questionnaire filled out by 173,000 French voters, including 1,000 who identified themselves as Jews.

“There isn’t a single candidate the Jews can wholly welcome,” says Philippe Karsenty, a Jewish-French politician and media analyst. “Sarkozy has some responsibility for what happened in Toulouse because he let anti-Zionist propaganda of the French public media outlets grow.”

Karsenty, who has long claimed that a France 2 television report on the killing of a 12-year-old Palestinian boy, Mohammed al-Dura, in Gaza in 2000 was doctored to blame his death on Israel, accuses Sarkozy of “helping Al Jazeera spread the kind of radicalism that caused the Toulouse massacre.”

Last year, the Al Jazeera network bought media rights from the Union of European Football Associations to screen most championship soccer matches in France. The deal came at the expense of the previous rights owner, the French pay-television channel Canal+. The French government has considerable clout over UEFA.

“The same imams Sarkozy banned deliver their message to France through Al Jazeera in Arabic,” Karsenty says. “The French government should not be encouraging that.”

Sarkozy has disappointed the French Jewish community in other ways, too: the French vote in favor of Palestinian membership in UNESCO, condemnations of Israeli settlements and when he called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “liar.”

That disappointment may partly explain an apparent shift in how some Jews view the National Front, France’s largest right-wing party. The anti-Muslim party with a history of anti-Semitism is led by Marine Le Pen.

On March 27, the French branch of the Jewish Defense League publicly expressed support for the National Front for the first time.

“An important National Front delegation visited the Grande Synagogue de la Victoire in Toulouse,” the branch’s website said. “Bickering” among Jewish institutions will “surely ensue.”

Founded in the 1970s by the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, JDL is considered a terrorist group in the U.S. but is legal in France. Amnon Cohen, JDL’s Paris spokesman, says it has dozens of activists.
Cohen says the National Front “isn’t perfect but isn’t dangerous. We’ll work with those willing to fight the Islamic threat.”

Since assuming the leadership of the National Front last year, Le Pen has distanced herself from the anti-Semitic rhetoric of her father and predecessor, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has called the Holocaust a “detail in history” and been convicted several times in France for Holocaust denial. He also said the German occupation of France was “not particularly inhumane.”

Marine Le Pen, by contrast, has reached out to French Jews and Israelis, describing them as “natural allies.” Even before that, in 2007, the National Front received nealy 5 percent of the Jewish vote.

Zerbib, the Jewish radio journalist, says the Toulouse shooting could bring more Jews to vote Le Pen.

“They would be protest votes by Jews who feel abandoned,” he says. “More Jews feel like that after Toulouse and they are seriously thinking about emigrating to Israel.”

Israel kills Gazan gunman along tense border


Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian gunman suspected of trying to plant explosives beneath a fence at the border with Gaza, the Israeli military said on Sunday.

Soldiers on Sunday recovered the remains of the gunman alongside an assault rifle, a statement from the Israeli military spokesman said.

None of the militant groups in the Hamas Islamist-ruled Gaza Strip claimed responsibility for the incident, which Israel said occurred after dark on Saturday.

The tense frontier has been largely quiet since an Egyptian-brokered truce silenced a violent outbreak last month when Israel killed 25 Palestinians in air strikes launched at Gaza, most of them militants, and gunmen fired 200 rockets at Israel.

Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Alison Williams

French lawmakers pay condolence calls in Jerusalem


A delegation of French political leaders visiting Israel paid condolence calls to the families of the children and rabbi killed in the attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse.

The members of the French parliament are in Israel through March 30 under the auspices of Project Interchange, an educational institute of the American Jewish Committee and MedBridge Strategy Center, a French NGO devoted to enhancing understanding and ties with Mediterranean countries.

The participants, a cross-section of conservative French political and opinion leaders, including leaders of French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s center-right party, the Union for a Popular Movement, also visited the graves in Jerusalem of the Toulouse shooting victims—Rabbi Jonathan Sandler and his young sons Arieh and Gabriel, and Miriam Monsonego, the 7-year-old daughter of the school’s headmaster.

The program, which is designed to provide leaders of the two main French political parties with a firsthand understanding of Israel, was modified in the aftermath of the attack last week on the Ozar Hatorah school. The program includes meetings with influential figures across Israel’s political and social spectrums, including senior Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

French Socialist party leaders visited Israel on a similar program last May.

“The ties between Israel and France being particularly strong, this trip is an opportunity for me to show our country’s attachment to the State of Israel—an attachment which the tragedy of these past days in Toulouse has highlighted,” said Guy Teissier, chairman of the National Defense and Armed Forces Commission in the French National Assembly and mayor of Marseille.

Opinion: Strengthening Muslim-Jewish ties in the face of evil


As a rabbi and an imam, we deeply mourn the tragic loss of innocent lives in the murderous terrorist attacks in France. We express our heartfelt sympathy and compassion for the bereaved.

Amid the wall-to-wall media coverage of the attacks and their aftermath, one piece of the story has received less attention: the inspiring manner in which Muslims and Jews in France have stood side by side in denouncing these heinous acts.

Thousands of Muslims and Jews reacted to the savage killings of three children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulouse and the earlier murders of three French soldiers, including two Muslims, by joining together in solidarity marches in communities throughout Paris.

Meanwhile, top French Muslim and Jewish leaders have vowed to stand united in opposition to acts which Mohammed Moussaoui, president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, has accurately characterized as being “in total contradiction with the foundation of this religion [Islam].”

This heartening coming-together of Jews and Muslims in France did not happen in a vacuum.

In 2003, Rabbi Michel Serfaty, the spiritual leader of the Jewish community of the Paris suburb of Ris Orangis, responded to being accosted by Muslim youths near his synagogue by founding the Jewish-Muslim Friendship Society of France, which is dedicated to building ties of understanding and trust between the two communities. Every year the organization’s dedicated Muslim and Jewish staffers and volunteers take part in a Tour de France, in the process building a network of ties between grass-roots Muslims and Jews in towns and cities throughout the country.

In 2009, the European imams and rabbis who took part in the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding’s Mission of European Imams and Rabbis to the United States agreed to participate in the foundation’s annual Weekend of Twinning in which scores of mosques and synagogues and Muslim and Jewish organizations hold one-on-one encounters during a weekend each November in cities around the world.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, the FFEU and the Islamic Society of North America will host the first Mission of Latin American Muslim and Jewish Leaders. The event will bring 14 imams and rabbis from five South American countries and two Caribbean islands to Washington for meetings with Muslim and Jewish members of Congress and with top officials at the White House and State Department. We are optimistic the mission will jump-start a process of dialogue and cooperation between the Muslim and Jewish communities of Latin America.

What we have learned from five years of working together to nurture an ever-expanding fabric of Muslim-Jewish relationships—and what has been proven anew by the joint response of Muslims and Jews in France to the terror in Toulouse—is that when Muslims and Jews open sustained face-to-face communication, we can maintain our unity even in the face of unspeakable horror directed against our respective communities.

As we have undertaken together a joint study of Torah, Koran and the oral traditions of our two faiths, we have discovered profound commonalities between our beliefs. We have come to understand that just as we share a common faith—dating back to our common patriarch, Abraham/Ibrahim—we also share a common fate. Our single destiny must strengthen our bonds of concern, compassion and caring for each other.

Indeed, as Jews and Muslims, not only must we carry out a sustained dialogue, but we must actively fight for each other’s rights, standing together against Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and xenophobia. We believe deeply that a people which fights for its own rights is only as honorable as when it fights for the rights of all people. For only when we see the humanity in the Other can we preserve it within ourselves.

Rabbi Marc Schneier is president of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding. Imam Shamsi Ali is the spiritual leader of the Jamaica Muslim Center in New York.

From Middle East to France, a Jewish school’s journey


Rabbi Jean-Paul Amoyelle, head of the Ozar Hatorah network of Jewish schools in France, was woken at 4 a.m. during a visit to New York with chilling news.

Jewish schools and synagogues in France had been targeted in a string of attacks in the past decade, many of them arson, but this was different.

A gunman had shot dead three children and a 30-year-old Hebrew teacher at his school in Toulouse, one of 20 in France with roots in the diaspora of Middle Eastern Jewry.

The shooting marks a tragic turn for Ozar Hatorah, which was created in the wake of the Holocaust in the mid-1940s by a Syrian-born Jew intent on improving the lot of Jewish communities in the Middle East and North Africa.

In 2001 a classroom was burned down at a “Ozar Hatorah”, or “Treasure of the Torah”, school in the Paris suburb of Creteil, but the perpetrator turned out to be a pupil.

Amoyelle said Monday’s attack was a sign of growing danger.

“This was deliberate. Anti-semitic and deliberate, I have no doubt,” Amoyelle said by telephone as he was due to return to France. “I plan to install a zone of reinforced security.”

The creator of Ozar Hatorah, Isaac Shalom, opened schools in countries including Morocco, Iran, Libya and Syria to respond to what his network described as disastrous educational conditions.

As the region underwent upheaval and war following the creation of the state of Israel, Ozar Hatorah also followed the path of Jewish emigration, starting schools in France from the late 1960s as large numbers of North African Jews crossed the Mediterranean to escape heightened regional tensions.

“I was in France in 1967. I began with a school in Sarcelles (a Paris suburb), and there was already one in Lyon,” said Amoyelle, who now oversees 20 schools across Paris and cities like Marseille, Strasbourg and Aix-les-bains.

“These are schools that are perfectly integrated in the community,” he added, describing the educational program as offering two possibilities: a straightforward French education as well as a Jewish education rooted in history and religion.

Today there are over 30,000 students enrolled in Jewish schools in France, according to the French Jewish association CRIF. The number of enrolments has stabilized since 2005, according to Jewish education expert Patrick Petit-Ohayon.

Ozar Hatorah offers what Amoyelle describes as “a certain security”, a precious commodity for parents made wary by the arson attacks. Guards stand at the door to check visitors and the railings were elongated after 2001.

Parents and pupils have been left shocked and bewildered in an area they thought was safe.

“This area is very calm and as far as I know there had not been any threats,” said Laura, a parent at the school, who declined to give her last name.

Her daughter said teachers had hurried them into various rooms, including the synagogue, when the shooting broke out. “I didn’t see anything, but I heard several shots,” she said.

“It was scary.”

Additional reporting by Chine Labbe and John Irish; editing by Geert De Clercq and Philippa Fletcher

Two Palestinians planting bombs killed by Israeli troops


Two Palestinians were reported killed in an Israeli military strike near the Gaza border.

Israeli troops fired Wednesday on Palestinians that the Israeli military said were placing explosives near the border fence in order to harm or kidnap Israeli soldiers. Two other Palestinians were reported injured in the attack.

The explosives that were being planted also exploded during the attack, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

“The IDF will not tolerate any attempts to harm its civilians or Israel Defense Forces soldiers,” the IDF said in a statement, adding that it held Hamas responsible for violence emanating from Gaza.

Israel kills al-Qaida-linked chief in Gaza strike


Israel killed the leader of an al Qaeda-inspired faction in the Gaza Strip on Friday, accusing him of involvement in firing rockets and a planned attack on the Jewish state from the neighboring Egyptian Sinai.

The deadly air strike was Israel’s second against a Salafi Islamist militant this week. Militants identified him as Momen Abu Daf, chief of the Army of Islam, among a loose network of Palestinian groups which profess allegiance to al Qaeda and have been reinforced by volunteers who slip in from the Sinai.

Gaza’s Islamist Hamas rulers, who have sometimes reined in more radical groups, are seeking an accommodation with secular Palestinian rivals and with an Egypt struggling for order after the fall of U.S.-allied President Hosni Mubarak in February.

Abu Daf died when a missile hit Gaza City’s Zeitoun district, the Hamas administration’s Health Ministry said. Five other Palestinians were wounded and one of them needed hospital treatment.

The Israeli military said its aircraft “targeted a terrorist squad that was identified moments before firing rockets at Israel from the northern Gaza Strip.”

Abu Daf, a military statement said, had “orchestrated and executed numerous and varied terror attacks” and “was actively involved in the preparations of the attempted terror attack on the Israel-Egypt border that was thwarted this week.”

EYES ON EGYPT

That appeared to refer to Israel’s killing on Tuesday of another Salafi fighter, Abdallah Telbani, who the military said had been plotting strikes in which gunmen would circumvent the fortified Gaza border by attacking south Israel from the Sinai.

Israel has been on high alert for such raids since losing eight of its citizens to armed infiltrators on Egypt’s porous frontier in August. Israeli troops repelling those gunmen killed five Egyptian border guards, fraying strategic ties with Cairo.

“We shoot when we’re being shot at,” one Israeli security official said after Friday’s air strike in Gaza. “It’s clear that Hamas does not have an interest in fanning the flames at this time, but it’s not dousing them either.”

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman, responded: “Our people have the right to defend themselves, and the problem is the (Israeli) occupation which targets the Palestinian resistance.”

Though Hamas echoes Salafi calls for Israel’s ultimate destruction, its ambitions are framed within Palestinian nationalism, not al Qaeda-style global jihad, and include a possible ceasefire with the militarily superior Jewish state which, with Egyptian help, has tried to isolate Gaza.

Hamas took over the coastal strip in a 2007 civil war against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction, which holds sway in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal and Abbas held rapprochement talks in Cairo last week against a backdrop of political upheaval across the Arab world, including Syria, where Meshaal retains a headquarters that diplomats say Hamas has scaled back.

One official said Meshaal told Abbas he was “in favor of peaceful resistance and a truce in Gaza and the West Bank at this stage,” though Hamas would not meet Israel’s core demand for recognition.

Two short-range rockets were launched from Gaza into Israel on Thursday and five on Wednesday, the Israeli military said. There were no casualties. The Popular Resistance Committees, an armed Palestinian faction, claimed responsibility.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

Gadhafi and the Jews


Now it can be told: For the last decade or so, the Jews had secret back channels to Muammar Gadhafi.

What led the pro-Israel community into a careful relationship with Gadhafi 10 years ago were considerations of U.S. national interests, Israel’s security needs and the claims of Libyan Jews.

After his overthrow by Libyan rebels and his killing last week, the conclusion among many pro-Israel figures in America is that it was worth it, despite the Libyan strongman’s erratic behavior and his ignoble downfall.

The reason: Gadhafi’s shift away from state terrorism after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks eliminated a funder and organizer of threats to Israeli and U.S. interests.

Gadhafi’s overtures to the pro-Israel community began in 2002, when a leader of the Libyan Jewish community in exile, David Gerbi, returned to Libya to bring an elderly aunt to Italy, where he and his family now live. His aunt, Rina Debach, is believed to be the last Jew to have lived in Libya.

Through interlocutors, Gerbi said, “Gadhafi asked me if I could help to normalize the relationship between Libya and the United States.”

Gadhafi’s motives were clear, according to Gerbi: Saddam Hussein was in the U.S. sights at the time, and Gadhafi, who already was tentatively reaching out to the West through Britain, did not want to be next on the list.

Gadhafi agreed to end his nascent weapons of mass destruction programs and to a payout in the billions of dollars to families of victims of the terrorist attack that brought down a Pan Am flight over Lockerbie, Scotland, in 1988.

Gerbi, who still hopes to re-establish a Jewish presence in Libya, immediately launched a tour of the United States in hopes of rallying support for bringing Libya into the pro-Western fold. He met with pro-Israel groups and lawmakers.

“There were extensive discussions about what would be appropriate and not appropriate,” recalled Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the Jewish community’s foreign policy umbrella group. In the end, “We didn’t want to stand in the way of Libyan Jews having the opportunity to visit.”

Especially notable was the fervor with which the late U.S. Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.), a Holocaust survivor who then was the senior Democrat on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, embraced the cause. Lantos, with the blessing of a George W. Bush administration seeking to contain radical Islamist influence, visited Libya five times.

“I am rational enough to recognize that we must accept ‘yes’ for an answer,” Lantos told the Forward newspaper in 2004 following his first visit. “Gadhafi’s record speaks for itself — it’s an abominable record — but the current actions also speak for themselves. He has now made a 180-degree turn.”

Steve Rosen, now a consultant to a number of groups on Middle East issues, was at the time the director of foreign policy for AIPAC. He said the pro-Israel community decided not to stand in the way of U.S. rapprochement with Libya because of the relief it would offer Israel.

Rosen and Alan Makovsky, a staffer for Lantos, were surprised when, around 2002 — the same time that Gerbi was making the case for Libya in New York and Washington — Gadhafi’s son Seif al-Islam sought them out at a conference on the Middle East in England.

“He kept finding ways to bring us into the dialogue,” Rosen recalled. “He considered us influential in Washington, because we were pro-Israel.”

Rosen took the younger Gadhafi’s case to the Israelis, who gave AIPAC a green light not to oppose Libya’s overtures — but they also counseled caution.

“Most of them raised an eyebrow, saying you can’t trust Gadhafi, but the idea of a rogue state becoming moderate appealed to them,” Rosen said.

That view seemingly was vindicated when Libya destroyed its weapons of mass destruction under U.S. supervision.

“Israel and its friends are nothing if not pragmatic,” Rosen said. “There are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies.”

AIPAC would not comment on the affair. Keith Weissman, Rosen’s deputy at the time, confirmed the account, recalling his own trip to England, at Seif al-Islam Gadhafi’s invitation, in 2003.

“The Israelis liked it, because there was one less guy with a lot of money to spend on bad things,” Weissman said.

Congress removed Libya from the 1990s Iran-Libya sanctions act, and Western oil companies returned to the country.

Most Jewish groups chose not to respond to invitations to visit Libya, noting that while Gadhafi had removed himself as a threat to others, he was still dangerous to his own people.

“Nobody was fooled, everybody knew what Gadhafi was,” said Hoenlein, who, like Rosen, had turned down invitations to visit Libya.

However, Gadhafi’s promises of restitution to Libya’s Jewish exiles — driven out two years before he took power in 1969 — came to naught.

Gerbi, a psychologist invited to Libya in 2007 to assist in Libyan hospitals, suddenly was thrown out of the country, and the items and money he had brought to refurbish synagogues was confiscated.

Much hope now rests on the provisional government that has replaced Gadhafi. Gerbi advocates caution. At the revolutionaries’ invitation, since May he has spent weeks on and off in Libya assisting its people overcome post-traumatic stress.

Yet at Rosh Hashanah, when Gerbi attempted to reopen a shuttered, neglected synagogue in Tripoli, he was met with a virulently anti-Semitic Facebook-organized campaign. Protesters outside the synagogue held up signs proclaiming what Gadhafi had once promised: no Jews in Libya.

Egypt cabinet to meet over violence that kills 24


Christians clashed with military police, leaving at least 24 people dead in Cairo, and the cabinet called an emergency meeting for Monday, vowing the violence would not derail Egypt’s first election since Hosni Mubarak was toppled.

Christians protesting about an attack on a church set cars on fire, burned army vehicles and hurled rocks at military police who they said used heavy-handed tactics against them. It was some of the worst violence since the February uprising.

The violence casts a shadow over the imminent parliamentary election. Voting starts on on Nov. 28 with candidates due to begin registering during the week starting on Wednesday.

The clashes also added to growing frustration among activists with the army who many Egyptians suspect wants to keep hold of the reins of power from behind the scenes even as it hands over day-to-day government. The army denies this.

“This is a dark day in the military’s history. This is betrayal, a conspiracy, murder,” Magdy el-Serafy wrote on Twitter where he and other Egyptians voiced frustration at the army’s handling of the protest.

The Health Ministry said the death toll had reached 24 with 213 injured, the official MENA news agency reported. It did not identify the dead but state television had earlier reported three soldiers were killed.

Prime Minister Essam Sharaf toured the area near the state television building where clashes erupted, MENA said, adding he spoke to those in the area to hear their accounts of events.

“What happened in front of the state TV building is exactly what happened on Jan. 25,” wrote Muslim activist Asmaa Mahfouz, referring to the start of the anti-Mubarak uprising.

Christians, who make up 10 percent of Egypt’s roughly 80 million people, took to the streets after blaming Muslim radicals for partially demolishing a church in Aswan province last week. They also demanded the sacking of the province’s governor for failing to protect the building.

Tensions between Christians and Muslims have increased since the uprising. But Muslim and Christian activists said the violence on Sunday was not due to sectarian differences but was directed at the army’s handling of the protest.

‘MALICIOUS CONSPIRACIES’

“Instead of advancing to build a modern state of democratic principles, we are back searching for security and stability, worrying that there are hidden hands, both domestic and foreign, seeking to obstruct the will of Egyptians in establishing a democracy,” Sharaf said on state television.

“We will not surrender to these malicious conspiracies and we will not accept reverting back,” he said in his address.

The cabinet said in a statement that it would “not let any group manipulate the issue of national unity in Egypt or delay the process of democratic transformation” which it said would begin with opening the doors to candidate nominations.

Cabinet spokesman Mohamed Hegazy told Reuters the cabinet would hold a special session on Monday to discuss the events.

“The most important thing is to contain the situation, see the way forward and the necessary measures to avoid any ramifications,” Hegazy said, adding a committee of prominent figures from the church and Al-Azhar mosque would also meet.

Presidential candidate Amr Moussa and political groups said they would hold an emergency meeting on Monday about the violence.

The army imposed a curfew on Cairo’s Tahrir Square, the focus for protests that brought down Mubarak, and the downtown area. It was set from 2 a.m. to 7 a.m., (0000-0500 GMT).

Pictures of smashed faces and dead bodies of what activists said were bodies run over by military vehicles circulated online, with angry comments comparing the violence used by the military to that of Mubarak’s hated police in the uprising.

“What happened today is unprecedented in Egypt. 17 corpses crushed by military tanks,” Hossam Bahgat, human rights activist tweeted from hospital. “I saw bodies missing hands and legs, heads twisted away or plastered to the ground.”

Protesters also took to the streets in Alexandria, Egypt’s second city.

The government appealed for calm. In comments published on his Facebook page, Sharaf said he had contacted security and church authorities about the situation, saying the one ones to benefit were the “enemies of the January revolution”.

Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Michael Roddy

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