EU security chiefs brace for more Islamist attacks


Islamic State and other militants are very likely to attempt big new attacks in Europe following those in Paris, the EU's police agency said on Monday, echoing previous warnings by senior security officials.

The assessment was based on discussions concluded eight weeks ago by security agencies from EU states. The 8-page public report said further attacks could even take place quite soon.

The events in Paris “appear to indicate a shift toward a broader strategy of IS going global, of them specifically attacking France, but also the possibility of attacks against other member states of the EU in the near future”, it said.

There was “every reason to expect” an attack, by Islamic State or “IS-inspired terrorists or another religiously inspired terrorist group”. “This is in addition to the threat of lone actor attacks, which has not diminished,” it said.

At a news conference to mark the launch of a new European Counter Terrorism Centre within Europol, based in The Hague, its director Rob Wainwright said Islamic State “has the willingness and capability to carry out further attacks in Europe”.

Since immediately after the Paris attacks on Nov. 13, in which Islamic State gunmen and suicide bombers killed 130 people, Wainwright, a senior British police officer, has said further similar attacks are likely in Europe and that “lone wolf” militants are no longer the prime threat.

The Europol report said Islamic State may have established an “external action command trained for special forces-style attacks in the international environment” and noted that, as the Paris attacks showed, the group was largely active in Europe through radicalized European citizens, not foreigners.

The report also warned of a risk of cyber attacks but said there was no evidence of Islamist militants trying to use chemical, biological or nuclear material as a weapon in Europe.

Wainwright welcomed what he called a “considerable improvement” in the level of intelligence information that EU governments were now willing to share with each other through Europol following the attacks on Paris, which have concentrated minds on a need for cooperation against Islamist threats.

Currently, some 30 Europol experts are working to support the Franco-Belgian investigation into the Paris attack, Wainwright said, helping track movements of money, weapons, fake documents and other elements of the plot.

Words matter: How vocabulary defines the Israeli-Palestinian conflict


Settlements or Jewish communities? West Bank or Judea and Samaria? East Jerusalem or eastern Jerusalem? Those are some of the language choices that journalists covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are faced with each day—and those choices should not be taken lightly, experts say.

“It’s the terminology that actually defines the conflict and defines what you think about the conflict,” says Ari Briggs, director of Regavim, an Israeli NGO that works on legal land use issues. “Whereas journalists’ job, I believe, is to present the news, as soon as you use certain terminology, you’re presenting an opinion and not the news anymore.”

“Accuracy requires precision; ideology employs euphemism,” says Eric Rozenman, Washington director of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

At the conclusion of his famed essay, “Politics and the English Language,” George Orwell argues that writers have the power to “send some worn-out and useless phrase—some jackboot, Achilles’ heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse—into the dustbin, where it belongs.” Many Jewish leaders, organizations, and analysts wish to do just that with the following terms, which are commonly used by the mainstream media in coverage of Israel.

West Bank

Dani Dayan believes the “funniest” term of all that are used in mainstream coverage of Israel is “West Bank.” Dayan is the chief foreign envoy of the Yesha Council, an umbrella organization representing the municipal councils of Jewish communities in an area that the Israeli government calls Judea and Samaria, in line with the region’s biblical roots. Yet media usually use “West Bank” to describe the area, in reference to the bank of the river situated on its eastern border.

“[The Jordan River] is the only river on planet earth that on its good days is a few feet wide, and people claim that it has a bank 40 miles wide [spanning across Judea and Samaria],” Dayan tells JNS.org. “There is no other example of such a thing in the geography of planet earth. That proves that West Bank is the politicized terminology, and not Judea and Samaria, as people claim.”


The Jordan River. Photo by Beivushtang via Wikimedia Commons.

Member of Knesset Danny Danon (Likud) calls it “ridiculous” that West Bank—a geographic term that once described half of the Mandate of Palestine that the British government promised to the Jewish people—has “taken on a political meaning that attempts to supersede thousands of years of Jewish tradition.”

“The correct name of the heartland of the Land of Israel is obviously Judea and Samaria,” he tells JNS.org.

CAMERA’s Rozenman, the former editor of the Washington Jewish Week and B’nai B’rith Magazine, draws a distinction between Palestinian and Jewish communities in the area.

“If I’m referring to Palestinian Arab usage or demands, I use West Bank,” he says. “If I’m referring to Israeli usage or Jewish history and religion, etc., I use Judea and Samaria. Israeli prime ministers from 1967 on, if not before, used and [now] use Yehuda and Shomron, the Hebrew from which the Romans Latinized Judea and Samaria.”

West Bank is fair to use “so long as it’s noted that Jordan adopted that usage in the early 1950s to try to legitimate its illegal occupation, as the result of aggression, of what was commonly known as Judea and Samaria by British Mandatory authorities,” adds Rozenman.

Dayan, meanwhile, prefers to call Palestinian communities in Judea and Samaria exactly that.

“The area is Judea and Samaria, and in Judea and Samaria there are indeed Palestinian population centers, and that’s perfectly okay,” he says. “We cannot neglect that fact, that yes, we [Jews] are living together with Palestinians. And in Judea and Samaria there is ample room for many Jews, for many Palestinians, and for peaceful coexistence between them if the will exists.”

Settlements

Judea and Samaria’s Jewish communities are often called “settlements,” a term that some believe depicts modern-day residents of the area as primitive.

“[‘Settlements’] once referred in a positive manner to all communities in the Land of Israel, but at some point was misappropriated as a negative term specifically against those Jews who settled in Judea and Samaria,” Danon says. “I prefer to use ‘Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria’ when discussing the brave modern-day Zionistic pioneers.”

Dayan believe “settlements” is not pejorative, but still inaccurate. He analogizes the Israeli city of Ariel, home to one of Israel’s eight accredited universities, to the American municipality of Princeton, N.J., home to the Ivy League school of the same name. While Ariel is labeled as a settlement, nobody would give such a label to Princeton, Dayan argues.

“It’s a politically driven labeling in order to target those [Israeli] communities,” he says. “Most communities in Judea and Samaria are not different from any suburban or even urban community in Europe, in the United States, in Israel itself, or elsewhere.”

Green Line/1967 lines

The Israeli government’s decisions to build housing units beyond the 1949 armistice lines between Israel and Jordan are commonly defined as construction projects across the “Green Line.” But that term is a relic of the 1960s, according to Dayan.

“The Green Line ceased to exist in 1967 [during the Six-Day War],” he says. “The moment the Jordanian army, with the Palestinians, joined Egypt and Syria in attacking Israel, they shattered the Green Line and that very moment the Green Line ceased to exist.”

“1967 lines” are another popular term to describe the same entity, yet those lines “do not signify a political border between two political entities, and they never did,” says Dayan.

“I am always puzzled by the sudden sanctity that [the ‘1967 lines’] gained,” he says. “In the [1949] cease-fire agreement between Israel and Jordan that was signed in the Greek island of Rhodes, it was stated very clearly by an Arab demand that those lines are devoid of any political significance. They’re only a reflection of the military outcome of the [1967] war. Suddenly today we see that people say that east of the ‘Green Line’ is not part of Israel, it’s ‘Palestine,’ etc. That’s nonsense.”

East Jerusalem


The eastern Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya. Photo by Faigl.ladislav via Wikimedia Commons.

Though Jerusalem is the undivided capital of Israel, some refer to the city’s Arab-heavy portion as “East Jerusalem”—with the uppercase “E” implying that the area is its own municipality.

“There is a typo here,” says Danon. “There is the western part of Jerusalem and the eastern part of Jerusalem, but there is only one capital city of the State of Israel. … We should treat and invest in all parts of the city equally and make sure the world understands that Jerusalem will forever remain united.”

Even if spelled with a lowercase “e,” Dayan notes that the area media call “east Jerusalem” actually comprises the eastern, northern, and southern parts of the city. “Take for instance the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo in Jerusalem, it’s not in east Jerusalem, it’s in south Jerusalem. Or take for instance Pisgat Ze’ev—it is in north Jerusalem and not in east Jerusalem,” he says.

Rozenman says, “One day an Israeli-Palestinian agreement might establish a new ‘East’ and ‘West’ Jerusalem… but until then, journalistic usages of ‘East Jerusalem,’ let alone ‘Palestine,’ are prejudgements.”

Militants

By describing Palestinian terrorists as “militants,” newswire services such as the Associated Press (AP) and Reuters set the de facto industry standard, as their coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is reprinted by their numerous client newspapers.

After the Nov. 18 attack by two Palestinian terrorists on a Jerusalem synagogue, numerous headlines in major newspaper who ran the AP story read something along the lines of, “Palestinian militants kill 5 in Jerusalem synagogue attack.” The impact of not describing terrorists as “terrorists” is destructive, Danon says.

“Any news outlet that uses ‘militants’ to describe the savages who brutally murder Jews at prayer is dishonest and possible even anti-Semitic,” he says. “This attempt at moral equivalency does no one justice and only serves to encourage violent terrorism.”

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) issued an Aug. 20 press release on media usage of “militants” to characterize members of Hamas, the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Islamic State, and Hezbollah.

“These groups intentionally murder innocent Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and others across the globe. … To call them ‘militants’ greatly understates and minimizes the horror of their vile actions and may even camouflage the appropriateness and the imperative of those who fight them,” ZOA said.

Palestinian Bedouin

Bedouin, in its simplest form the Arabic word for “nomad,” can turn into a charged term depending on what comes after it, according to Regavim’s Briggs, whose NGO’s stated mission is “ensuring the responsible, legal and environmentally friendly use of Israel’s national lands.”

In United Nations documents’ description of land disputes related to Bedouins living in Israel, Briggs sees a trend of “trying to connect what is a local problem to a larger national problem.”

“Ten years ago they spoke about Israeli Bedouins, five years ago they spoke about Israeli Arab Bedouins, three years ago they spoke about Bedouins living in Israel, and now they talk about Palestinian Bedouins,” he tells JNS.org. “And they’re talking about the same Bedouins. What you find is that to try to politically charge an issue, or to try and connect what is a social, local, limited geographic issue to a larger national conflict, you need to change the terminology used, and that’s why we’ve see this shift.”

Haram al-Sharif

Briggs also notes the Arab push to have the United Kingdom-based BBC stop using “Temple Mount” to describe the Jerusalem compound on which the first and second Jewish Temples were built. Instead, “Temple Mount” opponents promote the usage of the Arabic term “Haram al-Sharif,” which translates to “noble sanctuary.”

But if media abandon “Temple Mount,” not just Jewish history is re-written, Briggs explains.

“What’s most interesting there is that a lot of Christianity is based on these stories of Jesus clearing out the money-changers standing at the entrance to the Temple, and if the Temple never existed as [media are] now being told, then what does that do to Christianity?” he says.

“The journalist has to understand that when they use certain terminology, when they remove certain terminology from the lexicon, then they’re impacting things a lot bigger than just a news story,” adds Briggs. “They’re impacting a religion.”

Israel kills top Gaza militant, five others in air strike: Gaza officials


Israel assassinated a top local leader of the Islamic Jihad militant group in the northern Gaza Strip early on Wednesday, neighbors and hospital officials said, and five others including family members were also killed.

An Israeli military spokeswoman said she had no initial details on the strike.

The militant, Hafez Hamad, two brothers and his parents were killed when his house was bombed in an air strike in the town of Beit Hanoun in the northern Gaza Strip, Hamas media and Gaza interior ministry said. An unidentified woman in the house was also killed.

That brought the death toll in Gaza to at least 22 since Israel launched its offensive on Tuesday. It included four Hamas gunmen, a senior Islamic Jihad leader and 17 civilians, including seven children.

Barak says Gaza militants to pay price for Tel Aviv rocket fire


Defense Minister Ehud Barak, signaling stronger Israeli military action against Palestinian militants, said on Thursday they would be made to pay a price for firing rockets toward Tel Aviv.

He also announced he had ordered the military to enlist more reservists “so that we can prepare for any development”. The Israeli armed forces chief spokesman said the military had the green light to call in up to 30,000 reserve troops.

In remarks broadcast after rockets were fired at Tel Aviv, Barak said: “This escalation will exact a price that the other side will have to pay.”

An Israeli security source said one rocket, which triggered air raid sirens in Tel Aviv, landed in the sea. The military said another rocket fired at central Israel struck an uninhabited area in the Tel Aviv suburb of Rishon Lezion.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Crispian Balmer

Gaza militants signal truce with Israel after rockets


Palestinian militants indicated they were ready for a truce with Israel on Monday to defuse a growing crisis after four days of rocket strikes from the Gaza Strip into the south of the Jewish state.

There was no immediate response from Israel which has warned it is ready to ramp up its air strikes and shelling if the rockets do not cease.

Leaders of Hamas, the Islamist faction that controls Gaza, met with Islamic Jihad and other groups on Monday night and said they would respond according to the way Israel acted – a formulation used in previous flare-ups to offer a ceasefire.

“If (Israel) is interested in calm they should stop the aggression,” Sami Abu Zuhri of Hamas told Reuters.

The Palestinian people were acting in self-defense, he said.

“The ball is in Israel's court. The resistance factions will observe Israel's behavior on the ground and will act accordingly,” said Khaled Al-Batsh of the Islamic Jihad group.

Throughout the day, Israel warned it was ready for stronger action. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu convened foreign ambassadors in what an apparent move to pre-empt international censure should Israel, whose 2008-2009 Gaza offensive exacted a high civilian toll, again go in hard.

Netanyahu briefed the envoys in Ashkelon, a port city within range of some Palestinian rockets. “None of their governments would accept a situation like this,” he said.

He was due to convene his close forum of nine senior ministers on Tuesday to decide a course of action. Israel Radio said Defence Minister Ehud Barak and military chief Lieutenant-General Benny Gantz had met with Netanyahu on Monday night to present possible attack scenarios.

Environment Minister Gilad Erdan, an influential member of Netanyahu's Likud party, said the briefing was meant to prepare world opinion for “what is about to happen”, adding there might be a major Israeli escalation within a few hours.

“Hamas bears responsibility. The heads of Hamas should pay the price and not sleep at night. I expect to see not just a return to targeted killings, but also to very wide activity by (the army),” he told Israel Radio.

Hamas took part in some missile launches at the weekend but it did not claim responsibility for attacks earlier on Monday, suggesting it was looking to step back from the brink.

The Israeli military said Palestinians had fired 12 rockets on Monday, and a total of 119 had been launched since Saturday.

Netanyahu said a million Israelis – around one-eighth of the population – were in danger. Israel has been deploying its Iron Dome rocket interceptor, air raid sirens and blast shelters, but eight people have been wounded by the rockets.

Six Palestinians, including four civilians, have been killed by Israeli shells fired on Gaza since Saturday, and at least 40 have been wounded.

EGYPT IN THE PICTURE

A Palestinian official who declined to be named said Egypt had been trying to broker a ceasefire and although no formal truce was in place, Hamas understood the need for calm.

Monday's launches were claimed by smaller groups, including a radical Salafi organization that rejects Hamas's authority.

Israel has shown little appetite for a new Gaza war, which could strain relations with the new Islamist-rooted government in neighboring Egypt. The countries made peace in 1979.

But Netanyahu may be reluctant to seem weak ahead of a January 22 election that opinion polls currently predict he will win.

Israel said the latest flare-up started on Thursday with a fierce border clash. On Saturday, a Palestinian missile strike wounded four Israeli troops patrolling the boundary, triggering army shelling of Gaza in which the four civilians died.

In turn, dozens of mortars and rockets were launched at Israel, which carried out a series of air strikes in Gaza.

Additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitch and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem, Editing by Ori Lewis, Douglas Hamilton and Andrew Heavens

Egypt broadens Sinai campaign against militants


Egypt’s military said on Wednesday it would broaden its offensive against militants in the Sinai Peninsula, a campaign that has raised concerns in Israel about the movement of heavy armor into the area near its border.

After militants attacked and killed 16 border guards on Aug. 5, Egypt launched an operation using the army and police to raid militant hideouts, arrest suspects and seize weapons, including rockets and other arms, that are rife in the area.

Disorder has spread in Sinai since former President Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow last year. Analysts say Islamists with possible links to al Qaeda have gained a foothold. This has alarmed Israel.

Israeli officials have privately voiced concerns about heavy equipment being sent to areas where there are restrictions on weapon deployments under a 1979 peace treaty.

Egypt has sent hundreds of troops, along with tanks, armored vehicles and helicopters into the North Sinai region since the start of military operations there on Aug.8.

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi told Reuters on Monday in his first interview with international media that Egypt was committed to all treaties and, without naming Israel, said no other states should worry about its actions in Sinai.

“As of the morning of Aug. 29, in continuation of the military operation, there will be a redeployment of forces in various locations in Sinai to complete the hunt for terrorist elements,” the Defense Ministry said in a statement.

A military source told Reuters this would involve spreading security forces over a wider area to root out militants.

The campaign is led by the defense minister and head of the armed forces, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, appointed by Morsi in a shake-up of the military top brass on Aug. 12. The Islamist president has promised to restore order.

Sisi briefed Morsi on the Sinai operation on Monday.

The ministry statement on its website said 11 militants had been killed and 23 arrested in the campaign. It said 11 vehicles had been seized, along with ammunition, including five boxes of Israeli-made ammunition, but did not give details.

WEAPONS SMUGGLING

The 1979 peace treaty limits the military presence in the desert peninsula though in recent years Israel has agreed to allow Egypt to deploy more forces there to stem weapons smuggling by Palestinian gunmen and crime.

An Egyptian security source said on Wednesday tanks were being withdrawn from the border area in a move that could calm Israel’s concerns. Three other security sources confirmed this and said the tanks were being moved to another part of Sinai, without giving further details.

No one had yet claimed responsibility for the killing of the border guards. But a Sinai-based Islamist militant organization, the Salafi Jihadi Group – which denies any involvement in the attack – warned the Egyptian army last week that the crackdown would force it to fight back.

Leaders of the Cairo-based Jihad Group, which fought against Mubarak but has since renounced violence, met earlier in the week in Sinai with members of the Salafi Jihadi Group in an attempt to defuse tensions.

“We went to prevent a new rivalry with the state,” said Magdy Salem, a member of the Cairo group. He said the visit was approved by Morsi.

The unrest has occurred mainly in North Sinai, where many people have guns and where Bedouin tribes have long complained of neglect by central government. They say they have seen no benefits from the expanding Sinai tourist resorts.

Mubarak’s military-backed government worked closely with Israel to keep the region under control. Diplomats say security contacts continued after Mubarak’s fall. But Egyptian security sources said Israel should not expect day-to-day reports.

Fighting flares along Israel-Gaza border


Israel killed two Palestinians in air strikes and Hamas fired its first cross-border rocket barrages in more than a year as fighting along the Israel-Gaza frontier flared on Tuesday for a second day.

The confrontation initially appeared to fit a familiar pattern of Israeli strikes against small squads of Palestinian militants in Gaza and rockets launched toward sparsely populated areas in southern Israel near the border.

But the surprise decision by the Gaza Strip’s rulers, the Islamist group Hamas, to re-engage militarily with Israel after months of staying on the sidelines and discouraging smaller groups from firing rockets held the prospect of wider conflict.

Since Monday, Israeli air strikes have killed six Palestinians, including four militants. A 2-year-old Gazan girl died and her brother was wounded when militants launched a rocket close by, witnesses said. An Israeli military spokesman said there had been no air strikes in the area at the time.

A Hamas medical official said the cause of the children’s injuries was not clear.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said Israeli attacks had prompted the group to “take a firm stance” and launch rockets.

Israeli security officials said at least 40 rockets were fired at southern Israel on Tuesday, causing no casualties.

Although other militant groups have fired rockets across the border, Hamas had held its fire under unofficial truces with Israel, a policy widely seen in Israel as effectively enabling the group to train and arm without much risk of Israeli attack.

Israel has said that Hamas, which seized the Gaza Strip from forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007, bears overall responsibility for any attacks from the coastal enclave.

GROUND OPERATION

“The more things deteriorate, the closer we come to a decision we don’t want to make,” Israeli cabinet minister Silvan Shalom said. “The prospect of a ground operation (in the Gaza Strip) shouldn’t frighten us.”

“If this situation escalates, and I hope it won’t, then all options are open. They know it. We know it. The international community knows it,” he told Israel Radio.

On Monday, before the Gaza flare-up, militants who crossed into Israel from Egypt’s Sinai desert fired on Israelis building a barrier on that frontier, killing one worker. Soldiers shot dead two of the infiltrators.

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

In a video recording obtained by Reuters in Gaza, a group of masked men claimed responsibility for the Sinai incident on behalf of what they said was a newly formed Islamic movement, the “Shura Council of Mujahideen in the Holy Land”.

The masked men used Islamic slogans, pledging to liberate the Holy Land from what they termed Jewish control.

A second video showed two men, one of whom said they were about to embark on a mission to attack “the Zionist forces on the border of Egypt and occupied Palestine”, an apparent reference to Monday’s incident on the Sinai border.

The first man said he was an Egyptian named Abu Salah al-Masri. The other said he came from Saudi Arabia and gave his name as Abu Huthiyfa al-Rathali. The videos could not immediately be verified.

Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Kevin Liffey

French Islamic militants planned to kidnap Jewish judge


Suspected Islamic militants arrested throughout France were planning terrorist attacks including kidnapping a Jewish judge.

The 13 members of the extremist group Forsane Alizza, or Knights of Pride, were among 19 suspected Islamic militants arrested last week in France. They are currently under investigation for alleged terrorist activities, Paris public prosecutor Francois Molins told reporters Tuesday. Preliminary charges are being filed against the 13, and nine will remain in police custody, he said.

The men reportedly planned to kidnap a Jewish judge in Lyon, in southeast France.

Molins said that there is no tie between this group and gunman Mohamed Merah, who killed children and a rabbi at a Jewish school in Toulose on March 21, as well as three French military personnel the previous week. Merah told French police that he killed the Jewish students at the school in revenge for Palestinian children killed in Gaza, and had killed three French soldiers the previous week for serving in Afghanistan. He also claimed links to al-Qaida, as does Forsane Alizza.

The terrorists’ arrests were part of a French crackdown in the wake of Merah’s attack in Toulouse. France on Monday also expelled five radical Islamic ministers.

Netanyahu pledges decisive response as rockets slam southern Israel


As southern Israel was barraged by rockets for a fourth straight day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was hitting back “strongly and decisively,” and its Iron Dome anti-missile defense system was intercepting many of the rockets coming from the Gaza Strip.

“The IDF is continuing to—strongly and decisively—attack the terrorists in the Gaza Strip,” Netanyahu said Monday at the Knesset. “Whoever intends to harm our citizens, we will strike at him.”

Israel has responded to the barrage of missiles with more than 30 attacks on rocket-launching sites and weapons facilities. At least 20 Palestinians, including two civilians, have been killed since the recent violence began. Several dozen Palestinian civilians, including several children, reportedly have been wounded in the strikes.

More than 200 rockets have been fired at Israel since Israel assassinated a terrorist leader from the Popular Resistance Committee. Israel’s military said the PRC leader, Zuhir Mussah Ahmed Kaisi, was planning an attack on Israel through the Sinai.

At least eight Israelis have been injured, two seriously, in the attacks by the PRC and Islamic Jihad. Hamas, which rules Gaza, has not launched missiles in the latest round of attacks.

At least two dozen rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel on Monday. The Iron Dome system intercepted at least eight fired at Beersheba and five at Ashdod.

One rocket fired Monday struck an empty kindergarten building, a day after a rocket landed in a school courtyard. One rocket Monday struck Gadera, located 24 miles south of Tel Aviv.

Also Monday, rockets fired from Gaza struck the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza, which has remained open throughout the hostilities. The crossing was closed for about half an hour before operations were continued. A truck and a van on their way to deliver goods to Gaza were hit, according to a statement by Israel’s coordinator of government activities in the territories.

“Despite the continuous barrage of mortars and artillery shells from the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, the IDF and COGAT continue to honor Israel’s commitments to transfer goods through the Kerem Shalom crossing to the people of Gaza in an efficient and secure manner,” the statement said.

Schools were closed for a second day on Monday in cities and towns located up to 25 miles from the Gaza border, affecting about 200,000 children. Classes at colleges and universities in the area also were closed.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Monday that he is “very concerned” by the new round of violence, saying that civilians on both sides are paying a heavy price.

Netanyahu said Sunday that Israel remains on alert against an attack from Sinai. The prime minister commended the security and intelligence services in the airstrike that killed Kaisi and another member of the Popular Resistance Committee.

“We have exacted from them a very high price,” he said. “Naturally we will act as necessary.”

Netanyahu praised the Iron Dome missile defense system, which according to the IDF has intercepted 90 percent of its targets.

“We will do everything in our power to expand the deployment of this system” in the months and years ahead, he said.

Netanyahu also lauded the residents of the southern Israeli communities for their resilience in the face of the rocket barrage. He met Sunday with with 30 municipal leaders from the area and received their staunch backing.

“In the end, the strongest force at our disposal is the fortitude of the residents, of the council heads, of Israelis and of the government,” he said.

On Sunday afternoon, a rocket that landed in a residential neighborhood of Beersheba damaged 15 homes; another rocket that landed near a Beersheba school caused damage to the structure. Pieces of a rocket intercepted by Iron Dome also hit a car and a water pipe in the city, according to Ynet.

The United States said it was “deeply concerned by the renewed violence in southern Israel,” U.S. State Department spokesman Victoria Nuland said in a statement issued Saturday. “We condemn in the strongest terms the rocket fire from Gaza by terrorists into southern Israel in recent days, which has dramatically and dangerously escalated in the past day. We call on those responsible to take immediate action to stop these cowardly acts.

“We regret the loss of life and injuries, and we call on both sides to make every effort to restore calm,” the statement concluded.

Egypt’s ambassador to the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Othman, told the Palestinian Ma’an news agency Sunday that Egypt was working to halt the escalation of violence between Gaza and Israel. He said his country was in contact with both sides in an attempt to stop the violence in order to “to avoid undesirable developments.”

Othman called Israel’s offensive “unjustifiable and a breach to the truce sponsored by Egypt.”

The Popular Resistance Committees promised revenge for Kaisi’s assassination.

“All options are open before the fighters to respond to this despicable crime,” said Abu Attiya, a PRC spokesman. “The assassination of our chief will not end our resistance.”

It is believed that the short-range rockets are being launched by the Popular Resistance Committee, according to the IDF, while the long-range and midrange rockets are being launched by Islamic Jihad.

Palestinian Authority spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaina said that “Israel’s escalation creates a negative atmosphere and increases the tension, which leads to the increase in violence in the region,” according to CNN.

The IDF issued a statement saying that it holds “Hamas responsible for the recent incidents since the terror organization currently has jurisdiction in the area [Gaza].” The statement said that “The Hamas movement, although not the one performing the launchings, is not doing anything to prevent it either.”

Rockets hit Israel, and airstrike kills Palestinian militant group’s leader in Gaza


Palestinian rockets from Gaza wounded several Israelis, and an Israeli airstrike killed the leader of a Palestinian terrorist group.

The Friday evening hostilities reportedly began with the firing of two mortar shells from Gaza into Israel.

Shortly thereafter, an Israeli airstrike on a vehicle in Gaza killed Zuhair Qaisi, the secretary general of the Popular Resistance Committees, and another member of the group, The Jerusalem Post reported.

Palestinians responded with a rocket barrage. As of 11 p.m. in Israel, Ynet placed the number of rockets fired into Israel at more than 20 and reported that four Israelis were hurt, one of them seriously.

The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement that the squad that it hit was “responsible for planning a combined terror attack that was to take place via Sinai in the coming days.”

The PRC promised revenge.

“All options are open before the fighters to respond to this despicable crime. The assassination of our chief will not end our resistance,” Abu Attiya, a PRC spokesman said.

Following the rocket barrage, Israeli airstrikes hit two cells in Gaza attempting to launch rockets into Israel.

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.

IDF: Gaza strike killed terrorist planning attack on Egypt border


An Israeli air strike on a car killed two militants and wounded two other men on a crowded Gaza street Thursday, the Israeli army and local medical officials said.

The men were identified as Essam Al-Batsh and Sobhi Al-Batsh, relatives initially identified as brothers.

Hundreds of Palestinians crowded around the charred remains of the car, which was hit in the bright afternoon sunshine on a main urban thoroughfare.

Video footage taken minutes after the strike showed the passenger compartment of the car wrecked and on fire with little damage to the immediate surrounding area.

A Hamas spokesman described the attack as a crime and accused Israel of ratcheting up violence in the area.

“We hold the government of the Zionist occupation (Israel) fully responsible for this crime and for the new escalation,” spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said. Hamas gave no other details.

In Tel Aviv, an Israeli military spokeswoman confirmed an air strike had been carried out. She said the two men killed in the incident had been planning an attack on Israeli civilians and soldiers along Israel’s border with Egypt’s Sinai peninsula.

“(They) were affiliated with a terrorist squad that intended to attack Israeli civilians and soldiers via the western border,” an army statement said.

Hamas, an Islamist group hostile to Israel, has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007, while President Mahmoud Abbas’s Western-backed Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank.

The army statement said that Essam had been involved in planning a suicide bombing in the southern Israeli resort city of Eilat in 2007 in which three Israeli civilians were killed, and a number of other attacks, some of which had been stopped.

Essam was a member of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, an offshoot of Abbas’s Fatah movement, group officials said. The Islamist group Hamas said Sobhi was affiliated with its own armed wing.

Violence between Israel and Gaza militants has abated slightly recently, although Wednesday Israeli troops killed one Islamic Jihad gunman and wounded another in a rare cross-border incursion, witnesses and hospital officials said.

Islamic Jihad is at times allied with Gaza’s Hamas rulers but the group has chafed at recent efforts by the more powerful faction to impose de facto truces across the coastal territory.

Hamas and Israel carried out an Egyptian- and German-brokered prisoner swap in mid-October that stirred expectations of a possible broader accommodation, although the governing Islamist movement spurns permanent peace with the Jewish state.

Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Ori Lewis in Jerusalem Editing by Maria Golovnina

Syria: Deal reached with Arab League on unrest


Syria said on Tuesday it had reached a deal with an Arab League committee tasked with finding a way to end seven months of unrest and starting a dialogue between President Bashar al-Assad and his opponents.

State media reported the deal, without giving details, saying an official announcement of the agreement would be made at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo on Wednesday.

The United Nations says more than 3,000 people have been killed in Assad’s crackdown on an uprising which erupted in March against his rule, inspired by revolutions which have toppled three Arab leaders this year.

The government blames militants who it says are armed and financed from abroad for the violence and says they have killed 1,100 members of the security forces.

Arab League ministers met Syrian officials in Qatar on Sunday to seek a way to end the bloodshed.

Arab diplomats said the ministers proposed that Syria release immediately prisoners held since February, withdraw security forces from the streets, permit deployment of Arab League monitors and start a dialogue with the opposition.

Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, whose country heads the ministerial committee, also said Assad must launch serious reforms if Syria were to avoid further violence.

A Lebanese official with close ties to the Syrian government said Syria had put forward its own proposals to the Arab League.

“The Syrian authorities want the opposition to drop weapons, the Arab states to end their funding for the weapons and the opposition, and an end to the media campaign against Syria,” the official told Reuters.

It was not clear how much those demands were reflected in the final agreement announced by Syria’s state media.

The United States said it welcomed efforts to put a stop to violence in Syria but it still believed Assad should step down.

Many in Syria’s opposition have ruled out any dialogue with Assad while the violence continues.

Omar Idlibi, a member of the grassroots Local Coordination Committee and member of the National Council, said the opposition wanted to see details of the agreement.

“We fear that this agreement is another attempt to give the regime a new chance to crush this revolution and kill more Syrians,” he said.

“It helps the Syrian regime to remain in power while the demands of the people are clear in terms of toppling the regime and its unsuitability even to lead a transitional period.”

Assad told Russian Television on Sunday he would cooperate with the opposition, but in another interview he warned Western powers they would cause an “earthquake” in the Middle East if they intervened in Syria, after protesters demanded outside protection to stop the killing of civilians.

Syria sits at the heart of the volatile Middle East, sharing borders with Israel, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Jordan.

“It is the faultline, and if you play with the ground, you will cause an earthquake,” he said. “Do you want to see another Afghanistan, or tens of Afghanistans?”

Writing by Dominic Evans; editing by Rosalind Russell

Israeli air strikes kill Gaza militants


Israeli air strikes killed two Gaza militants, one a local commander of the Islamic Jihad group in the Gaza Strip, and wounded four others who fired rockets at Israel, despite a two-day-old truce, Israeli and Palestinian officials said.

The Gaza death toll rose to three when Palestinian medical workers recovered the body of a 65-year-old man whom they said had been hit by an Israeli tank shell.

An Israeli military statement said the first air strike targeted a militant in Rafah suspected of involvement in weapons smuggling and militant operations in Egypt’s Sinai from where gunmen entered Israel and killed eight people last week.

Medics said the militant died when his car exploded as a result of the strike and two other people were wounded.

A second militant was killed and two others were wounded in a later air strike after they launched more rockets at Israel, Gaza hospital officials said. Two gunmen were wounded when trying to launch rockets in a third air strike, the army said.

An military spokeswoman said five rocket launchings from the Gaza Strip had been registered during the day, including two after dark. All landed in open areas and did not cause injuries or damage.

Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine group claimed responsibility for the rocket fire.

The violence disrupted a ceasefire agreed on Monday by Israel and Palestinian factions in Gaza after five days of intense cross-border violence, following the deadly attacks on an Israeli bus and motorists on Thursday.

Israel struck back at the time, killing seven gunmen at the border with Egypt in fighting in which five Egyptian security personnel were killed, sparking the Jewish state’s first crisis with Egypt’s rulers since the toppling of former president Hosni Mubarak in February.

Initial findings of an investigation Israel began after Egypt threatened to recall its ambassador to Tel Aviv, showed Israeli soldiers exchanged gunfire with Egyptian troops after entering Egyptian territory to chase after 12 gunmen who carried out the attacks, the Haaretz newspaper said.

There was no immediate official comment available on the report in Wednesday’s edition, which said as well that at least some of the gunmen had worn brown uniforms similar to those of Egyptian troops.

During Israel’s assault, an Israeli helicopter fired two missiles at the gunmen and fired machine guns, killing an Egyptian commander and two other officers. Two more Egyptian troops died later, the Israeli newspaper said.

Israel also killed another 15 Palestinians in a series of retaliatory air strikes in Gaza after the gun attacks, among them the commander of a militant group it blamed for the border assaults, which denied any involvement.

An Israeli man was killed later by one of 150 rockets fired at Israel from Gaza afterwards at the weekend.

The latest rockets forced Israeli security officials to cancel a music festival at the last minute in the city or Ashkelon and weekend soccer matches in southern Israel already postponed from last weekend have also been called off.

Israeli-Arab actor fatally shot in Jenin


Juliano Mer-Khamis, a well-known Israeli-Arab actor, was shot dead by Palestinian gunmen in the West Bank city of Jenin.

Mer-Khamis, whose mother was an Israeli-Jewish activist for Palestinian rights and father was a Christian Palestinian, was killed Monday after being shot five times while driving in his car, according to reports.

Mer-Khamis, 53, reportedly had received death threats after establishing the Freedom Theater in a Jenin refugee camp. The theater, a popular cultural center in the camp, has been the target of several firebomb attacks since its establishment five years ago, Ynet reported.

He had been called a “fifth column” in a pamphlet distributed in the refugee camp in 2009, according to Ynet.

Mer-Khamis was well-known for his film and theater roles in Israel and abroad. He was born and raised in Nazareth.

Israeli airstrikes hit Gaza building housing militants


Israel’s Air Force struck a building in the Gaza Strip that it said housed armed militants.

The Palestinians hiding in the building in the central Gaza Strip on Thursday had planted explosives earlier in the day and planned to shoot at Israeli soldiers, according to an Israel Defense Forces statement.

The militants returned fire. A direct hit on the building was confirmed, according to the military.

Two bombs detonated in the same area Wednesday in an attempt to harm Israeli troops on patrol along the Gaza border fence with Israel, the IDF said.

Pakistan Reaction: Something dark is growing in our own backyard




This is the first of two parts on Pakistan and terror. Next week: Anti-Semitism and Pakistan.



“Abhi India me pat’ta bhi nahi hil sakega.”

“Now even a leaf will need permission to stir in India,” remarked R, a young Indian woman at an expat dinner off London’s Baker Street on the Saturday after the Mumbai bombing. She was deep in discussion with three Pakistanis and nine fellow Indians about the expected tightening in security measures after the tragedy.

“It will be like the U.S. after 9/11,” she said, as heads nodded in agreement around the room. One of the Pakistanis opened her mouth but shut it quickly.

For Pakistanis at home, the fear is more palpable. It is not necessarily fear of immediate violence, but of something much darker growing in our very own backyard. Initially, the tragedy had seemed somewhat distant, but then came the damning reports that the terrorists used a boat to travel from Karachi. If Complete coverage of Mumbai Chabad attackproven true, this confirms yet again what the people of Karachi (and all over Pakistan) have known for a long time, that this city is being used as a base for terror groups. The long-term implications are terrifying. In the short term, Pakistan is worried that, as in 2001, when the Kashmir-based Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT) — the same group being named for the Mumbai terror — attacked the Indian parliament, the two countries could be brought to the brink of war.

Caution vs. the Blame Game

The Mumbai attacks made front-page news across Pakistan in the English-, Urdu- and regional-language media. All political statements condemning the merciless assault were carried, and Pakistan was one of the first countries to make its stance clear.

However, much of the media debates were fed by Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s statement that it was evident the group that carried out the attacks was based outside the country, and that India would act against any neighboring country that allowed itself to be used as a base for attacking India. These words raised alarm bells all over Pakistan and in a way have provided a case study of the divisions between the English and Urdu media. Also important was that President Asif Ali Zardari denied any Pakistani role in the attacks, pledged action against any group found to be involved, and advised New Delhi not to “over-react.”

The timing of the Mumbai attacks is extremely suspicious to some analysts. It just so happens that whenever the government of Pakistan reaches out to work on peace with India, something terrible happens to sabotage the process. Sabotage may be a strong word to use here, but consider Taliban expert Ahmed Rashid’s words. The author of “Descent Into Chaos: The United States and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia” said on Nov. 4, just weeks before the attacks, that he would hardly be surprised if something were to happen to derail the talks initiated by Zardari. He gave examples of how the military had sabotaged diplomatic efforts for peace with India in the past: Benazir Bhutto met Rajiv Gandhi in her first term, following which problems in Kashmir flared up; Nawaz Sharif met with A.B. Vajpayee, following which then-President Pervez Musharraf went into Kargil, a border hot spot with the two countries.

Thus, there are sections of society and the media that harbor a general mistrust, and help perpetuate it between the two countries, despite the fact that the two were one nation for hundreds of years until 1947. Some sections of the Urdu media exemplify this stance. They condemned the loss of life, but nonetheless fed into the blame game, an old tack. Their opinions ranged from the alarmist to the paranoid. Jang, one of the more widely read Urdu newspapers, warned in an editorial that Pakistan should be careful. But the editorial’s use of the word “propaganda” against Muslims to malign Pakistan had an old-school ring to it. The same line was taken by daily Urdu newspaper Nawa-i-Waqt, saying in its editorial that this was part of a “great game” by America, India and Israel against Pakistan.

Daily Urdu Ummat went so far as to indirectly support the “Deccan Mujahideen” by saying that their demands for the independence of Kashmir were “proof” enough that India could not “oppress” its Muslim populations for long. Urdu daily Khabrain chose to extrapolate on the earlier arrest of one Indian army lieutenant colonel for conspiracy by saying that India needed to get its own house in order. Similarly, daily Urdu newspaper Express felt that the “Indian rulers ought to change their thinking of hatred towards Pakistan,” urging them to look in their own backyard for terrorists hiding there, a reference to the time when Hindu extremists attacked a church in Mumbai.

This is not to say that one should dismiss the possibility of homegrown terrorism for India. But as some sections of the English media demonstrated, in a much more cautious, balanced and well-informed tone, there is another way of factoring that into the analysis of the situation rather than just by being accusing. For example, Dr. Hasan-Askari Rizvi, a well-respected political and defense analyst, pointed out in an op-ed piece in Daily Times that the blame game between India and Pakistan serves the political agendas of both hard-line Hindus and hard-line Muslims, who have always opposed normalization of India-Pakistan relations.

“India will soon learn what Pakistan already knows: It is not easy to control shadowy militant groups, especially when they cultivate support in sections of society,” he wrote.

Similarly, in its editorial, Dawn — one of the most widely circulated and oldest English newspapers — cautioned that those implicated in previous attacks in India have been homegrown Muslim militants. “In addition, Hindu militants have been linked to attacks targeting Muslims and Christians in India. What this all clearly adds up to is that India has a massive problem of domestic terrorism that it appears ill equipped to respond to…. But Pakistan cannot afford to be smug as India suffers. We have a grave problem of militancy, and the attacks in Mumbai are a grim reminder of the endless possibilities of terror.” These voices, mostly from the English media, acknowledge the problem, but instead of perpetuating insular rhetoric colored by anti-Semitic bias, urge cooperation; opinion based on historical trends and emerging facts; and transborder, regional solutions — given that the terrorists operate globally.

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Photo: The Chabad House in Mumbai (before.) Next page: Chabad House interior (after)