Israel retaliates for rockets fired from Gaza

Israel in retaliatory airstrikes targeted what the military called “three terror sites” in Gaza.

The Saturday morning strikes came in response to rockets fired the previous evening from the Gaza Strip on southern Israeli communities. One rocket landed in Sderot, reportedly damaging a bus and a private home. Later that night a rocket was intercepted by the Iron Dome missile defense system over Ashkelon.

There reportedly were no injuries in either the bombings from Gaza or Israel’s reprisal.

A Palestinian Salafist group affiliated with the Islamic State, called the Sheikh Omar Hadid Brigade, took responsibility for the rocket attacks.

Code red alarms sounded in southern Israel in advance of the rocket strikes, sending residents running for bomb shelters.

An Iron Dome battery had been moved to the Ashkelon area late last week after a defense situation assessment found that the recent upsurge in violence on the Temple Mount and in other areas of Jerusalem, as well as the rearrest of recovered Palestinian hunger striker Mohammed Allaan, could set off a new round of rocket attacks from Gaza.

The rocket that struck Sderot was the 11th rocket to hit Israeli territory since January.

At least two rockets fired from Gaza early Sunday morning failed to cross the border with Israel and landed in Gazan territory, according to reports.

Jordan hangs two Iraqi militants in response to pilot’s death

Jordan hanged two Iraqi jihadists, one a woman, on Wednesday in response to an Islamic State video showing a captured Jordanian pilot being burned alive in a cage by the hard-line group.

Islamic State had demanded the release of the woman, Sajida al-Rishawi, in exchange for a Japanese hostage whom it later beheaded. Sentenced to death for her role in a 2005 suicide bomb attack in Amman, Rishawi was executed at dawn, a security source and state television said.

Jordan, which is part of the U.S.-led alliance against Islamic State, has promised an “earth-shaking response” to the killing of its pilot, Mouath al-Kasaesbeh, who was captured in December when his F-16 warplane crashed over northeastern Syria.

Jordan also executed a senior al Qaeda prisoner, Ziyad Karboli, an Iraqi man who was sentenced to death in 2008.

The fate of Kasaesbeh, a member of a large tribe that forms the backbone of support for the country's Hashemite monarchy, has gripped Jordan for weeks and some Jordanians have criticized King Abdullah for embroiling them in the U.S.-led war that they say will provoke a militant backlash.

King Abdullah cut short an official visit to the United States on Tuesday. In a televised statement to the nation, he urged national unity and said the killing was a cowardly act of terror by a criminal group that has no relation to Islam.

Muslim clerics across the Middle East, even those sympathetic to the jihadist cause, also expressed outrage, saying such a form of killing was considered despicable by Islam.


There was widespread shock and anger in Jordan at the brutality of a killing that drew international condemnation.

Kasaesbeh's father said the two executions were not enough and urged the government to do more to avenge his death.

“I want the state to get revenge for my son's blood through more executions of those people who follow this criminal group that shares nothing with Islam,” Safi al-Kasaesbeh told Reuters.

“Jordanians are demanding that the state and coalition take revenge with even more painful blows to destroy these criminals,” he said.

The Jordanian army has vowed to avenge his death, and some analysts believe it could escalate its involvement in the campaign against Islamic State, which has seized large areas of Iraq andSyria, Jordan's neighbors to the north and east.

In the pilot's home village of Ay, mourners said Jordanians must rally around the state. “Today we put our differences behind us and rally behind the king and nation,” said Jabar Sarayrah, a shopkeeper.

The prisoners were executed in Swaqa prison, 70 km (45 miles) south of Amman, just before dawn, a security source who was familiar with the case said. “They were both calm and showed no emotions and just prayed,” the source added without elaborating.

The Jordanian pilot is the first from the coalition known to have been captured and killed by Islamic State.

Jordan is a major U.S. ally in the fight against hardline Islamist groups and hosted U.S. troops during operations that led to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. It is home to hundreds of U.S. military trainers bolstering defenses at the Syrian and Iraqi borders, and is determined to keep the jihadists in Syria away from its frontier.

Rishawi, in her mid-forties, was part of an al Qaeda network that targeted three Amman hotels in suicide bombings in 2005. She was meant to die in one of the attacks – the worst in Jordan's history – but her suicide bomb belt did not go off.

Jordan said on Tuesday the pilot had been killed a month ago. The government had been picking up intelligence for weeks that the pilot was killed some time ago, a source close to the government said.


Disclosing that information appeared to be an attempt to counter domestic criticism that the government could have done more to strike a deal with Islamic State to save him.

“The horror of the killing, the method of killing is probably going to generate more short-term support for the state,” said a Western diplomat. “But once that horror dies down, inevitably some of the questions revert on Jordan’s role in the coalition.”

Jordanian state television broadcast archive footage of military maneuvers with patriotic music, with a picture of Kasaesbeh in uniform in the corner of the screen.

U.S. officials said on Tuesday the pilot's death would likely harden Jordan's position as a member of the coalition against Islamic State.

The Syrian government condemned the killing and urged Jordan to cooperate with it in a fight against Islamic State and the al Qaeda-linked Nusra Front in Syria. The United States has ruled out Syria as a partner in the campaign against Islamic State, describing President Bashar al-Assad as part of the problem.

The executed woman came from Iraq's Anbar province bordering Jordan. Her tribal Iraqi relatives were close aides of the slain Jordanian leader of al Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, from whose group Islamic State emerged.

Islamic State had demanded her release in exchange for the life of Japanese journalist Kenji Goto. However, Goto was beheaded by the group, video released last Saturday showed.

Jordan had insisted that they would only release the woman as part of a deal to free the pilot.

Israel destroys Gaza cement factory in retaliation for rocket attack

Israel destroyed what the military said was a cement factory in Gaza following the firing of a rocket from Gaza that damaged agricultural fields in a southern Israeli kibbutz.

The Israeli Air Force destroyed the factory on Saturday in response to the rocket fired on Friday.

Speaking at a Hanukkah candle-lighting ceremony at the Western Wall Saturday night, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the cement factory “served to rebuild the tunnels that we hit in Operation Protective Edge.” Netanyahu said Israel would not ignore the firing of even one rocket from Gaza on Israel.

“Hamas bears the responsibility for any escalation,” Netanyahu said. “We will safeguard Israel’s security.”

Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said Saturday’s strike “is a clear message to Hamas that we won’t put up with a ‘trickle’ of rockets on our citizens. We hold Hamas responsible for what happens in the strip, and we know how to respond to the attacks if they don’t know how to stop them.”

Hamas reportedly informed Israel late on Saturday night through an Egyptian mediator that it did not support Friday’s rocket attack and that it would crack down on the Palestinian groups behind it.

Former Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh reportedly said that the airstrikes constituted “a grave violation of the ceasefire agreement.”

The rocket that exploded Friday morning was the third fired at Israel since the end of Israel’s 50-day operation against Hamas in Gaza, which ended on Aug. 26.

In recent weeks, Palestinians have fired several test rockets that were not aimed at Israel. Last month, the Israel Defense Forces reported that four such rockets were launched in the space of 24 hours into the sea west of Gaza.



Israel bombs Gaza targets in retaliation for rocket fire

Israel’s Air Force bombed four terror sites in the Gaza Strip in retaliation for a rocket attack from Gaza on southern Israel.

The airstrikes late Monday night hit a terror activity site in the southern Gaza Strip, a weapon manufacturing facility in the northern Gaza Strip, and weapon storage facilities in central and southern Gaza, the Israeli military said.

The rockets from Gaza on Ashkelon earlier that evening had landed in an open field, causing no injuries.

A day earlier, two rockets fired from Gaza on Ashkelon were intercepted by the Iron Dome anti-missile system, while another two landed in open areas.

More than a dozen rockets have been fired at Israel in the past two weeks, the Israel Defense Forces said, and over 200 rockets have been launched from Gaza at Israel since the beginning of the year.

Gaza operation begins with bombings, Olmert calls for unity, U.S. blames Hamas

Olmert to Israelis: Unite around Gaza operation

JERUSALEM (JTA) — No country should have to live under constant threat of missile barrages, Ehud Olmert told the Israeli people.

In an address Saturday night, Israel’s prime minister, flanked by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, asked the Israeli public to unite around the Israel Defense Forces operation that began in Gaza earlier in the day.

“The lives of our citizens are not forfeit,” Olmert said. “In recent days, it became clear that Hamas is bent on conflict. Whoever heard Hamas’ statements understood that they decided to increase attacks on the residents of Israel by firing rockets and mortars indiscriminately. In such a situation we had no alternative but to respond. We do not rejoice in battle but neither will we be deterred from it.”

Olmert warned the public that the number of missiles may increase in the near future and could reach to more distant communities than ever before.

Olmert also said that he heart went out to the family of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, who reportedly has been held in Gaza since his capture in 2006.

The prime minister warned neighboring countries not to use the Gaza operation as an excuse to launch their own attacks.

“Israel is currently focusing on striking at the terrorist organizations that are operating to undermine stability in the entire region. I hope that no other element in the region will think that while Israel is fighting in the south, that it is inattentive to what is happening in other areas,” Olmert warned. “We will not hesitate to respond to any aggression against us.”

Israel launches major Gaza operation

(JTA) – Israel began moving tanks to the Gaza area in advance of a possible ground attack.

The movement of tanks and ground troops on Saturday night followed a massive retaliatory Israeli bombing campaign that has killed close to 200 people in the Gaza Strip, most of them Hamas militants.

The wave of air-launched bombs Saturday was in retaliation for the recent intensification of rocket-launches from Gaza, which is controlled by the Hamas terrorist group. On some days, more than 50 rockets have been aimed at towns and farms in southern Israel.

Militants in Gaza responded by firing at least 30 rockets; one killed an Israeli resident of the town of Netivot. Hamas reported that almost all of its security installations were hit and threatened suicide attacks in retaliation.

Israel dropped at least 100 tons of bombs in the raids. “There is a time for calm and there is a time for fighting, and now is the time for fighting,” Ehud Barak, the Israeli defense minister, said in a news conference.

Reports from Gaza said most of the dead were affiliated with the security forces, including Gaza City’s police chief, although a number of the casualties were civilians. Hamas officials said at least 140 of the dead belonged to the terrorist group’s militias.

U.S. blames Hamas for violence

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The Bush administration blamed Hamas for the escalation of violence on the Israel-Gaza Strip border and noted the humanitarian needs of Gazans.

Israel launched massive air raids Saturday in retaliation for an intensification of rocket attacks from Gaza, which is controlled by the Hamas terrorist group.”The United States strongly condemns the repeated rocket and mortar attacks against Israel and holds Hamas responsible for breaking the ceasefire and for the renewal of violence in Gaza. The ceasefire should be restored immediately,” a U.S. State Department statement said. “The United States calls on all concerned to address the urgent humanitarian needs of the innocent people of Gaza.”

News accounts said between 150 and 200 people were killed in the Israeli raids, most of them members of Hamas militias. At least one Israeli was killed when a rocket from Gaza struck his house Saturday.

Threats from Hezbollah lead to new war fears

Rocket attacks pose huge policy dilemma for Israel

More than a week of unabated Qassam rocket attacks on Sderot has created a huge policy dilemma for the Israeli government: What should it do to stop radical Gaza-based terrorists from firing missiles on Israeli civilians and causing pandemonium in the border town of 22,000.

Should it target radical Hamas leaders and operatives from the air or move large ground forces into Gaza to push the missile launchers out of range? Involve the international community or go it alone? Declare Gaza an enemy state or keep open options for early accommodation? Try to smash the Hamas-led Palestinian government or negotiate with it?

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, heavily criticized for taking precipitate action against Hezbollah in Lebanon last summer, so far has committed only limited air power. But other voices inside and outside his government are calling for more radical action, and the prime minister is under growing pressure to make a major move.

Last Sunday, after a sustained six-day barrage in which Palestinian gunmen fired approximately 150 rockets at Israeli civilians in the Gaza area, the government decided to step up its air attacks on Hamas and Islamic Jihad but not to authorize any major ground operation.

Anyone actively involved in terror — Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists and senior officials who give them orders — would be potential targets for assassination from the air. The air force also would be free to strike at Hamas and Islamic Jihad bases, weapons stores and Qassam-manufacturing shops. At the same time, the government would continue to prepare international opinion for a wide ground operation.

But this might not be enough for the hawkish Yisrael Beiteinu Party. On Sunday, Strategic Affairs Minister Avigdor Lieberman threatened to pull Yisrael Beiteinu from the coalition, unless the government took serious steps to crush Hamas.
“Either the government dismantles Hamas or the government will be dismantled,” he warned.

Few political observers are taking Lieberman’s threat seriously, for now. However, if the crisis escalates and he does withdraw from the coalition, that probably would be enough to trigger a process leading to new elections.

Most military experts agree that the only way to stop the Qassams is through a major ground operation. They acknowledge, however, that it would come at great cost in terms of Israeli military casualties, Palestinian humanitarian suffering, international opinion and economic losses.

Moreover, the Israeli army would be deflected from the intensive rehabilitation program for its ground forces that was instituted after last summer’s Lebanon War. It also would mean the final collapse of what is left of the cease-fire and redoubled Palestinian attempts to launch a new round of suicide bombings.

Worse, the fighting could get out of hand and lead to a wider war involving Lebanon and possibly Syria.

Still, many strategic thinkers believe the government needs to radically alter its thinking on Gaza. Former National Security Adviser Giora Eiland, for example, argues that Israel should define Gaza as an enemy state with which it is at war.

That would mean no movement of goods or people across the borders. All Gaza state institutions and personnel would become targets. Israel could announce deadlines for stopping the flow of electricity, water and fuel into Gaza, giving the Gazans time to make other arrangements, and reserve the right for Israel to reoccupy parts of Gaza, like the Philadelphi route to stop the flow of weapons from Egypt into Gaza and Beit Hanun to push the Qassams out of range.

As much as the government is worried about the Qassams, it is even more concerned about the flow of arms through tunnels under the Philadelphi route along the border between Egypt and Gaza.

Senior Israeli officers predict that unless something is done to stop the flow of weaponry into Gaza, Hamas as the main recipient will be able to field a formidable military machine within a year. Tons of arms, including anti-tank weapons, Grad ground-to-ground rockets, anti-aircraft missiles and high explosives are said to be pouring into Gaza on a daily basis.

The Israeli military is concerned as well by increasing numbers of Hamas terrorists slipping across the border into Egypt and making their way to Iran for training. The Israel Defense Forces estimates that unless the arms flow is staunched, it won’t be long before Hamas is able to strike at Israeli civilian targets as far away as Beersheba, 30 miles from Gaza.

It is this buildup and the potential future threat that is leading people like Eiland to think in terms of a pre-emptive strike and/or other far-reaching moves that change the rules of the game.

Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is pressing for the deployment of an international force on the Palestinian side of the border to stop the smuggling. In a break from Israel’s traditional opposition to any international presence in Palestinian territory, she envisages a force modeled along the lines of the 11,000-strong UNIFIL contingent patrolling the Lebanese border with Israel, with a similarly “robust” mandate to stop arms smuggling from Egypt into Gaza.

In a mid-May meeting with foreign ambassadors in Jerusalem, Livni actually put the ball in the international community’s court.

“We are ready to consider such a force, but will you be ready to provide it?” she challenged the assembled dignitaries.

Israeli officials acknowledge that getting the international community to intervene in this way will be a hard sell. But they maintain that if the community doesn’t move to stop the arms smuggling, it won’t be in a position to point fingers if and when Israel does.

Much of the debate in Israel suggests impending escalation. But there are voices, including some in the Labor Party, saying that Israel ought to rethink its diplomatic boycott of Hamas and agree to talk to them. They argue that unilateral moves have proved a failure and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of the more moderate Fatah movement has shown he cannot deliver, whereas Hamas would be able to make a deal with Israel stick.

What would there be to talk about?

A long-term cease-fire — 10 or even 20 years — in return for Israeli withdrawal from most of the West Bank and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.

With the Qassams still whistling across the border, however, that seems a long way away.

Sept. 11 Forced Shift to Israel

It was only a day after the Twin Towers had fallen, and already it seemed that United States policy toward Israel was changing.

Walking into a packed briefing room on Sept. 12, Secretary of State Colin Powell outlined America’s intention to retaliate against Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda terrorist group and head off the threat of subsequent attacks.

"I think when you are attacked by a terrorist, and you know who the terrorist is, and you can fingerprint back to the cause of the terror, you should respond," Powell said. "If you are able to stop terrorist attacks, you should stop terrorist attacks."

Many pro-Israel activists hoped those words, along with countless other utterances in the weeks and months that followed, would force the United States to drop its "even-handed" approach toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israeli policies like targeted killings of terrorists and military incursions into Palestinian areas, which once brought rebukes from the United States, seemed to be little different to the pro-Israel community from what American forces were doing in Afghanistan — and Israel’s supporters hoped the similarities would be noticed.

Almost a year later, analysts say they believe the United States has noticed: It is increasingly empathetic to Israel’s plight in the face of Palestinian terror, and U.S. policy has shifted substantially.

But it was not a knee-jerk reaction, analysts say.

"The government went through an evolution," said Daniel Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, a Philadelphia-based think tank.

After the initial empathy toward Israel, the Bush White House began to broaden its view of the war on terrorism and considered an attack against Iraq. The need for Arab support was seen as crucial to the effort, and there was concern that Israeli concessions to the Palestinians would be demanded as an enticement to Arab states to join a coalition to remove Iraqi President Saddam Hussein from power.

For several months, pressure grew on Israel to drop its insistence that Palestinian violence end before peace talks could resume, and the Bush administration began to speak openly about a future Palestinian state.

All that was necessary, it appeared, was for Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat to take some steps against terrorism — or at least appear to do so — for the ball to be placed firmly in Israel’s court.

"In the immediate aftermath of Sept. 11, there developed an unexpected opening for U.S. influence on the Palestinians to end their terrorism," said Henry Siegman, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

But Arafat, misreading the new geostrategic map, gambled that he could continue sponsoring terrorism without sacrificing American support — and miscalculated badly.

The turning point came in January, when Arafat baldly lied to the Bush administration about his ties to a shipment of 50 tons of forbidden weapons from Iran, a charter member of President Bush’s "Axis of Evil."

The Bush administration found that, in any case, it would not have Arab support for its actions in Iraq. Bush vowed to go into Iraq alone if necessary, reducing the importance of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a factor in American planning.

"The Arab leverage is much reduced because they are not onboard and are not about to be," Pipes said. "Earlier attempts to win their approval have ended, and one sees a much tougher-minded Arab policy."

The new U.S. perspective has been one of increasing empathy and tolerance for Israeli self-defense tactics. Much of the change coincided with a rash of suicide bombings around Passover in late March, including one at a seder in Netanya that killed 29 Israelis.

"I think the Passover bombing was suddenly viewed as something more comparable to the Twin Towers," said Lenny Ben-David, a former Israeli diplomat. "That probably cemented American attitudes toward Israel."

Looking around the Middle East, America saw few real friends aside from Israel. In the eyes of the American public and government, skepticism has grown about the Arab states’ true allegiances. Ben-David said the most significant change since the Sept. 11 attacks is the new scrutiny given to radical Muslim groups.

"Before Sept. 11, people discounted what was being said in the Muslim world," he said. "Osama bin Laden was threatening for several years and no one took it seriously. Arafat was threatening and people didn’t take it seriously."

American frustration with the actions of the Palestinians and Arafat has grown. Many were startled by the scenes of Palestinians dancing in the streets after the World Trade Center collapsed. But it was the arms shipment from Iran that placed the Palestinian leadership squarely in the category of a friend of terrorism, in the minds of the Bush administration.

Presumed links between Saudi Arabia and Palestinian terrorist groups, and between Arafat and Hussein, also helped place the Palestinians on the wrong side of Bush’s "you’re either with us or against us" equation.

In contrast, the past year has seen greater U.S. reliance on Israel. So often the beneficiary of the U.S.-Israeli alliance, Israel was able to give the United States advice and resources on the new challenges America faced in the post-Sept. 11 world, such as airline and homeland security and information on the terrorist infrastructure. Analysts also said that the shift toward Iraq as a target has solidified U.S. attitudes toward Israel.

"When the United States went after Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, Israel was a problem," Ben-David said. "For the United States to go after Saddam Hussein, Israel is not the same problem."

But with the Bush administration divided on the wisdom of attacking Iraq, some voices still believe the United States should be courting Arab support.

By and large, however, administration hawks who advocate regime change in Iraq are winning the president’s ear, and there has been less open courting of Arab leaders.

Hypothetical questions remain as to whether U.S. policy toward Israel and the Middle East would have evolved as it did regardless of Sept. 11, given the intensification of the Palestinian terror onslaught. But analysts say that Sept. 11 focused the Bush administration’s foreign policy.

"We tend to forget that prior to Sept. 11, the administration was simply uninvolved" in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Siegman said.

Allegations at CSUN

Jacquelyn Barnette received the news during a recent meeting with Cal State Northridge officials: A CSUN administrative review had concluded that she was not fired from her student health center job because of anti-Semitism or retaliation.

Earlier this year, the medical records supervisor, who is African-American and Jewish, had charged that she was let go after confronting the center’s assistant director for administration, Jan Loritz, for allegedly making anti-Semitic remarks. Aaron Levinson, director of the Valley office of the Anti-Defamation League, subsequently spoke to half a dozen present and past center employees who asserted they had overheard Loritz making such remarks.

However, after interviewing more than 40 present and past center employees, a CSUN administrator found that none alleged witnessing anti-Semitic actions on the part of Loritz. There had been not even a single report of an anti-Semitic action by Loritz during her 16 years at the center, the report concluded. Nor was there any distinguishable difference in Loritz’s written performance evaluations of employees who were Jewish and non-Jewish. Loritz, moreover, did not participate in the decision to terminate Barnette; other supervisors made that decision, the administrator concluded.

Barnette’s final performance evaluation alleges that she incurred excessive tardies and absences, a charge Barnette denies.

The university offered the medical records supervisor two months of retroactive pay, which would roughly cover the period of the administrative review, per university practice, as well as another job on campus, “though that has nothing to do with the allegations she made or the university’s response to them,” says CSUN spokesperson John Chandler. Rather, CSUN is offering Barnette another job because of “the conclusion that there were procedural irregularities with the personnel process by which she was let go,” Chandler said. &’009;

Barnette, for her part, told the Daily News that administrative review was a “whitewash” of Loritz. In an interview with the Journal, she said she has retained an attorney and intends to sue the university for breach of contract. She has also rejected the job transfer.

While Levinson says he is pleased with the thoroughness of CSUN’s review, he is “still concerned there may be a problem at the center, because we have corroborated stories of anti-Semitism.”

In a written statement, CSUN Interim President Dr. Louanne Kennedy indicated that the university “is still reviewing the allegation that anti-Semitic comments were made.” She has also appointed a four-person committee to review broader operational and administrative issues at the center.

“We have an extremely diverse student body, including a sizable Jewish population, so whenever there are subjects raised that could be a threat to our environment we take them very seriously,” Chandler said.