IDF closes one war crimes probe, opens three new ones


 Israeli military prosecutors closed a probe into the death of four children in Gaza last year and opened three new ones — including an alleged revenge shelling.

The Israel Defense Forces’ announcement Thursday on the closure of the probe said the children’s deaths on a Gaza beach in July as a result of an airstrike were an accident and did not affect the legality of Israel’s military actions in Gaza. No action is being taken against those involved. The strike was on a compound known to be in use by Hamas’ naval commando unit, the statement said.

Also on Thursday, the Military Advocate General announced it would look into the death of nine people in July at a café in Khan Younis hit by IDF artillery

A second probe concerns the suspected revenge shelling of a Palestinian clinic. Armored Corps troops are believed to have targeted the clinic as payback for the slaying of two of their comrades on July 22 by a Palestinian sniper whom the suspects believed fired on them from the clinic. The third probe concerns the alleged beating of a Palestinian prisoner.

All incidents occurred during Israel’s war on Hamas in Gaza in July and August of 2014 following Hamas’ firing of rockets at Israel civilians. A United Nations committee of inquiry into Israel’s actions in Gaza — which the Palestinians and other countries said amounted to war crimes — is due to submit its report next week.

Additionally, the advocate general said it would indict three soldiers suspected of looting in Gaza on July 29.

The International Court of Justice is also looking into Palestinian complaints on Israel’s summer offensive in Gaza. Some legal analysts have said the ICC, a U.N. court, has no jurisdiction to investigate the matter or prosecute alleged offenders because Israel’s judiciary is investigating the conduct of its own troops in compliance with international judicial standards. However, Israel’s critics dispute this.

So far, the Military Advocate General has received 190 complaints about Israeli troops’ conduct during Israel summer offensive, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said in a statement. Of those, 105 have been processed. Of the processed complaints, seven have been deemed to merit criminal investigations. Another 15 incidents were investigated by local units and not at the general staff level.

Hezbollah bomb wounds two Israeli soldiers, Israel shells south Lebanon


Lebanese Hezbollah fighters detonated a bomb on Lebanon's border with Israel on Tuesday, wounding two Israeli soldiers and drawing artillery fire in response.

The incident in the Shebaa hills area marked the first time that Hezbollah has claimed responsibility for an attack against the Israeli army since 2006, when the two sides fought a 33-day war

The Israeli army said in a statement that two soldiers were wounded in the attack. Initial reports indicated they had been deliberately targeted, it said.

Hezbollah said its fighters detonated the bomb.

Israeli artillery responded with barrages and Lebanese witnesses said about 30 shells fell in the vicinity of the attack.

Israel and Lebanon are technically at war but their 49 mile border has been largely quiet since the 2006 war.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet that the soldiers had prevented an attack, but he did not elaborate.

“We have demonstrated that we respond with force to any attempt to harm us, whether it is in the south, the north or any other sector,” he said.

Israel and Lebanon are technically at war but their 50 mile border has been largely quiet since the 2006 war.

Israel is on alert for any spillover from the civil war in neighbouring Syria, where Hezbollah forces are fighting in support of President Bashar al-Assad.

Reporting by Mariam Karouny and Oliver Holmes in Beirut, and Dan Williams and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem, Editing by Luke Baker and Angus MacSwan

Ceasefire in east Ukraine frays, woman killed by shelling


A woman died and at least four people were wounded when fighting flared again in eastern Ukraine overnight into Sunday, jeopardizing a cease-fire struck less than two days earlier between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists.

The accord, brokered by envoys from Ukraine, the separatist leadership, Russia and Europe's OSCE security watchdog, is part of a peace plan intended to end a five-month conflict that has killed nearly 3,000 people and caused the sharpest confrontation between Russia and the West since the Cold War.

Shelling resumed near the port of Mariupol on the Sea of Azov late on Saturday night, just hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian counterpart Petro Poroshenko had agreed in a phone call that the truce was holding.

Fighting also broke out early on Sunday on the northern outskirts of rebel-held Donetsk, the region's industrial hub. A Reuters reporter saw plumes of black smoke filling the sky near the airport, which has been in the hands of government forces.

“Listen to the sound of the ceasefire,” joked one armed rebel. “There's a proper battle going on there.”

The two cities then turned quiet for much of Sunday, but in the early evening a Reuters witness reported several mortar blasts within the city confines of Donetsk. They damaged a bridge where the rebels had erected a roadblock.

In a new report on the conflict, Amnesty International accused both the rebels and Ukrainian militia of war crimes and it published satellite images it said showed a build-up of Russian armor and artillery in eastern Ukraine.

“Our evidence shows that Russia is fuelling the conflict, both through direct interference and by supporting the separatists in the east. Russia must stop the steady flow of weapons and other support to an insurgent force heavily implicated in gross human rights violations,” Amnesty's secretary-general, Salil Shetty, said in a statement.

Moscow denies dispatching forces or arming the rebels despite what NATO says is overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

WESTERN ARMS – OR NOT?

Poroshenko spent Thursday and Friday at a NATO summit in Wales at which U.S. PresidentBarack Obama and other leaders urged Putin to pull forces out of Ukraine. NATO also approved wide-ranging plans to boost its defenses in eastern Europe in response to the Ukraine crisis.

A senior aide to Poroshenko, Yuri Lytsenko, wrote on his Facebook page on Sunday that Kiev had reached agreement at the summit on receiving weapons and military advisers from five allies – the United States, France, Italy, Poland and Norway.

He gave no further details, but four of the five countries denied offering such assistance.

“No U.S. offer of lethal assistance has been made to Ukraine,” a senior U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.

Officials in Italy, Norway and Poland issued similar denials.

“Italy, along with other EU and NATO countries, is preparing a package of non-lethal military aid such as bullet-proof vests and helmets for Ukraine,” an official at Italy's defense ministry said.

NATO officials have said the alliance will not send arms to non-member Ukraine, but they have also said individual allies may do so if they wish. A NATO official contacted by Reuters on Sunday about the Lytsenko comment reiterated this line.

Russia is fiercely opposed to closer ties between Ukraine and the NATO alliance.

The Ukraine conflict has revived talk of a new Cold War as the West accuses Putin of deliberately destabilizing the former Soviet republic of 46 million people. Ukraine's prime minister accused Putin of striving to re-create the Soviet Union.

Putin says he is defending the interests of ethnic Russians facing discrimination and oppression in Ukraine since protesters toppled Kiev's pro-Russian president in February.

Putin has seen his popularity in Russia soar since Moscow annexed Ukraine's Black Sea peninsula of Crimea, which has a Russian majority, in March.

MUTUAL RECRIMINATIONS

Both the rebels and the Ukrainian military insisted on Sunday they were strictly observing the ceasefire and blamed their opponents for any violations.

“As far as I know, the Ukrainian side is not observing the ceasefire. We have wounded on our side at various points. We are observing the ceasefire,” Vladimir Antyufeyev, deputy premier of the self-proclaimed “Donetsk People's Republic”, told Reuters.

Earlier, government forces said they had come under artillery fire east of Mariupol, a crucial port for Ukrainian steel exports. In the days before the ceasefire they had been trying to repel a big rebel offensive against the city.

The shelling in Mariupol claimed the first civilian casualty since the ceasefire began. Local officials confirmed the death of a 33-year-old woman early on Sunday and said at least four other people had been wounded.

“They, terrorists, Russians, are trying to scare us. They have no respect for the ceasefire. They are lying all the time. They are people with no honor,” said Slavik, a Ukrainian soldier armed with a machinegun.

A Reuters reporter at the scene, a few km (miles) from the center of the city of 500,000, saw fires raging just before midnight on Saturday as Ukrainian reinforcements raced east toward the demarcation line separating the two sides.

Poroshenko agreed to the ceasefire after Ukraine accused Russia of sending troops and arms onto its territory to bolster the separatists after they suffered heavy losses over the summer to a Ukrainian government offensive.

The peace roadmap agreed on Friday includes an exchange of prisoners of war and the establishment of a humanitarian corridor for refugees and aid. There was no sign of progress on either plan on Sunday.

Israel knocks out Gaza power plant, digs in for long fight


Israel knocked out Gaza's only power plant, flattened the home of its Islamist Hamas political leader and pounded dozens of other high-profile targets in the enclave on Tuesday, with no end in sight to more than three weeks of conflict.

Health officials said at least 79 Palestinians were killed in some of heaviest bombardments from air, sea and land since the Israeli offensive began in response to Hamas rocket fire.

The Israeli assault intensified following the deaths of 10 Israeli soldiers in cross-border attacks on Monday, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warning of a long conflict ahead.

Thick black smoke rose from blazing fuel tanks at the power station that supplies up to two-thirds of Gaza's energy needs. The local energy authority said initial damage assessments suggested the plant could be out of action for a year.

Electricity was cut to the city of Gaza and many other parts of the Hamas-dominated territory after what officials said was Israeli tank shelling of the tanks containing some 3 million cubic litres of diesel fuel.

“The power plant is finished,” said its director, Mohammed al-Sharif. An Israeli military spokeswoman had no immediate comment and said she was checking the report.

Gaza City municipality said damage to the station could halt many of the area's water pumps, and it urged residents to ration water consumption. Gazans who have had a few hours electricity a day since the conflict began now face months without power.

A number of rockets were fired from Gaza toward southern and central Israel, including the Tel Aviv area. At least one was intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome anti-missile system. No casualties or damage were reported. Outside pressure has been building on Netanyahu to rein in his forces. Both U.S. President Barack Obama and the U.N. Security Council have called for an immediate ceasefire to allow relief to reach Gaza's 1.8 million Palestinians, followed by negotiations on a more durable end to hostilities.

Efforts led by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry last week failed to achieve a breakthrough, and the explosion of violence appeared to dash international hopes of turning a brief lull for the Muslim Eid al-Fitr festival into a longer-term ceasefire.

The West Bank-based Palestinian leadership, saying it was also speaking for Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip, voiced support on Tuesday for a 24-72 hour ceasefire.

But Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters the statement by senior Palestine Liberation Organization official Yasser Abed Rabbo did not reflect Hamas's position. “Hamas gave no approval to anything Abed Rabbo said,” Abu Zuhri added.

Netanyahu said on Monday the military would not end its offensive until it destroys a network of Hamas tunnels, which Israel says serve as the group's bunkers, weapon caches and cross-border infiltration routes to attack Israelis.

The Israeli military said soldiers killed five gunmen who opened fire after emerging from a tunnel inside the Gaza Strip and that 110 targets were struck in the enclave on Tuesday. They included four weapons caches, which the military said were hidden in mosques, and a rocket launcher near another mosque. Residents said 20 houses were destroyed and two mosques hit.

Local hospital officials said Israeli tank shells and air strikes killed 10 people in and around Jabalya refugee camp in the northern Gaza Strip, raising the number of Palestinian dead, most of them civilians, to 1,139 in the current conflict. On the Israeli side, 53 soldiers have been killed and three civilians.

HAMAS LEADER'S HOME DESTROYED

The main U.N. agency in Gaza, UNRWA, said more than 182,000 displaced Palestinians had taken shelter in its schools and buildings, following calls by Israel for civilians to evacuate whole neighbourhoods ahead of military operations. Thousands more have been taken in by friends or family.

Before dawn, Israeli aircraft fired a missile at the house of Hamas Gaza leader Ismail Haniyeh, a former Palestinian prime minister, destroying the structure but causing no casualties, Gaza's Interior Ministry said.

“My house is not dearer than any of the houses of our people,” Haniyeh was quoted as saying on a Hamas website. “The destruction of stones will not break our will and we will continue our resistance until we gain freedom.”

Hamas, whose internal political leadership is in hiding, said its broadcast outlets Al-Aqsa TV and Al-Aqsa Radio were also targeted. The television station continued to broadcast but the radio station went silent.

The military said the stations were used to “transit orders and messages to Hamas operatives and to instruct Gaza residents to ignore IDF (Israel Defence Forces) warnings regarding upcoming military activity in specific areas.”

In a televised address on Monday, Netanyahu said Israel “must be prepared for a lengthy campaign”. The military warned thousands of Palestinians to flee their homes around Gaza City – usually the prelude to major army strikes.

Israel launched its offensive on July 8 saying it wanted to halt rocket attacks by Hamas and its allies. It later ordered a land invasion to find and destroy a warren of Hamas tunnels that criss-crosses the border area.

Hamas and Israel have set conditions for a ceasefire that appear irreconcilable.

Israel wants Gaza's armed groups stripped of weapons. Hamas and its allies want an Israeli-Egyptian blockade lifted.

Tension between Netanyahu's government and Washington has flared over U.S. mediation efforts, adding another chapter to the prickly relations between the Israeli leader and Obama.

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon deplored what he said was a lack of resolve among all parties.

“It's a matter of their political will. They have to show their humanity as leaders, both Israeli and Palestinian,” he told reporters.

Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York, Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Paul Taylor

Jewish mother and daughter killed in Ukraine shelling


A Jewish mother and daughter were killed in a shelling in the embattled eastern Ukraine city of Lugansk.

The victims of Friday’s explosion were identified on the website of the Lugansk Jewish community as Svetlana and Anna Sitnikov.

Svetlana Sitnikov, 57, and her daughter Anna Sitnikov, 31, were going to buy shoes, according to  Zelig Brez, a leader of the Jewish Community of Dnepropetrovsk. They were to take along Anna’s 4-year-old son, Vadim, but at the last moment his grandfather took the boy. Five minutes later came the explosion, Brez said.

They were among the most active members of the community,” he said.

Rabbi Shalom Gopin, Chabad’s emissary to Lugansk, was trying to bring the deceased to burial but was waiting on authorization from city officials, the news site ch10.co.il reported Sunday. Gopin was not immediately available for comment.

Lugansk is among a number of cities in eastern Ukraine where the government is fighting pro-Russian separatists who took up arms after the ousting in late February of President Viktor Yanukovych in a revolution that erupted several months earlier over his alleged corruption and close ties with the Kremlin in Russia.

Since fighting erupted, the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and the Jewish Community of Dnepropetrovsk have helped more than 650 flee battle zones in eastern Ukraine, settling them in community institutions or providing alternative housing solutions in addition to food, medicine and counseling to help children cope with trauma.

10 Palestinians injured in clashes with IDF


Israeli troops injured ten Palestinians in raids carried out in the West Bank and in shelling on targets near Gaza, Palestinian sources said.

The West Bank casualties were wounded on Friday morning in clashes between Palestinians and Israel Defense Forces soldiers in the Balata refugee camp near Nablus, the Palestinian news agency Ma’an reported.

The raid was part of Israel’s push to find three Israeli youths — Naftali Frenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach — who have been missing since June 12 in and whom the Israeli government presumes were kidnapped by Hamas, although the militant group denies this. The youths were hitchhiking home from schools in the West Bank.

Israeli security forces have arrested hundreds of suspects in the West Bank in connection with the youths’ disappearance.

One of the three Palestinians suffered from injuries caused by a rubber-coated bullet that hit his left eye, Ma’an reported. The remaining two casualties were hit in their hand and leg. They all sustained moderate injuries.

In Gaza, six Palestinians were injured on Friday morning after Israeli tanks fired into the Hamas-run area from across the border, Ma’an reported. The casualties included a pregnant woman and an  11-year-old child, medical sources told Ma’an. The report did not contain information about their medical condition.

The tanks fired in response to an explosion targeting Israeli forces operating adjacent to the security fence” in the area, the IDF Spokesperson’s unit said. No Israelis were hurt in the explosion.

On Thursday evening, Israeli troops shot a Palestinian teenager in the Hajar al-Deek area near the border separating Gaza from Israel.

The 17-year-old was shot in the foot while he was collecting gravel near the border, medical sources said.

Assad threatens to retaliate against Israel as shells land on Golan


Syrian President Bashar Assad said that his country would retaliate against Israel for a January air strike on a weapons facility near Damascus, a day after mortar shells fired from Syria landed in northern Israel.

The mortar shells fired from Syria landed Saturday on the Golan Heights, and reportedly were fired into Israeli territory accidentally during a fire fight between Syrian rebels and Syrian government military forces.

It was the second time in recent days that mortar fire from Syria landed in Israeli territory. United Nations peace keeping troops were told about the strike.

Assad said in an interview published in London's Sunday Times that his country would retaliate for what is believed to be an Israeli strike on a research facility near Damascus used for developing chemical weapons. The facility was bombed in January.

“We retaliated in our own way, and only the Israelis know what we mean. Retaliation does not mean missile for missile or bullet for bullet. Our own way does not have to be announced,” Assad told the Sunday Times.

Meanwhile, Syrian opposition forces accused the Syrian government of firing mortars at a historic synagogue located near Damascus. A video of the Jobar Synagogue, which is 2,000 years old, showing damage to parts of the building, including showing that the roof was blown off, was posted on YouTube over the weekend by the Syrian opposition’s military council.

Israel army closes probe into deadly 2009 shelling


Israel’s military on Tuesday closed an investigation into a 2009 shelling of a house in Gaza that killed 21 members of a Palestinian family, saying it did not constitute a war crime and that the civilians had not been targeted purposefully.

The incident occurred during a three-week war in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Witnesses at the time said that on January 4, 2009 Israeli troops had ordered about 100 civilians in the Zeitun district to enter the house and stay there, out of their way.

But the following day the house was hit by Israeli shells and collapsed, killing the members of the extended Samouni family.

Reporting on Tuesday on the decision not to take legal action, Israel’s Channel 10 television described the shelling as “the most serious operational mishap” of the Gaza war.

After an investigation into the shelling and allegations of war crimes, the Military Advocate General “found the accusations groundless,” the military said in a statement.

“The Military Advocate General also found that none of the involved soldiers or officers acted in a negligent manner,” the military said, but added it was making changes to “ensure that such events will not happen again.”

Israel launched the offensive in late 2008 with the declared aim of ending cross-border rocket fire that continuously struck southern Israeli towns. Much of the fighting took place in densely populated areas of the small coastal territory. More than 1,400 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed.

A report released separately in 2009 by jurist Richard Goldstone under a mandate of the U.N. Human Rights Council said both Israel and the Islamist group Hamas were guilty of war crimes.

Israel refused to cooperate with the inquiry and strongly criticized Goldstone’s conclusions as biased.

The Israeli group B’Tselem, one of the human rights groups that had submitted the complaint, said the response it received from the military did not detail the findings of the shelling investigation or provide reasons behind the decision to close the file.

“It is unacceptable that no one is found responsible for an action of the army that led to the killing of 21 uninvolved civilians, inside the building they entered under soldiers’ orders, even if this was not done deliberately,” Yael Stein, B’Tselem’s head of research, said in a statement.

Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch Editing by Maria Golovnina

Yemen’s President Is ‘Lightly’ Injured In Shelling of Palace


Yemen’s embattled leader, Ali Abdullah Saleh, was lightly injured Friday in an attack by opposition figures on the presidential palace, his spokesman said.

The spokesman, Abdel al-Jandi, said that Mr. Saleh was in a mosque located within the palace compound when it was shaken by explosions as Friday prayers were beginning just after noon. He did not elaborate on Mr. Saleh’s injuries. Another government spokesperson, Mohammed al-Basha, said via Twitter that senior government officials were injured in the attack.

The type of munitions used in the attack could not be immediately determined. Witnesses said either rockets or artillery fire hit the palace in what appeared to be a targeted strike.

Read more at NYTimes.com.

Is there a way to stop rockets and avoid a Gaza fight?


Sderot is a city in the south of Israel, very close to the Gaza Strip. In the year 2007, it has been hit by 1,000 Qassam rockets and 1,200 mortar shells launched by the Palestinians.

Life in Sderot has become hell, but Israel finds it very difficult to defend it, because the people who launch the Qassams are hiding among civilians. Slowly but surely, however, Israeli patience is running out.

Is there a way to stop this ongoing terrorist attack on Sderot without entering Gaza with great force in an incursion that would most probably cost the lives of many Palestinians and Israelis?

Ernest, a reader from Florida, believes there is. He proposes to deploy Qassams and Katyushas in Sderot aimed at Gaza and operated acoustically: When the Palestinian Qassam hits Sderot, the blast will automatically trigger the launching of an Israeli Qassam or Katyusha on the heads of the people in Gaza who had been harassing Sderot. All that without an Israeli finger involved in the process.

I bounced the idea with some experts. A lawyer well versed in the laws of war called it “creative.” One law professor thought it fitted the principle of self-defense. A professor of philosophy, on the other hand, objected strongly: “What if our Qassam, even if technically launched by the Palestinians, hits a kindergarten in Gaza?”

I was left without a solution.

Then, I received an invitation to a conference at Hebrew University titled, “Democracy Fighting Terror With One Hand Tied Behind Its Back: Why, When and How Must This Hand Be Untied.” Bingo! Never mind the long title: This was exactly what I needed.

The speakers were professor Aharon Barak, former president of the Israeli Supreme Court, and professor Richard Posner, former chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. No wonder that the huge hall at the Mount Scopus campus was packed with an anxious crowd.

However, when Efraim Halevy, former head of the Mossad, took to the podium to moderate the event, four young female students started heckling loudly. Obviously, they were not happy with the way Israel was fighting terror. I could hear them yelling something about the abuse of human rights.

There and then, the weakness of democracy was exposed. One thousand people, who had gathered solemnly to listen to the speakers, were taken hostage by four people who insisted on their right to protest. This collision of rights lingered for a while, until the four students were kicked out by the security guards, with the cheers of the relieved crowd. The lesson was that in a democracy, sometimes even the majority has its rights.

Finally, former Chief Justice Barak started speaking. The much respected judge was the one who had coined the phrase that in the battle against terrorism, democracy was fighting “with one hand tied behind its back.” In other words, in the rush to combat the terrorists effectively, human and civil rights should still be respected. The audience responded with a roaring applause.

Then Judge Posner gave his American point of view. He said that in times of grave danger, human and civil rights might temporarily recede. He reminded us that during the American Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln — the greatest American president, in his words — unconstitutionally suspended habeas corpus, because he believed that saving the union was more important than protecting a specific right. When the crisis was over, the rights were re-established. Posner received the same volume of hand-clapping.

A limbo again.

As I left the auditorium, a friend told me about a psychologist sent to comfort the people of Sderot, who had been traumatized by the relentless shelling of their city. A mother of six told him that whenever the alarm went off, the people under attack had exactly 50 seconds to rush to the shelters before the Qassam rockets hit their target.

“Yet in that period of time” she said, “I can only carry two of them to safety. What about the remaining four?”

I pray that no Qassam rocket hits a kindergarten in Sderot and, God forbid, kills several children. All debate will then stop, and the tanks will start rolling.

In the meantime, keep trying, Ernest. And if anybody else has more creative ideas about how Israel should act, short of entering Gaza and stopping the terrorists by force, please let me know.

Uri Dromi is director general of Mishkenot Sha’ananim, a conference center in Jerusalem. He can be reached at dromi@mishkenot.org.il.