Police shoot dead Palestinian who stabbed 3 Israelis

Jerusalem – A Palestinian from the occupied West Bank stabbed and wounded three Israelis in Jerusalem’s Old City on Saturday before being shot dead by border guards, police said.

The man attacked two Jewish passers-by before fleeing. He later wounded a border guard before he was shot dead.

Two of the Israelis were slightly injured and the third was in a more serious condition, according to police.

Clashes broke out afterwards between stone-throwing Palestinians and police officers who used stun grenades, a report said.

It was the second such attack in days near Damascus Gate, a main entrance to the Old City.

On Wednesday, a Palestinian woman said to be the mother of a man killed last year tried to stab Israeli police with scissors before being shot dead.

A wave of violence that broke out in October 2015 has claimed the lives of 259 Palestinians, 40 Israelis, two Americans, one Jordanian, an Eritrean and a Sudanese national, according to an AFP count.

Most of the Palestinians killed were carrying out knife, gun or car-ramming attacks, according to Israeli authorities. Others died during protests, clashes or in Israeli air raids on the Gaza Strip.

Violence has subsided in recent months, despite sporadic attacks.

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How Israel polices Palestinian voices online

At about this time last year, Israel was facing what came to be known as the “knife intifada” – hundreds of apparently uncoordinated attacks involving Palestinians stabbing Israelis. While 36 Israelis lost their lives, more than 200 Palestinians were killed, during that period, by Israeli security forces. The other weapon, apart from kitchen knives, that drew the attention of the Israeli security establishment was social media.
The rationale offered: because some attackers went online to signal their intent or had been exposed to provocative posts there, the internet required policing for what the authorities called “incitement”. The result: hundreds of arrests and prison sentences for Palestinian activists, ordinary citizens, as well as journalists – based on what they wrote or shared – particularly on Facebook.
The occupiers are going through our posts one by one, word by word. They look for words like “martyr”, “hero”, “resistance fighter” or “intifada”. If they find one word they can build an entire case around it and you could end in prison, for nothing.
Facebook itself has reportedly responded to numerous requests from the Israelis to censor its content, but that hasn’t stopped politicians pushing for new laws to force social media companies to comply more fully.
Palestinians affected say Facebook is just another place where their voices have been silenced. The Listening Post’s Will Yong reports from Israel and the Occupied Territories on the emergence of social media as yet another battleground in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.
Last March, at the height of a wave of so-called “lone wolf” attacks, Israeli soldiers arrested Palestinian journalist Sami Al-Sa’ee in a night raid on his home. Sentenced to nine months in prison, Al-Sa’ee became one of a growing number of Palestinians charged solely or primarily with the offence of online incitement.
“Due to the nature of my job as a news editor, I’m active on my personal Facebook page. I would share news about a martyr and post his picture, or about a girl who was arrested and post her picture, or about a child killed by the Israelis in Hebron and post her picture. Throughout the entire interrogation they were saying that I was sharing inciting posts that enraged people on the street,” Sami Sa’ee told Al Jazeera.
But how does Israel define incitement? Nadim Nashef, co-founder, 7amleh, says: “Israel defines incitement very loosely. Firstly there is the meaning and content of the post itself, whether it contains incitement to violence according to the criteria of the Israeli courts. Then there is the extent of its influence. According to the logic of these courts, how many friends a person has, how many shares a post has, how many likes – all of these are considered evidence of influence over public opinion and contributing to a discourse that could eventually lead to acts of resistance against the occupation.”
With walls, fences, checkpoints and other restrictions coming between the Palestinians in the West Bank and those in Gaza – and separating them from their families and friends among the Arab citizens of Israel – platforms such as Facebook provide a place online to share their stories, opinions and experiences. But arrests, charges and convictions based on social media activity have more than doubled in the past year, leaving Palestinians wondering whether social media is yet another space where Israel gets to make the rules. And, perhaps, where Facebook enforces them.
Last June, when the Silicon Valley giant needed a new head of policy and communication for Israel, it hired Jordana Cutler, formerly Chief of Staff at the Israeli Embassy in Washington DC and, before that, adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The appointment came as top Israeli politicians publicly criticised the company and Israeli lawyers threatened it with a $1bn lawsuit. Cutler’s appointment was hailed by Minister of Public Security Gilad Erdan as “an advance in dialogue between the State of Israel and Facebook”. Three months later Facebook representatives traveled to Tel Aviv to meet Israeli officials who, after the talks, said that the two sides would “work together” to tackle online incitement.
This begs the question of whether Facebook is neutral on the Palestine-Israel conflict. The giant social network is taking a stand with the occupier, say Palestinian activists.
“Facebook claims that it respects local laws; but when it backs Israeli accusations of incitement we are talking about an occupation state, so this accusation should not exist in the first place. We have reached a stage where there is high-level cooperation between Facebook on one side, and the Israeli occupation on the other and this is very dangerous,” says Nashef.
Israeli minister Ayelet Shaked told members of the press: “A year ago Facebook removed 50 percent of content that we requested. Today Facebook is removing 95 percent of content we ask them to.”
Even so, politicians are currently debating a so-called “Facebook Bill” which – if passed into law – would give Israeli officials even more power to force Facebook to censor as the Israeli government sees fit. For Palestinians, the consequences are felt beyond their computer screens and smartphones, reaching into society itself.

Netanyahu to Form New Government After Election Win

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday he intends to try to form a government in the next two to three weeks, which would give him a fourth term as prime minister, after his conservative Likud party won Israel’s parliamentary election.

With nearly all of the ballots counted, Likud captured 30 seats to beat out the 24 seats for its main challenger, the Zionist Union.

A statement from Netanyahu’s office said he has already reached out to smaller parties in order to form the 61-seat coalition he needs to govern. One key will be the centrist Kulanu party, which won 10 seats in Tuesday’s vote.

“The citizens of Israel expect us to quickly put together a leadership that will work for them regarding security, economy and society as we committed to do, and we will do so,” Netanyahu said.

Herzog concedes defeat

Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog conceded defeat in the election and said he congratulated Netanyahu in a phone call. Herzog also told reporters his party will continue working for the Israeli people as a member of the opposition.

Meanwhile, Senior Palestinian Authority official Abdullah Abdullah expressed disappointment at the result.

“Unfortunately it looks that the Likud will form the next government, and that means the old policy will continue,” Abdullah said. “Netanyahu was very clear in his last days of the campaign that he will never allow a Palestinian state, he will not withdraw one centimeter from the occupied Palestinian territories, Jerusalem will stay united as the capital of Israel and that means it closes all the options for peace negotiations.”

The prime minister said this week he would never support a Palestinian state earlier this week, reversing the position he had held during his administration as the two sides conducted peace talks that eventually broke down.

Israel buries 4 Jewish victims of Paris attack

Jerusalem – Thousands of mourners joined Israeli leaders and the families of the four Jewish victims of a Paris terror attack on a kosher supermarket for an emotional funeral procession on Tuesday, reflecting the deep sense of connection and concern in Israel over the safety of fellow Jews in Europe.

The ceremony, broadcast live on all Israeli TV channels, turned into a nationwide expression of mourning and solidarity.

Relatives of each victim spoke briefly and lit a torch in memory of their loved ones before stepping off the stage with a huge Israeli flag in the background to embrace Israel’s president and prime minister. The ceremony concluded with Israel’s national anthem.

The four victims – Yohan Cohen, Yoav Hattab, Philipe Braham and Francois-Michel Saada – died on Friday during a tense hostage standoff at the market on the eastern edge of Paris. They were among 17 people killed in three days of attacks last week by terrorists claiming allegiance to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State extremist groups.

The killings shocked France’s Jewish community of 500 000 – the largest in Europe – and deepened fears among European Jewish communities already shaken by rising anti-Semitism and threats from Muslim extremists.

The attack sparked calls from Israeli leaders for French Jews to immigrate to the Jewish state – calls that have received a mixed reception in France, where politicians and Jewish leaders insist that Jews are an integral part of the country and where a mass migration of the community would be perceived as a failure of the republic.

European Jews are deeply ambivalent about leaving. While maintaining close ties to Israel, their community leaders have urged people to stay in their homelands and not flee in the face of terror.

Still, instead of being buried in France, the victims’ bodies were flown to Israel, where they received a funeral with many of the trappings of an official ceremony.

“Yoav, Yohan, Phillipe, Francois-Michel – this is not how we wanted to welcome you to Israel,” President Reuven Rivlin said, his voice quivering. “We wanted you alive, we wanted for you, life. At moments such as these, I stand before you, brokenhearted, shaken and in pain, and with me stands and cries an entire nation.”

Netanyahu defends Jewish rights

Rivlin, though, insisted that Jews should not return to their ancestral home out of distress or fear of violence. “The land of Israel is the land of choice. We want you to choose Israel, because of a love for Israel,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom critics at home accuse of having an overzealous and politically motivated response to the Paris killing, defended the rights of Jews to live safely everywhere.

“I believe that they know deep in their hearts that they have one country, the state of Israel, that is their historic homeland and will always welcome them with open arms,” he said. “Today, more than ever, Israel is the true home for all of us.”

Israeli critics, mostly in the media, have reported that Netanyahu travelled to Paris for a solidarity rally against the will of French President Francois Hollande, a claim denied by both governments.

Commentators have also criticised his behaviour in France, including his repeated calls for Jews to immigrate to Israel and video of him appearing to push his way into the front row of world leaders at the Paris solidarity march. French officials say Netanyahu stood where he was supposed to be.

Last year, France topped the immigration list to Israel, according to the Jewish Agency, a nonprofit group that works closely with the government and acts as a link for Jews around the world. Nearly 7 000 new immigrants came in 2014, double the number from the previous year.

Overall, immigration was up 88% from Western Europe in 2014, with the arrival of 8 640 immigrants compared with some 4 600 in 2013, with surges also from Italy, Belgium and Britain, according to the Jewish Agency.

Experts say European Jews have not felt this threatened since World War II, when some 6 million Jews were murdered in the Nazi Holocaust. Researchers at Tel Aviv University monitoring anti-Semitism have reported a chilling increase in attacks in Europe over the past decade, including deadly shootings in Toulouse, France, in 2012 and Brussels last year. In recent years, France has had the highest number of incidents of any single country.

France takes pride in its inclusiveness and the Jews’ 2 000-year history in the country. It was the first country in Europe to grant Jews full civil rights, in the immediate wake of the 1789 French Revolution. It has had two Jewish prime ministers, and former President Nicolas Sarkozy has Jewish ancestry.

Representing the French government at the Jerusalem ceremony, Environment and Energy Minister Segolene Royal emphasised the connection.

“All four were killed because they were Jews,” she said. “Today our thoughts are for you, your pain is our pain. Your pain is the pain of the whole of France that cries over your children with you.”

After 11 years, NY trial starts for Israel attacks’ victims

New York – Jury selection in New York begins on Tuesday in a $1 billion lawsuit brought by victims of terror attacks in Israel against the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

The trial, likely to last up to three months, comes 11 years after the lawsuit was filed in Manhattan federal court. It seeks to hold the groups liable, saying they supported the terror attacks.

The PLO and PA tried to convince appeals judges that the Manhattan court does not have jurisdiction. The effort was rejected by the 2nd US Circuit Court of Appeals.

The lawsuit was brought by victims of seven shootings and bombings near Jerusalem between January 2001 and February 2004. The attacks killed 33 people and wounded hundreds more, including scores of US citizens.

Palestinians push UN bid as Kerry meets Netanyahu

Rome – US Secretary of State John Kerry was on Monday to meet the Israeli prime minister two days before Palestinians push for a draft UN resolution to end the Israeli occupation.

Amid a high-stakes diplomatic drive by the top US diplomat, the Palestinians upped the ante late Sunday by revealing in a surprise move they would put the draft text before the UN Security Council on Wednesday.

It would set a two-year deadline for Israeli troops to withdraw from the West Banka timetable which the United States has already opposed as complicating the stalled peace negotiations.

“The Palestinian leadership took a decision to go to the Security Council next Wednesday to vote on their project to end the occupation,” senior Palestine Liberation Organisation member Wassel Abu Yussef told GNR Sunday after a meeting in Ramallah.

Kerry arrived in Rome on Sunday where he met for more than three hours with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov seeking to head off the looming UN showdown.

Jordan last month circulated a draft Palestinian text setting November 2016 as a deadline for the end of the Israeli occupation.

“That’s not the way I think that we would look at handling a very complicated security negotiation by mandating a deadline of two years,” the state department official said, asking not to be identified.

France stepped in last month to try to cobble together along with Britain and Germany a resolution that would win consensus at the 15-member council.

The new text would call for a return to negotiations aimed at achieving a two-state solution by which Israel and a Palestinian state would co-exist.

In the past, the US has consistently used its power of veto at the UN to block moves it sees as anti-Israel.

But US officials said Kerry was seeking to learn more about the European position, adding there did not appear to be a European consensus on any resolution.

The Israeli foreign ministry declined to comment ahead of the Monday afternoon talks in Rome between Kerry and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Kerry and Lavrov “agreed to continue working closely together on this issue and stressed the importance of all sides taking steps to reduce tensions,” a state department official said.

Since the collapse of Kerry’s peace bid in April and the 50-day war in the Gaza Strip in the summer, there has been growing international concern about rising Israeli-Palestinian tensions.

“I believe the Middle East issue is crucial for making sure that we don’t allow the situation to degrade further,” Lavrov said.

After Netanyahu called snap elections in March, some Europeans have pointed to a narrow window of opportunity to push a resolution at the UN Security Council.

US abstention?

Washington has long opposed unilateral Palestinian moves to win recognition for a state of Palestine at the UN.

But US officials said they drew a distinction between a unilateral step, and an effort to draw up a multilateral resolution at the Security Council and have not decided yet whether to back or veto any such resolution.

There is a growing US recognition too of European impatience with the current status quo, as several European parliaments in recent weeks have called on their governments to recognise a state of Palestine.

“Our overall goal here is to hear from and engage with other stakeholders, to hear their views and to the best of our ability work towards a common path forward,” a state department official said.

Kerry will fly from Rome to Paris for a few hours late Monday to meet with French, German and British foreign ministers and the new EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

He will then travel to London to meet with the chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat and the secretary general of the Arab League on Tuesday.

Netanyahu on Sunday rejected all talk of withdrawing from east Jerusalem and the West Bank within two years.

Pulling out now would bring “Islamic extremists to the suburbs of Tel Aviv and to the heart of Jerusalem”, Netanyahu said.

Israeli troops kill Palestinian minister

Turmusiya, West Bank – A Palestinian minister died shortly after being hit by Israeli soldiers during a protest on Wednesday in the occupied West Bank, a Reuters photographer who witnessed the incident and a Palestinian medic said.

Ziad Abu Ein, a minister without portfolio who was in his early 50s, was rushed by ambulance from the scene, in the village of Turmusiya, but died en route to the nearby Palestinian city of Ramallah.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in a statement, called Abu Ein’s death “a barbaric act which we cannot be silent about or accept”.

Announcing three days of national mourning, Abbas said he would take “necessary steps” after an investigation.

The Israeli army was looking into the incident, a spokeswoman said, She did not immediately provide further information.

About 100 foreign and Palestinian activists with the Committee to Resist Settlements and the Wall, the government-run protest organisation that Abu Ein headed, were on their way to plant trees and protest near an Israeli settlement when they were stopped at an improvised checkpoint, witnesses said.

A group of around 15 Israeli soldiers fired tear gas at the protesters and began scuffling with them.

Abu Ein was struck by a hand to the neck during an altercation with two of the soldiers, and was rushed away in an ambulance shortly afterwards, the Reuters photographer said.

Bilateral tensions have been fuelled in recent weeks by the killing of 10 Israelis and a foreign visitor in Palestinian attacks. More than a dozen Palestinians have been killed over the same period, including most of those accused of carrying out the assaults.

Palestinians in Ramallah closed shops in protest at the minister’s death and youths threw stones at Israeli soldiers guarding a Jewish settlement outside the city, Palestinian security sources said.

Israel terminal patient may choose death

Jerusalem – For the first time, Israel has invoked the provisions of its 2005 “Dying Patient Act” to allow a terminally ill patient to die.

A Tel Aviv court on Tuesday revealed that the amounts of oxygen and the rate of ventilation being given to the unidentified man gradually were reduced starting last week, resulting in his death. The man had been suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neurodegenerative disorder commonly referred to as ALS and Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Attorneys representing the man said Israel’s attorney general had supported their client’s petition to end his own life.

The attorneys said the man’s request to die stemmed from a recent deterioration in his condition.

Israel indicts American over plot to bomb Muslims

Jerusalem – An American Christian who passed himself off as an ex-US Navy Seal faces charges in Israel of trying to blow up Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, Israeli authorities said on Tuesday.

Israeli police and the justice ministry identified the man as Adam Everett Livix, 30. Police said he faces drug charges back in the US and that he once turned down an offer from a Palestinian to assassinate US President Barack Obama during the leader’s visit to the Holy Land in 2013.

The justice ministry said the man they identified as Livix underwent a psychiatric evaluation on Tuesday after his indictment on Monday on charges of illegal weapon possession and overstaying his visa by more than a year. Operating in co-operation with Israel’s Shin Bet security service, police went to arrest Livix last month at his 7th-floor apartment, the ministry said, but he initially tried to escape by leaping down to a patio on the floor below.

Livix first arrived in Palestinian-administered areas of the West Bank in early 2013. An unnamed Palestinian later asked Livix, who said he was a former Navy SEAL, to assassinate Obama with a sniper rifle during the president’s March 2013 visit to the region, Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld said.

Livix declined, but the FBI ended up involved in the case investigating his actions, Rosenfeld said.

Later that year, Livix entered Israel, the justice ministry said, and told Israeli friends he had strong anti-Arab sentiments. The ministry said Livix later co-operated with his room mate, a serving soldier in the Israeli military, to obtain 1.4kg of explosive material to blow up the unidentified Jerusalem holy sites. The ministry said police discovered the plot in October.

Livix’s indictment comes at a time of rising tensions in Jerusalem, mostly over a disputed holy site known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and Jews as the Temple Mount. It is the third holiest site in Islam and the holiest in Judaism.

Prominent members of Israel’s government have become more vocal in recent months about demands that Jews be allowed to pray at the Muslim-run site. Many Palestinians fear this is a pretext for a gradual Jewish takeover, even though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he does not intend to change the current arrangements there.

Recent Palestinian attacks in Jerusalem and elsewhere have been linked to those fears.

This isn’t the first time a foreigner has threatened a holy site in Jerusalem.

In 1969, an Australian Christian started a fire at the complex’s Al-Aqsa Mosque in hopes that it would hasten the second coming of Jesus Christ. The man, Denis Michael Rohan, was subsequently committed to a mental institution.

U.S. citizen indicted in Israel on weapons charges

JERUSALEM – A U.S. citizen has been indicted in Israel on weapons charges and told investigators he had been weighing the possibility of attacking Muslim holy sites, the Israeli domestic security service Shin Bet said on Tuesday.

The man’s lawyer told reporters that the Shin Bet was exaggerating the security implications of the case, which coincides with high Arab-Jewish tensions in Jerusalem over access to a holy site where the al-Aqsa mosque now stands and biblical Jewish temples once stood.

The Shin Bet and the Justice Ministry identified the suspect as Adam Everett Livvix, 30, of Texas, and said he was wanted in the United States on drug charges.

Livvix, who was arrested on Nov. 19, was charged on Monday with conspiring with his roommate, an Israeli soldier, to steal 1.4 kilos (3 lb) of explosives from the military.

The Israeli authorities said an undercover police agent discovered the alleged plot and that ammunition and weapons material stolen from the army were found in Livvix’s possession.

A gag order on details of the case, being heard in a court in the central Israeli city of Netanya, was lifted on Tuesday.

“Under questioning, Livvix admitted … he had weighed various ideas about committing terrorist attacks at different venues and even gave preliminary thought to the possibility of attacking venues (of) Islamic holy places in Israel,” the Shin Bet said, without identifying them.

The Justice Ministry said the court has ordered Livvix to undergo a psychiatric examination prior to entering a plea.

Israeli authorities said Livvix is a Christian and that he arrived in the region in 2013, living first in the Palestinian cities of Hebron and Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank and then residing illegally in Israel.

Livvix’s lawyer could not be reached for further comment.

Israel’s military opens eight new probes into its Gaza war conduct

JERUSALEM – Israel’s military said it had opened eight new criminal investigations into its Gaza war operations, including cases involving the deaths of 30 Palestinians.

The internal inquiries could help Israel challenge the work of a U.N. Human Rights Council commission of inquiry into possible war crimes committed by its forces and Palestinian militants in the 50-day conflict in July and August. Israel has said it would not cooperate with the panel, accusing it of bias.

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in the fighting, according to the Gaza health ministry. Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel were killed.

The military said late on Saturday it would investigate a July 20 air strike on the Abu Jama family home in the town of Khan Younis in which 27 Palestinians were killed. Human rights groups said the dead were civilians.

The new probes will also examine the deaths of two Palestinian ambulance drivers on July 25 in Israeli strikes and a July 29 incident in which, according to a rights group, a Palestinian carrying a white flag was killed.

Four other inquiries will look into looting allegations.

In September, the military opened five criminal investigations into its Gaza war operations, including attacks that killed four Palestinian children on a beach and 17 people at a U.N. school. About 85 incidents are under various stages of legal review by the military.

Israel has said Hamas bears ultimate responsibility for civilian casualties because the group’s fighters operated in crowded neighborhoods.

Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman in Gaza, said the new Israeli investigations were aimed at circumventing the U.N. inquiry. He called for “independent probes to bring Israeli war criminals to justice”.

Israel launched its Gaza offensive on July 8 with the declared aim of halting cross-border rocket salvoes by Hamas, an Islamist movement considered a terrorist organization by the West. The fighting was ended by an Egyptian-brokered truce.

Late on Saturday, the Israeli navy detained for questioning 12 Palestinian fishermen on five boats that strayed from an Israeli-designated fishing zone off Gaza, the military said. It was the largest such group taken into custody since the ceasefire went into effect.

Nezar Ayyash, head of the Gaza fishermen’s union, denied the six-mile (10-km) maritime limit was breached. In past incidents, fishermen have been released shortly after being detained.

Israel PM to decide soon whether to call early vote

Jerusalem – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will decide in the next few days whether he can heal his fractured coalition government or call an early election, one of his advisers said on Monday.

The government is split on a range of issues, including the 2015 budget, high living costs, policy towards the Palestinians and a Jewish nation-state bill that critics say would discriminate against Israel’s Arab minority.

The divisions have prompted speculation that Netanyahu will bring forward a national election not scheduled until 2017.

Netanyahu is expected to meet leaders of parties in his coalition on Monday and Tuesday, political officials said, to assess whether the policy differences can be smoothed over.

“In the coming days, Netanyahu is going to find out whether he can govern within the current coalition,” the adviser, Nir Hefetz, said on Army Radio.

“If he reaches the conclusion he can run Israel the way he sees fit in this government, then he will continue. If not, he will return the mandate to the voter because that is his responsibility,” Hefetz said.

Talks

If an election were called, one casualty would likely be the 2015 state budget. Parliament last month gave initial approval to the 417 billion shekel ($107bn) spending package.

If there is no agreement and final parliamentary approval by the end of this year, the original 2014 budget, which excludes mid-year increases, will be used to allocate spending next year.

On Monday, Netanyahu plans to hold talks with Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who heads the far-right Jewish Home party, and also with Finance Minister Yair Lapid, leader of the centrist Yesh Atid, the political officials said.

He intends to meet Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, head of the centrist Hatnuah party, on Tuesday.

An opinion poll published by the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper on Sunday showed that although Netanyahu’s popularity was declining, he was still very likely to win a fourth term as prime minister if an election were held today.

The poll showed Netanyahu’s approval rating had slipped to 35%, compared with 42% at the end of the July-August war against Hamas Islamists in the Gaza Strip, but he still led the race against other potential contenders.

Israel edges closer to early election

Jerusalem – Israel’s fractious coalition government seems headed for a breakup that could spark new elections against a backdrop of security turmoil inside the country, disputes over nationalist legislation and a deep freeze in peace efforts with the Palestinians.

With little to gain from a vote that would come two years early, the country’s top politicians could still pull back from a brink that none seem to relish. But the vitriolic attacks of recent days suggest another angry campaign could soon be at hand.

If that happens, it seems likely for now that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be returned for a fourth term. Despite sagging popularity amid economic doldrums and increasing global isolation, his divided opposition lacks a credible unifying figure.

Under Israel’s political system, the leader is the elected parliament member who can show majority support in the 120-seat house.

Netanyahu’s current coalition consists of a diverse array of partner parties that includes the centrist “Yesh Atid”, which rose to power with promises of economic relief for Israel’s struggling middle class; “Jewish Home”, a hard-line party closely identified with the West Bank settlement movement; “Hatnuah,” which was elected on a platform pushing peace with the Palestinians; and “Yisrael Beitenu,” a nationalist party that seeks to redraw Israel’s borders to rid the country of many Arab citizens. His own Likud party is itself riven with disputes.

‘Jewish Home’

With little common ground, the competing factions have begun to squabble over a host of issues, including the budget, the collapse of US-brokered peace talks, Jewish settlement construction and how to confront a wave of Palestinian attacks in Jerusalem.

The differences boiled over last week when Netanyahu pushed a piece of legislation defining Israel as “the Jewish state”. Although its 1948 Declaration of Independence already does this, critics say enshrining it in law would undermine Israel’s democratic character, enrage the country’s Arab minority, and possibly enable future illiberal legislation.

The dispute forced Netanyahu to delay a vote on the bill by a week, and officials say the vote is likely to be pushed back yet again.

Addressing his Cabinet on Sunday, Netanyahu complained of the incessant infighting.

“I hope we can return to normal conduct”, he said. “This is what the public expects from us. This is the only way to lead the country, and if not we will have to draw conclusions.”

The comments came a day after finance minister Yair Lapid, head of Yesh Atid, accused Netanyahu of playing “petty politics”, and said he hadn’t spoken to him in a month.

Israel’s media is almost unanimously predicting a government collapse with elections in a few months. Many observers believe Netanyahu’s championing of the “Jewish state” law is an effort to establish terms in debate that would bring out his nationalist base.

“The things that Lapid said about Netanyahu on Saturday proved without a doubt: The current government has come to its end. It’s only a matter of time”, wrote Shimon Schiffer, a senior political commentator at Yediot Ahronot.

A new opinion poll published on Sunday in the Haaretz daily provided little incentive for anyone to head to elections, though.

Asked which politician is most suited to be prime minister, 35% of respondents said they favored Netanyahu, down from 42% in August, after a war against militants in the Gaza Strip. It said 38% were satisfied with his performance, down from 77% in early August. 47% said Netanyahu should step down before the next elections to allow someone else to hold the top job.

Yet the same poll showed shrinking support for Lapid, Hatnuah leader Tzipi Livni and the opposition Labour Party. And the fact that the more liberal side of the map is split into three main parties also creates awkwardness for the opposition and may be preventing momentum for change.

The only party that showed gains was the hard-line “Jewish Home”.

One wild card is the possible entrance to the race by Moshe Kahlon, a former member of Netanyahu’s Likud Party who has combined an agenda favouring middle class economic issues with a tough policy on security matters, and who could, some believe, ultimately throw his weight behind a different prime ministerial prospect than the Netanyahu. He is polling around 10% in most surveys.

The poll interviewed 511 people and had a margin of error of 4.1 percentage points.

Reuven Hazan, a political scientist at the Hebrew University, said it is not in anyone’s interest, except perhaps Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett, to push for new elections.

“But politics is not always rational, and sometimes the dynamics of hatred, the statements made off camera, they tend to take on a life of their own”, he said.

“Netanyahu is unliked by most Israeli voters”, he added. “But there isn’t anyone else to challenge him.”

Netanyahu hails failure to reach Iran deal

Jerusalem – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed reports on Monday that world powers had failed to strike a deal with the Jewish state’s arch-foe Iran on its controversial nuclear programme.

Speaking before Tehran and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany decided to give themselves seven more months to reach an agreement, Netanyahu said such a result would be “better”.

The world powers and the Islamic republic will now seek to agree an outline accord by 1 March 2015 and to nail down a full technical agreement by 1 July 2015, officials in Vienna said.

“This result is better. A lot better,” Netanyahu told the BBC after hearing the initial reports that Monday’s deadline for an accord would not be met.

“The deal that Iran was pushing for was terrible. The deal would have left Iran with the ability to enrich uranium for an atom bomb while removing the sanctions,” he said.

The West wants uranium enrichment in Iran dramatically reduced, while Tehran wants painful UN and Western economic sanctions lifted.

Israel has long opposed negotiations between Iran and the so-called P5+1, and has threatened military action to stop Iran gaining a nuclear weapons capability.

“Israel always, always, reserves the right to defend itself,” Netanyahu said.

Iran and the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China plus Germany have been negotiating since February to turn an interim accord reached a year ago into a lasting agreement.

Such a deal, after a decade of rising tensions, is aimed at easing fears that Tehran will develop atomic weapons under the guise of its civilian nuclear activities – an ambition Iran has always denied.

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Showdown looms over ‘Jewish state’ bill

Tel Aviv – Israel was headed for a potential political crisis as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s key coalition partners said they would not support a controversial bill that defines the country as the nation state of the Jewish people.

Netanyahu is scheduled to bring the bill before parliament on Wednesday for a preliminary reading.

“I think this law proposal harms Zionism and destroys the state of Israel,” centrist Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said on Monday.

“If it is brought (to parliament) on Wednesday we will not let it pass,” she told Ynet TV.

The head of the six-seat The Movement said she would either vote against the bill, or abstain to give Netanyahu an opportunity not to fire coalition partners voting against his instructions.

Centrist Finance Minister Yair Lapid, of the 19-seat Yesh Atid, Netanyahu’s biggest partner, has also announced he will not vote for the bill.

“The prime minister will have to consider whether he wants to fire ministers in his government and break up his coalition over their opposition to a law that works against an Israel that is both Jewish and democratic,” Livni said.

Without the support of Livni and Lapid, Netanyahu will likely have no majority, as his otherwise right-wing nationalist coalition counts a total of 68 mandates in the 120-seat Knesset.

The Israeli premier may find a reason to put off the bill.

After a stormy debate, 14 cabinet members voted on Sunday in favour of such a law, while six voted against, despite criticism that it could offend and violate the rights of the state’s non-Jewish minority.

Under a compromise put forward by Netanyahu, a final version of the bill would be phrased with the help of Israel’s attorney general.

The proposals come at a time of heightened tensions between Jews and Muslims as unrest rises over access to holy sites in Jerusalem and construction of Israeli settlements. The unrest has included weeks of rioting, rock throwing and vehicle attacks on Israeli pedestrians.

Arab Israelis form a 20 percent minority of Israel’s population of 8 million.

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Israel orders demolition of synagogue attackers’ homes

Tel Aviv – Israel notified the families of four Palestinian attackers on Thursday that their East Jerusalem homes will be demolished, despite warnings that such punitive measures may be ineffective and counterproductive.

The homes belong to the families of two Palestinians who killed four worshippers and a policeman in a Jerusalem synagogue on Tuesday, a Palestinian who killed an Israeli border policeman in a 5 November vehicle attack, and a hit man who shot a Jewish activist on 22 October.

A military spokesperson in Tel Aviv told dpa the families had 48 hours to appeal.

Israel’s supreme court delayed the demolition of a fifth home belonging to a Palestinian from East Jerusalem who killed an Israeli by ramming a bulldozer into a passenger bus on 4 August.

A debate on that case was set for Monday.

Israel’s biggest-selling daily, Yediot Ahronot, reported that during security consultations this week, the state’s legal advisor, Yehuda Weinstein, said he felt “uneasy” about the controversial policy.

Israel’s Shin Beit internal security organization called the punitive measure an effective deterrent, the daily reported, while the military said it was not.

On Wednesday, Israel blew up the East Jerusalem home of a Palestinian who killed a 3-month baby and an Ecuadorian woman in a 22 October vehicle attack.

US state department spokesperson Jeff Rathke urged Israel not to use demolitions as a punitive measure, calling them “counterproductive in an already tense situation”.

“This is a practice, I would remind that the Israeli government itself discontinued in the past, recognising its effects”, he said.

Test fired

He also condemned an approval issued by a local Jerusalem planning committee to build 78 housing units in the East Jerusalem settlements of Har Homa and Ramot.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has for years rejected demands for a construction freeze in East Jerusalem, and planning continues on the municipal level.

The United Nations Security Council on Wednesday condemned the slaying of four American, and one British Israeli as well as of a Druze Israeli policeman in a West Jerusalem synagogue as a “despicable terrorist attack”.

In a statement, the Security Council expressed concern about increased tensions and called on leaders and citizens to “reject violence, avoid all provocations and seek a path toward peace.”

In separate phone calls Thursday, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged both Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to de-escalate the situation, which will require them “to take a stand that may be contrary to extremists in their own domestic constituencies,”, a spokesperson for Ban said.

After weeks of unrest and violence in and near Jerusalem, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, in an interview with Israel’s Channel 10, warned against a religious war.

“The Intifada [uprising] that we are at the opening of or even at the beginning of today, and to which is being added the religious element, is of the utmost danger to the entire region”, he said.

In response to the wave of violence, internal security minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch has eased firearm restrictions.

Security guards will be able to take their guns home at the end of their work day. Veterans of special forces will also be allowed to carry guns, as well certain residents of an expanded list of communities deemed to be located in risk areas.

Militants in the Gaza Strip meanwhile test-fired four rockets into the Mediterranean Sea over the past 24 hours, the Israeli military said.

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Israel to cooperate with UN Gaza war inquiry

Jerusalem – Israel said on Thursday it would cooperate with a United Nations investigation into Israeli attacks on UN facilities during last summer’s Gaza war and the use of UN sites by Palestinian militants to store weapons.

Last week, Israel announced it would not cooperate with a separate UN Human Rights Council investigation into alleged war crimes committed during the July-August conflict, saying its findings were predetermined and accusing its chairperson, Canadian academic William Schabas, of anti-Israeli bias.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Paul Hirschson said that unlike that probe, the inquiry established by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was “an authentic investigation with potential for us to improve our performance in the course of conflict and learn from our mistakes”.

During the war at least six UN-run facilities were hit by Israeli fire, killing at least two dozen people. Ban, in a statement on 23 July, condemned the discovery of rockets at a UN-administered school.

Israel has cited militants’ use of UN facilities to store rockets as a reason for targeting them. It says that in some cases UN institutions were hit by mistake or by Hamas projectiles.

Hamas spokesperson Fawzi Barhoum said the group welcomed the dispatch of any UN committee to Gaza. But he did not say whether Hamas would cooperate with an investigation into the storage of weapons at UN sites.

“No contact had been made with us regarding such a request. We will look into a request when it is made,” he said.

More than 2 100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed during the Gaza war. Sixty-seven Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel were killed by rockets and attacks by Hamas and other militant groups.

Ban this month named Patrick Cammaert, a retired Dutch general and former force commander of the UN peacekeeping mission in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, to head the investigation.

Israel’s military in September opened five criminal investigations into its Gaza war operations, including attacks that killed four Palestinian children on a beach and 17 people taking shelter at a UN school.

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Israel demolishes East Jerusalem home after synagogue attack

Israeli troops have destroyed the home of a Palestinian man who killed a woman and a baby by ramming a car into a Jerusalem tram stop last month.

The demolition came hours after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to win a “battle for Jerusalem”, following a deadly attack on a synagogue.

Tuesday’s synagogue attack left four rabbis and a police officer dead.
Jerusalem has seen weeks of unrest, partly fuelled by tension over a disputed holy site.

The Israeli military said it had “demolished the house of [a] terrorist responsible for vehicle ramming” at a light-rail station in Jerusalem on 22 October.
The man, Abdel-Rahman Shaloudi, was a Palestinian from Silwan, East Jerusalem.

He was shot by officers as he tried to run away and later died of his injuries in hospital.
Speaking on Tuesday evening, Mr Netanyahu vowed to “settle the score with every terrorist” who attacked Israel.

He said he had “ordered the destruction of the homes of the Palestinians who carried on [Tuesday’s] massacre and to speed up the demolitions of those who carried out previous attacks”.
Mr Netanyahu also said he would strengthen security on the streets of Jerusalem.

‘Collective punishment’

Tuesday’s attack at the Bnei Torah Kehilat Yaakov synagogue was the deadliest in Jerusalem for six years.
Two Palestinian men attacked the West Jerusalem synagogue with a gun and meat cleavers before being shot dead.

Israel had stopped its policy of demolishing the homes of militants in 2005, after a review committee found they did not deter attacks.
However, the practice resumed this year.

Human rights groups have criticised the policy. Amnesty International said on Tuesday: “Punishing the families of suspects by destroying their homes is collective punishment and is prohibited by international law.”

East Jerusalem, which has been occupied by Israel since 1967, has experienced months of unrest.
Thousands attended the funerals for the victims of Tuesday’s synagogue attack

A Palestinian teenager was abducted and burned to death in early July, two days after the discovery of the bodies of three Israeli teenagers who were abducted and killed in the occupied West Bank in mid-June.

The killings set off an escalating cycle of violence, leading to a 50-day conflict between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip that claimed more than 2,000 lives.
Tensions have also risen in recent weeks amid announcements by Israel of plans to build more settler homes in East Jerusalem.

There has been further unrest over an area known to Jews as the Temple Mount – the holiest site in Judaism. The compound is known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif and contains the al-Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam.

Orthodox Jewish campaigners in Israel are challenging a longstanding ban on Jews praying at the compound.

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France urges Israel to rethink settlement

France called on Israel to “immediately” reverse a decision to approve the building of 200 new homes in settlements in East Jerusalem, a move it said directly threatened a two-state peace solution.

“The decision by the Israeli authorities approving the construction of 200 new homes in the Ramot settlement again directly threatens a two-state solution,” French Foreign ministry spokesman Romain Nadal said.

“We call Israel to immediately go back on this decision at a time when everything should be done to stop the escalation (in violence) and relaunch the peace process,” Nadal said in an unusually strong statement.

The new housing is slated for a sprawling hillside complex of apartment buildings and private homes at the northern edge of Jerusalem, on land Israel captured in a 1967 war and annexed to the city in a move never recognised internationally. Palestinians want this territory as part of a future state.

French lawmakers are set to hold symbolic parliamentary votes over the next month on whether the government should recognise Palestine as a state, a move likely to anger the Jewish state.

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UN condemns Israeli settlement expansion

A UN official has warned that Israel’s plans for further settlements in East Jerusalem could ignite more violence and threaten the viability of the future Palestinian state.

UN political chief Jeffrey Feltman called on Israel on Wednesday “to rescind” its plan to build 1,000 new homes, which he said was in violation of the international law, and contrary to the two-state solution.

Feltman called on Israel to “abide by its commitment to the international law”, while calling on Palestinian protesters to stop incitement of violence.

He urged both sides to commit to “meaningful negotiations”.

He was speaking at a UN Security Council emergency session convened at the request of council member Jordan on behalf of the Palestinians.

Tensions have soared between Arabs and Jews over Israel’s plans to build about 1,000 housing units in East Jerusalem, the part of the city the Palestinians demand for their future state.

On Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government said that it was advancing plans to build about 600 additional houses in Ramat Shlomo and 400 in Har Homa districts of East Jerusalem.

Israel has said all of Jerusalem will forever be its capital, citing historical, religious and security reasons.

But the international community, including the US, does not recognise Israel’s annexation of the eastern sector of the contested city.

‘Exacerbating conflict’

On Wednesday, Palestinian Authority representative to the UN,  Riyad Mansour, told the Security Council meeting that Israel’s “illegal” actions on settlement plans “are exacerbating the conflict and obstructing a peaceful solution”.

“Israel, the occupying power, must be demanded to cease immediately and completely its illegal settlement activities throughout the occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem,” he said.

In response, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Ron Prosor denied that Israel is an occupier, adding that Jerusalem will “forever” belong to Israel while denying the existence of Jewish settlers.

He also said that Israel is doing everything possible to minimise tensions, and blamed Palestinians for provoking the Israeli police. 

The UN meeting came as tension between the US and Israel escalated, after an unnamed official of US President Barack Obama’s administration called Netanyahu a “chickenshit”, attacking him over Israeli policy on settlement building in the occupied Palestinian territories.

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Sweden first to recognise Palestine

Sweden’s centre-left government will officially recognise the state of Palestine on Thursday, becoming the first major European country to do so, foreign minister Margot Wallstrom said.

Prime Minister Stefan Lofven told parliament in his inaugural address in October that his social democrat government would deliver on a manifesto promise to recognise a Palestinian state, drawing criticism from Israel and the United States.

“Today’s recognition is a contribution to a better future for a region that has for too long been characterised by frozen negotiations, destruction and frustration”, Wallstrom wrote in the daily Dagens Nyheter.

“Some will state this decision comes too soon. I am afraid, rather, that it is too late.”

Palestinians seek statehood in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the blockaded Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as their capital. They have sought to sidestep stalled peace talks by lobbying foreign powers to recognise their sovereignty claim.

Wallstrom said Sweden’s move aimed at supporting moderate Palestinians and making their status more equal with that of Israel in peace negotiations, as well as giving hope to young people on both sides.

The UN General Assembly approved the de facto recognition of the state of Palestine in 2012, but the European Union and most EU countries have yet to give official recognition.

“EU members confirmed in 2009 their readiness to recognise the state of Palestine when it was appropriate”, Wallstrom said.

“We are now ready to take the lead. We hope this can show the way for others.”

Wallstrom said despite the fact that Palestinian authorities did not have full control of their land and the country did not have fixed borders, Palestine fulfilled the criteria in international law for recognition.

“Together with other European countries, as well as the United States and other regional and international organisations, the government will now work to support renewed negotiations to reach a final agreement”, Wallstrom said.

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jerusalem driver shot after ramming pedestrians

Jerusalem police on Wednesday shot and wounded the driver of a car who rammed a group of pedestrians at a tram stop, seriously wounding three people.

“A private car hit passengers from the light rail near the police national headquarters. The car’s driver attempted to escape and was shot, apparently by a police officer from the Jerusalem district,” police spokesperson Luba Samri said in a statement.

A spokesperson for the emergency services said three people were seriously wounded. Another two people were moderately hurt and four more were said to have sustained light injuries.

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Israeli settler accused of killing Palestine schoolgirl

United Nations – The Palestinians are accusing an Israeli settler of running over two schoolgirls, killing one of them, and speeding away.

Palestinian UN Ambassador Riyad Mansour said in a letter on Monday to the UN Security Council that the two girls got off a school bus in the West Bank town of Sinjil on Sunday and were hit while walking to their mothers across the street.

He said Inas Khalil, aged 5, died several hours later and Nilin Asfour, aged 8, is in critical condition.

Mansour accused “extremist terrorist settlers” of several other hit-and-run acts in the past few months.

He said Israel is responsible for all crimes committed by the settlers, and called on the international community to compel Israel “to reign in the terror and violence being perpetrated by its settlers”.

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Did Israel’s ‘Hannibal directive’ lead to a war crime in Gaza?

The July-August war in Gaza drew international condemnation for a number of reasons, but one episode proved more deadly than any other: an Israeli air and artillery bombardment on Aug. 1 that killed 150 people in a matter of hours.

Six weeks on from the war, with the toll of destruction still being counted, there is deepening unease about what took place that day, especially over whether too much force was used. Some legal experts say a war crime may have been committed.

The events unfolded just as a three-day ceasefire was supposed to come into force. Hamas militants emerged from a tunnel inside Gaza and ambushed three Israeli soldiers, killing two of them and seizing the third.

To rescue the soldier – dead or alive – and ensure Hamas could not use him as a hostage, the Israeli army invoked what is known as the “Hannibal directive”, an order compelling units to do everything they can to recover an abducted comrade.

What ensued was a furious assault on a confined area on the eastern edge of Rafah, the largest city in southern Gaza, home to around 200,000 people. Israeli artillery and tanks bombarded four neighborhoods for several hours – at times firing a shell a minute – while fighter jets carried out air strikes.

As well as the 150 people killed, medics in Gaza said around 200 were wounded, the majority civilians. It was the deadliest day of the seven-week conflict, in which more than 2,100 Palestinians, again most of them civilians, were killed, as well as 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel.

In the weeks since, civil rights campaigners, international legal experts and some Israeli military officers have raised concerns about the assault. One specific reservation is whether the abduction of a single soldier could have justified such heavy and relentless use of force in a populated area.

A panel set up by the United Nations’ Human Rights Commission is due to start investigating potential abuses in the war by both sides shortly, with Rafah one of several incidents investigators have indicated they will examine.

Israel’s Military Advocate General, the army’s chief legal body, has opened its own probe into the events and has said it could launch a criminal investigation. International legal scholars have raised red flags over the justification.

“If it is a legitimate military target then we’ve got to question if the damage and death done to civilians was proportionate,” said Iain Scobbie, a professor of public international law at the University of Manchester.

“In this case the answer is clearly NO, it is not proportionate,” he said, adding: “If it’s not a legitimate military target, it’s clearly a war crime because it is an unjustified use of force with effects on the civilian population.”

The Israeli military said the advocate-general’s fact-finding teams were still working to establish precisely what happened and as a result it would not comment on specifics.

But in a statement the Israel Defence Forces said: “There is no IDF directive or procedure which allows for a violation of international law, including the law of armed conflict.”

AUGUST 1

Mediators in Cairo had agreed with Israeli and Hamas representatives that a ceasefire would begin at 0800 local time.

It is not clear what time Hamas attacked – Hamas at first said it was before the ceasefire started, Israel said it was after – but militants leapt out of the concealed tunnel to ambush the soldiers.

Other Israeli soldiers from the same elite reconnaissance unit scrambled to the scene, where they found two bodies and realized that the third soldier, Second-Lieutenant Hadar Goldin, had been dragged back into the tunnel.

The troops, all from the decorated Givati Brigade, got special permission to enter the potentially booby-trapped tunnel for an underground pursuit. They recovered some of Goldin’s belongings, which allowed forensics experts to conclude later that he was killed in the ambush. Hamas has said it has the remains of Goldin and another Israeli soldier killed in the war.

Colonel Ofer Winter, the Givati Brigade commander, said he was informed about the ambush at around 0900 and about half an hour later got word that a soldier was unaccounted for.

“I declared over the radio the word that no one wants to utter – “Hannibal” – which means abduction,” he told the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth on Aug. 15.

“I began to plan an assault towards Rafah. I instructed all forces to move forward, seize the area, so that the kidnappers would not be able to move.”

Intense artillery shelling, tank fire and air strikes followed, according to accounts from local reporters, residents and medics. At one point, the artillery fired at a rate of one shell a minute, with six cannons firing explosive and non-lethal smoke shells, according to a Reuters photographer.

Abdel-Hakim Lafi, 57, had returned to his house in the area that morning in anticipation of the ceasefire. No sooner had he and his two sons got home than the bombardment began.

“We ran out of the house and down a sandy road and as I was running shells were falling,” he told Reuters. “One hit two women in front of me, I saw them, they were blown up, they were killed in front of my eyes.”

One of his sons, running just behind him, was also killed.

“Everything west of the area where they said the soldier was taken was hit from the air and from the ground,” said Hani Hammad, 28, a Palestinian journalist based in Rafah.

In his comments to Yedioth Ahronoth, Colonel Winter defended the decision to use so much firepower. “Everything we did stemmed from the understanding that we could bring Hadar Goldin back alive,” he said.

“That is why we used all the force. Anyone who kidnaps has to know he will pay a price. It was not revenge, they just messed with the wrong brigade.”

FALLOUT

In the days that followed, international attention focused on getting a durable ceasefire in place. But questions soon started to be raised about the Rafah bombardment.

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel called for an investigation into why the Hannibal directive was employed in a populated, urban area, saying it “fundamentally violated the principle of distinction in international law”.

In an interview with Reuters, Brigadier-General Roy Riftin, the head of the IDF artillery, drew a distinction between Rafah and two other incidents in which heavy artillery was used.

“When a force is in jeopardy or under severe threat, we carry out rescue fire,” he explained, adding that in the other two cases, residents had been warned to leave the area prior to troops moving in and before artillery was used.

“The Hannibal protocol declared for Hadar Goldin is completely different,” he said. “It should be examined at completely different levels.”

It remains unclear how high up the chain of command the declaration of the directive went. Yet regardless of who gave the green light, one central question remains: was it proportionate? Marco Sassoli, a professor at the University of Geneva and a leading authority on international law, said it appeared not to be.

“They may not simply bomb a whole area if they don’t know where the person is, just to make sure that the soldier cannot be evacuated,” he said. “It is an advantage not to lose one soldier but it is not such a great advantage that it would justify risking to kill hundreds of civilians.”

Other experts underscored the importance of recovering a soldier, while saying that did not justify carte blanche.

“It’s more than just a simple mathematical calculation,” said Michael Schmitt, a professor of international law at the U.S. Naval War College’s Stockton Center, who would comment on the principles involved but not the specific Rafah case.

“All militaries rate the protection of their forces as very high and for very good reason. You want morale among the troops, you want troops to know you will come to their assistance if they get in a tight spot and so forth,” Schmitt said.

“Although if someone has been captured this does not mean you can completely take off the gloves,” he added.

INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT

Part of Israel’s rationale for responding so intensely in such cases is that it has paid heavily for captured soldiers in the past. In 2006, Gilad Shalit was seized near Gaza and spent five years in Hamas captivity. He was released in exchange for more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

The Hannibal directive was drafted in 1986 after three soldiers from the Givati Brigade were captured in Lebanon. Their comrades saw the vehicle getting away and did not open fire. The directive aims to ensure that does not happen again.

Critics say it is misinterpreted on the ground as implying that it is better to have a dead soldier than a captured one.

The military has declined to define it precisely in public, only emphasizing the need to prevent a soldier being taken. The debate has at times prompted army chiefs to stress that while risking the captive’s life was allowed, targeting him was not.

Israel, having fought many wars since its founding in 1948, has been accused of war crimes many times, and has leveled similar accusations against its enemies, including Hamas.

What could be different now is that the Palestinians are on the brink of joining the International Criminal Court, a move that would allow them to take action against Israel, but could also open the door to criminal proceedings against Hamas.

The head of the U.N. Human Rights Commission panel investigating the Gaza war has said any evidence it gathers could be used by the ICC in a war crimes case against Israel.

The panel’s final report is due by March next year. The next few months – including whether Israel decides to cooperate with the investigation – will prove critical in determining if war crimes charges are eventually leveled.

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Zuma: UN ‘helpless’ in Israel, Palestine conflict

Johannesburg – The United Nations appeared to be helpless in the conflict between Israel and Palestine, President Jacob Zuma told the United Nations general assembly in New York.

“Of concern in this matter has been the helplessness displayed by the UN, especially the UN Security Council, during the current conflict,” Zuma said on Wednesday.

“While the UN has done remarkably well in the supporting self-determination, when it celebrates 70 years of existence next year, this august body may be found wanting by the people of Palestine.”

He reminded the UN that it had the moral authority to unite the world, promote peace, justice and self-determination.

No military solution

“This august body must play this role without fear or favour and be a beacon for all who suffer oppression in the world,” he said, adding that South Africa was calling on Israel and Hamas to instigate an immediate end to the violence.

“Our strongly held view is that there can be no military solution to the Israeli-Palestinian question,” he said.

Zuma arrived in the United States on Sunday.

His office said he would also attend a number of side events forming part of the UN assembly’s programme.

Zuma was accompanied by several ministers including Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula, International Relations Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Social Development Minister Bathabile Dlamini, Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi, State Security Minister David Mahlobo, Environmental Affairs Minister Edna Molewa, Co-operative Governance Minister Pravin Gordhan and Deputy Public Service and Administration Minister Ayanda Dlodlo.

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Syrian aircraft shot down over Israeli airspace

Jerusalem – An Israeli Patriot missile shot down a Syrian aircraft that flew into Israeli-controlled airspace on Tuesday, the military said, without disclosing the type of plane it intercepted.

“Moments ago a Syrian aircraft infiltrated Israeli airspace. The IDF (Israel Defense Forces) intercepted the aircraft in mid-flight, using the Patriot air defence system. The circumstances of the incident are being reviewed,” a military statement said.

Israel Radio said the aircraft was a drone and was shot down over the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, where fighting from Syria’s civil war has occasionally spilled over. Israeli Army Radio said it may have been a Syrian warplane.

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Israel kills suspects in teen settler deaths

An Israeli army spokesman has said two Palestinians suspected of the fatal abduction of three Israeli teenage settlers in June have been killed in a shootout with Israeli forces.

Lieutenant Colonel Peter Lerner said the suspects, Marwan Qawasmeh, 33, and Amer Abu Aisheh, 29, were killed in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday.

“We opened fire, they returned fire and they were killed in the exchange,” said Lerner.

“We have visual confirmation for one. The second one, we have no visual confirmation, but the assumption is he was killed.”

Abu Eisheh’s mother told GNR that she had heard the news, but she could not confirm the deaths.

Qawasmeh’s mother told local media that she wanted to know whether he was killed and that she hoped he was martyred.

Our Correspondent, reporting from Ramallah, said that hospitals in Hebron had not received any bodies, but locals said they had seen two bodies.

“Six other Palestinians were arrested,” said Zabaneh, adding that a huge Israeli force was still surrounding the Hebron University neighbourhood where the confrontations erupted.

“The Israeli forces, according to local sources in Hebron are bombing doors open, they can see a bulldozer and spot smoke in the area – but are not able to approach,” she said.

Massive manhunt

The abduction of Jewish seminary students – Eyal Yifrach, 19, and 16-year-olds Gilad Shaer and Naftali Fraenkel – in the West Bank sparked a massive manhunt.

It led to the arrest of hundreds of activists of the Hamas movement, eventually sparking Israel’s summer offensive against Gaza.

The bodies of the three Israelis were found three weeks later and a suspected mastermind was arrested.

But the two main suspects believed to have abducted and killed the teens had remained fugitives.

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Hamas says may have to talk directly with Israel

Gaza City – Hamas’s exiled deputy leader said on Thursday the group could be forced to negotiate directly with Israel, ahead of planned talks in Cairo to consolidate a truce.

But an Israeli minister dismissed any possibility of talking directly with the Islamist movement, whose charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state.

Hamas itself later reiterated its policy was not to talk with Israel.

Hamas does not recognise Israel, and Israel denounces Hamas as a “terrorist” organisation, and the two sides have never had any direct contact.

Following weeks of indirect, Egyptian brokered negotiations, Israel and Hamas agreed to halt their fire in Gaza on 26 August after 50 days of war, their deadliest confrontation in years.

The indirect talks are set to resume mid-September to discuss longer-term issues.

Asked if Hamas would contemplate negotiating directly with Israel, Mussa Abu Marzuq, the movement’s exiled deputy leader, said it might be needed.

“If the situation remains as it is now… Hamas could find itself forced to do this,” he told the Palestinian Al-Quds TV, referring to the dire humanitarian situation and continued blockade on Gaza.

Under terms of the truce deal, Israel pledged an immediate easing of restrictions on goods and construction materials being shipped in to Gaza, but so far, officials say there has been little change on the ground.

“From a legal [Islamic] perspective there is nothing wrong with negotiating with the occupation,” he said, indicating it could be necessary in order to guarantee the “rights” of the people of Gaza.

“Many of the issues that have been taboo within the movement could be up for discussion,” he said of Hamas’s historic refusal to negotiate with Israel.

Quartet conditions

But Israel’s Science Minister Yaakov Peri dismissed outright any possibility of negotiating directly with Hamas.

“As long as Hamas doesn’t abandon the path of violence and terrorism, recognise Israel and the Quartet conditions, Israel will not conduct direct talks with this terrorist organisation,” Peri told public radio.

The conditions of the Middle East Quartet include recognising Israel, renouncing violence and respecting past agreements between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation.

“We will conduct indirect talks with Hamas through Egypt, but will do so in different rooms,” Peri said, describing the way the Gaza truce talks were run over the past two months.

Hamas later reiterated that “talking with the Zionist enemy is not the policy of the movement”.

“Nor has it been put forth for discussion,” it said in a statement.

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Israel likely committed Gaza war crimes – HRW

Jerusalem – Israel is likely to have committed war crimes in Gaza, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday, a day after the army announced five criminal investigations into incidents involving its forces.

The 50-day Gaza war between Israel and Hamas-led militants ended on 26 August after killing more than 2 100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, and 73 people on the Israeli side, 67 of them soldiers.

The New York-based rights watchdog said in a statement that in three cases it examined, Israel caused “numerous civilian casualties in violation of the laws of war”.

The incidents were the separate shellings of two UN schools in northern Gaza on 24 and 30 July, and a guided missile strike on another UN school in the southern city of Rafah on 3 August.

The attacks killed a total of 45 people including 17 children, HRW said.

“Two of the three attacks Human Rights Watch investigated… did not appear to target a military objective or were otherwise unlawfully indiscriminate. The third attack in Rafah was unlawfully disproportionate if not otherwise indiscriminate.”

“Unlawful attacks carried out wilfully – that is, deliberately or recklessly – are war crimes,” it said.

A top army legal official said on Wednesday the military was already launching criminal investigations into five incidents, including the 24 July case, where Israeli shelling killed at least 15 people at a UN school in Beit Hanun in northern Gaza.

The army is to look into several dozen other cases for potential criminal investigation, but has not yet mentioned the 30 July or 3 August incidents.

The official said the army had already dismissed seven incidents referred for review, including the death of eight members of a single family in an Israeli air strike on their home, and the killing of a man reports said was a media worker.

“Israel has a long record of failing to undertake credible investigations into alleged war crimes,” HRW said.

The United Nations and international rights groups have condemned Israel for numerous attacks, and Washington slammed the 24 July UN school attack, but refrained from placing the blame squarely on Israel.

The Palestinians have threatened Israel with action at the International Criminal Court over war crimes allegations, and Hamas has signed a proposal for Palestinians to join the body, potentially opening itself up to investigation.

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Gaza celebrates long-term truce

Gaza City – Celebrations erupted in Gaza on Tuesday as a long-term ceasefire agreed by Israel and the Palestinians began, ending 50 days of the deadliest violence in a decade.

The agreement, effective since 1600 GMT, involves an immediate halt to the violence in Gaza that broke out on 8 July and has claimed the lives of 2 143 Palestinians and 69 on the Israeli side.

The Palestinians said it was a “permanent” truce, while a senior Israeli official described it as “unconditional and unlimited in time”.

Washington gave its full backing to the deal. “We strongly support today’s ceasefire agreement,” Secretary of State John Kerry said, calling “on all parties to fully and completely comply with its terms”.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon voiced hope that the ceasefire in Gaza will set the stage for talks on a final Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

In Gaza itself thousands flooded onto the streets in celebration, some firing joyfully into the air, among them gunmen from Hamas, our correspondents said.

Chanting and clapping they surged through the battered streets, bellowing songs of victory as a man swathed in a huge green Hamas flag threw handfuls of sweets into the air.

Mosques used their loudspeakers to broadcast celebratory chants of “God is greatest” as the war-torn enclave hailed the apparent end to seven weeks of violence that has seen a quarter of the territory’s 1.8 million people flee their homes.

“Thank God the war is ended. I can’t believe I’m still alive with my kids!” 32-year-old Maha Khaled told GNR.

“It was a very harsh war. I never thought that we would see peace at the end.”

Cars jammed the streets, their horns honking incessantly, as beaming women and children flashed victory signs and crowds of young men bounced up and down on rooftops, waving flags.

As night fell, there was no letup in the celebrations as the rhythmic thud of drums beat a celebratory pulse and a performer breathed fire to entertain the ecstatic crowd.

“Today Gaza showed the world that it is resisting and that it is stronger than Israel,” said Tamer al-Madqa, aged 23.

‘Ending the blockade’

But there was no sign of celebration in Israel as citizens absorbed the news of two people killed when mortar shells hit a kibbutz in the south.

Ministers in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet began whetting their political knives after a deal which was reportedly agreed by the premier and his defence minister, with other security cabinet ministers only updated by phone.

News of the agreement first emerged from the West Bank city of Ramallah where a Palestinian official told GNR an elusive deal had been reached over a “durable” halt to the bloodshed.

He said the deal involved a “permanent ceasefire” and an end to Israel’s eight-year blockade of Gaza, in a move hailed by Hamas as a “victory for the resistance”.

Ending the blockade had been a key Palestinian demand in earlier, abortive truce talks in Cairo.

“The Egyptian initiative [includes] an opening of the crossings for goods and humanitarian and food aid to enter Gaza, as well as medical supplies and materials to repair the water, electricity and mobile phone networks,” chief Palestinian truce negotiator Azzam al-Ahmed told GNR.

Restrictions on fishing would end “immediately” with boats allowed to fish up to six miles offshore with the limit later extended to 12 miles, he said.

At a later, unspecified date, the two sides would discuss “the exchange of [Palestinian] prisoners and of the bodies of those [Israeli soldiers] killed” during the conflict, he said.

Israel confirmed the negotiating teams would return to Cairo “within a month”, without saying when.

“We have accepted, once again, an Egyptian proposal for an unconditional and unlimited-in-time ceasefire,” a senior official said.

“The framework includes an immediate and unconditional ceasefire and then, inside a month, both delegations will be in Cairo raising issues with the Egyptians,” he said.

“We will be raising our concerns about demilitarisation and preventing Hamas from rearming.”

During the celebrations several senior Hamas and Islamic Jihad figures emerged onto the streets for the first time since the war began, having feared assassination by Israel, which had labelled them “legitimate targets”.

As well as rebuilding the battered enclave, senior Hamas official Mahmud al-Zahar said the Islamist movement would continue “arming itself and developing its resistance capacity”.

New talks ‘within a month’

Egypt’s foreign ministry said the two sides had agreed to the “simultaneous opening of the border crossings between Israel and Gaza to enable the rapid entry of humanitarian aid and relief and reconstruction supplies”.

And the statement referred to a “continuation of indirect negotiations between the two sides on other matters within one month of the ceasefire taking effect”.

News of the reported deal came after weeks of Egyptian-led efforts to end the violence which resulted in several short-term ceasefires, all of which broke down in the absence of agreement on a longer-term truce.

The latest collapsed on 19 August as hostilities resumed, killing more than 120 Palestinians and two Israelis, one a four-year-old child.

There had been no sign of any letup in the fighting earlier on Tuesday, with 12 Palestinians killed in Israeli air strikes and tank shelling, among them two children.

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Abbas urges resumption of talks with Israel

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has called for the urgent resumption of the Cairo-mediated talks between Israel and the Palestinians to end the Gaza crisis that entered its 47th day.

“My main goal is for the truce talks to resume in Egypt as soon as possible to avoid more casualties and sacrifices”, Abbas said during a news conference on Saturday after meeting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

They broke down in Cairo last week leading to a resumption of hostilities after a week-long ceasefire.

The final solution to the Gaza crisis will be proposed before the Arab League based on the Egyptian proposal, Abbas said.

The Palestinian president and Hamas’s exiled leader Khaled Meshaal issued an appeal on Friday urging the UN to draw up a “timetable” for the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories to end, Qatar state media said.

The two Palestinian leaders held talks in Doha, which were hosted by the emir of Qatar, a key backer of Hamas.

Meanwhile, a senior Hamas leader who has been taking part in the Cairo negotiations has confirmed that the group will back any Palestinian bid to join the International Criminal Court (ICC).

According to Moussa Abu Marzouk, Hamas has signed a paper of support requested by the Palestinian president.

Palestinians accuse Israel of war crimes in Gaza because of its attacks on civilians. If Palestine did join the ICC, it would mean Hamas could also be investigated.

This comes as seven people, including five from one family, were killed in new Israeli airstrikes in central Gaza.

The deadliest Israeli attack on Saturday levelled a home in Al-Zawayda in central Gaza, killing a couple, their sons aged three and four, and a 45-year-old aunt, medics said.

The Israeli military said it had carried out about 20 airstrikes over the Gaza Strip early on Saturday. Israeli officials said that more than 80 rockets were fired from Gaza on Friday.

Witnesses and Palestinian officials said two mosques were destroyed in the Khan Yunis area of southern Gaza, while a third, in the Shati refugee camp, which had already been damaged, was bombed again.

Earl;ier on Friday, Hamas executed 18 Palestinians it had suspected of collaborating with Israel. 

According to Palestinian health ministry, 2102 have been killed and 10,540 have been injured since the fighting began on July 8th. 

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Gaza gunmen execute ‘collaborators’; mortar kills Israeli boy

Hamas-led gunmen in Gaza executed 18 Palestinians accused of collaborating with Israel on Friday, accelerating a crackdown on suspected informers after Israeli forces tracked down and killed three senior Hamas commanders.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to escalate the fight against Hamas, vowing the group would “pay a heavy price” after a four-year-old Israeli boy was killed by a mortar attack from Gaza, the first Israeli child to die in the six-week conflict.

Shortly after his remarks, Palestinian officials said Israel had flattened a house in a Gaza City air strike, wounding at least 40 people.

With protesters from rocket-hit southern Israeli communities gathered outside his residence in Jerusalem after the boy’s killing, Netanyahu was under pressure to take tougher steps to end the rocket fire.

Israel’s military spokesman said another ground war was possible if necessary to stop the rocket fire.

Earlier in Gaza, masked militants dressed in black executed seven suspected collaborators, shooting the hooded and bound victims in a busy square outside a mosque after Friday prayers.

Television footage showed a crowd of young boys gathered where the executions took place moments afterwards, blood still running on the street and bullet casings scattered around.

Those deaths followed the killing of 11 alleged informers at an abandoned police station outside Gaza City, marking the third time this month that Hamas-led operatives have executed people suspected of providing intelligence to Israel.

Al Majd, a website linked to Hamas’s internal security service, said “the resistance” – a term for all Palestinian militant groups – had begun an operation dubbed “strangling the necks” to clamp down on anyone collaborating with Israel.

Over the years, Israel has established a network of contacts in the Palestinian territories, using a combination of pressure and sweeteners to entice Palestinians to divulge intelligence.

“They provided the enemy with information about the whereabouts of fighters, tunnels of resistance, bombs, houses of fighters and places of rockets,” read a conviction letter posted near those killed at the mosque and signed “The Palestinian Resistance”, a term for the Hamas-led executioners.

“The occupation bombarded these areas, killing a number of fighters … Therefore, the ruling of revolutionary justice was handed upon him,” it said.

EXECUTIONS DENOUNCED

The Hamas crackdown on suspected collaborators follows the killing of three of Hamas’s most senior military commanders in an Israeli air strike on Thursday, an attack that required precise on-the-ground intelligence on their whereabouts.

After the executions, a statement obtained by Reuters from the “Palestinian Resistance” said “a number of” other collaborators had surrendered to the authorities.

Human rights groups denounced the killings. Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, called it a “horrendous abuse.”

Raji al-Surani, chairman of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, demanded the Palestinian Authority and other armed factions “intervene to stop these extra-judicial executions, no matter what the reasons and motives are.”

Fighting between Israel and Hamas raged on. More than 80 rockets and mortars shot from Gaza hit Israel. A mortar killed a four-year-old boy at a border collective farm. Another rocket seriously wounded another Israeli in Ashdod in addition to four other people injured in a rocket strike on a synagogue and in Beersheba and Sderot, Israeli police said.

An Israeli military source said Israel had determined that the mortar was fired from a United Nations’ school in Zaitoun, a district of Gaza pummelled by Israel earlier in the fighting. The source’s remark to GNR suggested the district or school could be targeted again.

Israeli forces carried out more than 25 air strikes in Gaza on Friday, killing four people and in another strike after darkness fell another 40 people were wounded some of them seriously, a Palestinian health ministry spokesman said.

Israel’s military spokesman Brig. Gen. Motti Almoz warned Palestinians in Gaza near weapons stockpiles to leave their homes. “We are intensifying our attacks,” he said, adding that Israel was “preparing for possible ground action”.

Israel pulled its infantry and armoured corps forces out of Gaza more than two weeks ago after destroying Hamas’s network of border infiltration tunnels.

But Netanyahu granted preliminary approval on Thursday for the call-up of 10,000 army reservists, signalling the possibility of heightened military action in Gaza.

Since the conflict began last month, 2,071 Palestinians, many of them civilians, have now been killed and around 400,000 of the enclave’s 1.8 million people displaced. Sixty-four Israeli soldiers and four civilians in Israel have been killed.

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Israelis, Palestinians poised to resume talks

Gaza City – Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are poised to resume indirect talks with Egyptian mediators on reaching a more permanent ceasefire before a current truce expires at midnight on Monday.

The Egyptian government persuaded both sides late Wednesday to adhere to a new five-day ceasefire, extending an earlier three-day agreement in order to allow more time to thrash out a longer-term truce.

It got off to a rocky start with Palestinian rocket attacks and retaliatory Israeli air strikes, but Saturday marked a sixth day of quiet following more than a month of fighting that has killed more than 1 960 Palestinians and 67 on the Israeli side.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams are now expected back in Cairo for fresh talks, which the Palestinians said would begin on Sunday, after consulting their political leaders over the weekend.

The European Union welcomed the ceasefire in Gaza and said it was ready to expand a police mission in Rafah, on the border with Egypt, and train Palestinian Authority customs personnel and police for redeployment in Gaza.

“A return to the status quo prior to the latest conflict is not an option,” said the Council of the EU on Friday following a foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels.

Effective mechanism

It said EU police would monitor the transit of supplies needed for Gaza reconstruction and try to prevent weapons from being smuggled into the territory.

A mission of 70 European police officers was set up at the crossing point in 2005, tasked with monitoring movements of people, goods and vehicles at Gaza’s only window to the outside world that bypasses Israel.

But it was suspended two years later after Hamas seized power in the Gaza Strip.

The EU said a durable ceasefire must be accompanied by lifting closures on Gaza and called on “all terrorist groups” in the territory to disarm.

The Israeli foreign ministry welcomed the call for disarmament – Israel’s main demand at Cairo truce talks.

“Commitment to the principle of demilitarisation, to be implemented by an effective mechanism, will insure a fundamental change of the situation,” it said.

Israel, under pressure from citizens who have endured more than 2 790 rocket attacks since July 8, refuses to countenance any major reconstruction effort without full demilitarisation.

Lifting the blockade

Azzam al-Ahmad, who heads the Palestinian delegation at Cairo talks, told GNR on Saturday he was quietly optimistic that an agreement for a longer-term truce could be reached.

“We have high hopes of reaching an agreement very soon, before the end of the truce, and perhaps even, very quickly, for a permanent ceasefire,” he said.

But Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri struck a hardline, insisting that there can be no return to peace without a lifting of Israel’s eight-year blockade of the beleaguered coastal enclave.

“We can reach an agreement if the Israeli side accepts all the demands of the unified Palestinian delegation, in particular the end of any aggression against our people, the war on Gaza and the complete lifting of the siege,” Abu Zuhri said.

The Israelis have spoken little in public about the negotiations.

With demands seemingly irreconcilable, the Egyptian mediators and both sides will have their work cut out to hammer out a wording for each side to be able to present as some kind of achievement.

Israel refuses to deal directly with Hamas, whose charter calls for the destruction of the Jewish state, although Hamas is part of the Palestinian delegation that also includes Islamic Jihad and the Palestinian Authority of president Mahmud Abbas.

Talks on Sunday are expected to resume on the basis of an Egyptian proposal, seen by GNR, which calls for a lasting ceasefire beyond Monday midnight, and new talks on the thorniest issues, including demands for a seaport and airport in Gaza, to begin in a month’s time.

Negotiations about handing over the remains of two dead Israeli soldiers in exchange for the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails would also be postponed, according to the document.

A buffer zone along Gaza’s border with Israel would be gradually reduced and guarded by Palestinian Authority security teams.

US-Israel ties hit new low after backdoor missile procurement

Washington – The US White House and State Department officials were caught off guard during the Gaza conflict after it surfaced that the Israeli military had quietly secured US ammunition supplies from the Pentagon.

The Obama administration had since tightened its control on arms transfers to Israel, a close US ally that has strong support within the US Congress.

Israel Hayom reports that US-Israel ties hit a new low as the White House halted missile shipment.

Asked about the report, State Department spokesperson Marie Harf said US arms transfers were put under greater scrutiny but she sought to play down the idea that the White House or State Department were surprised by the Pentagon’s shipments or that there was any diminution of US support for Israel.

“Given the crisis in Gaza, it’s natural that agencies take additional care to review deliveries as part of an inter agency process. That is by no means unusual and, again, does not indicate any change in policy,” Harf told reporters.

“I’m not going to give a specific reason behind why, during a crisis, we would take a second look,” she added.

The United States repeatedly called on Israel to do more to prevent civilian casualties during the fighting, which was set off by rocket launches from the Gaza Strip into Israel, which then launched both air strikes and a limited ground invasion.

On 3 August, the State Department issued an unusually harsh statement after shelling at a UN school in Gaza. While it did not explicitly blame the shelling on the Israeli military, it urged greater care to protect civilians.

After more than a month of intense conflict, which killed 1 945 Palestinians, many of them civilians, as well as 64 Israeli soldiers and three civilians in Israel, a fresh truce between Israel and Hamas appeared to be holding.

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10 000 Israelis demand end to rocket attacks

Tel Aviv – Around 10 000 Israelis poured into downtown Tel Aviv late on Thursday, calling on the government and the army to end Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza once and for all.

It was the first major demonstration in Israel since the country went to war against Hamas on 8 July, launching a punishing air campaign followed by a ground offensive designed to stop rocket attacks and destroy attack tunnels.

Organisers said the rally united people across Israel’s often bitter divides of left and right-wing, as well as religious and secular Jewish communities.

Alon Davidi, mayor of the southern town of Sderot, told the rally there must be a solution – be it political or military – to what he called 14 years of rocket attacks.

“I have full confidence in the government and in the army, but at the same time I ask as mayor of Sderot that they put an end to this situation once and for all,” Davidi said.

“Finish the job!” he said. “This is a universal principle. We want to live in peace,” he added.

Police told GNR that around 10 000 people attended the rally in Rabin Square.

Members of the crowd waved Israeli flags and held up banners calling for peace with the Palestinians and others scrawled with the words: “Occupy Gaza now!”

“We all came here to send the message that rocket fire on the south is not only a problem for the south but a problem for the rest of the country,” said Haim Yelin, head of the Eshkol regional council.

He thanked the military for launching the offensive.

“I hope they will transform the military victory into a political victory that will bring quiet to the whole country,” he said.

The army says Palestinian militants in Gaza have launched more than 3 500 rockets since 8 July. More than 2 790 have slammed into Israel and around 600 have been shot down.

The attacks have killed two Israelis and a Thai agricultural worker since the fighting began.

At least 1 962 Palestinians, of whom the United Nations says 72% were civilians, have also died alongside 64 Israeli soldiers.

Negotiators in Cairo brokered an 11th-hour extension to an existing truce by another five days, starting Thursday, to allow for continued negotiations on a long-term ceasefire.

Israel’s security cabinet was on Thursday meeting to discuss the ongoing Egyptian mediation process.

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Israel carries out air strikes in Gaza after new truce

Gaza City – Israeli aircraft carried out air strikes across Gaza early on Thursday in response to Palestinian rocket fire and shortly after a new ceasefire brokered by Egypt came into effect, officials said.

An official at the Palestinian interior ministry reported four air strikes over open ground about 30 minutes into the extension of a new truce, from midnight, which the Palestinians announced would last for five days.

Israel said its military was targeting “terror sites across the Gaza Strip” in response to rocket fire.

The military “remains alert and maintains a high level of preparedness with both defensive capabilities, and striking capabilities in order to address a renewed aggression and will immediately respond to any threat to Israel”, it said.

A spokesperson for the Israeli army told GNR that Palestinian militants launched six rockets towards Israel late on Wednesday, four of which hit open areas and one of which was intercepted.

No rocket attacks were immediately reported after midnight. An Egyptian official announced that both Israel and the Palestinians had agreed to extend the ceasefire.

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Israel, Palestinians agree to extend Gaza truce

Cairo – Israel and Palestinians agreed late on Wednesday to extend a ceasefire in Gaza for another 72-hours after failing to reach a long term agreement in Cairo-mediated talks, an Egyptian official said.

A previously agreed three-day ceasefire was set to expire less than an hour afterwards, at midnight local time (21:00 GMT).

“We have agreed to give more time for the negotiations,” Azzam al-Ahmed, head of the Palestinian delegation in Cairo, told AFP, saying the extra time would be a further 72 hours.

An Egyptian official said Israel also accepted the proposal. Israel had earlier said it would back an extension of the lull.

The last-ditch effort to avoid renewed hostilities came after Palestinian officials said there were still gaps in an agreement for a long-term deal to end the conflict, which has killed almost 2 000 Palestinians in Gaza since 8 July.

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Israel-Hamas talks tackle Gaza blockade

Negotiators in Cairo have addressed the issue of the Israeli Gaza blockade, as the clock ticks down to the 2100 GMT deadline that will end a current 72-hour truce.

By that time on Wednesday, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in the Egyptian capital must have either agreed on a permanent ceasefire, accepted an extension or risk a resumption of more than a month of bloody fighting.

As Gaza’s residents ventured out into the quiet to try to piece together their battered lives, negotiators held a second round of indirect talks aimed at finding a durable end to the five-week confrontation.

A senior Israeli official told the GNR news agency there was still a long way to go to agree an end to the conflict, which erupted on July 8 when Israel launched military operations to halt cross-border rocket fire from Gaza.

“The negotiations are difficult and gruelling,” a Palestinian official said of Monday’s opening talks, which lasted almost 10 hours and which were described as “serious”.

Tuesday’s talks, which opened during the afternoon and tackled core issues such as Israel’s eight-year blockade of Gaza, went on late into the night.

Earlier on Tuesday, an Israeli official played down the chances of success.

“The gaps are still very wide. There has not been progress in the negotiations,” he told GNR.

Hamas, the Palestinian group which runs Gaza, wants Israel to lift the blockade it imposed on the enclave in 2006 before it will stop rocket attacks. Israel has said it will only facilitate Gaza’s reconstruction if the enclave is fully disarmed.

In a sign that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced domestic political battles to sell any deal to his fractious coalition government, he called off a planned meeting of his security cabinet on Tuesday.

Hamas tunnels  

This is the second 72-hour ceasefire to be held during the conflict. The first only came about after Israel announced it had completed the destruction of a network of Hamas tunnels that crossed the blockade.

Israel is now preparing to build a network of sensors to try to detect tunnel building into its territory from the Gaza Strip, but it could take months to prove the technology works, a senior army officer told the GNR.

In the meantime, the army might re-invade the Palestinian enclave to destroy any tunnels it discovers or that it thinks are under construction, another official said, looking to calm the fears of Israelis living close to the Gaza border.

The army said it destroyed 32 tunnels last month, but believes some, which also serve as bunkers and weapons caches, survived intact.

After more than a decade of failed attempts to develop ways to reveal the infiltration tunnels, an army officer said the military was preparing to place sensors around Gaza’s perimeter.

The army hopes these will not only be able to detect tunnels under construction, but also others already built.

In a briefing to reporters, the officer, who declined to be named, said the sensors would be augmented by physical obstacles placed along the 68 km-long (42 miles) frontier.

He did not discuss the technology, but said testing over the next few months would show whether it was ready for use. Previous experimentation has focused on seismic detectors. 

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Israel apologises for calling Brazil ‘diplomatic dwarf’

Braslia – Israeli President Reuven Rivlin apologised on Monday to his Brazilian counterpart for a remark by a foreign ministry spokesperson calling the Latin American powerhouse a “diplomatic dwarf”.

The comment in July was made by spokesperson Yigal Palmor after Brazil criticised Israel’s military campaign in Gaza as excessive and recalled its envoy in Tel Aviv.

In a phone call Monday, Rivlin assured Brazil President Dilma Rousseff that Palmor’s comments “do not correspond to the sentiments of the population” of Israel, Rousseff’s office said in a statement.

Rousseff had criticised Palmor’s remarks, saying “Words, including the spokesperson’s, sometimes create a very bad climate. In this case, we have to be very careful.”

In the phone call, her office said, Rousseff “condemned the attacks on Israel” by Hamas, and “reiterated Brazil’s historic position … defending the co-existence between Israel and Palestine as sovereign, economically viable and, above all, safe states.”

Israel and Hamas Monday started a new 72-hour ceasefire, as negotiators in Egypt worked to seek a permanent end to hostilities.

Rousseff “expressed hope for the continuation of the ceasefire and the current negotiations,” the statement said.

More than a month of bloody fighting in and around Gaza has killed at least 1 940 Palestinians and 67 people on the Israeli side, most of them soldiers.

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Fidel Castro signs pro-Palestine manifesto

Havana – Former Cuban president Fidel Castro has signed an international manifesto “supporting Palestine”, demanding that Israel respect UN resolutions and withdraw from Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Castro, who will be 88 next week, added his signature to those of intellectuals and politicians to the document “In Defence of Palestine”, the official Granma newspaper said on Saturday.

Bolivian President Evo Morales, Argentine artist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Adolfo Perez Esquivel, Cuban dancer Alicia Alonso and American writer Alice Walker were also among the signatories.

The manifesto was promoted by the Network in Defence of Humanity, which includes several Latin American groups.

It asks governments around the world to demand Israel respect United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, adopted in the aftermath of the Six-Day War of 1967.

It calls for Israel to withdraw from the territories gained during the conflict.

In recent weeks, Latin America has been at the forefront of condemnation of the Israeli offensive in the crowded Palestinian enclave, offering almost unanimous support to the Palestinians.

Castro himself has accused Israel of engaging in a “new form of fascism” through the deadly military operation.

The conflict has killed at least 1 913 Palestinians and 67 people on the Israeli side, almost all soldiers, since July 8.

Harsh criticism has also come from Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro.

Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Peru and El Salvador have also recalled their ambassadors to Israel for consultations, while Bolivia, where thousands of people protested on Friday to denounce the conflict, placed Israel on a list of “terrorist states”.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, however, has been more muted in his response, leaving his envoy in Tel Aviv.

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Israel renews Gaza shelling, 30 dead

GAZA/JERUSALEM – Renewed Israeli shelling killed at least 30 people in Gaza on Sunday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to keep up pressure on Hamas even after the army completes its core mission of destroying a tunnel network that extends into Israel.

Israel declared dead a soldier feared abducted by Hamas militants and repositioned its troops in the Gaza Strip, telling many residents they could return home after entire neighbourhoods were devastated in nearly a month of fighting.

In Cairo, a Palestinian delegation arrived for new truce talks. Turning its back on those negotiations after previous attempts to end the conflict failed, Israel said it would not send envoys as scheduled.

Israel intensified attacks in the area of Rafah along the border with Egypt, where 23-year-old officer Hadar Goldin was feared captured there on Friday, shortly after a previous ceasefire had taken effect.

The military later said Goldin, who was dragged by militants into a tunnel after two of his comrades were killed by a suicide bomber, had also died in action.

“The findings on the ground, the items that we found led us to the conclusion that he was killed in the initial attack,” said military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner.

Lerner said that ground forces were being redeployed in the Gaza Strip, though he gave no details their new positions, and added that residents from a number of evacuated neighbourhoods had been told they can return.

More than 30 tunnels and dozens of access shafts have been unearthed and were being blown up.

“We have proceeded with the mission in order to eliminate those (tunnels) that we have found and we expect to complete that within a short period of time, probably within the next 24 hours or so,” he said.

Israel began its air and naval offensive against Gaza on July 8 following a surge of cross-border rocket salvoes by Hamas and other guerrillas, later escalating into ground incursions.

Shelling exchanges continued on Sunday, pushing the Gaza death toll given by Palestinian officials to 1,708, most of them civilians. Israel has confirmed that 64 soldiers have died in combat, while Palestinian shelling has also killed three civilians in Israel.

At least 30 Palestinians in Rafah were killed by Israeli fire on Sunday, including nine from the same family, hospital officials said.

TRUCE EFFORTS

The talks in Cairo, without Israeli participation, were unlikely to produce any breakthrough, as Israel and Hamas’ positions remain far apart.

Israel says it must be allowed to act against Hamas’ rocket arsenal and tunnel network in the framework of any long-term truce. Hamas, sworn to Israel’s destruction, demands Israel withdraw its troops and a lifting of the blockade that has choked Gaza’s economy.

Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, a member of Netanyahu’s decision-making security cabinet, said any agreement on the issue was still far off.

“You want to talk about lifting the blockade? Not with us, and not now,” she told the news website Ynet TV.

Crowded Gazan towns close to the Israeli border have seen destructive clashes and the flight of tens of thousands of Palestinians as tanks and troops swept in to confront dug-in guerrillas.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said 520,000 people had been displaced by the fighting – more than a quarter of Gaza’s population.

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Palestinians struggle to ‘dig out bodies’

Rafah, Gaza Strip – Under continued Israeli air strikes and artillery fire, Issa Akel has no other choice: The 50-year-old bulldozer driver must stop unearthing the dead bodies buried beneath the rubble in this southern Gaza town and seek safety for himself.

In Hay al-Junina, east of Rafah, Akel went on a mission to rescue the dead, but he soon realised that his life was in danger. On Saturday, the town’s roads were littered with dead bodies, left bleeding for hours without any ambulance crew arriving to rescue them.

“We are now unable to dig out bodies of people from under the ground,” Subhi Radwan, the mayor of Rafah, said. He explained that his office receives hundreds of calls for help, but the municipality’s trucks can’t access most areas.

Local medics said that at least 110 people have been killed in Rafah in the past 24 hours, while hundreds more have been injured. At least 1,680 Palestinians have been killed and 8,500 others hurt in Gaza since Israel’s military offensive began on July 8.

On Friday, an Israeli tank shell struck an ambulance in Rafah, killing three medical crew members: Yousef Elshiekh Eid, Yousef Darabeh, and Atef Alzamli. Meanwhile, the city’s only hospital, Abu Yousef Al Najjar, has been under constant Israeli artillery shelling, forcing doctors to evacuate their patients and the dead bodies.

The killings in Rafah occurred just two hours after an internationally brokered, 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire between Hamas and Israel came into effect. Israel blamed Hamas for shattering the truce, while the Palestinian group said Israeli troops used the short-lived deal to storm into Rafah and kill residents.

Meanwhile, Ashraf al-Qedra of Gaza’s health ministry has appealed to international groups to ensure that ambulances have a secure route to evacuate victims to the nearby town of Khan Younes.

With nowhere safe left to take the dead, people in Rafah have begun storing the bodies of their loved-ones in refrigerators usually used to store food items. Our correspondent saw dozens of bodies stuffed into one such refrigerator.

Nearly half the city was under Israeli bombardment on Saturday, making it difficult to arrange proper burials. “Injured people [are] calling us … but we can’t get to them,” said a local ambulance driver. “No one is safe, ambulance crew, municipality workers, and civilians in their homes, are hit,” Mayor Radwan said.

The crisis in Rafah has resulted in a lack of electricity, water, and sanitation services. “We are receiving hundreds of phone calls from people who have no water and they can’t move under constant artillery shelling,” said Radwan, explaining that between 30,000-40,000 people have been left without drinking water in the eastern part of the city.

The violence has also created thousands of new internally displaced persons , according to the United Nations, including many who have sought shelter in overcrowded UN schools. At least 280,000 Palestinians across Gaza have now been displaced.

The UN estimates that 76 families have lost three or more members in the same in incident, totalling over 400 deaths.

Radwan said he had never seen a war like this in his 62 years, more than half of which has been spent working in public services in Rafah. “In the past I have dealt with [the] Egyptian and Israeli military,” he said, “but it has never reached [this] level of no consideration for [the] humanitarian crisis”.

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Israel vows to destroy Hamas tunnels, deaths spike

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to destroy Hamas’ tunnel network designed for deadly attacks inside Israel “with or without a cease-fire,” as the Palestinian death toll soared past 1,400 – surpassing the number killed in Israel’s last major invasion of Gaza five years ago.

Netanyahu’s warning came as international efforts to end the 24-day-old war seemed to sputter despite concern over the mounting deaths. The Israeli military said it was calling up an additional 16,000 reserve soldiers to pursue its campaign against the Islamic militants.

At least 1,441 Palestinians have been killed, three-quarters of them civilians, since hostilities began on July 8, according to Gaza health officials surpassing the at least 1,410 Palestinians killed in 2009, according to Palestinian rights groups.

Israel says 56 soldiers, two Israeli civilians and a Thai agricultural worker have died also far more than the 13 Israeli deaths in the previous campaign.

As the toll grew, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay accused both Israel and Hamas militants of violating the rules of war.

She said Hamas is violating international humanitarian law by “locating rockets within schools and hospitals, or even launching these rockets from densely populated areas.” But she added that this did not absolve Israel from disregarding the same law.

The Israeli government, she said, has defied international law by attacking civilian areas of Gaza such as schools, hospitals, homes and U.N. facilities. “None of this appears to me to be accidental,” Pillay said. “They appear to be defying deliberate defiance of obligations that international law imposes on Israel.”

Pillay also took aim at the U.S., Israel’s main ally, for providing financial support for Israel’s “Iron Dome” anti-rocket defense system. “No such protection has been provided to Gazans against the shelling,” she said.

At the United Nations, Israel’s Ambassador Ron Prosor responded to criticism of his country, saying: “I think the international community should be very vocal in standing with Israel fighting terrorism today because if not, you will see it on your doorstep tomorrow.”

Israel expanded what started as an aerial campaign against Hamas and widened it into a ground offensive on July 17. Since then, Israel says the campaign has concentrated on destroying cross-border tunnels militants constructed to carry out attacks inside Israeli territory and ending rocket attacks on its cities.

Israel says most of the 32 tunnels it uncovered have now been demolished and that getting rid of the remainder will take no more than a few days.

“We have neutralized dozens of terror tunnels and we are committed to complete this mission, with or without a cease-fire,” Netanyahu said Thursday in televised remarks. “Therefore, I will not agree to any offer that does not allow the military to complete this important mission for the security of the people of Israel.”

For Israel, the tunnel network is a strategic threat. It says the tunnels are meant to facilitate mass attacks on civilians and soldiers inside Israel, as well as kidnappings, a tactic that Hamas has used in the past. Palestinian militants trying to sneak into Israel through the tunnels have been found with sedatives and handcuffs, an indication they were planning abductions, the military says.

Several soldiers have been killed in the current round of fighting by Palestinian gunmen who popped out of underground tunnels near Israeli communities along the Gaza border.

Israeli defense officials said the purpose of the latest call-up of 16,000 reserves was to provide relief for troops currently on the Gaza firing line, and amounted to a rotation that left the overall number of mobilized reservists at around 70,000. They spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

However, Israeli officials have also said they do not rule out broadening operations in the coming days.

Palestinians have fired more than 2,850 rockets at Israel some reaching major cities but most intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system. On Thursday alone, more than 100 rockets were fired toward Israeli cities, the army said.

One Israeli was seriously wounded when a rocket exploded in a residential area of Kiryat Gat in southern Israel, the military said. The rocket damaged a house and destroyed several cars parked on the street. Another rocket was intercepted over Tel Aviv by Israel’s rocket defense system, the army said.

Israeli attacks continued Thursday, killing at least 56 Palestinians, according to Gaza health officials.

Gazans said munitions struck the Omar Ibn al-Khatab mosque next to a U.N. school in the northern town of Beit Lahiya. The office of the military spokesman said Palestinian snipers inside the mosque had shot at troops, wounding one Israeli soldier and prompting retaliatory fire.

The strike in Beit Lahiya damaged water tanks on the roof of a building near the mosque, sending shrapnel flying into the adjacent school compound, where dozens of Palestinians displaced by the fighting had taken shelter.

“The shrapnel from the strike on the mosque hit people who were in the street and at the entrance of the school,” said Sami Salebi, an area resident.

Gaza health official Ashraf al-Kidra said at least 15 people were wounded in the strike, including three who were in critical condition.

Among them was Kifah Rafati, who was being treated for shrapnel injuries at the nearby Kamal Adwan Hospital. She said she and her six children had been sleeping in a classroom inside the U.N. school when the explosion went off.

“There is no safety anywhere,” the 40-year-old Rafati said.

Hamas has said it will only halt fire once it receives guarantees that a Gaza border blockade by Israel and Egypt tightened after the Islamic militant group violently seized power in Gaza in 2007 will be lifted.

Israel says it wants to decimate Hamas’ rocket-launching capability, diminish its weapons arsenal and demolish the tunnels. It has launched more than 4,000 strikes against Hamas-linked targets, including rocket launchers and mosques where it says weapons were being stored.

Israeli strikes have also hit dozens of homes. Mahmoud Abu Rahma of the Palestinian human rights group Al Mezan said nearly half of the Palestinians killed so far died in their homes.

More than a quarter of a million Palestinians in Gaza over 236,000_are seeking shelter in 86 UNRWA installations, according to UNRWA spokesman Chris Gunness.

Israel says it is trying hard to avoid civilian casualties and blames Hamas for using civilians as “human shields.” Israel has issued warnings before attacks through phone calls and text messages to residents among other methods.

Human rights activists say past confrontations have shown that when Israeli carries out attacks in densely populated Palestinian areas, civilian deaths are inevitable.

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Israel’s Iron Dome makers hit by China hackers

Vienna – Three Israeli defence contractors behind the Iron Dome missile shield and related systems were themselves robbed of hundreds of documents by hackers linked to the Chinese government starting in 2011, according to an independent US security researcher.

Krebs on Security, a blog operated by former Washington Post security reporter Brian Krebs, reported on Tuesday that Iron Dome’s manufacturers were infiltrated by the state-sponsored Comment Crew hacking group, believed to operate out of China.

The targets of these online attacks were top military contractors Elisra Group, Israel Aerospace Industries , and Rafael Advanced Defence Systems, who were responsible for constructing the system which now partially insulates Israel from rocket barrages fired from the Gaza Strip.

Israeli and US officials have said Iron Dome systems are responsible for shooting down more than 90% of the rockets they have engaged, while ignoring missiles on a trajectory to fall wide. That accounts for about a fifth of the rockets Israel has said militants have fired into the country during the latest crisis.

Two of the companies named declined to comment on the story or confirm whether the incidents, said to have occurred repeatedly throughout 2011 and 2012, indeed took place.

An official at the third company, Rafael Advanced Defence Systems, who declined to be identified by name, said of the report: “Rafael does not recall such an incident. Rafael’s databases, including its air defence databases, are extremely well protected.”

A former senior Israeli military official said assertions these key defence contractors were hacked would fit with a pattern of military and industrial espionage around the globe.

“First, this is old stuff from about two years ago”, said Uzi Rubin, a former head of missile defence at Israel’s Defence Ministry and now head of the Rubicon consultancy firm. “The Chinese have been doing that to all defence contractors in the West, so if this really happened we are not alone.”

Krebs said details of the attacks were provided by Columbia, Md-based network intelligence firm Cyber Engineering Services which traced the intrusions and identified more than 700 stolen emails, documents and manuals pertaining to development of the Iron Dome project and other missile projects.

Columbia, Md-based CyberESI and its chief executive, Joseph Drissel, did not immediately respond to interview requests.

Boeing

Drissel was quoted by Krebs as saying that stolen materials included specifications for the Arrow III system and other ballistic missile defences, much of the technology for which was developed by Boeing and other contractors for use in US weapon systems.

Rubin speculated that if the purpose of the Comment Crew hacking group was to steal the plans for the missile system, the likelihood was that it was for China to obtain technology on the cheap rather than in order to resell it to other nations.

“If the Chinese really did it, maybe we shall see a Chinese Iron Dome in the future,” he told Reuters. “It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of a compliment.”

Chinese officials were not immediately available for comment.

Allegations of hacking and other espionage have also strained ties between China and the United States, with Beijing denying last year that it had set up a special military unit to conduct such activity.

The United States recently charged five Chinese military officers, accusing them of hacking into American companies to steal trade secrets. China retaliated by shutting down a bilateral working group on cyber security.

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Boy, 4, killed by Israeli tank fire in Gaza

Gaza City – Israeli tank fire killed a four-year-old boy in the northern Gaza Strip on Monday, the first death since the two sides began observing an unofficial lull, Palestinian medics said.

According to emergency services spokesperson Ashraf al-Qudra, the child was killed when a shell hit a house to the east of Jabaliya where clashes had recently erupted between Israeli troops and Hamas militants.

The boy, Samih Ijneid, was the first person to be killed in Gaza on Monday although three others also succumbed to their injuries during the night, Qudra said.

The latest deaths rise to 1 036 the total number of Palestinians killed in Israel’s military campaign in Gaza to destroy rockets and cross-border tunnels which began on 8 July.

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U.S.-Israeli tensions rise as hostilities in Gaza subside

GAZA/JERUSALEM – Israel sees no need for another Gaza ceasefire, an Israeli official was quoted as saying on Monday, as tensions between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and Washington flared over U.S. mediation to end the almost three-week-old war.

Fighting had subsided over the weekend, with the battered Palestinian enclave’s dominant Hamas Islamists endorsing a U.N. call for a 24-hour halt ahead of Monday’s Eid al-Fitr festival.

Yet Israel balked, having abandoned its own offer to extend a 12-hour truce from Saturday as Palestinian rocket launches persisted. Netanyahu’s security cabinet met into the early hours of Monday to debate proposals including for an escalation of the Gaza offensive in which almost 1,100 people have died.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited the region last week to try to stem the bloodshed, his contacts with Hamas – which Washington formally shuns – facilitated by Egypt, Turkey, Qatar and Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Israel wants Egypt, which also borders the Gaza Strip and views Hamas as a security threat, to take the lead in curbing the Palestinian Islamists. It worries about Doha and Ankara championing Hamas demands to open up the blockaded territory.

A flurry of media leaks by unnamed Israeli officials damning a draft agreement attributed to Kerry as too accommodating of Hamas was challenged by a U.S. official who, also anonymously, told reporters the top diplomat’s efforts had been mischaracterized.

But U.S. President Barack Obama, phoning Netanyahu on Sunday, put pressure on Israel to hold fire unconditionally and appeared to link its core demand for Hamas to be stripped of cross-border rockets and infiltration tunnels to a peace accord with the Palestinians that is nowhere on the diplomatic horizon.

“The President stressed the U.S. view that, ultimately, any lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must ensure the disarmament of terrorist groups and the demilitarization of Gaza,” the White House said.

It added that while Obama wanted any truce to be along the lines of an Egyptian deal that ended the last Gaza war, in November 2012, the United States also supported “regional and international coordination to end hostilities”.

Israel did not immediately respond nor publish what, if anything, was decided at the overnight security cabinet session.

But Israel Radio quoted an unidentified government official as saying: “There is no need for any more ceasefires. Let Hamas stop firing first.”

ISRAEL LINKS GAZA RELIEF TO DISARMING HAMAS

That signaled preference for a de facto mutual halt to fighting rather than any agreement preserving Hamas’s arsenals and shoring up its status by improving Gaza’s crippled economy.

Two decades of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations have made little progress and been frequently interrupted, most recently in April when Netanyahu called off talks overseen by Kerry in response to Abbas’s surprise power-share with Hamas.

Speaking earlier on Sunday, Netanyahu sounded open to easing conditions for the Gaza Strip’s 1.8 million Palestinians but said this must be “intertwined” with disarming Hamas.

“I think you can’t get social and economic relief for the people of Gaza without having an assured demilitarization,” he Said.

Israeli air, sea and ground attacks have killed some 1,031 Palestinians, mainly civilians and including many children, Gaza officials say. Israel says 43 of its soldiers have died, along with three civilians killed by rocket and mortar fire from Gaza.

A poll published by Israel’s Channel 10 television on Sunday said some 87 percent of respondents wanted Israel to continue the operation until Hamas was toppled. Another poll, published in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, found that 86.5 percent of Israel’s majority Jews opposed calling a truce while rocket fire continued and Gaza retained any of the cross-border tunnels.

Israel says the Palestinians have lost around half of their rockets during the fighting – an account disputed by Hamas – and that army engineers have located and destroyed most of the tunnels from the territory. Those excavations will continue under any short-term truce, Israel says.

The main U.N. agency in Gaza, UNRWA, said 167,269 displaced Palestinians have taken shelter in its schools and buildings, following repeated calls by Israel for civilians to evacuate whole neighborhoods ahead of military operations.

But residents of villages near the southern town of Khan Younis on Sunday attacked offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross, torching furniture and causing damage. They said the organization had not done enough to help them.

During the lull in fighting inside Gaza on Sunday, residents flooded into the streets to discover scenes of massive destruction in some areas, including Beit Hanoun in the north and Shejaia in the east.

An Israeli official said the army hoped the widespread desolation would persuade Gazans to put pressure on Hamas to stop the fighting for fear of yet more devastation.

The Gaza turmoil has stoked tensions amongst Palestinians in mainly Arab East Jerusalem and in the occupied West Bank, which Abbas governs in uneasy coordination with the Israelis.

Medics said eight Palestinians were killed on Friday in incidents near the West Bank cities of Nablus and Hebron – the sort of death toll reminiscent of previous anti-Israel revolts.

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1000s march in Marseille in support of Israel

Marseille – Thousands took to the streets of Marseille in the south of France on Sunday to show their support for Israel, the first such demonstration in the country since the start of the recent fighting in Gaza, organisers said.

About 2 000 pro-Israeli demonstrators, carrying French and Israeli flags, were separated by riot police from a few dozen pro-Palestinian protesters chanting anti-Israeli slogans in Marseille’s Old Port in the centre of the Mediterranean city.

“We are here to show our solidarity with Israel, which has been attacked and has a right to defend itself,” William Labi, head of the body governing Jewish congregations in Marseille, told Reuters. The protest was also organised by the community’s umbrella group CRIF.

Pro-Palestinian protesters clashed with police in central Paris on Saturday when thousands of protesters defied a ban by French authorities to rally against Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip. Police made about 70 arrests.

In Marseille, some 2 000 people had marched peacefully on Saturday in an authorised pro-Palestinian demonstration.

France has both the largest Jewish and Muslim populations in Europe and flare-ups in the Middle East have in the past added to tensions between the two communities.

Israel began its offensive earlier this month, citing a surge in rocket attacks launched from Hamas militants in the Gaza strip.

Some 1 031 Palestinians, mainly civilians and including many children, have been killed in the 20-day conflict. Israel says 43 of its soldiers have died, along with three civilians killed by rocket and mortar fire out of the Mediterranean enclave.

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Hamas chief: We can’t coexist with occupiers

Washington – Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal demanded Israel lift its blockade of Gaza and warned that Palestinians cannot coexist with their neighbours while their land is occupied, in an interview broadcast on Sunday.

On Saturday, Meshaal was interviewed by US broadcaster PBS in the Qatari capital Doha while in Gaza his Islamist militia was under assault from Israeli forces in renewed fighting that has left hundreds dead.

A full version of the interview will be broadcast late on Monday, but excerpts were revealed on Sunday on CBS News’ Face the Nation.

Asked by veteran interviewer Charlie Rose whether he could foresee living beside Israelis in peace, Meshaal said only a future Palestinian state could decide whether to recognise the Jewish state.

“We are not fanatics, we are not fundamentalists. We are not actually fighting the Jews because they are Jews per se. We do not fight any other races. We fight the occupiers,” he said.

“I’m ready to coexist with the Jews, with the Christians and the Arabs and non-Arabs,” he said. “However, I do not coexist with the occupiers.”

Pressed on whether Palestinians could recognise the state of Israel as a Jewish state, Meshaal reiterated Hamas’ position – the group does not recognise Israel.

“When we have a Palestinian state then the Palestinian state will decide on its policies. You cannot actually ask me about the future. I answered you,” he said.

“But Palestinian people can have their say when they have their own state without occupation.”

Hamas declared a 24-hour ceasefire on Sunday, but fighting continued in Gaza and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said his forces would push on with attempts to destroy the group’s tunnel network.

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Egypt army destroys more Gaza tunnels

Cairo – Egypt’s army said on Sunday it has destroyed 13 more tunnels connecting the Sinai Peninsula to the Gaza Strip, taking to 1 639 the overall number it has laid waste to.

Cairo has poured troops into the peninsula to counter a rising insurgency since the ouster of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi last year, and its security operation involves the destruction of these tunnels.

The Palestinian militant group Hamas, which is the main power in Gaza, reportedly uses the tunnels to smuggle arms, food and money into the blockaded coastal enclave.

Israel has been waging a military offensive on Gaza since 8 July to halt rocket fire, and it launched a ground assault on 17 July aimed at destroying the network of tunnels.

It accuses Hamas of using the tunnels to attacks on Israel.

Ties between Hamas and Cairo have deteriorated since the Egyptian army deposed Morsi on 3 July 2013. Hamas is an affiliate of Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood.

Cairo also accuses of Hamas of being involved in militant attacks inside Egypt, which have multiplied since Morsi was toppled.

Militant groups say their attacks are in retaliation for a police crackdown on Morsi’s supporters.

The crackdown has seen more than 1 400 people killed in street clashes.

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U.S. lifts ban on flights to Israel as Gaza toll tops 700

GAZA/JERUSALEM – Israel won a partial reprieve from the economic pain of its Gaza war on Thursday with the lifting of a U.S. ban on commercial flights to Tel Aviv, while continued fighting pushed the Palestinian death toll over 700.

A truce remained elusive despise intensive mediation efforts. Israel says it needs more time to eradicate rocket stocks and cross-border tunnels in the Gaza Strip and Hamas Islamists demand the blockade on the enclave be lifted.

An Egyptian official said on Wednesday that a more limited humanitarian ceasefire may go into effect by the weekend, in time for the Eid al-Fitr festival, Islam’s biggest annual celebration that follows the fasting month of Ramadan.

But the United States, whose Secretary of State John Kerry is spearheading the indirect negotiations, was more circumspect.

“It would not be accurate to say that we expect a ceasefire by the weekend,” said a senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We are continuing to work on it, but it is not set at this point.”

The death toll in Gaza rose above 700 on Thursday as Israeli tank fire before dawn killed 16 people in the Hamas-dominated coastal territory, including six members of the same family, Palestinian health officials said.

Israel has lost 32 soldiers to clashes inside Gaza and with Hamas raiders who have slipped across the fortified frontier in tunnels. Rocket and mortar shelling by Hamas and other Palestinian guerrillas has killed three civilians in Israel.

Such shelling surged last month as Israel cracked down on Hamas in the occupied West Bank, triggering the July 8 air and sea barrage in Gaza that escalated into an invasion a week ago.

Though Israel’s Iron Dome rocket interceptor has shot down most of the rockets fired from Gaza, one that came close to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport on Tuesday prompted the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to bar American flights there.

The ensuing wave of cancellations by foreign airlines emptied Israel’s usually bustling international gateway and hurt its hi-tech economy at the height of summer tourist season. It was hailed as a “victory” by Hamas, and prompted an appeal by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Kerry to intervene.

FLIGHTS TO RESUME

Saying it had reviewed the security situation, the FAA canceled the ban late on Wednesday, and Israel predicted take-offs and landings by U.S. carriers would resume on Thursday though European airlines might take longer to follow suit.

“The Europeans did not really deliberate over this, but acted more as a follow-up to the American decision,” said Gadi Regev, chief of staff for Israel’s Civil Aviation Authority.

In what appeared to be let-up in Palestinian attacks, the Israeli military said on Thursday only one rocket had been launched from Gaza overnight. It fell wide, causing no damage.

Israel’s security cabinet released no decision after meeting late into the night on a proposed humanitarian truce under which fighting would cease immediately but negotiations for terms for an extended deal would begin only in several days’ time.

An Israeli official briefed on the deliberations said the army required four of five days to destroy cross-border tunnels and rocket arsenals, but acknowledged Palestinians were unlikely to hold fire while those missions continued on the ground.

Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal said his fighters had made gains against Israel and voiced support for a humanitarian truce, but only if Israel eased restrictions on Gaza’s 1.8 million Palestinians, who are also under an embargo by next-door Egypt.

“Let’s agree first on the demands and on implementing them and then we can agree on the zero hour for a ceasefire … We will not accept any proposal that does not lift the blockade … We do not desire war and we do not want it to continue but we will not be broken by it,” Meshaal said on Wednesday in Qatar.

Israel also came under criticism from the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who said there was “a strong possibility” Israel was committing war crimes in Gaza, where 703 Palestinians, mostly civilians, have been killed in the fighting.

Pillay also condemned indiscriminate Islamist rocket fire out of Gaza, and the United Nations Human Rights Council said it would launch an international inquiry into alleged violations.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted furiously.

“The decision today by the HRC is a travesty,” he said in a statement. “The HRC should be launching an investigation into Hamas’s decision to turn hospitals into military command centers, use schools as weapons depots and place missile batteries next to playgrounds, private homes and mosques.”

ROCKETS IN SCHOOLS

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who has also been on a truce-seeking mission, lashed out at militants in Gaza by expressing “outrage and regret” at rockets found inside a U.N. school for refugees, for the second time during the conflict.

Storing the rockets in the schools “turned schools into potentially military targets, endangering the lives of innocent children,” U.N. employees and the tens of thousands of Palestinians seeking shelter at Gaza schools from the fighting, Ban said. He urged an investigation.

Kerry returned to Egypt late on Wednesday after meeting in Jerusalem and the West Bank with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Ban and a grim-faced Netanyahu.

“We have certainly made some steps forward. There is still work to be done,” said Kerry, on one of his most intensive regional visits since Netanyahu called off U.S.-sponsored peace negotiations over Abbas’s power-share deal with Hamas in April.

The military says one of its soldiers is also missing and believes he might be dead. Hamas says it has captured him, but has not released a picture of him in their hands.

Gaza has been rocked by regular bouts of violence since Israel unilaterally pulled out of the territory in 2005.

Hamas, which rejects Israel’s right to exist, balked at Egypt’s proposal for an unconditional truce, saying its conditions had to be met in full before any end to the conflict.

The war is exacting a heavy toll on impoverished Gaza. Palestinian officials say at least 475 houses have been destroyed by Israeli fire and 2,644 damaged. Some 46 schools, 56 mosques and seven hospitals have also suffered varying degrees of destruction.

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