Spokesman for Hamas Movement Sami Abu Zuhri
GAZA – Spokesman for Hamas Movement Sami Abu Zuhri said Monday that Israel’s Army Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s recent threats to assassinate senior Hamas leader Ismail Haniyyah prove his government’s “terrorist nature”.
Abu Zuhri called in his Twitter account on all the free people around the world to unite their efforts in the face of “Israeli terrorism” and in support of the Palestinian people.
Earlier on Sunday, Lieberman renewed his earlier threats to assassinate Haniyyah before he leaves office.
In a live chat, Lieberman was asked about his promise before he was appointed Army Minister to eliminate senior Hamas leader Ismail Haneyyah. “It is wise to progress responsibly,” he answered.
“Speak with me about Haneyyah at the end of my term as Defense Minister,” he proclaimed.
Lieberman’s statements came only few days after the assassination of al-Qassam commander Mazen Fuqaha outside his house in Gaza city by six bullets to the head.
The Syrian government has announced that it will retaliate should Israel continue to conduct airstrikes on Syrian territory.
Any further airstrikes on Syrian territory will be met with deadly force and retaliation strikes deep within Israeli soil, they said.
According to the message, delivered via Russian mediators, attacks on Syrian military objects will be met with Scud missiles launched at Israeli military bases. If Israel attacks civilian infrastructure, Syrian missiles will be fired at Israel’s Haifa port and petrochemical plant. The missiles will be launched without any prior notice, the statement said.
The notice follows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s March 20 statement that protecting its borders is the right and obligation of every nation.
“Syria’s forceful response to the Israeli attacks changed the rules of the game,” said Syrian Ambassador to the UN Bashar al-Jaafari. He added that the threatened response is “appropriate and in line with Israel’s terrorist operation,” and that Israel “will now think a million times [before striking again].”
On March 17, Israeli military reported several airstrikes on Syrian territory; they were followed by several anti-aircraft missiles launched at Israeli warplanes flying over Syrian territory. One of the missiles was reportedly intercepted by Israel’s Arrow missile defense system. However, Syrian authorities claim they successfully downed an Israeli plane not far from Damascus.
Following the incidents, Israel threatened to conduct strikes specifically to destroy Syrian anti-air batteries.
According to Israeli leadership, the airstrikes are aimed at fighting advanced weapons smuggling to Hezbollah in Lebanon across Syrian territory.
“Our politics is very consistent,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in the wake of the airstrikes. “When we know about an attempt to smuggle weapons to Hezbollah, we do whatever we can to prevent this from happening, provided we have sufficient information and capabilities to react.”
According to media reports, during his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Netanyahu vowed to continue fighting attempts to smuggle weapons to Hezbollah through Syria. Netanyahu denied reports that he was told to cease military operations in Syria.
Israel and Syria have not engaged in any kind of serious military confrontation since civil war broke out in Syria six years ago. The sporadic, over-the-border fire is dismissed by Israeli authorities. There are about 800 Soviet-made Scud missiles, capable of delivering half a ton of explosives, located in Syria.
BETHLEHEM – Israeli police have refused to grant a permit for the annual March of Return this year organized by Palestinians to commemorate the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” alongside Israeli independence day, Israeli media reported on Thursday.
According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Israeli police claimed that the event was refused due to their inability to provide police presence necessary for a march expected to be attended by 25,000 Palestinian citizens of Israel and their supporters, saying that “it’s unfortunate that the organizers decided to conduct the march exactly on the day of Independence Day, when there are hundreds of approved events throughout the country.”
The march, which has been held for 18 consecutive years, is aimed at highlighting the internationally-recognized right of Palestinians who remain refugees or internally displaced to return to their homes and villages in Israel, a right which is upheld in United Nations Resolution 194.
Each year, the march is launched from a site of a Palestinian village destroyed by Israeli forces in 1948.
Muhammad Bassam, an attorney from the Israeli rights group Adalah, reportedly said that if the permit for the march was not granted by Israeli police, the group would appeal to Israel’s Supreme Court. “The police decision is very strange and raises concerns that the refusal to approve the event is politically motivated,” he said.
Others pointed out to Haaretz that the organizers had already discussed the march with local police in the Israeli coastal city of Nahariya in order to launch the march from the destroyed Palestinian village of al-Kabri.
The Nahariya police had toured the planned route of the march two weeks prior, Haaretz reported, with the police already setting the police requirements for the march, leading some to suspect that the permit rejection was politically motivated.
The March of Return is usually held on Israel’s independence day to commemorate the Nakba, referring to the mass expulsion of Palestinians from their homes and villages during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war that established the state of Israel.
The official commemoration of the Nakba is held on May 15 and is observed by millions of Palestinians and rights activists around the world.
Some 750,000 Palestinians were expelled from their lands in 1948 and were scattered across refugee camps in the occupied West Bank, the Gaza Strip, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA). Today, there are over five million Palestinian refugees who remain displaced from their original homes and villages following the mass expulsion that occurred almost 70 years ago.
Hundreds of Jordanians have staged a protest rally to voice their outrage at Amman’s gas agreements with the Israeli regime, calling on the government to scrap the ‘deals of shame.’
The protesters took to the streets of the capital, Amman, on Friday, carrying national flags and holding signs to decry Israel-Jordan gas deals, the latest of which was inked in September last year.
During the march, the Jordanian demonstrators chanted slogans such as “Our dignity is dropping from deals of shame,” with some holding posters that read, “USA stop commissioning on our blood.”
The Jordanian National Campaign also joined voices with the protesters, calling on the government to drop the 2016 deal as it represents an obstacle to the country’s independence and economic development.
Besides the dependency aspect, activists argue that the money, which will be paid to Israel by Amman under such accords, will be used to finance Tel Aviv’s military and its occupation of Palestinian lands.
In September 2016, a deal was struck between an Israeli gas consortium and the Jordan Electric Power Company, valued at $10 billion (€9.25 billion).
Under the deal, the US-based Noble Energy company and other investors in Israel’s largest gas field will supply Jordan’s national electric company with 8.5 million cubic meters of gas over 15 years.
The agreement was quickly met with widespread popular opposition in Jordan, promoting thousands of people to fill the streets and slam the government over “gas imports from the Zionist enemy.”
The new turnout on Friday came weeks after Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the regime in Tel Aviv has been quietly exporting natural gas to Jordan through an American intermediary firm.
According to the report, gas deliveries to two Jordanian companies, the state-owned Arab Potash and Jordan Bromine, started in January. The firms had signed a 500-million-dollar, 15-year deal three years ago to purchase gas from Israel’s Tamar partners. The US State Department had acted as a mediator to forge the deal.
Over the past months, Jordan has been rocked by separate rallies held in protest at high living expenses and unemployment.
The Jordanian government is one of the only two Arab regimes that have open, diplomatic relations with Israel — the other being Egypt.
Tel Aviv and Amman signed a peace agreement in 1994, but many Jordanians are firmly opposed to normalization of ties with the occupying regime of Israel.
The Americans and Israelis said yesterday that Donald Trump’s administration has reiterated its concerns regarding Israel’s settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. The comment came after a series of talks which failed to agree on a settlement freeze in the territories within which the Palestinians want to establish an independent state.
The meetings were held at the highest level for four days in Washington and are the most recent step by Trump’s advisors to open the way to diplomatic efforts to achieve peace between Israel and Palestine. They went ahead despite deep doubts on the part of the US and Middle East states regarding the chances of success.
Trump’s Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt, who returned recently from a visit to the region, led the US delegation in the talks that were described as “intensive discussions”. The Israeli team was led by Yoav Horowitz, the Israeli prime minister’s chief of staff, and foreign policy adviser Jonathan Schachter.
Despite his more positive attitude towards Israel than his predecessor Barack Obama, President Trump urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “hold back on settlements for a little bit” during his visit to the White House last month. The two leaders agreed to allow their aides to agree on the limits of how much Israel can build and where.
“The Israeli delegation made clear that Israel’s intent going forward is to adopt a policy regarding settlement activity that takes [US] concerns into consideration,” said a joint statement issued by the White House at the end of the latest meetings. “The talks were serious and constructive, and they are ongoing.”
JORDAN VALLEY – The Israeli Civil Administration delegation visited the Jordan Valley Regional Council, compromising of 21 illegal settlements, on Friday to discuss ways to establish new development projects in the Jordan Valley settlements, Israeli media sources said.
The delegation included David El Hayani, mayor of the Jordan Valley Regional Council, and Aravot HaYarden, chairman of the council.
The delegation discussed ways to develop agriculture, tourism, and other economic sectors in the settlements.
Nearly one million tourists arrived last year in the Jordan Valley, half of whom came to visit the religious sites in the area, which were recently developed by the Civil Administration, Hayarden said.
For his part, El Hayani revealed plans to establish new tourism projects in the area including restaurants and parking.
The new projects came as part of the Israeli settlement expansion policy which has been notably escalated over the few months.
Earlier on Thursday, Haaretz (Hebrew) newspaper revealed that US President Donald Trump gave a green light for Israeli settlement construction in occupied Jerusalem.
Two British universities have cancelled lectures by international law professor Richard Falk after he co-authored a UN report which concludes that Israel is an “apartheid” regime.
Falk said Middlesex University called off his speech, citing “health and safety” concerns, while University of East London cancelled his lecture, claiming that the approval for the speech had not followed proper procedures.
“As far as I can tell, there is a growing kind of feeling that the educational establishment in Britain, specifically in England, has been kind of intimidated in dealing with those who are seen as critics of Israel,” Falk told the Middle East Eye news portal.
Falk denounced the cancellations as the “intensification” of a trend of restricting academic freedom on university campuses, warning that depriving students of delving into controversial issues restricts their experience for becoming engaged citizens.
Falk said he has experienced similar assaults on his character after serving as UN special rapporteur on Palestinian human rights from 2008 to 2014.
Since the UN report was published, the Princeton University professor has faced attacks and accusations of bias and anti-Semitism.
He dismissed such criticism as being far from reality and said that Zionist NGOs are trying to “shoot the messenger, rather than address the issues raised in the message.”
“It has been used against a variety of other people – playing the anti-Semitic card rather than dealing with the substance of Palestinian grievances or Israeli violations of international law,” Falk said.
The prominent law professor noted that supporters of Israel will be on weak grounds to discuss the realities in the occupied Palestinian territories, as Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians has fallen below the level of acceptable moral behavior and international legal standards.
Falk’s co-authored report, which was reviewed by three “internationally renowned” jurists before it was published, was withdrawn from the UN website after prompting international uproar.
It documents “apartheid” patterns of discrimination that fragment Palestinian society through “distinct laws, policies and practices.”
“It appears to be an instance where the new UN Secretary-General [Antonio Guterres] gave way to pressure coming particularly from Washington, but also from Israel,” Falk said.
Last week, Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary for UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) Rima Khalaf resigned in protest after Guterres ordered the study to be removed from the UN website.
Falk said the controversy over the report gave it an international visibility that it may not have enjoyed had it been just “one more UN report.”
U.S. President Donald Trump’s special envoy to the Middle East reportedly asked, during last week’s meeting, for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to freeze settlement construction in Jerusalem and outside the large settlement blocs. According to Al Ray, Netanyahu expressed reservations at an official freeze.
Channel 2 News reported, on Wednesday, that Jason Greenblatt, who visited Israel last week, asked Netanyahu to freeze construction in isolated settlements and restrict it to East Jerusalem and outside the large settlement blocs.
In addition, Washington also reportedly asked to set a fixed number of houses that can be built each year.
The Israeli security cabinet has rejected these requests, demanding that Israel has the right to build in any part of the West Bank.
TULKAREM – Israeli forces raided and sacked two Palestinian print shops in the northern occupied West Bank city of Tulkarem at dawn on Thursday and confiscated equipment.
Ali Abu Saleh, the owner of the two print shops, told Ma’an that large numbers of Israeli troops raided his home in the Shweika neighborhood and demanded that he let them access his stores.
Abu Saleh said that Israeli soldiers searched his shop in the Shweika area, where they confiscated equipment, printed materials, and destroyed security camera footage.
Israeli forces also raided Abu Saleh’s other print shop in central Tulkarem, breaking the front door and also confiscating equipment and materials.
An Israeli army spokesperson told Ma’an that Israeli forces had raided the shops because they printed “inciting material.”
However, Abu Saleh rejected the army’s claims, calling them baseless, adding that 20 people were out of work following the raids.
Israeli forces had also aided another Tulkarem print shop earlier this month.
Israeli forces have previously targeted printing shops where posters commemorating Palestinians killed by Israeli forces were manufactured.
Since the beginning of the year, one Palestinian from Tulkarem was killed and another from the city succumbed to fatal injuries, after being shot by Israeli forces for allegedly attempting to commit attacks.
In the past year, Israel has targeted Palestinian media institutions and civilians, including activists and journalists, alleging that a wave of unrest that swept the occupied Palestinian territory in October 2015 was encouraged largely by “incitement.”..
A 19-year-old US-Israeli citizen has been arrested in southern Israel on suspicion of carrying out a wave of telephone bomb threats targeting Jewish centers and communities around the world.
The months-long, multi-agency investigation led Israel Police’s International Crime Investigations Unit to the city of Ashkelon, where the suspect and his father were arrested, and a search of their home was conducted on Thursday, local media reports.
“This specific investigation was complex in terms of the suspect and its nature,” Micky Rosenfeld, foreign press spokesman for the Israel Police, told the Jerusalem Post.
“There was a significant breakthrough in the investigation which led us to make the arrest of the suspect who lives in Southern Israel.”
“He was the main suspect behind the numerous amount of threats which were made to different Jewish communities and organizations around the world,” Rosenfeld added.
“I commend the FBI and Israeli National Police for their outstanding work on this case,” US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement on Thursday, as quoted by Reuters. “The Department of Justice is committed to protecting the civil rights of all Americans, and we will not tolerate the targeting of any community in this country on the basis of their religious beliefs.”
The suspect employed a variety of advanced masking technologies to disguise his identity, Reuters reported, citing an unnamed police spokesperson. His motives remain unclear.
Police seized a range of equipment during the search of the suspect’s home in southern Israel, which could potentially have disguised his physical location and IP address from authorities, frustrating the months-long investigation, Haaretz reports.
The FBI has been investigating a spate of bomb threats made to Jewish centers in Florida, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, Tennessee, Georgia, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and North Carolina, as well as similar threats to Delta Airlines.
The main break in the case came following a 2016 bomb threat to a Jewish center in New Zealand, after which authorities were able to trace the origin of the IP address to Israel.
The FBI, in coordination with the US Department of Homeland Security and other law enforcement agencies also traced the origin of the calls to the US back to an IP address in Israel and coordinated their efforts with Israeli authorities, handing over all relevant data to help with the investigation.
Israel is likely to try to retain the existing status quo in Syria since it has benefited from the ongoing conflict in the war-torn neighboring nation, political analyst Sergei Balmasov asserted, saying that Tel Aviv’s combat missions are not aimed at President Bashar al-Assad, but are rather meant to prevent the crisis from being resolved.
“Israel is deeply interested in the ongoing standoff between the Sunnis and the Shia. Tel Aviv wants them to continue killing each other. Nothing presents a threat to Israel as long as this war is ongoing. The Israeli Air Force launches airstrikes against Shia militias in Syria, tipping the balance. This evens out the chances and the war drags on,” he told RT.
Balmasov, an expert at the Middle East Institute at the Russian International Affairs Council, also suggested that Israel could use a border incident to move its forces into southern Syria.
“One could not rule out that Israel does not deploy its troops to the southern buffer zone which borders the Golan Heights to create a territorial entity on the basis of Druze settlements using some kind of an incident as a pretext,” he said.
Israel has largely refrained from taking an active part in the devastating Syrian conflict, but has occasionally sent its warplanes to launch airstrikes on Hezbollah in a bid to eliminate its leaders and destroy its weapons. Several such missions are reported to have taken place in recent days in what marks the most serious incident between Tel Aviv and Damascus since the 2011 foreign-sponsored insurgency in Syria morphed into a large-scale war.
It started on Friday, with the Israeli Air Force launching airstrikes on several Hezbollah targets near the Syrian city of Palmyra, close to an area where Russian experts have been engaged in demining efforts following the successful campaign to push Daesh out of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. The operation prompted the Syrian Arab Army to launch three anti-aircraft missiles at the departing Israeli planes, with Israel’s Arrow missile defense system intercepting one of the projectiles.
The incident sparked a war of words among high-ranking officials on both sides. On Sunday, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman pledged that Tel Aviv would destroy all Syrian air defense systems “without thinking twice” should a similar situation occur in the future. Earlier this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that Tel Aviv would continue to carry out airstrikes on convoys suspected of transferring advanced weapons to Hezbollah.President Bashar al-Assad reiterated that it was Damascus’ right and duty to defend Syrian borders.
“Why has Israel squared off against the Syrian Arab Army? Israel views the SAA’s links to Hezbollah as unacceptable. Tel Aviv is concerned that the group could become stronger,” Irina Zvyagelskaya, a senior research fellow at the Center for Arab and Islamic Research at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Oriental Studies, told RT.
Israel considers Hezbollah to be a terrorist organization and views the Lebanon-based Shia movement, one of Assad’s key allies in Damascus’s war against Daesh, to be one of the top security threats.
Australia finds no funds diverted in World Vision probe, further debunking Israeli claims against al-Halabi
In yet another blow to the propaganda-driven case against Palestinian aid worker Mohammed al-Halabi, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade reported on Tuesday, 21 March that “an internal review into World Vision funding in Gaza has uncovered nothing to suggest any diversion of government aid funding to Hamas.”
Al-Halabi was seized by Israeli occupation forces at the Beit Hanoun/Erez crossing and in August 2016, Israeli officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, went on a propaganda offensive, claiming that Halabi had redirected World Vision funds to the Palestinian resistance organization, Hamas. Israeli occupation officials declared that he had diverted $43 million in charitable funds to the Palestinian resistance, including a video from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accusing Palestinians of not caring about their people. The amounts cited dwarfed the actual budget to which al-Halabi had access, by all accounts. These seemingly impossible claims were made after nearly a month of interrogation, during which Halabi was subjected to torture and inhumane treatment.
The claims against Halabi were accompanied by similarly touted claims against civil engineer Waheed Bursh, a contractor with the UN Development Program, also accused of redirecting resources to the Palestinian resistance – in his case, rubble from the Israeli bombing of Gaza. However, despite the large-scale publicity surrounding Borsh’s arrest, he was released seven months later, indicating that no serious charges were ever made. He was cited as a “witness” againat al-Halabi, and later confirmed that he completely denied any allegations against the aid worker.
“The news DFAT found no evidence of the misuse of World Vison funds comes as Mr Halabi’s trial continues in Israel. He has rejected a plea deal offered by Israeli authorities and has pleaded not guilty, claiming he is innocent of all charges,” reported the Australian Brodcasting Corporation. The plea agreement he rejected would have seen him imprisoned for three years, a short sentence which again indicates a lack of serious charges or evidence in the case.
Indeed, rather than presenting any evidence to back up the widely-publicized public claims against World Vision and Halabi, Israeli occupation officials have instead submitted additional, lesser charges against Halabi that have no relation to diverting funds or his work with World Vision; two such charges are those of “passing information to the enemy” and of “aiding and abetting the enemy in a time of war,” with the enemy in question being Palestinians in Gaza. Al-Halabi is, himself, of course, a Palestinian living under occupation and siege in Gaza.
He is also charged with giving small donations of his own money, rather than redirecting World Vision funds, to charities and mosques in Gaza. ABC notes that “One incident detailed accuses El Halabi of allegedly giving ‘300 Israeli shekels on a monthly base to a charity managed by Hamas’…Another says the defendant transferred ‘hundreds of shekels during 2015-2016 to a mosque managed by Hamas’… No details are given of the ‘millions’ of dollars Israeli intelligence officials initially accused El Halabi of diverting.” 100 NIS is approximately $26 USD.
“So far, our own ongoing forensic audit has not uncovered any money subverted and to hear DFAT say their investigation hasn’t either is consistent and is very good news,” said Tim Costello of World Vision.
Despite the severe lack of evidence or credibility for Israeli claims in this case, World Vision’s work in Gaza – and government funding from the Australian and German governments – have been shut down. Over 100 Palestinian workers for World Vision have lost their jobs in Gaza in an area already suffering from massive unemployment and poverty.