U.S. House backs bill to provide $1 billion for Israel Iron Dome system

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly on Thursday for legislation to provide $1 billion to Israel to replenish its “Iron Dome” missile-defense system, just two days after the funding was removed from a broader spending bill.

As voting continued, the House backed the measure by 360 to 8.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Chris Reese)

Israel says Gaza tower that housed AP doubled as Hamas electronic warfare site

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s military said on Tuesday that a tower block in Gaza housing the U.S.-based Associated Press which was destroyed in an Israeli air strike was also used by the enclave’s Islamist rulers Hamas as an electronic warfare site.

Israel’s destruction of the 12-storey tower, which also housed Qatar-based media group Al Jazeera, during last month’s fighting with Hamas and other militants drew international condemnation and calls by Israel’s main ally the United States to protect journalists.

The al-Jalaa building in Gaza City had been evacuated after its owner received advanced warning of the May 15 strike. But the AP says it has received no evidence of a Hamas presence that posed a threat, and has called for an independent investigation.

AP executives met Israel’s ambassador to Washington and the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, on Monday to discuss the building’s destruction.

“Israeli authorities maintain that the building housing our bureau was destroyed because of a Hamas presence that posed an urgent threat. We have yet to receive evidence to support these claims,” the AP said in a statement.

“AP continues to call for the full release of any evidence the Israelis have so that the facts are public.”

In a statement, Erdan reiterated an Israeli claim that the building housed Hamas military intelligence, saying its personnel there were “developing an electronic jamming system to be used against the Iron Dome defense system”.

Israel’s Iron Dome interceptors shot down most of the more than 4,300 rockets fire from Gaza during the 11-day conflict, during which Israeli air strikes and Gaza rocket fire left more than 250 Palestinians and 13 in Israel dead.

The Israeli military said the purpose of the strike “was to curtail these enemy capabilities, including destroying special equipment, and preventing their use during the operation…The strike was designed to collapse the building in order to ensure the destruction of the special means.”

Erdan said Israel did all it could to avoid civilian harm.

“AP is one of the most important news agencies in the world and Israel doesn’t think that AP employees were aware it was being cynically used in this way by Hamas for a secret unit,” he said.

(Reporting by Rami Ayyub, Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

U.S. senator expects U.S. to send more funds for Israel’s ‘Iron Dome’

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A senior U.S. senator said on Tuesday he expected Washington would quickly authorize as much as $1 billion for Israel to replenish its Iron Dome missile defense system after clashes in May with Hamas.

“There will be a $1 billion request coming to the Pentagon this week from the (Israeli) defense minister to replenish the Iron Dome and a few other things, to upgrade the system,” Senator Lindsey Graham told reporters in Jerusalem.

A senior Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Graham met with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz during a trip to Israel. The committee oversees spending including foreign military aid.

Graham said Iron Dome had saved thousands of lives during last month’s rocket attacks, and predicted Israel’s request would find favor with both President Joe Biden and Congress, which is narrowly controlled by Biden’s Democrats.

“There’s been a big dustup over the last engagement between Hamas and the State of Israel in the United States, but I’m here to tell you that there’s a wide and deep support for Israel among the Democratic Party,” Graham said.

Biden has said he would replenish Iron Dome, which helped Israel fend off most of the more than 4300 rockets fired from Gaza during the conflict.

Israel and Hamas began a ceasefire on May 21 after 11 days of the fiercest Israeli-Palestinian hostilities in years, with nearly 250 people dead, all but 13 of them Palestinians.

Israel’s fierce response drew criticism from some Democrats, but Israel generally enjoys strong support in Washington from both parties. Congress routinely approves large sums on military funding for a country seen as a solid U.S. partner in an unstable region.

Israel’s Defense Ministry said Gantz would meet with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan on Thursday in Washington for a discussion on issues including Iran and military aid.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Writing by Patricia Zengerle in Washington; Editing by Howard Goller)

Gaza ceasefire largely holding after day-long flareup

A Palestinian woman passes a building that was destroyed by Israeli air strikes in Gaza City July 15, 2018. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) – A ceasefire largely held on Sunday along a tense Gaza-Israel border on Sunday following a day of fierce fighting, but Israel remained on high alert and boosted its air defenses in case hostilities resume.

Israel carried out dozens of air strikes in Gaza on Saturday, killing two teenage boys, and militants fired more than 100 rockets across the border, wounding three people in a southern Israeli town.

The ceasefire, the second between Israel and Gaza’s dominant Hamas Islamists to be brokered by Egypt this year after a previous day-long flare-up in May, came into force late on Saturday.

“Everyone understands that unless the situation is defused, we will very quickly be back to another confrontation,” U.N. envoy Nickolay Mladenov told reporters at his office in Gaza.

Israel’s military said that, after assessing the situation, it was reinforcing its Iron Dome rocket defense batteries in the greater Tel Aviv area and in the south, where thousands of residents spent much of the Jewish Sabbath in shelters.

It also called up a limited amount of reservists to help out its aerial defense command.

Israel said that in the initial hours of the ceasefire militants had fired two rockets across the border, of which one was intercepted by the Iron Dome system. There were no reports of an Israeli counter-attack in Gaza.

Later, two mortar bombs were fired towards Israel, which responded by striking the launch tube, the military said.

TENSIONS

Weekly clashes at the Israel-Gaza border have kept tensions at a high for months. More than 130 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces during protests at the frontier held every week since March, including a teenager on Friday, Gaza medics said. There have been no Israeli fatalities.

Israel says Hamas has been orchestrating the demonstrations, dubbed The Great March of Return, to provide cover for militants’ cross-border attacks. Hamas denies this.

“Our policy is clear – we hit with great might anyone who harms us,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet on Sunday. “I hope that they (Hamas) have gotten the message. If not, they will yet.”

Netanyahu also instructed the military to keep targeting Palestinian squads that launch incendiary helium balloons and kites into Israeli fields from northern Gaza. Israel’s military fired twice on such groups, wounding three people.

Israel says it has lost at least 7,000 acres (2,830 hectares) of farmland and forests to a recent surge in fires started by Gaza militants using such balloons and kites rigged with flammable material.

Hamas said border demonstrations, at which Palestinians have been demanding the right to return to land lost when Israel was created in 1948, would continue and that the onus was on Israel to show restraint.

“Let the enemy end its aggression first and then the resistance will stop,” Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a eulogy for Amir al-Namara, 15, and Loay Kheil, 16, who were killed when a half-constructed high rise they were playing in was hit by an Israeli missile.

The Israeli military said the building had been used by Hamas for urban warfare training.

Twelve others, passers-by and visitors of a nearby public garden, were wounded in the attack, one of dozens of Israeli air strikes on the densely populated enclave on Saturday which damaged residential and office buildings, shattered car windows and caused panic among residents.

“He wasn’t carrying a rocket. He was just an innocent kid,” said Amir’s grandfather Waleed al-Namara at the boy’s wake. “We want the calm to last, and for them to agree on a solution that will benefit the Palestinian people.”

The surge in violence comes as Palestinian hopes for an independent state have dwindled and peace talks remain stalled. Gaza, home to 2 million people, most of whom depend on foreign aid, has been under Israeli economic sanctions for 12 years.

Separately, a Fatah faction militant and his son were killed in a blast in a building in Gaza on Sunday. Police said the man accidentally set off an old Israeli shell he was trying to dismantle.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, Jeffrey Heller and Maayan Lubell; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Gareth Jones)

Israel to declare air defense shield fully operational

An inactive version of Israel's air defense system, David's Sling, jointly developed with the United States, is seen at Hatzor air base near Tel Aviv

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s multi-tier air defense missile system will be fully operational early next month with the deployment of the David’s Sling interceptor, a senior Israeli air force officer said on Monday.

David’s Sling, designed to shoot down rockets fired from 100 to 200 kilometers away, will be the final piece of a shield that already includes short-range Iron Dome and long-range Arrow-2 and Arrow-3 missiles.

“In the next two weeks we will declare operational the David’s Sling and at that time we will have completed our multi-tier (defense capability),” said the officer who could not be identified under military rules.

“I’m sure that together with the Iron Dome and the Arrow-2 and Arrow-3 it will enhance our ability to deal with threats,” he added.

Israel used Iron Dome extensively to intercept rockets fired by Palestinian militants in the 2014 Gaza war, and the Arrow missiles were developed with an Iranian missile threat in mind.

David’s Sling, developed and manufactured jointly by Israel’s state-owned Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd and the U.S. Raytheon Co, would likely be used to intercept projectiles fired by the Iranian-backed Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah, which last fought a war with Israel in 2006.

The Israeli military said it used an Arrow-2 on Friday to destroy an anti-aircraft missile fired from Syria after Israeli aircraft carried out strikes there.

Israel has mounted dozens of air raids to prevent weapons smuggling to Hezbollah, which is fighting rebels alongside the Syrian army. However, the interception of a missile making its way over the Syrian border was an uncommon incident.

(Reporting by Ori Lewis; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Julia Glover)

Israel Launches Airstrikes in Gaza in Response to Palestinian Rocket

The Israeli Air Force (IAF) launched a series of airstrikes in the Gaza strip after the Palestinian enclave shot a rocket that was heading for the Jewish nation. The Palestinian rocket was stopped by the Iron Dome anti-missile system.

Palestinian sources told Ynet that the IAF hit 4 “terror targets” inside Gaza, and at least two of the targets belonged to Hamas.

While many citizens heard explosions and reported them on social media, there were no immediate reports of injuries. Israel also had no reports of injuries from the rock that had been intercepted by the Iron Dome near the city of Ashdod.

Israel Defence Force (IDF) spokesman, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner stated: “This evening, the third day of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, a rocket was fired at southern Israel sending the residents of Ashdod as well as several surrounding communities to nearby bomb-shelters. Hamas is responsible and will be held accountable for every attack emanating from the Gaza Strip. The IDF will continue defending all Israelis who are repeatedly attacked by such blatant acts of aggression.”

Sheikh Omar Hadid, and ISIS affiliated Salafist group, used social media to claim responsibility for the rocket attack. The group stated that the rocket was a response to the fatal shooting of Hadeel al-Hashlamon, an 18-year-old woman who was killed at the checkpoint in the West Bank last week. The arrest of an Israeli Arab women for allegedly joining ISIS was another stated reason for the rocket attack.

Hamas Begins Using Heavy Machinery To Build Tunnels

Hamas is using heavy equipment and engineering equipment to quickly build a system of attack tunnels into Israel according to sources of the Times of Israel.

The terrorists are using small bulldozers that can be used to negotiate tight spaces.  Larger tractors are being used on the Israeli side of the tunnel.

The tunnels are being reinforced with wood because it’s difficult for Hamas to obtain all the concrete they need to build their planned tunnel network.  The terrorists routinely redirect shipments of concrete meant for rebuilding houses to tunnel construction.

Hamas is also working on a rocket system that would produce short-range missiles quickly because those are the missiles least likely to be shot down by Israel’s “Iron Dome” defense system.

Israeli security forces have said they are aware of the tunnel construction but that when they investigated the tunnels ended just before entering Israeli territory.

Netanyahu Meets With Obama

In their first meeting since the 50-day Israel-Hamas war, President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu struck a cordial tone.

Netanyahu praised President Obama for his commitment to destroy the Islamic terrorist group ISIS and his willingness to stand with Israel against Islamic terror.  Obama said that Israel was dealing with a “turbulent neighborhood.”

Obama said there needs to be new and different efforts to end violence in the region.

“We have to find ways to change the status quo so that both Israeli citizens are safe … but also that we don’t have the tragedy of Palestinian children being killed as well,” Obama said.

Netanyahu also took time to praise Obama and the U.S. Congress for their support of more funding for the Iron Dome rocket defense system.  The PM said the system saved “so many lives” during the conflict with Hamas.

However, the PM took a more aggressive tone when he said that further steps need to be taken to keep Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

Hamas Rocket Hits Ashkelon Home; 28 Injured

A Hamas barrage before the beginning of an open-ended cease-fire struck a home in Ashkelon and a playground in Ashdod.

Initial reports from emergency personnel say that 28 people have been injured in the barrage.  The family in the home had just reached their safe room when the rockets struck the roof and were not injured.  However, those in the area were wounded by debris.

At least one rocket made it through the Iron Dome defense system and struck the middle of a kindergarten playground.  No children were harmed in that attack.

Hamas claims the attack was in retaliation for the IDF destroying an apartment complex in Gaza Tuesday.

The IDF launched an attack before the cease-fire that targeted a boy’s school in Gaza City where Hamas launched a rocket assault that killed 4-year-old Daniel Tragerman.  The IDF warned officials in Gaza of the attack so they could make sure no children were inside the building at the time of the attack.

Three times during the conflict Hamas was found to be hiding weapons inside UN schools in Gaza.

Hamas Breaks Cease-Fire With Rocket Launch Into Israel

Islamic terrorist group Hamas lived up to their threat and broke the 72-hour cease-fire Friday by launching rockets toward residential areas of Israel.

According to sources within the Israeli Defense Forces, Hamas terrorists fired over 45 rockets Friday morning.  The “Iron Dome” defense system only stopped two of the rockets from striking within Israel.

IDF spokesman said that Israel has resumed air strikes at rocket launching sites in response to the Hamas attacks.

“We will continue to strike Hamas, its infrastructure, its operatives, and restore security for the State of Israel,” Lieutenant-Colonel Peter Lerner said in a statement.

Egyptian negotiators have called for a resumption of the cease-fire because negotiations are close to reaching a solution.  However, Hamas has refused to agree to stop their assaults because they demand all of their demands be met.