Israel shoots down Syria drone; Netanyahu to meet Putin

FILE PHOTO: Israeli soldiers look at the Syrian side of the Israel-Syria border on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Israel July 7, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel shot down a drone that flew in from Syria on Wednesday, the Israeli military said, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Moscow to for talks with Damascus’s biggest ally about a Syrian advance near the volatile frontier.

A Patriot missile launched to intercept the drone, which set off air-defense sirens on the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and nearby Jordanian border, the military said in a statement. It was the second such incident in the area in as many months.

The drone “infiltrated the Israeli border from Syria”, the Israeli military statement said, without immediately elaborating on whether the shoot-down took place over the Golan. Israel captured much of the strategic plateau in the 1967 war with Syria and annexed it in a move not recognized internationally.

An Israeli security source said police were scouring the Sea of Galilee, at the Golan foothills in northern Israel, for possible debris.

Israel has been on high alert as Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces advance against rebels near the Golan and Jordan. Israel worries that he could deploy troops or allow his Iranian and Hezbollah allies to set up emplacements near Israeli lines.

Russia is Assad’s big-power backer in the 7-year-old civil war. Netanyahu traveled to Moscow on Wednesday for talks with President Vladimir Putin, who in the past has turned a blind eye to Israeli strikes on Iranian and Hezbollah targets in Syria while making clear Russia does not want Assad’s rule endangered.

“We will discuss Syria, we will discuss Iran, we will discuss Israel’s security needs,” Netanyahu told reporters before departing. “I very much appreciate the direct, unmediated and excellent contact that I have with the Russian president.”

Israel has threatened to open fire at any Syrian government forces that try to deploy in a demilitarized Golan buffer zone set up under a 1974 U.N.-monitored armistice.

But on Tuesday, Israel also signaled openness to eventual ties with Syria under Assad, a tacit acknowledgment that he was re-consolidating power as he beats back the rebels.

Under Assad family rule, Syria held direct negotiations with Israel in the United States in 2000 and indirect talks mediated by Turkey in 2008, discussions predicated on a full or partial return of the Golan.

Netanyahu’s government has made clear it would not now cede the plateau and has been lobbying for U.S. recognition of Israel’s claim of sovereignty there.

On June 24, Israel’s military said it launched a Patriot missile at an incoming drone from Syria, which turned away unscathed. A Syrian commander said the drone was engaged in local operations.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Peter Graff)

Israel plans to land unmanned spacecraft on moon in February

Israeli scientists stand next to an unmanned spacecraft which an Israeli team plans to launch into space at the end of the year and to land it on the Moon next year, in Yahud, Israel, July 10, 2018 REUTERS/Ronen Zvulu

By Ari Rabinovitch

YEHUD, Israel (Reuters) – An Israeli non-profit group plans to land an unmanned spacecraft on the moon in February in the first landing of its kind since 2013.

The craft, which is shaped like a round table with four carbon fiber legs, is set to blast off in December from Florida’s Cape Canaveral aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, said Ido Anteby, chief executive of the SpaceIL non-profit.

It aims to transmit pictures and videos back to earth over two days after it lands on Feb. 13 as well as measuring magnetic fields.

Ido Anteby, SpaceIL's CEO stands in front of an unmanned spacecraft which an Israeli team plans to launch into space at the end of the year and to land it on the Moon next year, in Yahud, Israel, July 10, 2018 REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Ido Anteby, SpaceIL’s CEO stands in front of an unmanned spacecraft which an Israeli team plans to launch into space at the end of the year and to land it on the Moon next year, in Yahud, Israel, July 10, 2018 REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

“Our spacecraft will be the smallest ever to land on the moon,” said Anteby.

Since 1966, the United States and the former Soviet Union have put around 12 unmanned spacecraft on the moon using braking power to perform “soft” landings and China did so in 2013.

SpaceIL was founded in 2011 by a group of engineers with a budget of about $90 million and they had to sacrifice size and operational capabilities for more efficient travel.

The craft, unveiled on Tuesday at state-owned defense contractor Israel Aerospace Industries, stands about 1.5 meters high and weighs 585 kg (1,290 lb). The spacecraft has four carbon fiber legs and fuel takes up two-thirds of its weight.

At 60,000 km (37,000 miles) above Earth the spacecraft will deploy. It will orbit Earth in expanding ellipses and, about two months later, cross into the moon’s orbit. It will then slow and carry out a soft landing causing no damage to the craft.

“The landing is the most complicated part. The spot chosen is relatively flat and the spacecraft has eye contact with Earth for communication,” Anteby said. “From the moment the spacecraft reaches the point that it begins the landing, it will handle it totally autonomously.”

SpaceIL is backed mainly by private donors, including U.S. casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and billionaire Morris Kahn who co-founded Amdocs, one of Israel’s biggest high-tech companies.

(Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)

Assad, aided by Russia, poised to snuff out ‘cradle’ of revolt

FILE PHOTO: A woman holds a Syrian flag in Deraa, Syria, July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki/File Photo

By Tom Perry and Suleiman Al-Khalidi

BEIRUT/AMMAN (Reuters) – President Bashar al-Assad is poised to snuff out the Syrian rebellion in the place it first began more than seven years ago, as rebels enter talks with his Russian allies on withdrawing from Deraa city or accepting a return of state authority.

Government forces backed by Russia have seized most of Deraa province in the campaign that got underway last month and on Monday encircled rebel-held parts of Deraa city and seized the entire Jordanian frontier that was once in opposition hands.

Assad, whose control was once reduced to a fraction of Syria, now holds the largest chunk of the country with crucial help from his Russian and Iranian allies.

Deraa was the scene of the first anti-Assad protests that spiraled into a war now estimated to have killed half a million people. The conflict has driven over 11 million people from their homes, with some 5.6 million Syrian refugees in neighboring states alone and many more in Europe.

Rebels in Deraa are due to hold talks with Russian officers on Tuesday, a spokesman for the rebels, Abu Shaimaa, said. The talks were due to take place in the town of Busra al-Sham.

Some are seeking evacuation to opposition-held areas of the north while others are negotiating to remain as a local security force, he said.

“Today there is a session with the Russians over the forced displacement,” he said in a text message, referring to the expected evacuation of a yet-to-determined number of rebels to opposition areas of the northwest at the border with Turkey.

A pro-Syrian government newspaper, al-Watan, said “the coming hours will be decisive on the level of ending the chapter of terrorism in Deraa city”.

As Assad pushes for outright military victory, there seems little hope of a negotiated peace settlement to the conflict.

The north and much of the east however remain outside his control and the presence of U.S. and Turkish forces in those areas will complicate further advances for Damascus.

“EXTREMELY SCARED”

Government forces began thrusting into Deraa province last month. Heavily outgunned rebels surrendered quickly in some places as the United States, which once armed them, told opposition forces not to expect its intervention.

Deraa rebels agreed to a wider ceasefire deal brokered by Russia last Friday and to surrender the province in phases. Syrian and Russian forces then took control of the main crossing with Jordan, which has been in rebel hands since 2015.

On Monday, government forces extended their control all the way along Deraa province’s border with Jordan up to a pocket of territory held by Islamic State-affiliated militants, severing a once vital opposition lifeline to Jordan.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war, said army helicopters dropped leaflets on the rebel-held town of al-Haara saying “there is no place for militants”.

The government offensive is expected to turn next to nearby rebel-held areas of Quneitra province, at the border with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

The offensive has triggered the biggest single displacement of civilians in the war, uprooting more than 320,000 people. Large numbers of people have moved again in the few days since the ceasefire was agreed, some returning to their villages.

Rachel Sider, Syria advocacy and information adviser with the Norwegian Refugee Council, said displaced people had been crossing back to areas that are subject to the agreement “because the expectation is that now there is a ceasefire that is holding, that will be the most stable and safe place”.

“But we also know that people still feel extremely scared. They are not very clear about who is in control of the places that they are from. We have seen a lot of confusion amongst people who are trying to make a decision about their families’ safety and their future,” she said.

Tens of thousands of displaced people are still thought to be sheltering in the Tel Shihab area of Deraa province, and many more are at the frontier with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

(The story corrects to show talks over fate of rebels in Deraa city are being held in Busra al-Sham, not Deraa city itself.)

(Writing by Tom Perry, Editing by William Maclean)

Israel threatens ‘harsh response’ to any Syrian forces in demilitarized Golan

People walk near the Israel-Syria border line as it is seen from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Israel July 7, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel threatened a “harsh response” on Monday to any attempt by Syrian forces advancing against southern rebel areas to deploy in a Golan Heights frontier zone that was demilitarized under a 44-year-old U.N. monitored truce between the neighboring foes.

Syrian government forces backed by Russia have launched an offensive in the southern Deraa province and are widely expected to move on rebel-held Quneitra, which is within a part of the Syrian Golan covered by the armistice.

Israel worries that Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad could let its enemies Iran and Hezbollah move forces into the area, giving them a foothold near its border. Tehran and the Lebanese group both back Assad in the complex conflict.

“For our part we will sanctify the 1974 disengagement agreement, and there too we will insist that every last letter be abided by, and any violation with meet a harsh response from the State of Israel,” Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman told his parliamentary faction in broadcast remarks.

Assad’s conduct in southern Syria is expected to come up in talks in Moscow on Wednesday between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Russia, whose 2015 intervention in the Syrian civil war turned the tide in Assad’s favor, has largely turned a blind eye to repeated Israeli air strikes in Syria targeting suspected Iranian or Hezbollah emplacements and arms transfers.

But diplomats on both sides say Russia has made clear that it would oppose any Israeli action endangering Assad’s rule.

On Sunday night, Syria said its air defense repelled an Israeli sorties against the T4 air base in Homs province, where seven Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps personnel died in an April 9 attack that Damascus and Tehran also blamed on Israel.

Israel, in keeping with its customary reticence on such operations, declined all comment.

“Regarding yesterday – I read about it in the newspapers today and I have nothing to add,” Lieberman said on Monday.

“Perhaps just one thing, that our policy has not changed. We will not allow Iran’s entrenchment in Syria and we will not allow Syrian soil to be turned into a vanguard against the State of Israel. Nothing has changed. There is nothing new.”

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Toby Chopra and Andrew Heavens)

South Syrian rebels lay down arms as Assad seizes crossing

FILE PHOTO: A Syrian opposition flag is erected at the Syrian-Jordanian border at the Nasib crossing in Deraa province, Syria August 27, 2017.REUTERS/Alaa Al-Faqir/File Photo

AMMAN/BEIRUT (Reuters) – South Syrian rebels said they had agreed on Friday to lay down arms in a Russian-brokered deal that appeared to surrender Deraa province to the government in another major victory for President Bashar al-Assad.

The Syrian government recovered the crucial Nassib border crossing with Jordan, held by rebels for three years, state media reported, after a fierce assault in insurgent territory along the frontier backed by Russian air strikes.

Deraa province encompasses most of the area held by rebels in the southwest, one of their last remaining strongholds in Syria. Assad is also aiming to recover control of rebel-held areas of Quneitra province at the frontier with the Israei-occupied Golan Heights.

Government advances in Deraa in a two-week offensive had brought large parts of the province back under state control and caused a massive rapid human exodus as hundreds of thousands of people fled.

Rebel sources said the deal brokered by Russia would allow civilians to return to their villages and towns with Russia guaranteeing their protection.

Russian guarantees will also be extended to rebel fighters who wish to “settle their status” with the government – a process by which former insurgents accept to live under state rule again, the sources said.

Rebels who did not wish to come back under Assad’s rule would leave for the insurgent stronghold in northwest Syria, they said.

Several witnesses along the Jordan border fence with Syria said they spotted armored vehicles and a tank with a Russian flag heading to the Nassib crossing, an important trade artery.

A commander in a regional military alliance that backs Assad said an Israeli air strike had hit a Syrian village in Quneitra on Friday, causing no casualties. Israel’s military said it had hit a Syrian army post in that area.

(Reporting by Laila Bassam and Ellen Francis in Beirut, Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman; Writing by Ellen Francis, Editing by Alison Williams, Tom Perry, William Maclean)

Russian jets hit Syrian south, U.N. urges Jordan to open border

Syrian army soldiers stand as they hold their weapons in Deraa, Syria, July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Dark smoke rose over areas held by Syrian rebels near the border with Jordan on Thursday as President Bashar al-Assad’s Russian allies unleashed heavy air strikes and government forces sought to advance on the ground.

The UNHCR refugee agency urged Jordan to open its borders to Syrians who have fled the fighting, saying the total number of displaced now stood at more than 320,000, with 60,000 of them gathered at the border crossing with Jordan.

Smoke rises in Deraa area, Syria in this handout released on July 4, 2018. SANA/Handout via REUTERS

Smoke rises in Deraa area, Syria in this handout released on July 4, 2018. SANA/Handout via REUTERS

Assad aims to recapture the entire southwest including the frontiers with the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights and Jordan. The area is one of the last rebel strongholds in Syria after more than seven years of war.

With no sign of intervention yet by his foreign foes, government forces seem set for another big victory in the war after crushing the last remaining rebel bastions near Damascus and Homs.

State television footage showed giant clouds of smoke towering over fields, rooftops and a distant industrial area, accompanied by the sound of occasional explosions.

After four days of reduced bombardment, intense air strikes resumed on Wednesday following the collapse of talks between rebels and Russian officers, brokered by Jordan.

“The Russians have not stopped the bombardment,” Bashar al-Zoubi, a prominent rebel leader in southern Syria, told Reuters in a text message from the Deraa area, the focus of the government offensive.

“The regime is trying to advance and the clashes are continuing.”

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, monitoring the war through what it describes as many sources on the ground, said there had been 600 air strikes in 15 hours, extending into Thursday’s early hours.

State media said government forces had captured the town of Saida, some 10 km (six miles) east of Deraa city. A rebel command center said on Twitter government attempts to storm the town were being resisted after it was struck with “dozens of Russian air raids”, barrel bombs and rocket barrages.

The two-week-old attack has taken a chunk of rebel territory northeast of Deraa city, where some rebels surrendered.

The Observatory said 150 civilians have been killed.

ASSAD IN ASCENDANT

For the president, the Deraa campaign holds out the prospect of reopening the Nassib crossing with Jordan, a vital trade artery. Once Deraa is captured, the campaign is expected to move into the Quneitra area closer to the Golan frontier.

Recovering the frontier with the Golan Heights is also important to Assad, reestablishing his status as a frontline leader in the conflict with Israel, which sent reinforcements to the Golan frontier on Sunday.

State TV said Thursday’s bombardment had targeted the southern parts of Deraa, a city long split between rebels and the army, and the towns of Saida, al-Nuaima, Um al-Mayadan and Taiba.

Its correspondent said the army aimed to drive southwards through the area immediately east of Deraa city, where rebel territory narrows to a thin corridor along the Jordanian border.

This would split the territory in two.

The army has been trying for days to reach the Jordanian border in the area immediately west of Deraa, but had not succeeded in attempts to storm an insurgent-held air base there, the rebel command center Twitter account said.

Fleeing civilians have mostly sought shelter along the frontiers with Israel and Jordan, which is already hosting some 650,000 Syrian refugees. Both countries have said they will not open their borders, but have distributed some supplies inside Syria.

Southwest Syria is a “de-escalation zone” agreed last year by Russia, Jordan and the United States to reduce violence.

Near the start of the government’s offensive, Washington indicated it would respond to violations of that deal, but it has not done so yet and rebels said it had told them to expect no American military help.

For the anti-Assad rebels, losing the southwest will reduce their territory to a region of the northwest bordering Turkey and a patch of desert in the east where U.S. forces are stationed near the border with Iraq and Jordan.

Assad now controls most of Syria with help from his allies, though a large part of the north and east is in the hands of Kurdish-led militia backed by the United States.

(Reporting by Angus McDowall and Tom Perry; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Andrew Roche)

Number of displaced in southern Syria climbs to 270,000: U.N.

Internally displaced people from Deraa province arrive near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights in Quneitra, Syria June 29, 2018. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Faqir/File Photo

AMMAN (Reuters) – The number of people forced to flee their homes in southwestern Syria as a result of the two week escalation in fighting has climbed to 270,000 people, the U.N. refugee spokesman in Jordan said.

The United Nations said last week 160,000 had been displaced as they fled heavy bombardment and mostly took shelter in villages and areas near the Israeli and Jordanian borders.

“Our latest update shows the figure of displaced across southern Syria has exceeded 270,000 people,” Mohammad Hawari, UNHCR’s Jordan spokesman told Reuters.

The United Nations has warned of a humanitarian catastrophe in the southwest caused by the fighting that erupted after a Russian-backed army offensive to recapture rebel-held southern Syria.

Jordan, which has taken in more than half a million displaced Syrians since the war began, and Israel have said they will not open their borders to refugees.

Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi told reporters on Monday after a meeting with U.N. officials that shipments of aid were waiting to get approvals to enter into Syria from the Jordanian border.

(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Alison Williams)

Poland backs down on Holocaust law, moves to end jail terms

Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki speaks during debate about Holocaust bill at lower house of Parliament in Warsaw, Poland June 27, 2018. Agencja Gazeta/Slawomir Kaminski via REUTERS

By Pawel Sobczak

WARSAW (Reuters) – Polish lawmakers voted on Wednesday to water down a Holocaust law that angered the United States and Israel, and remove parts that imposed jail terms on people who suggest the nation was complicit in Nazi crimes.

The lower house of parliament backed the changes in an emergency session hours after Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki asked it to amend the four-month-old law. An upper house vote is expected later on Wednesday.

The unexpected u-turn came as the ruling nationalist Law and Justice party (PiS) seeks to bolster security ties with Washington and faces heightened scrutiny from the EU.

It also came the morning after Poland’s state-run company PGNiG said it had signed long-term agreements on liquefied natural gas (LNG) supplies from the United States.

The law as it went into effect in March imposed jail sentences of up to three years for anyone who used the phrase “Polish death camps” or suggested “publicly and against the facts” that the Polish nation or state was complicit in Nazi Germany’s crimes.

The nationalist, right-wing government said at the time the law was needed to protect Poland’s reputation. Israel and its ally the United States said it amounted to a historical whitewash.

Morawiecki did not say what precisely had prompted his morning announcement. But he told parliament the terms of the existing law had already done their job by raising awareness of Poland’s role in World War Two – the government says Poles were the victims of Nazi aggression, not fellow perpetrators.

The law had been meant as “a kind of shock” and courts would still be able impose fines, he added.

“The purpose of this law was and still is one fundamental message: fight for the truth, fight for the truth of World War Two and post-war times,” Morawiecki said.

“A publisher in the United States or in Germany will think twice before publishing today an article using the expression ‘Polish SS”, ‘Polish gestapo’ or ‘Polish concentration camps’ if he risks a lawsuit and a fine of 100 million euro or dollars,” Morawiecki added.

“THIS IS ALL CONNECTED”

One PiS lawmaker, speaking on condition of anonymity, would only say the changes had been agreed as “a result of our analysis of the situation”.

“The international discussion, and especially in the United States had an impact. This is all connected,” the lawmaker added.

Warsaw has been seeking security and energy assurances from Washington as a deterrence policy against Russia – and last month broke from the EU’s outright rejection of Washington’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.

European Union ministers began an unprecedented discussion on Tuesday of threats to the rule of law in Poland, urging Warsaw to step back from contested judicial reforms they say put its courts under more political control.

About 3 million Jews who lived in pre-war Poland were murdered by the Nazis, accounting for about half of all Jews killed in the Holocaust.

Jews from across the continent were sent to be killed at death camps built and operated by Germans in occupied Poland – home to Europe’s biggest Jewish community at the time – including Auschwitz, Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor.

Thousands of Poles risked their lives to protect Jewish neighbors during the war. But research published since the fall of communism in 1989 showed that thousands also killed Jews or denounced those who hid them to the Nazi occupiers, challenging the national narrative that Poland was solely a victim.

(Additional reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko, Anna Koper, Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk, Pawel Florkiewicz; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Israel asks Cyprus to consider shipping route for Gaza: Cypriot official

FILE PHOTO: Palestinian fishermen ride their boats as they return from fishing at the seaport of Gaza City early morning September 26, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem/File Photo

ATHENS/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel has asked Cyprus to examine the possibility of establishing a shipping point on the island for sending goods to the Gaza Strip, a Cypriot government spokesman said on Tuesday.

Goods shipped by sea usually come to an Israeli port and are transferred to Gaza over land. Israel enforces a maritime blockade on Gaza, which it says is meant to prevent weapons from reaching the territory ruled by the Islamist militant group Hamas.

Both Egypt and Israel restrict movement across Gaza’s land borders as well. The United Nations has called for a freer flow of goods into Gaza, where most Palestinians live in poverty.

The idea of setting up a facility in Cyprus has been floated for years, and Israel recently made a request to explore the issue, according to Cypriot government spokesman Prodromos Prodromou.

“It is an old issue which is now being re-discussed,” Prodromou told Reuters.

“There will be contacts between the government and all interested parties in the region and, possibly, a decision will be taken. At the moment no decision has been taken. The request is being examined, it hasn’t been rejected,” he said.

Prodromou did not say when the request was made, but Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman visited Nicosia last week.

An Israeli news report late on Monday said Lieberman had reached an understanding with Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades to pursue the port plan.

Lieberman’s office, in response to the report, said that Israel is working internationally in a number of ways to try to “change the reality in Gaza”, but that any move to improve the humanitarian situation depends on the return of Israelis who are missing or being held prisoner in Gaza.

“Beyond that we cannot relate to the details,” it said in a statement.

Israel has demanded the return of two Israeli civilians who it says crossed into Gaza and are being held by Hamas, as well as the bodies of two soldiers who were killed in a 2014 war. Hamas says it is holding them but does not give any details.

Hamas officials declined to comment on the port plan.

At least one Israeli cabinet minister, Yuval Steinitz, has been promoting the Cyprus port idea as a way to create a conduit into Gaza that does not go through Israel. Another Israeli cabinet minister has raised the idea of building an artificial island off the Gaza coast, a much larger project.

“I think that we can combine our security on one hand and open Gaza to the outer world on the other hand,” Steinitz said of the port idea in an interview in Washington.

A port would be a faster solution than an artificial island. Opening a port in Cyprus could take only a few months after getting international approval and could be shut down quickly if somebody abuses it, Steinitz said. Building an artificial island could take 10 years, he said.

Security checks at the piers, however, would have to be handled by Israel together with an international group such as the United Nations, Steinitz said earlier this month.

(Reporting by Michele Kambas, Ari Rabinovitch, Dan Williams, Nidal al-Mughrabi; Timothy Gardner in Washington; Editing by Alexandra Hudson and Grant McCool)

Britain’s Prince William, in Jerusalem, honors Holocaust victims, meets Netanyahu

Britain's Prince William pays his respects during a ceremony commemorating the six million Jews killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust, in the Hall of Remembrance at Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, June 26, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prince William honoured Holocaust victims and met descendants of Jews hidden from the Nazis by his great-grandmother, in a somber start on Tuesday to the first official British royal visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories.

Wearing a black skullcap, William laid a wreath in the Hall of Remembrance at Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, where an eternal flame flickers and the names of extermination and concentration camps are engraved in the floor.

“Terrifying,” William said, viewing a display at the memorial’s museum of shoes taken by the Nazis from Jews at Majdanek death camp. “(I’m) trying to comprehend the scale.”

Britain's Prince William speaks with officials as he arrives to the residence of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem, June 26, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Britain’s Prince William speaks with officials as he arrives to the residence of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem, June 26, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Tens of thousands of Jews and other victims were killed at the camp, near Lublin in what is now Poland.

After the tour, the prince – second in line to the British throne – was greeted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, at their official residence in Jerusalem against the backdrop of British and Israeli flags.

At the residence, the prince met relatives of the late Rachel Cohen, who was hidden from the Gestapo, along with two of her five children, by Princess Alice, the mother of Britain’s 97-year-old Prince Philip, in her palace in Greece.

The Greek royal family – Princess Alice was married to Prince Andrew of Greece – had been acquainted with Cohen’s late husband, Haimaki, a former member of Greece’s parliament.

“You must be very proud of your great-grandmother, who saved defenseless Jews,” Netanyahu told William.

Princess Alice was recognized as one of the “righteous among nations”, gentiles who rescued Jews, by Yad Vashem in 1993. A devout Christian, she is buried on the slopes of Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives. William is due to visit her tomb on Thursday.

At a meeting with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, the prince, on a visit described by Britain as non-political, said he hoped “peace in the area can be achieved”. Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014.

During the four-day visit, William is also scheduled to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian youngsters in the occupied West Bank.

“I had a very moving tour around Yad Vashem this morning, which really taught me quite a lot more than I thought I already knew about the true horrors of what happened to the Jews

over the war,” William said at the meeting with Rivlin.

The prince also spoke at Yad Vashem with two men who survived the Nazi genocide through British intervention.

Henry Foner, 86, and Paul Alexander, 80, were among thousands of Jewish children taken in by Britain as part of the 1930s “Kindertransport” from a continental Europe that was falling to German conquest.

“I said to his Royal Highness that this is a unique opportunity for me to express my thanks to the British people for opening their homes to me and to the other 10,000 children who came,” Alexander said.

Later in the day, William, sporting sunglasses, strolled along the Tel Aviv shore, chatting with beach-goers and quipping, “I should have brought my swimming trunks”. At a youth soccer event in nearby Jaffa, he admonished journalists crowding around the youngsters to move back.

“Guys, will you give us some space, there are children here,” said the prince, who from his earliest years experienced crowds of journalists and photographs hounding his mother, the late Diana, Princess of Wales. She died in a car crash in Paris in 1997 as paparazzi chased her vehicle.

William’s trip is at the behest of the British government. Until now it had been British policy not to make an official royal visit until the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was resolved. British officials have given no detailed explanation for the change in policy.

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg)