Nearly 50 Palestinians wounded in ‘Catastrophe’ anniversary protests on Gaza-Israel border

Demonstrators hold Palestinian flags during a protest marking the 71st anniversary of the 'Nakba', or catastrophe, when hundreds of thousands fled or were forced from their homes in the war surrounding Israel's independence in 1948, near the Israel-Gaza border fence, in the southern Gaza Strip May 15, 2019. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) – Israeli troops wounded nearly 50 Palestinians at the Gaza border on Wednesday during protests to mark the 71st anniversary of the “Nakba”, or catastrophe, when many Palestinians lost their homes in the fighting around Israel’s creation, Gaza officials said.

Thousands had gathered at the coastal enclave’s frontier with Israel, the scene of bloodshed over the past year that has raised international concern.

Groups approached the border fence, planting Palestinian flags and throwing stones toward Israeli soldiers on the other side despite the efforts of marshalls in orange vests to keep protesters away from the barrier, witnesses said.

Israeli troops fired tear gas and rubber bullets to repel them, but also live ammunition, the witnesses said.

The Gaza Health Ministry said at least 47 people were wounded, though it was not clear how many of those were hit by live ammunition or were hurt by rubber bullets or by inhaling tear gas.

The Israeli military said about 10,000 rioters and demonstrators gathered in several places along the Gaza Strip fence.

“The rioters are setting tyres on fire and hurling rocks. A number of explosive devices have been hurled within the Gaza Strip, as well, and a number of attempts have been made to approach the security fence. IDF troops are responding with riot dispersal means.”

Wednesday’s rallies were called to mark Nakba Day, what Palestinians term the catastrophe that befell them at Israel’s creation in 1948, when hundreds of thousands fled or were expelled from lands in what is now Israel.

“Our people rise today to announce their rejection to this crime and to assert their right in Palestine, all of Palestine,” Islamic Jihad leader Khader Habib said at one demonstration, referring to Israel and the territories it captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

“Palestine is ours, the sea is ours, the sky is ours and the land is ours, and those strangers must be removed,” he said.

Another protester, Jamila Mahmoud, 50, said her family had originally come from Asqlan, now the Israeli city of Ashkelon, near Gaza.

“If we don’t return, maybe our children and grandchildren will do, one day we will get our rights back,” Mahmoud said at the border protest site.

Palestinians also held rallies in the occupied West Bank but no major clashes with Israeli forces were immediately reported.

This year’s Nakba protests were preceded by a surge in deadly cross-border fighting between Gaza militants and Israel which ended in a ceasefire on May 6.

Israeli troops have killed more than 200 Palestinians and wounded thousands in regular border protests since March 2018, according to human rights groups. U.N. investigators have said the Israeli military might be guilty of war crimes for using excessive force.

Israel has said it is defending its border against attacks against its troops and infiltration attempts by gunmen.

Israel has rejected a Palestinian right of return as a threat to maintaining a Jewish majority in a country it describes as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

Frustration is growing among Palestinians as hopes fade for a two-state solution to the conflict which would give them an independent country. President Donald Trump’s announcement in December 2017 of U.S. recognition of disputed Jerusalem as Israel’s capital also fueled Palestinian anger.

(Editing by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem and Angus MacSwan)

Iranian lawmaker blames ‘Israeli mischief’ for tanker attacks off UAE coast

FILE PHOTO: A damaged ANDREA VICTORY ship is seen off the Port of Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, May 13, 2019. REUTERS/Satish Kumar

GENEVA (Reuters) – The tanker attacks off the coast of the United Arab Emirates were “Israeli mischief,” an Iranian parliamentary spokesman said on Tuesday, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).

“The events that took place in the Emirates were Israeli mischief,” Behrouz Nemati said, without providing any details on what role Israel may have played in the attacks.

Saudi Arabia said on Monday that two of its oil tankers were among those attacked off the coast of the Emirates and described it as an attempt to undermine the security of crude supplies amid tensions between the United States and Iran.

The UAE said on Sunday that four commercial vessels were sabotaged near Fujairah emirate, one of the world’s largest bunkering hubs lying just outside the Strait of Hormuz. It did not describe the nature of the attack or say who was behind it.

(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh, editing by Louise Heavens)

Iran may attack Israel if U.S. standoff escalates: Israeli minister

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz speaks during an interview with Reuters in Cairo, Egypt January 14, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany/File Photo

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – An Israeli cabinet minister warned on Sunday of possible direct or proxy Iranian attacks on Israel should the stand-off between Tehran and Washington escalate.

The United States has increased economic and military pressure on Iran, with President Donald Trump on Thursday urging its leaders to talk to him about giving up their nuclear program and saying he could not rule out an armed confrontation.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, which supports Trump’s hard tack against its arch-foe, has largely been reticent about the spiraling tensions.

Parting with the silence, Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said that, in the Gulf, “things are heating up”.

“If there’s some sort of conflagration between Iran and the United States, between Iran and its neighbors, I’m not ruling out that they will activate Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad from Gaza, or even that they will try to fire missiles from Iran at the State of Israel,” Steinitz, a member of Netanyahu’s security cabinet, told Israel’s Ynet TV.

Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad are Iranian-sponsored guerrilla groups on Israel’s borders, the former active in Syria as well as Lebanon and the latter in the Palestinian territories.

The Israeli military declined to comment when asked if it was making any preparations for possible threats linked to the Iran-U.S. standoff.

Israel has traded blows with Iranian forces in Syria, as well as with Hezbollah in Lebanon and Palestinian militants. But it has not fought an open war with Iran, a country on the other side of the Middle East.

(Writing by Dan Williams)

Gaza-Israel border falls quiet after 3 days long deadly surge of rocket fire

Rockets are fired from Gaza towards Israel, in Gaza May 5, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ari Rabinovitch

GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A surge in deadly violence in the Gaza Strip and southern Israel petered out overnight with Palestinian officials reporting that Egypt had mediated a ceasefire on Monday ending the most serious spate of cross-border clashes for months.

The latest round of fighting erupted three days ago, peaking on Sunday when rockets and missiles from Gaza killed four civilians in Israel. Israeli strikes killed 21 Palestinians, more than half of them civilians, over the weekend.

Two Palestinian officials and a TV station belonging to Hamas, Gaza’s Islamist rulers, said a truce had been reached at 0430 a.m. (0130 GMT), apparently preventing the violence from broadening into a conflict neither side seemed keen on fighting.

Israel did not formally confirm the existence of a truce with Hamas and its allied Gaza faction Islamic Jihad, militants that it, like much of the West, designates as terrorists.

Officials in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government spoke in more general terms of a reciprocal return to quiet, with one suggesting that Israel’s arch-enemy Iran – a major funder for Islamic Jihad – had been behind the Gaza escalation.

Suffering under renewed U.S. sanctions and Israeli strikes against its military assets in Syria, Iran may have seen stoking Palestinian violence as a way of telling Israel, “we will get back at you through (Islamic) Jihad and Gaza”, Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz told the Israeli radio station 90 FM.

Israel’s military said that more than 600 rockets and other projectiles – over 150 of them intercepted – had been fired at southern Israeli cities and villages since Friday. It said it shelled or carried out air strikes on some 320 militant sites.

The violence abated before dawn, just as Gazans were preparing to begin the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Rocket sirens in southern Israel, which had gone off continuously over the weekend, sending residents running for cover, did not sound on Monday and there were no reports of new air strikes in Gaza.

Egypt and the United Nations, who have served as brokers in the past, had been trying to mediate a ceasefire.

LEVERAGE

The violence began when a sniper from the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad fired across Gaza’s fenced border at Israeli troops on routine patrol, wounding two soldiers, according to the Israeli military.

Islamic Jihad accused Israel of delaying implementation of previous understandings brokered by Egypt in an effort to end violence and ease the economic hardships of blockaded Gaza.

This time both Islamic Jihad and Hamas appeared to see some leverage to press for concessions from Israel, where annual independence day celebrations begin on Wednesday and with the Eurovision song contest due to kick off in Tel Aviv – the target of a Gaza rocket attack in March – next week.

Some 2 million Palestinians live in Gaza, the economy of which has suffered years of Israeli and Egyptian blockades as well as recent foreign aid cuts and sanctions by the Palestinian Authority, Hamas’ West Bank-based rival.

Israel says its blockade is necessary to stop arms reaching Hamas, with which it has fought three wars since the group seized control of Gaza in 2007, two years after Israel withdrew its settlers and troops from the small coastal enclave.

One of Islamic Jihad’s leaders in Gaza said on Sunday that the group was trying to counter efforts by the United States to revive peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East team has said it will unveil its peace plan in June, after Ramadan is over. Peace negotiations have been moribund since 2014.

“What the resistance is doing now is the most important part of confronting Trump’s deal. We all have to get united behind the decision by the resistance to fight,” Islamic Jihad’s Jamil Eleyan said in a statement.

Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus said that over the past few weeks Islamic Jihad had been trying to perpetrate attacks against Israel in order to destabilize the border. “This isn’t some local initiative, it is part of a strategic choice to escalate matters,” Conricus said.

During the eight-year civil war in Syria, Iran’s military has built a presence there backing President Bashar al-Assad.

Israel regards Iran as its biggest threat and has vowed to stop it from entrenching itself in Syria, its neighbor to the north, repeatedly bombing Iranian targets in Syria and those of allied Lebanese Hezbollah militia.

Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton said on Sunday the administration was deploying a carrier strike group and bombers to the Middle East in response to troubling “indications and warnings” from Iran and to show the United States will retaliate with “unrelenting force” to any attack.

(Additional reporting by Dan Williams and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Anti-Semitic attacks rise worldwide in 2018, led by U.S., west Europe: study

FILE PHOTO: A man prays at a makeshift memorial outside the Tree of Life synagogue following Saturday's shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 31, 2018. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton/File Photo

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Anti-Semitic attacks worldwide rose 13 percent in 2018 from the previous year, with the highest number of incidents reported in major Western democracies including the United States, France, Britain and Germany, an annual study showed on Wednesday.

The report, by Tel Aviv University’s Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry, said far-right and far-left activists and Islamists were behind many attacks but said there was also evidence of anti-Semitism going more mainstream.

“Anti-Semitism is no longer an issue confined to the activity of the far left, far right and radical Islamists triangle – it has mainstreamed and became an integral part of life,” the report said.

It cataloged 387 anti-Semitic attacks worldwide and cited among the causes growing fears in Europe and elsewhere linked to mass immigration, economic hardship and opposition to Israel’s policies towards the Palestinians.

Physical attacks, with or without weapons, arson, vandalism and direct threats against Jews, synagogues and other Jewish institutions were included in the overall figure, with over 100 cases occurring in the United States.

“STATE OF EMERGENCY”

Those incidents included the deadliest attack ever against Jews on U.S. soil, in which a gunman who stormed the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh yelling: “All Jews must die,” killed 11 Jewish worshippers on Oct. 27.

“The most disturbing development, that keeps continuing and intensifying since 2016, is that Jews in some countries feel they live in a state of emergency, because of the continuing rise, most notably in Western Europe and North America, in anti-Semitic manifestations,” the study said.

Last Saturday, a 19-year-old gunman opened fire on Sabbath worshippers in a Southern California synagogue, killing one woman and wounding three other people.

In the United States, the study noted among other factors, far-right groups and increasing hostility on campuses toward Jewish students who support Israel as fuelling anti-Semitism there.

While far-right supporters often see Jews as “a cosmopolitan foreign agent” threatening national identity, far-left groups sometimes blame Jews for economic uncertainties and tensions caused by globalization.

In Britain, where 68 anti-Semitic attacks took place, the study blamed the impact of Brexit – which has helped fuel a rise in xenophobic nationalism – and what it called “virulent anti-Semitic opinions, disguised as anti-Zionism” expressed by the leader of the main opposition Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn.

“For the first time in their long history British Jews, who feel they lost their political home, question their future in Britain,” it said.

Corbyn denies being anti-Semitic.

The report said France, home to Europe’s largest Jewish community, had seen a 74 percent rise in violent anti-Semitism and Germany a 70 percent increase.

The report said those increases were driven especially by the rise of far-right movements and anti-Semitic sentiment among those countries’ growing Muslim population.

More than a million migrants, mostly Muslims fleeing conflicts in the Middle East, have moved to Germany since 2015.

(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Gareth Jones)

Israeli minister condemns Sanders’ remarks on ‘racist’ Netanyahu government

FILE PHOTO: U.S. 2020 Democratic presidential candidate and Senator Bernie Sanders participates in a moderated discussion at the We the People Summit in Washington, U.S., April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – An Israeli cabinet minister condemned U.S. Democratic Party presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders on Tuesday for describing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government as racist over its treatment of Palestinians.

While enjoying unprecedentedly strong backing from the Republican administration of President Donald Trump, some Israelis have been fretting about whether this comes at the cost of losing traditionally bipartisan support in Washington.

Addressing a televised CNN event alongside other Democratic candidates on Monday, Vermont senator Sanders said he was “100 percent pro-Israel” but proposed changing U.S. policy toward it.

“The goal must be to try to bring people together and not just support one country, which is now run by a right-wing, dare I say, racist government,” Sanders said, adding that Netanyahu “is treating the Palestinian people extremely unfairly”.

Netanyahu was reelected to a fifth term on April 9 and appears likely to build a coalition government including religious ultranationalists opposed to Palestinian statehood.

“We condemn statements like that made by Sanders, which was really strange,” Tzachi Hanegbi, a minister in Netanyahu’s outgoing cabinet and senior member of his conservative Likud party, told Israel’s Reshet 13 TV.

“The Israeli government is not a racist government, nor does it include a single racist minister,” the regional cooperation minister said.

“To be right wing is not illegitimate and it is odd that the Democratic Party allows one of its senior members to not respect the democratic choice of the State of Israel.”

Hanegbi cast his own remarks as specific to Sanders rather than any more generalized criticism of the Democratic Party.

Asked whether Israel risked being seen in the United States as a country championed by Republicans, he said: “We make every effort to avoid this danger because, indeed one of Israel’s greatest advantages over all the years was the ability not to get caught up in the political dispute between the parties.”

U.S. Jews overwhelmingly vote Democratic, studies show, a trend that political analysts say has also contributed to a degree of grassroots disconnect between the allies since Trump’s rise. Sanders is himself Jewish and, in his CNN appearance, noted his past visits to, and relatives living in, Israel.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Alison Williams)

Israel to name new town on Golan after Trump: Netanyahu

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they pose on the West Wing colonnade in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis/File Photo

GOLAN HEIGHTS (Reuters) – Israel said on Tuesday it would name a new community on the Golan Heights after U.S. President Donald Trump as an expression of gratitude for his recognition of its claim of sovereignty over the strategic plateau.

Israel captured the Golan from Syria in a 1967 war and annexed it, in a move not recognized internationally. The United States broke with other world powers last month when Trump signed a decree recognizing Israeli sovereignty there.

“All Israelis were deeply moved when President Trump made his historic decision,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a video statement made on the Golan.

He added that, after the Jewish Passover festival, he would “bring to the government a resolution calling for a new community on the Golan Heights named after President Donald J. Trump.”

Trump’s Golan move followed his decision in December 2017 to recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, breaking with decades of U.S. policy over the status of a city contested by the Palestinians.

Israel has said separately that, in appreciation of the U.S. president, it intends to name a proposed train station near Jerusalem’s Western Wall after him.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Kushner urges world to keep ‘open mind’ about upcoming Middle East plan: source

White House adviser Jared Kushner at the "2019 Prison Reform Summit" in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., April 1, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – White House senior adviser Jared Kushner urged a group of ambassadors on Wednesday to keep an “open mind” about President Donald Trump’s upcoming Middle East peace proposal and said that it will require compromises from both sides, a source familiar with the remarks said.

Kushner said the peace plan is to be unveiled after Israel forms a governing coalition in the wake of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s election victory and after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which ends in early June, the source said.

“We will all have to look for reasonable compromises that will make peace achievable,” Kushner said, according to the source, who asked to remain unidentified.

(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Netanyahu passes threshold for nomination as Israel’s premier

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures during a weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, April 14, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s president said on Tuesday a majority of parliament members had advised him to have Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu form a government after the April 9 election, effectively ensuring his nomination.

In office for the past decade, Netanyahu won a fifth term despite an announcement by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s in February that he intends to charge the prime minister in three corruption cases. Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing.

Under law, President Reuven Rivlin chooses a party leader whom he judges has the best prospect of putting together a ruling coalition. He will announce his candidate on Wednesday.

In broadcast remarks on Tuesday, the second day of Rivlin’s public consultations with political parties on their preferences for prime minister, he said Netanyahu “now has a majority of Knesset members” behind him.

“Any room I had for maneuver has effectively been removed at this moment,” the president said.

Netanyahu’s nomination had been a foregone conclusion after his right-wing Likud party captured the largest number of seats in the Knesset in last week’s ballot and his closest rival, centrist Benny Gantz, conceded defeat.

Netanyahu has said he intends to build a coalition with five far-right, right-wing and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties that would give the Likud-led government 65 seats, four more than the outgoing administration he heads.

Representatives of all of those parties told Rivlin at the meetings, broadcast live on the Internet, that they recommended Netanyahu get the nod.

Gantz, a former military chief of staff whose Blue and White party won 35 parliamentary seats, would likely be next in line to try to assemble a government if Netanyahu fails to do so within 42 days of being chosen by Rivlin.

Netanyahu is under no legal obligation to resign if indicted. He can still argue, at a pre-trial hearing with Mandelblit whose date has not been set, against the formal filing of bribery and fraud charges against him.

The Israeli leader, whose supporters hail his tough security policies and international outreach, is set to become the country’s longest-serving prime minister in July.

(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Israel’s president starts consultations on prime minister nomination

FILE PHOTO: Israeli President Reuven Rivlin talks during a press conference at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus February 12, 2019. REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s president began post-election consultations on Monday with political parties that will lead to his appointment of a candidate to form a government.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nomination seemed virtually ensured after his right-wing Likud won the largest number of parliamentary seats in the April 9 ballot, and his closest rival, Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White party, conceded defeat.

President Reuven Rivlin said he would announce his choice on Wednesday after meeting with all of the parties that captured seats in the 120-member Knesset.

Under Israeli law, after consultations with the parties the president taps a legislator whom he believes has the best chance of forming a government, delegating 28 days, with a two-week extension if necessary, to complete the task.

Netanyahu said he intends to build a coalition with five far-right, right-wing and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties that would give a Likud-led government 65 seats, four more than the outgoing administration he heads.

All of those parties have now said they will back Netanyahu, with the last to hold out, former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman of the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party, pledging support late on Monday.

“The country has decided and we need to honour the decision,” Lieberman said in a speech to party supporters. “Tomorrow at the president’s, we will recommend Benjamin Netanyahu as the candidate to form the government.”

Gantz, a former military chief of staff whose party won 35 parliamentary seats, would likely be next in line to try to put together a government if Netanyahu fails.

For the first time, Rivlin’s consultations with the parties were being broadcast live as part of what he described as a display of transparency in what has historically been a closed-door process in Israel.

At the meeting with Likud representatives, Culture Minister Miri Regev noted Netanyahu had won re-election despite Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s announcement in February that he plans to charge the prime minister in three graft cases.

Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing. He can still argue, at a pre-trial hearing with Mandelblit whose date has not been set, against the filing of bribery and fraud charges against him.

The Israeli leader is under no legal obligation to resign if indicted.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by David Holmes/Mark Heinrich)