Investigation into exploding Hamas weapons cache that killed 45 Palestinians: Is it really that hard to believe that terrorists would hide weapons near civilians?

Palestinians-at-Strike-area

Important Takeaways:

  • Israel says tent camp blaze that killed 45 Palestinians and sparked international outcry could have been caused by exploding Hamas weapons cache – as IDF tanks roll into the center of Rafah
  • …the Israeli military claimed on Tuesday that the munitions it dropped near the camp were not enough to cause the large fires, instead suggesting an exploding weapons cache may have caused the inferno to spread.
  • IDF spokesperson Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari told reporters that the strike was conducted against a ‘closed structure… away from the tent camp’ and claimed several Hamas officials were sheltering inside.
  • He said the IDF dropped two munitions with 35lb warheads. ‘These are the smallest bombs we have. Our munitions alone could not have ignited a fire of this size.’
  • As international pressure mounts on Israel over the horrific scenes emerging from Rafah – and as calls grow for its war in Gaza to cease – Israeli tanks reportedly reached the center of the beleaguered city on Tuesday.
  • The Gaza Government Media Office claimed that Israel dropped seven 2,000lb (900kg) bombs as well as missiles on the camp in Tal as-Sultan, as reported by Al Jazeera.
  • The UN Security Council is set to convene for an emergency meeting today to discuss the strike as the UN human rights chief Volker Turk expressed his ‘horror at the further loss of civilian life in Gaza’.
  • Yet the Israeli Prime Minister’s resolve appears unwavering, as he declared in parliament: ‘I don’t intend to end the war before every goal has been achieved.’
  • The Israeli military’s top legal official said authorities were examining the strikes and that the military regrets the loss of civilian life.

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Hamas is far from a spent force

Palestinians

Important Takeaways:

  • Four months after Israeli troops first stormed Gaza’s biggest hospital, al-Shifa, claiming it was a cover for a Hamas command and control center, they have returned.
  • The Israeli military said it had “concrete intelligence” that Hamas operatives had regrouped there
  • The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) now claim to have killed “over 140 terrorists” in ongoing fighting at al-Shifa and to have made some 600 arrests, including dozens of top Hamas commanders as well as some from Islamic Jihad.
  • Israeli reports suggest that in recent weeks the army found that senior Hamas figures had resumed operations at al-Shifa and that some even took their families to the hospital.
  • The IDF says it uncovered arms caches and a large quantity of cash at the site.
  • Israeli media have suggested the operation at Shifa Hospital could last for several days. It is not being linked to the military operation in Rafah which Israel insists it must carry out to win the war with Hamas.
  • “It’s going to happen. And it will happen even if Israel is forced to fight alone,” the Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister

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No Prime Minister has ever advocated two state solution until now – Lapid

Zechariah 12:3 “On that day I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock. All the nations will gather against it to try to move it, but they will only hurt themselves.”

Important Takeaways:

  • Lapid to back two-state solution in UN address; is slammed by rivals and some allies
    • NEW YORK — In his address to the United Nations General Assembly on Thursday, Prime Minister Yair Lapid will include an explicit call for a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians, an official close to the Israeli leader said Wednesday.
    • The revelation drew both criticism from right-wing ministers in Lapid’s eight-party coalition, and support from some of his allies on the left.
    • Lapid’s speech will have four sections and offer “hope and vision through strength,” said the official in a briefing to reporters. The prime minister will stress that “Israel must move toward a two-state solution.”
    • “For many years, no Israeli prime minister has said this on the UN stage,” the official said.

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Hundreds Arrested during Clash on Temple Mount

1 Corinthians 16:13 Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.

Important Takeaways:

  • Over 300 arrested in Temple Mount clashes, Jordan demands Israel remove forces ‘immediately’
  • Israeli security forces entered Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem before dawn as thousands of Palestinians were gathered for prayers during the holy month of Ramadan, setting off clashes that medics said wounded at least 67 Palestinians.
  • Several dozen Palestinians had barricaded themselves in the mosque, and security forces removed them. News sources reported that hundreds of Palestinians have been arrested.
  • Israel said its forces entered to remove rocks and stones that had been gathered in anticipation of violence. The holy site, which is sacred to Jews and Muslims, has often been the epicenter of Israeli-Palestinian unrest, and tensions were already heightened amid a recent wave of violence.
  • Due to intelligence about terrorist plots, with Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria being the main targets, police were at the highest level of alert, and operations to locate and arrest suspected terrorists continued nationwide.

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Language ‘speed dating’ attracts Jewish and Palestinian students in Jerusalem

By Rinat Harash

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A small group of Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem, a city of political, religious and cultural divisions, is trying to bridge a Hebrew-Arabic language gap through learning modelled on speed dating.

About 20 students meet weekly at a 19th-century villa, and sitting together, Jew facing Arab, they practice each other’s language, guided by cards spelling out simple scenarios that prompt dialogue.

When a whistle sounds every 20 minutes, participants rotate with new partners across tables arranged under colorful murals.

The encounters – quick and cordial, if sometimes awkward – help the Palestinians to improve the Hebrew required for dealing with Israeli authorities, and the Jews to deepen their grasp of Arabic.

Most Palestinians in Jerusalem live in its eastern sector, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war. Only basic Hebrew is studied in East Jerusalem schools, making it difficult for Palestinians to achieve advanced proficiency.

“And it’s the same for Israelis – if they do study Arabic, it’s an Arabic you can’t use,” said Maya Giz, a Hebrew teacher, referring to the classical, and not commonly spoken, version of the language.

Giz, who initiated the project in 2019 with Sahar Mukhemar, a Palestinian sports instructor and a former student of hers, says the language exercises are a “crossing of a mental border” between the two peoples.

She said Palestinians and Israelis taking part in the program share “the same embarrassment of talking and … (can) break this barrier of fear together”.

Jamila Khouri, a Palestinian, said learning Hebrew could help her and others “merge well in the community and find a job opportunity in a good field”.

Jewish participant Eli Benita said the language learning spoke volumes about coexistence, in a city where tensions in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict sometimes spill over into violence.

“I see that this is the only way to reach some kind of a peaceful routine of life here in this region we live in,” he said.

(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Ed Osmond)

U.S. will move forward with reopening its Palestinian mission in Jerusalem -Blinken

By Humeyra Pamuk, Matt Spetalnick and Daphne Psaledakis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said on Wednesday the Biden administration intends to press ahead with its plan to reopen the Jerusalem consulate that traditionally engaged with Palestinians, despite Israeli opposition to such a move.

Blinken reiterated a pledge he originally made months ago on re-establishing the consulate, which had long been a base for diplomatic outreach to the Palestinians before it was closed by President Joe Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, in 2018.

But Blinken, speaking at a Washington news conference with visiting Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and United Arab Emirates Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, stopped short of setting a date for reopening the consulate, which would strain relations with Israel’s new ideologically diverse government.

“We’ll be moving forward with the process of opening a consulate as part of deepening of those ties with the Palestinians,” Blinken said at the State Department.

The Biden administration has sought to repair relations with the Palestinians that were badly damaged under Trump.

The consulate was subsumed into the U.S. Embassy that was moved to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv in 2018 by Trump – a reversal of longtime U.S. policy hailed by Israel and condemned by Palestinians.

The Biden administration says it will reopen the consulate while leaving the embassy in place.

Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its capital. Palestinians want East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in a 1967 war along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as capital of the state they seek.

Blinken spoke in response to a reporter’s question after a trilateral meeting that marked the latest sign of the Biden administration’s embrace of the so-called Abraham Accords, which were widely seen as a diplomatic success for Trump.

The UAE was the first of four Arab states that moved late last year to normalize relations with Israel after decades of enmity. Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco soon followed suit.

Palestinian officials said they felt betrayed by their Arab brethren for reaching deals with Israel without first demanding progress toward the creation of a Palestinian state.

Some critics said Trump had promoted Arab rapprochement with Israel while ignoring Palestinian aspirations for statehood.

ABRAHAM ACCORDS

Biden administration officials have said the Abraham Accords are no substitute for a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians, a principle of U.S. policy that the Democratic president has returned to after Trump moved away from it.

But U.S. officials have said the conditions are not right to press for a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which collapsed in 2014. Washington has been reluctant to take any action that could weaken an Israeli government it considers more cooperative than the one led by Benjamin Netanyahu, which was unseated in June.

Reopening the consulate, however, would ignite tensions between Washington and its close Middle East ally.

Israel has said it would oppose the move, asserting its sovereignty over Jerusalem and arguing that far-right Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s government would be destabilized by the reintroduction of a diplomatic foothold for the Palestinians in the city.

Blinken expressed hope that normalization between Israel and Arab states would be a “force for progress” between Israelis and Palestinians, reaffirmed support for a two-state solution and said both sides “equally deserve to live safely and securely.”

Bin Zayed echoed Lapid in praising the ties their countries have forged and said he would visit Israel soon. But he also insisted that there could only be peace in the region if the Israelis and Palestinians are on “talking terms.”

In a nod to the Palestinians, Lapid said they, like all people, were “entitled to a decent way of life” and Israel’s goal was to work with the Palestinian Authority on that issue. But he offered no specifics.

Lapid, a centrist, reached a power-sharing deal with Bennett that ended Netanyahu’s 12-year run as prime minister. Under the coalition deal, Lapid will replace Bennett as prime minister in 2023.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Maayan Lubell, Daphne Psaledakis, Matt Spetalnick, Simon Lewis, Dan Williams, Lilian Wagdy; writing by Matt Spetalnick; editing by Mark Heinrich and Jonathan Oatis)

Israel opposes Biden plan to reopen U.S. Palestinian mission in Jerusalem

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israel said on Wednesday that a U.S. plan to reopen its consulate in Jerusalem that has traditionally been a base for diplomatic outreach to Palestinians is a “bad idea” and could destabilize Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s new government.

The prior administration of President Donald Trump signaled support for Israel’s claim on Jerusalem as its capital by moving the U.S. embassy there from Tel Aviv. It later subsumed the consulate, in west Jerusalem, in that mission.

It was among several moves that incensed the Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem as capital of a hoped-for, future state.

President Joe Biden has pledged to restore ties with the Palestinians, back a two-state solution and move forward with reopening the consulate. It has been closed since 2019, with Palestinian affairs handled by the embassy.

“We think it’s a bad idea,” Foreign Minister Yair Lapid told a news conference when asked about the reopening. “Jerusalem is the sovereign capital of Israel and Israel alone, and therefore we don’t think it’s a good idea.

“We know that the (Biden) administration has a different way of looking at this, but since it is happening in Israel, we are sure they are listening to us very carefully.”

Wasel Abu Youssef, a senior Palestine Liberation Organization official, told Reuters that the Israeli rejection of the consulate’s opening was expected, adding: “They are trying to maintain the status quo and block any political solution”.

Asked about Lapid’s remarks, a U.S. Embassy spokesperson said: “As Secretary Blinken announced in May, the United States will be moving forward with the process to reopen our consulate in Jerusalem. We do not have additional information to share at this time.”

The spokesperson said the United States was not reversing its decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem nor its recognition of the city as Israel’s capital.

Israel captured the city’s east, along with the occupied West Bank and Gaza, in the 1967 Middle East war.

It deems all of Jerusalem as its undivided capital – a status not recognized internationally. In recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017, Trump said he was not taking a position on “any final-status issues, including the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem”.

Bennett, a nationalist atop a cross-partisan coalition, opposes Palestinian statehood. Reopening the consulate could unsettle Bennett’s government, which ended long-term premier Benjamin Netanyahu’s tenure in June, Lapid said.

“We have an interesting and yet delicate structure of our government and we think this might destabilize this government and I don’t think the American administration wants this to happen,” he said.

Divisions among Palestinians also cast doubt about the prospects for diplomacy, Lapid said. “I am a devoted believer in the two-state solution … but we’ll have to admit the fact this is not feasible in the current situation.”

(Writing by Rami Ayyub;Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Jonathan Oatis)

Israeli gov’t and settlers reach deal over West Bank outpost, Palestinians angered

By Maayan Lubell

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Jewish settlers have agreed to quit a remote outpost that has become a flashpoint for clashes with Palestinians who also claim the land, officials said, under a deal aimed at addressing an awkward political test for the new Israeli government.

Under the agreement with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, the settlers will leave Givat Eviatar outpost in the Israeli-occupied Givat Eviatar.

But it seemed likely that at least some of the outpost’s new buildings would remain, locked and under military guard, an outcome that is certain to anger Palestinian protesters who demand it be removed.

The hilltop settlement outpost near the Palestinian city of Nablus was established without Israeli government permits in May and is now home to more than 50 settler families.

The Israeli military ordered it to be cleared, presenting an early challenge for the new prime minister. Bennett was once a leader of the settler movement and heads a pro-settler party, putting him at odds with some of his own voter base if the settlers were forcibly evicted.

But his ruling coalition only survives with the support of left-wing and Islamist Arab parties, making sensitive policy decisions on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict difficult.

An official with Israel’s Defense Ministry, which administers the settlements, said the Givat Eviatar families had agreed to leave voluntarily by the weekend.

Troops would stay on and a land survey conducted to determine if a government-backed settlement can be established there, the official told Reuters.

Settler leader Yossi Dagan said the families would leave on Friday under the deal. The structures serving as their homes would be locked, he said, suggesting they would not be dismantled. The Defense Ministry official did not confirm that.

On Wednesday Moussa Hamayel, deputy mayor of the nearby Palestinian village Beita, said: “We will continue our popular activities (protests) until the settlement is removed and our land is returned to us.” Beita’s residents claim ownership of the area on which Givat Eviatar sits.

Most world powers deem all of the settlements, built on land Israel captured and occupied in a 1967 Middle East war, to be illegal. Israel disputes this, citing historical ties to the land on which they sit, and its own security needs.

Israeli soldiers have shot dead five Palestinians during stone-throwing protests since the outpost was set up, Palestinian officials said. The military did not comment on fatalities, but said troops used live fire only as a last resort.

(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta, Editing by William Maclean)

Inaugurating embassy in UAE, Israel tells region: “We’re here to stay”

By Lisa Barrington

DUBAI (Reuters) -Israel’s new foreign minister inaugurated its embassy in the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday and offered an olive branch to other former adversaries, saying: “We’re here to stay.”

Yair Lapid’s two-day visit is the first to the Gulf state by an Israeli cabinet minister since the countries established ties last year. He was due to sign a bilateral agreement on economic cooperation and open an Israeli consulate in Dubai on Wednesday.

The trip is also an opportunity for the two-week-old Israeli government of Naftali Bennett, a nationalist who heads an improbable cross-partisan coalition, to make diplomatic inroads despite long-stymied talks with the Palestinians.

“Israel wants peace with its neighbors – with all its neighbors. We aren’t going anywhere. The Middle East is our home,” Lapid said during the ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Abu Dhabi high-rise office serving as a temporary embassy.

“We’re here to stay. We call on all the countries of the region to recognize that and to come to talk to us,” he said.

Brought together by shared worries about Iran and hopes for commercial boons, the UAE and Bahrain normalized relations with Israel last year under so-called “Abraham Accords” crafted by the administration of then U.S.-President Donald Trump. Sudan and Morocco have since also moved to establish ties with Israel.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken, welcoming Lapid’s visit, said Washington “will continue to work with Israel and the UAE as we strengthen all aspects of our partnerships and work to create a more peaceful, secure, and prosperous future for all the peoples of the Middle East”, the State Department said.

The regional rapprochement was deplored by the Palestinians, who want their demands for statehood free of Israeli occupation addressed first.

President Mahmoud Abbas dismissed the accords as “an illusion” and asserted that colonial powers had “implant(ed) Israel as a foreign body in this region in order to fragment it and keep it weak,” according to a report on Tuesday by the official Palestinian news service WAFA.

Tuesday’s agreement will be the 12th between Israel and the UAE, Lior Haiat, spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, said. Lapid is also set to visit the site of Expo 2020 Dubai, a world fair opening in October where Israel has built a pavilion.

Lapid’s plane transited through Saudi airspace. Riyadh, although not having normalized relations with Israel, last year opened its skies to Israel-UAE flights.

The UAE formally opened its embassy in Israel, temporarily located in the Tel Aviv stock exchange, this month.

Israel’s Abu Dhabi embassy still has only three diplomats and a head of mission, Eitan Na’eh, who has yet to be confirmed as full ambassador. The consulate in Dubai is similarly located in temporary premises.

Lapid was conciliatory toward former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose attempts to organize a trip to the UAE while in office were scotched by COVID-19 restrictions and who has sought to cast his ouster by Bennett as illegitimate.

Thanking Netanyahu as “the architect of the Abraham Accords,” Lapid said: “This moment is his, no less than it is ours.”

(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch and Dan Williams; Additional reporting by Nidal Al-Mughrabi’Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, John Stonestreet, Nick Macfie, William Maclean)

Lasers and flaming torches light up battle over new Israeli settlement

By Ali Sawafta and Rami Ayyub

BEITA, West Bank (Reuters) – In a fusion of the modern and the medieval, green laser beams and flaming torches light up the night sky in a remote part of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, as Palestinians wage a battle to stop a new Jewish settlement.

The “Night Disruption” protests south of Nablus are aimed at halting the rapid growth of a settler outpost that began in early May and is now home to 53 Israeli families on what the Palestinians say is their land.

Israeli troops have shot dead five Palestinians during stone-throwing protests since Givat Eviatar was set up, Palestinian officials said. The Israeli military did not comment on fatalities, but said troops used live fire only as a last resort.

The army has deployed soldiers during the night-time demonstrations, as well as at Friday protests in the nearby village of Beita which have lasted several months.

During the night protests that began last week, burning tires have engulfed settler homes in acrid smoke.

“We come at night, we light up the mountain, to send them a message that they can’t have even an inch of this land,” said one masked Palestinian this week. He lit fires while others flashed laser pointers to dazzle the settlers in their homes.

The Israeli military said it faced “hundreds of Palestinians throwing stones, lighting fires, burning tires and throwing explosives” at its troops.

“The large number of violent rioters endangers the lives of Israeli civilians and a military force has been deployed to provide protection,” it said in a statement.

Protests against an Israeli settlement in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood were one factor behind 11 days of hostilities between Israel and Gaza militants in May in which over 250 Palestinians and 13 in Israel were killed.

SETTLER OUTPOST

The settlers named the outpost after Eviatar Borovsky, an Israeli stabbed to death in 2013 by a Palestinian at a nearby road junction. The outpost has been built up and evacuated three times since then.

But it was set up without government authorization – which makes it illegal under Israeli law – and presents an early test for new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.

Bennett was once a senior leader of the settler movement and heads a far-right religious party.

But he sits precariously atop a new coalition that spans the political spectrum from far-right to far-left, making sensitive policy decisions on the Israeli-Palestinian difficult.

The Israeli military issued an order to evacuate the outpost on June 6. But that was under Bennett’s predecessor Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Bennett replaced on June 13.

The evacuation order has since been postponed, the Israeli military said, and Bennett has not said if he plans to implement it.

A spokesman for Bennett’s office declined comment, but the settlers are intent on staying on what they call “Eviatar’s Hill” and Palestinians call “Jabal Al-Sabih” or “The Morning Mountain”, because the sunlight strikes it early.

“They won’t drive us away from here. This is our homeland, this is our forefathers’ land. We love the land, we want to be here, we know they come out of hate,” said Eli Shapira, a 30-year-old teacher and father of four.

As construction proceeds, some settler families live in caravans. Some roads are already paved, and others are lined with electricity cables.

EAST-WEST CORRIDOR

More than 440,000 Israeli settlers live uneasily among some 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank, land that Israel captured and occupied in a 1967 war but which Palestinians say is the heartland of a future state.

The Palestinians and most countries view Israel’s settlements as illegal under international law. Israel disputes this, citing historical and biblical links to the land and its own security needs.

Palestinian officials say the new outpost would help create an unbroken east-west line of Israeli settlements through the northern West Bank, cutting the territory in half and rendering Palestinian statehood unviable.

The site lies 30 km inside the West Bank in fertile olive and grape-growing territory for Palestinians around Nablus.

Nearby there are many hilltop Jewish settlements, whose residents want to extend their territory.

“Israel is a strong country and not only will we not be weakened, not only will terrorism not scare us or make us flee from our homeland – we will build more and more,” said Yossi Dagan, head of the Shomron Regional Council representing settlements in the area.

On Sunday Israel’s military rejected an appeal by the settlers against evacuation, saying the outpost “undermined security stability” in the area.

The settlers have until Monday to appeal to the Supreme Court, a military spokesman said, although the decision over the evacuation ultimately rests with Bennett.

Moussa Hamayel, Beita’s deputy mayor, said they had heard reports that the outpost might be dismantled. But he was skeptical.

“We don’t trust their promises, not until we see (the outpost) completely empty,” he said.

(Additional reporting by Rami Amichay; Writing by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Stephen Farrell and Mike Collett-White)