Israel says six wounded near Tel Aviv in long-range Gaza rocket attack

A damaged house that was hit by a rocket can be seen north of Tel Aviv, Israel, March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Yair Sagi

By Rami Amichay

MISHMERET, Israel (Reuters) – A long-range rocket launched from the Gaza Strip struck a house in central Israel on Monday, wounding six people in the first such incident since a 2014 war in the Palestinian enclave, Israeli authorities said.

The early morning attack on Mishmeret, an agricultural town north of Tel Aviv, came at a time of high tension ahead of the anniversary of Gaza border protests at the weekend, and with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visiting Washington as he campaigns for a fifth term in an April 9 ballot.

A damaged house that was hit by a rocket can be seen north of Tel Aviv, Israel, March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Yair Sagi

A damaged house that was hit by a rocket can be seen north of Tel Aviv, Israel, March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Yair Sagi

Israel’s commercial capital and outlying communities had last come under such an attack during the 2014 war with Gaza’s dominant Hamas Islamists.

The Magen David Adom ambulance service said it was treating six occupants of a home in Mishmeret, including an infant, for wounds. TV images showed a building with extensive damage, and police said it had also been set aflame.

The strike came minutes after the Israeli military activated air raid sirens in the area and said one rocket had been launched out of the Gaza Strip, a coastal territory 50 miles (80 km) away where Hamas and other factions possess such weapons.

Emmanuel Nahshon, spokesman for Israel’s Foreign Ministry, said the home in Mishmeret was hit by a rocket from Gaza.

There was no immediate Palestinian confirmation.

Two rockets were launched at Tel Aviv on March 14 but caused no casualties or damage, Israel said. It blamed the rocket launches on Hamas, though a security official who declined to be identified by name or nationality later said that the salvo, which missed any built-up areas, had been set off by accident.

There was no immediate comment from Netanyahu on Monday’s incident.

His chief rival in next month’s election, centrist ex-general Benny Gantz, issued a statement accusing the rightist premier of having “bankrupted national security”.

(Writing by Dan Williams; editing by Darren Schuettler)

Israeli warplanes strike Gaza after rockets fired toward Tel Aviv

Israeli soldiers are seen on top of an armoured personnel carrier (APC) near the border between Israel and Gaza on its Israeli side, March 15, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

By Nidal al-Mughrabi

GAZA (Reuters) – Israeli warplanes bombed Hamas targets in the Palestinian enclave of Gaza early on Friday after Israel’s military said militants had fired two rockets toward the city of Tel Aviv.

The air strikes, the heaviest in five months, hit about 100 military targets belonging to Hamas, the Islamist group which controls Gaza, the military said. These included a rocket manufacturing site, a naval post and weapons facility, and a Hamas headquarters, it said.

Palestinian news media reported strikes throughout the densely populated coastal strip that is home to two million Palestinians. Four people were wounded, health ministry officials said.

The Israeli military accused Hamas of firing rockets from Gaza toward Tel Aviv – the first time the seaside city had been targeted since the 2014 Gaza War.

But Hamas denied responsibility and Israeli media, including Ha’aretz and Channel 7 News, later carried reports that the rockets might have been fired from Gaza by mistake.

A security official briefed on the situation, who declined to be identified by name or nationality, told Reuters the launch was “the result of an error – that an attack on Israel was not intended. Israel holds Hamas responsible, hence the response”.

The exchange was the most serious since a botched Israeli commando incursion into Gaza last November.

In the aftermath of that episode, dozens of Israeli air strikes killed seven Palestinians, at least five of them gunmen, and destroyed several buildings. Rocket attacks from Gaza sent residents of southern Israel to shelters, wounding dozens and killing a Palestinian laborer from the occupied West Bank.

SIRENS WAIL

The first rocket attack came on Thursday evening, with warning sirens sounding in the Tel Aviv area and residents hearing explosions.

The Israeli military said two longer-range rockets had been fired from Gaza but caused no casualties or damage. The Israelis retaliated in the early hours of Friday.

Just after dawn, six more missiles were fired from Gaza toward Israeli border towns but all but one were intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system, the military said.

Calm was restored by mid-morning as an Egyptian delegation mediated between Israel and Palestinian factions, a Palestinian official said.

The incident immediately played into the campaign for an election in Israel on April 9 in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking a fifth term on the strength of his security credentials.

His right-wing rival, Naftali Bennett, demanded that Israel resume its killings of Hamas chiefs.

“The time has come to defeat Hamas once and for all,” he said on Thursday night.

Netanyahu also faced pressure from his center-left opponent, former General Benny Gantz, who said: “Only aggressive, harsh action will restore the deterrence that has eroded” under the prime minister’s watch.

Tensions have been high for the past year along the Israel-Gaza frontier, but on Friday morning Palestinian officials canceled the weekly border protests.

Some 200 Palestinians have been killed during the demonstrations that began a year ago and about 60 more have been killed in other incidents, including exchanges of fire across the border. Two Israeli soldiers have been killed by Palestinian fire.

Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from the packed, narrow enclave in 2005 but maintains tight control of its land and sea borders. Egypt also restricts movement in and out of Gaza on its border.

Frustration is growing in Gaza over the dim prospects for an independent Palestinian state. Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been stalled for several years and Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank have expanded.

The 2014 Gaza War was the third between Israel and Hamas in a decade. More than 2,100 Palestinians were killed in Gaza during that war, most of them civilians, along with 66 Israeli soldiers and seven civilians in Israel.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Dan Williams and Rami Ayyub; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Brazil moving its embassy to Jerusalem matter of ‘when, not if’: Netanyahu

Birds fly on a foggy day near the Dome of the Rock, located in Jerusalem's Old City on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, Jerusalem, January 2, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

By Gabriel Stargardter

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Brazil’s President-elect Jair Bolsonaro told him that it was a matter of “when, not if” he moves his country’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

The far-right Bolsonaro, who takes office on Tuesday and is hosting Netanyahu and the leaders of other countries for his inauguration, has said he would like to follow the lead of U.S. President Donald Trump and move the embassy.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Brazil's President-elect Jair Bolsonaro are seen in a synagogue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil December 28, 2018. Leo Correa/Pool via REUTERS

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Brazil’s President-elect Jair Bolsonaro are seen in a synagogue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil December 28, 2018. Leo Correa/Pool via REUTERS

But he has come under intense pressure from Brazil’s powerful agriculture sector not to do so, as it could hurt Brazilian exports to Arab nations. Despite Netanyahu’s comments, a senior official from Brazil’s incoming government told Reuters on Sunday no decision had yet been made on the issue.

Such a move by Bolsonaro would be a sharp shift in Brazilian foreign policy, which has traditionally backed a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Arab League had told Bolsonaro that moving the embassy to Jerusalem would be a setback for relations with Arab countries, according to a letter seen by Reuters earlier in December.

“Bolsonaro told me it was ‘when, not if’ he moves the embassy to Jerusalem,” Netanyahu said on Sunday during a meeting with leaders of Brazil’s Jewish community in Rio de Janeiro.

“We attach enormous importance to Brazil, and Brazil in the context of Latin America,” he added. “This heralds a historic change.”

Netanyahu, who met with Bolsonaro on Friday, said that the Brazilian accepted his invitation to visit Israel, a trip that is likely to take place in March.

Netanyahu is the first Israeli prime minister to visit Brazil.

After he met the Israeli leader, Bolsonaro said that “we need good allies, good friends, good brothers, like Benjamin Netanyahu.”

(Reporting by Gabriel Stargardter; Additional reporting by Rodrigo Viga Gaier; Editing by Brad Brooks and Phil Berlowitz)

Israel’s Netanyahu to make ‘significant’ announcement on Iran

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, April 29, 2018. Sebastian Scheiner/Pool via Reuters/File Photo

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will make a televised announcement Monday evening (1700 GMT) in what his office said would be a “significant development” regarding the nuclear agreement with Iran.

The announcement will be made from Israel’s military headquarters in Tel Aviv, according to a brief statement from Netanyahu’s office.

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will make a statement on a significant development regarding the nuclear agreement with Iran,” the statement said, offering no further details.

Netanyahu met on Sunday with new U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the two had spoken about Iran.

Speaking alongside the Israeli leader, Pompeo said in Tel Aviv: “We remain deeply concerned about Iran’s dangerous escalation of threats towards Israel and the region.”

Netanyahu had said: “I think the greatest threat to the world and to our two countries, and to all countries, is the marriage of militant Islam with nuclear weapons, and specifically the attempt of Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.”

U.S. President Donald Trump has threatened to withdraw from the 2015 agreement reached between Iran and global powers, which granted Tehran relief from economic sanctions in return for curbs to its nuclear program.

Israel has long opposed the agreement. Washington’s major European allies have urged the Trump administration not to abandon it and argue that Iran is abiding by its terms.

(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Peter Graff)

Israel abandons plan to forcibly deport African migrants

FILE PHOTO: A boy takes part in a protest against the Israeli government’s plan to deport African migrants, in Tel Aviv, Israel March 24, 2018. REUTERS/Corinna Kern/File Photo

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The Israeli government said on Tuesday it had abandoned a plan to forcibly deport African migrants who entered the country illegally after failing to find a willing country to take in the migrants.

The government had been working for months on an arrangement to expel thousands of mostly Eritrean and Sudanese men who crossed into Israel through Egypt’s Sinai desert.

“At this stage, the possibility of carrying out an unwilling deportation to a third country is not on the agenda,” the government wrote in a response to Israel’s Supreme Court, which has been examining the case.

The migrants will again be able to renew residency permits every 60 days, as they were before the deportation push, the government said.

The migrants and rights groups say they are seeking asylum and are fleeing war and persecution. The government says they are job seekers and that it has every right to protect its borders.

Despite Tuesday’s climbdown, the government said immigration authorities would still try to deport migrants voluntarily, drawing criticism from rights group Amnesty International.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later said that after failing to reach agreement with any country to take them in, he would try to draft legislation that would allow the reopening of detention centers in Israel for the migrants.

The Supreme Court has previously struck down legislation that permits such detention and ordered the facilities shut.

“I’M THRILLED”

The government’s U-turn was welcomed by those targeted for expulsion.

“I’m thrilled. I’m speechless. I was so scared every day. If I can stay here it will be good, I’ve lived here so long – I have a job, I have Israeli friends. I am used to the place,” said Ristom Haliesilase, a 34-year-old Eritrean who lives in Tel Aviv, working as a carer for the elderly.

The fate of some 37,000 Africans in Israel has posed a moral dilemma for a state founded as a haven for Jews from persecution and a national home.

Around 4,000 migrants have left Israel for Rwanda and Uganda since 2013 under a voluntary program, but Netanyahu has come under pressure from his right-wing voter base to expel thousands more.

After pulling out of a U.N.-backed relocation plan a few weeks ago, Israel shifted efforts toward finalizing an arrangement to send the migrants against their will to Uganda.

A number of migrant rights groups then petitioned the Supreme Court to block any such policy.

Amnesty also welcomed Tuesday’s decision but criticized Israel’s plan to continue with voluntary deportations.

“… in reality there is nothing voluntary about them. Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers agree to them under pressure. Israel remains under the obligation not to transfer anyone to a country” where they would be unsafe, said Magdalena Mughrabi, Amnesty deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Amnesty will closely monitor the deportations, it said.

(Reporting by Maayan Lubell and Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Israel fast-tracks wall, escape route for new U.S. embassy in Jerusalem

FILE PHOTO: View of the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem February 24, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel has expedited construction permits to enable temporary quarters for the U.S. Embassy to open in Jerusalem as planned in May, the Finance Ministry said on Tuesday.

U.S. President Donald Trump in December broke with other world powers by recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and announcing the U.S. Embassy would be moved there from Tel Aviv.

Trump’s reversal of decades of U.S. and broad international policy was welcomed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a “historic decision”. But it drew criticism from around the world and outraged Palestinians, who want a capital for their own future state in eastern parts of the city.

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon attend the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem December 24, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon attend the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem December 24, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo

Israel has said the Embassy will be opened on May 14, the 70th anniversary of its founding. A U.S. official said it would be located at a provisional site in Jerusalem that now houses a U.S. consular section.

Building a permanent embassy could take several years.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon said in a statement that he would empower the Jerusalem municipality to waive the permits that would have been required for a wall and an escape route at the interim site.

“We will not allow needless bureaucracy to hold up the transfer of the American embassy to Jerusalem, Israel’s eternal capital,” Kahlon said.

“This is a strategic diplomatic move for the State of Israel and the planning agencies under me will do whatever is necessary to accommodate the schedule being demanded.”

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat had voiced concern about the timeline, telling Israel Radio on March 9: “I hope their (Americans’) schedule will be kept.”

The Israeli planning permit waiver for the Embassy will be good for three years, the Finance Ministry statement said.

“Initially, the interim Embassy in (the Jerusalem neighbourhood of) Arnona will contain office space for the Ambassador and a small staff,” said a U.S. Embassy official in Tel Aviv.

“By the end of next year, we intend to open a new Embassy Jerusalem annex on the Arnona compound that will provide the Ambassador and his team with expanded interim office space,” he said, adding that a search for site for the construction of a permanent embassy had begun.

Most countries do not recognise either side’s sovereignty in Jerusalem and have embassies to Israel in the Tel Aviv area.

Netanyahu has described Jerusalem as “the capital of the Jewish people for 3,000 years”, and Trump said the embassy move was “a long overdue step to advance the peace process”.

Palestinian leaders said Washington’s decision meant it was no longer an honest broker in efforts to revive peace talks, which collapsed in 2014.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Raissa Kasolowsky)

Israel accuses French consulate employee of smuggling guns to Palestinians

Romain Franck, an employee of the French consulate-general in Jerusalem, appears with co-defendants in the district court in Beersheba, Israel, March 19, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel said on Monday it had arrested a French citizen, an employee of France’s consulate in Jerusalem, on suspicion of using a diplomatic car to smuggle guns from the Islamist Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

Held since Feb 15, Romain Franck is accused of moving a total of 70 pistols and two assault rifles between the Palestinian territories on at least five occasions, the Shin Bet security agency said after a gag order on the case was lifted.

Franck “acted for financial profit, on his own initiative and without the knowledge of his superiors,” a Shin Bet statement said. He is not believed to have also had an ideological motives such as support for Palestinian militants, a Shin Bet official told Reuters.

“This is a very serious incident in which the immunity and privileges granted to foreign diplomatic missions in Israel were cynically exploited to smuggle dozens of weapons that may be used for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and security forces,” the statement said.

Franck, 23, was due to appear at a 1230 GMT Israeli court hearing at which formal charges would be filed. His lawyer could not immediately be reached for comment on how Franck might plead.

A Facebook page under the name Roman Franck, and carrying photographs that looked similar to the mugshot published by the Shin Bet, shows images of the young man against desert vistas.

“Feeling good in Palestine,” says one caption.

A Jan. 17 posting said the Facebook account-holder was “traveling to Jerusalem starting to (sic) a new adventure”.

A spokesman for the French Embassy in Tel Aviv described Franck as “a member of the consulate-general in Jerusalem” and said France was taking the case seriously and cooperating with Israeli authorities.

Franck was arrested along with a Palestinian from East Jerusalem employed as a security guard at the consulate as well as seven other suspects, the Shin Bet said.

It accused him of using a consulate-owned sports utility vehicle, which enjoyed more cursory Israeli security checks due to its diplomatic status, to bring the factory-produced guns from Gaza to Palestinian arms dealers in the West Bank.

According to the Shin Bet statement, Franck received the guns from a Palestinian employed by the French Cultural Centre in Gaza. It could not immediately be reached for comment.

Most countries keep their embassies to Israel in Tel Aviv, as well as consulates in Jerusalem that handle diplomatic outreach to the Palestinians.

Israel counts all of Jerusalem as its capital, a status not recognized abroad although the United States, breaking with other world powers, plans to move its embassy in Israel to the city in May.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they seek to establish in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

(Reporting by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Toby Chopra)

Israeli troops kill Palestinian in West Bank clashes

An Israeli border policeman takes up position during clashes with Palestinian demonstrators at a protest against Trump's decision on Jerusalem, near Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank March 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian man during clashes in the occupied West Bank on Friday, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.

An Israeli military spokesman said the man had been about to throw a fire-bomb at the troops, who were responding to an immediate threat when they shot him. He added that the incident in the city of Hebron would be reviewed.

U.S.-led peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in 2014 and a new push by President Donald Trump’s administration to restart negotiations has shown little progress so far.

Tensions between the sides have risen since Trump declared on Dec. 6 that he recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Outraged Palestinian leaders said Washington could no longer take the lead in peace efforts but Israel has said the United States should remain peace-broker.

Trump’s announcement and the planned move in May of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – home to sites holy to Muslims, Jews and Christians – reversed decades of U.S. policy on the city. Its status is one of the biggest obstacles to reaching a peace agreement.

The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state. Israel says the entire city is its indivisible, and eternal capital.

(Reporting by Ali Sawafta and Maayan Lubell; editing by David Stamp)

Senior Yemen Qaeda leader calls for knife and car attacks on Jews

Defying warnings of new conflict, Trump to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital

DUBAI (Reuters) – A senior leader of al Qaeda’s Yemen branch has called for knife and car attacks on Jews in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the U.S. SITE monitoring group said on Tuesday.

Citing a video recording by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s al-Malahem media foundation, SITE said that Khaled Batarfi, believed to be the number two man in AQAP after Qassim al-Raymi, also warned that no Muslim had the right to cede any part of Jerusalem.

“The Muslims inside the occupied land must kill every Jew, by running him over, or stabbing him, or by using against him any weapon, or by burning their homes,” Batarfi said in the 18-minute-long recording entitled “Our duty towards our Jerusalem”, according to SITE.

“Every Muslim must know that the Americans and the disbeliever West, and on top of them Britain and France, are the original reason behind the existence of the Jews in Palestine.”

Trump enraged Muslims last month when he announced that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and said he intends to transfer the U.S. embassy there.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, on a regional visit, said on Monday that the U.S. Embassy will be moved to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv before the end of 2019.

Batarfi was one of some 150 jailed AQAP members who were freed when the militant group, regarded by the United States as one of the deadliest branches of the network founded by Osama bin Laden, captured the Yemeni port city of Mukalla in 2015, where he was held.

Yemeni forces, baked by a Saudi-led coalition have since recaptured Mukalla and driven AQAP out, but Batarfi, who has since assumed a senior position in the group, remains at large.

AQAP has plotted to down U.S. airliners and claimed responsibility for 2015 attacks on the office of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris. AQAP also has boasted of the world’s most feared bomb makers, Ibrahim Hassan al-Asiri, and the Pentagon estimates it has between about 2,000 and 3,000 fighters.

Batarfi said Muslims in Western countries, including the United States, were obliged to target the interests of Jews and the Americans.

“They must be eager to prepare themselves as much as possible, and to carry out jihadi operations against them,” he added, according to SITE.

Palestinians seek East Jerusalem, including the walled Old City with its holy sites, as the capital of their own future state. Israel, which annexed East Jerusalem after capturing it in 1967 in a move not internationally recognized, regards all of the city as its “eternal and indivisible capital”.

(Reporting by Sami Aboudi)

U.S. plan to move Israel embassy sign of ‘failure’, Iran’s leader says

BEIRUT (Reuters) – U.S. plans to move its Israel embassy to Jerusalem are a sign of incompetence and failure, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday.

U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to announce that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and will move its embassy there, breaking with longtime U.S. policy and potentially stirring unrest.

“That they claim they want to announce Quds as the capital of occupied Palestine is because of their incompetence and failure,” Khamenei said, using the Arabic name for Jerusalem, according to his official website.

He made the remarks to a group of top Iranian officials, regional officials and religious figures attending a conference in Tehran.

Iran has long supported a number of Palestinian militant groups opposed to Israel.

“The issue of Palestine today is at the top of the political issues for Muslims and everyone is obligated to work and struggle for the freedom and salvation of the people of Palestine,” Khamenei said.

At the same gathering, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said, “Quds belongs to Islam, Muslims and the Palestinians, and there is no place for new adventurism by global oppressors,” according to Mizan, the news site for the Iranian judiciary.

Iran wants “peace and stability” in the region but will not tolerate the violation of Islamic holy sites, Rouhani said.

“No Muslim population, including Iran, will tolerate the violation of oppressors and Zionists against Islamic holy sites,” Rouhani said, according to Mizan.

The United States has not been able to reach its goals and seeks to destabilize the region, Khamenei said.

“On the issue of Palestine, (U.S.) hands are tied and they cannot advance their goals,” Khamenei said, saying the Palestinian people would be victorious.

“American government officials have said themselves that we have to start a war in the region to protect the security of the Zionist regime (Israel),” Khamenei said.

Certain rulers in the region are “dancing to America’s tune” Khamenei said, an indirect reference to Iran’s main regional rival Saudi Arabia.

“Whatever America wants, they’ll work against Islam to accomplish it,” he said.

(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh, editing by Larry King)