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)

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

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

By Steve Holland and Miriam Berger

WASHINGTON/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – President Donald Trump will announce on Wednesday 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 threatening regional stability.

Despite warnings from Western and Arab allies, Trump in a 1 p.m. (1800 GMT) White House speech will direct the State Department to begin looking for a site for an embassy in Jerusalem as part of what is expected to be a years-long process of relocating diplomatic operations from Tel Aviv.

Jerusalem’s status has been a stumbling block in decades of on-off Israeli-Palestinian peace efforts. Israel considers the city its eternal and indivisible capital and wants all embassies based there. Palestinians want the capital of an independent Palestinian state in the east of the city.

One Palestinian envoy said the decision was a declaration of war in the Middle East. Pope Francis called for Jerusalem’s “status quo” to be respected, saying new tension would further inflame world conflicts, while China and Russia expressed concern the plans could aggravate regional hostilities.

Washington’s Middle East allies have all warned against the dangerous repercussions of Trump’s decision.

Turkey said it could go as far as breaking off diplomatic ties with Israel if the U.S. move goes ahead. A government spokesman said it would plunge the region into “a fire with no end in sight”.

Trump will sign a national security waiver delaying a physical move since the United States does not have an embassy structure in Jerusalem to move into. A senior administration official said it could take three to four years to build one.

But Trump’s decision, a core promise of his election campaign last year, will upend decades of American policy that has seen the status of Jerusalem as part of a two-state solution for Israelis and Palestinians.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Facebook: “Each day there are very significant manifestations of our historic national identity – but today especially so. And I will have more to add on this later today, on a matter related to Jerusalem.”

The Palestinians have said Trump’s move would mean the “kiss of death” to the two-state solution.

“He is declaring war in the Middle East, he is declaring war against 1.5 billion Muslims (and) hundreds of millions of Christians that are not going to accept the holy shrines to be totally under the hegemony of Israel,” Manuel Hassassian, the chief Palestinian representative to Britain, told BBC radio.

(For a graphic on possible Jerusalem U.S. Embassy sites, click http://tmsnrt.rs/2jIXIoq)

Palestinians seethed with anger and a sense of betrayal.

“Trump wants to help Israel take over the entire city. Some people may do nothing, but others are ready to fight for Jerusalem,” said Hamad Abu Sbeih, 28, an unemployed resident of the walled Old City. “This decision will ignite a fire in the region. Pressure leads to explosions.”

Senior Trump administration officials said Trump’s decision was not intended to tip the scale in Israel’s favor and agreeing on the final status of Jerusalem would remain a central part of any peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

The officials said Trump was basically reflecting a fundamental truth: that Jerusalem is the seat of the Israeli government and should be recognized as such.

“The president believes this is a recognition of reality,” said one official, who briefed reporters on Tuesday about the announcement. “We’re going forward on the basis of a truth that is undeniable. It’s just a fact.”

“NEW ADVENTURISM”

Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed it. The international community does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the entire city, home to sites holy to the Muslim, Jewish and Christian religions.

No other country has its embassy in Jerusalem.

The political benefits for Trump of the move are unclear. The decision will thrill Republican conservatives and evangelical Christians who make up a large share of his political base. But it will complicate Trump’s desire for a more stable Middle East and Israel-Palestinian peace. Past presidents have put off such a move.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the plans were a sign of U.S. “incompetence and failure”, while Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said there was “no place for new adventurism by global oppressors”.

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

Islamist militant groups such as al Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah have in the past tried to exploit Muslim sensitivities over Jerusalem to stoke anti-Israel and anti-U.S. sentiment.

“Our Palestinian people everywhere will not allow this conspiracy to pass, and their options are open in defending their land and their sacred places,” said Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said she intended to speak to Trump about the status of Jerusalem which should be determined as part of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement. Germany and France warned its citizens in Israel and the Palestinian Territories of the risk of unrest.

‘SERIOUS IMPLICATIONS’

The decision comes as Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, leads a relatively quiet effort to restart long-stalled peace efforts in the region, with little in the way of tangible progress thus far.

“The president will reiterate how committed he is to peace. While we understand how some parties might react, we are still working on our plan which is not yet ready. We have time to get it right and see how people feel after this news is processed over the next period of time,” one senior official said.

As well as Netanyahu, Trump spoke to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Jordan’s King Abdullah and Saudi King Salman to inform them of his decision.

The Jordanian king “affirmed that the decision will have serious implications that will undermine efforts to resume the peace process and will provoke Muslims and Christians alike,” said a statement from his office.

Abbas warned Trump of the “dangerous consequences” that moving the embassy would have for peace efforts and regional stability, Abbas spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah said.

But Trump assured Abbas that he remained committed to facilitating an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal, one U.S. official said.

United Nations spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters it regarded Jerusalem as a “final-status issue that must be resolved through direct negotiations between the two parties based on relevant Security Council resolutions.”

Trump has weighted U.S. policy toward Israel since taking office in January, considering the Jewish state a strong ally in a volatile part of the world.

But deliberations over the status of Jerusalem were tense. Vice President Mike Pence and David Friedman, U.S. Ambassador to Israel, pushed hard for both recognition and embassy relocation, while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis opposed the move from Tel Aviv, according to other U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

An impatient Trump finally weighed in, telling aides last week he wanted to keep his campaign promise.

(Additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Matt Spetalnick and John Walcott in Washington and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, Michael Nienaber in Berlin, Costas Pitas in London, Philip Pullella in Vatican City, Babak Dehghanpisheh in Beirut, Dmitry Solovyov in Moscow; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

Palestinians seethe at Trump’s ‘insane’ Jerusalem move

Palestinians seethe at Trump's 'insane' Jerusalem move

By Ali Sawafta

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Palestinians seethed with anger and a sense of betrayal over U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize the disputed city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Many heard the death knell for the long-moribund U.S.-sponsored talks aimed at ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel. They also said more violence could erupt.

“Trump wants to help Israel take over the entire city. Some people may do nothing, but others are ready to fight for Jerusalem,” said Hamad Abu Sbeih, 28, an unemployed resident of the walled Old City.

“This decision will ignite a fire in the region. Pressure leads to explosions,” he said.

Jerusalem — specifically its eastern Old City, home to important shrines of Judaism, Christianity and Islam — is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israeli captured Arab East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East War then later annexed it in a move not recognized internationally. Palestinians want it to be the capital of a future independent state and resolution of its status is fundamental to any peace-making.

Trump is due to announce later on Wednesday that the United States recognizes the city as Israel’s capital and will move its embassy there from Tel Aviv, breaking with longtime policy..

“This is insane. You are speaking about something fateful. Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Palestine and neither the world nor our people will accept it,” said Samir Al-Asmar, 58, a merchant from the Old City who was a child when it fell to Israel.

“It will not change what Jerusalem is. Jerusalem will remain Arab. Such a decision will sabotage things and people will not accept it.”

Palestinian newspapers also decried the move.

“Trump Defies the World,” thundered Al-Ayyam. Another, Al-Hayat, roared “Jerusalem is the Symbol of Palestinian Endurance” in a red-letter headline over an image of the city’s mosque compound flanked by Palestinian flags.

Palestinian leaders have also warned the move could have dangerous consequences. Although winter rains dampened protests called for East Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and Hamas-dominated Gaza Strip, few doubted fresh bloodshed now loomed.

Israeli security forces braced for possible unrest but police said the situation in Jerusalem was calm for now.

That could quickly change, given the religious passions that swirl around the Old City, where Al Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest shrine, abuts the Western Wall prayer plaza, a vestige of two ancient Jewish temples.

Palestinians mounted two uprisings, or intifadas, against Israeli occupation from 1987 to 1993 then from 2000 to 2005, the latter ignited by a visit by then-opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the shrine area, known to Jews as Temple Mount.

Violent confrontations also took place in July when Israel installed metal detectors at an entrance to Al-Aqsa compound after Arab gunmen holed up there killed two of its policemen. Four Palestinians and three Israelis died in ensuing violence.

ANGRY IN GAZA

In the Palestinian coastal enclave of Gaza, demonstrators chanted “Death to America”, “Death to Israel” and “Down with Trump”. They also burned posters depicting the U.S., British and Israeli flags.

Youssef Mohammad, a 70-year-old resident of a refugee camp, said Trump’s move would be a test for Arab leadership at a time of regional chaos and shifting alliances.

“Let him do it. Let’s see what Arab rulers and kings will do. They will do nothing because they are cowards,” the father of eight said.

The Jerusalem uproar could affect Egyptian-brokered efforts to bring Gaza, which has been under Islamist Hamas control for a decade, back under the authority of U.S.-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who favors negotiation with Israel.

Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said Trump’s planned moved showed the United States was biased.

“The United States was never a neutral mediator in any cause of our people. It has always stood with the occupation (Israel),” he said.

He said Abbas’ administration should “rid itself of the illusion that rights can be achieved through an American-backed deal”.

(Corrects Ariel Sharon’s title to opposition leader)

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Editing by Ori Lewis and Angus MacSwan)

Trump likely to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital next week: official

Trump likely to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital next week: official

By Steve Holland and Matt Spetalnick

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump is likely to announce next week that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, a senior administration official said on Friday, a move that would upend decades of American policy and possibly inflame tensions in the Middle East.

Trump could make the controversial declaration in a speech on Wednesday though he is also expected to again delay his campaign promise to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. The senior official and two other government sources said final decisions had not yet been made.

The Palestinians want Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, and the international community does not recognize Israel’s claim on all of the city, home to sites holy to the Jewish, Muslim and Christian religions.

Word of Trump’s planned announcement, which would deviate from previous U.S. presidents who have insisted the Jerusalem’s status must be decided in negotiations, drew criticism from the Palestinian Authority and was sure to anger the broader Arab world.

It could also unravel the U.S. administration’s fledgling diplomatic effort, led by Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, to restart long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and enlist the support of U.S. Arab allies.

Nabil Abu Rdainah, spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would “destroy the peace process” and “destabilize the region.”

Such a move, however, could help satisfy the pro-Israel, right-wing base that helped Trump win the presidency and also please the Israeli government, a close U.S. ally.

The senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said details were still being finalized and could still change.

Another U.S. official said Trump appeared to be heading toward recognizing Israel’s claim to Jerusalem but that it was not a done deal.

“We’ve nothing to announce,” said a spokesperson with the White House National Security Council.

INTERNAL DELIBERATIONS

Trump’s impending decisions on Jerusalem, one of the most sensitive core issues of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, follow intense internal deliberations in which the president has personally weighed in, one White House aide said.

Trump is likely to continue his predecessors’ practice of signing a six-month waiver overriding a 1995 law requiring that the U.S. embassy be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, two officials told Reuters on Thursday.

But seeking to temper his supporters’ concerns, another option under consideration is for Trump to order his aides to develop a longer-term plan for the embassy’s relocation to make clear his intent to do so eventually, the officials said.

It was unclear, however, whether any public recognition by Trump of Israel’s claim on Jerusalem would be formally enshrined in a presidential action or be more of a symbolic statement.

Trump pledged on the presidential campaign trail last year that he would move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

But in June, Trump waived the requirement, saying he wanted to “maximize the chances” for a new U.S.-led push for what he has called the “ultimate deal” of Israeli-Palestinian peace. Those efforts have made little, if any, progress so far and many experts are skeptical of the prospects for success.

The status of Jerusalem is one of the major stumbling blocks in achieving peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem during the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed it, a move not recognized internationally.

Arab governments and Western allies have long urged Trump not to proceed with the embassy relocation, which would reverse long-standing U.S. policy by granting de facto U.S. recognition of Israel’s claim to all of Jerusalem as its capital.

Visiting Washington this week, Jordan’s King Abdullah warned lawmakers that moving the U.S. embassy could be “exploited by terrorists to stoke anger, frustration and desperation,” according to the Jordanian state news agency Petra.

Some of Trump’s top aides have privately pushed for him to keep his campaign promise to satisfy a range of supporters, including evangelical Christians, while others have cautioned about the potential damage to U.S. relations with Muslim countries.

(Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed in Washington, Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Writing by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Richard Chang)

Israel would go ‘all-out’ if war breaks out again with Lebanon: air force chief

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) speaks with Amir Eshel, commander of the Israeli Air Force, as they stand next to a David's Sling launcher system during a ceremony in which Israel declared its "David's Sling" intermediate-range air defence shield fully operational, at Hatzor air base in southern Israel April 2, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel would use all its strength from the start in any new war with the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, the chief of the Israeli air force said on Wednesday, sending a firm warning a decade after their last conflict.

At the annual Herzliya security conference near Tel Aviv, Major-General Amir Eshel said qualitative and quantitative improvements in the air force since the 2006 Lebanon war meant it could carry out in just two or three days the same number of bombings it mounted in those 34 days of fighting.

“If war breaks out in the north, we have to open with all our strength from the start,” he said, pointing to the likelihood of international pressure for a quick ceasefire before Israel can achieve all its strategic goals.

Israeli politicians and generals have spoken often of an intention to hit hard in Lebanon if war breaks out, in an apparent bid to deter Hezbollah. Eshel said in 2014 that another conflict could see Israeli attacks 15 times more devastating for Lebanon than in 2006.

But at the conference, Eshel noted that “many elements busy achieving their goals” in Syria’s civil war were interested in preventing any fresh hostilities in Lebanon, where Israel says Hezbollah has built up an arsenal of more than 100,000 rockets.

Since early in the six-year-old Syria war, Hezbollah’s energies have been focused on propping up President Bashar al-Assad in alliance with Iran and Russia, throwing thousands of its fighters into battle against Syrian rebels.

But the Shi’ite group has not altered its view of Israel as its foremost enemy, and Israel’s military has said it regards Hezbollah in the same way.

CROWDED SKIES

Although Israel has kept to the sidelines of the war in Syria, Israeli aircraft have targeted suspected Iranian arms shipments to Hezbollah, operations complicated by Russian and U.S. air activity in the region.

“The skies of the Middle East are a lot more crowded than before, with lots of players,” Eshel said, pointing to the need for the air force to operate “surgically” to avoid “mistakes”.

On the other hand, such strikes, he said, also act as a deterrent to Hezbollah, whose missile capabilities could mean that the air force and the rest of the Israeli military will fight any future Lebanon war with their own bases under attack.

Eshel cautioned residents in southern Lebanon, a Hezbollah stronghold, to leave their homes if a new conflict erupts, saying the Iranian-backed group uses civilian homes as “launching bases for missiles and rockets”

About 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 160 Israelis, most of them troops fighting Hezbollah, were killed in the 2006 war, which displaced a million people in Lebanon and up to 500,000 in Israel.

(Editing by Luke Baker and Andrew Heavens)

Trump visit seen as long shot to revive Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking

A labourer stands on a crane as he hangs an American flag to a street post, in preparation for the upcoming visit of U.S. President Donald Trump to Israel, in Jerusalem May 18, 2017. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

By Matt Spetalnick and Jeffrey Heller

WASHINGTON/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Just four months after taking office, Donald Trump will make the earliest foray into Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking by any U.S. president next week. But with mounting obstacles at home and abroad, he faces long odds of succeeding where more experienced predecessors have failed.

Even as last-minute changes are being made to Trump’s ambitious Middle East itinerary, the trip has been complicated by Israeli concerns about his sharing of sensitive intelligence with Russia that may have compromised an Israeli agent, and by his decision to hold off on a campaign promise to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Adding to those issues, disarray in the White House over Trump’s firing of FBI director James Comey and swirling controversy over his aides’ contacts with Russia appear to have distracted from efforts to prepare the new president for what could be the most complex leg of his first international tour.

Trump has boasted that with his negotiating skills he can bring Israelis and Palestinians together to resolve one of the world’s most intractable conflicts and do “the ultimate deal”.

But officials on both sides see scant prospects for any major breakthrough in long-stalled negotiations during his 24-hour visit on Monday and Tuesday.

Even if Trump’s on-the-ground engagement may be premature, some experts say he can be expected to press Israeli and Palestinian leaders for conciliatory words if not gestures – and the two sides may struggle to accommodate him.

“The only variable that has changed is President Trump, and the fact that President Trump wants to do a deal,” said Robert Danin, a former adviser to the Middle East “Quartet” of international peace backers and now a senior analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank.

“Given the president’s proclivities, no one wants to get on his bad side,” he said.

The visit will be a significant foreign policy test for Trump, who has yet to demonstrate a firm grasp of the nuances of Middle East diplomacy. Top advisers he has tasked with nuts-and-bolts negotiations, led by his son-in-law Jared Kushner, are also lacking experience.

The two leaders most needed to rejuvenate the peace process, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, have shown little inclination toward significant concessions – though experts say they have no choice but to cooperate with Trump.

White House aides insist Trump is getting up-to-speed on the issues and that the time could be right for his “disruptive” approach to challenge failed policies of the past.

Israeli officials appear unconvinced. Asked if he understood what Trump’s Middle East policy was, one senior official replied: “I’m not entirely sure they know what it is.”

NO PEACE PLAN

Flying in directly from his first stop in Saudi Arabia, Trump is unlikely to lay out Middle East peace proposals, not least because, as aides acknowledge, his administration has yet to craft a strategy.

There are also no plans for Trump – who will see Netanyahu in Jerusalem and Abbas in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank – to bring the two together, one senior U.S. official said. “We don’t think it’s the right time just yet,” the aide said.

The last round of peace talks collapsed in 2014, a key stumbling block being Israel’s settlement-building on occupied land that Palestinians want for a state.

While Israelis and Palestinians alike are uncertain what Trump will ask of them, experts believe he will be looking to coax them to make an explicit commitment to return to the table without pre-conditions, start work on a timetable for talks and consider mutual “confidence-building” steps.

Israeli officials have been especially unnerved by Trump. They did not expect any real pressure on the Palestinian issue after campaign rhetoric that promised a more pro-Israel approach than his predecessor Barack Obama, who had an acrimonious relationship with Netanyahu.

The Israeli leader, whose far-right coalition partners oppose the creation of a Palestinian state, has told his ministers he is waiting to hear more from Trump before making any proposals of his own.

Amid speculation that Washington could push for a regional peace conference, Netanyahu has conferred with advisers on what he would have to offer if he wants to draw in Saudi Arabia and Gulf states in a bid for broader Arab-Israeli rapprochement, Israeli officials said.

Trump, who has hosted Netanyahu and Abbas separately at the White House, caught the Israeli leader off guard in February when he urged him to “hold back on settlements for a bit”.

In another jolt to Netanyahu and his allies, senior administration officials said on Wednesday that Trump had ruled out any immediate relocation of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, a campaign promise that had pleased Israelis but if implemented would upend decades of U.S. policy and make it all but impossible for the Palestinians to re-enter talks.

Trump remains committed to an embassy move and could reaffirm that without specifying a timeframe, one official said. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital, a position not recognized internationally. Palestinians want East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, as the capital of their future state, along with Gaza and the West Bank.

PALESTINIANS COOPERATIVE BUT WARY

While welcoming Trump’s efforts and committing themselves to work with him, some Palestinian officials remain wary that he has yet to publicly back a two-state solution, the longtime bedrock of U.S. and international policy.

Trump said in February he was not necessarily wedded to that idea, saying he was happy with any deal that “both parties like”.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Palestinians were taking Trump’s efforts with “a very strong dose of healthy skepticism”.

U.S. officials said the administration is also seeking to enlist Israel’s Sunni Arab neighbors, who share Israeli concerns about Shi’ite Iran, in a broader regional peace process.

Some Gulf Arab diplomats have floated the notion of making a positive gesture toward Israel, possibly a limited upgrading of diplomatic and economic ties, in exchange for up-front concessions to the Palestinians.

Dennis Ross, a veteran former Middle East negotiator who has been consulted by Trump’s aides, said the president must avoid raising hopes for a quick resolution of the conflict that has eluded successive U.S. administrations.

“The president may be right, this is the ultimate deal,” he said, “but it’s definitely not just around the corner.”

(Additional reporting by Steve Holland and Jeff Mason in Washington, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Rinat Harash in Jerusalem; editing by Luke Baker and Mark Trevelyan)

Israel, White House discussing Trump visit: Israeli official

U.S. President Donald Trump talks to the media next to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue during a roundtable discussion with farmers at the White House in Washington, U.S. April 25, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel and the White House are in preliminary discussions about a visit to Israel by U.S. President Donald Trump as early as next month, an Israeli government official said on Wednesday.

A Trump visit would mark an early personal engagement by the new Republican president in efforts to resolve the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met Trump in the White House in February, one of the first foreign leaders to do so after the wealthy businessman took office in January, and has spoken of positive change in U.S. Middle East policy after years of friction with Trump’s Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama.

“There are preliminary contacts between the (Israeli) Foreign Ministry and the White House and there is a 70 percent chance that a (Trump) presidential visit will happen,” the Israeli official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because a trip had not been finalised.

Trump has said he intends to pursue efforts to achieve Israeli-Palestinian peace. The last round of talks between the two adversaries collapsed in 2014. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is due to see Trump in Washington on May 3.

Praising U.S. policy since Trump entered the White House, Netanyahu has cited in particular a U.S. missile strike in Syria on April 6 in retaliation for what Washington charged was a Syrian government chemical weapons attack in a rebel-held area that killed scores of civilians. Damascus denied responsibility.

Netanyahu had an often tense relationship with Obama over the 2015 U.S.-backed Iran nuclear deal and Israeli settlement building on occupied land that Palestinians want for a state.

His vision for a two-state resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict unfulfilled, Obama came to Israel twice in his eight years as president – in 2013 and last September for the funeral of Israeli elder statesman Shimon Peres.

Trump, who appeared to surprise Netanyahu at their White House meeting by urging him to curb settlements, is due to make his first overseas visit as president, to Europe in May.

A senior U.S. administration official said last week a stop in Saudi Arabia might be added.

(Writing by Ori Lewis; editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Heinrich)

U.S.-Israeli teen arrested in Israel for Jewish center bomb threats

U.S.-Israeli teen (2ndL) arrested in Israel on suspicion of making bomb threats against Jewish community centres in the United States, Australia and New Zealand over the past three months, is seen before the start of a remand hearing at Magistrate's Court in Rishon Lezion, Israel March 23, 2017. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

By Jeffrey Heller and Joseph Ax

JERUSALEM/NEW YORK (Reuters) – A teenager with dual Israeli-U.S. citizenship was arrested in Israel on Thursday on suspicion of making dozens of hoax bomb threats against Jewish community centers in the United States, Australia and New Zealand.

The suspect, whose identity remains sealed pursuant to a court order, is 18, Jewish and a dual U.S.-Israeli national, a police spokesman said.

The teenager’s alleged motives were not immediately clear.

At a court hearing near Tel Aviv, the suspect’s defense attorney, Galit Bash, said the young man has a growth in his head that causes behavioral problems. She later told Reuters he has a brain tumor, which “may affect his behavior, his ability to understand right and wrong,” and said the teen’s father had also been held in connection with the case.

U.S. federal authorities have been investigating a surge of threats against Jewish organizations, including more than 100 bomb threats in separate waves over the past three months targeting Jewish community centers (JCCs) in dozens of states.

The threats prompted criticism of U.S. President Donald Trump for what some Jewish groups saw as an inadequate response from his administration. He condemned the incidents in a major speech to Congress in February.

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Thursday said the arrest reflected the government’s determination to prosecute those who perpetrate hate crimes.

“… we will not tolerate the targeting of any community in this country on the basis of their religious beliefs,” Sessions said in a statement.

Israeli police said the teenager is believed to be responsible for most of the threats, though the precise number was not immediately clear.

The suspect, who is accused of targeting centers in Australia and New Zealand as well as the United States, began making the calls in January using advanced masking technologies to hide his identity, police said.

Authorities also said he was responsible for a previous bomb threat against a Delta Airlines flight in January 2015 at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, which took part in the probe, confirmed the arrest but declined to offer further details.

The threats forced the evacuation of many JCCs, including some with day care and school facilities for infants and young children. Coupled with other incidents such as the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, they have stoked fears of a resurgence in anti-Semitism in the United States.

In a statement, the president of the JCC Association of North America said JCC leaders were “troubled” the teenager appears to be Jewish.

The Anti-Defamation League, which fights anti-Semitism in the United States, said the alleged perpetrator’s actions mattered more than his background.

“While the details of this crime remain unclear, the impact of this individual’s actions is crystal clear: these were acts of anti-Semitism,” the organization said in a statement.

Bash said her client was home-schooled and incapable of holding down a job. She added he had been found medically unfit for Israel’s compulsory military service.

A judge ruled that he be held for at least eight more days.

U.S. authorities previously made one other arrest in connection with the threats. Juan Thompson, a former journalist from St. Louis, is accused of making several threats to Jewish organizations while posing as an ex-girlfriend as part of a revenge plot against her.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem and Joseph Ax in New York; Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem and Baz Ratner and Rami Amichay in Rishon Lezion; Editing by Daniel Wallis and James Dalgleish)

Microsoft to continue to invest over $1 billion a year on cyber security

Microsoft

By Tova Cohen

TEL AVIV (Reuters) – U.S. software firm Microsoft Corp <MSFT.O> will continue to invest over $1 billion annually on cyber security research and development in the coming years, a senior executive said.

This amount does not include acquisitions Microsoft may make in the sector, Bharat Shah, Microsoft vice president of security, told Reuters on the sidelines of the firm’s BlueHat cyber security conference in Tel Aviv.

“As more and more people use cloud, that spending has to go up,” Shah said.

While the number of attempted cyber attacks was 20,000 a week two or three years ago, that figure had now risen to 600,000-700,000, according to Microsoft data.

Long known for its Windows software, Microsoft has shifted focus to the cloud where it is dueling with larger rival Amazon.com <AMZN.O> to control the still fledgling market.

In October it said quarterly sales from its flagship cloud product Azure, which businesses can use to host their websites, apps or data, rose 116 percent.

In addition to its internal security investments, Microsoft has bought three security firms, all in Israel, in a little over two years: enterprise security startup Aorato, cloud security firm Adallom, and Secure Islands, whose data and file protection technology has been integrated into cloud service Azure Information Protection.

Financial details of these deals were not disclosed.

“If you are talking about an ecosystem with more than 400 start-ups it’s not really a coincidence. Israel is huge in security,” said Secure Islands founder Yuval Eldar.

Microsoft’s venture arm has also made three cyber security investments in Israel, including this week an undisclosed amount in Illusive Networks, which uses deception technology to detect attacks and has been installed at banks and retailers.

Earlier this month Microsoft said it invested in Israel’s Team8, which created Illusive Networks.

Though Microsoft does not have any near-term plans to implement deception technology, “we look at lots of different technologies that might be of use in the future,” Shah said.

Shah believes that in the next year or so progress should be made in moving toward broader implementation of user authentication without need for a password.

Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system includes Windows Hello, which allows users to scan their face, iris or fingerprints to verify their identity and sign in.

(Reporting by Tova Cohen; Editing by Steven Scheer and Adrian Croft)