IDF response to Anti-Aircraft missile entering its air space

Zechariah 12:3 “ And it shall happen in that day that I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces, though all nations of the earth are gathered against it.

Important Takeaways:

  • IDF: Syrian anti-aircraft missile explodes over Israel, no interception needed
  • An anti-aircraft missile fired from Syria exploded in the air over northern Israel early Wednesday morning, setting off warning sirens in the town of Umm al-Fahm and communities in the northern West Bank, the army said.
  • Shrapnel landed near the Homesh outpost, causing a small fire, according to Rescuers Without Borders, a Jewish emergency service operating in the West Bank
  • The anti-aircraft missile had apparently been fired in response to an Israeli airstrike on sites near Damascus
  • The IDF said that in response to the Syrian anti-aircraft missile entering Israeli airspace, Israel struck several Syrian air defense batteries inside Syria, including the “Syrian radar and anti-aircraft batteries that launched missiles at IAF aircraft.”
  • “The IDF will continue to protect Israel’s airspace and security,” the military’s statement said.

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Uncommon blast of snow in Jerusalem

Luke 21:25,26 “There will be signs in sun and moon and stars, and on the earth dismay among nations, in perplexity at the roaring of the sea and the waves, men fainting from fear and the expectation of the things which are coming upon the world; for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.

Important Takeaways:

  • Jerusalem blanketed in white after rare snowfall
  • Main highways to Jerusalem and its major arteries were shut, and schools and businesses closed for the day as municipal snowplows worked to clear streets.
  • Israel Police also closed major highways in the mountainous West Bank due to the hazardous road conditions.
  • Snowfall in the hills around Jerusalem is uncommon, occurring perhaps once per winter.

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Israel moves ahead with thousands of settler homes despite U.S. opposition

By Jeffrey Heller and Maayan Lubell

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israel moved forward on Wednesday with plans to build some 3,000 homes for Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank, defying the Biden administration’s strongest criticism to date of such projects.

A senior Palestinian official said the decision showed that Israel’s new government, led by far-right politician Naftali Bennett, was “no less extreme” than the administration of the veteran leader he replaced, Benjamin Netanyahu.

An Israeli defense official said a planning forum of Israel’s liaison office with the Palestinians gave preliminary approval for plans to build 1,344 housing units and its final go-ahead for projects to construct 1,800 homes.

It will be up to Defense Minister Benny Gantz, a centrist in Israel’s politically diverse government, to give the nod for construction permits to be issued, with further friction with Washington looming.

“This government is trying to balance between its good relations with the Biden administration and the various political constraints,” a senior Israeli official told Reuters.

The United States on Tuesday said it was “deeply concerned” about Israel’s plans to advance thousands of settlement units. It called such steps damaging to prospects for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and said it strongly opposes settlement expansion.

Washington desisted from such criticism when President Joe Biden’s Republican predecessor Donald Trump was in office.

A senior U.S. State department official said Secretary of State Antony Blinken had discussed the issue with Gantz on Tuesday. Their phone call was first reported by the Axios news website, which cited Israeli officials as saying the chief U.S. diplomat voiced U.S. opposition to the settlement plan.

The latest projects, as well as tenders published on Sunday for more than 1,300 settler homes, amounted to the first major test case over settlement policy with the Biden administration that took office in January.

“The behavior of the Israeli government under Bennett is no less extreme than what it had been under Netanyahu,” Bassam Al-Salhe, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization, told Reuters.

“The U.S. administration has words, and no deeds, to change the policy that had been put in place by Trump,” Salhe said.

There was no immediate comment from Washington on Wednesday.

TIGHTROPE

Walking a political and diplomatic tightrope, Bennett has been facing calls from settler leaders to step up construction. Such projects are likely to be welcomed by his ultranationalist constituents, who share his opposition to Palestinian statehood.

But along with the prospect of straining relations with Washington, Bennett could also alienate left-wing and Arab parties in a coalition governing with a razor-thin parliamentary majority, if they view settlement plans as too ambitious.

Most countries regard the settlements Israel has built in territory it captured in a 1967 Middle East war as illegal.

Israel disputes this and has settled some 440,000 Israelis in the West Bank, citing biblical, historical and political ties to the area, where 3 million Palestinians live.

Palestinians seek to create a state in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014.

(Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem, Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Humeyra Pamuk, Simon Lewis and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Howard Goller)

Israel says it will loan Palestinians money after highest-level talks in years

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israel will lend the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority more than $150 million after the sides held their highest-level meeting in years, Israeli officials said on Monday, while playing down prospects of any major diplomatic breakthrough.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, who has overall responsibility for the Israeli-occupied West Bank, travelled to the Palestinian self-rule area of the territory for previously undisclosed talks on Sunday with President Mahmoud Abbas.

A source close to Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said the premier had approved the Gantz-Abbas meeting and deemed it a “routine” matter. “There is no diplomatic process with the Palestinians, nor will there be one,” the source told Reuters.

U.S.-sponsored talks on founding a Palestinian state stalled in 2014. The Gantz-Abbas meeting took place as Bennett, a nationalist who opposes Palestinian statehood, returned from his first talks with U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington.

PA official Hussein Al Sheikh said the talks with Gantz included “all aspects” of Palestinian-Israeli relations.

Abbas coordinates West Bank security with Israel. Both sides are wary of Hamas Islamists who seized the Gaza Strip, another Palestinian territory, from Abbas in 2007.

But Israel chafes at stipends the PA pays to militants jailed or killed in attacks on Israelis. In a protest measure, the Bennett government last month withheld $180 million from 2020 tax revenues it collected on behalf of the PA. A Gantz spokeswoman said that policy was unchanged.

The 500 million shekel ($155 million) loan was meant to help “with vital PA functions” and would be repaid in 2022 out of future tax revenues collected by Israel, the spokeswoman said.

A White House statement said Biden, during his talks with Bennett on Friday, reiterated his support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and “underscored the importance of steps to improve the lives of Palestinians”.

Bennett did not mention Palestinians in public remarks at the White House that focused largely on arch-enemy Iran’s nuclear program.

Gantz, a centrist in Bennett’s coalition government, has called in the past for resumption of a peace process with the Palestinians, who aspire to a state of their own in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israel captured those territories in the 1967 Middle East war.

But any renewed movement on the issue could shake the foundations of Bennett’s government of left-wing, rightist, centrist and Arab parties that in June ended the conservative Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year run as prime minister.

In a sign of friction within the coalition, Mossi Raz, a legislator from the left-wing Meretz party, said dismissal of prospects for renewed peace talks by the Bennett source was “outrageous.”

“A peace process is an Israeli interest,” Raz wrote on Twitter.

(Additional reporting by Dan Williams and Ali Sawafta; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Howard Goller)

Former UN rights boss to head probe into Israel, Hamas alleged crimes

GENEVA (Reuters) – Former United Nations human rights chief Navi Pillay will head an international commission of inquiry into alleged crimes committed during the latest conflict between Israel and the Islamist group Hamas in Gaza, the U.N.’s Human Rights Council said in a statement on Thursday.

The council agreed in late May to launch the investigation with a broad mandate to probe all alleged violations, not just in Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank, but also in Israel during hostilities that were halted by a May 21 ceasefire.

At least 250 Palestinians and 13 people in Israel were killed in the fierce fighting, which saw Gaza militants fire rockets towards Israeli cities and Israel carry out air strikes across the coastal enclave.

Michelle Bachelet, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, told the council at the time that deadly Israeli strikes on Gaza might constitute war crimes and that Hamas had violated international humanitarian law by firing rockets into Israel.

Israel rejected the resolution adopted by the Geneva forum at an emergency special session and said it would not cooperate.

Pillay, a former South African judge who served as U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights from 2008-2014, will lead the three-person panel also composed of Indian expert Miloon Kothari and Australian expert Chris Sidoti, said the statement issued by the Human Rights Council. The investigators, who have been tasked with trying to identify those responsible for violations with a view to ensure they are held accountable, are due to present their first report in June 2022.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Israeli settlements amount to war crime – U.N. rights expert

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) -Israeli settlements in east Jerusalem and the West Bank amount to a war crime, a U.N. human rights investigator said on Friday, calling on countries to inflict a cost on Israel for its “illegal occupation.”

Michael Lynk, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory, was addressing a session of the U.N. Human Rights Council, boycotted by Israel which does not recognize his mandate or cooperate with him.

“I conclude that the Israeli settlements do amount to a war crime,” Lynk said.

He said the settlements violate an absolute ban on an occupying power transferring part of its civilian population into an occupied territory, thereby meeting the definition of a war crime under the Rome Statute founding the International Criminal Court (ICC).

“I submit to you that this finding compels the international community … to make it clear to Israel that its illegal occupation, and its defiance of international law and international opinion, can and will no longer be cost-free,” Lynk told the Geneva rights forum.

Many countries consider the settlements a breach of international law. Israel disputes this and cites Biblical and historical connections to the land, as well as security needs.

In a separate statement, Lynk said Israeli settlements were “the engine of Israel’s 54-year-old occupation.” There are now close to 300 settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, with more than 680,000 Israeli settlers, he said.

The United States, Israel’s closest ally which has observer status at the council, was not on the speakers’ list for the debate.

Lotte Knudsen, the European Union’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, said the settlements were illegal under international law, echoing the position of most countries.

“Such actions as forced transfers, evictions, demolitions, and confiscation of homes will only escalate an already tense environment.”

Palestinian Ambassador Ibrahim Khraishi said Israel detained 5,000 Palestinians, some of them for more than 20 years.

Palestinians want to establish an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital, but the issue of Jewish settlements on land captured by Israel in a 1967 war has long been a stumbling block in the peace process. The last round of peace talks collapsed in 2014.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Mark Heinrich and Giles Elgood)

Israel to sell Jordan additional water this year, minister says

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel will this year double its supply of water to Jordan, Israeli officials said on Thursday after a meeting between the countries’ foreign ministers, adding that Amman’s exports to Palestinians in the occupied West Bank could also increase.

Jordan is a key security partner for Israel but relations have suffered in recent years over Israeli-Palestinian tensions.

Yair Lapid, foreign minister in a cross-partisan coalition that ousted conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government a month ago, said Israel would sell Jordan 50 million cubic meters of water this year.

An Israeli official said that would effectively double the supply for the year – measured between May 2021 and May 2022 – as around 50 million cubic meters was already being sold or given to Jordan. A Jordanian official said Israel gives the kingdom 30 million cubic meters annually under their 1994 peace treaty.

In a statement issued after he held a first meeting in Jordan with its foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, Lapid said the countries also agreed to explore increasing Jordan’s exports to the West Bank to $700 million a year, from $160 million now.

“The Kingdom of Jordan is an important neighbor and partner,” Lapid said. “We will broaden economic cooperation for the good of the two countries.”

(Writing by Dan Williams and Suleiman al-Khalidi; Editing by Giles Elgood)

Israel tears down Bedouin tents in Palestinian village

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israel demolished the tent dwellings of at least 63 Bedouin in a village in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, a Palestinian official said, in an area designated by the Israeli military as a firing zone.

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said around 35 children were among those at risk of “(forced) transfer” following the demolitions in the Jordan Valley village of Khirbet Humsah.

Palestinians and rights groups accuse Israel of trying to forcibly clear out Khirbet Humsah’s Bedouin – who witnesses said remained at the site after the demolitions – to make room for Jewish settlement expansion.

Muataz Bsharat, an official in the Palestinian Authority that administers limited self-rule in the West Bank, said it was the seventh time Israeli authorities had destroyed tent dwellings as well as animal shelters, latrines, solar panels and water containers in the village.

“Now 63 Palestinians became homeless. Eleven families had their homes demolished and confiscated,” he said, accusing Israel of “state-sponsored terrorism” against the residents.

COGAT, a branch of Israel’s defense ministry, said Israel acted in accordance with a Supreme Court ruling in demolishing tents that again had been illegally erected by Palestinians who “invaded the firing range” in 2012.

Israel has often cited a lack of building permits, which Palestinians and rights groups say are nearly impossible to obtain, in destroying Palestinian structures in the West Bank, an area it captured in a 1967 war.

Israel has said the Bedouin in Khirbet Humsah had rejected offers to move them out of the firing zone to an alternative location.

At the site, mechanical excavators tore into the tents and then lifted the remnants into dump trucks to be carted away as residents looked on.

Israeli authorities have demolished at least 421 structures belonging to Palestinians in the first half of 2021, a 30% increase over the same period in 2020, the NRC said in a statement.

(Reporting by Ali Sawafta, Nidal al-Mughrabi and Dan Williams; Editing by 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)

Israel to send Palestinians 1 million COVID vaccine doses in exchange deal

By Rami Ayyub

TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Israel will send at least 1 million soon-to-expire COVID-19 vaccine doses to the Palestinian Authority (PA) under a deal to share shots, officials said on Friday.

Under the terms of the deal, announced by new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office, the PA agreed to give Israel a reciprocal number of doses from one of its own shipments due to arrive later this year.

Rights groups have criticized Israel, which led the world with its swift vaccine roll-out, for not doing more to ensure Palestinian access to doses in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, territory it captured in a 1967 war.

Criticizing the dose-sharing deal, Physicians for Human Rights Israel said on Twitter: “It is highly doubtful that the PA will be able to use all the vaccines, as they are about to expire.”

The vaccine deal was among initial policy moves towards the Palestinians by Bennett, who was sworn in on Sunday and replaced veteran leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Israel will transfer to the Palestinian Authority 1-1.4 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine,” a joint statement from Bennett’s office and the health and defense ministries said.

The Pfizer-BioNTech doses earmarked for transfer “will expire soon”, the statement said, and they were “approved in light of the fact that Israel’s vaccine stock meets its needs today”. The statement did not give their exact expiration date.

An initial 100,000 doses were transferred on Friday, Israeli officials said.

A source in the PA health ministry confirmed the deal and said the Palestinians expect to receive a shipment of Pfizer doses in August or September. The Israeli statement said Israel would receive reciprocal doses from the PA in September or October.

Around 55% of eligible Israelis are fully vaccinated – a coverage rate largely unchanged by this month’s expansion of eligibility to include 12- to 15-year-olds.

Some 30% of eligible Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, home to a combined 5.2 million people, have received at least one vaccine dose, according to Palestinian officials.

According to a poll released on Tuesday by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, 40% of Palestinians are willing to take the vaccine once it is available, while 35% say they and their families are not willing to get vaccinated.

The Palestinians have received vaccine doses from Israel, Russia, China, the United Arab Emirates and the global COVAX vaccine-sharing initiative.

(Reporting by Rami Ayyub; Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Editing by William Maclean, Timothy Heritage and Frances Kerry)