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Latest Israel News – 17th March

IDF strikes two Hamas targets in retaliation for rocket attack

IDF jets struck two Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip in the early hours of Thursday morning in retaliation for a rocket that landed in the Negev on Wednesday night, the army confirmed on Thursday.

A rocket launched from the Gaza Strip landed in an open area in the Negev on Wednesday night. No damage or injuries were reported and no siren sounded, the IDF spokesperson’s unit said.

Five rockets have been launched at Israel within the last month, including two incidents by the Islamic State Group in Sinai.

Israel hold Hamas responsible for all fire coming from the Gaza Strip.   (Jerusalem Post)

Shin Bet nabs two Palestinian terror cells planning attacks near Jerusalem

Four members of two Palestinian terrorist cells that had planned terrorist attacks near Jerusalem were arrested in January as part of efforts to thwart local terrorist cells in the village of a-Ram near Route 60 adjacent to al-Aroub, the Shin Bet said Wednesday.

Two of the operatives arrested in the joint Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), IDF and Israel Police operation were members of the al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade, the military wing of Fatah, according to the Shin Bet.

The cell members, residents of a-Ram, are said to have been involved in throwing a pipe bomb at security forces on October 16, 2016, wounding two, and also are suspected of being involved in numerous other terrorist attacks, including the throwing of pipe bombs, fire bombs and stones at security forces, as well as planning a shooting attack against security forces in the area.

The other two, Hamas operatives from the al-Aroub refugee camp in the Hebron region, were arrested and questioned by security forces, who during the course of their investigation, uncovered a Hamas cell that had been planning to carry out shooting attacks against Israeli citizens or IDF forces traveling on Route 60 near al-Aroub.

The Hamas operatives arrested were Ahmed al-Rahman, 25, and Mahand Jabber Muhammed abu Sal, 28, both from al-Aroub. According to the Shin Bet, Abu Sal was recruited by Rahman, who previously had been imprisoned by Israel for taking part in Hamas activities. Rahman served as the head of the cell and was tasked with obtaining weapons for the attacks.

The results of the investigation were transferred to military prosecutors for the purposes of preparing an indictment.

“The exposure of the cells and the operations they were planning shows the high level of motivation of terrorist operatives to carry out serious terrorist attacks and bears witness to the high threat level they pose,” read the Shin Bet statement.

“The Shin Bet, together with the IDF and Israel Police will continue to work with determination to uncover and thwart the activities of terrorist cells, including grassroots terrorist activities,” the statement concluded.

Since the beginning of the latest wave of Arab violencek, numerous attacks by Hamas supporters and members have been thwarted in Judea and Samaria. Earlier this week, two other Hamas cells responsible for extensive terrorist activity in the region and suspected of planning shooting attacks against Israeli citizens and the IDF in the West Bank were broken up.  (Jerusalem Post)

Arab Journalists Visiting Israel Describe it as ‘Western and Free’

A group of six North African journalists and bloggers is visiting Israel this week as guests of Israel’s foreign ministry after an invitation from the department’s deputy spokesman for Arab Media, Hassan Kaabiya.

The visit is the sixth such initiative to bring Arabic-language media representatives to Israel and the first time the delegation includes journalists and bloggers from Algeria and Tunisia. Previously, only journalists from Morocco had come to Israel, most recently in November 2016 when seven Moroccan journalists participated in a weeklong trip to Israel.

The Hamas terror group condemned the Moroccans’ visit, calling it a “crime against our people.”

Following the delegation’s Monday visit to Jerusalem’s Old City and the Temple Mount, on Tuesday, the journalists visited Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, the Foreign Ministry, the Supreme Court, and the Knesset.

According to Israel’s Ynet news. the guests described their first impressions of Israel as “appearing Western and free,” and as “an opportunity to see the real Israel without the media acting as a middle man.”

The group is slated to meet with Israeli journalists who cover the Arab world.

Kaabiya said the visit is important to dispel myths or to correct any false ideas about the Jewish state. “It is of great importance to bring young people who were born with false ideas about Israel. The picture changes after these visits and their writing also changes the (international) opinion of Israel,” he said.

Last March, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with a visiting delegation of Indonesian journalists, stating that “the time has come for official relations between Indonesia and Israel.” The Prime Minister added, “We have many opportunities to cooperate in the fields of water and technology. Israel has excellent relations with several countries in Asia, particularly China, Japan, India, and Vietnam.”  (United with Israel)

Netanyahu asks Italy to oppose further UNESCO Jerusalem resolutions

Italy on Wednesday renewed its pledge to Israel to oppose any resolutions at UNESCO that ignore Jewish ties to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.

Visiting Italian Foreign Minister Angelino Alfano delivered that message when he met Wednesday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem.

Last fall, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi promised Netanyahu that his country would take a stand against the Palestinian drive at UNESCO to refer to the Temple Mount solely by its Muslim name of al-Haram al-Sharif.

According to the Prime Minister’s Office, Netanyahu pointed out to Alfano “the absurdity of the recent UNESCO decision and asked Italy to oppose the next vote at the organization.”

“The Palestinians must stop the incitement against Israel,” Netanyahu said.

Italy is a member of UNESCO’s 58-member executive board, which meets twice a year. In 2016, the board passed a resolution on Jerusalem at both sessions that did not use the phrase “Temple Mount” to refer to Judaism’s holiest religious site. Italy abstained in both the spring and fall votes.

The executive board is next scheduled to meet in Paris from April 19 to May 4. It’s presumed that the Palestinian Authority will submit anti-Israel resolutions to the UNESCO board, including one on Jerusalem that refers to the Temple Mount solely as al-Haram al-Sharif. For Muslims, the top of the Temple Mount, with its golden-domed mosque, is the third-holiest site after Mecca and Medina.

The provisional agenda for that meeting will be published on March 23, but the actual text of the resolutions can be submitted up to 48 hours before the agenda item is due to be discussed.

Separately, Netanyahu and Alfano spoke about ways to increase bilateral cooperation between Israel and Italy, particularly in Africa, where both governments are helping countries find solutions to issues relating to water and agriculture.

During their meeting, Alfano also “emphasized his obligation to defend the Italian Jewish community against incidents of antisemitism,” the Prime Minister’s Office said. (Jerusalem Post)

13 arrested in Israel Aerospace Industries corruption scandal

Police arrested 13 people on Wednesday, including retired IDF brigadier-general Amal Asad, on corruption allegations tied to the Israel Aerospace Industries, Israel’s largest government-owned aviation manufacturer.

Asad, who now sits on the board of directors of IAI, is suspected of receiving bribes from businessmen at technology company DruzeNet to further the company’s interests with IAI.

The arrests came after a nearly yearlong “extensive” undercover investigation by the Lahav 433 anti-fraud unit in cooperation with the Israel Tax Authority, the director of security of the Defense Establishment, an internal investigation branch of the Defense Ministry, accompanied by the State Attorney’s economic office.

The investigation comprised “a large number of sub-allegations raising suspicion of corruption offenses including aggravated fraud, money laundering, theft by a public servant, fraud and breach of trust,” the police’s Intelligence and Investigations Division said in a statement.

According to police, the investigation raised the suspicion of “systematic criminal behavior and deep corruption seemingly commonplace in Israel Aerospace Industries.”

The general’s remand was extended for one day, while the remands of the 12 other suspects were extended from one to 14 days in the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court.

Police said the episode, known as case 630, includes a large number and variety of suspects at various levels of the company, including executives, board members, board directors, managers, junior staff and “those who were supposed to be gatekeepers and consultants, vendors and service providers in the aircraft industry.”

The suspects’ homes and offices were searched on Wednesday.

Asad’s attorney, Uri Kenan, denied the allegations, and called the arrest a “drastic procedure in this case when you can investigate without an arrest.”

IAI said in a statement it would not comment on the investigation.

“The CEO instructed all relevant parties to fully cooperate with the Israel Police as necessary and without restrictions and adhere to their guidelines in order to conclude the investigation and prosecute anyone who commits an offense,” the company said.

Others named in the investigation are Shimon Frits, Mairav Tamir, Meir Astrovsky, Amos Ben David, Avi Fiss, Shmuel Albarchi, Yosef Bezalel. The names of five other suspects remain under gag order. (Jerusalem Post)

Dozens of Israelis receive initial approval for medical cannabis farms

In a move they hope will revolutionize the medical-cannabis sector, 37 farmers received preliminary permits from the Health Ministry to construct facilities for the plant’s cultivation.

Assuming they go on to receive further necessary permits, the farmers will join an existing group of just eight medical-cannabis growers in the country, putting an end to years of legal struggles.

As the medical-cannabis sector opens up to include more farmers, the market will be able to better satisfy the needs of Israeli consumers and of export outlets, generating billions of shekels each year, according to Hagit Weinstock, the attorney for the farmers.

“There is no doubt that this is truly good news for farmers and for citizens in need of medical-cannabis treatment,” she said on Wednesday.

Medical marijuana in Israel , use of medical cannabis in Israel (credit: REUTERS)

The granting of preliminary approvals on Tuesday to build farms comes just a week and a half after the cabinet authorized a plan to decriminalize marijuana use by first-time offenders. While recreational use of marijuana remains illegal, medical cannabis has been legal in Israel since the 1990s. However, because cannabis is defined as a “dangerous drug,” working with it requires a special license through the Dangerous Drugs Ordinance, the ministry said.

The process toward opening up the country’s medical-cannabis market dates back nearly six years, beginning with an August 2011 resolution that established the Medical Cannabis Unit within the ministry.

By June 2016, the government had passed a resolution regulating various aspects of the sector, including a policy for expanding the number of approved medical-cannabis growers.

Yet after farmers still had not received their cultivation permits, Weinstock submitted a petition to the Jerusalem District Court in January 2017 against a variety of government bodies and the Israel Police, demanding that the latter conduct the necessary security checks on farmers interested in growing medical cannabis.

Weinstock expressed her hopes that from this point on, there would be no need to refile petitions, after learning that the Israel Police was performing the necessary checks on the farmers in accordance with previous judgments.

“On one hand, I am happy and proud that we reached this day on which the government and the Israel Police are honoring the judgment we received and confirmed that dozens of our clients can establish farms for the production of cannabis for medical purposes,” she said. “But on the other hand, I am troubled that it required long legal battles to force the government to open the market for the growth and production of medical cannabis and then to compel the Israel Police to act in accordance with the government decision.”

In response to Weinstock’s announcement on Wednesday, a ministry statement explained that the Israel Police ceased working with the ministry in September due to a lack of required resources.

But following the court petition, the police began performing the necessary checks on the specific farmers involved in that court case. If the farmers met the required security conditions, the Medical Cannabis Unit then issued them unique business codes and preliminary permits, the statement said.

“This is a first approval to begin the construction of the farms, and not to have [possession of] the drug (cannabis),” the statement said.

Only if and when the farmers construct their facilities and meet all the required agricultural and security rules will they be able to apply for permits to conduct actual cannabis cultivation, according to the ministry.

“The approval is not a license to work in the field of cannabis but is a preliminary approval – an approval for the planning and construction of the farm and preparation for quality checks, without authorization for [having possession of] the drug,” the ministry said.  (Jerusalem Post)

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