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Latest News in Israel – 16th February

Security forces thwart attempted stabbing attack at Damascus Gate

Police thwarted an attempted stabbing attack carried out by a female teenage Arab assailant near Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate Monday afternoon, marking the second time in less than 24 hours that Arab terrorists have attempted to carry out deadly violence in the flashpoint area.

At approximately 3:30 p.m., police patrolling the east Jerusalem entrance to the Old City spotted the unidentified suspect behaving suspiciously, said police Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.

“An officer stationed by Damascus Gate approached the female Arab teenager and asked her for identification, at which time she pulled out a knife and attempted to stab the officer,” Rosenfeld said shortly after the attack.

“Police were able to push her back and disarm her without anyone being injured. After searching her bag, a second knife was found.”

Rosenfeld said the teenager was arrested and is presently being questioned by police to determine if she acted alone or is part of an organized terror cell.

“Security assessments are being made, and heightened security will remain in effect in and around the Old City to prevent more terrorist attacks,” he said.

Shortly after 11 p.m. on Sunday night, two Palestinian terrorists from the West Bank armed with improvised automatic weapons were shot dead in the same area after one of them fired on police personnel.

“After the terrorists arrived near Damascus Gate, a police officer made eye contact with one of the suspects who was carrying a large white bag and proceeded to pull him over to ask him for his identification and search the bag for weapons,” said Rosenfeld.

“The terrorist opened the bag and pulled out an improvised automatic weapon and at that point the officer opened fire and killed him. The second terrorist then opened fire on police from 100 meters away, and units in the area responded by opening fire and killing him.”

None of the officers were wounded during the brief exchange, he said, adding that one of the assailants also possessed a knife.

“We know that they coordinated on their own, but they are not part of a terrorist organization,” Rosenfeld said.

Noting the spike in attacks in the area, he added that extra police units have been dispatched to patrol in and around the Old City, with an emphasis on Damascus Gate.         (Jerusalem Post)

Border Police kill two armed terrorists at Damascus Gate

Police killed two Palestinian terrorists late Sunday night who opened fire on them by the Damascus Gate near the Old City in Jerusalem.

Shortly after the attack, police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld told The Jerusalem Post that the two unidentified terrorists attempted to open fire using automatic weapons, before Border Police in the area opened fire, killing both suspects.

“The area remains cordoned off and police are still searching the area for more suspects,” said Rosenfeld. “Heightened security remains in effect in and around the Old City.”

Rosenfeld said that forces “responded quickly and professionally by neutralizing the terrorists. No police were injured in the battle.”

A police spokeswoman said that police in the area had seen a suspicious person with a bag in his hand. When they asked him to put the bag down, he took out an atomic rife and shot at them. The police fired back and killed him, the spokeswoman said.

A second terrorist who had been undetected by police opened fire at them, just south of the Damascus Gate. Police shot back and killed him.

The two Palestinian men are in their 20s and are from the West Bank, the police spokeswoman said.              (Jerusalem Post)

Shin Bet: 228 terror attacks since October; nearly half of assailants 20 and under

The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) on Monday released statistics on the more than four month long wave of terror that has been plaguing Israel. According to the statistics, covering the period from the beginning of October until last week, there have been 228 terror attacks or attempted terror attacks. Thirty-seven percent of the terrorists ranged from 16-20 years old. A further 10% of those carrying out the attacks were minors, meaning that nearly half of the attackers were 20 years old and younger.

A third of the assailants were 21-25 and an additional 10% were 30 and older. The statistics further show that 24 women took part in attempted attacks, some 11% of all assailants.

The Shin Bet statistics show that the majority of the attacks and attempted attacks (74%) took place in the West Bank, whereas 10% of attacks, or 22 incidents, took place within the Green Line. In addition, 16% of the attacks have taken place in Jerusalem.

The statistics include all of the terror attacks that have been carried out since October 1, when Na’ama and Eitam Henkin were murdered near the Itamar settlement, up until last Wednesday. Five attacks and attempted attacks have been carried out since then.

The Shin Bet also provided details on where the terrorists hailed from. The majority of assailants, approximately 80%, were Palestinian residents of the West Bank. Among them, Hebron stands out as the main city from which terrorists come. According to the Shin Bet, 40% of the West Bank assailants were from Hebron and Yatir. Another area which provided a relatively large number of attackers is Ramallah, with some 25% of attackers hailing from the city and surrounding Binyamin region.

According to the Shin Bet statistics, 21 of the attackers were illegally staying in Israel at the time they carried out attacks. Two people with legal permits to be in the country carried out attacks in Israel: the assailant who carried out the attack that killed two people at the Panorama building in Tel Aviv in November; and another assailant who carried out an attack in Modi’in. A Palestinian with a work permit also carried out a stabbing attack in the Ariel industrial area where he was employed.                  (Jerusalem Post)

GRAPHIC VIDEO: Palestinian clip depicts shootings, stabbings of Israelis

Palestinians on social media are circulating an animated video that shows terrorists taking up arms and killing Israeli soldiers and civilians in attacks that mimic those which have been committed in Israel and the Palestinian territories in recent months.

The graphic clip depicts Palestinians angered by images of their brethren being victimized by Israel, only to respond by using knives, guns, and cars in order to take revenge and “become martyrs.”

Police killed two Palestinian terrorists late Sunday night who opened fire on them by the Damascus Gate near the Old City in Jerusalem.

Shortly after the attack, police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld told The Jerusalem Post that the two unidentified terrorists attempted to open fire using automatic weapons, before Border Police in the area opened fire, killing both suspects.

“The area remains cordoned off and police are still searching the area for more suspects,” said Rosenfeld. “Heightened security remains in effect in and around the Old City.”

Rosenfeld said that forces “responded quickly and professionally by neutralizing the terrorists. No police were injured in the battle.”

A police spokeswoman said that police in the area had seen a suspicious person with a bag in his hand. When they asked him to put the bag down, he took out an atomic rifle and shot at them. The police fired back and killed him, the spokeswoman said.

A second terrorist who had been undetected by police opened fire at them, just south of the Damascus Gate. Police shot back and killed him.

The two Palestinian men are in their 20s and are from the West Bank, the police spokeswoman said.

Dozens of Israelis have been killed and dozens more wounded during the wave of Palestinian violence that has earned numerous monikers, including “the knife intifada” and “the lone wolf intifada.”             (Jerusalem Post)

At least 6 killed in highway 1 collision between bus and tractor trailer

At least six people were killed and several more badly wounded when a bus smashed into a flatbed truck on Route 1 near Latrun, west of Jerusalem, yesterday.

An initial investigation established that the truck was parked on the narrow shoulder of the highway when the Egged No. 402 bus heading from the capital to Bnei Brak hit it. Police closed Route 1 going west, from the Latrun area to Tel Aviv, leading to serious gridlock.

The entire right side of the bus was gutted and shattered, damage that was apparently caused mainly by the crane positioned on the back of the trailer, which was carrying a large shipment of marble.

According to Magen David Adom paramedics, five people were killed and nine were injured, including one critically, one seriously, three moderately, and three lightly at the time of the accident around 6:30 p.m. The survivors were rushed to Assaf Harofeh and Sheba medical centers, where staff went on emergency footing. By 9 p.m., the number of dead had risen to six.

United Hatzalah volunteer Yehiel Miller said he found a boy and two small girls showing no signs of life and several adults unconscious outside the bus.

Roni Teitelbaum, a ZAKA rescue and recovery organization volunteer, said that when he arrived at the scene just after the accident “it was silent, like death. And then there was screaming. There were people crushed inside the bus and many that had been thrown outside of it as well.”

The truck driver is an Arab man who lives in the Gilo neighborhood of Jerusalem. His brothers told media that he pulled over to the shoulder of the highway because of an issue with his gear. He called his family and asked them to come to his assistance as he waited on the side of Route 1. He suffered light injuries and was detained by police.

Asst.-Ch. Yaron Be’eri, the head of the National Traffic Police, said that a special investigative team has been established to determine what exactly took place on Sunday evening, and that police would wait for its findings before discussing the crash in detail.

In the meantime, images of yet another devastating traffic accident led the nightly news.

In February of last year, eight women from the Beduin village of Hura were killed when their bus was hit by a tractor that was being towed by a bus that passed them on Route 31 in the Negev.

And just last Tuesday, four people were killed in a crash on Route 31.

In response to the 2014 crash, Transportation Minister Israel Katz instructed his ministry to work faster to take steps to prevent such tragedies.

Two weeks ago, Katz signed a directive to, by November 1, 2016, require all buses and trucks to be equipped with electronic systems that would keep track of the distance between vehicles on the road and help avoid collisions.

He said he will work with the Finance Ministry to provide incentives to drivers who install this before the deadline.

Katz said road conditions on Route 1 at the time of Sunday’s crash were not the issue. “What happened was a huge mistake,” he said, adding that one of the road safety devices would have prevented the collision.

On Wednesday, the ministry began holding a series of sessions at the Knesset, in an attempt to improve safety on the roads.

MK Eitan Cabel, chairman of the Knesset’s Economics Committee, said meanwhile that the accident shows the dire need to gather all possible resources, to “wage an uncompromising war against highway fatalities.”

He said he would be meeting with Israel Police officials and that his committee will put pressure on officials to immediately bring about ways to prevent roadway tragedies. (Jerusalem Post)

PM: Time to expect some ties with Arab states to come out of the closet

Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, who speaks often about behind-the-scenes cooperation taking place between Israel and many countries in the region, hinted Sunday night that the time has come to expect that some of those contacts come out into the open.

Netanyahu, speaking to the annual meeting in Jerusalem of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, said Israel and its supporters should not be shy about calling upon states around the world who want and have good relations with Israel, to change their voting patterns against Israel in international forums.

Turning to the countries of the Middle East, he said there has been no place where there has been a greater shift toward Israel than in the region.

“Major Arab countries are changing their view of Israel,” he said. “They don’t see Israel anymore as its enemy, but they see Israel as their ally, especially in the battle against militant Islam and its two fountainheads, the militant Islamists led by Iran, and the militant Islamists led by Daesh [Islamic State].”

This situation, Netanyahu said, “is something that is forging new ties, many discrete, some of them are open, and there too we should expect – ask – to see a change.”

Netanyahu said the Conference of Presidents was aware of this situation, having just visited over the last week both Turkey and Egypt, where they met Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

In a related development, government officials denied a story that appeared Sunday in the Arab press claiming that Sisi canceled a planned visit by Netanyahu following comments made by National Infrastructure Minister Yuval Steinitz earlier this month that Egypt flooded Hamas tunnels “due to Israel’s request.”

“There was never such a planned visit,” one official said.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu will be traveling with a number of his cabinet ministers to Berlin on Monday for the sixth government-to-government meeting between the countries.

Netanyahu will be joined by Steinitz, Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin, Construction Minister Yoav Galant, PMO Director-General Eli Groner and Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold.

Netanyahu is scheduled to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel twice, once as part of the wider joint cabinet meeting, and also for private discussions.

One issue likely to be addressed will be the “reset” in relations between Israel and the EU, following the conversation on Friday between Netanyahu and EU Foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

Netanyahu addressed this issue at the weekly cabinet meeting, saying the two sides have “agreed to put relations between us back on track.”

Netanyahu said Mogherini told him the EU was opposed to any boycott of Israel, and the EU action regarding the labeling of settlement goods was “non-binding,” and did “not reflect their position regarding the final borders of the State of Israel, which can be determined – this is what she said – only in direct negotiations between the sides.”

Netanyahu said Israel, “as a representative of democratic values, is entitled to receive support from Europe and not just criticism.”

He said there will obviously continue to be points of friction with the EU, and with specific countries within the EU. But, he said, the fact Mogherini “has come out strongly against BDS and against economic sanctions against Israel, is – of course – a step in the right direction.”

Netanyahu also informed the cabinet that an advance team for US Vice President Joe Biden came to Israel Sunday to plan a trip in the coming weeks. “A date for the visit has yet to be determined, but it is clear that Vice President Biden is a welcome guest in Israel anytime he decides to come here.”

Biden last visited Israel in 2010, for a visit that was clouded by announcement of new construction in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood in northern Jerusalem, beyond the Green Line.

Before flying to Berlin, Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power, who arrived on Saturday for a four-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority. This is her first visit as UN envoy, and on Sunday she visited Yad Vashem.

The State Department said Power is in the region to discuss a range of regional and bilateral issues, “including the United States and Israel’s shared security concerns and close cooperation, prospects for a two-state solution and the importance of UN humanitarian and peacekeeping operations in the region.”

Power met on Saturday in Ramallah with PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, and also with a group of Al-Quds University students.

Following her meeting with Netanyahu, she is scheduled to visit the Yad b’Yad school in Jerusalem, and deliver remarks at the Israel Middle East Model UN Conference at the American International School in Even Yehuda.

Netanyahu will also hold separate meetings with the visiting foreign ministers from Iceland and Norway.                (Jerusalem Post)

Israeli Defense Minister Says Ready to Work With Arab Countries on Syria Strategy

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Israel was ready for the possibility of developing a joint strategy with Arab countries to address the situation in Syria, Israel Radio reported on Sunday.

Addressing a security conference in Munich, where the defense minister also met on the sidelines with Jordanian King Abdullah II for the first time publicly in over a year, Ya’alon said Israel’s official position in Syria was non-involvement, other than for humanitarian reasons.

Still, Israel would respond if its sovereignty was threatened, he said. Israel has previously asserted that its red line in Syria includes weapons transfers to Hezbollah, and Israel has reportedly carried out several air strikes in Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011.

Speaking in English, Ya’alon also noted joint interests with countries in the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa, but said open relations with these countries was not possible.

Responding to Saudi Prince Turki bin Faisal Al Saud, who asked the defense minister how Israel planned to forge open relations with Arab countries while the conflict with the Palestinians continues, Ya’alon said it was the Palestinians who rejected recent attempts to restart the peace process, and added that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was disconnected from the larger conflicts in the Middle East.                 (The Algemeiner )

EU backs down from product-labeling bid

The Foreign Ministry reported that relations with the European Union are “close and friendly” again after tensions arose last year over the bloc’s decision to label Israeli exports manufactured beyond the Green Line.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said the sides had “overcome the crisis” after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini spoke by phone Friday.

He said Israel received assurances the move “is not a political step to determine future borders or to boycott Israel.”

The conversation between Netanyahu and Mogherini followed a negotiation process on the issue led by Foreign Ministry Director General Dore Gold. After the agreement was reached, Mogherini invited Netanyahu to Brussels, an offer which he accepted.

The European Commission’s original labeling resolution was set to be adopted by all 28 member states and to include goods manufactured in the Golan Heights, Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria.

In November, Israel suspended contacts with EU officials on the political process with the Palestinians to protest the move.

Under the new agreement, the EU said it will leave product-labeling decisions up to each individual member country.

Israel has said that it will continue to fight bids to label products in each country that intends to do so.

The EU also promised that it would not assist in labeling efforts and that it would oppose any boycott or isolation campaigns against Israel. The EU further announced that it is opposed to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, that it is dedicated to Israel’s security and that it condemns terrorism and incitement to violence.

In response to the move, Nahshon said that Israel would no longer insist on the exclusion of EU bodies from peace talks with the Palestinians.

Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in April 2014. While the United States has traditionally played the lead role in peace efforts in the region, the EU is Israel’s largest trading partner and is the biggest donor to the Palestinians, and is looking to play a larger role in peace negotiations

“The conversation resolved the tensions and we are, Israel and the EU, back to good and close relations,” Nahshon said in a message to the media.

Speaking to Israel Hayom about the product-labeling initiative, Gold said: “In addition to the economic damage that it may cause Israeli industries beyond the Green Line, I feel that there was also an attempt here to predetermine the future borders between Israel and the Palestinians when the Europeans had said in the past that the borders would be determined exclusively through direct negotiations between the two sides.

“We received a clear commitment from Mogherini that there is no attempt here to determine the borders between Israel and the Palestinians. Israel stood its ground on each issue discussed with the European Union.”

Meanwhile, Mogherini told journalists on Friday that the Middle East Quartet “was seriously concerned about the viability of a two-state solution”.

The Quartet is represented by Mogherini, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and a special envoy of the U.N. secretary-general.

“The [Middle East] Quartet expressed its serious concern that current trends on the ground, including continued acts of violence against civilians, ongoing settlement activity and the high rate of demolitions of Palestinian structures, are dangerously imperilling the viability of a two-state solution,” Mogherini told journalists on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.

“The Quartet underscored that both sides must swiftly demonstrate — through policies and actions — a genuine commitment to a two-state solution in order to rebuild trust and avoid a cycle of escalation. It emphasized that a robust Palestinian economy and an enhanced government capacity would serve as a cornerstone of a Palestinian state and that genuine Palestinian unity on the basis of democracy and the PLO principles is essential to uniting Gaza and the West Bank under one legitimate democratic Palestinian authority,” she added.  (Israel Hayom)

A stain on Israel: Ex-PM Olmert enters prison

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert entered prison on Monday to begin serving his sentences, becoming the first former Israeli premier to spend time behind bars.

Olmert, who began his career as an anti-corruption crusader, was ultimately undone by the very behavior he sought to eradicate as a young Knesset member and lawyer. Olmert will serve 18 months over his bribery conviction in the Holyland trial and another month due to an obstruction of justice case, which ended in a plea bargain. He may be released on good behavior before serving the entire sentence.

Olmert voluntarily entered the Maasiyahu Prison in Ramla around 10 a.m. Monday. Prior to his incarceration, he released a video message in which he once again claimed his innocence.

“This is very painful for my family and loved ones,” he said.”I had the privilege of serving Israel, and while I have made mistakes, they did not amount to criminality. Today attests to the strength of democracy. No one is above the law.”

Olmert will share a cell with other defendants from the Holyland trial, which culminated with his bribery conviction. According to the Israel Prison Service, he will be treated as an ordinary prisoner, although he will not have to wear a prisoner jumpsuit. He will also be allowed to communicated directly with visitors rather than through a glass partition.

A prison guard will accompany Olmert at all times during the first few days behind bars to help him adjust and to ensure that he does not commit suicide. This precautionary measure was taken when former Israeli President Moshe Katsav began serving his sentence for rape in 2011, at the same prison. Olmert, who jogs regularly, will be allowed to exercise in the prison yard. He will also have a library and a synagogue in his prison wing.

Olmert’s 18-month sentence in the Holyland trial carries moral turpitude, which means that he will be stripped of certain benefits he currently receives as a former prime minister. Those benefits, worth around 1 million shekels (about $257,000) a year, include a personal driver, a car, an office, a personal assistant, subsidized phone plans, home delivery of newspapers, and other perks. In 2007, after Katsav was accused of rape, the Knesset Finance Committee decided that former government officials would no longer be entitled to such benefits if they are convicted in serious crimes, which carry moral turpitude. Ironically, it was Olmert, as prime minister, who pushed to pass this measure, which has since been applied to other former ministers.

The State Attorney’s Office also asked that Olmert’s pension be slashed by 10%, but District Judge David Rozen rejected this request, noting that this would hurt Olmert’s wife, Aliza. A similar decision was made regarding Katsav’s pension. Olmert receives a monthly annuity of about NIS 47,000 (roughly $12,000).           (Israel Hayom)

Missing More Than ‘P’ in Palestine

by  Jonathan S. Tobin             Commentary Magazine


The latest nonsensical controversy coming out of Israel concerns a speech given this week by a Likud member of the Knesset during a debate about the future of the two-state solution. Seeking to cast scorn on the Palestinians’ ambitions for a state of Palestine, Anat Berko said that there was some irony in the fact that the Arabic alphabet has no letter “P.” Palestinians refer to the country as Falastin. Her point was that the name of their country was not authentically Arab or reflect the idea that Arabs had been on the land from time immemorial as they claim. This provoked scorn from Arab members of the Knesset as well as some Jewish members. The story was picked up by the international press including the New York Times and is being interpreted by Israel’s critics as more proof of the Netanyahu government’s unwillingness to make peace, its insensitivity and even racism.

The charge of linguistic racism is a bit of a stretch even for the most fervent of Israel-bashers. This is, of course, overblown. Berko, an academic and a child of immigrants from Iraq, may be a member of Netanyahu’s party but she doesn’t speak for him or the government. During the debate during which Berko spoke, Netanyahu reiterated his support for a two-state solution. But the prime minister, like the head of the country’s left-wing opposition, has recently said, agreed that it was impossible under the current circumstances because the Palestinians aren’t willing to settle for dividing the country rather than destroying Israel.

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