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Latest News in Israel – 18th March

Updates from Israel and the Jewish World

Compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman

 

Double shooting in Samaria, Israeli soldier killed, two wounded

Two shootings took place in the Samaria region. An IDF combat soldier, identified as 19-year-old Gal Kaiden from Beersheba, was kiiled. Two Israelis were wounded and remain in serious condition. IDF forces are in pursuit of the killer.

Early reports say that the terrorist stabbed his first victim and stole his weapon, shot him and fled.

The same attacker then stole a car, travelled to nearby Giti Avisar junction and opened fire.

Magen David Adom paramedics evacuated two of the victims to Beilinson Hospital, including a 35-year-old man and a 20-year-old man.

Ram Shagai, deputy director of Beilinson Hospital, said one of the wounded is in very serious condition and the other in critical condition. “We are fighting for their lives,” he said.

Emergency medical technician MDA Hananel Hess recounted that when he was passing through the Ariel intersection he noticed a commotion.

“I saw soldiers running and I heard shooting. I realized that something was going on and alerted MDA forces. When the shooting stopped, I saw a young man of about 20 lying unconscious with gunshot wounds to his upper body.”

The terrorist fled the scene of the attack, and massive forces, including a helicopter, were deployed to capture the terrorist.

The Samaria Regional Council together with the defense establishment decided to close the gates of the Barkan Industrial Park and the entrances to Israeli communities in the area.

Yossi Dagan, head of the Shomron Regional Council, said “We will never break, we will never retreat. The Israeli communities in Samaria are part of the Jewish people and part of the State of Israel.”

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin tweeted shortly afterwards: “My thoughts are with the families who are coming to terms with the news of the horrific terrorist attack, and with the security forces who are right now in pursuit of the terrorists. The State of Israel will seek out, find and defeat all those who attack us.”

The IDF said the shooting was in the area of the Ephraim regional brigade.(WIN) WIN Staff

Victim of West Bank attack identified as IDF soldier Gal Keidan, 19

The Israel Defense Forces on Sunday identified the victim of a West Bank stabbing and shooting attack earlier in the day as Sgt. Gal Keidan, 19, from the southern city of Beersheba.

Keidan, who served in the IDF’s 334th Artillery Battalion, will be buried in the Beersheba Military Cemetery at 11 a.m. on Monday, the army said.

He will be posthumously promoted to the rank of staff sergeant.

Gal Keidan

Two other Israelis were critically injured in the attack, which began at around 9:45 a.m. near Ariel Junction.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in a statement, conveyed his condolences to Keidan’s family.

US envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt responded to the attack on Twitter, saying his country “condemn[s] today’s brutal attack by a Palestinian terrorist who murdered at least 1 Israeli & injured others near Ariel.”

In a follow up post, Greenblatt said: “Disgustingly, but not surprisingly, Hamas & Palestinian Islamic Jihad welcomed the attack & no doubt the Palestinian Authority will reward the terrorist under its pay for slay policy.”

In the attack, the terrorist stabbed the serviceman with a knife and managed to snatch his weapon, IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said, speaking before Keidan’s name had been released for publication. Medics had attempted to resuscitate Keidan, but were forced to declare him dead at the scene.

The attacker then fired at passing vehicles, hitting a civilian in the first vehicle later identified as Rabbi Achiad Ettinger, 47, a father of 12 from the Eli settlement. A second vehicle was hit, but managed to flee the scene. A third car stopped, and the attacker, whom Conricus said “appears to be a Palestinian,” took it and fled the scene.

“I saw the terrorist. He fired at my vehicle and I ran away while it was still running. The terrorist then stole the car, and I saw him continue driving in the direction of Tel Aviv,” the driver of the third vehicle told the Ynet news site.

Conricus said that the suspect then continued to the nearby Gitai Junction, where he shot and wounded  a 19-year-old soldier standing at a hitchhiking post.

An eyewitness at the second junction said she and her friend were waiting at the bus stop when the vehicle approached. “We think it was a blue car with two people inside,” the unnamed witness told Channel 13. “They fired about three bullets and hit one of the soldiers.”

According to Conricus, the attacker then drove to the nearby Palestinian village of Bruqin, leaving the vehicle near the entrance and fleeing on foot into the village. Israeli security was searching for him.

Additional forces were deployed to the scene in a manhunt that was coordinated with the Shin Bet security service and the Israel Police, Conricus said. He added that it was not immediately clear whether the suspect was affiliated with any terror groups or was acting alone.

The two injured men were taken to Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva, the Magen David Adom emergency service said. The soldier sustained abdominal and spinal injuries and underwent surgery. Ettinger’s condition deteriorated to critical by the time he arrived at the hospital with head injuries and doctors were fighting to keep him alive.

As a precaution, the army briefly ordered the closing of the nearby Barkan industrial zone as well as the surrounding northern West Bank settlements. The Palestinian villages of Jamma’in, Kifl Haris and Deir Istiya near Nablus were also sealed, the IDF said.

Palestinian media reported heavy gunfire in the village of Bruqin.

Ariel Junction was the site of a fatal stabbing attack just over a year ago, when a Palestinian terrorist killed Itamar Ben Gal, an Israeli father of four, as he waited at a hitchhiking post.           (the Times of Israel) Jacob Magid and TOI Staff

Netanyahu: Terrorists will be caught and brought to justice

The terrorists who carried out Sunday’s attack in the Ariel area will be apprehended and brought to justice, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the opening of the weekly cabinet meeting.

In his first public comments about the attack, Netanyahu said that the IDF was in the middle of a chase after the terrorists.

“I am sending my support to the IDF, Shin Bet and security services chasing the terrorists,” he said.

Netanyahu also related to the firing Thursday night of two rockets from the Gaza Strip toward the Tel Aviv region, saying that Jerusalem views that incident with “great severity.”

“Hamas is responsible for any attack from the Gaza Strip, both when it is deliberate fire and when it comes to shooting accidentally,” Netanyahu said. Hamas has claimed the rocket fire was “a mistake.”

Netanyahu pointed out that as a result of the rocket fire, he directed the IDF to hit 100 targets of Hamas.

“The IDF hit them hard,” he said. “If necessary, we will intensify those attacks as is needed, in order to continue to ensure quiet for Israel’s citizens.”

Speaking to reporters before the meeting, Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev used the attack to bash the Blue and White Party.

She referred to the refusal of Ta’al MK Ahmed Tibi during a television exchange with her on Friday night to condemn the terrorist murder of a young girl in her bed in her remarks about the Sunday attack.

“And that is the person with whom Gantz and [Yair] Lapid want to sit [in a government],” Regev said. “That is with whom they want to establish a blocking majority [to prevent Netanyahu from forming a government]. This is the weak Left that will bring us a continuation of these types of attacks.”    (Jerusalem Post) Herb Keinon

Egypt warns Hamas: Israel will topple you and ‘we won’t lift a finger’

Israeli media reports that Egyptian officials were enraged last Thursday when news reached them of the rocket attack over the Tel Aviv area from the Gaza Strip at the very moment they were acting as mediators to the conflict between Hamas and Israel.

“If Israel decides to start a wide-scale operation in Gaza, [Egypt] won’t stop the Israeli attacks. Even if Israel ends your rule in Gaza by assassinating every single one of you and reconquer[ing] Gaza, Egypt and its allies won’t lift a finger to stop the Israeli response,” said a senior Egyptian negotiator at the meeting, according to daily newspaper Israel Hayom.

“You’re endangering our lives,” the official added. “Gazans’ blood is on your hands.’

The senior Egyptian official told Israel Hayom what he had said at the meeting and that his delegation had been blindsided by news of the rocket attack, which arrived just as the Egyptian team was relaying potential terms of a ceasefire agreement from Israel to Hamas leaders.

Egyptian diplomats screamed at Hamas leader Yahyah Sinwar, “Where do you think your double-dealing will land you? We’re trying to finalize a peace agreement with Israel, and behind our backs you let your people fire missiles at Tel Aviv?”

The official told the paper that Sinwar appeared no less surprised by the news and said that Hamas was not behind the rocket attack. Sinwar then asked the Egyptian delegation to get in touch with Israel’s defense establishment and let them know that Hamas wasn’t responsible.

The two rockets were launched at Tel Aviv around 9:00 p.m. on Thursday. Nine others were launched at communities in southern Israel. The missiles set off rocket sirens in the densely populated Israeli city, in addition to triggering alarms throughout the Dan region.

In response, Israel hammered over 100 Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip.

The rocket attack marked the first time since 2014’s Operation Protective Edge that terrorists in Gaza attempted to strike Tel Aviv with rockets. Palestinian Islamic Jihad, another terrorist group in Gaza, also denied responsibility for the attacks, but Israeli security officials are skeptical about the denials.

Both groups are bankrolled by Iran, with the Hamas terror organization serving as the official government of the Gaza Strip.

The Egyptian official said that before the news of the attack reached the delegation, the meeting was calm “and full of smiles.”

“We estimated that Hamas would accept [the Israeli conditions] permitting a stable and long-term calm. Minutes after one of the aides to the Egyptian delegation entered the room with a worried expression and handed his cellular phone to the heads of the delegation. The smiles quickly changed to sober expressions,” the senior official said to Israel Hayom. (WIN) WIN Staff

IDF strikes over 100 Hamas targets after terrorists fire 11 rockets into Israel

After striking over 100 Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip on Friday, the Israeli army announced its targets had included a Gaza City building used to plan and command Hamas terror activities, an underground complex that served as Hamas’ main rocket-manufacturing site, and a center used for Hamas drone development.

There were no reports of casualties in Gaza.

The Israeli strikes were part of a retaliatory operation after terrorists in Gaza launched a late-night rocket attack on Tel Aviv, Israel’s densely populated commercial and cultural capital, marking a dramatic escalation in hostilities.

In total, Palestinian terrorists fired two rockets at Tel Aviv and nine rockets at Israeli communities along the Gaza border, with Israel’s Iron Dome intercepting seven of these rockets and the others falling in areas away from civilians. No Israelis were injured in the attacks.

It was the first time Tel Aviv had been targeted since a 2014 war between Israel and the Hamas terror group.

Hamas denied responsibility for the initial rocket attack, saying it went against Palestinian interests. But after a preliminary investigation, Israel said it had concluded that the militant group was behind the attack.

Following the Israeli airstrike, several additional rounds of rocket fire were launched into Israel.

The fighting broke out as Egyptian mediators were in Gaza trying to convince the terror group to agree to an expanded cease-fire deal.

Israel and Hamas are bitter enemies and have fought three wars since the Islamic terror organization seized power n a bloody 2007 coup in Gaza from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party. Smaller flare-ups have occurred sporadically since Israel and Hamas fought their last war, in 2014.

The sudden outburst of fighting comes at a sensitive time for both sides. Israel is holding national elections in less than a month. Netanyahu is locked in a tight fight for re-election and could face heavy criticism from his opponents if he is seen as ineffective against the terror threat.

Cabinet Minister Naftali Bennett, a rival of Netanyahu’s, called on the prime minister to convene a gathering of his Security Cabinet and demand the army “present a plan to defeat Hamas.”

Likewise, Hamas has come under rare public criticism in Gaza for the harsh conditions in the territory. An Israeli-Egyptian blockade, combined with sanctions by the rival Palestinian Authority and mismanagement by the Hamas government, have fueled an economic crisis in the territory.

Residents have little desire for another war with Israel.

Earlier Thursday, Hamas police violently broke up a protest over the harsh living conditions.

Israel holds Hamas responsible for all fire coming out of the territory. Financed by Iran, Hamas possesses a large arsenal of rockets and missiles capable of striking deep inside Israel.

Hamas denied responsibility for the attack on Tel Aviv, saying the rockets were launched when the group’s military wing was meeting with the Egyptian mediators.

In an unusual step that indicated Hamas was attempting to prevent further escalation, the Hamas Interior Ministry said the rocket fire went “against the national consensus” and promised to take action against the perpetrators.

Israel’s military concluded that Hamas was responsible. In a statement early Friday, the army said “we can confirm” that Hamas carried out the rocket attack.

Islamic Jihad, another Iranian-backed terror group in Gaza with a large rocket arsenal, also denied firing the rockets. Smaller factions inspired by the Islamic State group also sometimes fire rockets, though it is unclear whether they possess projectiles capable of reaching Tel Aviv.

Earlier this week, Israel struck Hamas targets in Gaza in response to rocket fire on southern Israel, near the border.

Late Thursday, local media said that Egyptian mediators left the territory.

At the time, Netanyahu issued a warning to Hamas, rejecting suggestions that Israel would be reluctant to take tough action in Gaza ahead of national elections next month.

“I suggest to Hamas, don’t count on it,” he told his Cabinet. “We will do anything necessary to restore security and quiet to the area adjacent to the Gaza Strip and to the south in general.”        (WIN)  WIN Staff

Sunday’s deadly attack underlines relentless rise in West Bank terror attempts

Hamas is doing its best to foment terror in the West Bank, in part to distract attention from Gaza, in part to hurt the PA

by Avi Issacharoff                          The Times of Israel

https://www.timesofisrael.com/sundays-deadly-attack-underlines-relentless-rise-in-west-bank-terror-attempts/

After the terrible terror attack Sunday morning near the West Bank settlement of Ariel, in which IDF soldier Gal Keidan was killed and two other Israelis were seriously wounded, there is no positive news on the horizon.

The motivation of the terror groups, lone terrorists, or independent cells to perpetrate attacks in the West Bank is increasing. One of the main reasons for that is Hamas’s desire to set the territory ablaze. (As of this writing, it should be stressed, it is not at all certain that the latest terror attack was perpetrated by Hamas.)

The terror group’s current policy is in some ways ironically reminiscent of Israel’s in past years, which was essentially to create a complete separation between Gaza and the West Bank.

While Hamas is doing everything possible to prod the residents of the West Bank to perpetrate terror attacks, in the Gaza Strip, it is determined to maintain calm, even if it means falling out of favor in local opinion or the wider Arab world, and even if it means reaching economic or civil understandings with the “Zionist enemy.”

As Hamas fears a large-scale military conflict in the Gaza Strip, the terror group finds it easier to issue general orders in the West Bank to carry out terror attacks, mainly because it is aware that the current Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, will place the blame on Ramallah, not Gaza.

In addition to Hamas’s ongoing, basic motivation for escalation in the West Bank, the purpose of which, along with targeting Israelis, is to weaken the Palestinian Authority, there are other motivations that are relatively new.

The first and most volatile of them is the Israeli court’s decision to enforce the closing of the Golden Gate entrance to the Temple Mount, the place that has already succeeded in stirring up unrest in East Jerusalem.

The Gate of Mercy, or Golden Gate, known in Arabic as Bab al-Rahma, was sealed by Israeli authorities in 2003 because the group managing the area had ties to Hamas, and it has been kept closed to stop illegal construction work there by the Islamic Waqf, the custodian of the site on behalf of Jordan and the Palestinian Authority. Israeli officials believe the work led to the destruction of antiquities from periods of Jewish presence in the area.

While Israel sent an emissary to Jordan — Shin Bet director Nadav Argaman — in an effort to resolve the crisis, there is as yet no agreement regarding the details of the arrangement that would lead to such a resolution. One of the proposals that the Israeli side raised was to announce that the location was undergoing “renovations,” thereby leading to its closure for several months. But the Wakf is still reluctant to adopt this proposal.

The second element contributing to the general ferment is the internal Gaza demonstrations against Hamas, which are pushing that organization to create more and more distractions, such as terror attacks in the West Bank.

The third element is the money that the Palestinian Authority is refusing to accept from Israel, tax money that belongs to it, so as not to enable Netanyahu’s government to deduct from these funds the salaries paid to families of prisoners and terrorists who were killed.

All this suggests that calm will not be restored over the next several months. Israeli officials believe that a continued refusal by the PA to accept its tax money for four months will harm its functioning and also affect the security coordination.

A look at the curve of terror attacks or thwarted terrorist activity in recent years shows a persistent increase in motivation alongside an improvement in the ability to stop them (in part thanks to the security coordination with the PA). This means that the relative calm in the West Bank is profoundly fragile, if not a complete illusion.

For example, Israeli officials say that slightly more than 200 terror attacks were prevented in 2015, about 350 in 2016, roughly 400 in 2017, and almost 600 in 2018. So far in 2019, there have been almost 100 thwarted terror attacks — and these are only of the kind defined as severe: shootings, explosives, vehicle-rammings, and the like. In other words, terrorists are attempting to perpetrate more terror attacks each year, and their motivation remains high. On Sunday, they succeeded.

Like it or not, Israel has no plans to leave the Golan Heights

There is wide consensus in Israel that the Golan Heights in Israel’s north is essential to Israel’s security, and that the region played an important role in Jewish history as well.

by Israel Kasnett          JNS

https://www.jns.org/like-it-or-not-israel-is-not-leaving-the-golan-heights/

After Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the Golan Heights this week together with U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk set off a firestorm when he tweeted, “Like it or not, the Golan Heights are Syrian territory. Israel cannot give them up now given its legitimate security concerns. But to recognize Israel’s annexation of territory that is not its own is to play with fire for partisan political purposes. No Arab state will accept it.”

There is general consensus in Israel that the Golan Heights in Israel’s north is essential to Israel’s security, and that the region played an important role in Jewish history as well. Where that consensus ends is in regard to whether Israel can and should keep it.

Towards the end of the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel captured the Golan from the attacking Syrian army. In 1981, Israel’s Knesset voted to apply Israeli law to the Golan Heights, but stopped short of formally annexing it. After 1967 and for the next 40 years, multiple attempts by a number of Israeli prime ministers to give the Golan Heights to Syria in exchange for peace ended in failure over Syrian refusal to cut ties with terror organizations and Iran.

Efraim Inbar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, told JNS that “international law recognizes acquisition of territory via defensive wars. In 1967, Syria was the aggressor.”

Inbar noted that the Golan Heights has been in Israel’s hands longer than it was ever in the hands of the Syrian state (from 1946).

Given the threat that Iran now poses in the region, as well as the fractured status of the Syrian regime after eight years of civil war, most Israelis view the region as essential to its security. On Wednesday, the Israel Defense Forces exposed a Hezbollah terror cell that was established in a border village in the Golan Heights.

“This morning, Israel exposed a Hezbollah terror network on the Golan Heights. Hezbollah is a terror organization. It’s a proxy of Iran. It does Iran’s bidding and this terror network is part of Iran’s aggression against Israel,” Netanyahu said in response.

During his tour, Graham demonstrated strong support for Israel’s presence on the Golan Heights and promised to push for U.S. recognition of Israel’s right to govern the region.

He told reporters: “There is no construct I can imagine now or any time in the future for the state of Israel to give the Golan up.”

The senator added that he would ask U.S. President Donald Trump about recognizing the area.

“I will go back to the U.S. Senate, working with Senator [Ted] Cruz; I will start an effort to recognize the Golan as part of the State of Israel, now and forever,” said Graham. “Because to give this territory up would be a strategic nightmare for the State of Israel … ”

Companion resolutions calling on the United States to follow through with this recognition were introduced last month by Cruz, in addition to Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Wisc.).

Support for Israel’s control over the Golan Heights also has bipartisan support, with top Democrats, such as House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) calling for the United States to recognize Israeli sovereignty. Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) also sent a letter to Trump in January, also calling for recognition of the Golan.

Additionally, the United States also changed its description of the Golan Heights from “Israeli-occupied” to “Israeli-controlled” in it annual global human-rights report released on Wednesday.

Gently mocking what he seemed to consider Indyk’s apparent double standard, Inbar said, “I did not hear Indyk speaking about returning American territory in the West to Mexico.” Inbar was referring to the disputed annexation in 1845 of the Republic of Texas by the U.S. Congress. Mexico refused to formally recognize its sovereignty.

Others, however, were less critical of Indyk.

Pnina Sharvit Baruch, a senior research fellow at the Israel Institute for National Security Studies, told JNS that she read Indyk’s comments and said thought “he is right in his analysis.”

Sharvit Baruch agreed with Indyk that the Golan “never belonged to Israel nor was it part of the [1947 U.N.] partition plan.”

One Twitter user wrote in response to Indyk, “I beg to differ. UNSCR 242 says Israel has the right to ‘secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.’ The Golan is necessary to ensure Israel’s security, and therefore its annexation by Israel is compatible with UNSC 242.”

Israel’s continued presence on the Golan Heights has long been recognized by America as essential for the Jewish state’s security.

In a speech last year  to the U.S. House of Representatives, Dore Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, noted that in 1975, President Gerald Ford wrote a letter to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin with respect to the Syrian front: “The U.S. has not developed final position on the borders. Should it do so, it will give great weight to Israel’s position that any peace agreement be predicated on Israel’s remaining on the Golan Heights.”

Gold emphasized that the commitment made in the Ford letter was renewed on a number of occasions, including by U.S. Secretaries of State James Baker and Warren Christopher.

Yet Sharvit Baruch noted that while Israeli legislation applies there because of the 1981 Golan Heights Law, “this does not change the status under international law.”

Regardless of whether or not Graham will be successful in his efforts to attain U.S. recognition, Sharvit Baruch agreed that, due to the current security situation, “it is logical for Israel to keep the Golan under its control.”