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Latest News in Israel – 20th October

In a first, European countries demand Israel pay them back for demolished W. Bank structures

Eight member states of the EU are taking an unprecedented move by penning a letter demanding that Israel reimburse them for its decision to take apart infrastructures in the West Bank that were slated to serve as equipment for local schools (serving mostly the Beduin community), France’s daily Le Monde reported Wednesday night.

The eight countries also expressed their dismay with Israel’s confiscation of solar panels that were paid for by the EU headquarters in the West Bank.

The structures that Israel had taken apart, the letter claims, were all designated to serve residents of the mixed Israeli-Palestinian Area C in the territories, and the Israeli government opted to remove them due to the fact that they were not legally erected or commissioned.

The signatory countries- France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Luxembourg and Ireland- are now demanding, according to Le Monde, that Israel pay them compensation should it decide not to return the equipment it confiscated. The compensation fee each country is demanding stands at 31,252 Euros.

“We sincerely hope that our demands for restitution could be satisfied without preconditions as soon as possible, and should they not be [met], Israel ought to pay compensation without delay,” wrote the EU member countries in the letter obtained by Le Monde.

The letter is expected to be sent in the coming days to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and continues to charge that “the practice of coercive measures such as demolitions and confiscations of humanitarian supplies as well as infrastructure for schools stands in the way of where the humanitarian aid [should go] and contradicts Israel’s engagement according to the international point of view… It causes suffering to Palestinian civilians.”

Israel has yet to officially respond to this report.

In August, the EU bashed Israel for deciding to demolish illegal Palestinian school structures. It called on Israel at the time to “halt demolitions and confiscations of Palestinian houses and property in accordance with its obligations as an occupying power under international humanitarian law, and to cease the policy of settlement construction and expansion, of designation land for exclusive Israeli use and of denying Palestinian development.”   (Jerusalem Post)

Attempted stabbing attack thwarted in West Bank, terrorist detained

An attack was thwarted on Wednesday when an assailant armed with a knife attempted to attack IDF troops in Gush Etzion.

The IDF forces called on him to stop and, when he didn’t, they fired at him as part of protocol. The man, who as injured, has been detained and was evacuated to a nearby hospital for treatment.

In the hours following the attack, the assailant’s home was raided.        (Jerusalem Post)

US Mideast envoy Greenblatt backs Israel on Palestinian unity deal

US special envoy to the Middle East, Jason Greenblatt, responded Thursday morning to the recently-struck Palestinian unity deal, backing up Israel in its stance on negotiations with a future, Hamas-run Palestinian government in the West Bank and in Gaza.

“All parties agree that it is essential that the Palestinian Authority be able to assume full, genuine, and unhindered civil and security responsibilities in Gaza and that we work together to improve the humanitarian situation for Palestinians living there,” Greenblatt wrote.

“The United States reiterates the importance of adherence to the Quartet principles: any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognize the State of Israel, accept previous agreements and obligations between the parties – including to disarm terrorists – and commit to peaceful negotiations. If Hamas is to play any role in a Palestinian government, it must accept these basic requirements.”

Israel’s security cabinet announced earlier this week that it would not negotiate with a Hamas-run Gaza until the terror group answers a list of Jerusalem’s demands. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced after the deal emerged this week that Israel will not hold talks unless Hamas recognizes Israel and stops terrorist activities, in accordance with Quartet principles established more than a decade ago, which Greenblatt referenced in his own statement.

Netanyahu also posed that Hamas must be disarmed, the bodies of Israeli soldiers and the Israeli citizens held by Hamas must be returned, and the Palestinian Authority must assume full security control over the Gaza Strip – including at the border crossings where it must prevent the smuggling of arms into the coastal strip.

The other conditions set by the security cabinet for continued diplomatic negotiations with the Palestinians are that it continue to thwart Hamas terrorist activity and the building of terrorist infrastructure in Judea and Samaria, that Hamas be cut off from Iran, and that funds and humanitarian supplies will flow into Gaza only through the PA and other internationally recognized mechanisms set up for this purpose.

After a decade-long rift, Hamas and Fatah reached an agreement in Cairo that concluded with the decision that Hamas will cede control of Gaza to the PA.

While both Israel and the US have addressed Hamas’ hostile history in their reactions to this agreement, the issue of Hamas’s armed wing, the Izzadin Kassam Brigades, has not been fully covered in the agreement between the rivaling factions.

However, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has said that PA President Mahmoud Abbas has said that he would not accept a scenario in which Hamas’s armed wing maintains control of its weapons. Meanwhile, Hamas leaders have said that their armed wing’s weapons are not up for discussion.

On December 1, the PA is expected to take control of Gaza.

Education and Diaspora Affairs Minister Naftali Bennett was the first Israeli official to respond to Greenblatt’s comments. “I want to congratulate Special Envoy Jason Greenblatt and the US Administration for their clear message: The Palestinian government must disarm terror groups and recognize the State of Israel,” Bennett stated Wednesday morning.

He also used the opportunity to reiterate Israel’s standpoint. “Also, I want to emphasize our Government’s stance: Israel will not negotiate with a Palestinian government supported by a terror organization until Hamas disarms, Israel is recognized and our citizens and fallen soldiers are returned to Israel,” he added.  (Jerusalem Post)

Netanyahu, Putin talk Syria tensions as Iran threatens from Damascus

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the Syrian conflict in a phone call Wednesday afternoon, two days after Israeli jets bombed an anti-aircraft battery near Damascus which had fired on an Israeli plane, the Kremlin said.

The two leaders also discussed the Iran nuclear deal and Iraqi Kurdistan, according to Moscow.

“There was a thorough discussion of ways to resolve the Syrian crisis, the situation surrounding Iran’s nuclear program and the results of the referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan,” a statement from the Kremlin read.

The report said the phone call was initiated by Israel. There was no immediate comment from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Russia is one of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s strongest backers and Jerusalem has butted heads with Moscow over fears that Iran will use chaos in Syria to gain a foothold on Israel’s doorstep.

On Wednesday afternoon rocket sirens rang out in IDF bases in the Golan Heights near Israel’s border with Syria. While the alarms were set off by internal fighting across the border, they underlined sky-high tensions in the area.

Speaking shortly after the sirens, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Israel had “all the tools needed to deal” with the challenge of Iran in Syria.

“The Iranians are trying to take control of Syria to become the dominant power there,” he said.

Earlier Wednesday, Iran’s army chief threatened Israel while on a visit to Damascus, saying Tehran regards Israel’s violations of Syrian sovereignty as unacceptable.

Liberman, who met this week with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu in Tel Aviv, said the threat underlined Israel’s oft-repeated warning that Iran was seeking to establish a permanent present there, and to target Israel, and said Israel would not allow this to happen.

Russia entered the Syrian civil war in 2015 in support of the regime of Syria’s President Bashar Assad, carrying out bombing runs against rebel groups fighting against Damascus. Assad is also backed by Iran, which has provided the embattled Syrian leader with money, men and materiel.

On Monday, Israeli jets bombed a Russian-made anti-aircraft battery near Damascus after a plane flying a reconnaissance mission in Lebanon was shot at, according to the Israel Defense Forces. Russia was kept informed of the Israeli action in real time, the IDF said.

Also Wednesday, Iran’s military chief of staff warned that Tehran would not tolerate violations of Syrian sovereignty by Israel and vowed that the two countries would jointly fight against Syria’s enemies.

“It is not acceptable for the Zionist regime to violate Syria any time it wants,” General Mohammad Bagheri said during a rare visit to Damascus that began Tuesday evening.

In August Netanyahu held a three-hour meeting with the Russian leader in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, telling him that Israel was willing to act to prevent a continued Iranian military presence in Syria.

Following that meeting Netanyahu said “Most of the discussion dealt with Iran’s attempt to establish a foothold in Syria in the places where ISIS was defeated and is leaving.”

According to the PMO at that time, the prime minister speaks with Putin on a regular basis.

“It must be noted that in the last two years Prime Minister Netanyahu has met with President Putin every few months to discuss bilateral and regional issues with the intention of preventing any clashes between Israeli and Russian air forces in Syria, with success until now,” the statement said.  (the Times of Israel)

Israeli lawmakers walk out of summit amid anti-Israel onslaught

A delegation of Israeli lawmakers on Wednesday stormed out of an international gathering of parliamentarians after facing a tongue lashing, heckling and resolutions critical of Jerusalem at the annual meeting.

Likud MK Sharren Haskel, Yesh Atid MK Haim Jelin, Zionist Union MKs Yossi Yonah and Nachman Shai, and Knesset Secretary Yardena Meller-Horowitz complained about mistreatment at the Inter-Parliament Union assembly in Saint Petersburg, Russia, including being heckled while trying to speak at the event.

While the lawmakers said they left to protest the body passing a series of resolutions that included calls for Israel to release two Palestinians convicted of participating in deadly terror attacks, the walkout occurred shortly after they were yelled at by a fellow lawmaker.

A video circulated on social media showed the speaker of the Kuwaiti National Assembly, Marzouq Al-Ghanim, shouting at the Israeli MKs that they were “child killers” and to “get out of the hall” after one of them addressed the summit. The delegation was then seen leaving the room.

“I want to respond to what the representative of this brutal occupying parliament said, a representative of the most dangerous form of terrorism, that is state terror,” Ghanim said. “There is parable that everyone in the world knows — if you do not feel shame then do as you please. So I say to you get out of here, occupier. If you have an atom of dignity get out of here, you occupier, child killers.”

The video then appears to show the Israeli delegation exiting the hall. It was not clear if they left immediately after Ghanim’s outburst or some time later.

Zionist Union MK Ksenia Svetlova said Thursday she was proud of the MKs for “defending the country’s honor” by leaving the hall.

“I would expect the organizers of the event to calm things down and not stand at the side in light of the verbal abuse and it is regrettable that they didn’t do so,” she said. “Sometimes it is not easy to represent Israel abroad, but despite this we must do it on every available platform. Our presence in the international arena and international organizations is extremely important.”

The Israeli MKs said they walked out not because of Ghanim, but rather because the gathering approved a range of anti-Israel resolutions including a call for the release of convicted terrorists Marwan Barghouti and Ahmed Saadat.

Other motions passed also rebuked Israel for holding Hamas members of the Palestinian National Council in administrative detention.

Before they exited, Shai addressed the summit and criticized it for asking Israel to release Barghouti and Saadat.

“I innocently thought that the organization, like the entire world, is united in the struggle against terror, since terror endangers every country in every place at every moment in the world. You want to release convicted murderers from prison? I though you want to fight terror and not help it, but the reality is different.”

Shai told the gathering that Israel is committed to peace with its neighbors, including the Palestinians, “but it will not come at the expense of the uncompromising struggle against the spread of terror.”

Representatives of several countries condemned Israel, including Syria, Pakistan, Jordan and Kuwait. A Palestinian Authority representative also condemned Israel.

Haskel told the parliamentarians that some of those present had no right to be telling Israel how to behave democratically, given their own track records.

“I think that it is a bad joke,” she said, struggling to speak over the din of noise as critics thumped on their desks. “Countries like Pakistan, Syria and Iran are behaving hypocritically, they are telling us (Israel) what is to preserve human rights. I don’t know if I should laugh or cry. This organization is supposed to preserve democracy, to create cooperation between countries and strengthen it, but behold, the Palestinian Authority hasn’t had elections for more than ten years and anyone under the age of 29 has never voted. What elected representatives are these?”

Haskel also told the forum, amid a barrage of heckling, that Israel is the only country in the region that guarantees equality for citizens of all religions.

After the meeting, the Israeli delegation sent a letter of complaint to the outgoing president of the organization, Saber Chowdhury from Bangladesh, saying that he deeply damaged the neutral position of the organization by allowing the Arab states to constantly interrupt the Israeli speakers and by not giving equal time to the members of the Knesset delegation.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it was not involved in arrangements for the event and that it is the Knesset that decides which MKs to send.

Earlier this month an Israeli lawmaker was accosted by a Moroccan official and branded a “war criminal” during a meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean and the World Trade Organization in Morocco’s capital of Rabat.

At the end of the session, Zionist Union MK Amir Peretz was approached by the head of an Islamist workers party in Morocco’s parliament, who began to yell at the former defense minister.

“You are a war criminal,” Abed al-Halak yelled at Peretz. “You were the Israeli defense minister and you are an unwanted guest here.”

Former Israeli Druze lawmaker Majalli Wahabi quickly came to Peretz’s defense, noting the Zionist Union MK was born in Morocco.

The chairman of the meeting later apologized to Peretz, saying, “This minority does not represent the parliament or the Moroccan people,” according to a spokesperson for Peretz.  (the Times of Israel)

IDF tanks strike Syrian army post after errant mortar fire

Israeli tanks struck a Syrian army mortar position near the city of Quneitra on Thursday, hours after a shell from Syria landed in the northern Golan Heights, the Israel Defense Forces said.

On Thursday afternoon, the mortar shell landed in an open field on the Golan Heights in an apparent case of spillover fire from the fighting in Syria, the army said.

There were no reports of injuries or property damage.

In response to the shelling, Israeli tanks stationed near the border fired back at the Syrian military position on Thursday evening. The IDF said the mortar position it attacked was the same one that fired the shell earlier in the day.

“The IDF holds the Syrian regime responsible for any aggression from within its territory, and will not tolerate any attacks threatening the Israeli sovereignty and the safety of its civilians,” the army said.

No siren was sounded as the warning system detected the projectile would land in an uninhabited area.

There has been an apparent uptick in the fighting on the Syrian side of the border, between rebel militias and dictator Bashar Assad’s army.

On Wednesday afternoon, rocket sirens rang out in IDF bases in the Golan Heights, set off by internal fighting across the border.

The spillover also came after Israeli jets bombed an anti-aircraft battery near Damascus earlier in the week, which had fired on an Israeli plane.

On Wednesday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said Israel had “all the tools needed to deal” with the challenge of Iran in Syria, one of the strongest backers of the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“The Iranians are trying to take control of Syria to become the dominant power there,” he said.

Also Wednesday, Iran’s military chief of staff warned that Tehran would not tolerate violations of Syrian sovereignty by Israel and vowed that the two countries would jointly fight against Syria’s enemies. (the Times of Israel)