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Latest News in Israel – 24th October

PM Turnbull to pursue alleged sex offender’s extradition from Israel

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will raise the stalled extradition of former school principal and alleged sex offender Malka Leifer directly with Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem next week in a bid to dramatically step up pressure on Israel over the issue. The move will be part of a broader bipartisan Australian push to secure the extradition of Ms Leifer, who has claimed she is too ill to attend hearings in relation to her return to Australia to face 74 counts of child sex abuse while principal of an ultra-conservative Jewish school in Melbourne.

An Australian political delegation, including Labor MPs ­Michael Danby, Mark Dreyfus, Mike Kelly and Gai Brodtmann, has also sought to discuss the issue with Israel’s Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked on October 30, the day before Israel commemorates the 100th anniversary of the battle of Beersheba in 1917.

One of Ms Leifer’s victims, Dassi Erlich, and two of her sisters also abused by the former principal, will also meet Ms Shaked next week.

Australian authorities have been dismayed by the Israeli justice system which has, in effect, shielded Ms Leifer from facing justice in Australia.

Ms Leifer’s lawyers successfully argued last year that Ms Leifer was psychologically unwell and too ill to attend extradition hearings. In May an Israeli judge ordered that the proceedings halt while Ms Leifer underwent a psychiatric treatment — a process that could stretch on for years. The judge lifted her house arrest, allowing her to walk free after she was arrested in August 2014 at the request of Australian police.

Also in May, Ms Leifer was photographed at a festival in northern Israel, raising further doubts about her claims to be too ill to attend extradition hearings.

Last month, Mr Turnbull met Ms Erlich and her sisters and promised Canberra’s support.

“We are very grateful for Malcolm Turnbull’s support” Ms Erlich said told The Australian yesterday. “All we are asking for is justice. We want Malka Leifer to come back to Australia to face the charges against her. I can’t say how much this would mean for myself and for others …”

Michael Danby said: “It is now nearly four years since those Victorian charges (against Ms Leifer). Perhaps the Israeli judicial system and the Israeli Minister of Justice might consider having an independent psychiatric panel re-evaluate Ms Leifer’s ability to go before an extradition hearing in Israel and be returned to Australia to face those very grave charges.”

Australia’s Jewish community has also stepped up its push to influence the case, with prominent Jewish lawyer Mark Leibler meeting Ms Shaked in Israel in September to express the growing frustration in the Jewish community about the stalled extradition proceedings.

Ms Leifer was helped by senior members of Melbourne’s ultra-orthodox Adass community in 2008 after they became aware of allegations of sexual abuse involving Ms Leifer, who was principal of the Adass Israel School. Victoria Police would eventually charge her with 74 counts of sexual assault and rape.

In 2015, former Victorian Supreme Court judge Jack Rush ordered the school to pay $1,024,428 in damages after Ms Erlich sued the school.

Ms Leifer’s abuse of Ms Erlich began when Ms Erlich was 15 and continued for years. The leaders of the Adass community were widely criticised for helping Ms Leifer to fly to Israel on the night when allegations against her were first raised with them.

Former school principal and alleged sex offender Malka Leifer.

In his judgment, Justice Rush stated: “ The failure of the board to report the allegations to police prior to arranging Leifer’s urgent departure is deplorable.” (the Australian)

Palestinian man drops rock on head of Israeli boy playing in Hebron

A 12-year old Israeli boy was lightly injured by a Palestinian rock thrower while playing in the afternoon by Abraham’s well.

The IDF said it was investigating the matter and was  looking for the rock thrower. Hebron’s Jewish community spokesman Noam Arnon released a video which showed a man throwing a rock at the well.

Arnon said the boy initially lost consciousness and fell into the water but was rescued by his friends who ran to the Jewish homes in the Tel Rumedia neighborhood to seek help. The boy was transported by a United Hazalah ambulance to the Hadassah Medical Center at Ein Karem where he received 10 stitches and is undergoing further tests.  (Jerusalem Post)

After TV report, US official says no peace proposal ‘imminent’

A television report claiming US President Donald Trump’s administration will shortly unveil a formal proposal for Middle East peace is unfounded, although talks are continuing, a senior US official told The Times of Israel on Sunday.

Channel 2 television reported Sunday that the White House was close to revealing a “comprehensive regional arrangement.”

But a senior White House official said there were “no imminent plans” to reveal a talks outline.

“It would be more newsworthy if we weren’t working towards an enduring peace,” the source said. “We are engaged in a productive dialogue with all relevant parties about an enduring peace deal, but are not going to put an artificial deadline on anything. We have no imminent plans beyond continuing our conversations. As we have always said, our job is to facilitate a deal that works for both the Israelis and Palestinians, not to impose anything on them.”

Reports have proliferated in recent months that the administration is putting together a proposal, asking both the Israeli and Palestinians to hold off on any unilateral or inflammatory moves that could endanger any peace effort before its given a chance to get off the ground.

Earlier in the day, an administration official said that “creating a lasting peace agreement will take time,” in a statement on US special envoy Jason Greenblatt’s trip to Egypt to discuss a Palestinian reconciliation agreement.

The agreement between the rival Fatah and Hamas groups has cast some doubt on future peace efforts, with Israel saying it will not cooperate in a peace process with Hamas, unless the terror group renounces violence and recognizes Israel.

According to the television report, quoting unnamed sources in the Trump administration, the alleged proposal was drawn up on the basis that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is a credible leader who genuinely seeks a permanent accord.

The TV report said the US proposal would be aimed at bringing Arab states to the peace table with Israel, and that its components would be open to negotiation by all sides.

Such an approach would apparently represent a departure from previous US peace efforts, which focused primarily on Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has argued repeatedly that progress on the Palestinian front can be best achieved in the wider context of warming Israeli ties with Arab states.

Administration officials have in the past made plain that a proposal will be put forward at some point in the near future, and that the administration will discuss its specifics at that time.(the Times of Israel)

Golan Heights Residents on Edge After Latest Cross-Border Exchange of Fire; ‘After Syria Civil War Ends, Guns Will Be Turned on Israel’

Residents of Israel’s Golan Heights region are on edge following the latest exchange of fire on the border with Syria.

Early Saturday morning, five rockets were launched from Syria into Israel, hitting open areas, causing no injuries or damage. This prompted an IDF strike later in the day on three Syrian artillery pieces.

“Whether errant or not, any future occurrences will force the IDF to intensify its response,” the IDF said. “The IDF holds the Syrian regime responsible and won’t tolerate any attempt to breach Israeli sovereignty or threaten Israeli civilians’ safety.”

Eli Malka — the head of the Golan Regional Council — told the Hebrew news site nrg, “I hope that the clear response of the IDF will stop the shooting, but we are preparing for any potential escalation.”

Since the civil war in Syria erupted in 2011, Israel has largely sought to remain neutral in the bloody conflict, which has drawn in many regional players. However, the IDF has responded with pinpoint strikes to occasional cross-border fire — both errant and deliberate — in the Golan Heights and has reportedly targeted a number of Hezbollah-bound weapons convoys in Syria in recent years.

Israel has also provided medical treatment to thousands of people wounded in the fighting in Syria.

According to nrg, IDF officials believe Saturday’s rocket salvo was intentionally aimed at Israel and ordered by Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.

“These were not mortars or artillery shells, but rockets that struck our territory,” an unnamed IDF Northern Command officer was quoted as saying by nrg. “The chance this was not deliberate is low. There were no battles taking place in the area where the launch took place. This very well may have been a message from Syria. Our main concern now is that this doesn’t become routine, because we’ve already seen this sector heating up since March.”

For Malka, it did not matter whether the fire was directed at Israel on purpose or not. “A bomb is a bomb,” he said.

As Assad — aided by Russia and Iran — has gained strength over the past year, Malka added, authorities on the Golan Heights have been preparing for an end of the relative quiet that has prevailed in the area.

“After the civil war in Syria dies out, the guns will be turned on Israel,” he predicted.

Zionist Union MK Eyal Ben-Reuven, a retired IDF general whose service included a stint as deputy Northern Command chief, told nrg that Iran — the patron of Hezbollah and other Shia militias operating in Syria — had “an unequivocal interest in heating up the border.”

“The real landlord in Syria, the Russians, cannot stop this, and the Americans are not there,” he said. Therefore, he warned, there was a possibility of a “significant escalation” in the north. (the Algemeiner)

New negotiator for Israelis held in Gaza is right man for job, Netanyahu says

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday praised Yaron Blum, the new envoy to oversee efforts to negotiate the return of Israelis held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip, calling him the right man for the job.

Speaking at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, Netanyahu said he chose Blum for the position due to his role in negotiating the release of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, who was held in Gaza for five years until his release in 2011 as part of a controversial deal with the Hamas terror group in which Israel freed over 1,000 Palestinian security prisoners.

“He views this as a national mission,” Netanyahu said of Blum. “I think that he is the appropriate person for this important mission.”

The prime minister said he called the families of the Israelis being held by Hamas in Gaza prior to making the appointment and stressed to them his commitment to returning them to Israel.

“We understand our moral and humanitarian debt to do everything possible to bring them back,” he said, while adding that he was sure Blum would make a “very important contribution to this sacred mission.”

Former Shin Bet official Yaron Blum speaks in a Channel 10 interview on September 15, 2015. (screen capture: YouTube)

Netanyahu’s appointment of Blum, a veteran of the Shin Bet security agency, was announced on Saturday.

“In my opinion this is a national mission, and we all must do what we can do bring our boys home,” Blum told Channel 2. “I accepted the position with much motivation, after being asked by the prime minister.”

Blum is replacing Lior Lotan, who was appointed by Netanyahu to lead negotiations for the release of the remains of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, who were killed during a 50-day conflict with Hamas in 2014. The terror group is also believed to be holding three live Israeli citizens — Avraham Abera Mengistu, Hisham al-Sayed and Juma Ibrahim Abu Ghanima — who are all said to have entered the Gaza Strip of their own accord.

Lotan resigned the position in August, citing both personal and professional reasons.

Earlier this month, the Shaul family warned they would petition the High Court of Justice if a new government negotiator was not appointed to oversee efforts to retrieve their son’s remains.

Following Lotan’s resignation in August, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman said a replacement for Lotan should not be appointed until Israel draws up “clear boundaries” for prisoner swap negotiations in order to “make clear to [Israel’s enemies] that we have no intention of compromising on the security of the people of Israel.”

Liberman also said Israel must not repeat the “mistake” of the 2011 Shalit prisoner exchange deal, pointing to the high recidivism rate among terrorists released in the deal as grounds for opposing a future prisoner swap.

The father of Hadar Goldin condemned Liberman at the time for his remarks, calling the defense minister “weak” and “cowardly.”

On Saturday, Liberman wished Blum success in the new role, and said that Israel’s defense establishment would support him in any way.

As part of the efforts to return the bodies of Shaul and Goldin, Israel has reportedly been holding indirect talks with Hamas about a possible prisoner deal.

Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar reportedly said last month that Hamas has accepted an Egyptian proposal for a prisoner swap with Israel and is awaiting Jerusalem’s response to the offer.

His remark came after the Palestinian daily Al Quds quoted sources in Cairo as saying the Egyptian offer would see Israel first hand over the bodies of 39 Palestinians killed in the 2014 Gaza war, 19 of whom are Hamas members, in exchange for Hamas acknowledging the fate of IDF soldiers Shaul and Goldin.

In the second stage of the Egyptian plan, Israel would reportedly release the so-called “Shalit captives” — 58 Palestinians who were rearrested in the summer of 2014 after being set free in the 2011 Shalit swap. Hamas will then enter into genuine prisoner exchange talks with the Jewish state, the report said. The talks would reportedly be mediated by Egyptian intelligence services.

Sinwar also said at the time Lotan resigned over internal differences regarding the Israeli position toward a prisoner swap.  (the Times of Israel)

‘Germany secretly OKs Israeli submarine deal after corruption delays’

The German government has secretly approved a memorandum of understanding with Israel, greenlighting the stalled purchase of three cutting-edge submarines, put on hold after the $2 billion defense deal raised suspicion of corruption, senior Israeli officials said over the weekend.

The Germans stipulated, however, that if the corruption investigation, which is still ongoing, concludes that the deal was tainted by any criminal act, they retain the right to go back on the understandings and withhold the submarines.

The 2016 deal has been under public scrutiny since it emerged that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s personal attorney also represented the local agent of the German conglomerate ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, which builds the vessels.

The memorandum of understanding with Israel stipulates that Israel will procure three submarines from Germany, in addition to the five it already possesses and a sixth that is currently being built.

Individuals involved in the Israeli side of the agreement said that an “orderly process directly involving the attorney general and his staff, in conjunction with the National Security Council and the Defense Ministry,” had preceded the finalized memorandum.

According to German magazine Der Spiegel, the memorandum stipulates that the Germans will not be satisfied with a declaration by the Israeli government that no corruption had been found. Instead, the weekly reported, the agreement gives Germany the option of waiting until the police concludes its investigation before supplying the submarines to Israel.

Under the original submarine deal, which Netanyahu initially discussed with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Israel sought to receive all the submarines immediately. However, then-Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon decided that the submarines should only be collected from Germany once the submarines already in Israel’s fleet become outdated.

Ultimately, Ya’alon’s decision was overruled, but when the corruption allegations surfaced, the completion of the deal was repeatedly postponed.  (Israel Hayom)

Netanyahu to go to London next week for Balfour Declaration centennial

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will travel to London at the beginning of November to take part in events marking the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration.

This will be Netanyahu’s second visit to Britain in a year after his meeting there with British Prime Minister Theresa May in February. During that meeting, the British prime minister invited Netanyahu to take part in events marking the centennial of the Balfour Declaration.

Though the itinerary of the visit has not yet been announced, Netanyahu is expected to meet with May and other senior British officials during the trip. He is tentatively set to leave on Wednesday, November 1, and return to Israel on Sunday, November 5.

May has steadfastly rejected Palestinian demands that Britain apologize for the Balfour Declaration – the seminal document issued on November 2, 1917, that helped pave the way for the establishment of Israel – saying last month the declaration was “one of the most important letters in history.”

Writing in September in a magazine published by the Conservative Friends of Israel, May wrote that the anniversary would be noted with “pride.”

In April, the British Foreign Office said it had no intention of apologizing for the document. “We are proud of our role in creating the State of Israel,” it said in a statement. “The task now is to encourage moves toward peace.”

The Balfour Declaration was a letter sent by then-British foreign secretary Arthur James Balfour to Lord Walter Rothschild, a leader in the British Jewish community.

It stated: “His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

While not apologizing, the Foreign Office statement did add that the document “should have called for the protection of political rights of the non-Jewish communities in Palestine, particularly their right to self-determination.”

Numerous events in London, both pro and con, are scheduled in the coming days to mark the declaration’s centennial.

Meanwhile, The Jewish Chronicle reported Friday that Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn turned down an invitation to attend a dinner commemorating the document’s 100th anniversary.

The next day, Hamas posted a link to the article on Twitter and wrote, “Corbyn says no to dinner on celebrating the Balfour 100 in UK. UK should apologize and compensate Palestinians.” (Jerusalem Post)

The Iran-Hamas Plan to Destroy Israel

by Khaled Abu Toameh                 The Gatestone Institute

https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/11209/iran-hamas-destroy-israel

Iran’s goal in this move? For Hamas to maintain and enhance its preparation for war against Israel.

Iran’s message to Hamas: If you want us to continue providing you with financial and military aid, you must continue to hold on to your weapons and reject demands to disarm.

Iran wants Hamas to retain its security control over the Gaza Strip so that the Iranians can hold onto another power base in the Middle East, as it does with Hezbollah in Lebanon.

In a historic reawakening, Iran is once again meddling in the internal affairs of the Palestinians. This this does not bode well for the future of “reconciliation” between Hamas and Palestinian Authority’s Fatah faction run by President Mahmoud Abbas.The re-emergence of Iran, as it pursues its efforts to increase its political and military presence in the region, does not bode well for the future of stability in the Middle East.

The Iranians are urging Hamas to hold on to its weapons in spite of the recent “reconciliation” agreement signed between Hamas and Fatah under the auspices of Egypt. Iran’s goal in this move? For Hamas to maintain and enhance its preparation for war against Israel.

A high-level Hamas delegation headed by Saleh Arouri, deputy chairman of Hamas’s “political bureau,” traveled to Tehran last week to brief Iranian leaders on the “reconciliation” deal with Fatah. During the visit, Iranian leaders praised Hamas for resisting demands (by Fatah) to disarm and relinquish security control over the Gaza Strip.

“We congratulate you on your refusal to abandon your weapons, an issue that you consider as a red line,” Ali Velayati, a senior Iranian politician and advisor to Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Khamenei, told the visiting Hamas officials. “The Palestinian cause is the most important cause of the Islamic world, and after all this time you remain committed to the principle of resistance against the Zionists despite all the pressure you are facing.”

During the visit of a high-level Hamas delegation to Iran last week, Ali Velayati (pictured above in 2016), a senior Iranian politician and advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, told the visiting Hamas officials: “We congratulate you on your refusal to abandon your weapons…” (Image source: Hamed Malekpour/Wikimdia Commons)

Arouri and his colleagues rushed to Tehran to seek the support of the Iranian regime in the wake of demands by Abbas that Hamas allow the Palestinian Authority to assume security control over the Gaza Strip. The “reconciliation” agreement stipulates nothing about the need for Hamas to disarm, and Hamas officials have stressed during the past two weeks that they have no intention of laying down their weapons or dismantling their security apparatus in the Gaza Strip.

Hamas views the demand to disarm as part of an Israeli-American “conspiracy” designed to eliminate the Palestinian “resistance” and thwart the “reconciliation” accord with Abbas’s Fatah. Hamas’s refusal to disarm is already threatening to spoil the “reconciliation.”

Arouri was quoted during his visit to Tehran as saying that Hamas “will not backtrack on the option of defending the Palestinian people.” He specified that the “reconciliation” agreement with Fatah would not affect the weapons of the Palestinian “resistance,” including Hamas. Hamas, he added, will “confront the Israeli-American conspiracy through national unity and reconciliation and by continuing the resistance. The Palestinian resistance forces will always stick to their weapons and will not lay them down.”

Hamas also sees the visit of its top officials to Tehran as a rejection of Israel’s demand that it cut off its ties with Iran. Hamas officials say they continue to see their relations with Iran as “strategic and significant,” especially in wake of Tehran’s financial and military aid to their movement in the Gaza Strip.

By aligning itself with Iran, Hamas is also seeking to resist any demand that it abandon its ideology and charter, which call for the destruction of Israel and oppose any peace process between Israelis and Palestinians.

Iranian officials apparently do not like Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority and are not keen on seeing them return to the Gaza Strip. Iran considers Abbas a “traitor” because his Palestinian Authority conducts security coordination with Israel in the West Bank and claims that it is committed to a “peace process” with Israel. This position goes against Iran’s wish to destroy the “Zionist entity.”

Abbas, for his part, has always considered Iran a threat to his regime as well as to stability in the region. In the past, he has criticized Iran for “meddling” in the internal affairs of the Palestinians by supporting Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip.

Earlier this year, the Palestinian Authority strongly condemned Iran after a senior Iranian official accused Abbas of waging war in the Gaza Strip on behalf of Israel. The official’s statement came in response to a series of punitive measures imposed by Abbas on the Gaza Strip.

Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudaineh, accused Iran of meddling in the internal affairs of the Palestinians and some Arab countries. He said that Iran’s actions “encouraged divisions” among the Palestinians. “Iran must stop feeding civil wars in the Arab world,” he said. “Iran must stop using rhetoric that only serves Israel and the enemies of the Arabs.”

Abbas and the Palestinian Authority are now convinced that Iran is working towards foiling the “reconciliation” agreement with Hamas. They believe that Iran invited the Hamas leaders to Tehran to pressure them not to lay down its weapons.

Abbas and the Egyptians were probably naïve to think that Hamas would disarm and allow Abbas loyalists to deploy in the Gaza Strip after the signing of the “reconciliation” agreement. It is possible that some of the Hamas leaders had lied to Abbas and the Egyptians by hinting that Hamas would give up security control of the Gaza Strip.

The Egyptians, who played a major role in brokering the Hamas-Fatah deal, are also believed to be worried about Iran’s renewed meddling in the internal affairs of the Palestinians. Both the Palestinian Authority and Egypt see the visit of the Hamas delegation to Iran as a serious setback to the “reconciliation” agreement and as a sign that Hamas is not sincere about implementing the accord.

Some Palestinian Authority and Hamas officials have recently claimed that Israel was not happy with their “reconciliation” agreement and was doing its utmost to foil it. The truth, however, is that it is Iran and Hamas that are working to thwart the agreement by insisting on maintaining the status quo in the Gaza Strip. Iran’s message to Hamas: If you want us to continue providing you with financial and military aid, you must continue to hold on to your weapons and reject demands to disarm.

What is in it for Iran? Iran wants Hamas to retain its security control over the Gaza Strip so that the Iranians can hold onto another power base in the Middle East.

Iran wants Hamas to continue playing the role of a proxy, precisely as Hezbollah functions in Lebanon.

The last thing Iran wants is for the Palestinian Authority security forces to return to the Gaza Strip: that would spoil Tehran’s plans to advance its goal of destroying Israel.

Iran’s continued support for Hamas stems not out of love for either Hamas or the Palestinians, but from its own interest in consolidating its presence in the Middle East.

Many Palestinians see the “successful” visit of the Hamas officials to Tehran as a major setback for efforts to end the 10-year-long Hamas-Fatah dispute. Similarly, the Egyptians are now wary of the sudden rapprochement between Iran and Hamas and are beginning to ask themselves whether they have been duped by Hamas. An Israeli delegation that visited Cairo on the eve of the signing of the Hamas-Fatah deal is said to have warned the Egyptians that the “reconciliation” would not work unless Hamas disarms and severs its ties with Iran. However, the Egyptians reportedly failed to listen to the Israeli warning.

As for Israel, the US and other Western parties, the lesson to be drawn from the renewal of ties between Hamas and Iran is that Hamas has not changed one iota.

Contrary to delusional hopes, discussed on the heels of the “reconciliation” agreement in Cairo and based on lies and thin air, Hamas is not headed toward moderation and pragmatism. By openly supporting Hamas, Iran is once again demonstrating that it aims to fan the fire in the Middle East and continue to sabotage any prospects for peace.