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Latest Israel News – 21st March

Updates from Israel and the Jewish World

Compiled by Dr Ron Wiseman

UNIFIL confirms existence of 6 tunnels in south Lebanon

The UN Interim Force in Lebanon has confirmed the existence of six tunnels in southern Lebanon, two of which violated the Blue Line and crossed into Israeli territory.

While UNIFIL said it could not determine who built the tunnels or when, they were recorded by UNIFIL in the region of Kafr Kila after UNIFIL engineers used verification tools such as laser range finders to confirm their existence.

Though the IDF reported the existence of six cross-border tunnels, UNIFIL was able to visit only five of them, as one was destroyed by Israel’s military before it notified UNIFIL.

UNIFIL is said to have requested to enter one disused brick factory across from Metulla, after Israel filled it with liquid concrete, but the government of Lebanon refused to give it access, as it was private property. The property was said to then be completely covered in blue tarpaulins within 24 hours of UNIFIL’s request.

Israel launched Operation Northern Shield in early December and destroyed at least five cross-border tunnels, either by explosives or by flooding with liquid concrete.

The tunnel underneath the brick factory was the first one to be discovered by the IDF and stretched some 40 meters into kiwi and apple orchards belonging to the community of Metulla. According to the military, the tunnel, which stretched a total of 200 meters, took Hezbollah around two years to build.

Hezbollah, the military said, chose the building because of its strategic location, in near proximity to a UNIFIL post and hidden behind the security wall and not visible from Israel.

The military discovered the location of the tunnel after Israeli jets noticed dozens of trucks going in and out of the building and driving some 10-12 kilometers to dispose of the material.

The IDF declared the end of the operation in mid-January, saying that it had “deprived Hezbollah of the unique offensive abilities it had built for years as part of its planned attack on Israeli territory,” and strengthened security along the northern border.

On Tuesday the military held a ceremony to mark the conclusion of the operation, in the presence of OC Northern Command Maj.-Gen. Yoel Strick; the commander of the 91st Division, Brig.-Gen. Rafi Milo; officers from the 91st Galilee Division and its regional brigades, defense battalions, and technological units; as well as intelligence officials, combat engineering troops, representatives of the civilian communities in the Galilee region, and others.

During the ceremony, Strick awarded a decoration to the Yahalom unit, the elite unit of the Combat Engineering Corps, for leading a continuous, professional and exceptional effort to locate and neutralize the tunnels.

“Many different forces played a part in the operation, and the cooperation between them contributed to fulfilling the mission with efficiency, power and determination,” the military said in a statement.

On Monday, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed “deep concern” about Hezbollah’s tunnels, Lebanon’s Naharnet News reported. Guterres encouraged the Lebanese Armed Forces to “conduct all the necessary investigations on the Lebanese side,” in order to “confirm that the tunnels are no longer a security threat.”

According to the report, he also said that Hezbollah’s weapons could “jeopardize the stability of Lebanon and the region,” and called on UN member states to “carry out their duties” and stop supplying weapons and military equipment to nongovernment entities and individuals in Lebanon.             (Jerusalem Post) By: Anna Ahronheim

Palestinians attack Israelis with explosives at Joseph’s Tomb, 2 killed by IDF

On Wednesday, the Israeli military announced that two Palestinians who threw explosive devices at soldiers in Samaria drew fatal fire from troops.

The IDF explained that several explosive devices were hurled at troops securing Jewish worshipers at Joseph’s Tomb in Shechem (Nablus), not far from the city of Ariel.

Joseph’s Tomb remains a popular pilgrimage site for Jews, who require security details to pray at the site and are often attacked by local Arabs, who have killed Israelis there and committed major arson attacks.

On Wednesday, troops opened fire and killed two of the terrorists.

The Palestinian Health Ministry identified them as 21-year-old Raed Hamadan and 20-year-old Zeid Nouri.

The skirmish on Wednesday follows a raid late Tuesday in which Israeli forces discovered the location of Omar Abu Leilah, who carried out a weekend stabbing and shooting attack in Ariel during which he killed father of 12 Rabbi Ahiad Ettninger and IDF soldier Gal Qeidan.

Cornered in a building near Ramallah, Leilah opened fire on the soldiers pursuing him and was fatally shot.

The two-day manhunt for Leilah raised tensions in Samaria. (WIN) Staff

Palestinian said shot dead by Israeli troops near Bethlehem

A Palestinian man was reportedly shot dead Wednesday evening by Israeli troops near the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

According to the Palestinian Authority’s health ministry, three other Palestinians were wounded by Israeli fire, one of them critically. He was brought to a nearby hospital with a gunshot wound to the chest, the PA’s official Wafa news agency said.

The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement after midnight that a soldier posted near Bethlehem “opened fire after identifying stones being thrown at Israeli vehicles.”

The army said it was aware of the reports of Palestinian wounded and was investigating.

The dead Palestinian was named by the health ministry as 26-year-old Ahmad Manasra. Channel 13 reported that he has ties with Hamas.

The reports came amid heightened tensions following a deadly terror attack on Sunday in which a Palestinian shot dead a rabbi and an Israeli soldier in the northern West Bank.

The assailant, 18-year-old Omar Abu Laila, was killed in a shootout with Israeli forces Tuesday.

Earlier Wednesday, Israeli troops killed two Palestinians who the army said threw explosive devices at soldiers securing the entry of Jewish worshipers to Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus. (the Times of Israel) Staff

Meeting Pompeo, Netanyahu calls for recognition of Israeli Golan Heights

Meeting visiting US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on the international community to recognize Israeli sovereignty over areas of the Golan Heights.

“Just last week we uncovered efforts by Hezbollah, an Iranian proxy, to build a military network in Syria, in the Golan Heights. All of you can imagine what would have happened if Israel were not in the Golan: We would have Iran on the shores of the Sea of Galilee,” Netanyahu said at a joint press conference with Pompeo.

“I think, for this reason, and many more, it is time that the international community recognizes Israel’s stay on the Golan, and the fact that the Golan will always remain part of the State of Israel.”

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War and extended Israeli law to the territory in 1981, a step tantamount to annexation. But the United States and the international community have long considered it Syrian territory under Israeli occupation. The plateau lies along a strategic area on the border between Israel and Syria.

Last week for the first time, the Trump administration referred to the Golan Heights as “Israeli-controlled” and ceased to refer to the West Bank as “occupied” in the US State Department’s annual report on human rights around the world.

Netanyahu said US President Donald Trump’s pressure on Iran was already having an effect, referring to his withdrawal from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers and the reimposition of sanctions.

“We need to increase it, we need to expand it, and together the United States and Israel are working in close coordination to roll back Iranian aggression in the region and around the world,” the premier told journalists after Pompeo arrived.

Pompeo spoke of a Middle East conference in Warsaw last month that included Arab nations as well as Israel, saying the discussions involved efforts “to stop Iran’s regional rampage” among other issues.

The US secretary of state also noted Iranian calls for Israel’s destruction.

“With such threats a daily reality of Israeli life, we maintain our unparalleled commitment to Israel’s security and firmly support your right to defend yourself,” he said.

Netanyahu reiterated his pledge to keep Iran from entrenching itself militarily in neighboring Syria, where the Islamic republic backs President Bashar Assad’s regime.

Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes there against what it says are Iranian and Hezbollah targets.

“There is no limitation to our freedom of action, and we appreciate very much the fact that the United States backs up our actions,” Netanyahu said.

Pompeo was scheduled to hold a series of meetings with Israeli leaders later Wednesday evening focused on countering Iranian aggression, as well as to participate in a tripartite meeting between the leaders of Israel, Greece and Cyprus about a planned natural gas pipeline from the Mediterranean to Europe.

Netanyahu was set to accompany Pompeo on a visit to the Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem on Thursday. The site, sanctified as a remnant of the ancient Jewish temple which stood on the Temple Mount, is located in East Jerusalem, which Palestinians want as the capital of a future state, giving Israel-hosted visits by foreign officials additional significance.

Pompeo was also set to visit the new US Embassy which moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 2018, driving a diplomatic wedge into US-Palestinian relations.

Pompeo kicked off his regional tour in Kuwait, where he met Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah on the first stop of a trip that will also take him to Lebanon. During Friday’s Beirut leg of his trip, Pompeo will focus on the Hezbollah movement, which the US considers a pro-Iranian “terrorist” group even though it is represented in the coalition government of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, himself a US ally.

While Washington insists it is not interfering in Israeli politics, Pompeo’s visit is seen as a sign of support for Netanyahu, who is struggling to keep his grip on power as he faces allegations of bribery, fraud and breach of trust ahead of the April 9 polls. The White House said Wednesday that Trump would meet with Netanyahu in Washington on March 24-25.

No meetings with Netanyahu’s opponents are scheduled, and the secretary of state will not meet with representatives of the Palestinian Authority.

The April vote in Israel will also start the countdown for the expected presentation of Washington’s Israeli-Palestinian peace plan that a small White House team — strongly pro-Israeli, analysts say — has been quietly preparing under the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner

Trump’s decision in December 2017 to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israeli delighted Netanyahu’s government, but it enraged Palestinians who want to make the eastern, mainly Palestinian part of the city, the capital of their future state.

Washington has taken a series of steps deemed hostile by the Palestinian Authority — including cutting most of the US aid to the Palestinians — and the PA now refuses any contact with the US administration. .   (the Times of Israel) Staff

In first, top US diplomat to join PM at Western Wall

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to visit the Western Wall on Thursday afternoon together with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in what could be seen as a tacit recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Jewish holy site.

The visit would mark the first time that Washington’s top diplomat visits Jerusalem’s contested Old City accompanied by a senior Israeli official.

At 4:00 p.m., Pompeo and Netanyahu will tour the wall and the adjacent tunnels, which are located underneath the Old City’s Muslim Quarter. At a visitors center, the two men are expected to view a virtual reality recreation of the Jewish temple that once stood on the Temple Mount.

“The tour of the Western Wall Tunnels allows visitors to reach the segments of the Wall hidden from view, and to touch the original and special stones that tell the story of the Jewish nation,” according to their website.

The international community does not recognize Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem, including the Old City, and so visiting foreign dignitaries generally refrain from going there in the company of Israeli officials.

Those who do want to tour the holy site usually do so in a private capacity, though in recent months an increasing number of foreign leaders have defied standard protocol and allowed Israeli diplomats to join them at the wall.

When US President Donald Trump visited the site in May of 2017, he did so without official Israeli accompaniment. Later that year, he formally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but stressed that he was not taking a position on the “specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders.”

In January of 2018, US Vice President Mike Pence also briefly visited the wall. Like Trump, he was accompanied by employees of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation but without Israeli diplomatic officials.

Celebrating the one-year anniversary of Trump’s Jerusalem declaration on December 6, 2018, Netanyahu joined US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman at a ceremony at the Western Wall.

At the time, Friedman noted with satisfaction that it may be the first time an Israeli prime minister has visited the site with any senior US official.

“I hope it’s the first of many more such occasions,” he said.

Just a few weeks later, on January 6, 2019, National Security Advisor John Bolton visited the wall and the tunnels, along with his Israeli counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat, and Israel’s ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer.

“This behavior will not change the fact that East Jerusalem is occupied territory and the capital of the state of Palestine,” Saeb Erekat, the secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, fumed at the time, arguing that such visits “undermine” international law and “lead to lawlessness.”

Pompeo is currently in Israel for talks about regional threats and efforts to export natural gas from the Mediterranean to Europe.

Hosting the secretary in his Jerusalem office Wednesday, Netanyahu hailed bilateral Israel-US ties. “It’s an unbreakable bond that’s based on shared values of liberty and democracy, and shared interest to fight the enemies of democracy, the enemies of our way of life, the terrorists that plague, that prowl our airspace and prowl our countries,” he said. He also praised Trump’s “historic” recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Later on Wednesday, Pompeo participated in an energy summit with Netanyahu, Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to discuss the creation of the so-called East Med Pipeline.  (the Times of Israel) By: Raphael Ahren

Hungary Opens Diplomatic Trade Mission in Jerusalem

Hungary opened a diplomatic trade mission in Jerusalem on Tuesday, demonstrating close ties with Israel and becoming the first European country in decades to do so, according to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who, along with Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto, participated in the ribbon-cutting ceremony and unveiled the building’s plaque.

The Hungarian diplomatic trade mission in Jerusalem will be an extension of the Hungarian Embassy in Israel in Tel Aviv.

“This is a very exciting moment for us because it’s the first European diplomatic mission opened in Jerusalem in many decades, and three Hungarian diplomats are going to be assigned to this office for trade purposes,” said Netanyahu. “That’s important for trade, for diplomacy and for the move that Hungary is leading right now to change the attitude in Europe towards Jerusalem.”

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced the diplomatic trade mission last month while visiting Netanyahu in Israel.

Szijjarto told Netanyahu that Hungary will not follow the European Commission’s policy of labeling items that are produced in Judea and Samaria.

“We do not support the list of companies in the settlements to be announced by the high representative of Human Rights of the United Nations,” he said, “and we urge for a tighter, better and more dynamic cooperation between Israel and the European Union.”   (the Algemeiner) Staff

Muslim who almost became terrorist confronts antisemitism at the UN

Meet Kasim Hafeez, the Pakistani Muslim who almost became a terrorist. And now he is slamming the antisemitism at the UN!

Kasim Hafeez is a British Muslim of Pakistani origin. He has since converted to Christianity. Hafeez grew up hating Israel and almost became a terrorist. What a different path that would have been! Not only is he not a terrorist, but today, he is a huge supporter of the Jewish state. He has dedicated his time and energy to advocating for Israel.

And he is also speaking up at the United Nations. The antisemitism at the UN is incessant. Hafeez has called out the UN for its treatment of Israel. But will the UN listen? If people won’t listen to someone like Kasim Hafeez, who will they listen to?

As Kasim says, he was taught lies about Israel. After learning the truth, he discovered Israel is a free and democratic country. It is a country that gives equal rights to all people. So why is the United Nations ignoring that? Why do they single out Israel? Hafeez is a proud defender of Israel, and it is reassuring to hear a voice like his speak up at a place with such extreme Israel and Jew hatred!   (Israel Unwired) Leah Rosenberg

Watch the video clip:

Israel’s Gaza conundrum

In Jerusalem and Cairo, the consensus is to pretend that the rockets on Tel Aviv never happened, for Israel has no choice but to keep talking to Hamas, as Iran is just waiting for a foothold

by Smadar Perry              Ynet News


This last weekend was not the first time that an Egyptian delegation was in Gaza while a rocket barrage was fired at Israel. It has actually happened twice in the not-too-distant past, the most famous of which was in October 2018, when rockets were fired at a Be’er Sheva home.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and the Egyptians are walking the line – on one hand, they are trying to broker an agreement between Israel and Hamas; on the other, they have not forgotten Hamas’ ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, which Sissi despises.

This time, however, real progress is being made. An Egyptian military-intelligence delegation visited Israel, according to the Saudi news outlet Independent Arabia, and later met with Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman in Cairo. “We had 70 percent of it (the agreement) in the bag,” one of the members of the Egyptian delegation told me. But then came news of two missiles fired at the Tel Aviv area from Gaza, catching the Egyptians by surprise.

Hamas, Egypt and Israel decided to accept that the launch – of rockets that have a range of 70 kilometers and that are only in the hands of Hamas and Islamic Jihad – was carried out “by mistake.” No one is really buying it, and in Gaza it has been known that Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar intends to try the two who launched the rockets, to save face with the Egyptians. In Israel, the consensus is that at best he will send them to jail only to be released a few days later.

The rocket fire came at a bad time for Hamas, for Egypt and for Israel. The only ones to benefit from this entire incident were Hamas’s main political rivals, Fatah, who are based in the West Bank. Palestinian President Mamhoud Abbas, who heads Fatah, has kept mum, but one of his people even leaked a somewhat spurious claim that Argaman had direct talks with Hamas deputy politburo chief Mousa Abu Marzook when he went to Cairo, mediated by the Egyptian intelligence chief Abbas Kamel.

It’s hard to believe that this happened, given Israel’s policy that its officials do not sit in the same room as Hamas — or even on the same floor of a hotel for that matter. Furthermore, the report was published only in the Independent Arabia by a reporter whom no one knows, which raises the suspicion that this was “fake news” from Ramallah.

And now, it is as if no rockets were ever fired on Thursday night. The security cabinet met in Tel Aviv to decide that they would continue indirect negotiations with Gaza. A message was sent to Egypt, whose delegation is going back to Gaza to pass on the Israeli demands for calm. The Egyptians also have to deal with the demands from Hamas, which include, among other things, an increase in aid from $15 million to $30 million per month and an increase in the supply of electricity.

The requests are reasonable, but they do leave a sour taste in the mouth. Israel must ensure that this financial aid does not end up in the pockets of Hamas and its associates. It also knows that if it says “no” to everything, the Iranians will step in, with the help of their Gazan friends in Islamic Jihad. They are just waiting for the opportunity.

Hamas also has to deal with the fallout from a series of massive handouts from Qatar. For when the citizens of the Gaza Strip saw that the money was going the Hamas leadership, who were also enjoying a fine supply of electricity to their own houses, they took to the streets in protest – and this time it was not Israel that was the focus of their anger.

But Hamas is still the sovereign power in the Gaza Strip, and for now it appears to have no viable replacement. This means that Israel must continue with efforts to reach an agreement with the terror group.

And here is the irony. With Egyptian help, Israel can reach understandings for calm with Gaza, despite the lack of a direct channel with Hamas. In the West Bank, where the purportedly friendlier Fatah is in charge, it is more complicated, at least until the 83-year-old Abbas is replaced.

10 wild ways to celebrate Purim in Israel

By Jessica Halfin   Israel 21c


(Click on the URL to see the article with many photos etc)