July 25, 2018

In News Surrounding Israel by The Friends of Israel

Israel downs Syrian fighter jet with patriot missiles

Israel’s military downed a Syrian fighter jet that entered the northern part of the country on Tuesday afternoon.  The Syrian Sukhoi fighter jet was intercepted by two Patriot missiles launched from Safed after the jet penetrated 2 kilometers into Israeli airspace.

The Jerusalem Post learned the pilot was Colonel Umran Mare of Tartous. He was flying a two-seater Suhkoi 22 jet. The second pilot is believed to have bailed out of the aircraft and is still missing.  According to the IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Ronen Manelis the plane took off from Syria’s T4 Airbase in Homs and flew “very quickly” towards Israel before being shot down and falling in the southern part of Syria’s Golan Heights.

Manelis said that Israel had monitored the plane and that warnings were given in a number of languages and several different channels against infiltrating into Israel before it was shot down.  Israel has no interest in getting involved in the Syrian civil war, he continued stressing nonetheless that “we are prepared for any developments.”

The IDF “will not tolerate violations of the 1974 separation of forces agreement between Israel and Syria,” he said adding that Israel holds the Syrian regime accountable for the actions carried out in its territory.  Syria has confirmed that the plane, which was partaking in an offensive against Islamic State group fighters in the Yarmouk basin, was downed by Israel but denied that it crossed into Israeli airspace.

“The Israeli enemy confirms its support for the armed terrorist groups and targets one of our warplanes, which was striking their groups in the area of Saida on the edge of the Yarmouk Valley in Syrian airspace,” a Syrian military official was quoted as saying by the state news agency SANA.

Sky News Arabic reported that the plane fell in the area of the Yarmuk basin, a triangular border area between Syria, Israel and Jordan where there is intense fighting against the Islamic State group.  Incoming rocket alert sirens blared throughout northern Israel around 1.30PM in the Golan Regional Council, Jordan Valley and in the city of Katzrin.

“The air defense system was activated in our region, [but] there are no new guidelines,” read a statement from the Safed Municipality spokesperson.   The last time Israel shot down a Syrian jet by a Patriot missile was in 2014 after it penetrated 800 meters (2,600 feet) into Israeli air space. The crew managed to bail out of the plane that landed in Syrian territory.

It was the second-such incident of interceptors being fired in two days opposite Syrian areas where Damascus’s forces have been routing rebels.  According to Syria’s SANA news agency 21 villages and towns in the countryside of Daraa and Quneitra have been retaken by the regime.

In recent weeks Syrian government forces, backed by Russian air-power, have been retaking large swathes of territory on the Syrian Golan Heights from rebel groups along the Israeli border. Iranian forces and affiliated Shiite militias are also said to be playing a minor role in the offensive.

On Monday the Israel used its David Sling interceptor system for the first time, launching two missiles against two SS-21 Tochka tactical ballistic missiles launched from Syria. When the system determined that neither would hit Israeli territory, one of the interceptor missiles was ordered to self-destruct over Israel’s southern Golan Heights. The second David Sling interceptor missile meanwhile fell inside Syria without intercepting the second SS-21.



Israel partially reopens Gaza crossing amid reduction in fire balloon attacks

The main goods crossing from Israel into the Gaza Strip was partially reopened on Tuesday, after Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announced the move as attacks from the coastal enclave have largely, but not fully, subsided in recent days.

Beginning at noon on Tuesday, gasoline and diesel fuel were being allowed through the Kerem Shalom Crossing for the first time in over a week, along with the food and medical supplies that have entered Gaza daily since the crossing was closed, according to Liberman’s office.

“The minister’s decision came from the fact that Hamas has not completely stopped its terrorist activities, but has tried to keep them at a low level of incendiary balloon launches and clashes on the border, with known Hamas members responsible for it,” his office said in a statement Tuesday morning.

The minister said the crossing will only be fully reopened once the violence along the border ends completely.

“The crossing’s activities will be reviewed in the coming days in accordance with a decrease in the terror activities and provocations. The return of the Kerem Shalom Crossing to full operation is dependent upon a total end to the balloon launches and clashes on the border,” his office said.

On July 9, Israel closed the crossing as a punitive measure for ongoing violence from Gaza, mostly in the form of constant airborne arson attacks via kites and balloons bearing incendiary devices, regular riots along the security fence and occasional mortar and rocket fire.

Initially, only food, medical supplies and fuel were allowed through. On July 16, Israel further limited the transfer of goods through the crossing, halting the flow of gas and diesel fuel into the Strip, sparking concerns that the move could have a severe impact on the coastal enclave’s already-strained hospitals.

The Gaza Strip has been under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade that the two countries say is meant to prevent the ruling Hamas terror group from smuggling weapons into the Strip, as it has often attempted to do.

Liberman announced on Sunday that Israel would reopen the crossing on Tuesday if the violence from the Gaza Strip ended.

“Yesterday was one of the calmest days, perhaps, since March 30,” Liberman said, during a visit to the Kerem Shalom Crossing. “If that situation continues today and tomorrow as it was yesterday, then on Tuesday we will revive the regular procedures and also expand the fishing zone to what it was before.”

Though there has been a significant decrease in the number of incendiary balloons launched at Israel since Friday night, when Hamas reportedly agreed to a ceasefire, the practice has continued.

On Monday, an Israeli aircraft shot at a group of Gazans flying incendiary balloons into southern Israel from the northern Strip, east of the city of Jabaliya, according to the military and Palestinian reports. There were no injuries immediately reported.

On Sunday evening, an Israeli aircraft also fired at a group of Palestinians launching incendiary balloons into southern Israel from the northern Gaza Strip, the army said. The Hamas-run Gazan health ministry said two people were injured in the strike. It listed the injuries as light to moderate.

IDF tanks also struck a pair of observation posts on Saturday in response to an attempt to breach the border and an incendiary balloon launch.

In recent days, Liberman and other Israeli officials have signaled that Israel is prepared to go to war in order to stop the day-to-day violence along the Gaza border.

“Is the State of Israel interested in a war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip? The answer is no. Are we deterred from [starting] a campaign in the Gaza Strip? Here too, the answer is no,” Liberman told the army’s top brass on Monday.

The defense minister claimed Israel had “done everything in order to prevent a war in the Gaza Strip.”

“Anything that happens going forward in the Gaza Strip is the sole responsibility of the Hamas leadership,” he said.

Since March 30, southern Israel has experienced many fires as a result of incendiary kites and balloons. Over 7,000 acres of land has been burned, causing millions of shekels in damages, according to Israeli officials.

The reported ceasefire with Hamas was reached after the IDF pounded dozens of Hamas targets on Friday night in response to a sniper attack on the border earlier in the evening, in which a soldier was killed.



Palestinian poll shows decline in support for violence against Israel

A new survey by the Palestinian Arab World for Research and Development, “AWRAD,” Institute in Ramallah reports a 12 percent decline for those who support armed struggles against Israel.

The survey, which was distributed to 1,200 Palestinian people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip from July 7 to 10, showed support for armed struggle decrease from 57 percent in April to 45 percent.  

According to the survey, 58 percent of Gaza residents believe in armed struggle, compared to 37 percent in the West Bank. 34 percent of the respondents believe that a return to armed struggle will serve the interests of the Palestinians and will lead to a release of prisoners an end to the occupation, while 29 percent say it will not serve Palestinian interests. In Gaza, 45% believe that this will serve Palestinian interests, compared to 27% in the West Bank.

In addition, 87% of the Palestinians oppose the Palestinian Authority’s suspension of salaries to officials in the Gaza Strip, compared to 5% who support this decision.

The survey shows that 70 percent of Palestinians see that US President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” as the end of the “dream of the establishment of a Palestinian state,” with 78 percent of Gazans versus 65 percent of West Bank residents. A third of the Palestinians admitted that they knew nothing about the contents of the deal.

A large majority, 80 percent, view the suspension of international aid to the Palestinian Authority as a method to pressure the Palestinian leadership to agree to Trump’s deal.

About half of the surveyed Palestinians support PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and the Fatah movement, 18% support in Ismail Haniyeh and Hamas, and 27% believe another path should be taken.

Only 32 percent (43 percent of the West Bank and 15 percent of Gaza) believe that Palestinian society is heading in the right direction, compared to 60 percent who disagree.

The poll revealed a well-known fact: 88 percent of Gazans say the economic situation has deteriorated, compared to 32 percent of the West Bank, and on average 54 percent of Palestinians feel that their families’ economic situation has worsened.

A surprising figure is the support for the Palestinian parties; 32 percent support Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah, with support for Fatah rising to 34 percent in the Gaza Strip, compared to only 31 percent in the West Bank, while 12 percent of the Palestinians surveyed support Hamas (16 percent in Gaza Strip, and in the West Bank about 10%).

According to the poll, the swing voters will determine the next elections in the Palestinian Authority. As their share of the population is 45% -49% in the West Bank and 38% in the Gaza Strip.



Erdogan calls Israel’s nation-state law ‘fascist’, in ‘Hitler’s spirit’

ANKARA – Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that Israel’s Nation-State Law legitimizes oppression and shows that Israel is a fascist and racist country where the spirit of Adolf Hitler has re-emerged.

Erdogan, speaking to members of his ruling AK Party in parliament, said the law showed Israel was “the most Zionist, fascist and racist country in the world,” and called on the international community to mobilize against Israel.

“The Jewish Nation-State Law passed in the Israeli parliament shows this country’s real intentions. It legitimizes all unlawful actions and oppression,” Erdogan said.

“There is no difference between Hitler’s Aryan race obsession and Israel’s mentality. Hitler’s spirit has re-emerged among administrators in Israel,” he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded by saying that under Erdogan, Turkey was turning into a “dark dictatorship,” accusing the Turkish president of “massacring Syrians and Kurds.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett also responded harshly to Erdogan’s speech. “The State of Israel will not accept morality lectures from a dictator who hunts down and murders members of the Kurdish minority in his country and elsewhere,” Bennett said.

Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat (Likud) said “a dictator who compares Jews to Hitler is dangerous to all of humanity” and that “Erdogan’s dictatorship is growing to monstrous proportions, thanks to an apologetic international community.”

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni (Zionist Union said that “although Erdogan’s wicked political maneuver using Israel must be universally condemned, it is also unfortunate that Netanyahu is using it to make the Jewish Nation-State Law kosher.”

The controversial Jewish nation-state bill became Israel’s 14th Basic Law early Thursday morning after it passed into law in the Knesset plenum.

Applauding the vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the law as “a defining moment in the history of Zionism and the history of the State of Israel.

Erdogan said Israel had shown itself to be a “terror state” by attacking Palestinians with tanks and artillery, adding that the move would “drown the region and world in blood and suffering.”

Turkey and Israel, former allies, expelled each other’s top diplomats in May during a row over clashes in which dozens of Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces on the Gaza border. However, the two sides continue to trade with one another.

The two countries have long been at loggerheads over Israel’s policy towards the Palestinians and Jerusalem’s status. Erdogan has called for a summit of Muslim leaders twice in the past six months after US President Donald Trump decided to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The Jewish Nation-State Law is a Basic Law with constitutional heft that declares Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people. It anchors in law the state’s menorah emblem, Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, national holidays and the right of all Israeli residents to preserve their heritage without consideration of religion and nationality.

The two most controversial clauses in the bill were changed.

The Diaspora clause says, “The state will act in the Diaspora to maintain the connection between the state and the Jewish people.” The original version said that the connection would be maintained among “the Jewish people, wherever they are.”

A clause that could have permitted one religious group to bar another from living in their community was replaced with one saying that, “The state sees developing Jewish settlement as a national interest and will take steps to encourage, advance, and implement this interest.”



Israel offers Greece help in battling deadly wildfires

Israel offered to help Greece put out deadly wildfires that killed dozens of people on Monday and Tuesday and ravaged resort areas.

The death toll from the fires climbed to 50 in the morning, with a Red Cross official reporting the discovery of 26 more bodies at a seaside resort, making it the country’s deadliest fire season in more than a decade.

The authorities had previously announced 24 deaths and more than 150 injuries from wildfires around the Athens region, before finding the 26 dead at a villa in the coastal town of Mati.

“Following the terrible fires in Greece, Israeli authorities have approached their peers in Greece in order to offer any assistance needed,” the Israeli Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “At this stage, the Greek authorities are saying they have gained control of the fires. In any case, we have put crews on alert. Israel is at the disposal of Greece if it becomes necessary. Greek authorities thanked Israel for the offer.”

The ministry said the aid proposal was made by the National Security Council of the Prime Minister’s Office and Israel’s ambassador in Athens.

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan tweeted a message of empathy with the Greek authorities and people as they battle the flames.

“Israel will be ready, of course, to help Greece with land and air [fire] extinguishing whenever it is requested,” he wrote.

The Israeli embassy in Athens reported that it had no knowledge of Israelis in Greece who were affected by the fires.

Greece sought international help through the European Union as the fires on either side of Athens left lines of cars torched, charred farms and forests, and sent hundreds of people racing to beaches to be evacuated by navy vessels, yachts and fishing boats.

Authorities said Cyprus and Spain offered assistance after the request for EU help was made.

In 2016, Greece, along with Cyprus, was one of the first two countries to respond when Israel asked allies to send firefighting planes and other equipment and personnel to help fight blazes that burned thousands of acres and damaged hundreds of homes in the north of the country. Following those fires, Israel said it would form a regional emergency response force together with Greece and Cyprus to tackle future fires.

Greece also sent fire-fighting planes to Israel in 2010 when the Haifa region was ravaged by a massive wildfire that spread across the Carmel forest, killing 44 people. The fire, the deadliest natural disaster in Israel’s history, led to wide-ranging reforms in the firefighting service.

Showers that passed over the Greek capital Monday missed the two big fires — one at Rafina, 30 kilometers (18 miles) to the east, and the other at Kineta, 55 kilometers (35 miles) to the west. Heavy rain is forecast across southern Greece on Wednesday.

It was the deadliest fire season to hit Greece in more than a decade. More than 60 people were killed in 2007 when huge fires swept across the southern Peloponnese region.

Forest fires are common in Greece during the hot, dry summers, and temperatures recently hit highs up to 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).



Lack of funding threatens to shut down Temple Mount sifting project

Archeologists in Jerusalem say they have uncovered evidence from the Temple Mount that appears to corroborate large sections of the Bible’s description of religious practice in the ancient city.

Speaking to reporters during an exhibition of artifacts removed from the Temple Mount by Islamic officials in 1999, Prof. Gabriel Barkay, an adjunct professor of archaeology at Tel Aviv University the co-founder of the Temple Mount Sifting Project, said that sifting through mounds of dirt removed from site has unearthed an historical treasure trove of findings from the past three millennia of human history.

“Some archeologists have posited that King David and King Solomon were invented by the authors of the bible,” said Barkay, a Jerusalem Prize laureate. “Now, I can’t tell you that we’ve got a business card saying ‘King David.’ But the thousands of coins, stone weights, arrowheads, pottery, mosaic pieces and more show clearly that there was significant human activity at the right time and place to support the existence of David and Solomon’s kingdoms.”

Another example is the base of a pillar bearing the image of Astarte, an ancient goddess of fertility. “The way the pillar was broken shows that it was destroyed deliberately,” Barkay says, adding that ancient Jews would have viewed the carving of the goddess as idolatry and felt a religious duty to destroy it.

Barkay and Zachi Dvira, a doctoral candidate in archeology at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv, founded the Sifting Project in 2004, five years after the Jerusalem Islamic Waqf,  a Palestinian Authority body charged with overseeing the al-Aqsa Mosque compound, bulldozed a large pit on the Temple Mount between 1996-1999 in order to construct an entrance to Solomon’s Stables, an ancient underground structure which was converted into a mosque.

They say that Israeli antiquities law requires a salvage excavation before construction at archaeological sites, making the works illegal, and add that approximately 400 truckloads – 9,000 tons – of soil saturated with priceless archaeological artifacts were dumped as garbage in the nearby Kidron Valley.

Since then, they have unearthed more than half-million artifacts, changing scientists’ understanding of the Temple Mount. Barkay and Dvira say the Temple Mount has never been excavated by archaeologists due to ongoing political controversy surrounding the area. Ironically, however, once the dirt from the Mount was dumped as so-much-garbage by the Islamic Waqf into the nearby Kidron Valley, the soil presented an unprecedented opportunity.

“This is unknown territory. There is still a lot of work ahead,” they said. “Every single artifact is a world unto itself (and is extremely significant).

At the same time, Barkai and Dvira say the sifting project is in danger of stopping due to lack of funding. They say the project has survived to this point on private donations, but cannot continue without a contribution from the government.

“In order to preserve our scientific integrity, we have to hire researchers to write up and publish our findings in peer-reviewed journals. This costs money,” Dvira said.

Dvira said they have asked both Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Ministry of Education for funding with no luck, but added that he remains hopeful that the prime minister will eventually come through.

“(Netanyahu) showed a lot of interest in the project and promised to help,” he said. “But so far nothing has come of it.”