‘Islamic State’ claims Israel stabbing attack, but so does Hamas

For the first time the Islamic State has claimed direct responsibility for an attack in Israel. A border guard who was responding to a shooting attack when she was stabbed multiple times has been killed.

Israeli policewoman lies dead after a stabbing attack (Picture-Alliance/dpa/AP/M. Illean)

On Saturday, the Islamic State (IS) claimed responsibility on Saturday for the fatal stabbing of an Israeli policewoman outside Jerusalem’s Old City.

In an online statement, IS claimed that fighters had targeted a “gathering of Jews” and warned that “this attack will not be the last.”

Police said two people shot at a group of officers, who returned fire. Meanwhile, at another location, one person stabbed a border policewoman before being shot.

Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said Hadas Malka, 23, was responding to the initial shooting when she was assaulted with a knife. Malka wrestled with the man for several seconds as he stabbed her multiple times before other officers saw what was happening and opened fire, killing him, Samri said. Malka later died of her wounds in hospital.

The three attackers were shot dead.

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IS ‘revenge’ attack?

Israel has been hit by several IS-inspired attacks in the past, and authorities have arrested people with suspected links to the group, but this is the first time IS has directly claimed an attack on Israeli soil.

IS claimed that the attack was “revenge for the religion of Allah and the sanctities of the violated Muslims.”

“Let the Jews watch for the demise of their state at the hands of the soldiers of the Caliphate,” the statement said.

But Hamas, the militant group that runs the Gaza strip, rejected the claim, saying the attackers had come from among its ranks and those of a leftist liberation movement.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abou Zouhri said the IS’s claim was an attempt to “muddy the waters,” adding that the attack was carried out by “two Palestinians from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and a third from Hamas.”

The killing was “a natural response to the crimes of the occupier,” he said, echoing the language used by Hamas after other recent attacks in Israel.

A spokesman for Israel’s internal security agency told AFP it was “impossible to corroborate (the IS claim) at this point.”

The Israeli army refuted claims by both IS and Hamas saying that its preliminary intelligence evaluation “found no evidence of them belonging to any group, rather they appear to have been a typical popular terror squad.”

Ramadan attack

The attack happened as Muslims marked the end of the third Friday of the fasting month of Ramadan, during which tens of thousands of Palestinians from east Jerusalem and the West Bank attended prayers at the nearby Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, Islam’s third-holiest site.

It was the latest in a wave of attacks on civilians and soldiers that erupted in 2015.

In that time Palestinian assailants have killed 43 Israelis, two visiting Americans and a British student, mainly in stabbing, shooting and vehicular attacks. Israel has killed 250 Palestinians during the same period, mostly identified as attackers.

shs, aw/cmk (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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Israel approves largest West Bank settlement construction in 25 years

Israel approves largest West Bank settlement construction in 25 years
Israel has greenlighted plans for over 8,000 new homes in the West Bank, with over a third for “immediate” construction, the defense minister revealed on Sunday, making it the largest expansion of Jewish settlements in the area in 25 years.

According to Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, 3,651 settlements were approved last week, Haaretz reports. The minister noted that “What we’ve approved on June 6 and 7 is the maximum that can be approved.”

Plans for 8,345 new housing units have been approved by the Israeli authorities so far this year, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency writes, citing Liebermann. Out of these, 3,066 have been given final approval and will soon be built.

“The numbers for the first half of 2017 are the highest since 1992,” Lieberman said, as cited by local media and news agencies.

The defense minister also praised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government for its aggressive stance on expanding Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

“There was no better government in terms of settlement construction,” he said, according to Haaretz.

For some, however, the plans appear to fall short of expectations.

“I respect the defense minister very much but unfortunately the numbers he mentioned aren’t correct,” Yossi Dagan, the head of the Samaria Regional Council, said, according to the newspaper. According to Dagan, most of the approved units “are counted five or six times,” essentially putting the “real number” under 2,000 housing units.

However, according to Lieberman, pushing for more would “stretch the rope beyond its limit, and thus put the entire settlement enterprise at risk.”

Nearly 400,000 Jewish settlers are estimated to be living in the West Bank along with 2.8 million Palestinians. Another 200,000 Israelis live in East Jerusalem, an area claimed by Palestinians.

The construction of settlements in the region is considered illegal under international law. The international community has long voiced concerns over the controversial constructions while condemning the deteriorating security situation between Israelis and Palestinians.

The government of Israel stopped building official settlements in 1992, according to Israeli monitoring group Peace Now. That, however, did not stop the construction of unauthorized settlements in the West Bank.

Israeli military test-fires undisclosed type of missile (VIDEO)

Israeli military test-fires undisclosed type of missile (VIDEO)
Israel has conducted a test-launch of a rocket propulsion system of an undisclosed missile type, according to the Israeli Air Force.

The launch took place in the early hours of Monday at a military base in central Israel, the military said on Twitter.

The Air Force didn’t specify what system was tested, only saying that the scheduled launch was “carried out as planned.”

The rocket’s flight was seen by a number of residents, who posted videos of the launch on social media.

It is the first missile firing in the country since January, when the military successfully tested its Magic Wand missile interception system, which it said was close to going into service.

It is the first missile firing in the country since January, when the military successfully tested its Magic Wand missile interception system, which it said was close to going into service.

Israel currently uses three different systems of air defense. The Iron Dome system intercepts short-range rockets, the Arrow system deals with ballistic missiles outside of the Earth’s atmosphere, and the David’s Sling system shoots down tactical ballistic missiles, medium- to long-range rockets and cruise missiles.

According to Western media reports, Israel is also in possession of its own Jericho 3 surface-to-surface intercontinental ballistic missile, which is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

The Jericho 3 propulsion system reportedly had a range of 4,000 kilometers in 2013, which has since been increased to over 10,000 kilometers.

EU Parliament condemns Israeli settlements

The European Parliament has denounced Israel’s latest settlement push and announced an EU peace initiative. An Israeli group says it is the first time the EU has mentioned alleged Palestinian funding of terrorism.

Symbolbild Israel Siedlungen im Westjordanland (picture-alliance/newscom/D. Hill)

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Israel approves first new West Bank settlement in two decades

Members of the European Parliament on Thursday attacked Israel’s settlement policy, particularly a law that retroactively legalized Jewish settlements on privately owned Palestinian land.

A “two-state solution on the basis of the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as the capital of both states” was the only viable option for lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians, MEPs said in a resolution.

The resolution called for Israel to immediately stop construction of new settlements as they were “illegal under international law, undermine the two-state solution, and constitute a major obstacle to peace efforts.”

The resolution condemned all acts of violence and terrorism and all acts of provocation and incitement, including on Israelis.

MEPs signaled their intention to launch a new EU peace initiative to focusing on the two-state solution and to achieve concrete results within a set period.

Five major parliamentary groups voted in favor of the resolution, which singled out the so-called regularization law approved by Israel’s parliament in February.

The Brussels-based American Jewish Committee Transatlantic Institute commended the EU’s resolution, saying previous resolutions lacked balance.

“While we would have wished for even clearer language, we appreciate the important step Parliament has taken to end the counterproductive habit of sheltering the Palestinians from legitimate criticism,” said Director Daniel Schwammenthal.

“By unflinchingly addressing also the Palestinians’ own shortcomings that prevent the creation of an independent Palestinian state – such as incitement, terror, corruption, lack of rule of law, internal division – the EU can play a truly constructive role in the peace process.”

His comments referred to language in the resolution he interpreted as an “indirect condemnation of the Palestinian Authority for paying significant salaries to Palestinian terrorists in Israeli prisons.”

About 600,000 Israeli settlers live in more than 200 settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

In December, the Israeli government lashed out over a UN Security Council resolution that condemned Israeli settlement building in the Palestinian Territories and called on Israel to stop immediately.

aw/rt (AFP, dpa)

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Israel Said to Be Source of Secret Intelligence Trump Gave to Russians

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President Trump escorting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel into the White House in February.CreditStephen Crowley/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The classified intelligence that President Trump disclosed in a meeting last week with Russian officials at the White House was provided by Israel, according to a current and a former American official familiar with how the United States obtained the information. The revelation adds a potential diplomatic complication to an episode that has renewed questions about how the White House handles sensitive intelligence.

Israel is one of the United States’ most important allies and runs one of the most active espionage networks in the Middle East. Mr. Trump’s boasting about some of Israel’s most sensitive information to the Russians could damage the relationship between the two countries and raises the possibility that the information could be passed to Iran, Russia’s close ally and Israel’s main threat in the region.

Israeli officials would not confirm that they were the source of the information that Mr. Trump shared, which was about an Islamic State plot. In a statement emailed to The New York Times, Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, reaffirmed that the two countries would maintain a close counterterrorism relationship.

“Israel has full confidence in our intelligence-sharing relationship with the United States and looks forward to deepening that relationship in the years ahead under President Trump,” Mr. Dermer said.

Mr. Trump said on Twitter that he had an “absolute right” to share information in the interest of fighting terrorism and called his meeting with the Russians “very, very successful” in a brief appearance later at the White House.

On Capitol Hill, reaction split along party lines, but even many Republicans indicated that they wanted the White House to show more discipline.

“There’s some alignments that need to take place over there, and I think they’re fully aware of that,” said Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee and the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. “Just the decision-making processes and everybody being on the same page.”

In the meeting last week, Mr. Trump told Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, and Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, details about the Islamic State plot, including the city in Syria where the ally learned the information, the current official said. At least some of the details that the United States has about the Islamic State plot came from the Israelis, said the officials, who were not authorized to discuss the matter and spoke on the condition of anonymity.

It was not clear whether the president or the other Americans in the meeting were aware of the sensitivity of what was shared. Only afterward, when notes on the discussion were circulated among National Security Council officials, was the information flagged as too sensitive to be shared, even among many American officials, the officials said.

Intelligence officials worried that Mr. Trump provided enough details to effectively expose the source of the information and the manner in which it had been collected.

Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser, defended Mr. Trump’s move, saying the president made a spur-of-the-moment decision to tell the Russians what he knew and did not expose the source of the intelligence because he was not told where it came from.

Moreover, General McMaster said that by discussing the city where the information originated, the president had not given away secrets. “It was nothing that you would not know from open-source reporting in terms of a source of concern,” he said. “And it had all to do with operations that are already ongoing, had been made public for months.”

Two senior United States military officials said that Mr. Trump’s disclosures seemed to align with an increasing concern that militants responsible for such attacks were slipping out of Raqqa, the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed capital, and taking refuge in other cities under their control, such as Deir al-Zour and Mayadeen.

These officials said they had no specific knowledge of what Mr. Trump told the two senior Russian diplomats in the Oval Office last week, or how that related to a likely decision expected soon by the Homeland Security Department to expand its ban on carrying portable electronics. But the officials said the timing of the events seemed hardly a coincidence.

American and British authorities in March barred passengers from airports in 10 predominantly Muslim countries from carrying laptop computers, iPads and other devices larger than a cellphone aboard inbound flights to the United States after intelligence analysts concluded that the Islamic State was developing a type of bomb hidden in batteries. Homeland Security officials are considering whether to broaden the ban to include airports in Europe and possibly other places, American security officials said Tuesday.

Mr. Trump’s disclosure was also likely to fuel questions about the president’s relationship with Moscow at the same time that the F.B.I. and congressional committees are investigating whether his associates cooperated with Russian meddling in last year’s election. Mr. Trump has repeatedly dismissed such suspicions as false stories spread by Democrats to explain their election defeat, but his friendly approach toward President Vladimir V. Putin in spite of Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine and other actions has stirred controversy.

The timing of the episode also threatened to overshadow Mr. Trump’s first trip abroad as president. He is scheduled to leave on Friday for Saudi Arabia, Israel, Italy and Belgium.

In Israel, he was already likely to contend with Israeli officials rattled by the administration’s refusal to say outright that the Western Wall, one of the holiest prayer sites in Judaism, lies in Israel, and is not subject to territorial claims by the Palestinians. The wall is in Jerusalem — part of what is known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary — and is considered one of the holiest sites in Islam. Both the Israelis and Palestinians claim the city as their capital.

Now, the Americans and Israelis will have to contend with the serious breach of espionage etiquette. Israel had previously urged the United States to be careful about the handling of the intelligence that Mr. Trump discussed, the officials said.

Former officials said it was not uncommon for presidents to unintentionally say too much in meetings, and they said that in administrations from both parties, staff members typically established bright lines for their bosses to avoid crossing before such meetings.

“The Russians have the widest intelligence collection mechanism in the world outside of our own,” said John Sipher, a 28-year veteran of the C.I.A. who served in Moscow in the 1990s and later ran the agency’s Russia program for three years. “They can put together a good picture with just a few details. They can marry President Trump’s comments with their own intelligence, and intelligence from their allies. They can also deploy additional resources to find out details.”

Nonetheless, General McMaster said he was not concerned that information sharing among partner countries might stop.

“What the president discussed with the foreign minister was wholly appropriate to that conversation and is consistent with the routine sharing of information between the president and any leaders with whom he’s engaged,” General McMaster said at a White House briefing, seeking to play down the sensitivity of the information that Mr. Trump disclosed.

Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, declined to tell reporters whether the White House had reached out to the ally that provided the sensitive intelligence.

But General McMaster appeared to acknowledge that Thomas P. Bossert, the assistant to the president for Homeland Security and counterterrorism, had called the C.I.A. and the National Security Agency after the meeting with the Russian officials. Other officials have said that the spy agencies were contacted to help contain the damage from the leak to the Russians.

General McMaster would not confirm that Mr. Bossert made the calls but suggested that if he did, he was acting “maybe from an overabundance of caution.”

The episode could have far-reaching consequences, Democrats warned. Any country that shares intelligence with American officials “could decide it can’t trust the United States with information, or worse, that it can’t trust the president of the United States with information,” said Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee.

“I have to hope that someone will counsel the president about just what it means to protect closely held information and why this is so dangerous, ultimately, to our national security,” Mr. Schiff said at a policy conference in Washington sponsored by the Center for American Progress, a liberal group.

Russia dismissed the reports. A spokeswoman for the Russian Foreign Ministry denied that Mr. Trump had given classified information to Russian officials, and she denigrated American news reports of the disclosure as “fake.”

Sharing the United States’ own intelligence with Russia, much less information from a foreign ally, has long been a contentious issues in American national security circles. In fact, many Republicans strenuously objected last year when the Obama administration proposed sharing limited intelligence about Syria with Russia.

One of the Republicans was Mike Pompeo, the former congressman from Kansas who now runs the C.I.A. In an appearance last year on a podcast hosted by Frank Gaffney, a former Reagan administration official now best known for his anti-Muslim views, Mr. Pompeo said sharing intelligence with the Russians was a “dumb idea.”

Israeli right-wingers in cabinet push for Jewish state status to be set in law

The move comes just two weeks before US President Tump is expected to visit the region to discuss renewing peace talks. Critics say the measure would relegate Israeli Arabs to second class citizens.

Symbolbild Israel Siedlungen im Westjordanland (picture-alliance/newscom/D. Hill)

Right-wingers in Israel’s cabinet have renewed their push to anchor the country’s status as a Jewish state into law. Opponents say it would relegate the Arab minority to second-class citizens and further diminish any hopes for a peace settlement with the Palestinians.

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The revision of a bill, first proposed in 2011, declares the “State of Israel is the national home of the Jewish people,” its author, Avi Dichter of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, wrote on Facebook.

The legislation still has to pass through the Justice Ministry and wind its way through parliament. But the cabinet level move, coming just two weeks before a visit by US President Donald Trump, carries political significance.

The bill could help Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu firm up relations with far-right members of his cabinet and underpin his bid to press Palestinians to recognize Israel as the “nation-state” of the Jewish people.

Netanyahu has long demanded such recognition as a precondition for reviving Israeli-Palestinian peace talks which had been moribund for years and collapsed outright in 2014.

Trump has pledged to jumpstart peace talks. But Palestinians say accepting Netanyahu’s demand could deny Palestinian refugees of past wars any right of return.

Second-class citizens

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has characterized such “nation-state” legislation as putting “obstacles in the way of peace.” Others, such as Arab legislator Ayman Odeh, have been more blunt in their criticism.

Odeh slammed the proposed bill, writing on Twitter: “The nation-state law is tyranny by the majority and ‘legally’ turns us into second-class citizens.”

Critics also note that the proposed legislation, which also declares that the “right to self determination” in Israel is “unique to the Jewish people” impinges on the rights of its Arab minority, who make up some 20 percent of the population.

Israel Frank-Walter Steinmeier und Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem (picture alliance/dpa/Newscom/R. Zvulun)German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has visited Israel

The bill designates Hebrew as the country’s only official language, although it requires government services and forms to be available in Arabic as well.

But Dichter defended the new bill calling it, “an important step in entrenching our identity, not only in the consciousness of the world but primarily in our own minds.”

The revised bill appears to soften previous language that would have given Jewish values prominence in law-making and judicial decisions.

Centrist resistance

But the bill is not only opposed by political opponents but even centrists in Netanyahu’s government have argued against a “nation-state” bill, calling it unnecessary and noting that the 1948 Declaration of Independence already proclaimed Israel a Jewish state.

They have accused Netanyahu of pandering to right-wingers.

During his upcoming visit to the Middle East, Trump is expected to discuss how he plans to broker peace between Israelis and Palestinians – a goal that has eluded US presidents for decades. He is also expected to meet Abbas during his trip.

Odeh told the Times of Israel, “The danger of this bill is that it creates two classes of citizens.”

bik/jm (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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Two-state solution in the air, but Trump still confident of Middle East peace

US President Trump has vowed to “do whatever is necessary” to reach peace between Israelis and Palestinians. After meeting Palestinian leader Abbas, Trump said peace is “maybe not as difficult as people have thought.”

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Trump sees ‘good chance’ for Mideast peace

After a meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, US President Donald Trump told reporters on Wednesday that he’d “love to be a mediator, an arbitrator or a facilitator” between Israel and the Palestinians in a bid to achieve a Middle East peace agreement.

The US president said he believes, “We will get it done.” But he also conceded that a deal “cannot be imposed by the United States or any other nation.”

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“It’s … something that I think is frankly maybe not as difficult as people have thought over the years,” he said at the beginning of a lunch with Abbas and senior US and Palestinian leaders.

No new strategy

In doing so, Trump committed his administration to helping to resolve the decades-old conflict, something his three direct predecessors have failed to achieve. But at the same time, he didn’t offer any new strategy about how peace could be achieved.

Questions have been raised about Trump’s choice of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who entered the White House with no government experience, to oversee Middle East peace efforts, along with Trump’s longtime business lawyer, Jason Greenblatt, as on-the-ground envoy.

Abbas spoke through an interpreter and was equally positive, saying: “We are coming into a new opportunity a new horizon that would enable us to bring about peace.”

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But he added that peace with Israel must be “based on the vision of two states” based on the 1967 borders with the Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, and renewed his call for Israel to end its occupation of Palestinian land.

Abbas said he hoped the US could be “true partners” to bring about a historic settlement.

Confusing signals

But Trump’s commitment was met with skepticism in diplomatic quarters, coming just two months after he broke with the longstanding US policy of advocating a two-state solution, and vowed to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, breaking with US policies that have lasted decades.

That move would likely spark Palestinian fury and is privately seen by many in the Israel and US security establishments as needlessly inflammatory.

On Tuesday, US Vice President Mike Pence said that “serious consideration” was still being given to the embassy move.

Plans are being made for Trump to visit Netanyahu in Jerusalem later this month, and possibly meet Abbas in the West Bank, the Reuters news agency reported on Wednesday. It said US and Israeli officials have declined to confirm the trip.

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