Hamas official on Gaza bloodshed: ‘Not expected to be like this’

Following one of the worst periods of violence in Gaza since the 2014 war, what has been the role of Hamas in the bloodshed? Did the group deliberately provoke Israel? Tim Sebastian meets a senior Hamas official.

    

Watch video26:01

Osama Hamdan on Conflict Zone

After 140 people were killed and more than 13,000 injured during the “Great March of Return” demonstrations in Gaza, a leading Hamas figure told DW the extent of the violence “was not expected to be like this.”

Osama Hamdan, Lebanon’s Hamas representative, said: “It was a civilian protest. It was an unarmed protest. The people who were killed, women, children, old people, all what they wanted is to go home (…). They want to return to their homeland.”

Hamas, or its military wing, is designated a terrorist group by Israel, the US, the EU, the UK, as well as other states. It is often accused of provoking Israel with little thought for the safety of Palestinians, a charge which Hamdan denied: “Do you think that we are happy of losing our boys, children, girls, daughters, wives?”

Hamas: ‘Uproot the borders, pluck out their hearts’

Hamas’s leader in Gaza, Yehya Al-Sinwar, spoke at a protest encampment to praise those who turned out to confront the “enemy who besieges us.” He said the demonstrations would continue, telling the crowds: “We will uproot the borders, we will pluck out their hearts, and we will pray in Jerusalem.”

DW Conflict Zone

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As @UN chief @antonioguterres warns today that the Gaza violence is close “to the brink of war,” official Osama Hamdan tells us deaths and injuries on the Israeli border were “not expected to be like this.”

Hamdan defended the message speaking to DW’s Conflict Zone: “For the Palestinians, it’s completely a peaceful message to go to pray in Al-Aqsa mosque, to take back their occupied lands, to liberate them. (…) It wasn’t a message of violence. It was a clear message from the Palestinian nation that we want our rights back.”

Gaza ‘on the verge of collapse’

Nikolay Mladenov, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, warned that recent hostilities marked the most serious escalation since the 2014 conflict between Hamas and Israel, saying Gaza was on the verge of collapse. “Hamas, which controls Gaza, must not use the protests as cover to attempt to place bombs at the fence and create provocations; its operatives must not hide among the demonstrators and risk the lives of civilians,” Mladenov said.

Asked whether Hamas really is using the demonstrations to provoke Israel, Hamdan said: “No one brought bombs, no militants hide among the people. All the killed people were civilians. I dare anyone to say that there was one militant [with] the people.”

Gazastreifen Beisetzung der Krankenschwester Razan Al-Najar (Reuters/M. Salem)Mourners attending the funeral of Palestinian nurse Razan Najjar.

Hamdan cited the death of Razan Najjar, a 21-year-old nurse who was shot while volunteering at the Gaza border earlier in June. The case sparked international outrage. “The 50 Palestinians who were killed from Hamas, they were not militant, and the Israelis know that. Razan Al-Najarwas was not a militant, she was a nurse and she was helping the injured people when she was shot in the back,” Hamdan said.

Human rights and press freedom in Gaza

But Hamas’s own human rights record is problematic. Human Rights Watch found that “Hamas has supported the protests in Gaza, where its control is palpable. Criticism of Hamas rule can be punishable by arrest and torture.”

A report by the UN Special Rapporteur said the “Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas arrested activists who criticized their leaders, security forces, or policies, and mistreated and tortured some in their custody.” The Independent Commission for Human Rights in Palestine (ICHR) received 205 complaints of torture and ill-treatment by PA security forces and 193 such complaints against Hamas security forces as of October 31, 2017.

Gazastreifen Proteste mit brennbaren Drachen (picture-alliance/newscom/I. Mohamad)Palestinian protesters prepare kites loaded with flammable material to be flown towards Israel.

When confronted with these cases of torture, Hamdan said “most of those claims were not true” and added: “If something wrong was done we say we are sorry, we punish the people who did that.”

The Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA) documented 35 press freedom violations by Palestinian authorities in Gaza during 2017, including eight arrests, several detentions and interrogations, and at least four physical attacks.

Future of Gaza

The UN said little progress has been made to improve the humanitarian situation: “After ten years of blockade, the population of Gaza is in a particularly vulnerable position, with as much as 70 percent of the population dependent upon some form of humanitarian assistance. (…) The health and humanitarian crisis in Gaza has become acute, bordering on a human calamity.”

But the Hamas official rejected that Gaza was on the point of collapse: “Gaza will not collapse. The Israelis are destroying the Palestinian’s lives every day not only in Gaza, in the West Bank, and in Jerusalem. So don’t say that the Palestinians are to blame.”

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Israel bombs targets in Gaza

Israeli warplanes launched an overnight raid on a Hamas facility in Gaza in what the army said was a “retaliatory attack.” Health officals in Gaza said one person was injured in the strikes.

    
Israeli warplane

Israel launched an overnight air raid on a Hamas facility in Gaza Thursday after gunfire from the territory targeted its soldiers and damaged a building in the town of Sderot.

The exchange of fire stems from weeks of protests over the transfer of the US Embassy to Jerusalem, which peaked on Monday when some 60 Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces.

What happened:

  • Israeli military said warplanes attacked a Hamas weapons factory in the Gaza Strip.
  • The strikes came in retaliation to machine gunfire that damaged several houses in Sderot, the army added.
  • The Palestinian health ministry said one person was injured.

Watch video02:15

Israeli forces kill 58 Palestinians at Gaza border fence

The aftershocks of the US Embassy move to Jerusalem on Monday and the accompanying violence and deaths from protests are shaking up the region. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sees the embassy move as a betrayal from his former negotiating partners Israel and the US. For years, the Palestinians continued to cooperate with Israeli troops in the West Bank and in turn, the US promised not to move its embassy to Jerusalem and to keep the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) office open in Washington DC.

Months of protest: Since late March, there have been weekly border protests in Gaza, resulting in the deaths of more than 100 Palestinians. The violence in the region culminated this week in clashes coinciding with the 70th anniversary of the founding of the state of Israel and the transfer of the US embassy to Jerusalem.  Salah al-Bardaweel, a Hamas official in Gaza said that all but 12 of the protesters killed this week were members of Hamas.

The Palestinian stance: For decades since the 1967 war, the Palestinian strategy has been to seek independence through negotiations. Despite continued Israeli construction of settlements, the Palestinians remained hopeful that negotiations would culminate in an independent state.

What is the Gaza Strip? Almost two million people live in the tiny, self-governing Palestinian territory. It is just 41 km (25.4 miles) long and anywhere from 6-12km wide. In May of 1994, as part of the Oslo Accords, Israel transferred power to the Palestinian Authority. The Islamist faction Hamas has governed since 2007. The World Bank says Gaza suffers from one of the “highest unemployment rates on earth.”

av/rt (Reuters, AFP)

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The problems with Israel’s economic miracle

Israel just won the European Song Contest, the US moved its embassy to Jerusalem, and the business world is amazed by the innovative startups the nation produces. Yet the tiny country has a lot of catching up to do.

    

Watch video02:47

Israel: the heart of startups

At first glance everything looks great. The Israeli economy is estimated to grow by 3.3 percent this year; $100 billion (€83.5 billion) in foreign direct investments is pouring into the country and the official unemployment rate was just 3.6 percent in March — its lowest since the 1970s.

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), last year Israel had a gross domestic product (GDP) of $38,428 per person. Even though Israel ranked behind countries like the US and Germany, such figures add to the country’s self-esteem. It was ahead of South Korea and Spain.

Read more: 70 years old now — an Israeli story

Known for its high-tech industries, billion-dollar takeovers of Israeli startups keep making headlines, such as US chip maker Intel’s purchase of Mobileye for $15.3 billion. Although the company only had around 600 employees at the time of the takeover in August 2017, it was already considered a world leader with its driver assistance systems.

Mobileye demonstration in Jerusalem (Reuters/B. Ratner)A Mobileye dashboard device being demonstrated on the streets of Jerusalem

But Karnit Flight, the governor of Israel’s central bank, has mixed feelings about relying too much on the technology sector. She has warned that the country’s “economic locomotive” — the high-tech industry — “is pulling decrepit railroad cars.”

A clearer focus

Yet there is another side to this success. Many outsiders may find it hard to believe, but although the population of the country has more than doubled to over 8.5 million since the early 1980s, infrastructure has not been keeping up.

For decades, little was invested in education. In addition, social inequality has grown, according to Professor Dan Ben-David, an economist at the Shoresh Institution for Socioeconomic Research and Tel Aviv University.

Dan Ben-David (privat)Economist Dan Ben-David calls for more investment in education to maintain Israel’s standard of living

“Poverty and income disparity in Israel are among the highest in the developed world. Half of Israel’s population does not even reach the bottom of the income tax scale and pays no income tax at all. Nearly 90 percent of Israel’s total income tax revenue is earned by just 20 percent of the population.”

And it gets worse. Compared to other OECD countries, Israel’s productivity has been lagging behind the developed world for four decades. The education sector is just as bad complains Ben-David: “Many of our schools are at the same level as developing countries — and half of our students attend such schools.”

The reason why Israeli universities continue to be the world leaders in research lies in the fact that the country is still benefiting from the investments and development work done by the ‘pioneer generation’ after independence, according to Ben-David.

Read more: Immigration to Israel: ‘One man’s joy is another man’s suffering’

The rents in metropolitan Tel Aviv and Jerusalem are becoming almost unaffordable for ever more Israelis. And since the country is so small, you can’t just move to the periphery and commute to work. For decades, little was invested in infrastructure. A public rail transport system is barely a shell and roads are clogged.

The army as innovator

Of the estimated 5,000 startups in Israel, around 300 specialize in IT security. And many founders of these cyber security companies, like Argus, Check Point, and Cyber ​​Ark spent their compulsory three-year military service in the elite Unit 8200. This secret intelligence body which operates hacker groups is rumored — among other things — to have been behind the Stuxnet attack on Iran’s nuclear research infrastructure in June 2010.

Watch video04:02

The DLD Tel Aviv Innovation Festival

Another typical Israeli story is that of Amitai Ziv. He was a fighter pilot during his time in the Israeli army. After completing military service, he studied medicine and became a doctor. Through his experience training in flight simulators, he came up with the idea to also train doctors and other health care professionals through simulated emergencies.

“In US hospitals alone, 100,000 patients die each year from the wrong treatment, the administration of the wrong drugs, or medical malpractice,” explains Ziv. Lives which could be saved if there was more training.

His Israel Center for Medical Simulation (MSR), is located at the Sheba Medical Center at Israel’s Tel Hashomer hospital in eastern Tel Aviv. Its reputation has grown and MSR is now well known beyond the borders of Israel and trains surgeons and cardiologists from the US as well as Palestinian, European and African emergency physicians, surgical staff or nurses.

Build like before

According to government figures, about 5 percent of country’s economic output is put back into research and development. But if Ben-David had his way Israel would also start to roll up its sleeves; it is essential if the country wants to keep up internationally in the future.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Israel was a country of poor immigrants; nonetheless universities with research institutes were founded and roads were built.

“In 1973, we had seven universities with leading research institutes. Since then more than four decades have passed and the population is more than two and a half times the size it once was. The country is much richer, gross domestic product per capita has more than doubled. Yet no additional research university has been founded, “criticizes Ben-David.

To keep the country’s current high standard of living, many economists point to the need to invest in education. “Research universities are the key to our future prosperity. This is something that the founders of Israel understood, but it looks like the government of Israel has forgotten this lesson.”

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Germany and UK call for Israel probe as Palestinians bury their dead

Thousands of Gaza residents have turned out to mourn the deaths of Palestinians killed by Israeli troops in Monday’s protests. Germany and the UK meanwhile demanded an inquiry into the killings as diplomatic anger rises.

    
One of the bodies being carried at a Gaza funeral (Getty Images/AFP/S. Khatib)

Some of the 60 Palestinians killed by Israeli troops in protests in Gaza on Monday were carried to their funerals through throngs of mourners in the Palestinian enclave on Tuesday during a lull in the weeks-long protests.

Many of the bodies were wrapped in the green flag of Gaza’s ruling group Hamas, the yellow flag of the Fatah group in charge of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and a black flag for the Islamic Jihad Militant group.

Read more:  US embassy in Jerusalem opens, further fracturing a ‘fragile city’

Some of the mourners chanted “God is great” in Arabic and “Death to Israel” as they marched to the cemeteries.

Monday’s protest was part of a weeks-long campaign by Hamas to break through an 11-year old border blockade separating Gaza and Israel. They also coincided with the opening of the new US Embassy in Jerusalem.

Fresh protests anticipated

On the Gaza-Israel border, Israeli forces prepared to face another day of Palestinian protest, after Hamas initially said mass border protests would continue on Tuesday, the day marking the 70th anniversary of what Palestinians call their “nakba,” or catastrophe, when many lost their homes and land after the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday called for three days of mourning after the bloodiest day for Palestinians since the 2014 Gaza conflict.

Watch video02:15

Israeli forces kill 58 Palestinians at Gaza border fence

Most of the 60 Gazans killed were shot by Israeli snipers and at least 2,700 others were wounded, among them 1,360 by gunshot, according to Gaza’s health ministry. Of the wounded, it said that 130 were in serious or critical condition.

Israeli military defends methods

The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) said it was acting according to “standard operating procedures” and had sought to prevent a mass breach of protesters and Hamas militants into Israel.

It accused Hamas of using protests against the US decision as a cover for attacks on the border and said its aircraft had hit 11 “terror targets” in a Hamas military compound. The army also said Gaza activists used 10 explosive devices and firebombs against troops and that shots were fired at soldiers along the border.

It has said in the past that rubber-coated steel pellets are not effective in preventing Gaza demonstrators from approaching or breaching the border fence. But rights groups have said Israel’s open-fire orders are unlawful under international humanitarian law.

Watch video28:30

Who owns Jerusalem?

Calls for an inquiry

After the US on Monday blocked the adoption of a UN Security Council statement calling for a probe into the violence, Britain and Germany on Tuesday called for an “independent investigation” into the violence.

“It is our view that an independent investigation commission can clarify the violent incidents and the bloody violations at the border area,” said German government spokesman Steffen Seibert. He said that Hamas was also guilty of stoking the flames.

“It is clear that everyone has the right to peaceful protest, but it is just as clear that this right to peaceful protest should not be abused in order to provoke violence. And Hamas has been pushing for an escalation of violence,” Seibert said.

Alistair Burt, a minister at the UK’s Foreign Office responsible for Middle East affairs, told parliament that the UK supported an independent investigation. He also called on Israel to show “greater restraint” in the use of live fire, and said that the inquiry should look into why so much was used.

However, he said it was “deplorable but real that extremist elements have been exploiting these protests,” adding the government “understands the reasons why Israel would seek to protect its border and its border fence.”

Burt repeated Britain’s commitment to a two-state solution to the conflict and said it did not agree with the US decision to move its embassy.

UN meeting

The UN Security Council convened early on Tuesday to discuss Monday’s violence and held a moment of silence for the Palestinians killed.

Several news agencies including the Associated Press reported, citing UN diplomats, that members couldn’t reach agreement on issuing a proposed statement circulated by Kuwait on Monday evening.

The draft statement, obtained by AP and others, would have expressed “outrage and sorrow” at the killings, calling for an “independent and transparent investigation,” and for restraint on all sides.

Watch video02:09

Deadliest day for Palestinians in four years

jbh/msh (dpa, AP, AFP, Reuters)

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US embassy in Jerusalem opens, further fracturing a ‘fragile city’

The jubilation that greeted the lavish opening ceremony of the controversial US embassy in Jerusalem was in stark contrast to the rising death toll reported from the Gaza Strip. Dana Regev collected eye-witness accounts.

    
Israeli nationalist settlers celebrate the Jerusalem Day

The streets surrounding the new embassy compound were awash with Trump supporters, Jewish marchers and Jerusalem residents celebrating ecstatically ahead of the inauguration Monday.

“It’s a dream come true,” Marc Zell, chairman of Republicans Overseas in Israel, told DW outside the embassy. “We’ve been waiting for this moment for years, decades,” he added amid huge throngs of people waving Israeli and American flags and thanking US President Donald Trump for moving the embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing the city as the capital of Israel.

“I think it’s an important move, a necessary one,” said 26-year-old Tamir, echoing Zell’s words.

Originally from New York, Tamir has lived in Jerusalem for the past eight years. “There are people around the world that say that it makes the prospect for peace more distant — but that couldn’t be farther from the truth … There will be no deal, ever, that does not include Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”

Read more:70 years of Israeli independence: a bitter-sweet celebration

Watch video01:27

Supporters jubilant at opening of US embassy in Jerusalem

‘Nothing changes’

Meanwhile, Israeli police stormed a crowd of about 200 Palestinian and Israeli left-wing activists, grabbing Palestinian flags and detaining several protesters. But all in all, critical voices were less vocal, some fearing future harassment, some even fearing for their lives.

“What is there to say? Israel has been crushing us for years and continues to do so now. Nothing changes,” said Palestinian taxi driver Mohammed, who lives in the Old City.

Watch video02:52

United States to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem

“Israel wants to kill us all. But inshallah [god-willing] they will not succeed. We are willing to die for this land rather than flee like rats,” a masked Palestinian protester told DW outside of Damascus Gate, which separates the western part of the city from its East, which Palestinians seek as their capital in any potential two-state solution.

Dana Regev

@Dana_Regev

Clashes between Israeli protesters, Palestinian protesters and police at Damascus Gate.

And less than 100 kilometers away, Gaza experienced its deadliest day of protest since Palestinians started demonstrating along the border with Israel on March 30, calling for an end to Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip and a return to lands Palestinians fled or were expelled from during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war.

Read more: Intifadas: What you need to know

“Palestinians who fled in 1948 live like dogs today all over the world,” 30-year-old protester Firas told DW in Jerusalem. “So I might as well die here, on my land, with honor.”

Palestinians demonstrate outside the new US embassyPalestinians demonstrate outside the new US embassy

Divided land

But not all critics are Palestinians. Many Israelis also see Trump’s move as controversial, if not harmful. Leor J. is a senior assistant in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset.  “This city is already so tense, so fragile. What is the point of all of this?” she asked rhetorically, adding that as a resident of the city, she felt “cheated.”

“Will we no longer need a visa to fly to the US? Will Israelis be able to work there or move there? No. So what’s the fuss about? Am I actually benefiting from this? You know the answer.”

The days leading to the opening ceremony also saw violent clashes, as Israel marked Jerusalem Daywith mass parades across Jerusalem and Palestinians were preparing for Tuesday’s Nakba Day [‘catastrophe’], the term they use to describe Israel’s creation.

Donald Trump relayed his message via video link at the ceremonyDonald Trump relayed his message via video link at the ceremony

Holy Land

Back at the ceremony itself, a recorded message from Trump proclaimed: “Israel is a sovereign nation with the right, like every other sovereign nation, to determine its own capital … Yet for many years we failed to acknowledge the obvious: The plain reality that Israel’s capital is Jerusalem.”

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said in response that “finally we have a leader who promised [to move the embassy to Jerusalem] and kept his promise. Even the obvious needs to be stated sometimes.”

And indeed, for most Israelis having Jerusalem as their capital is a de-facto reality. Nevertheless, many say, having the United States reaffirm that is essential. “We will show the world – and the Palestinians – that this is the land of the Jews,” said Adika Nahum, an Arnona resident. “Jerusalem is our holy and eternal capital,” as Trump declared the embassy “in the historic and sacred land of Jerusalem,” open.

And even as reports of rising death tolls in Gaza continued to emerge, Trump insisted “our greatest hope is for peace.”

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Israel marks Jerusalem Day with flowers and flags

As Israel marked the anniversary of what it calls the Jerusalem’s “unification” following the 1967 war, two very different marches took place. Despite underlying tension, there was a joyful mood on the part of many.

    
Jerusalem Protest Jerusalem Day (DW/D. Regev)

In Jerusalem’s busy Jaffa Street it is almost impossible to differentiate what exactly Israeli protesters are celebrating, as they seem to have so much to choose from. With songs praising Jerusalem and loud chants of Israel’s 2018 Eurovision song — which won the contest less than 12 hours earlier — the revelers are undoubtedly ecstatic.

More than 40,000 people participated in the “Flag March” according to police, a day before the US embassy’s move to the city was to be made official. They were there to celebrate Jerusalem Day, which started on Saturday evening.

Some marchers chanted “Thank you Trump” and “We love America” in advance of Monday’s opening ceremony, which will see a high-ranking delegation of American diplomats, including Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner.

Read more: Israel marks its 70th anniversary, but not everyone shares the joy

The city was prepared for the visit of a delegation representing Trump (DW/D. Regev)The city was prepared for the visit of a delegation representing Trump

But not all the city’s residents joined the festivities. Palestinians were preparing their own protests as they mark their “Nakba Day” [the ‘catastrophe’] on Tuesday, commemorating more than 700,000 Palestinians who fled or were expelled in the 1948 war.

Trump’s decision in December to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has sparked even more anger from the Palestinian side, igniting months of protests in the Palestinian territories.

Read more: Israeli soccer club renames itself Beitar Trump Jerusalem

Like in the previous six weeks, another mass demonstration is planned in Gaza Strip this week, with previous clashes resulting in the death of dozens of Palestinians.

Dana Regev

@Dana_Regev

Clashes between Israeli protesters, Palestinian protesters and police at Damascus Gate.

“Trump is an unstable man who’s interfering in a place he understands nothing about,” 23-year-old Mohammed told DW. “He is dangerous and stupid. He is not a real broker and will never be,” Mohammed added.

“This city doesn’t belong to you! Go away!” another Palestinian shouted at a group of Jewish marchers, who in return began singing louder and louder.

Flowers instead of chants

Thousands of police officers and military police were guarding the area of the march, with several clashes noted outside the Damascus Gate.

But together with the inevitable tension, there were also other initiatives. “We came here to hand flowers to the shopkeepers in the Old City, because sometimes the Flag March sees a lot of racist comments and chants. We came to show the Palestinians here that there are people who think differently,” said 22-year-old Ayelet, holding a flower bouquet in her hands.

Dana Regev

@Dana_Regev

Jewish protesters stop at the entrance to Damascus Gate to sing prayers and songs praising Jerusalem.

“Exactly,” added her friend Ariel. “Even though I don’t have a clear political stance, I just wanted to show people that there’s no reason to take the path of hate rather than that of love and compassion.”

Read more: Heiko Maas praises German-Israeli relationship on country’s 70th anniversary

The Flower March takes place every year to counter the Flag March, known for its participants’ aggressive behavior at times. Other events organized on Facebook urge Israelis to go deliberately to small Palestinian shops and purchase anything, from vegetables to souvenirs. Police usually call Palestinians to close their stores, fearing violence by right-wing demonstrators.

“Instead of preventing the culprits from attacking the shopkeepers, police are telling them to escape,” one such event stated on its Facebook page. “We will go there and change that, by buying specifically from them, with love.”

Celebrations outside of Jerusalem's Damascus Gate (Getty Images/AFP/M. Kahana)Celebrations erupted outside the Old City’s Damascus gate in Jerusalem

‘A special day’

Meanwhile, police started to cordon off the Damascus Gate, as the thousands of marchers made their way into the Old City. “We are here, and we are here to stay!” shouted one Jewish teenager waving an Israeli flag. “We will never leave Jerusalem – you are the only one,” another teenager sang.

“The Jewish people are alive,” “the people of Israel are strong” and other famous slogans in Hebrew could be heard all along the way from the city center to Damascus Gate.

“This day is actually crazy every year – and this time it’s even worse,” Leor, a 30-year-old parliamentary assistant who can’t be fully identified, told DW. “Netta winning the Eurovision is one thing, but Trump’s decision just adds fuel to the fire.”

Dana Regev

@Dana_Regev

First Jewish protesters entering Damascus Gate as part of Jerusalem Day’s “Flags March.”

Read more: Jerusalem: US Embassy inauguration divides the city

Many in Israel don’t share the same view. “Having the embassy in Jerusalem means international recognition, it shows the world that America is on our side,” says Uri Cohen, a taxi driver and Jerusalem native.

“This Jerusalem Day is special for us,” Cohen continued. “Obviously this will trigger a huge mess, but you know what? This country is a mess, this city is a mess – we are already used to it. At least now we have Trump with us – and hopefully, the rest of the world will follow.”

Watch video04:00

Meet a local: Jerusalem

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Israel accuses Iran-backed forces of Golan Heights attack

The Israeli army has said Iranian-backed forces fired 20 rockets at their military forces in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights area. Syrian state media reported that Israeli planes targeted locations in Syria.

    
Israeli tanks in Golan Heights | Iran greift Golanhöhen an (picture-alliance/Xinhua News Agency)

The Israeli military on Thursday said Iranian forces in Syria had fired 20 rockets at Israeli front-line military positions in Golan Heights.

Israel’s military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus said Iran’s Al Quds force fired the rockets at several Israeli bases, though he would not say how Israel determined the Iranian involvement.

The incoming attack triggered air raid sirens in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights, which was captured from Syria in the 1967 Six-Day war and was annexed by Israel in 1981.

Residents spent the night in shelters, but schoolchildren went to class as normal the morning after.

Retaliation

The attack came one night after Syria accused Israel of striking one of its military bases south of Damascus, which the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said killed 15 people including eight Iranians.

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said his country would not allow Iran to turn Syria into a “frontline base” against Israel, adding that none of the Iranian rockets struck inside Israeli-held territory, and they either fell short or were shot down.
Read more: Damascus residents reveal how Syria’s conflict has altered their lives

Watch video00:56

Israel’s 1967 Six-Day War

Israeli war planes target Syria

The incident follows an increase in tensions between Israel and Syria, where Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah forces have been helping Damascus to fight rebels in a seven-year-old conflict.

Conricus said Israel had retaliated for the attack on its outposts in the strategic Golan Heights plateau, which it partly occupies, without providing further details.

Read more: US-led strikes on Syria: A move with unpredictable consequences

The Syrian military was later quoted as saying its air defenses had confronted Israeli rocket fire on its territory, according to state media.

Syrian state news agency SANA reported that Israeli warplanes had targeted Syrian territories with rockets and that Syrian air defenses had responded.

Read more: What foreign powers want from the Syrian war

SANA reported that the Israeli warplanes were shooting the rockets from inside the occupied Palestinian territories and targeting the City of Baath in Quneitra province, which was shelled shortly after midnight.

law/rc (AP, Reuters)

COURTESY: DW