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.

  pushes to legalize West Bank settlements as arrives in Tel Aviv

 

“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.

A general view shows the Israeli settlement of Ramot © Ronen Zvulun

“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.

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Time to assassinate Syrian President Assad & get to his allies in Iran – Israeli minister

An Israeli minister has bluntly called for Syrian leader Bashar Assad to be assassinated after unsourced media reports claimed Damascus was using a “crematorium” to cover-up mass killings. He said the “serpent’s head” in Tehran should be dealt with next.

“The reality whereby Syria executes people, intentionally uses chemical weapons to hurt them and, now, in the most recent move of extremism, is burning their bodies – this has not been seen in the world in 70 years,” said Israeli Housing Minister Yoav Galant, as cited by Haaretz. 

 
© Kacper Pempel

“We are crossing a red line and, in my view, the time has come to assassinate Assad,” he continued.

“And when we finish with the tail of the serpent, we will reach the head of the serpent, which can be found in Tehran, and we will deal with it, too,” he said.

What appears to be the first recorded Israeli threat to assassinate Syrian President Bashar Assad came after the US Department of State alleged, without presenting any hard evidence, that the Syrian government is using “a crematorium” outside Damascus to burn the bodies of people killed by the government.

Earlier on Tuesday, Galant told Israeli Army Radio that Assad’s rule has been the worst since Nazi Germany. “What is happening in Syria is defined as genocide, under all its classifications,” he said on Army Radio, according to Jerusalem Post.

Galant, a retired IDF general, added that Israel wants to see Assad and his Alawite government ousted from power and replaced by a “moderate Sunni ruler.”

READ MORE: More Arabs view Israel positively than Jews, poll reveals

Some previous attempts to compare Assad’s government to the Nazi regime have been met with public outcry. White House spokesman Sean Spicer, who claimed that Hitler’s death squads hadn’t used chemical agents during the Holocaust “in the way that Assad used them” sparked outrage in the US and beyond.

Certain journalists have used the Assad-Hitler comparison when covering claims that Syrian forces have used chemical weapons, but those remarks were dismissed by the public.

Assad, a UK-educated doctor, has been in power since the 1999 passing of his father, Syria’s long-time president, Hafez Assad. Syria is one of the few Arab countries where the president is elected through a nationwide vote.

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Palestinian Leader Warns of US Interference in the Middle East

Damascus, May 12 (Prensa Latina) Secretary-General of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), Nayef Hawatmeh, warned today of US interference in the Middle East in an interview with Prensa Latina.

For the veteran leader, the next and first international tour of US President Donald Trump has above all the clear objective of maintaining and increasing attempts to isolate the Palestinian movement.

Preparations for a regional meeting after that tour that includes Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the Vatican, since May 19, do not take into account the role of the United Nations nor any other political figure in the region, he stressed.

It is, therefore, a clear objective that Washington is seeking concessions among the various Palestinian organizations, to ignore United Nations resolutions favorable to our cause and to bring together the most reactionary forces in the Middle East, Hawatmeh said.

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Israel mulls hiring foreign doctors to force-feed Palestinians hunger strikers – media

Israel is considering hiring foreign medical staff to force-feed Palestinian inmates who went on mass hunger strike over what they say are poor prison conditions, local media report. Israeli doctors refuse to participate in force-feeding on ethical grounds.
 

The controversial plan is being considered by the Health Ministry, and medical staff would be hired abroad, Channel 2 reported, as cited by the Times of Israel and Haaretz. 

It is reported that force-feeding is being considered as the courts may direct the prison authorities to release the hunger strikers due to health concerns. On Monday, Assaf Librati, spokesman for the Israel Prison Service, said 870 prisoners are still refusing food.

Initially, some 1,300 Palestinian prisoners, mostly members of the Fatah movement, began a massive hunger strike on April 17 to demand improved conditions, including visits, medical treatment, and education.

The action also marked the annual ‘Palestinian Prisoners’ Day’ in support of people jailed by Israel’s security authorities.

Marwan Barghouti, an imprisoned Fatah official believed to be leading the protest, said in an article for the New York Times that the hunger strike sought to put an end to “torture, inhumane and degrading treatment, and medical negligence” in Israeli prisons.

Barghouti, who was sentenced to five life sentences for five murders plus 40 years for attempted murder, said “Israel’s courts are a charade of justice, clearly instruments of colonial, military occupation,” while Israeli prisons have become “the cradle of a lasting movement for Palestinian self-determination.”

On Thursday, a handful of Palestinian activists staged a protest at the northern security checkpoint in the city of Bethlehem to demand the return of the bodies of Palestinian captives held by the Israelis, according to RT's Ruptly. Though the protest was peaceful, Israeli security forces reacted with excessive force, deploying tear gas to disperse the crowd.

Force-feeding has been used in Israel since 2015, when the Knesset (parliament) passed controversial legislation empowering district court judges to authorize feeding hunger-striking inmates against their will.

However, the Israeli Medical Association (IMA) banned its members from taking part in force-feeding, arguing that the practice is incompatible with the ethics of medicine.

“The Medical Association views the intention to legislate force-feeding very severely,” Dr. Leonid Eidelman, the IMA chairman, said in 2015.

“Our objection was expressed to [representatives of] government ministries and the attorney general at every opportunity.”

International law is somewhat unclear on the issue of force-feeding prisoners who deliberately refuse food as part of a protest. There is no legally binding document that bans feeding inmates against their will as a form of torture.

However, the UN Human Rights Commission regarded force-feeding at the Guantanamo detention camp as a form of torture.

The World Medical Association (WMA) specifically prohibited force-feeding in its 1975 Declaration of Tokyo, which outlined guidelines concerning torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in relation to detention and imprisonment

In 2006, more than 250 doctors from the UK, the US, Ireland, Germany, Australia, Italy and the Netherlands condemned the US for the force-feeding of hunger strikers at Guantanamo.

The doctors also said that the WMA specifically prohibited force-feeding and demanded that the body launch disciplinary proceedings against any members known to have violated the ban.

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UN Report Describes Humanitarian Crisis in the Gaza Strip

United Nations, Apr 7 (Prensa Latina) A UN report reflects today the daily hardships faced by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, a territory under a decade of the Israeli blockade and devastating bombings in recent years.

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), 70 percent of the 1 880 000 people living in the 365 square kilometer strip are registered as refugees and 47 percent are considered to be food insecure.

Power outages reach 12 to 16 hours daily and unemployment affects four out of every 10 Palestinians in Gaza, being women and young persons the most affected, with 65.3 and 61 percent of them unemployed, respectively.

In respect to water, OCHA warns that 97 percent of the liquid that reaches people through pipes is not suitable for human consumption.

In addition to the permanent Israeli blockade in place, the small Palestinian territory still remains suffering the consequences of the 51-day aviation bombings carried out by Tel Aviv, which in summer of 2014 destroyed much of the housing and living infrastructure there.

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Israel conducts military drill to get ready for next ‘real war’ with Hezbollah

Israel is conducting a large-scale military drill at a base in the north of the country, in what commanders say could always be the “last training before the war” with Hezbollah.

“We are trying to give the commanders and the soldiers the environment that looks like the real war so that they can have the feeling, when they will have to go to war, they will feel that they did it before. This is the purpose of the training – to prepare for the real thing,” Col. Kobi Valer, commander of the Elyakim Military Base in northern Israel, told AP.

“The forces need to know that this could be their last training before the war,” he added.

Armed with paintball pellets to stage a mock battle, the troops raided structures featuring murals of Hezbollah’s chief, Hassan Nasrallah, and other top Hezbollah figures, and opened fire at fellow officers playing the roles of guerrillas, AP reported.

“Undoubtedly, doing this a few weeks every year makes people more confident about fighting in a real war,” Capt. Ofek Sinai, a 26-year-old reserve platoon commander, said.

Israel said last week that its ‘David’s Sling’ system, designed to intercept medium-range missiles from Hezbollah, is due to become operational by early April.

“We will finish a long process of testing a new weapons system that will join the air force,” Lt.-Col. Kobi Regev, the David’s Sling battalion commander, said, as reported by the Jerusalem Post.

“The new and more advanced system, which is connected with our two older systems, the Iron Dome and Arrow Missile Defense System, is more relevant to the threats posed to Israeli citizens,” he added.

Israel will never hesitate to intervene to prevent potential arms transfers to Hezbollah, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said earlier this month, commenting on Israel’s air raid in Syria in which the intruding jets were targeted by Syrian air defense systems. Four Israeli jets breached Syrian airspace and targeted military sites, prompting Damascus to activate its air defense systems. According to the Syrian military, one of the Israeli jets was shot down over the occupied Golan Heights, while another was damaged. The IDF denied that any of its jets were hit, saying that Syrian anti-aircraft missiles either missed or had been intercepted by Israel’s own air defenses.

 
While Israel is not actively fighting in the Syrian war, it keeps close tabs on Iran and Hezbollah, both of which are backing Syrian government forces.

In December of last year, Israel’s defense minister, Avigdor Liberman, shed some light on Tel Aviv’s policy on Syria, stating that it is working to prevent chemical weapons from reaching Hezbollah. The statement came shortly after a rocket attack on a Damascus air base was blamed on Israel.

The defense minister said that while Israel has “absolutely no interest” in getting involved in the Syrian war, it will defend itself.

'“Our policies and our positions are very clear and are based on three red lines: We won’t allow any harm to the citizens of the State of Israel, we won’t allow any harm to the sovereignty of the State of Israel and we will not allow the smuggling of high-quality advanced weapons and chemical weapons from Syria to Lebanon for Hezbollah,” Liberman said, as cited by The Times of Israel.

The defense minister’s office refused to elaborate on the type of weapons of mass destruction Hezbollah may be trying to obtain.

Tel Aviv last fought a war with Hezbollah in 2006. That conflict included rocket strikes inside Israel and an Israeli air and ground offensive in Lebanon. Israeli leaders have stated that since then, Lebanon-based Hezbollah has built up and improved its range of rockets, which can now strike deep inside the Jewish state.

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‘Extrajudicial execution’: UN slams 1.5yr sentence for manslaughter of wounded Palestinian

The 18-month sentence handed down by a military court to an Israeli soldier who shot a wounded Palestinian man dead last year was “unacceptable” and “excessively lenient,” the UN human rights office has said.

“We are deeply disturbed at the lenient sentence given by the Tel Aviv Military Court earlier this week to an Israeli soldier convicted of unlawfully killing a wounded Palestinian,” UN human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said. 

IDF Sergeant Elor Azaria’s act was “an apparent extrajudicial execution of an unarmed man, who clearly posed no imminent threat,” Shamdasani added, as cited by Reuters.

In March of 2016, the soldier shot Abdel Fattah al-Sharif Elor, a Palestinian knife attacker, in the head after he had already been incapacitated.

Azaria was found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced to 1.5 years behind bars on Tuesday, despite the prosecutors asking the judge for a three- to five-year punishment.

READ MORE: 'Constant fear': Activist who filmed Israeli soldier shooting Palestinian tells RT of death threats

The verdict caused outrage in Palestine, with government spokesman Tarek Rishmawi telling AFP that the “light ruling… is a green light to the occupation army to continue its crimes.”

According to the UN human rights spokeswoman, there’s a “chronic culture of impunity” for military crimes against Palestinians in Israel.

“This case risks undermining confidence in the justice system and reinforcing the culture of impunity,” Shamdasani said, adding that, under Israeli law, manslaughter can carry a maximum punishment of 20 years.

She also pointed out that, so far, Azaria is the only member of Israel’s security forces to have been brought to trial for this type of killing, while over 200 Palestinians were gunned down by Israeli troops since the new spike in violence began in the West Bank in September of 2015.

READ MORE: "You protect us, we protect you': Israel mulls legal immunity extension for IDF soldiers

The 18-month verdict “also stands in contrast to the sentences handed down by other Israeli courts for other less serious offenses, notably the sentencing of Palestinian children to more than three years’ imprisonment for throwing stones at cars,” the spokeswoman stressed.

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Iran Encourages Palestinians Resistance against Israel

Tehran, Feb 22 (Prensa Latina) Presidents and members of parliaments from Arab and Islamic countries showed a strong solidarity with the Palestinian people that resists the occupation of Israel, after two days of debates in a conference that concludes today.


Speaker of the Dewan Rakyat (the lower house of the Parliament of Malaysia) Amin Mulia, said that Muslim states should set aside sectarian differences and 'return to Islam,' and that intolerance must leave Islamic society to create stability in this community.

Malaysia has tried several times to pass a resolution against Israel on the UN Security Council, 'but China, the United States, Russia and France vetoed our draft resolutions,' he said at the 6th International Conference in Support of the Palestinian Intifada (Uprising).

The chairman of the Oman Consultative Assembly, Khalid bin Hilal bin Nasser Al-Mawali, affirmed that to continue the Palestinian ideology all Muslims need to remain united.

The sufferings of the Palestinians are increasing because their holy places are being disrespected by extremist Jewish settlers, he said, adding that the political and media manipulation that calls terrorists those who defend their territories from Zionist encroachment is wrong.

Al-Mawali added that states should think about current developments in the Islamic world while Israelis continue to build homes in occupied land settlements.

Syrian parliament speaker Hadiya Khalaf Abbas stressed the importance of organizing a meeting of this nature and Iran's support for the Palestinians and the fight against terrorism in their country and the region.

He commented that political and military successes of Bashar Al-Assad's government are, to a large extent, due to the contribution of the Persian republic and the Resistance of the Lebanese Hezbollah movement.

In that sense, Deputy Secretary-General of that Shiite group, Sheikh Naim Qassem, denounced that the new president of the United States, Donald Trump, 'is doing everything possible to unravel the Muslims' and Israel seeks to take advantage of that reality.

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