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Israel’s Shin Bet nabs Palestinian terror cell planning Tel Aviv attack
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s Shin Bet security service said it thwarted a Palestinian terror cell planning to carry out a suicide bombing attack in Tel Aviv.

Several Palestinian operatives were arrested during October and November in connection with the plot, the Shin Bet said Monday in a statement.

Under the plan, a Palestinian woman from Jenin would disguise herself as a pregnant Jewish woman, acquire a medical permit to enter Israel and wear an explosives-laden belt under her clothes, according to the Shin Bet.

Four others reportedly had been instructed on how to handle the explosives by an operative from Gaza.

The cell also had planned other terror attacks, according to the Shin Bet.

Also Monday, Israel Police announced the arrest of eight Arabs from eastern Jerusalem for using Facebook as a tool to incite terrorist attacks against Jews.

The suspects, who were arrested in a raid late Sunday night, are affiliated with Hamas and Fatah, police said. They disseminated photos and videos on Facebook calling for attacks on Jews and Israeli security forces, according to police.


New gas field discovered off Israel’s coast
JERUSALEM (JTA) — A new natural gas field was discovered off Israel’s Mediterranean coast — the third largest found in Israeli waters.

The Royee field contains 3.2 trillion cubic feet of extractable natural gas, the Israeli business daily Globes reported, citing a report released Sunday by Ratio Oil and Israel Opportunity Energy Resources, which owns the field.

Globes reported that the Royee field, which is located about 93 miles from Israel’s coast, near the international maritime border with Cyprus and Egypt, is unlikely to be developed soon due to the quantity of gas available in the Leviathan and Tamar fields.

Tamar, which has at least 9 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, is expected to meet Israel’s energy needs for the next 20 years. Leviathan is estimated to hold 16 trillion to 18 trillion cubic feet of gas.


Netanyahu, in Rome to meet with Kerry, rebuffs Palestinians’ deadlines
ROME (JTA) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel would rebuff deadlines set by Palestinian officials for his country’s withdrawal from the West Bank and a Palestinian state.

Netanyahu made his remarks on Monday prior to a nearly three-hour meeting in Rome with Secretary of State John Kerry.

Overshadowing the talks was an announced plan by Palestinian officials, working through Jordan, to put forward as early as this this week a United Nations Security Council resolution that would set a November 2016 deadline for Israel to withdraw from the West Bank.

Another proposed resolution backed by France would set a two-year deadline for negotiations to create an accord that would establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

“We will not accept attempts to dictate unilateral, time-bound moves to us,” Netanyahu said. “In a reality in which Islamic terror is reaching every corner of the globe, we will rebuff any attempt that would bring this terror into our home, into the State of Israel. … Even if there are dictates, we will stand up to them firmly.”

From Rome, Kerry flies to Paris to meet with the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany, and then to London, where he is scheduled to meet Tuesday with Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat. A senior State Department official traveling with Kerry said the goal of the trip was “to hear from and engage with other stakeholders,” to “hear their views, and to the best of our ability work towards a common path forward.”

In Rome, Kerry also met Monday with the Vatican’s secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, and other senior Vatican officials to discuss the situation in the Middle East and other issues, including the possibility of closing the U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay. Netanyahu also discussed the Middle East situation with Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi.


Settler population jumps, growth rate slows during Netanyahu’s term
(JTA) — The population of Jewish settlers in the West Bank has increased at more than twice the pace of Israel’s overall population during Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest term as prime minister.

From 2009, when Netanyahu launched his second term, to 2014, the Jewish settler population in the West Bank grew 23 percent, to 355,993 residents, while the overall population increased 9.6 percent, according to figures from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics obtained by The Associated Press and reported Monday.

Under Netanyahu, however, the settler growth rate was slower than the 31 percent increase witnessed in the previous five years under his predecessors, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert.

The growth in the settlement population was attributed to the higher birthrates of the settlers, who tend to be more religious. Other Israelis are also drawn to settlement housing for economic reasons.

Outside of a 10-month settlement freeze in 2009-10, Netanyahu has remained committed to expanding settlements, which has drawn international condemnation. The United States, the United Nations and the European Union are among those that have criticized expansion, saying that settlements are illegal under international law and building is inimical to peace.

The Palestinian Authority has denounced settlement building, pointing to settlements as evidence that Israel is not committed to a two-state solution. The Palestinians claim the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem for their future state, and settlement building in the areas often stokes tension. Israel’s November announcement of 5,000 new settlement housing units provoked rioting.

The figures do not include the approximately 200,000 Jewish-Israelis living in eastern Jerusalem, which Israel has annexed.