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Report: Israel moves Iron Dome batteries to North

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel reportedly has deployed Iron Dome anti-missile defense systems in its North preparing for possible retaliation for an alleged Israeli airstrike on Syria.

The move was reported Monday evening by Sky News Arabia, which cited unnamed Israeli sources.

An Iranian general and at least five Hezbollah members were killed in Sunday’s attack in Quneitra. The dead include Jihad Mughniyah, the son of the late Hezbollah military leader Imad Mughniyah.

Both Hezbollah and Iran have vowed to retaliate against Israel for the attack.

The Israel Defense Forces has neither confirmed nor denied the strikes.

Quneitra, which is located near the Lebanon border, has been the site of heavy fighting between government forces and rebels in Syria’s civil war.

“The IDF is prepared, tracking all developments, and ready to act as needed,” IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz said Monday, according to the Times of Israel. “This statement is not simply a speech — it’s a matter of real operational preparedness.”


Israel says Syria strike did not target Iranian general
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel said it was not targeting an Iranian general in a deadly airstrike on the Syria border.

Citing an unnamed Israeli senior security source, Reuters reported that Israel believed it was hitting only low-level guerrillas aiming to attack Israel in Sunday’s strike in Quneitra, on the Golan Heights.

Gen. Mohammed Ali Allahdadi and at least five Hezbollah members were killed in the strike, including Jihad Mughniyah, the son of the late Hezbollah military leader Imad Mughniyah.

Allahdadi was in Syria to advise its army in the country’s nearly four-year civil war, according to Iran’s semiofficial Fars news agency.

The Israeli source declined to be identified because Israel has neither confirmed nor denied that it was behind the airstrike, according to Reuters. His remarks are believed to be an attempt to contain an escalation of violence with Iran or Hezbollah.

Both Hezbollah and Iran have vowed to retaliate against Israel for the attack.

The source told Reuters that he believed there would be a retaliation, but that “a major escalation is not in the interest of either side.”

Israel reportedly has deployed Iron Dome anti-missile defense systems in its North preparing for possible retaliation.

The secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, on Tuesday accused Israel of being a terrorist regime.


Haredi Orthodox women launch Israeli political party
TEL AVIV (JTA) — A group of haredi Orthodox women have formed a political party in Israel ahead of the March elections.

The party, called B’zchutan, or “In their merit,” was announced Monday as a response to the existing all-male haredi parties, the Sephardi Shas and Ashkenazi United Torah Judaism.

B’zchutan members said the party will focus on women’s issues such as support for single mothers, women’s health and women’s rights in Orthodox divorces, according to Haaretz.

“There are many walls of fear for haredi women within their communities,” B’zchutan leader Ruth Colian was quoted as saying in Haaretz. “They have nowhere to turn in the Knesset.”

In 2013, Colian unsuccessfully petitioned the Supreme Court to mandate that the existing haredi parties include female representation.

Last year, when the March election was announced, a group of haredi women relaunched a campaign to gain female representation in the haredi parties. They have made little headway thus far.


Japanese PM calls ISIS ransom threat ‘unacceptable act of terrorism’
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Jerusalem called on the Islamic State to release two Japanese hostages immediately and said the demand for a $200 million ransom is “an unacceptable act of terrorism.”

“Japan will cooperate with the international community and further contribute to peace and stability in the region,” Abe said during a news conference Tuesday morning. “This policy is unshakable and we won’t change it.”

The Islamic State, or ISIS, on Tuesday morning posted a video on social media demanding that Japan pay the ransom for the hostages within 72 hours or the men would be executed, according to the video.

In the video, a masked man standing between the two kneeling men in orange prison jumpsuits directly addresses Abe, criticizing his decision to join the U.S.-led coalition against ISIS.

The hostages reportedly are freelance journalist Kenji Goto Jogo and rebel military consultant Haruna Yukawa.

Abe, while in Egypt over the weekend, pledged that his government would provide about $200 million in non-military aid to countries fighting the Islamic State.

Abe was in Jerusalem as part of a Middle East tour. He was scheduled to visit the Palestinian Authority later on Tuesday. Along with Egypt, he also visited Jordan.

“Japan will continue our active engagement for the purpose of regional stability in the Middle East peace process and other efforts with the understanding of the difficult environment of Israel,” he said Sunday during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.


Israel to allow sex change on ID cards without surgery
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s Interior Ministry will allow citizens to change the gender designation on their national identity cards without having a sex-change operation.

The decision comes after Israel’s Supreme Court ordered the ministry to change the gender designation from male to female on the identity cards of two citizens, Haaretz reported. They had been allowed to change their names prior to the court’s intervention.

The Interior Ministry agreed to change its procedure last week after meeting with officials from the Health and Justice ministries, during which the Health Ministry officials informed the participants that other countries have recognized criteria for determining that a person has changed his or her gender outside of surgery, according to Haaretz.

Many countries and U.S. states allow a doctor or social worker to affirm that a person identifies as the opposite gender.

Under the new procedure, the existing Health Ministry committee that approves sex-change operations will set criteria for determining a gender change without surgery and certify applicants who wish to register an official change in his or her gender.


Israeli couple welcomes birth of 100th great-grandchild
JERUSALEM (JTA) — An Israeli couple welcomed the birth of their 100th great-grandchild.

Michael Mittwoch, 92, and his wife, Marion, 90, celebrated the bris of Dagan Raz last week, according to Israeli media reports. They called the new baby and their other great-grandchildren “our answer to Hitler,” Ynet reported.

The Mittwochs were born in Germany and each fled to England after the Nazis came to power.

After World War II they made their ways separately to Israel and met on Kibbutz Kvutzat Yavne. They then became two of the founders of Kibbutz Lavi in the Galilee, and they also were the first couple to be married there, according to Ynet.

Their five children live in Israel.

The new baby was named after Maj. Dagan Wertman, 32, a Golani Brigade doctor who was at officers’ school with the baby’s father and was killed during Operation Cast Lead at the end of 2008.


Miss Lebanon accuses Miss Israel of photobombing a selfie at pageant
JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Lebanon representative in the Miss Universe contest accused Miss Israel of photobombing a selfie of them together and posting it on social media.

Miss Lebanon, Saly Greige, said Miss Israel, Doron Matalon, jumped into a photo she was taking with Miss Slovenia and Miss Japan, took a selfie and posted it on social media sites on the Internet.

The photo caused an uproar in Lebanon, since Israel and Lebanon are enemy states, the English-language Lebanese newspaper the Daily Star reported Sunday. Any contact with Israel is illegal in Lebanon.

“From the first day I arrived at the Miss Universe pageant I was very careful not to take any pictures with Miss Israel, who tried repeatedly to take pictures with me,” Greige wrote on social media, according to the Daily Star. “While I was preparing with Miss Slovenia and Miss Japan to get our photograph taken, Miss Israel jumped in and took a selfie with her phone and posted it on social media.”

Greige called on her fellow countrymen to continue to support her.

The Miss Universe pageant is being held in Miami. The winner will be crowned on Jan. 25.


Palestinian protesters throw shoes, eggs at Canadian FM in Ramallah
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Palestinian protesters threw shoes and eggs at Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird in Ramallah after he met with his Palestinian counterpart.

Baird was not hurt during Sunday’s demonstration, though an egg struck the top of his car as it left the foreign ministry compound in Ramallah in the West Bank following a meeting with Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malaki, Reuters reported.

The protest was organized by the youth department of the Fatah movement to express opposition to the Canadian government’s positive stance toward Israel, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported.

Protesters held signs reading “Baird you are not welcome in Palestine.”

Canada last month voted against the Palestinian statehood proposal introduced at the United Nations Security Council.

Baird and top Palestinian peace negotiator Saeb Erekat have been arguing in statements to the media over Israel and its conflict with the Palestinians.

On Sunday, Erekat called on Baird to apologize for meeting Israeli officials last year at an office in eastern Jerusalem, which the Palestinians claim as the capital of a future Palestinian state.


Mossad working with Belgium to find terror attack mastermind
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency is working with Belgian officials to track down the man behind the thwarted terror attack in Belgium.

The Mossad is also working with American intelligence services after the uncovering of the terror cell in the country late last week, the country’s Le Dernière Heure newspaper reported.

The attack’s mastermind, reported to be Abdelhamid Abaaoud, 27, is believed to be hiding in Greece or Turkey.

The Israeli cooperation has not officially been acknowledged.

The Antwerp Jewish magazine Joods Actueel reported Sunday that Jewish schools in Antwerp were reopened under army protection, with armed guards posted outside of each school.

The schools had been closed on Friday following a security analysis by the Jewish community, with input from the Mossad, according to the magazine.


Arab-Israeli cell charged with planning attacks for ISIS
JERUSALEM (JTA) — An Arab-Israeli cell was charged with planning to carry out attacks in Israel on behalf of the Islamic State, or ISIS.

The seven men, all residents of the Galilee region, were indicted Sunday in Haifa District court on charges of suspicion of joining an illegal organization, aiding a terror group and contact with a foreign agent.

They were arrested in November and December in northern Israel by Israel’s Shin Bet security service and the Israel Police, the Shin Bet said in a statement released Sunday.

It is believed that the cell members had been in contact by email and in person with Islamic State fighters in Syria, some likely Israeli citizens. They reportedly learned to make Molotov cocktails, and practiced slaughtering animals to prepare themselves for jihad, or holy war.

The cell reportedly planned to attack the Israel Defense Forces as well as Druze-Israelis, who are Arabs.

ISIS was declared illegal in Israel in September.


Israel rejects ICC prosecutors’ decision to open war crimes inquiry
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scoffed at the decision by International Criminal Court prosecutors to open an inquiry into possible war crimes in Palestinian territories.

“It’s absurd for the ICC to ignore international law and agreements, under which the Palestinians don’t have a state and can only get one through direct negotiations with Israel,” Netanyahu said Saturday night, a day after the ICC announced the first formal step that could lead to charges against Palestinian or Israeli officials.

Prosecutors from the ICC, a United Nations tribunal based in The Hague, will determine whether the inquiry’s preliminary findings merit a full investigation into alleged atrocities that could result in charges against individuals on either the Israeli or Palestinian side.

Netanyahu said Sunday at the beginning of the regular Cabinet meeting that launching the inquiry “gives legitimacy to international terrorism.”

“We will fight it every way possible and we will also recruit others to fight this absurdity, and they are already being recruited. We will not allow IDF soldiers to face international tribunals,” he said.

The Unites States also condemned the announcement.

“It is a tragic irony that Israel, which has withstood thousands of terrorist rockets fired at its civilians and its neighborhoods, is now being scrutinized by the ICC,” State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said in a statement issued Friday.

“As we have said repeatedly, we do not believe that Palestine is a state and therefore we do not believe that it is eligible to join the ICC,” said the statement, which called for direct negotiations between the two sides.

Last month, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed the ICC treaty called The Rome Statute, as well as about 20 other international treaties and conventions. The signings followed the rejection by the United Nations Security Council of a Palestinian state resolution.


At Tel Aviv housing fair, high demand for homes near Gaza
(JTA) — Areas near Gaza were in highest demand by prospective homeowners who participated in surveys of housing preferences in Israel.

In one survey conducted at a housing fair last month, a total of 98 families indicated they would like to move to one of two districts, Eshkol and Shaar Hanegev, that are adjacent to the Gaza Strip and are routinely targeted by Hamas rockets.

The next most desired are was the Eilat region, followed by Beersheba.

The survey of 315 families was conducted at a fair held last month by the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galilee in Tel Aviv, which drew 3,000 visitors.

Of those who preferred to move to the targeted regions, 56 indicated they would like to live in Sderot, Ofakim or Netivot, towns which have absorbed thousands of rockets fired from Gaza over the past few years.

During Israel’s war with Hamas last summer, countless rockets and mortar rounds were fired at population centers near the Gaza Strip, with some landing in the Tel Aviv region.

In a separate survey about housing preferences in northern Israel, the Golan Heights emerged as most popular area, with 140 families out of 514 indicating it as their first choice.

Though Israel regards it as its own territory, the Golan Heights are internationally considered occupied territory that Israel took from Syria in 1967.

Real estate in the Galilee and Golan areas of northern Israel, and the Negev region in the South, are considerably cheaper than property in Israel’s crowded center.

“Some families want to move to these places to improve their quality of living,” Sigal Shaltiel Halevi, director of the Ministry for the Development of the Negev and Galilee, told the news site “But there are also ideological considerations, leading people to settle in areas which are important to the State of Israel.”


Turkish prime minister compares Netanyahu to Paris terrorists
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Turkey’s prime minister compared Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the terrorists in the Paris attacks that left 17 people dead.

“Netanyahu has committed crimes against humanity the same like those terrorists who carried out the Paris massacre,” Ahmet Davutoglu said Jan. 15 in televised responses to reporters’ questions. He noted the Israeli raid in May 2010 on a boat bound for Gaza in an attempt to break Israel’s blockade of the coastal strip that left nine Turkish citizens dead.

Davutoglu made the comments three days after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters that he did not understand how Netanyahu “dared” to march in the Jan. 11 rally against terrorism in Paris. Davutoglu also attended the march.

Netanyahu responded to Erdogan on Jan. 14, telling a group of visiting AIPAC leaders on Jan. 14 that “I believe his shameful remarks must be repudiated by the international community because the war against terror will only succeed if it’s guided by moral clarity.”

Davutoglu said that Netanyahu’s government “made almost natural the killing of Palestinians at every opportunity.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman on Jan. 14 called Erdogan an “anti-Semitic neighborhood bully.”

“It’s bad enough that leaders in Europe fail to condemn blatant human rights violations in Turkey itself, he said, “but their ignoring of the hatred and the incitement against Israel that this man cultivates is something that we cannot ignore.”

Davutoglu also called the new cartoon on the cover of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine a “grave provocation.”

“Freedom of the press does not mean freedom to insult,” he said of the cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad.


Yisrael Beiteinu campaign slogan calls for Israeli-Arab land swaps
JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Israeli political party Yisrael Beiteinu’s new campaign slogan pushes the idea of swapping land on which Arab-Israelis live to a future Palestinian state for West Bank land.

The slogan, “Ariel for Israel, Umm al-Fahm to Palestine,” was unveiled Jan. 15. The party’s other slogan is “Tachles, Liberman.” Tachles is a Yiddish expression meaning telling it like it is, and Avigdor Liberman is the party chief.

Umm al-Fahm, which is near Haifa in northern Israel, is the largest Arab-Israeli city and has a population of almost 50,000. It is known for its Arab nationalism and sympathy for the Palestinian cause.

Ariel, a city 25 miles east of Tel Aviv, is the largest Jewish settlement in the West Bank with a population of approximately 18,000.

Liberman, Israel’s foreign minister, for many years has called for a transfer of Arab-Israelis as part of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. He said at a news conference Thursday that the Yisrael Beiteinu party would emphasize the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during the campaign.

Arab-Israeli Knesset members should move to the Palestinian Authority and lose their citizenship when the new state is formed, Liberman said at the news conference.

“There is no reason why all those inciters and representatives of terrorist groups in Israel’s Knesset should not move to the Palestinian Authority. Haneen Zoabi, Ahmed Tibi and Raad Salah — there is no reason why they should continue to be Israeli citizens,” he said.

Arab-Israelis who are loyal to Israel can stay, he added.

Liberman told reporters that he and members of his party would not discuss the corruption investigation in which several party leaders and supporters were arrested or questioned last month.


Israel to cover burial costs of Paris victims in Jerusalem
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s Ministry of Religious Services said it will cover the costs of the burial and funeral for the Paris kosher supermarket victims.

The Jan. 13 announcement followed reports that the families had been asked to pay some $13,000 for the plots and funeral.

Israeli lawmaker Limor Livnat, the minister of culture and sport, who made the arrangements in conjunction with the families, told Religious Services Minister Naftali Bennett that charging for the services went against the commitments she had been given by ministry representatives, Ynet reported. Bennett said his ministry would cover the costs.

Thousands attended the Jan. 13 funeral for the four men at the Har HaMenuchot cemetery in Givat Shaul, Jerusalem’s largest burial ground. The funeral also was nationally televised, and both the president and prime minister of Israel spoke to the mourners.

The charges were levied by the Chevra Kadisha, part of the Religious Services Ministry, after the families rejected burial in multi-story tombs, which would have been free, Ynet reported. The families initially had been offered burials in the historic Mount of Olives cemetery but declined because of security considerations, Ynet reported.


Hamas: New Charlie Hedbo cover is ‘Zionist lobby’ plot
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Hamas said the Charlie Hebdo cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad on the satirical magazine’s latest cover was part of a plot by the “Zionist lobby.”

“We condemn the latest publication of ‘Charlie Hebdo,’ which has caricatures offending the Prophet Muhammad,” spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said Jan. 14, according to reports. “The way the Israeli newspapers have dealt with the issue, with the blessing of the U.S. secretary of state, is clear evidence that there is a plot, directed by the Zionist lobby, targeting Muslims, their culture, and the tolerance toward them by Western countries.”

In the cartoon, Muhammad is holding a sign with the ubiquitous show of support “I am Charlie” and a headline in French reading “All Is Forgiven.”

The issue, which debuted Wednesday with a run of 3 million copies, was the magazine’s first since a terrorist attack on its Paris headquarters killed 12. Its publisher said it will print up to 5 million copies in five languages; the magazine usually prints about 60,000 copies.

The two Islamic extremist brothers who stormed the editorial offices of the newspaper on Jan. 7 said they perpetrated the attack in response to what they deemed offensive cartoons featuring Muhammad. Cherif and Said Kouachi were killed two days later.

Four days after the killings, Hamas said in a statement that it “condemns the attacks against the Charlie Hebdo magazine and insists that the difference of opinions and thoughts cannot justify murder.”


Lapid: Israel must attend Arab League meeting, push for regional accord
TEL AVIV (JTA) —  Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid promised on Facebook to advance civil unions and push for a regional peace accord should he serve in Israel’s next government.

Answering questions from English speakers, Lapid on Jan. 13 called for an Israeli delegation to attend the Arab League summit in March. He wrote that his centrist party supports a regional peace agreement that guarantees Israel’s security and includes major West Bank settlement blocs in Israel’s borders.

He noted that the Arab League meeting will be the first chaired by Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi is chairing.

“Israel should be there to make the case for a regional agreement which guarantees our security,” Lapid wrote.

Yesh Atid served in the governing coalition headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that was dissoved last month in acrimony. While Lapid did not rule out joining a left- or right-wing coalition, he said he hopes Netanyahu does not win another term.

“We will do all we can to make sure Netanyahu isn’t prime minister after these elections,” he wrote. “The process of building a coalition should take place after the elections and depends on the choices the Israeli voters make. Governing isn’t about personality, it’s about serving the best interests of the Israeli public.”

Lapid stressed the importance of maintaining strong relations with the United States, saying “Israel has no more important strategic ally.” He added that any disagreements between the countries should not be made public.

He said Yesh Atid would continue to try to advance a bill instituting civil unions in Israel, which currently allows only Orthodox marriage for Jews. Lapid wrote that his previous attempts at the civil unions bill were blocked by the modern Orthodox Jewish Home party, which also served in the governing coalition.

“We were in the process of putting forward legislation for civil unions for all couples,” he wrote. “We plan to work hard on this issue in the next Knesset because it’s something we as a party care deeply about.”


U.S. designates a leader of Gaza group as terrorist
WASHINGTON (JTA) — The U.S. State Department designated as a terrorist a leader of a Gaza Strip-based group that has targeted Israel.

Abdallah al-Ashqar is “reported” to be a leader of Mujahidin Shura Council in the Environs of Jerusalem, a group that since August has been designated as terrorist, the State Department said Jan. 14 in a release.

“Al-Ashqar also serves as a foreign relations official for the group,” the release said. “In addition to his leadership activity, al-Ashqar has sought missiles and other materials with which to attack Israel.”

The group, reportedly linked to al-Qaida, has claimed responsibility for a number of attacks on Israel, including a rocket attack on Eilat.

Terrorist designation means a ban on all financial transactions with the named individual or group and a freeze on the designated entity’s U.S. assets.