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Lebanese reports: Israeli airstrikes attacked targets near Syrian border
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli airstrikes attacked targets in eastern Lebanon, the Lebanese media reported, but the claims were denied by Hezbollah.

Citing Lebanese security officials, the reports on Tuesday said that Israeli Air Force planes attacked Hezbollah targets near the city of Brital, on the Syrian border. Several Lebanese civilians were injured in the attack, according to the Daily Star, a Lebanese daily newspaper.

The Israel Defense Forces neither confirmed nor denied the reports, saying it does not comment on foreign media reports.

The attacks may have been spillover from the civil war in Syria, according to reports.

Israel in the past reportedly has attacked shipments of arms headed for Hezbollah.

The reports came amid a nationwide preparedness drill in Israel simulating coordinated attacks from Gaza, Syria and Lebanon.

Israeli military admits error in punishing soldier over non-kosher sandwich
JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Israeli military admitted its error in punishing a soldier from the United States who brought non-kosher sandwiches on his base.

The punishment, missing a weekend furlough, also was lifted.

“Bottom line, we were wrong,” Israel Defense Forces spokesman Moti Almoz wrote Tuesday afternoon in a Facebook post.

“The IDF will continue to remain kosher, while not snooping in the sandwiches of its soldiers,” Almoz wrote. “There are tensions in Israeli society, and there are different positions and opinions. In the IDF there is a place for everyone.”

It is against IDF rules to bring non-kosher food on its bases, which are kosher. The soldier, who said he was given the pork sandwiches by his grandmother, who lives on a kibbutz, reportedly told the army he was not aware of the rule.

The soldier, who is participating in a commander’s course, originally was sentenced to 11 days in military jail for the infraction. The sentence was reduced after an Israel Radio reporter contacted the IDF about the case.

Israeli magician breaks Guinness mark with coexistence magic lesson
JERUSALEM (JTA) — An Israeli magician and a Haifa coexistence group broke the Guinness World Record for the largest magic lesson.

The magician, Cagliostro, taught a group of 1,573 fifth- and-sixth graders from Haifa a card trick on Monday. The event, called “Haifa Magic for Peace,” was held in conjunction with Beit Hagefen, a cultural center that works to foster dialogue and coexistence between the Jewish and Arab communities in the city.

The children, who came from 25 schools throughout Haifa, represented ethnic and religious communities, including Jews, Muslims, Christians, Bahais and Druze.

The trick included eight cards with words such as peace, coexistence and dialogue written on them in Hebrew and Arabic. Each child performing the trick asked a friend to pick a card and return it to the deck, after which the child used a magic wand to make it rise above the rest. In unison, the children recited the magic words — “Peace Be With You” — in Hebrew and Arabic.

“It wasn’t just about teaching a trick or breaking a record, it was about bringing people together to speak and get to know each other,” Cagliostro said in a statement. “I hope that each and every one of these children will show the trick to at least 30 of their friends and family, taking the message of peace an understanding to over 50,000 people, because at the end of the day, peace is in our hands.”

Cagliostro had set the record for the largest magic lesson in August 2012 with 644 students. He was overtaken two months later by magician Kevin McMahon with 1,063 students, the Times of Israel reported.

Sirens wail, citizens run to shelters as Israel holds preparedness drill
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Rocket sirens wailed across Israel as part of an annual nationwide preparedness drill.

The sirens on Tuesday morning also were broadcast on television and radio. Civilians were told to head to their bomb shelters and schoolchildren took cover. A second siren was scheduled for the evening.

Sirens did not sound in Israeli communities near the Gaza Strip, however, which heard thousands of sirens during last summer’s conflict with Hamas in Gaza.

The siren drills came on the last day of a three-day national exercise called Turning Point 15, which simulated coordinated attacks from Gaza, Syria and Lebanon, and involved nearly every government ministry and national security force, including the military, police, Homefront Command and fire services. Some exercises will continue through Thursday.

Israel in recent days reportedly sent messages to Iran and Hezbollah to reassure them that the exercise was strictly a drill.

This year’s drill has focused on the ability of the national infrastructure, including electricity, water, gas and computer systems, to withstand an emergency, according to Ynet.

“Adequate preparation is important because planning well will pay off in the end,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at the start of the national exercise.

 

German FM in Gaza: Israel needs rockets to stop for borders to open
JERUSALEM (JTA) — In an unscheduled visit to Gaza, the foreign minister of Germany said Israel must ease its blockade on Gaza, but that it will happen only when Israel is certain that rocket fire from the coastal strip has stopped.

“We need local investments, and from abroad,” Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters in Gaza on Monday, Reuters reported. “Hence we also need the possibility to export the goods, which are being produced here. This can happen only by opening the borders.

“But the whole truth is, all this will, under most difficult circumstances, happen only when there is real certainty … that [Gaza] is no longer a launching pad for rockets.”

A rocket fired from Gaza landed in Israel on May 26, leading to retaliatory airstrikes by Israel. It was the fourth attack from Gaza since the end of Israel’s 50-day operation in Gaza last summer, which saw thousands of rockets fired into Israel.

Steinmeier met on Sunday in Israel and the West Bank with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

Following a meeting with Steinmeier on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he told the German leader that he remains committed to a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem, including a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish nation state of Israel.

Steinmeier did not meet any Hamas leaders in Gaza, but did visit a United Nations school for girls built with assistance from Germany, according to Reuters.

Yeshiva students try to block Christians from King David’s Tomb
JERUSALEM (JTA) — A group of yeshiva students tried to prevent Greek Orthodox Christians from entering King David’s Tomb in the Old City of Jerusalem.

Monday morning’s incident was the second time in two days that Jewish students attempted to block access to the site, which is holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims. The students were dispersed peacefully by police.

Christians say the site, which Jews believe is the final resting place of King David, is the site of Jesus’ Last Supper.

Police arrested dozens of Jewish protesters at the site last year ahead of Pope Francis’ visit.

Tensions have risen in recent months over increased Christian access to the site.

Cop fired for beating Ethiopian-Israeli soldier says he acted properly
JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Israeli police officer who was fired for beating an Ethiopian-Israel soldier said he acted properly in his attempt to arrest and subdue the soldier, who had entered a closed-off area.

Identified by the Israeli news website Ynet as Sgt. Maj. Y., the officer agreed to be interviewed after the soldier, Damas Pakada, filed a lawsuit against him and the Israel Police. The interview was published on Saturday night.

A video of the altercation sparked violent protests by Ethiopian-Israelis and their supporters.

The officer told Ynet that he responded on April 26 to a report about a suspicious object under a bench in a Holon neighborhood that had seen several assassination attempts linked to organized crime. Y said he tried to prevent Pakada from walking near the suspicious object, which the officer said had been closed off with a clear barrier.

“When I see a civilian in front of me, I don’t see an Ethiopian. The color of his skin, his ethnicity and how long he’s been in the country are of no concern to me,” the officer told Ynet. “I saw a civilian and all I care about is saving lives. There is discrimination against Ethiopians in Israel; those who claim so are right. But those kinds of things never enter my mind.”

Y. said he attempted to move the soldier to safer ground by pulling on his bike, at which point Pakada hit him. The officer said his attempt to arrest and subdue Pakada was all according to established police procedure, and he is comfortable with what was captured on a nearby security camera. Y. said he does not believe he has anything to apologize for.

“I was aware of the camera and I had no problem with it,” the officer said. “I acted in the same way I would have acted with or without the camera there. What is clear is that the video doesn’t show him walking into the cordoned-off area and you don’t hear me say to him ‘Stop! You can’t go any further.’ ”

The officer said he believes Pakada is being used by government officials, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“When I saw him with Bibi, I felt a sharp pang in my heart because that’s a guy who threw a punch at a policeman, who picked up a rock to throw at him,” Y. said. “And how does it end? He gets his picture taken with the prime minister, at the prime minister’s request, like he’s getting a prize. I’d also like to meet with the prime minister and tell him what really happened there.”

Netanyahu sends condolences to Biden over death of son
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his condolences to Vice President Joe Biden on the death of his son, Beau.

Beau Biden, the attorney general of Delaware, died Sunday of brain cancer. He was 46.

“Vice President Biden spoke many times to me about Beau over the years, we’ve known each other for many, many years. And in his all too short life, Beau Biden achieved a great deal, and gave so much,” Netanyahu said in his condolence message to the Biden family. “Our thoughts and our prayers are with the entire Biden family at this difficult time.”

Beau Biden had announced recently that he planned to run for governor of Delaware in 2016. He had served in the Delaware National Guard, including a yearlong deployment in Iraq, where he was awarded a Bronze Star.

He was first diagnosed with brain cancer in August 2013.

Beau Biden’s wife, Hallie, nee Berger, is Jewish.

Palestinians rip their soccer chief for stopping bid to oust Israel from FIFA
JERUSALEM (JTA) — The head of the Palestine Football Association came under fire for withdrawing a request to suspend Israel from FIFA, the international soccer body.

Jibril Rajoub said prior to last Friday’s proposed vote that Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany convinced him to withdraw the request.

In place of the vote, the FIFA Congress called for the formation of a committee to investigate freedom of movement out of the West Bank for Palestinian soccer players. The committee also would examine alleged Israeli racism and the five Israeli soccer teams located in West Bank communities.

The Palestinian association said before the vote that it was clear that banning Israel from FIFA would not pass.

Hamas called the decision to halt the vote to expel Israel a missed opportunity and said it went against popular Palestinian opinion.

“After this retreat, how can the Palestinians trust the Palestinian Authority to take Israel to the International Criminal Court or to end security cooperation?” said a statement issued Friday night by Hamas.

Palestinians on social media also criticized Rajoub, while the Palestinian Liberation Organization called the withdrawal a violation of national principles, according to Haaretz.

Rajoub said the request was suspended, not withdrawn completely, and that the decision was supported by other Arab states.

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the move to oust Israel from FIFA “provocative and unwarranted” following a meeting with German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

Netanyahu said he and Steinmeier discussed advancing confidence-building measures, including up to 800 trucks a day of construction and humanitarian assistance to Gaza, adding, “I regret that at the same time that we seek to do that, the Palestinian Authority seeks to kick Israel out of FIFA.”

On Friday, Sepp Blatter won his fifth term as FIFA president, defeating Prince Ali bin al Hussein of Jordan, despite a bribery scandal involving the association. Blatter was not among the FIFA officials and executives of soccer federations indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice.

At Jerusalem SlutWalk, women protest rape and victim-blaming
(JTA) — Several hundred people, many of them high school students, marched through Jerusalem in an annual protest against rape and a perceived tendency to blame rape victims.

Israel’s fourth annual SlutWalk, held last Friday, promoted the message that women should be free from sexual harassment even when wearing revealing clothing.

As at other SlutWalks in Israel and elsewhere, many participants were scantily clad. Among the slogans on signs and in chants were “Blame the rapist” and “When she says no, she means no.”

The demonstration, which had light police protection, went smoothly, with no violence and only a few spectators responding with critical or abusive comments, according to the Times of Israel. One participant told the publication she thinks women in Israel suffer more harassment than elsewhere.

“People in Israel think everything is their business, and they say things that are not OK,” she said.

Launched in Toronto in 2011 after a local police officer said that to prevent rape “women should avoid dressing like sluts,” SlutWalks have since taken place in various countries around the world.

U.S. chief Iran negotiator Wendy Sherman to leave post after nuclear deal deadline
(JTA) – Wendy Sherman, the United States’ chief negotiator with Iran, will leave her post shortly after the June 30 deadline for a final deal with the Islamic Republic.

Sherman, the under secretary of state, made the announcement in an interview published in The New York Times on May 27.

She made the announcement as she left for Vienna, where a final round of talks before the deadline is taking place.

Earlier on May 27, Iran’s senior nuclear negotiator, Abbas Araqchi, told his nation’s state TV that the talks to reach a nuclear agreement between Iran and the world powers may be extended beyond the stated June 30 deadline in order to formulate “a good deal that covers our demands.”

Sherman has been one of a very few women involved in the negotiations. She reportedly is considered to be one of Israel’s best friends in the Obama administration.

“Wendy has been an absolutely critical member of my team, most notably in her work spearheading the nuclear negotiations with Iran, but on nearly every important issue that has crossed my desk,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a statement to CNN.

Blair to resign as Mideast peace envoy in June
(JTA) — Tony Blair, the former British prime minister, will step down next month as the special Middle East peace envoy of the Quartet group representing the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

Blair has occupied the post since 2007, but there has been little progress in Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. He sent a letter confirming his resignation to the United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon.

It is not clear whether anyone will succeed Blair.

News of Blair’s plans to resign first broke in March, when sources “familiar with the situation” said Blair decided his high-profile role was no longer appropriate, according to the London-based Financial Times.

Iranian negotiator: Nuclear talks may be extended beyond deadline
(JTA) — Talks to reach a nuclear agreement between Iran and the world powers may be extended beyond the stated June 30 deadline, Iran’s chief negotiator said.

Abbas Araqchi told Iran’s state TV that he is not in a hurry to complete the negotiations, Reuters reported May 27.

“The talks are serious, complicated and detailed. The pace of talks is slow as we have entered final stages,” Araqchi said from Vienna, where talks began on May 27. “We are not bound to a specific time. We want a good deal that covers our demands.”

France’s ambassador to the United States, Gerard Araud, told Reuters a day earlier that the deal probably would not be completed by June 30 due to technical details that would take a few more weeks to iron out.

A framework agreement was signed by Iran and the world powers— United States, France, Britain, Germany, Russia and China — on April 2 with the goal of completing a final agreement by June 30.

Israel has roundly criticized the deal, and both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives have passed bills requiring congressional review of any nuclear deal with Iran.

Ethiopian-Israeli soldier beaten by officers sues Israel Police
JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Ethiopian-Israeli soldier whose beating by police officers sparked violent protests has filed a lawsuit against the Israel Police.

Damas Pakada filed the approximately $100,000 lawsuit last week with the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court, according to reports. The lawsuit accused the police of “institutionalized racism and violence.”

The beating captured on video took place in late April in an empty lot while Pakada was in uniform.

A May 2 demonstration against racism and police brutality which drew thousands of protesters degenerated into violence, which police used anti-riot measures including stun grenades, water cannons and tear gas to halt.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Pakada two days later, telling him, “The police will do whatever it takes to correct itself, but we need to fix Israeli society.”

On May 13, Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino announced that the officer who beat Pakada was dismissed from the force.

Report: Hamas killed rival Palestinians under cover of conflict with Israel
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Hamas used the cover of last summer’s conflict with Israel to torture and kill Palestinians from rival factions, according to a new report.

“‘Strangling Necks’: Abduction, torture and summary killings of Palestinians by Hamas forces during the 2014 Gaza/Israel conflict,” a report released on May 27 by Amnesty International, highlights the extrajudicial execution of at least 23 Palestinians and the arrest and torture of dozens of others, including members and supporters of Fatah, the party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, a Hamas rival.

During the 50-day conflict last July and August, Hamas “took the opportunity to ruthlessly settle scores, carrying out a series of unlawful killings and other grave abuses,” said Philip Luther, director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at Amnesty International.

“In the chaos of the conflict, the de facto Hamas administration granted its security forces free rein to carry out horrific abuses including against people in its custody. These spine-chilling actions, some of which amount to war crimes, were designed to exact revenge and spread fear across the Gaza Strip,” Luther said.

Many of the unlawful killings, which took place in an operation code named by Hamas “Strangling Necks,” were said by Hamas to be retaliation against Palestinians collaborating with Israel in its Operation Protective Edge; however, at least 16 of those executed by Hamas were in prison, most on collaboration charges, before the start of the conflict, according to Amnesty International.

In addition, Hamas abducted other suspected Palestinians and tortured them, including “severe beatings with truncheons, gun butts, hoses and wire or held in stress positions,” the report said. At least three of those tortured died in Hamas custody.

The human rights organization has called on Palestinian leaders, including the Hamas government, to ensure that the cases documented in the report “are investigated impartially and independently and that, wherever there is sufficient admissible evidence, suspected perpetrators are brought to justice in proceedings that fully respect international fair trial standards and without recourse to the death penalty.”

Amnesty International also urged Hamas to cooperate with independent international investigations, including the Commission of Inquiry set up by the United Nations Human Rights Council in July 2014.

Israel strikes Gaza targets in retaliation for rocket attack
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israel’s military launched airstrikes on the Gaza Strip in retaliation for a rocket attack on Israel.

The airstrikes targeted four “terror infrastructures” in southern Gaza early May 27, the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement. Hits were confirmed, according to the IDF.

The rockets struck installations belonging to terrorist groups Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Popular Resistance Committees located near the Gaza airport, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported.

“These strikes are a direct response to Hamas and the aggression against Israeli civilians originating from the Gaza Strip. The reality that Hamas’ territory is used as a staging ground to attack Israel is unacceptable and intolerable and will bear consequences. Israelis cannot be expected to live in the perpetual fear of rocket attacks; the IDF will continue to operate in order to seek out those that wish to undermine Israeli sovereignty with acts of terrorism,” said IDF spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner.

Sirens sounded in several areas of southern Israel on the night of May 26, indicating that more than one rocket was fired at Israel, though only one reportedly landed in Israeli territory. The rocket landed in an open area near the town of Gan Yavne, outside the southern Israeli city of Ashdod, but did not cause casualties or damage.

The May 26 attack was the third rocket fired at Israel since the end of last summer’s Gaza conflict. Two mortars also have been fired at Israel since the end of Operation Protective Edge.

The Israeli military reportedly believes Islamic Jihad was responsible for firing the rockets.

Ynet reported that Hamas on May 27 arrested those responsible for firing the rockets at Israel. “What happened yesterday goes against the interests of the Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip and against our national interests,” an unnamed Hamas source told Ynet. “We consider the rocket fire to be a dangerous thing.”

Hamas sources told Ynet and other Israeli news outlets that Hamas has reached out to Israel through an unnamed third party in an attempt to de-escalate the situation, saying it does not wish to have a confrontation with Israel.