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Weekly roundup of world briefs from JTA


Palestinian man alleged to be part of terror cell killed in shootout with Israeli troops

JERUSALEM (JTA)—A Palestinian man who allegedly was part of a terror cell planning attack on Israeli targets was killed in a gunfight with Israeli troops in the West Bank.

Basel al-A’araj was killed overnight Monday during an IDF arrest raid in Ramallah in the northern West Bank.

Al-A’araj, 31, was shot and killed by Israeli troops after they surrounded the house where he was holed up in order to arrest him. He opened fire on the troops, according to the IDF.

Al-A’araj was alleged to be part of a terrorist cell planning to carry out attacks on Israeli targets and allegedly was responsible for procuring weapons. An M-16 rifle and an improvised Carlo-style submachine gun were found inside the home, the IDF said.

Al-Araj was detained without charges or explanation by Palestinian security forces in April last year, the Palestinian Maan news agency reported. He was released in September after mounting a hunger strike in prison amid reports of torture and mistreatment.

On Sunday, two Palestinian men from Nablus were arrested at the Tapuah Junction in the northern West Bank on suspicion that they were planning to carry out a stabbing attack there. One of the men was carrying a large knife.

Annexing West Bank will lead to ‘crisis’ with Trump administration, Liberman warns

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Annexing the West Bank will lead to a “crisis” with the Trump administration, Israel’s Defense Minister warned.

“I am saying it as clearly as possible: We received a direct message from the United States saying that Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank would mean an immediate crisis with the new administration,” Avigdor Liberman said Monday during an appearance before the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

Liberman called on the ruling government coalition led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “clarify very clearly, there is no intention to impose Israeli sovereignty.” Liberman is due to meet with top U.S. administration officials this week in Washington. 

The warning came in response to an interview over the weekend with Likud lawmaker Miki Zohar, who told the Israeli news channel i24 News that a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no longer possible.

“The two-state solution is dead,” Zohar said. “What is left is a one-state solution with the Arabs here as, not as full citizenship, because full citizenship can let them to vote to the Knesset. They will get all of the rights like every citizen except voting for the Knesset.”

Liberman said the interview raised red flags around the world. “I’m getting calls from all of the world wanting to know if this is the position of the coalition,” he told the Knesset committee. “As far as my opinion is concerned, we need to separate from the Palestinians and not to integrate them. The decision to annex Judea and Samaria (the West Bank) would mean the integration of 2.7 million Palestinians in Israel.”

U.S. President Donald Trump has not called specifically for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. When asked about the topic last month during a news conference in Washington with Netanyahu, Trump said: “I like the one the two parties like... I can live with either one.”

Trump’s position diverges with that of previous U.S. presidents, who said two states was the only viable solution for resolving the conflict.

Israeli decries ‘Women’s Strike’ organizer convicted in bombing that killed her uncle

(JTA)—The niece of an Israeli killed in a terrorist attack nearly 50 years ago criticized the planned International Women’s Strike for allowing one of the convicted terrorists in a leadership position.

In an op-ed published last week on the Huffington Post website, Terry Joffe Benaryeh said she commends the goal of the strike, a push for women’s equality. The strike is planned for March 8, the official observance of International Women’s Day

“But, explain how my family is supposed to reconcile the reality that the woman who stripped my uncle of his life is now deemed a hero by many of my fellow Americans. What justification is there for Rasmea Odeh, a woman who killed two people (with the intention of killing more!) to lead a peaceful fight for human rights?” Benaryeh wrote.

Eddie Joffe and Leon Kanner were killed at the Supersol market in Jerusalem on Feb. 21. 1969, when a bomb set by Odeh and an accomplice exploded in the crowded store. Nine people were injured in the blast.

Odeh was arrested in March 1969. She was convicted and sentenced by an Israeli military court in 1970 to life in prison for two bombing attacks on behalf of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. She spent 10 years in an Israeli prison before being released in a prisoner exchange with the PFLP in 1980.

Odeh confessed to planting the bomb, though in recent years has claimed that the confession was given under torture, which is disputed by Israeli officials.

“Explain to me how Odeh, who was a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a U.S.-designated terrorist group, was chosen to represent American feminists who seek to peacefully stand up for women’s rights,” Benaryeh wrote. “The Women’s Strike lists as its Principle #1 that ‘Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people. It is a positive force confronting the forces of injustice and utilizes the righteous indignation and spiritual, emotional, and intellectual capabilities of people as the vital force for change and reconciliation.’ Rasmea Odeh signed her name to this movement. And she did so with blood on her hands.”

Odeh, an associate director at the Arab American Action Network, was found guilty in November 2014 of lying on her application for citizenship to the United States by covering up her conviction and imprisonment for the bombing attacks when she entered the United States in 1995. She applied for citizenship in 2004.

In December 2016, a federal judge ordered a new trial, in which Odeh reportedly will be allowed to show she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder when she was interviewed in Detroit during the citizenship process, a claim that was not introduced in her first trial.

U.S. lawmakers visit potential sites for embassy move to Jerusalem

JERUSALEM (JTA)—A delegation from the U.S. House of Representatives visited Israel for one day, during which they were to visit possible sites in Jerusalem for the American Embassy.

The delegation of lawmakers was from the House Subcommittee for National Security, part of the House Oversight Committee. The lawmakers reportedly met Sunday morning with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials.  They also reportedly had a briefing at the US. Embassy in Tel Aviv, and visited U.S. government properties in Jerusalem.

The delegation was led by subcommittee chairman Rep. Ron DeSantis, R- Fla. DeSantis told reporters Sunday evening that U.S. President Donald Trump intends to honor his campaign pledge to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

DeSantis told Breitbart News in an interview on Sunday that he thought the U.S. consulate in the upscale Arnona neighborhood of southern Jerusalem would be a good place to house a U.S. embassy in Jerusalem.

“Great security, very big and nice facility,” DeSantis told Breitbart. “So, that is something that could potentially be a plug-and-play. Where you are literally just changing the sign to the U.S. Embassy. And that obviously depends on what the president wants to do. So, he could potentially do that.”

Cuomo at Yad Vashem: ‘No tolerance’ for acts of anti-Semitism

JERUSALEM (JTA)—“There will be no tolerance for these acts of anti-Semitism,” New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during a weekend visit to Israel.

“We must live by the rules that an abuse to one, an affront to one, is an affront to all, and that large fires start as small fires, and we will have zero tolerance for any abuse or discrimination of any fellow human being,” Cuomo said Sunday during a visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial with Israeli President Reuven Rivlin. “In the United States now we have had a rash of anti-Semitism, over 100 acts of anti-Semitism, and I am sad to say also in my state, the state of New York. It is disgusting, it is reprehensible, it violates every tenet of the New York State tradition.”

He added: “To the people of Israel, I say that these acts of anti-Semitism will not be tolerated.”

Cuomo continued: “This trip has two purposes; number one, while some would weaken the relationship between the people of the State of New York and our Jewish brothers and sisters, the purpose of this trip is to strengthen those relationships through cultural exchange, through economic development partnerships, and we’ll be working on them. The second purpose of this trip is ‘Hineini,’ I am here, I have been here before, and I will be here again.”

Cuomo last visited Israel in the wake of the 2014 Gaza War, also on a whirlwind 24-hour trip.

Rivlin thanked Cuomo for his visit and said, “Your arrival to Israel at this time is an extremely important signal that the U.S. people and government will not let anti-Semitism win. On behalf of the State of Israel, I would like to express our appreciation for your visit and for the clear and powerful message you have sent.”

Rivlin added: “The same appreciation goes to President Trump, who condemned the recent attacks. And we are deeply touched by Vice President Pence who went and gave a hand—and a voice—in fixing the broken gravestone. The fact that so many Christians and Muslims, came to aid the Jewish communities sends the clearest message against racism and hatred. It is a sign of great hope and civil courage.”

Last month, Pence visited a vandalized Jewish cemetery in St. Louis and helped volunteers clean up the area.

Cuomo was scheduled to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later on Sunday. The visit also was meant to bolster economic ties between Israel and New York State.

Israel upsets Korea in first game of World Baseball Classic

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Team Israel defeated Korea in the first game of the World Baseball Classic.

Israel topped Korea 2-1 in the 10th inning on Monday in Seoul. Team Israel had 8 hits to Korea’s 7 in the hard-fought game.

The Israeli team is scheduled to play the team from Chinese Taipei later on Monday, and the Netherlands on Wednesday.

This is the first year that the Israeli team has qualified for the quadrennial baseball tournament, in which 16 countries are represented. In 2012, Israel’s inaugural WBC team narrowly missed making the tournament.

The game marks the first time that American Jewish baseball players, including several current and former Major League Baseball players, are representing Israel in a world championship. World Baseball Classic rules state that players who are eligible for citizenship of a country may play on that country’s team.

Israel is the only participant in this year’s tournament not currently among the top 20 in the world rankings. Israel is ranked 41st in the world.

The game was not broadcast on any of Israel’s major television channels or sports channels.

Ten current and former Jewish major leaguers representing Israel in the World Baseball Classic visited Israel in December.

In an article published on Sunday, ESPN described the Israeli team as “the Jamaican bobsled team of the WBC.”

Aleppo family claims to be Jewish, calls on Israel to help them

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Members of a family in the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo have called on Israel to help them leave the country, claiming Jewish heritage.

A recording of a woman calling for the assistance was broadcast Sunday morning on Army Radio.

The younger brother of the woman on the recording, who himself escaped over a year ago to London and identified as Salah, told Army Radio that his mother is Jewish and his father Muslim, and that he and his siblings had considered themselves Jewish growing up.

“There is nobody who can help us to get out of this place,” said his sister, 30, on the recording, where she is identified as Razan, though that is not her real name. “We are asking that the Israeli government does not abandon us, but helps us get out of here to another country. I ask that the government demands from the entire world to do this. All my love and loyalty is to this religion (Judaism).”

The Jewish Agency told Israeli media outlets that it was looking into the matter and would work to rescue the family if it is proven they are Jewish. Meanwhile, officials at the Jewish Agency told Army Radio that they had doubts about the family’s Jewishness because people in similar positions have hidden their Jewish identity to avoid putting themselves in more danger.

Aleppo’s last remaining Jews were believed to have left the country with the help of the Jewish Agency in 2015.

Former U.S. envoy to Israel, Dan Shapiro, to join Israeli think tank

JERUSALEM (JTA)—Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro will join a Tel Aviv-based think tank as a visiting fellow.

The Institute for National Security Studies announced the appointment on its website on Sunday.

Shapiro will participate in several of the institute’s research programs, including those on Israel-U.S. relations, Israeli-Palestinian relations, the Arab world, and Israeli society and public opinion, according to the announcement. According to the think tank, he will study opportunities and make policy recommendations to strengthen the U.S.-Israel strategic, economic and societal partnership, and to preserve, expand and strengthen the common interests between the two states.

INSS Director Amos Yadlin said that Shapiro “possesses keen insight, deep experience, and a broad network of relationships in Israel, the United States, and the Middle East.”

Shapiro was appointed to his post by former President Barack Obama in July 2011. He resigned on Jan. 20, vacating the position for President Donald Trump’s appointee, David Friedman.

Shapiro reportedly took the unusual step of asking the State Department for permission to stay in Israel as a private citizen so that his daughter could complete the school year. His daughter is in the 11th grade, a year that is heavy with Israeli matriculation exams

At the end of January, Shapiro wrote an article for Foreign Policy, in which he laid out a path for moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, a stated goal of the Trump administration.

Trump, Netanyahu discuss ‘dangers’ of Iran deal in phone call

WASHINGTON (JTA)—President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke about the Iran nuclear deal in a phone call.

Trump called Netanyahu on Monday and the two leaders discussed “the dangers posed by the nuclear deal with Iran,” according to a statement from Netanyahu’s office.

“The two leaders spoke at length about the dangers posed by the nuclear deal with Iran and by Iran’s malevolent behavior in the region and about the need to work together to counter those dangers,” read the statement.

Netanyahu and Trump have both denounced the deal, which exchanges sanctions relief for a rollback of Iran’s nuclear program. But the U.S. president and other top officials have wavered in their commitment to undoing the agreement.

During the phone call, Netanyahu also thanked Trump for the “warm hospitality” during his visit to Washington last month and for condemning anti-Semitism during a joint address to Congress, according to the statement.

The White House statement reporting the call described the conversation in more general terms.

“The two leaders discussed the need to counter continuing threats and challenges facing the Middle East region,” it said. “The Prime Minister thanked the President for his comments at the beginning of his speech before the Joint Session of Congress condemning anti-Semitism”

Last Tuesday, Trump noted recent bomb threats on Jewish institutions and vandalism of cemeteries in his first address to a joint meeting of Congress.

“Recent threats targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms,” Trump said.

Nearly 100 Jewish institutions have been targeted with bomb threats since the beginning of the year. The Kansas shooting occurred when a patron who was ejected from a bar after hurling racial epithets at two workers from India allegedly returned with a gun, killing one of the men and wounding the other.

Trump has come under fire for his delayed responses to the threats against Jewish institutions, deflecting questions about it before finally issuing a denunciation. The White House did not address the Kansas shooting until Tuesday, six days after the attack.


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