News Digest — 3/5/19

Balloon Cluster With Incendiary Device Launched From Gaza;  IDF Hits Hamas Posts

The Israeli army said Saturday evening (2nd) its aircraft fired at targets in the southern Gaza Strip in response to a cluster of balloons attached to an incendiary device that was launched from the Strip toward Israel.

In a statement, the Israel Defense Forces called the targets “Hamas military posts.”

Earlier on Saturday (2nd), violent clashes between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli soldiers broke out along the border fence.  IDF soldiers used riot-dispersal methods to keep the demonstrators away from the fence, the Walla news site reported.

The IDF said it had neutralized explosive devices thrown at the fence during violent demonstrations along the Gaza border on Friday (1st), where some 8,000 Palestinians protested, with many clashing with Israeli troops.  

The protesters continued their usual behavior of burning tires and throwing rocks, explosive devices and grenades at Israeli soldiers.

The riots were part of the March of Return protests, which have taken place more than weekly along the border since last March and have periodically escalated into major flare-ups between the Israeli military and Gaza-based terror groups.



Fatah: Hamas Brutally Torturing Our Men In Gaza

The West Bank-based Palestinian Fatah faction on Saturday (2nd) accused Hamas of torturing Fatah members in the Gaza Strip.  Fatah officials said at least 100 of their members were detained by Hamas in the past week. The crackdown, according to the officials, came in response to demonstrations organized by Fatah to express support for Palestinian Authority Leader Mahmoud Abbas.

The pro-Abbas demonstrations came after thousands of Palestinians took to the streets in the Gaza Strip to demand the ouster of the PA Leader.

Fatah claims that Hamas, Islamic Jihad and supporters of deposed Fatah official Mohamed Dahlan, a prominent critic of Abbas, are all behind the demonstrations against the PA Leader in the Gaza Strip.

Osama Qawassmeh, a Fatah spokesman in the West Bank, accused Hamas of “kidnapping and brutally torturing Fatah members in a way that no Palestinian can imagine.”

Qawassmeh said that Fatah activists who were detained by Hamas were physically and verbally assaulted and held in the cold.  The detainees, he added, “were thrown into cold and dark cells, together with criminals and spies.”

The torture included subjecting the detainees to “shabah” – the painful binding of the hands and feet to a chair, he said.

The latest tensions between Hamas and Fatah erupted a series of demonstrations in the Gaza Strip and an online campaign calling for the ouster of Abbas, especially because of the sanctions he imposed on the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave.  Fatah has responded with its own campaign in support of Abbas under the banners: “We Chose You” and “You Represent Us.”



Jordan Blasts Israel Over Temple Mount Crackdown

Jordan on Sunday (3rd) accused Israeli authorities of barring top Palestinian Muslim officials from Al-Aqsa mosque in the Israeli capital city of Jerusalem.

Sheikh Abdel Azim Salhab, head of the Waqf religious authority that runs the site in the city, has been barred for 40 days and his deputy for four months, after Israel accused the Waqf of inciting Muslim rioters on the Temple Mount.

In recent weeks, Arab Muslims have demanded the reopening of the Golden Gate, also known as the Gate of Mercy – a side building on the Temple Mount which Israeli authorities closed in 2003, after it was used for terrorist activities.

Numerous riots have broken out on and around the Temple Mount, ultimately resulting in the reopening of the Golden Gate by rioters – in violation of police orders.

One other religious official has also been detained, Firas al-Dibs, spokesman for the Waqf, who answers to Jordan as custodian of The Temple Mount.

Jordan’s minister for religious affairs, Abdel Nasser Abu-Bassal, quoted by state news agency Petra, accused Israel of “a new escalation aimed at impeding Waqf’s work in Jerusalem and intimidating its members.”



US To Merge Jerusalem Consulate With Embassy On Monday In Blow To Palestinians

The United States is expected to move ahead with the downgrade of its mission to the Palestinians on Monday (4th) by merging its Jerusalem consulate with the embassy in Israel, a US official said Saturday (2nd).

US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo said when announcing the merger in October that it was intended to improve “efficiency and effectiveness” and did not constitute a change of policy.

But Palestinian leaders have seen the decision as another move against them by the Trump administration, which they froze contact with after US President Donald Trump named Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.

A date for the merger of the consulate into the embassy had not been announced, but a State Department official told AFP on condition of anonymity that it “is expected to take place on March 4.”

The Jerusalem consulate general, which has acted independently as a de facto embassy to the Palestinians since the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, will be replaced by a new Palestinian Affairs Unit within the embassy.

The closure of the consulate general means that Palestinian affairs will come under the direction of US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who has been a supporter of Israeli settlement building in the West Bank.  Some Palestinians view Friedman as biased in favor of Israel.

Trump has also cut more than $500 million in Palestinian aid in what Palestinians have said is a bid to pressure them to negotiate peace with Israel.



Hezbollah: UK Terror Ban ‘Insults Lebanon’s Feelings’

In a statement issued in Beirut, the Hezbollah terror group responded to a recent ban by the UK government, commenting, “The British government by adopting this decision has insulted the feelings, emotions and will of the Lebanese people which consider Hezbollah to be a significant political and popular force and granted it large representation in parliament and in the new government.”

It was the first comment by the terror group on Britain’s move last week to ban Hezbollah as a terrorist group, based on the Iran-backed proxies’ destabilizing operations in the Middle East.

Hezbollah receives hundreds of millions of dollars from Iran, with which it maintains a massive terror army, amassing around 150,000 rockets in violation of the United Nations resolution that ended Lebanon’s previous conflict with Israel.

Hezbollah is sworn to Israel’s destruction.

The British government’s decision means being a member of, or inviting support for Hezbollah will be a criminal offense, carrying a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

Hezbollah is a Shiite Muslim terror organization that emerged during the early 1980s to attack Israel.

The British ban comes as the United States is increasing its pressure on Hezbollah, placing several sets of sanctions on the group and its regional backer Iran.

Last week, the US ambassador to Lebanon described Hezbollah’s “growing” role in the new Lebanese Cabinet as a threat to the country’s stability.  US officials have also expressed concern that Hezbollah will exploit the ministries it runs to funnel money to fund the terror group’s operations.