News Digest — 8/30/2021

Gantz Meets Abbas In Ramallah After Bennett’s US Visit

Defense Minister Benny Gantz met with Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Sunday night (29th), hours after PM Naftali Bennett returned from Washington DC.

“This evening I met with the PA’s Mahmoud Abbas to discuss security-policy, civilian and economic issues,” Gantz tweeted after the late night meeting, the details of which were published just after midnight on Monday (30th).

The face-to-face meeting was the first in a decade between Abbas and such a high-level Israeli official.

“We also discussed shaping the security and economic situations in the West Bank and in Gaza,” Gantz said.  “We agreed to continue communicating further on the issues that were raised during our meeting.”

Bennett has insisted that he has no plans to hold peace negotiations with the Palestinians and the two men (Bennett and Abbas) did not exchange customary words when Bennett took office.  Bennett does not support a two-state solution, but has said he will not try to annex parts of Judea and Samaria as the head of a government that spans diverse parts of the Israeli political spectrum.

A source close to Bennett clarified that the prime minister gave his consent to the Gantz-Abbas meeting in advance.

“This was a meeting that dealt with joint, everyday issues between the security establishment and the Palestinian Authority,” the source said.  “There is no diplomatic process with the Palestinians, nor will there be.”

Bennett does support moves to improve Palestinians’ quality of life and stabilize the Palestinian Authority, which he views is helpful to Israel’s security.

A senior diplomatic source said that economic issues were a major focus of the Gantz-Abbas meeting.

“Gantz believed that an in-person, high-level meeting would be the way to move proposals forward,” the source said, but he was skeptical that Abbas was the key to concrete progress or that much would come of the meeting.

Direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority broke down in 2014 and have not been renewed.  Those rounds of talks with then US Secretary of State John Kerry did not include Mahmoud Abbas.

The Palestinian leader met with former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu only twice, once in Washington in 2010 and once on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in 2009.  They did occasionally speak by phone, with the last such conversation in 2017.



IDF Strikes Gaza As Hamas Violence Continues

The Israel Air Force (IAF) Struck Hamas targets early Sunday morning (29th) in retaliation for the latest spate of arson balloons and riots on the Gaza border, the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit announced Sunday (29th).

Fighter jets hit a military compound used for both training and weapons production, as well as a terror tunnel shaft near Jabaliya, saying, “The IDF will continue to respond aggressively to Hamas terror attempts.”

About 300 Gazans demonstrated violently Saturday night (28th) in the northern Gaza Strip in the same area where IDF sniper Barel Shmueli was critically wounded last week by a terrorist shooting him in the head at point-blank range.  While most rioters kept some 200 meters from the border, several dozen of them approached the fence to try and damage it, burning tires and throwing improvised explosive devices (IEDs) at the IDF soldiers guarding the border.

The troops responded with riot-dispersal means that included shooting gas grenades and low-velocity, low caliber bullets at the leaders that can wound but rarely kill a target.  The Palestinian Health Ministry announced that 11 people had been injured in the clashes, three moderately.

“We heard the loud explosions,” a resident of Kibbutz Nahal Oz told Walla News.  “Every few minutes we hear booms.  The feeling is quite unpleasant.  There’s something going on here all the time – it hasn’t been quiet for a long time.”

“However, we are functioning, but the children are less free to move around – we are just trying to maintain some sort of routine,” the resident added.

On Saturday (28th), two fires caused by arson balloons broke out in open fields in the Eshkol Region bordering the coastal enclave.  The Fire and Rescue Services and a Jewish National Fund team put out the blazes – no injuries were reported.

This follows last week’s shooting of Shmueli and nine near-simultaneous fires set off by the terrorists’ launching of arson balloons that also did damage to brushland near settlements in the Gaza envelope.  Then, too, the IDF responded with airstrikes against Hamas military targets.

Hamas threatened weeks ago that it would ratchet up the pressure on Israel with both border riots and arson balloons as the indirect negotiations have faltered between the adversaries for long-term quiet following May’s Operation Guardian of the Walls.  Although Israel has agreed to let Qatar return to sending $10 million a month to 100,000 poor Gazan families through the UN via pre-loaded cash cards, Hamas is demanding that its civil servants be paid as well.

The terror organization also has not given credit to Israel for a series of financial concessions it made in the past week, including the importation of more goods and the issuance of entry permits for a thousand merchants into Israel.

Hamas is completely refusing Israel’s demand to link renewed aid to the return of the bodies of two IDF soldiers and two live, mentally disturbed civilians it has been holding since 2014 and 2015, respectively.  Jerusalem also won’t budge until all arson balloon attacks cease, one senior official told Israel Hayom last week.

Hamas also wants Israel to remove its long-held maritime blockade on the Strip, which is a non-starter as far as Israel is concerned.  The blockade is considered essential to prevent the smuggling of massive amounts of weapons into Gaza from the sea.

Palestinian sources have reported that the decision has been made that as of this week, there would be a gradual escalation against Israel, even though reportedly neither side is interested in going so far as another serious round of attacks.



Hamas Military Chief In Hiding, Fears Assassination

Hamas military chief Yahya Sinwar has gone into hiding due to fears that he may soon be assassinated by Israel, TPS reported Sunday (29th).

A source in the Gaza Strip told TPS that Sinwar has not been seen in public for several days, as Hamas calls for increased rioting along the border fence and launches arson balloons at southern Israeli communities.

Last week, Hamas encouraged Gazans to storm the Israeli border fence in violent protests, which resulted in an Israeli Border Police officer being shot in the head at point blank range.

Originally sentenced to four consecutive life terms in 1988 for masterminding the abduction and murder of two Israeli soldiers, along with the killings of a number of Palestinians he suspected were collaborating with Israel, Sinwar has emerged as Hamas’ chief military strategist after his release from Israeli custody during the 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange. 

The source added that Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) and Hamas are at odds over the next steps regarding Israel.

According to the source, PIJ wants to engage in a larger conflict with Israel, while Hamas fears that such a clash could draw the ire of Egyptian interlocutors who are currently lobbying Israel to release millions in Qatari aid money into the Strip. 

Citing a recent statement from Defense Minister Benny Gantz that “the obstacle to the prosperity and development of the Strip is Hamas led by Sinwar,” the Egyptians will reportedly hold the terror group and its military leader responsible for any escalation with Israel.

While Sinwar previously stayed out of the spotlight, he gained much attention during Operation Guardian of the Walls after Israel carried out an airstrike on his home.

Sinwar was elsewhere at the time, and held a press conference in which he dared Israel’s defense minister to assassinate him within the next 60 minutes.

He then spent the next hour walking the streets and posing with well-wishers for selfies.

“Hamas’ firing of rockets at Israeli civilian communities,” explained Sinwar, “is solely due to the fact that the terror group does not possess precision-guided missiles.”

“If we had the capability…to launch missiles that targeted military targets, we wouldn’t have used the rockets that we did.  We are forced to defend our people with what we have, and this is all we have,” he added.



Temple Mount Maintenance Begins On Mughrabi Bridge, Amid Tensions

Maintenance work began Sunday (29th) on the Mughrabi bridge which links the Temple Mount to an area near the Western Wall and is used by non-Muslims to visit there.

During the work, some parts of the women’s section at the Wall may be obstructed, according to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation.

In June, an engineer’s report said the wood with which the bridge is constructed was not safe for use, and previous reports said the bridge had been only meant for temporary use and is unsafe.

In July, a number of voices, many of them linked to Israel’s former ruling Likud Party, claimed that the Mughrabi bridge is in danger of collapse.

Former transportation minister MK Miri Regev said “it is forbidden to wait another moment for the demolition of the bridge and the construction of an appropriate replacement.”

Jordan is sensitive to any changes to the status quo and previous attempts to alter the bridge have met with protests and also the spreading of conspiracy theories that have led to conflicts in the past, including the recent Gaza war in May.



Israel Military Reports Seeing Crocodile Near The Sea Of Galilee

The Israeli military told nature reserves officials Sunday (29th) it had spotted a crocodile near the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel.

The Nature and Parks Authority said the IDF had told them the crocodile was sighted in the area of the Yarmouk River, which runs in Jordan, Syria and Israel, just south of the country’s only freshwater lake.

According to the report, the reptile was sighted near the Kibbutzim of Masada and Sha’ar HaGolan.

The Nature and Parks Authority said they were attempting to verify the information with the military and are working to track-down any first hand witnesses who saw the croc.

The authority added they are also working to gain permission to cross the border fence into Jordan in order to conduct a search of the area.

Nature reserves officials said they also are conducting a thorough inspection of the Hamat Gader Park in the Yarmouk River Valley, which houses a large crocodile farm.