News Digest — 9/6/23

Papua New Guinea Opens Embassy In Jerusalem

Papua New Guinea opened its embassy to Israel in Jerusalem on Tuesday (5th), becoming the fifth country with a full diplomatic mission in a city whose status is one of the most sensitive issues in the Middle East.

The Pacific nation’s mission joins embassies from the United States, Kosovo, Guatemala and Honduras in Jerusalem, while most countries maintain their diplomatic representation in the coastal city of Tel Aviv, Israel’s main economic hub.

While Israel considers Jerusalem its eternal and indivisible capital and wants all embassies based there, most of the world does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the entire city.

“Israel will pay for the embassy, located in a high-rise opposite Jerusalem’s biggest mall, for the first two years” Papua New Guinea Prime Minister James Marape was quoted in the Papua New Guinea Post-Courier newspaper as saying.

“Many nations choose not to open their embassies in Jerusalem, but we have made a conscious choice,” Marape said at the embassy’s inauguration ceremony.

Marape has also pledged his support at the United Nations for Israel.  

“For us to call ourselves Christians, paying respect to God will not be complete without recognizing that Jerusalem is the universal capital of the people and the nation of Israel,” Marape said.

Papua New Guinea, which occupies the eastern half of the West Pacific Island of New Guinea, has an economy based on agriculture and mining.  Its bilateral trade with Israel is worth just $1 million a year, according to Israeli authorities.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who attended the embassy inauguration said that the new embassy would make it easier to develop agriculture, health, water, and technology projects.  “This will not only enable us to cherish the past but also seize the future,” he said at the ceremony.



Palestinians Detonate Large Explosive On Gaza Border In Latest Rioting

Dozens of Palestinians rioted in the Gaza Strip on the border with Israel Tuesday afternoon (5th), setting off a large explosive device, footage showed.

The Israeli Defense Forces said in a statement that troops responded with crowd dispersal means, as well as sniper fire in some cases.

The IDF said the rioters set off a number of explosives and hurled grenades at the border barrier in the north part of the Gaza Strip.

No soldiers were hurt, the IDF said in a statement, nor were there reports of injuries on the Palestinian side.

The rioting Tuesday (5th) came after hundreds of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip violently protested on the border Friday (1st), hurling explosive devices and attempting to break through the security barrier.

The recent riots followed a report on Thursday (8/31) claiming that the Hamas terror group, which rules the Strip, was considering a resumption of regular protest marches along the border and other activities against Israel.

Weekly protests along the frontier began at the end of March 2018 and continued almost every Friday until the end of 2019, with the demand that Israel lift its restrictions on the movement of people and goods in and out of the coastal enclave and a call for the return of Palestinian refugees and their descendants to lands that that are part of the Jewish State.

Israel says its blockade of Gaza is necessary to prevent Hamas from freely arming itself for war and attacks, 

The weekly protest on the border in 2018 and 2019 frequently involved violence, including the hurling of explosives, rocks and fire bombs at IDF soldiers, as well as attempts to storm and sabotage the border fence, and in some cases live fire toward Israeli soldiers.  Troops often responded with rubber bullets and tear gas, as well as live fire.  More than 200 Palestinians were killed in the demonstrations and many were injured.

In addition, Palestinians regularly flew helium balloons into Israel carrying explosives and incendiary devices, sparking fires that destroyed large swaths of agricultural land and foliage.

While Hamas is said to now consider resuming the “Marches of Return,” as they came to be known, no official statement has yet been  published by the terror group concerning its future plans.



Police Officer Hurt In Jordan Valley Shooting, Palestinian Gunman Killed

A Border Police officer was lightly hurt during an exchange of fire with a Palestinian gunman who had attempted to carry out a terror shooting at a rest stop in the Jordan Valley, on Tuesday evening (5th) the military and police said.

According to a Border Police spokesman, members of the Matilan counterterrorism unit were conducting searches near the Argaman junction, close to the West Bank settlement of the same name, in the northern Jordan Valley, when they came under fire.

A Palestinian gunman was shot dead. And one officer was slightly injured in the fire exchange. 

The Israel Defense Forces said that they had been searching for a Palestinian gunman involved in a terror shooting attack at the same junction several hours earlier.

Initially, the IDF suspected the first attack was related to a criminal dispute between the gunman and a Palestinian who worked at a rest stop at the junction.

In the first shooting the gunman had opened fire three times – before his gun apparently jammed.  He then fled the scene prompting the military’s searches.

The military said that during the searches for the gunman, Matilan officers came under fire and killed the assailant.

Palestinian media outlets named the assailant as 16-year-old Muhammad Zubaidat from Jericho.

Violence has surged across the West Bank over the past year and a half, with a rise in Palestinian shooting attacks against Israeli civilians and troops, including near-nightly arrest raids by the military.

Palestinian terror attacks in Israel and the West Bank since the beginning of the year have left 27 civilians and three soldiers dead, and others seriously wounded.

Many Palestinians have been killed during the same period – the vast majority of them were armed and were shot and killed in clashes with security forces or while carrying out terror attacks. 



Thousands Attend Funeral Of Lone Soldier Killed In Terror Attack

Maxim Molchanov, the soldier who was killed in the ramming attack at the Maccabim checkpoint last week was laid to rest on Tuesday (5th) at the military cemetery in Kiryat Shaul.  About a thousand people came to the funeral of the lone soldier who immigrated as a teenager from Ukraine, after the public was invited on social media to come and “salute him on his last journey.”  Molchanov’s parents also came from Ukraine to Israel to attend the funeral

Many of the funeral participants did not know Molchanov personally but came to pay their respects.  Among others, Knesset members Gilad Karib, Sharon Nir, Ze’ev Elkin and Oded Forer, Minister of Immigration and Absorption Ofir Sofer, and Herzliya Mayor Moshe Padlon also came to the cemetery.

Molchanov’s friend from his company, Eitan Alley, told Ynet on Tuesday (5th) that “the company is still trying to digest what happened.  He was a real warrior, both our battalions, the 411th, and the 282nd brigade loved him very much.  He was always a person who helped others.  Six months ago he donated bone marrow to a 12-year-old boy he didn’t know.

Alley noted that “even after Maxim donated the bone marrow he immediately wanted to return to the company, continue to serve, and be useful to us in operational missions.  This is a great loss for all of us.”  Alley also said that the company is in contact with Molchanov’s family.  “When he came to Israel, his family remained in Ukraine, but he lived with his brother who resides in Herzliya.”

Omri Daniel, Molchanov’s commander in boot camp, also noted that Molchanov was bothered by  the outbreak of the war in Ukraine, with the Russian invasion last year.  “The war was very close to his heart, he tried many times to call home, but because his parents lived in the heart of the war, he was usually unable to reach them.  We tried to give him a phone call  even during the hours when the other fighters were not permitted and help him as much as possible.”



Israeli Embassy Inaugurated In Bahrain

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen inaugurated the permanent home of the Israeli Embassy in Manama Monday (4th) as part of his first official visit to Bahrain, which normalized ties with Jerusalem in 2020 under the auspices of the Abraham Accords.

During a joint ceremony with his Bahraini counterpart, Abdullatif bin Rashid Al Zayani, Cohen affixed a mezuzah on the embassy’s door.

“This is an exciting moment for me, which indicates the warming relations between the countries,” he said.  “I will continue to act so that we will be able to establish mezuzot (plural for mezuzah) in more Israeli embassies around the world.”

Al Zanani told attendees that the embassy’s inauguration “signifies our shared commitment to strengthening and cultivating bilateral relations that will ultimately serve the best interests of peace, security and prosperity for all the people of our region.”

Cohen is leading a political and commercial delegation that will participate in activities to promote trade and investment between the countries, Israel’s Foreign Ministry announced ahead of the trip.

The visit was planned “in order to continue building, expanding and deepening bilateral ties, while strengthening agreements in the economic and trade fields,” Cohen said in an interview with the local Al Ayyam newspaper published on Monday (4th). 

“Our vision of the Middle East is one in which people live in peace and security.  The goal is to ensure economic prosperity and create a new reality,” he added.

Also on September 4, Cohen met with Bahraini Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa at Manama’s Gudaibiya Palace.  The two discussed “regional challenges and the commitment of the two countries to the fight against terrorism, extremism and violence in order to create an atmosphere that will allow the expansion of the circle of peace,” according to an Israeli Foreign Ministry readout.

The Israeli diplomat also met with US Ambassador to Bahrain Steven Bondy and Commander of US Naval Forces Central Command Vice Adm. Brad Cooper at the Fifth Fleet base in Bahrain.

Beside Bahrain, the Abraham Accords also saw Israel establish relations with the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Sudan.



Israel Fumes As UNESCO Weighs Designating Ancient Jericho As Palestinian Heritage Site

Israel harshly criticized the United Nations Educational Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) for plans to designate the ancient city of Jericho  as a Palestinian World Heritage site.

Ancient Jericho is one of 53 natural and cultural sites the World Heritage Committee will be voting to include on its list when it convenes in Saudi Arabia in two weeks.

MK Dan Illouz (Likud) blasted the decision, saying “Jericho is first and foremost a city of Biblical significance.”

According to Jewish history, Jericho was the crossing point of the Israelites into the Land of Israel after wandering in the desert for 40 years following the Exodus from Egypt.

Illouz called on President of UNESCO Audrey Azoulay to deny the Palestinian Authority’s request for the recognition that is “archaeologically false.”

“That is not only an insult to Jews, but also an insult to Christians around the world who admire the site for its Biblical history,” Illouz wrote in a letter to Azoulay.

“The Palestinian Authority is systematically working to erase all ties of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel.  This is evident on the Temple Mount, where valuable archaeological findings were destroyed, as well as throughout Judea and Samaria, where acts of vandalism and deliberate destruction of Biblical evidence frequently occur.  It is our duty to stop this and insist on our right to our country against enemies at home and abroad,” the letter said.