The Times of Israel liveblogged events as they unfolded through Thursday, August 28. Israel and Hamas both claimed victory Wednesday, on the first day of quiet after 50 days of conflict. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he could not guarantee that long-term calm had been attained, but said Hamas had been badly hurt, and that Israel would hit back “seven times as hard” if Hamas broke the open-ended ceasefire. Meanwhile, an officer and a civilian were injured as the Syrian war spilled over to the Israeli side of the Golan. (Wednesday’s liveblog is here.)

You can also follow @TOIAlerts on Twitter — we’re live-tweeting all the updates there as well.

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August 28 — second day after Israel-Hamas truce deal

PREAMBLE: Israeli and Hamas leaders hailed victory Wednesday, on the first full day of quiet after an open-ended ceasefire was signed Tuesday to end 50 days of Israel-Hamas conflict.

Strikingly, Prime Minister Netanyahu did not claim that sustained calm had been attained for Israel — the central goal of Operation Protective Edge. But he said Hamas had been badly hurt, and had accepted a ceasefire which met none of its demands — the same ceasefire Israel had always been willing to accept.

No sooner had the Israel-Hamas conflict eased, however, than Israel was grappling with the spillover of the Syrian civil war on the Golan border, where an Israeli civilian and an IDF officer were injured.

Hamas says it’s willing to negotiate for soldiers’ bodies

Hamas is willing to hold negotiations for the remains of deceased IDF soldiers which it says it possesses, one of the group’s top officials Muhammad Nazzal told Turkey’s Anatolia news agency late Wednesday, according to a report on Walla News.

Nazzal is believed to be referring to 2nd Lt. Hadar Goldin and Staff Sgt. Oron Shaul, both killed in battle in Gaza. Some of Goldin’s remains were retrieved and brought back to Israel, and a funeral was held for him. Shaul, meanwhile, was declared a soldier whose place of burial is unknown.

Haniyeh reportedly rushed to hospital

Hamas leader in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh has reportedly been hospitalized after feeling unwell, Channel 2 says.

There are no further details at this time.

Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh at the Rafah Border Crossing on his way to Egypt, July 25 (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash 90)

Former Hamas PM Ismail Haniyeh (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib / Flash 90)

I can’t promise long-term quiet, Netanyahu acknowledges

Hamas suffered a near-fatal military and diplomatic blow during Israel’s military campaign in the Gaza Strip, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday night, but he acknowledged that he could not guarantee sustained quiet for Israel — the key goal of the operation. He said the Islamist group had achieved none of its stated objectives after 50 days of fighting, assessed it would be wary of initiating another round of violence, and indicated that planned indirect negotiations on a long-term arrangement next month might go nowhere.

Netanyahu warned that if Hamas were to resume attacks against Israel in any form, the IDF would strike back “sevenfold.”

“What we have is a great military achievement and a great diplomatic achievement,” Netanyahu said in a press conference in Jerusalem, alongside Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz. “Hamas was badly beaten and received none of the conditions it had demanded in return for a ceasefire. [Hamas] demanded a seaport and did not get one; an airport – not accepted; a release of Shalit deal prisoners — not accepted. [Hamas] demanded to have a Qatari brokered deal — not accepted; Turkish mediation – not accepted.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L), Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (C) and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz (R) at a press conference in Jerusalem on Wednesday, August 27, 2014 (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L), Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon (C) and IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz (R) at a press conference in Jerusalem on Wednesday, August 27, 2014 (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

He stated that Israel, as opposed to Hamas, had received comprehensive legitimacy from the international community to carry out attacks against terror targets in the Palestinian enclave. The IDF, he specified, destroyed “terror tunnels” and rocket launchers, killed some 1,000 fighters, and targeted many command-and-control centers in the Gaza Strip.

“It is too early to determine whether we achieved our goal of a prolonged calm, but the damage to Hamas increases the chances that such a goal has been reached,” he said. “Hamas was surprised by the unity of Israel’s citizens; we showed that we will not tolerate a drizzle [of rockets] on any part of the State of Israel.”

“I said that attrition would be met with a pounding,” Netanyahu recalled, and thus, when Hamas broke the previous truce last Tuesday, “the terror towers fell and Hamas understood that the price was very high.” Netanyahu was referring to Israel’s bombing of high-rises in Gaza in the final days of the operation, where Hamas was said to have command centers.

Asked why Israel had not succeed in completely rooting out Hamas, Netanyahu stated that fighting a terror organization required patience and resolve, and presented serious difficulties for democratic states in particular. The US had failed to extinguish Al-Qaida, he noted.

Addressing rumors that much to the cabinet’s discontent, the current truce was accepted without a vote by ministers, Netanyahu said the cabinet backed the Egyptian ceasefire proposal from the get-go. Later, the cabinet voted to authorize the prime minister and defense minister to accept ceasefires on their own, without a cabinet vote, he added.

Netanyahu said that if a long-term arrangement were to be presented to Israel, the cabinet would be informed of it. However, the prime minister cast doubt on such an arrangement ever materializing.

“It’s not clear there will be [a long-term negotiated deal],” he said. “[But] the talks will begin in a month.”

The fact is, he reiterated, “Hamas abandoned all its demands” and signed an open-ended ceasefire “without preconditions.”

— Read Adiv Sterman’s full report here.

Mortar launched from Syria injures second Israeli

An Israeli man was lightly wounded Wednesday evening when a mortar launched from across the Syrian border landed in the Golan Heights and exploded near him, only hours after an al-Qaeda linked rebel group took control of the only crossing between Israel and Syria. The man admitted himself to a nearby hospital for treatment, the Walla news site reported.

Earlier Wednesday, an IDF officer was moderately injured as a result of stray fire from fighting between rebel groups and forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad in Syria. The officer sustained bullet wounds to the chest and was evacuated by helicopter to the Rambam hospital in Haifa.

At least seven mortars fired from Syria landed in the Golan Heights over the course of the day as rebels and Syrian forces fought for control of the Quneitra crossing, near Israel’s northeastern border.

— Full story is here

Haniyeh’s son says hospitalization rumor false

Ismail Haniyeh’s son says rumors of his father’s hospitalization are untrue, Ynet reports.

Abed Salam Haniyeh says his father visited Shifa Hospital in Gaza City to check on Palestinians injured during the conflict with Israel, but suffered no ill health himself.

Egypt probes Morsi for giving ‘security papers’ to Qatar

Egypt has opened an investigation into deposed Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi for delivering “documents relevant to national security” to Qatar, state news agency MENA reports.

Morsi is already facing the death penalty in several trials and his supporters have been the target of a bloody crackdown by the authorities that has left more than 1,400 dead since he was removed in July 2013.

Then-Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, right, meets the Hamas Prime Minister of Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh in Cairo, Egypt, July 26, 2012 photo credit: AP)

Then-Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, right, meets the Hamas Prime Minister of Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh in Cairo, Egypt, July 26, 2012 photo credit: AP)


Muslim cleric shot in Tira dies of his wounds

A Muslim cleric who was critically injured in a shooting in the town of Tira Wednesday night has died of his wounds, Ynet reports. Another man was lightly wounded in the shooting.

Police have launched an investigation into the shooting.

Spanish Imam calls for destruction of Jews

A Spanish Imam has been documented in an anti-Semitic rant in which he called the Jewish people treacherous, war-mongering killers and prayed for God to “destroy the plundering Jews… do not spare a single one of them.”

In a Friday sermon posted to the internet this week and translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute, Sheik Saleheoldine al-Moussaoui of the municipality of Azuqueca De Henares, near Madrid, says: “What is being done to the Muslims in Palestine, in Gaza, as well as in the other Muslim countries — we would have been surprised if it were done by anyone other than the Jews.”

Syrian army bombs rebel positions near Israeli border

Syrian jets are bombing rebel positions near the Israeli border in the Golan Heights, Reuters reports, quoting Syrian media and local residents.

The targets are said to be near the Quneitra crossing between Israel and Syria, which was seized by rebel groups on Wednesday.

According to the report, rebels say they are holding their positions despite the strikes.

US checking report of 2nd American killed in Syria

The US is trying to determine if a second American fighting with the Islamic State group has been killed in Syria.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki says that the US has no independent confirmation of reports of a second American killed while fighting with the militant group. “We’re looking into it,” she says.

NBC cites an anonymous member of the opposition Free Syrian Army as saying two Americans were killed in a battle last week with Islamic State fighters.

The US has confirmed the death of one American, Douglas McArthur McCain, who grew up outside Minneapolis in the town of New Hope and most recently lived in San Diego. Investigators are aware that McCain was in Syria to fight with the militant group, says a US official who spoke on condition of anonymity.


Herzog pans PM’s ‘sad victory speech’

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog (Labor) continues his push to unseat Netanyahu, calling the prime minister’s address last night, a “sad victory speech by a prime minister who was unable to take advantage of the army’s achievements and lost the confidence of the people and especially the residents of the south and the Gaza periphery.”

“The army won, but the government failed and we will work to replace it, to bring political steadfastness to maintain Israel’s security and push for true peace,” he adds on Facebook.

Gaza’s lonely lifeguard

The buoy in the tower may have “Baywatch” written on it, but even on its best days, and certainly not after seven long weeks of war, Gaza’s beaches hardly reflect the glitz and glam of the classic 90s TV show.

However neither war nor a lack of salary has kept 21-year-old lifeguard Mohammed Bar from showing up for his job every time he got a chance, whether the ceasefire was days or hours long. “I only love two things in my life: rescue work and people,” he says. “I have lots of good memories with the sea. It is my whole life, it is my friend, my brother, my family, it is everything for me.”

He became a lifeguard when he was 16 after watching his neighbour, Nasser, drown in the sea. He decided it would never happen again and has been the only lifeguard in Gaza to patrol the beaches during every ceasefire through the most recent round of fighting in Gaza.

Mohammed Bar, a Palestinian man who works as a lifeguard along the beach in Gaza City gestures instructions to swimmers in sea on August 18, 2014. (photo credit:  AFP/ ROBERTO SCHMIDT)

Mohammed Bar, a Palestinian man who works as a lifeguard along the beach in Gaza City gestures instructions to swimmers in sea on August 18, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/ ROBERTO SCHMIDT)

“In a normal situation there should be seven guards but now I’m the only one on the beach,” he tells AFP from his rickety perch. “They don’t come because of the security situation. The war has swallowed up the summer and people are scared.”

People may be scared, but “the sea is the only place in Gaza where people can breathe,” Bar says, so even during the fighting some would take a trip to the sea. His last rescue was just a few days ago while the fighting still raged.

“I was on my motorbike on the road when I saw a group of people drowning. If I hadn’t been coming then by chance, I wouldn’t have seen them and they would have died,” he says.

While Bar kept working during the war, he hardly came through unscathed. His home in Zeitun in southeastern Gaza City was destroyed in the fighting and he is staying at an uncle’s house.

He says two of his friends, both civilians, were killed and that he’s grown out his bushy beard as a mark of respect for their loss.


Rebels ‘holding ground’ at Quneitra crossing

Reuters reports that despite heavy aerial bombardment from the Syrian air force, rebels who took control of the Quneitra area on Wednesday are maintaining their positions.

Citing a source in the Islamist Beit al Maqdis brigade, which was involved in the fighting, the service reports rebels are “holding ground.”

On Wednesday, the Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda offshoot, and other groups took control of the Quneitra crossing into Israel.

The service also quotes rebels spokesman Abu Iyas al Horani saying six rebels were killed in the fighting.

Some of the fighting spilled over into Israel Wednesday, with at least six mortars landing in the Israeli Golan Heights and two people, a soldier and a civilian, suffering light to moderate injuries from stray fire.

Questions at the top of Hamas leadership

Operation Protective Edge has created a power vacuum in the Hamas leadership, Shlomi Eldar writes for Al Monitor, and political chief Khaled Mashaal is unlikely to survive challenges to his control over the movement from opponents in the coastal enclave.

According to Eldar, Mashaal was intent on continuing the fight until Israel either agreed to his demands or took out Hamas, but eventually was pressured into accepting the Egyptian ceasefire proposal, which did not immediately address any of Hamas’ demands, by Hamas political leader in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh and political rivals Mahmoud al-Zahar and Mousa Abu Marzouk.

And now, for all of Mashaal’s bravado in internationally televised speeches and interviews, his rivals in Gaza are the ones taking credit for the “victory” and leading celebrations with the people in the coastal enclave.

Meanwhile, al-Zohar has actually become better than Mashaal at his own job — bringing in money, Eldar writes. While the political leadership quarreled with Iran over Syria, al-Zahar maintained his connections in Tehran, garnering donations that he funneled to the military wing.

Eldar adds, however, that the politics could easily end up being a sideshow, as the entity that has gained the most power from this round of fighting is the military wing and its leader Muhammad Deif, who, assuming he is still alive, is the one who will truly decide whether Tuesday’s long-term truce will last.

Likud playing down coalition crisis fears

Seeking to to quell fears that the government could be dissolved, Likud MK Limor Livnat tells Israel Radio that Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett and other officials in the coalition have clarified that they don’t plan to withdraw at this stage.

Livnat also takes Netanyahu’s critics to task, saying that “none of those who are calling to replace the prime minister would switch with him today.”

Meanwhile, fellow Likud MK Danny Danon says that he and his allies aren’t trying to replace Netanyahu, but want him to return to the “Likud way.”

Danon was fired from his post as deputy defense minister due to his open criticism of the prime minister during the Gaza operation.

Prosor demands UN action against Hamas

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor is daring the UN to take action against Hamas for committing war crimes, presenting the Security Council and the Secretary-General with a detailed report of Hamas fire from civilian population centers during Operation Protective Edge.

“Despite the fact that the UN has recognized the war crimes committed by Hamas during the fighting, nothing has been done about the matter,” he says at the outset of his letter, according to Israeli news source NRG.

“I expect the Security Council to condemn with a clear voice the tactics of Hamas,” he adds. “The council cannot be silent in light of Hamas’ use of Gaza’s civilians as human shields.”

Thus far the lone UN body looking into possible war crimes committed during the fighting in Gaza is a UN Human Rights Council commission that is tasked only with investigating Israeli actions.

Hamas fighters said to cop to human shield use

A number of Hamas members interrogated by the Shin Bet have confessed to effectively using civilians as human shields during military operations in Gaza, the IDF says.

Many of the reported confessions back-up IDF claims that Hamas used mosques, hospitals and playgrounds as hiding places for weapons, cover for tunnels, cover for attacks and hideouts for its leadership.

In some of the more disturbing revelations, Hamas operative Nafez Shaluf told the Shin Bet that Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists would often hide in Rafah’s Al-Hajar Hospital, and one time Shaluf saw them throwing patients out of the hospital and onto the street.

An unnamed operative also told agents that Hamas planned to stash captured soldiers in a playground.

South Africa not cutting ties with Israel

South Africa will not bow to local pressure to cut ties with Israel, according to Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa.

“It’s often best when you want to solve problems to remain engaged so that you can have some leverage and this gave our president leverage to be able to send the two special envoys,” Ramaphosa reasons, according to the South African press.

Ramaphosa maintains that only a negotiated settlement would bring a lasting peace, but also clarifies that South Africa condemns Israel’s actions in Gaza.

“The government of South Africa has communicated its unequivocal and strongest condemnation of Israeli against Palestinians in Gaza to the government of the state of Israel, and we have done this through a number of measures,” he says.

Ramaphosa was responding to a question about MP Leigh-Ann Mathys’ assertion that maintaining diplomatic relations with Israel is akin to supporting “an apartheid state.”

Israel uncovers Hezbollah-linked smuggling ring

Israeli police and the Shin Bet say they have exposed a network of Arab Israeli and Lebanese drug dealers with links to Hezbollah who planned to smuggle weapons into Israel.

During the course of interrogating the four men from northern Israel arrested in the case, the Shin Bet says it discovered their connection to George Nimar, a Hezbollah operative from the southern Lebanese town of Marjaayoun, who deals with communications and weapons transport for the organization. Nimar apparently planned to start smuggling weapons, in addition to the drugs, into Israel.

One of the suspects was arrested while in possession of an illegal weapon, and 12 other drug dealers were arrested over the course of the operation, according to police and the Shin Bet.

In August 2012, Israel arrested 14 Arab residents of Ghajar and Nazareth were arrested for smuggling 21 kg of explosives and planning to carry out terror attacks for Hezbollah.

Assad is jihadist ally, French leader warns

Syria’s Bashar Assad is not the West’s partner in the fight against terrorism but an ally of Islamic extremists wreaking havoc in Syria and Iraq, French President Francois Hollande warned Thursday.

“Assad cannot be a partner in the fight against terrorism, he is the de facto ally of jihadists,” he told a Paris gathering of ambassadors from around the world.


Abu Marzouk heading to Gaza

Senior Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk is making his way from his home in Cairo to Gaza for the first time since the beginning of Operation Protective Edge, according to reports in the Hebrew press.

Abu Marzouk was part of Hamas’s negotiating team in Cairo throughout the truce talks. The rest of the team traveled to Gaza Wednesday.

PA to seek UN timetable for Israeli withdrawal

The Palestinian Authority plans to submit an application to the UN Security Council September 15 demanding that the body set a timetable for Israel to withdraw from Palestinian territories, senior Fatah official Nabil Shaath says.

The Arab league will meet September 5 to discuss the move, Palestinian news agency Ma’an reports.

Shaath adds that the PA’s application to the the International Criminal Court is dependent on how the Security Council responds to its request.

“Taking the case to the ICC is conditional upon the Security Council response to our request,” Shaath says, adding that a permanent unity government with Hamas will oversee the reconstruction of Gaza.

Shaath also claims that Israel accepted a ceasefire that didn’t force Hamas to disarm due to pressure from the US.

54% think war had no winner, poll reveals

As the argument over who won the war plays out in the political arena, most Israelis think that nobody won the war, according to a poll by Israel daily Haaretz.

The poll conducted on Wednesday had 54 percent of respondents saying there was no winner, 25% saying Israel won and 16% that Hamas won.

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu isn’t flying as high with the public as he was at the outset of Operation Protective Edge, when his approval rating was 77%, 50% of Israelis still approve of his job performance. This represents a 10% improvement from the last poll conducted before the operation.

Netanyahu also won handily among respondents as their choice for most qualified politician to serve as prime minister, with 42% saying they preferred him, compared to 12% for opposition leader Isaac Herzog, 11% each for Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett and just 4% in favor of Finance Minister Yair Lapid.

Netanyahu, Abbas met secretly in Jordan — report

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met secretly in Amman several days ago, Jordanian newspaper Al Ghad reports.

The unsourced report says the meeting, likely sponsored by Jordan’s king, took place several days before Israel and Hamas agreed on a ceasefire on Tuesday.

It offers no further details.

There is no confirmation of the report from either the Palestinian or Israeli sides.

The two leaders have not met face to face since September 2010.

IDF shoots at stonethrowers near Gaza fence

IDF soldiers fire warning shots at a group of Gazans who were throwing stones at them near the border fence in northern Gaza by Kibbutz Nahal Oz, according to Israel Radio correspondent Nissim Keinan. There are no injuries being reported.

Rebels say regime making gains near Quneitra

Opposition forces say that regime forces have succeeded in taking back a village near Quneitra, Israel Radio reports.

Gazan arrested near Israeli kibbutz

A Gazan manages to cross the border fence near Kibbutz Mefalsim into Israel before being arrested and taken in for questioning by the Shin Bet, Israel Radio reports.

IDF, Palestinians clash in West Bank

Security forces are clashing with Palestinian protesters near the Yitzhar settlement in the West Bank, according to Army Radio.

A toddler was lightly injured Wednesday in the same area when Palestinians threw rocks at the car she was in near the Yitzhar junction.

Extremists behead 4 in Egypt for ‘spying’

Sinai-based jihadists claim on Thursday that they beheaded four Egyptians who provided information to Israel, Reuters reports.

According to Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, the information led to a July 23 Israeli airstrike on the group that killed three of its members. Egypt has denied that Israeli planes were in its airspace on that day.

The group released a video on Twitter in which the four men admitted to either spending time in Israeli jails or being paid by the Mossad before they were beheaded.

Aid, goods flow into Gaza through Israel

Trucks full of commercial goods and aid are passing through the Kerem Shalom commercial crossing as Gazans begin to rebuild their lives on the second day of a permanent ceasefire.

“During the war we used to come and go, but we were all bringing aid,” said a truck driver called Abu Amer.

“Now I’m bringing goods for the shops in Gaza,” he told AFP as he watched his truck full of diapers being inspected.

Other trucks were carrying furniture, fruits, and non-perishable foodstuffs, as well as what looked like water tanks, But there was no sign of any construction materials being brought in.

On Wednesday, more than 200 tons of aid from Saudi Arabia, Oman and Turkey trundled into Gaza from Egypt, entering via the Rafah border crossing, an official at the frontier tells AFP.

A World Food Program aid convoy arrived in Gaza for the first time since 2007, also crossing from Egypt, and carrying enough food to last 150,000 people for five days, the Geneva-based agency says.

Another line of trucks took in 150 tons of medicine and medical equipment from Saudi Arabia, and 45 tons of health supplies arrived from an Oman welfare organization. Turkey also sent humanitarian aid, officials say.


Lapid says Hamas must disarm

Operation Protective Edge cannot end without the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip, Finance Minister Yair Lapid tells Ynet.

“The residents of the south cannot feel abandoned,” he says. “There must be better control over weapons entering Gaza.”

Syrian jihadists said holding UN observers

The al-Qaeda linked Nusra Front in Syria is holding members of the UN Disengagement Observation Force, Israel Radio reports, citing Al-Arabiya.

An UNDOF official contacted by the Times of Israel declined to comment on the report.

Erdogan sworn in as Turkey’s president

Recep Tayyip Erdogan takes the oath of office as Turkey’s first popularly elected president, a position that will keep him in the nation’s driving seat for at least another five years.

Erdogan is scheduled to appoint Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, his designated successor as prime minister and loyal ally, to form a new government later on Thursday.

Erdogan has dominated Turkish politics for a decade and won Turkey’s first direct presidential elections on August 10. He has indicated he wants to transform the presidency from a largely ceremonial post into a more powerful position and is expected to hold sway in the running of the country.


Israeli indicted for anti-Arab online incitement

Lior Cohen is indicted by the Beersheba Magistrate’s Court for incitement to violence and incitement to racism, after the 22-year-old Beersheba resident started a Facebook page that called for killing Arabs.

The page, “A male Arab is an Arab in a grave” (which rhymes in Hebrew), was created after the Israeli teenagers Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Fraenkel, and Gil-ad Shaar were abducted on June 12. The page garnered some 200 likes.

Channel 2 reports that in one post featuring a photo of a wounded Arab, the administrator wrote: “This is what we have to do to all of them!” After the bodies of the three teenagers were discovered on June 30, Cohen posted: “Father in heaven, please eradicate all the Arabs!”

The prosecution later filed a second indictment against Cohen, for another Facebook page called “Gang Al Yehud,” and asked the court to bar Cohen from using the internet for 30 days.

On July 3, police opened an investigation into online incitement, after various Facebook groups called for revenge for the murder of the three Israeli teenagers. A Facebook page titled “The People of Israel Demand Vengeance!” garnered over 32,000 likes before being taken down.

Heavy clashes in Syria’s Golan Heights

Syrian government warplanes target rebels near the country’s frontier with Israel in the Golan Heights a day after opposition fighters captured a border crossing point in the region.

The Syrian airstrikes hit several areas near the border in Quneitra province, including the village of Jaba, says the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Local Coordination Committees activist group also reported the air raids.

The Observatory says heavy clashes were raging between the rebels and Syrian military in Jaba and the surrounding countryside.

White plumes of smoke set off by exploding mortar rounds can be seen from the Israeli side of the Golan. The sound of small arms fire can be heard echoing in the background.

An array of Syrian rebel groups, including the al-Qaeda-linked Nusra Front, captured the frontier crossing on Wednesday. A rebel spokesman said the opposition is focused on fighting President Bashar Assad, and poses no threat to Israel.


Europe must play larger role in Gaza — France

French President Francois Hollande says Europe must play a more active, and larger role in the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip and disarmament of Hamas, Reuters reports.

“For a solution to finally be reached, the United States’ role will be decisive,” Hollande says.

“But Europe’s role is as important. It must act more. Europe does a lot to rebuild and develop Palestine, but it can’t simply just be a bank window where we turn to heal the wounds after a recurring conflict.”

“We have to go towards a progressive lifting of the blockade and the demilitarization of the territory,” he says.

Hollande stresses that once reached, the ultimate goal remains “a democratic and viable Palestinian state living side by side with an Israeli state living in security.”

French President Francois Hollande (photo credit: AP/Philippe Wojazer, Pool)

French President Francois Hollande (photo credit: AP/Philippe Wojazer, Pool)

Funeral for second mortar victim begins

The funeral procession for Zeev “Zevik” Etzion, who was killed by mortar fire on Tuesday, begins near Yad Mordechai and will conclude in the cemetery of his hometown, Kibbutz Nirim.

Ynet reports that dozens of people are in attendance.

The kibbutz security chief, 55, leaves behind a wife and five children.

Kibbutz Nirim security chief Zeev Etzion (screen capture: Channel 2)

Kibbutz Nirim security chief Zeev Etzion (screen capture: Channel 2)

IS kills dozens of captured Syrian soldiers

Syrian activists say the Islamic State group has killed dozens of government soldiers it captured after overrunning a military base this week.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the militants seized the soldiers in the countryside near the Tabqa airfield on Wednesday.

Observatory’s director Rami Abdurrahman says the extremists then killed up to 65 soldiers.

He says some were shot to death, while others were killed with knives.

An online statement circulating on Twitter by supporters of the Islamic State group claimed the extremists killed “about 200” government prisoners captured near the Tabqa base. It also showed photographs of what it said were the prisoners: young men stripped down to their underwear marching in the desert.

Meanwhile, the Syrian opposition reports that Assad’s air force bombed IS troops in Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria, Israel Radio reports. It remains unclear how many jihadists are killed in the incident.

Masked gunmen of the Islamic State group shooting seven men kneeling on the ground in front of them, in the aftermath of the group's takeover of the Tabqa air base in Raqqa province, Syria. (photo credit: AP/Raqqa Media Center of the Islamic State group)

Masked gunmen of the Islamic State group shooting seven men kneeling on the ground in front of them, in the aftermath of the group’s takeover of the Tabqa air base in Raqqa province, Syria. (photo credit: AP/Raqqa Media Center of the Islamic State group)

AP, Times of Israel staff

Prayer rally to be held for missing US student

A prayer rally for missing US yeshiva student Aaron Sofer will be held at the Western Wall tonight at 10:15 p.m., followed by a press conference by Sofer’s parents.

Police and volunteers continue to comb the Jerusalem forest where Sofer was last seen on Friday, but have reported no leads.

Yeshiva student Aaron Sofer who went missing in the Jerusalem Forest, August 2014. (screen capture: YouTube/JewsOnTelevision) Yeshiva student Aaron Sofer who went missing in the Jerusalem Forest, on Friday, August 22, 2014. (screen capture: YouTube/JewsOnTelevision)

Yeshiva student Aaron Sofer who went missing in the Jerusalem Forest, on Friday, August 22, 2014. (screen capture: YouTube/JewsOnTelevision)

33 Gazans go to Turkey for medical treatment

Thirty-three Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip who were wounded during Operation Protective Edge are airlifted to Turkey to receive medical treatment, Ynet reports.

The patients are transferred through the Erez crossing to Ben Gurion Airport by Magen David Adom.

Body of yeshiva student reportedly found

Details to come.

Body believed to belong to missing student

A body believed to belong to missing US student Aaron Sofer, 23, of Lakewood, New Jersey, was found near Ein Kerem, Hatzolah says in a statement.

The body has been sent to the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute for identification, it says.

Sofer went missing last Friday while hiking with a friend in the Jerusalem forest.

Police confirm body found in forest

The Israel Police confirm that a body was found a short while ago in the forest and is presently being examined.

‘Ceasefire is only the beginning’ — Lapid

Finance Minister Yair Lapid visits the family of Ze’ev Etzion, who was killed by mortar fire in southern Israel on Tuesday.

After the visit, Lapid delivers the following remarks:

Operation Protective Edge cannot end with this ceasefire. The ceasefire is the beginning of the second stage of the operation, the diplomatic stage that will lead to the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip. In September the donor countries will meet and it cannot be that money from the entire world will be sent to Gaza without Hamas being disarmed and the Gaza Strip demilitarized. We will lead a regional conference which will aim to bring in the Palestinian Authority and the Arab world, including Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, to reach a deal on the principle of demilitarization for rehabilitation. If Hamas wants to rebuild Gaza then they must understand that they need to disarm.

The residents of southern Israel cannot continue to live this way. The Finance Ministry and the State of Israel are committed to supporting the communities around the Gaza Strip and throughout the south. The children need to go to school and they all need to rebuild their lives and their homes. It is our responsibility to help them and that is what we are working toward.

UN confirms peacekeepers captured in Syria

The United Nations confirms that 43 international peacekeepers are being detained in the Syrian Golan Heights, as fighting intensified near Quneitra.

The UN says the UNDOF troops are held by “armed forces,” but does not detail who is behind their capture.

“In addition, another eighty-one UNDOF peacekeepers are currently being restricted to their positions in the vicinity of Ar Ruwayhinah and Burayqah,” it says in a statement.

“The United Nations is making every effort to secure the release of the detained peacekeepers, and to restore the full freedom of movement of the Force throughout its area of operation.”

Police say body being examined at the scene

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld tweets that the area where the body was discovered has been closed off and forensics have arrived at the scene.

Earlier, Hatzolah said the body had been transferred to the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute.

Trains from Sderot resume

The train lines to and from Sderot have resumed, as the ceasefire proves to hold.

The trains were halted on August 18 on a Defense Ministry order, which required Israel Railways provide anti-tank missile protection for the line before opening it to passengers again.

Father of mortar victim found body of son

Moshe Etzion, the father of Ze’ev Etzion, tells Channel 2 that when the mortar shell fell in kibbutz Nirim on Tuesday, he was asked to find the landing site — and approaching the scene, discovered his son had been injured in the blast and was then in critical condition.

A doctor from Beersheba’s Soroka Medical Center later informed him that his son had succumbed to his wounds, he says.

Etzion’s funeral concluded a short while ago in Kibbutz Nirim.

Kibbutz Nirim security chief Ze'ev Etzion (screen capture: Channel 2)

Kibbutz Nirim security chief Ze’ev Etzion (screen capture: Channel 2)

Rebels entering new areas on Golan border

Channel 2’s Ehud Ya’ari says the war in the Golan border area now sees rebel forces fighting in areas that were hitherto not entered.

He says he fears the collapse of UNDOF because of the dangers there.

Forty-three Filipino soldiers are currently being held by rebels, and 81 are locked inside their positions.

Wounded soldier’s baby circumcised near him in hospital

A circumcision is held in Beersheba Soroka hospital for the newborn son of an IDF soldier seriously wounded in Rafah during the operation.

Yehuda Yitzhak Hayisraeli of the Givati brigade sustained a serious head wound while fighting in the Gaza Strip, and has been unresponsive since. According to Walla news, a piece of shrapnel pierced his brain. A week ago, his wife gave birth to a baby boy, and today the religious ceremony was held in the medical center so that Hayisraeli could be in attendance.

Hundreds of friends, family members, and hospital staff were present at the event, and the baby was named Erez Yehezkel, a name the father had picked out with his wife before the campaign.

“We aren’t giving up, and we are full of faith, even if the process is long,” David Hayisraeli, the proud grandfather, tells Walla. He says that despite the difficulties, “the feelings are feelings of happiness. We are happy we arrived at this moment, and we are praying that our son Yehuda Yitzhak will get better.”

Forensic examination of remains ongoing

The forensic examination of the body discovered near the Jerusalem Forest earlier today and thought to be that of Aaron Sofer is ongoing, police say.

Netanyahu pledges hefty aid to south

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with the municipality leaders of the southern cities, and tells them that beginning Sunday, “a very large aid package will be granted to the residents of the Gaza periphery,” Ynet reports.

Ashkelon Mayor Itamar Shimoni skipped the meeting in protest.

‘Strong possibility’ body is Sofer — police

Israeli police say “there is a strong possibility” they have found the body of an American yeshiva student who disappeared while hiking in Jerusalem last week.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld says the body was found in the same area where Aharon Sofer disappeared. Sofer, 23, of Lakewood, New Jersey, had been hiking with a friend in a hilly, forested area on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

“There is a strong possibility that it is the body of the missing student,” Rosenfeld says, stressing that a forensics team was still trying to confirm the identification.

Rosenfeld would not elaborate or say whether there had been any signs of foul play.


Israeli judoka wins silver medal

Israeli judoka Yarden Gerbi comes in second place in the World Championship, bringing home a silver medal in the under 63-kilogram category.

Yarden Gerbi celebrates her victory over Abe Kana from Japan in the semifinal of the World Judo Championships in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, August 29, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Silvia Izquierdo)

Yarden Gerbi celebrates her victory over Abe Kana from Japan in the semifinal of the World Judo Championships in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, August 29, 2013. (photo credit: AP/Silvia Izquierdo)

Mashaal calls Gaza op ‘a Holocaust’

Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal gives his first press conference since the ceasefire, and accuses Israel of being twice as bad as Hitler.

“My fellow Palestinians, in Gaza and in Palestine, this war was imposed on us as Palestinians,” he says, according to Walla. “An eight-year blockade was imposed on the citizens of Gaza, destruction came upon them. People of Gaza, your patience is unparalleled. You are the experts of patience. The enemy attacked us all — women, children, old people, those who take refuge in UNRWA schools and hospitals.

“The leaders of the enemy perpetrated a Holocaust, twice the Holocaust of Hitler’s.”

Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal speaks to Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News in Doha, the Qatari capital, August 2014. (screen capture, Yahoo News)

Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal speaks to Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News in Doha, the Qatari capital, August 2014. (screen capture, Yahoo News)

Shaul Mofaz dispels rumors of his assassination

MK Shaul Mofaz releases a statement to dispel rumors circulating on Arabic social media that he had been assassinated in Brussels.

“A flood of telephone calls, everyone asking how I am.. I wondered why. Turns out that on Arabic-language social media there is a rumor of an attempt on my life in Brussels,” he writes on Facebook. “I’m sorry to disappoint the Arab world — I am in the Jewish state, alive and well.”

Shaul Mofaz at a press conference in Jerusalem earlier this month (photo credit: Flash90)

Shaul Mofaz at a Jerusalem press conference in January 2013 (photo credit: Flash90)

Sara Netanyahu says disengagement led to Gaza troubles

In a visit with the bereaved family of 4-year-old Daniel Tragerman in Nahal Oz, Sara Netanyahu says the Israeli 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip led to the present situation.

“All the troubles began since the disengagement,” she says, according to Walla. Her husband, the finance minister in 2005, was a vocal opponent of the plan and resigned before its implementation.

She tells the Tragerman family that Netanyahu had mentioned Daniel’s death to UN chief Ban Ki-Moon, but says that his death is unlikely to be the subject of international investigation.

Sara Netanyahu also criticizes several Knesset members who, she says, took to Facebook to “gain political points.” Those Knesset members acted “irresponsibly,” she says.

Daniel Tragerman, 4, seen during a visit at the presidential residence in Jerusalem in early August. Daniel was killed by shrapnel from a mortar shell that hit his home in Kibbutz Nahal Oz on Friday, August 22. He was laid to rest on August 24. (Photo by Flash90)

Daniel Tragerman, 4, seen during a visit at the presidential residence in Jerusalem in early August. Daniel was killed by shrapnel from a mortar shell that hit his home in Kibbutz Nahal Oz on Friday, August 22. He was laid to rest on August 24. (Photo by Flash90)

‘Syrian rebels at Qunietra not al-Qaeda’

Channel 2 analyst Ehud Ya’ari says the Syrian rebels fighters around Quneitra are not al-Qaeda.

He says the rebels are operating in the UN-controlled area between Israel and Syria which was established in 1974. There are some fighters from the al-Nusra Front, which is al-Qaeda-affiliated, operating nearby.

Smoke rise from the Syrian village of Quneitra, as seen from the Golan Heights, following fighting between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad and rebels over the control of the Quneitra border crossing, on August 28, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/JACK GUEZ)

Smoke rise from the Syrian village of Quneitra, as seen from the Golan Heights, following fighting between forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad and rebels over the control of the Quneitra border crossing, on August 28, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/JACK GUEZ)

Volunteer who found body describes incident

Yisrael Erlich, a United Hatzalah volunteer and one of the first people to find the body believed to be that of Aaron Sofer, says he “was not expecting the incident to end in such a horrific tragedy.”

“I joined a large group of United Hatzalah volunteers that combed the area of Ein Kerem by foot using the organizations GPS system to monitor our exact location, soon after beginning our search we came across a man’s body among the shrubbery that seemed to match the missing student’s description, we immediately notified the police via our phone app and a large group of police and rapid-responders quickly appeared on the scene,” he says, according to a statement.

Although the body is still in the identification process and police have not confirmed that it belongs to Sofer, United Hatzolah head Eli Beer says: “We are very sorry about the tragic ending of the story, we were hoping and praying for a positive end.”

According to the statement, Aaron Sofer’s parents are waiting in the United Hatzolah offices for news on the examination.

Volunteers scour a Jerusalem area forest for Aaron Sofer on Tuesday, August 26, 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)

Volunteers scour a Jerusalem area forest for Aaron Sofer on Tuesday, August 26, 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)

Security cabinet to convene

The security cabinet is set to convene this evening to discuss the ceasefire, Israel Radio reports.

The ceasefire was accepted by Netanyahu and Ya’alon without a cabinet vote — a move that the prime minister defended in his press conference last night. He said the ministers had already accepted the Egyptian proposal and had authorized him and the defense minister to accept it on their own.

UK Jews, Muslims issue joint statement for peace

Jewish and Muslim leaders in the United Kingdom issue a joint statement calling for peace in the Middle East and “constructive dialogue” between the two groups in Britain.

“In spite of the situation in the Middle East, we must continue to work hard for good community relations in the UK. We must not import conflict. We must export peace instead,” reads the statement issued Wednesday by the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Muslim Council of Britain.

This statement is called “unprecedented” by the London-based Jewish Chronicle. However, it also contends that “the targeting of civilians is completely unacceptable and against our religious traditions.” While Hamas has shot its rockets at civilian populations in Israel, Israel has maintained that it did not deliberately target Gazan civilians in its offensive. Israel says the civilian casualties are largely due to Hamas’s use of “human shields” and the terror organization’s practice of working out of and near civilian institutions, such as schools and hospitals.

The statement condemned “any expression of Anti-Semitism, Islamophobia or any form of racism,” including during rallies and on social media.

It also calls for a redoubling of efforts “to work together and get to know one another.”

“We need constructive dialogue to limit our disagreements and identify the widest possible range of areas for cooperation. There are more issues that unite us than divide us,” the message concludes.

Meanwhile, a rally to demand zero tolerance against anti-Semitism in London and throughout the United Kingdom is scheduled to be held Sunday outside the Royal Courts of Justice in London, the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism announces.


Netanyahu and the limits of military power

ToI’s David Horovitz posts an op-ed on Netanyahu’s press conference last night and waning popularity. He writes: “The popularity of Benjamin Netanyahu, seen by most Israelis until a few short weeks ago as the only credible prime minister, is nose-diving. A snap opinion poll for Israel’s Channel 2 on Wednesday night showed only 32% of Israelis happy with his stewardship of the war against Hamas. Barely a month ago, at the start of the ground offensive on July 23, his approval rating in a similar poll for that same TV station was 82% — a full 50% higher. Even in war, there can be few precedents for a decline of that magnitude in a leader’s popularity in the space of five weeks.

“Plainly Israelis are deeply dissatisfied with the conduct of the latter stages of the war with Hamas — the fact that there were latter stages in a war people wanted to see won definitively and quickly; the fact that residents of the south were assured that they could come home safely in early August when they all too evidently could not; the fact that Hamas was firing merrily and murderously to the end. And they are deeply troubled by the ambiguous conclusion.”

Read the full op-ed here.

Police confirm Aaron Sofer died in forest

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld tells CNN that the body found in the Jerusalem forest earlier today is that of missing US yeshiva student Aaron Sofer.

The body was found in a shallow ditch a the side of the road in the neighborhood, and his hat and glasses were found nearby, WABC in Lakewood, NJ reported, citing the police.

The body reportedly has decomposed, making identifying the cause of death difficult.

The Hebrew-language haredi Orthodox news website Beharedi Haredim reported the cause of death as dehydration.

Hatzolah announced via Twitter late Thursday afternoon that the body of Sofer, 23, was found in the Jerusalem forest and that the search had been called off.

A friend of the family tells CNN Sofer will be buried in Israel.

JTA, Times of Israel staff

Hebron resident held for threatening Golani commander

A 32-year-old Hebron resident is arrested by police for incitement to violence against Golani Brigade commander Ghassan Alian during the campaign.

The suspect is said to have created a Facebook page called “Hebron intifada” and threatened Alian, his family, and the IDF.

He was detained by the IDF and forces from the Lahav 433 crime unit.

We have common enemies, PM tells US lawmakers

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with a US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee delegation, headed by Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, and warns of regional terror threats.

“We’re faced with common enemies, radical Islamic terrorists who have absolutely no inhibitions on executing people, terrorizing people, targeting innocent civilians,” Netanyahu tells the delegation. “We’ve just had ISIS conduct mass executions. This is exactly what Hamas has done in Gaza. We’ve just had a branch of al-Qaeda right on the Golan Heights kidnap dozens of UN peacekeepers. These are common enemies of Israel, the United States and all the civilized countries. And I think we should take a common stand to defeat them.”

McKeon thanks Netanyahu “for standing up to these enemies of mankind, people that have no value of human life, that want to rule the world however way they can do it.”

“I think the example that you have set, that your people have set when they’ve been attacked, how you’ve been able to defend your people with the least possible loss of human life, sets an example for the world,” he says.

“When ISIS goes in, kills people indiscriminately, lines them up, just kills them cold-blooded and you go out of your way to avoid death but still to protect your people I think is a classic example. And on the House Armed Services Committee, we’re happy with the work we’ve been able to do, working with you on Iron Dome and how you’ve used it to protect human life. And we will keep that bond and that friendship and that special relationship that we have forever.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen during a cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv on August 10, 2014. (Photo credit: Haim Zach/GPO/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen during a cabinet meeting in Tel Aviv on August 10, 2014. (Photo credit: Haim Zach/GPO/Flash90)

Mashaal pledges to fight Israel again if demands not met

In his press conference in Qatar earlier today, Khaled Mashaal threatened to continue fighting with Israel if the Palestinians demands are not met and says Gaza will never disarm its “sacred” weapons.

“The rockets and tunnels exist, if the negotiations fail and there will be a need, we will return to resistance until we reach our goals,” he says, according to Haaretz.

Last night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu conceded that he cannot guarantee the operation will ensure long-term quiet, and said if Hamas resumes its fire, it will strike back “sevenfold.”

Mashaal also adamantly rejects the calls to disarm the Gaza terror group.

“The weapons of the resistance are sacred and we will not accept that they be on the agenda” of future negotiations with Israel, Mashaal says.

Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal speaks to Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News in Doha, the Qatari capital, August 2014. (screen capture, Yahoo News)

Hamas political chief Khaled Mashaal speaks to Michael Isikoff of Yahoo News in Doha, the Qatari capital, August 2014. (screen capture, Yahoo News)

Israel has consistently linked the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip, devastated during its 50-day war with Hamas that ended on Tuesday, to the territory’s demilitarization.

But Mashaal insists that Hamas will not lay down its arms.

“The issue is not up for negotiations. No one can disarm Hamas and its resistance,” he says.

IDF on high alert at Syrian border

As the fighting heats up on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, the Israeli army assesses that the Syrian army will launch its offensive on the rebels as soon as tonight, Walla reports.

A senior officer tells Walla the situation is “worrisome,” but adds “it’s clear to us that the Syrian army does not want to escalate the situation and is very careful [to avoid] errant fire to the Israeli side.”

“The IDF is monitoring the situation on the Syrian side and is prepared for all developments,” he says.

Israeli forces are heavily deployed along the border.

Earlier today, IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz toured the northern front.

Flights resume normal routes

With the ceasefire holding, international flights from and to Ben Gurion Airport resume flying over Tel Aviv.

During the operation, with rocket fire pounding southern and central Israel, the international aircraft would exit and enter Israel on a northern route, over Haifa.

Planes sit on the tarmac at Ben Gurion International airport, near Tel Aviv, on August 21, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Jack Guez)

Planes sit on the tarmac at Ben Gurion International airport, near Tel Aviv, on August 21, 2014. (photo credit: AFP/Jack Guez)

‘Abbas says Israel agrees to state based on 1967 lines’

Haaretz reports that PA President Mahmoud Abbas says during a televised interview that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders.

Haaretz does not say which station televised the statement, nor does Abbas indicate when Netanyahu agreed to these outlines.

The Palestinian leader says he will demand from Israel and the US that it outline specific borders. If Israel does not respond, “we have what to do,” in an apparent veiled threat to take the Palestinian demands to international forces.

“We will not go into a discussion about area A, B, and C. We need each state to finally determine their borders. Israel is the only state in the world with no known borders,” he says.

“We are willing to wait a day, a week or a month,” Abbas says, according to the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency, “but not 20 more years.” He says officials Saeb Erekat and Majid Farraj will meet with US Secretary of State John Kerry to discuss the border issue.

“If they agree, we will be free with our borders. We will not accept that Israel launches a war against us every two years,” he adds.

However, Abbas adds that the Palestinians “will not forgive” Israel and it “will not get away with its crimes” against the Palestinian people.

The PA president said rival parties such as Hamas must not attempt to overrun the government.

“The decision about peace and war is in the hands of the (Palestinian) Authority or otherwise it will be chaos,” he says.

“Hamas has a shadow government in Gaza, they have undersecretaries for ministries, and if that continues it will put the national unity at risk,” he says.

Abbas concludes by criticizing Hamas for the “criminal” public executions of dozens of “collaborators” with Israel.

Israeli toddler hurt in stoning attack

A two-year-old toddler was lightly injured near the West Bank village of Hawara, between Nablus and the Tapuah Junction, after Palestinians hurled stones at the vehicle in which she was seated, Ynet reports.

Earlier, three Molotov cocktails were hurled by unknown assailants at the home of a Jewish family in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Abu Tor.

No injuries are reported.

Obama blames Russia for Ukraine violence

US President Barack Obama is blaming Russia for the escalating violence in eastern Ukraine.

Obama is speaking at the White House amid escalating tensions between Russia and the West. He says Russia is training, arming and funding pro-Russian separatists in Russia. Obama says new images of Russian forces inside Ukraine make that plain to see.

Obama says Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko will visit the White House next month. It’s Poroshenko’s first visit since becoming president and a major display of unity between the US and Ukraine.

Obama says he spoke by phone Thursday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He says Russia’s incursion into Ukraine will bring additional consequences.

Ukrainian officials say two Russian military columns have rolled into the southeastern part of Ukraine after missiles were fired at a border post.

– AP

Egyptian men beheaded after ‘spying for Israel’

Four Egyptian men are beheaded by a Sinai-based terror group for allegedly spying for Israel.

Members of the Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis say in a video released Thursday that they killed the men because they had been spying for Israel’s Mossad agency.

The headless bodies were found in the Sinai earlier this month, Reuters reports, citing security sources.

The video shows men in black masks beheading the accused collaborators as they kneeled on the ground, according to Reuters.

Members of Ansar Bayt-al-Maqdis read out sentences before they behead four men accused of spying for Israel (screen capture: YouTube)

Members of Ansar Bayt-al-Maqdis read out sentences before they behead four men accused of spying for Israel (screen capture: YouTube)

The terror group said that the men provided intelligence to Israel used in a July airstrike on northern Sinai, in which three Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis fighters were killed. The Egyptian army said at the time of the strike that no Israeli aircraft had been in Egyptian airspace.

Two of the executed men served time in Israeli jails for smuggling, and two had said the Mossad had paid them for information, the group asserted in the video.


Obama says Kerry will set up coalition against IS

President Barack Obama says US Secretary of State John Kerry is set to travel to the Middle East in order to mobilize a coalition against the Islamic State group, according to Ynet.

Obama says degrading the militants group will require a “regional strategy” and assistance from partners in the Middle East, AP reports.

The US is already going after militant targets inside Iraq and officials say Obama is considering taking similar action in Syria.

US Rep Menendez mourns Aaron Sofer

US Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ), issues the following statement regarding Aaron Sofer, the yeshiva student from Lakewood, New Jersey who went missing on Friday and whose body was reportedly found today:

“With the heartbreaking news of the death of Aaron Sofer, our worst nightmare has come true. There are no adequate words to convey my personal condolences to the Sofer family and to the people of Lakewood for this terrible loss.

“Ever since Aaron went missing, communities throughout the United States, Israel, and beyond gathered in worship on behalf of Aaron. During this period of mourning, I hope the Sofer family can be comforted with the knowledge that countless people, friends and strangers alike, prayed for Aaron’s well being and those acts of devotion will only continue. It has become clear to me that everyone who knew Aaron saw tremendous promise in this young man who was committed to his family, his Jewish faith and his community of Lakewood.

“I understand a full, complete, and thorough investigation is underway. Throughout this process, I stand ready to assist in every way possible and Aaron’s family will have no greater advocate working on their behalf.”

Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) (photo credit: CCBY Glyn Lowe Photoworks, flickr)

Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) (photo credit: CC BY-Glyn Lowe Photoworks, flickr)

– Rebecca Shimoni Stoil

PM’s office denies he agreed to Palestinian state based on ’67 lines

The Prime Minister’s Office denies a reported claim by PA President Abbas that Netanyahu agreed to the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 lines.

“Absolutely untrue,” says the PMO, of a report carried by Haaretz to the effect that Abbas made the claim during a televised interview. The Haaretz report from earlier tonight did not say which station televised the statement, nor did it specify when Abbas claimed Netanyahu agreed to such terms.

Netanyahu, it might be recalled, rejected negotiations on the basis of the pre-1967 lines when Secretary of State John Kerry launched his unsuccessful effort at peace talks last year. And in recent weeks, the prime minister has said the conflict with Hamas underlines his concern with the need to maintain security control of the West Bank to ensure that the West Bank not turn into another Gaza.

Liveblog goodnight from Jerusalem

After 52 days we’re going to take a break, at least for the night, from liveblogging the conflicts, truces and related events of the Israel-Hamas war.

We thank you for having accompanied us through the conflict via these instant updates.

We have the feeling that we’ll be meeting again in a ToI liveblog soon enough.

Until then, stay with the rest of the Times of Israel team here at for all the news, analysis, features and views from Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world.

Goodnight from Jerusalem.