The Times of Israel liveblogged events as they unfolded through Tuesday, August 12, the 36th day of Operation Protective Edge. Israel sent its negotiators to Cairo for talks Monday and Tuesday as a 72-hour truce held, with conflicting reports on whether the Israeli and Palestinian teams were on the way to a deal. (Wednesday’s liveblog is here.)

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

Day 36 of Operation Protective Edge

PREAMBLE: Operation Protective Edge enters its sixth week, and the second day of a three-day truce.

Reports from Cairo suggest that indirect talks between Israeli and Palestinian delegations are making significant headway, but there is no official confirmation.

UNHCR commission head called for prosecution of Netanyahu

William Schabas, named earlier Monday to head the UNHCR commission to look into war crimes during the Gaza conflict, has recently called for Netanyahu to be prosecuted for war crimes, it emerged.

UN Watch released a summary of his statements and actions indicating an anti-Israel bias, including his January 2013 statement during a talk that “my favorite would be Netanyahu within the dock of the International Criminal Court.”

In a 2009 blog post, Schabas wrote that “Israel and its friends, who have manipulated the truth about the nature of the work of the United Nations by gross exaggeration of the role and intervention of certain fanatics,” should be blamed for the difficulties the UN faces in holding a conference on racism. He also blamed “provocative politicians like Mohamed [sic] Ahmadinejad, who in desperation make absurd statements that probably deserve to be ignored rather than exaggerated.”

In 2010, he asked, “Why are we going after the president of Sudan for Darfur and not the president of Israel for Gaza? Because of politics.”

William Schabas (screen capture: YouTube)

William Schabas (photo credit: screen capture: YouTube)

US says there are other ways to investigate Gaza op

Reacting to the appointment of the three-person UNHCR panel to investigate the fighting in Gaza, State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said late Monday that there are incidents in Gaza that the US supports looking into, but there are ways to do so that are not one-sided.

Egyptian sources: Sides are 95% of way to agreement

According to Egyptian daily al-Shorouk late Monday, the Israeli and Palestinian delegations convened in Cairo to discuss a ceasefire have agreed on 95 percent of the issues, with Israeli refusing only to discuss the immediate establishment of a seaport and an airport, as well as the final tranche of pre-Oslo prisoners that Israel was supposed to free as part of negotiations with Abbas.

Citing unnamed “knowledgeable sources,” the daily reported that Israel has agreed to expand the permitted fishing zone in Gaza’s waters from 3 to 6 miles (approximately 5-9.5 kms); to re-free Hamas prisoners released as part of the Gilad Shalit deal and recently rearrested; and to allow the transfer of salaries to Hamas civil servants.

Israel has reportedly also agreed to reactivate all the crossings into the Gaza Strip, with the presence of EU observers at each crossing. A separate agreement will be reached in the future between Egypt and the PA regarding the reactivation of the Rafah crossing with Egypt.

The daily’s sources also blasted Hamas for trying to embarrass Egypt and portray it as indifferent to Palestinian suffering.

— Elhanan Miller

Clinton playing up Israel bona fides for polls — Goldberg

Appearing on MSNBC earlier Monday, Atlantic reporter Jeffrey Goldberg expounded on his recently published interview with Hillary Clinton, saying that her noticeably pro-Israel stances were probably mostly a result of politicking.

Hillary Clinton, former first lady, speaks to students at UCLA, in Los Angeles, in March (photo credit: AP/Nick Ut)

Hillary Clinton, former first lady, speaks to students at UCLA, in Los Angeles, in March 2014. (photo credit: AP/Nick Ut)

“Hillary doesn’t think that differently [from Obama],” he said, comparing the likely 2016 contender to the current president. “I think she’s running for president and he’s not and she knows that Israel remains, according to polls, a popular cause in America.”

Goldberg added that her pro-Israel statements lacked nuance.

IDF vehicle bombed in West Bank

An explosive device exploded next to an Israeli military vehicle in the northern West Bank, causing damage but no injuries, Israel Radio reported late Monday.

The explosion happened near the former settlement of Homesh, one of four settlements in the West Bank evacuated along with Gaza’s Israeli communities nine years ago this month.

Clooney fiancée Alamuddin turns down UN Gaza probe appointment

A number of Hollywood gossip websites reported Monday that Amal Alamuddin, the British human rights lawyer better known (for better or worse) as actor George Clooney’s fiancée, has turned down her appointment to serve on the UN Human Rights Council probe into the Gaza conflict.

Alamuddin released a statement saying that she is too busy with eight other cases and cannot take on the UN position.

I wish my colleagues who will serve on the commission courage and strength in their endeavours,” she wrote.

US actor George Clooney (L) attending the 2013 BAFTA LA Jaguar Britannia Awards presented by BBC America at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on November 9, 2013. Laywer Amal Alamuddin (R) attending a press conference in London on November 5, 2012. (photo credit: (photo credit: AFP PHOTO/JOE KLAMAR/JUSTIN TALLIS)

US actor George Clooney (L) attending the 2013 BAFTA LA Jaguar Britannia Awards presented by BBC America at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on November 9, 2013. Laywer Amal Alamuddin (R) attending a press conference in London on November 5, 2012. (photo credit: (photo credit: AFP PHOTO/JOE KLAMAR/JUSTIN TALLIS)

Those in the pro-Israel camp — Jerusalem already slammed the panel as a kangaroo commission — shouldn’t think the Lebanese-born lawyer has joined their side, though.

“I am horrified by the situation in the occupied Gaza Strip, particularly the civilian causalities that have been caused, and strongly believe that there should be an independent investigation and accountability for crimes that have been committed,” she wrote.

Earlier in the night, UN Watch, a watchdog organization, released a statement suggesting that she may have been added to the panel for the publicity she would bring.

Israeli rights group: Blockade policy politically motivated

Israel’s policy of blockading the Gaza Strip “goes way beyond what is necessary for security,” says Sari Bashi of the Israeli rights group Gisha, as talks continue in Cairo over Palestinian demands to ease the restrictions.

“Israel is pursuing political goals in restricting travel,” she says.

An Israeli military spokesman, Maj. Guy Inbar, insists Israel seeks to “enable civilians to earn a livelihood while not allowing Hamas to improve its terror capacities.”

Gisha says Gaza exports have dropped to 2 percent of the level they were before Hamas’s takeover of the territory in 2007 and Israel’s subsequent imposition of the blockade.

A ban on exports to Israel and the West Bank, traditionally Gaza’s main outlets, remains in effect. Gaza farms and factories can sell to third countries, but complex border procedures and high shipping costs render such sales largely unprofitable.

Inbar says the continued separation is necessary on security grounds, alleging that Hamas has exploited direct contacts between Gaza and the West Bank to plan and order attacks.


Lapid: Reopen Rafah under PA supervision

Finance Minister Yair Lapid says Israeli-Palestinian negotiations currently being mediated by Egypt should lead to a reopening of the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza, with the Gaza side controlled by the Palestinian Authority instead of Hamas. As a next step, he says, Abbas should be in charge of any aid the world community donates to the rehabilitation of Gaza.

“I think this is possible,” Lapid tells the Associated Press. “We have to remember that the PA was in charge of Gaza and is still the legal ruler of Gaza, and should be there instead of Hamas, which is a terror organization.”

“If they want to rebuild the place they live in, then they will have to accept,” Lapid says of Hamas.


IDF tweets on goods passing into Gaza

The IDF says it is continuing to let supplies and fuel pass through Gaza’s crossings with Israel, as long as Hamas “doesn’t fire rockets” at it, which it says the terror group did yesterday.

Abu Khdeir killing suspect’s testimony revealed

Police have released the chilling testimony of the main suspect in the murder of Arab teenager Muhammed Abu Khdeir in Jerusalem on July 2.

“We were hot-headed and angry and we determined to burn something of the Arabs,” Yossef Haim Ben-David told police in his investigation, saying watching the funerals of three Israeli teenagers kidnapped and murdered in the West Bank on June 12 — Naftali Fraenkel, Gil-ad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach — had sparked their decision.

Ben-David said he and his two alleged accomplices, both minors, had first planned to burn an Arab store in the city but then “decided to raise the bar.”

One of the suspects in the murder of 16-year-old Muhammed Abu Khdeir is seen in security camera footage filling up a tankard of gasoline at a gas station, which was used to burn the body of Abu Khdeir a few hours later (Photo credit: Channel 2 screen capture)

One of the suspects in the murder of 16-year-old Muhammed Abu Khdeir is seen in security camera footage filling up a tankard of gasoline at a gas station, which was used to burn the body of Abu Khdeir a few hours later (Photo credit: Channel 2 screen capture)

“We said ‘they took three of ours, let’s take one of their’s,'” he explained. “We decided to pick someone up, kidnap him, beat the hell out of him and throw him out.”

Click here for the full story.

Israeli delegation heads to Cairo once more

The Israeli delegation to Egyptian ceasefire talks will head out to Cairo once again this morning to continue indirect negotiations with Palestinian representatives, Israel Radio reports.

Israel says truce will need 72-hour extension

Israeli officials expect that another 72-hour truce will need to be declared after the current one ends Wednesday night, in order to hammer out the details of a long-term ceasefire deal with Hamas, Israel Radio reports.

Israel apologizes for calling Brazil ‘diplomatic dwarf’

President Reuven Rivlin has apologized to his Brazilian counterpart for a remark by a foreign ministry spokesman calling the Latin American powerhouse a “diplomatic dwarf.”

The comment in July was made by spokesman Yigal Palmor after Brazil criticized Israel’s military campaign in Gaza as excessive and recalled its envoy in Tel Aviv.

In a phone call Monday, Rivlin assured Brazil President Dilma Rousseff that Palmor’s comments “do not correspond to the sentiments of the population” of Israel, Rousseff’s office said in a statement.

Rousseff had criticized Palmor’s remarks, saying “Words, including the spokesman’s, sometimes create a very bad climate. In this case, we have to be very careful.”

In the phone call, her office said, Rousseff “condemned the attacks on Israel” by Hamas, and “reiterated Brazil’s historic position … defending the co-existence between Israel and Palestine as sovereign, economically viable and, above all, safe states.”


Mavi Marmara may soon sail for Gaza again

The Turkish ship Mavi Marmara may soon set sail again for Gaza, according to reports in Palestinian media, as part of a flotilla which will challenge Israel’s naval blockade of the territory.

In May 2010, the Mavi Marmara ferry was boarded by Israeli commandos as it attempted to break the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. In the ensuing melee, after the Israeli soldiers were attacked with iron bars and wooden bats, troops opened fire and nine Turkish activists were killed. Ten Israeli soldiers were injured. Israel designates the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), which organized the first flotilla, as a terrorist organization.

The IHH is expected to hold a press conference on its plans later today.

–Times of Israel staff and AFP


David Grossman says he refuses to despair on peace

Renowned Israeli writer David Grossman says he refuses to abandon hope for Israeli-Palestinian peace, saying “it humiliates me as a person to despair. To give up. To say ‘nothing can be done; that’s how they are; they’re animals; we can never make a deal with them.’ I don’t believe that.”

“When you say you’ve despaired you’re saying you’re a victim. I’m not prepared to be a victim,” he tells Channel 2.

While Grossman, who lost his son Uri in combat during the 2006 Second Lebanon War, admits that the Palestinians ‘don’t like us,’ adding that Israel has not given them much cause to feel differently, he insists that pragmatic forces and interests are strong enough to enable the two peoples to live together.

“I want to have discourse with them. I want my prime minister to find a way to release us from this neverending cycle, this cycle of blood,'” he says.

“We are such a strong nation. I want us to use our incredible strength to reach a new place,” he adds.

Israeli author David Grossman (photo credit: CC BY-SA torre.elena, Flickr)

Israeli author David Grossman (photo credit: CC BY-SA torre.elena, Flickr)

Palestinians mulling gradual development of ports

A member of the Palestinian delegation to Cairo stresses that all Palestinian demands are still on the table, but adds that the delegation, including representatives in Hamas and Islamic Jihad, may agree to a plan under which a seaport and an airport will be established gradually, and not immediately, in accordance with Palestinian compliance to Israeli requirements.

Haim Saban shows solidarity with IDF troops

Billionaire businessman Haim Saban comes to the Gaza border to show solidarity with the soldiers of the IDF. Saban, a board member at the Friends of the IDF organization, expresses his gratitude towards the commanders and troops who took part in combat in the Strip, Yedioth Ahronoth reports.

Negotiations stuck, gaps between sides are wide

A diplomatic source in Israel says that negotiations in Cairo have come to a standstill, according to Ynet, as Israel cannot accept some of the Palestinian demands.

A Hamas official says the group would be inclined to lengthen the 72-hour ceasefire in an attempt to reach an agreement, Channel 2 reports.

‘It will take 100 years to rebuild Gaza’

“It would take 100 years to rebuild Gaza with the current rate of construction material being allowed in,” says Sari Bashi, co-founder of Israeli NGO Gisha which campaigns for Palestinian freedom of movement and trade.

“In the years in which cement has been banned from entering Gaza, Israel did not manage to prevent tunnels from being dug,” she says.

“It is a policy that is overwhelmingly harming civilians in Gaza with little to no security benefit for Israel”.

A Palestinian woman walks through the rubble of destroyed buildings in part of Gaza City's al-Tufah neighbourhood as the fragile ceasefire in the Gaza Strip enters a second day on Wednesday, August 6, 2014. (photo credit: Mahmud Hams/AFP)

A Palestinian woman walks through the rubble of destroyed buildings in part of Gaza City’s al-Tufah neighbourhood as the fragile ceasefire in the Gaza Strip enters a second day on Wednesday, August 6, 2014. (photo credit: Mahmud Hams/AFP)


Gaza factions reject Israel offer of port for demilitarization

The BBC reports that Israel offered the Palestinians a seaport in exchange for the demilitarization of the Gaza Strip. Hamas and other factions in the Strip reportedly rejected the offer, with a representative of the Islamic Jihad saying that the groups will only agree to disarm if Israel disarms as well.

Cabinet meeting for this afternoon canceled, Channel 1 says

Channel 1 reporter Ayala Hasson tweets that an official source informs her that not only is there no progress in the negotiations, and that the Israelis and Palestinians are still far from reaching a lasting ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, but the cabinet meeting scheduled for this afternoon has been canceled.

Israel rejects Gaza sea, airport, reaches deal on soldiers’ remains — report

The Palestinian Al-Quds newspaper reports details of the negotiations between Israel and the Gaza factions in Cairo. According to unnamed sources who spoke to the paper, the Palestinians are asking for the opening of the Erez and Karni crossings into Israel; Israel rejected Karni and agreed to 5,000 persons through Erez per month. Israel reportedly rejected the Gazans’ demands of an airport and seaport, and rejected the establishment of a seaway to Cyprus under international control.

The report says the Palestinians asked for a 12 nautical mile fishing zone off the Gaza coast, Israel was said to agreed to a six mile zone. Hamas and Islamic Jihad called for an end to the 500 meter buffer zone along the border with Israel, but Israel accepted a reduction to 100 meters.

Concerning the remains of two slain IDF soldiers, Israel reportedly agreed to release all Shalit prisoners, Palestinian parliamentarians and prisoners from before the 1993 Oslo Accords in return for the remains of Lt. Hadar Goldin and Sgt. Oron Shaul.

There was no way of independently confirming the report.

IDF arrests 12 overnight in West Bank

The IDF says it arrested 12 Palestinians in the West Bank overnight. The detainees were taken in for questioning.

Illustrative photo of a Palestinian suspect being arrested by the IDF. (photo credit: IDF /Flash90)

Illustrative photo of a Palestinian suspect being arrested by the IDF. (photo credit: IDF /Flash90)

Egypt says no talk of Rafah crossing until ceasefire set

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry says that Cairo hasn’t yet begun talking with the Palestinian Authority about opening the Rafah crossing with the Gaza Strip, Ynet reports.

“We cannot speak at the moment about a date of starting the discussions about the Rafah crossing because the ceasefire is fragile,” ministry spokesman Badr Abdel-Aty says. “We want to solidify the ceasefire first, without rushing into other issues.”

Members of Hamas' security forces standing guard in front of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip, September 16, 2013. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO/SAID KHATIB)

Members of Hamas’ security forces standing guard in front of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip, September 16, 2013. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO/SAID KHATIB)

Hamas spokesperson says current truce is final one

Hamas spokesperson Moussa Abu Marzouk says that the current truce with Israel in the Gaza Strip is the second and final one, suggesting that the current Israeli effort to extend the truce by three more days may be unsuccessful — whether it’s because a breakthrough in the ceasefire talks is imminent or not remains unclear.

“We’re standing before a difficult negotiation,” he says. “The first truce passed without an acceptable achievement to note. This is the second and final truce. The seriousness right now is clear. What’s necessary is for the delegation to achieve what the Palestinian people wishes of it.”

Ben Gurion student pens song to soldiers in Gaza

A PhD student at Ben Gurion University of the Negev writes a song dedicated to the IDF soldiers who fought in the Gaza Strip this past month.

Anthony Chapman, a resident of Beersheba who immigrated to Israel from San Diego, CA, says he wrote “Sing to You” with his wife Irene.

“You are fighting in a war that you didn’t cause, and you didn’t want, and you didn’t desire at all,” he sings. “It’s hard to find the words to describe what you saw, what you experienced, its just so heavy.”

“In the middle of Operation Protective Edge we were supposed to go on vacation to the States, but I pushed off the vacation because my guitar student, who serves in the Maglan [special forces unit] was drafted to the war effort,” Chapman says in a statement published by the university. “It was difficult for me to deal with this, so I decided to push off my vacation until things calmed down.”

Chapman, a doctoral student in the archaeology and ancient Near East department at the school, says “writing songs is my way to deal with the reality, and my aspiration is that my music will touch other people and move them.”

The music video for “Sing to You” is below (English subtitles are available):

Top German paper runs story ‘Faces of the fallen’ IDF soldiers

Top-selling German newspaper Bild runs a piece entitled “Faces of the fallen,” about the 64 Israeli soldiers who died fighting Hamas in the Gaza Strip. Alongside photos of the slain IDF troops, the paper says that the men are “64 sons, boyfriends, husbands who are unable to return to their families. They’ve fallen in the Gaza Strip in a battle with Hamas for their home.”

It tweets a composite photo of the killed soldiers, which also appears in its article.

‘Outpouring of support’ for Gazans by Israelis

A Catholic priest belonging to the Caritas Jerusalem aid group says he didn’t expect the “outpouring of support” from Israeli Jews for Gazans in need, telling USA Today that roughly half of the 700 or so donors in its recent drive for the impoverished territory were Israeli Jews.

“I admit that I am somewhat surprised,” the Palestinian priest tells USA Today. “Many Jews have also sent us messages of solidarity and offers of everything from baby clothes to blood donations.”

Islamic Jihad source expects deal tomorrow

A source involved in the Cairo ceasefire talks tells a website affiliated with Islamic Jihad that agreement is expected in the long-term ceasefire deal tomorrow, Israel Radio reports. One of the terror groups’ spokespeople says that the sides crossed the halfway mark in the talks.

Turkish group announces 2nd ‘freedom flotilla’

Turkish humanitarian aid group IHH’s “Freedom Flotilla Coalition” announces at a press conference in Istanbul moments ago that it would dispatch a second freedom flotilla for the Gaza Strip. The first freedom flotilla, which included the MV Mavi Marmara, attempted to run the blockade on Gaza in May 2010 and was boarded by Israeli commandos. Passengers aboard the ship assaulted the soldiers, who killed ten of their attackers in self-defense.

MK punted from budget meeting after protesting more defense funds

Committee member MK Stav Shaffir (Labor Party) was removed from a budget meeting by Finance Committee chair Nissan Slomianski (Jewish Home party) after he claimed she disrupted the committee’s proceedings. The meeting was to discuss, in part, shifting funds to the Defense Ministry to accommodate for the campaign in Gaza.

Shaffir writes on her Facebook page that the committee was discussing cutting NIS 125 million from public transportation and NIS 300 million from water — “horrible cuts which will harm us all.”

“I ask [the committee] again and again why they’re cutting the most important things,” she writes. “The Finance Ministry refuses to respond, and look how committee chairman Slomianski does everything — really everything — in order to stop me from telling you the truth.”

Hamas radio says Israeli ships firing on Gaza

Al-Aqsa Radio in Gaza, a station associated with Hamas, tweets in English that Israeli navy ships are firing on the southern city of Rafah, in violation of the ceasefire.

The report could not be independently confirmed. The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit says it’s investigating the report.

Imminent ceasefire rumors ‘premature,’ Israeli official says

Reports of the imminent signing of a long-term ceasefire between Israel and Hamas are “premature,” a senior Israeli official tells The Times of Israel, adding that he cannot report on “any progress” being made at the talks in Cairo. “The gaps are still there.”

— Raphael Ahren

Finance C’tee okays extra NIS 3.3b for army

The Finance Committee approves the transfer of NIS 3.3 billion to the defense budget at the expense of public transportation, water development and earthquake protection development. The proposal passes eight to five.

W. Bank Palestinian injured in clash with IDF

Palestinians near Qalqilya in the northern West Bank throw stones and Molotov cocktails at an Israeli bus and IDF troops, Ynet reports. The soldiers return fire and moderately injure one of the Palestinians.

PA delegation chief in Cairo: Hamas rule in Gaza is over

The head of the Palestinian delegation in Cairo, Azzam Al-Ahmad, tells The Times of Israel that Hamas’s rule in the Gaza Strip is coming to a close.

“Israel needs to understand that the period of Hamas rule in Gaza is over and to act in full cooperation with the PA and the government of [PA Prime Minister] Rami Hamdallah, which will be the sovereign authority in the territories, including Gaza.”

Al-Ahmad, who was central to negotiating the PA unity deal with Hamas this spring, did not clarify how the PA would reassert its rule in Gaza seven years after Hamas violently ousted it, nor did he specify whether or how Hamas would be disarmed.

Read the full coverage here.

80 Thai workers left Israel during Gaza op

Eighty Thai workers left Israel during Operation Protective Edge and returned to Thailand because of the conflict, inflicting damage on the Israeli agriculture sector, a lawyer representing Israeli farmers says in a statement.

Attorney Hagit Weinstock says that even those foreign workers who remained spent little time in the fields, particularly after the death of a Thai laborer in a mortar attack, and others moved north away from the Gaza Strip. She says the damage caused to the market as a result are considerable.

IDF fired warning shots at Gaza boat in Rafah incident

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit says that the earlier report of the Israeli Navy firing at Rafah involved a Palestinian motorboat attempting to run the naval blockade. The navy fired a warning shot in the air, and the boat returned to Gaza, the IDF says.

Jewish student’s Palestinian scarf triggers dueling protests

A Facebook picture of a South African Jewish high school student wearing a traditional Palestinian scarf has triggered outrage and a petition calling for his removal from an honorary position, as well as a counter petition in his defense.

Joshua Broomberg, deputy head boy of the King David Victory Park High School, a Jewish day school, and the captain of the South African national debate team, was tagged in a Facebook photograph wearing a traditional Palestinian scarf and a badge of the Palestinian flag, according to the Independent Online, a South African news website.

Click here for the full story.


Qassam Brigades say they’re either fighting or plotting

Hamas’s armed wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, says in light of the efforts to reach a lasting ceasefire that “the fighters in Gaza are waiting for the help of Allah to fight anew, or to return to planning the next campaign.”

“There’s no alternative. Either jihad or plotting,” it says.

Ex-pat activist tells navy to let flotilla go

An Israel-born activist who renounced his citizenship is among those organizing a second freedom flotilla from Turkey to bust the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip, and he recommends that the Israeli Navy not attempt to take control of the ship this time around, Walla reports.

Dror Feiler says that there won’t be a Turkish military escort, however, contrary to earlier reports suggesting Ankara would dispatch troops with the aid ships attempting to run the blockade.

“There will be activists from around 80 countries,” the news site quotes Feiler saying. “It will leave in the coming months, in 2014.”

“We recommend to the Israeli Navy not to board the ships. Let them reach Gaza and nothing will happen. Israeli security won’t be harmed,” Feiler says.

I’m not biased against Israel, insists UN panel head

Canadian Prof. William Schabas, the head of the newly-named UN HRC panel investigating the Israel-Hamas conflict, tells Army Radio that he has been to Israel several times, lectured at Israeli universities, and sits on the board of a prestigious Israeli law journal. This, to counter allegations that he is biased against Israel, including because he has called for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former president Shimon Peres to stand trial at the International Criminal Court in The Hague for war crimes.

As for the mandate of his probe, Schabas says that while it “doesn’t specify,” he interprets his mission as being “to look at violations on both sides.”

William Schabas (screen capture: YouTube)

William Schabas (screen capture: YouTube)

Schabas, a professor of International Law at London’s Middlesex University, supported the 2010 Goldstone Report into Israel’s last ground offensive in Gaza, though he said in a later interview that the scale of destruction in Gaza did not compare to other atrocities in the world.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry has been bitterly critical of the probe and the panel.

Paying Hamas salaries is extortion — Bennett

Paying the salaries of Hamas officials in the Gaza Strip is tantamount to a protection racket in which Hamas extorts Israel in return for agreeing to stop rocket fire, Economy Minister Naftali Bennett says.

In a post on his official Facebook page, Bennett reacts to reports that Israel may agree to pay the salaries of Hamas bureaucrats in exchange for a permanent ceasefire in the Gaza Strip, saying the Palestinian demand to transfer money was a form of extortion.

“Let’s tell the truth: The money will be handed to the terrorists who dig [tunnels] under us, to rocket manufacturers and those who shoot at us,” Bennett says.

“It’s actually a diplomatic protection racket: pay us — and we’ll shoot at you later. Don’t pay us — and we’ll shoot at you now,” he says. “We can’t fight Hamas while funding it at the same time.”

Ex-ambassador urges Israel probe of Gaza op

Michael Oren, Israel’s former ambassador to the United States, calls for the establishment of a commission of inquiry into Israel’s operation in the Gaza Strip to replace the commission established by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva and prevent it from trying Israel at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague.

“We have always acted too late, and that’s why the timing on this issue is very important. The Turkel Commission (into the 2010 flotilla raid) did an excellent job, but came [into the picture] very late, so we have to act fast,” Ynet quotes Oren as saying.

He adds that such a commission investigating Operation Protective Edge should include international experts as well as Israeli ones.

Hamas still inflexible, Israeli negotiators say

The Israeli delegation to Cairo, where Egypt is currently mediating a ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian factions, including Hamas, is already back in Egypt after shuttling to Israel overnight to update Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the latest developments in the talks, Channel 2 reports.

The delegation reportedly informs the prime minister that Hamas is inflexible, then returns to Cairo for more talks. It is said to have offered Hamas a ceasefire framework very similar to the one that was in place after Operation Pillar of Defense in 2012, but with a little more flexibility.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu cancels today’s security cabinet meeting amid a lack of new developments, and is now briefing party chiefs on the situation.

In Cairo, negotiators begin to discuss blockade

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators sit down for a second day of indirect talks aimed at finding a durable end to the five-week confrontation in the Gaza Strip.

But a senior Israeli official says there had been no progress so far, telling AFP there is still a long way to go to reach an agreement to end the conflict.

“The gaps are still very wide. There has not been progress in the negotiations,” he says ahead of the return of the Israeli delegation to Cairo in the early afternoon.

Meanwhile, a Palestinian official says that while yesterday’s talks were “difficult and grueling,” today’s meetings are “the most important,” tackling core issues such as Israel’s eight-year blockade of Gaza, which the Palestinians want lifted.

Talks are scheduled to last into the evening, a Palestinian official says.


NY’s Guggenheim nixes anti-Semitic opera

An American Jewish group praises the Guggenheim Museum in New York for canceling an event in which excerpts from an anti-Semitic opera were scheduled to have been performed.

The Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) says the museum told it that the event, which had been scheduled for October 10, has not been rescheduled.

The “Death to Klinghoffer” event would have included Metropolitan Opera singers performing excerpts from the “Klinghoffer” opera, which the organization describes as “pro-terrorist” and “anti-Semitic.”

“‘Death of Klinghoffer’ rewrites history to malign Israel, in an attempt to justify and “humanize” the Palestinian terrorists who hijacked the Achille Lauro cruise ship in 1985 and murdered an innocent disabled Jewish-American passenger named Leon Klinghoffer in cold blood,” the ZOA says in a statement.

Anti-Israel activists storm Belfast supermarket

Anti-Israel activists belonging to the Irish éirígí political party storm an ASDA supermarket in Belfast yesterday, calling for a boycott of Israeli goods and removal of Israeli-linked products from the shelves.

The activists, whose party supports a British withdrawal from northern Ireland, team up with pro-Palestinian activists to hold a protest inside the West Belfast supermarket, holding up Palestinian flags and placards and chanting slogans such as “Boycott Israeli goods,” “Free, free Palestine,” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

One placard, bearing the phrase “It’s not war, it’s genocide,” portrays Israel as the grim reaper, its bloody scythe hovering over a bombed-out Gaza.

Meanwhile, other activists, including children, storm the supermarket’s aisles, filling up their carts with Israel-related products and “destocking” the shelves.

éirígí releases a video of the event, along with a statement saying that “purchasing Israeli products provides support to the Israeli economy, which in turn lends support to the Israeli state and its murderous campaign against the Palestinian people.”

Muslim bloc condemns Israel’s ‘war crimes’

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation condemns “war crimes” by Israel in Gaza and urges a meeting of donors on financing reconstruction in the enclave devastated by the month-long war.

In a statement after a ministerial meeting, the second on Gaza in three days, the OIC says that “in the liveliest terms” the meeting condemns Israel, “the occupying force, for war crimes it doesn’t stop committing in the Palestinian territories.”

“Israel should immediately cease its aggression against the Palestinian people and shoulder political and legal responsibility for war crimes,” the statement says.

“Israel should realize that peace is the only option to survive,” adds Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal.

Meanwhile, a Palestinian official says Tuesday that Egypt has offered to host a conference of Gaza donors.


UN probe ‘operational’ despite Alamuddin pullout

GENEVA — The president of the UN top human rights body says the commission on possible violations of the rules of war in Gaza is “operational,” despite the decision by George Clooney’s fiancee to pull out of the panel.

British-Lebanese lawyer Amal Alamuddin, who is engaged to marry the 53-year-old actor, decided she couldn’t accept the role a few hours after she was appointed as one of three commissioners, says Gabon Ambassador Baudelaire Ndong Ella, who presides over the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

US actor George Clooney (L) attending the 2013 BAFTA LA Jaguar Britannia Awards presented by BBC America at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on November 9, 2013. Laywer Amal Alamuddin (R) attending a press conference in London on November 5, 2012. (photo credit: (photo credit: AFP PHOTO/JOE KLAMAR/JUSTIN TALLIS)

US actor George Clooney (L) attending the 2013 BAFTA LA Jaguar Britannia Awards presented by BBC America at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on November 9, 2013. Laywer Amal Alamuddin (R) attending a press conference in London on November 5, 2012. (photo credit: (photo credit: AFP PHOTO/JOE KLAMAR/JUSTIN TALLIS)

Alamuddin, an expert on human rights, was among a number of people that Ndong Ella approached as potential candidates, he said Tuesday, adding he will later decide “on how best to support and strengthen” the commission.

Alamuddin said Monday she “unfortunately could not accept this role.”


Over 100 immigrants wing in to join IDF

More than 100 US and Canadian men and women who immigrated to Israel on Monday are heading into the IDF to do their national service.

The 108 soldiers-to-be, aged 18-23, arrive on a Nefesh B’Nefesh “Soldiers Flight” to Ben Gurion Airport, which also carries another 230 North Americans who made aliyah.

Each new arrival are presented with a personalized certificate informing them that the Jewish National Fund will plant a tree in their honor as part of campaign to encourage development in southern Israel.

Some of the more than 100 men and women who immigrated to Israel to join the IDF, Ben Gurion airport, August 12, 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)

Some of the more than 100 men and women who immigrated to Israel to join the IDF, Ben Gurion airport, August 12, 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)

President Reuven Rivlin waits in the arrivals hall at the airport to greet the state’s fresh citizens, along with other dignitaries including Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar and chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel Natan Sharansky.

“It is heartwarming to see young men and women, who despite these challenging times, are leaving their comfortable lives in the Diaspora to make aliyah and serve and defend the State of Israel,” says Minister of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption Sofa Landver.

In total, there are 37 families on the flight that count among their numbers five doctors and dentists, two nurses and a pilot. Dozens of the immigrants will go to live in periphery communities in the north and south, Nefesh B’Nefesh says in a statement.

Some of more than 300 new immigrants from USA and Canada arrive at Ben Gurion Airport, August 12, 2014 (Photo credit: Gideon Markowicz/FLASH90)

Some of more than 300 new immigrants from USA and Canada arrive at Ben Gurion Airport, August 12, 2014 (Photo credit: Gideon Markowicz/FLASH90)

— Stuart Winer

Operation not over yet, says Ya’alon

Operation Protective Edge isn’t over yet and the rocket fire from the Gaza Strip may resume, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon says during a visit to the Navy base in Ashdod.

“I don’t know if we will reach an agreement by midnight on Wednesday,” he tells navy officers and soldiers. “The shooting  could restart.”

Ya’alon says that if the rocket fire restarts, the clashes between Israel and the Gaza Strip will reignite. Israel will retaliate against terror targets and terrorist organizations in the Gaza Strip might attempt to carry out an attack against Israel.

“We have to be alert and ready,” he says.

Minister of Defense Moshe Ya'alon visits an IDF navy base in Ashdod. August 12, 2014. (Photo credit: IDF Spokesperson/FLASH90)

Minister of Defense Moshe Ya’alon visits an IDF navy base in Ashdod. August 12, 2014. (Photo credit: IDF Spokesperson/FLASH90)

Ya’alon adds that while Israel’s operation in the Gaza Strip has not ended yet, Hamas and other terrorist organizations have “certainly been dealt a heavy blow” — more so than in previous Israeli operations Pillar of Defense and Cast Lead, as well as the Second Lebanon War in 2006.

“There’s no doubt that the damage in the Gaza Strip is massive,” Ya’alon says, explaining that Israel has struck command centers, headquarters, rocket launching sites, training compounds, banks and offices linked to Hamas and other terrorist groups.

He also praises the navy for its role in combating the threat of Gazan terrorism, and particularly in thwarting a commando attack on Kibbutz Zikim by sea.

Remarks on Netanyahu were taken out of context, Schabas says

William Schabas, who has been appointed to head the United Nations Human Rights Council probe into Israel’s operation in the Gaza Strip, says past comments he has made concerning the Israeli leadership’s implication in crimes against humanity have been “exaggerated.”

Responding to allegations that he harbors a bias against Israel, Schabas says in an interview with Channel 2 this evening that he said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be his choice of a leader to send to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the Hague has been taken out of context.

William Schabas, right, and members of a Serbian delegation at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands in March. Schabas was named August 11 to head a UNHCR commission to look into war crimes during the Gaza conflict (photo credit: AP/Jiri Buller)

William Schabas, right, and members of a Serbian delegation at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands in March. Schabas was named August 11 to head a UNHCR commission to look into war crimes during the Gaza conflict (photo credit: AP/Jiri Buller)

Schabas says he made the remark in a discussion about the ICC, in which South African rights activist Archbishop Desmond Tutu said the court had focused all its attention on African countries, and should show it also investigates Western countries by summoning leaders such as Tony Blair to appear before it.

Schabas says that in response to Tutu’s comment, he said he would prefer to bring Netanyahu before the court to exemplify an investigation into a Western state.

“I said my favorite was Netanyahu. I was echoing the Goldstone Report,” Schabas explains, referring to the UN fact-finding mission on the 2008 Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip — which, Finance Minister Yair Lapid quickly pointed out, was compiled when former prime minister Ehud Olmert, and not Netanyahu, was serving as premier.

An infantry soldier on the Israel-Gaza border at the height of Operation Cast Lead, Jan 6 2009. (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

An infantry soldier on the Israel-Gaza border at the height of Operation Cast Lead, Jan 6 2009. (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

He adds that he believes reports referencing the Netanyahu comment are a “great exaggeration,” adding that just as Israelis express opinions on their political leadership, so does he. However, when pressed, the professor does not explicitly condemn Hamas as a terrorist organization or reveal how the commission plans to investigate it.

“It would be inappropriate for me to say” if Hamas is a terrorist organization, Schabas says, stressing that the investigation must be opened “in as neutral a manner as possible.”

He adds that it’s “very important for Israel to cooperate” with the probe to ensure that it is not one-sided.

“Israel has addressed this publicly, saying ‘we operate in self-defense,’ and its position is that it is proportionate. These are matters of public record,” Schabas said. “It’s one thing to make that public statement and another to look at individual cases and see if the statement is actually accurate. It’s in Israel’s interest to be there.”

Addressing claims that the UN harbors a bias against Israel, Schabas notes that some would say the international body’s influential Security Council is actually biased in favor of Israel, as it usually “gets off lightly” there.

PM summons ministers for talk

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has summoned some members of the security cabinet for one-on-one talks, possibly ahead of an agreement with the Palestinians over a permanent ceasefire in the Gaza Strip — which is sure to require Israeli concessions some ministers, such as Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, are likely to oppose.

The prime minister has spoken with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Bennet, and Communications Minister Gilad Erdan for private meetings to update them on the latest developments in the talks.

Earlier this afternoon, Netanyahu canceled a cabinet meeting that was planned for today after the Israeli negotiating team in Cairo informed him that no progress had been made in the talks. Army Radio reports that Netanyahu met with the ministers individually this evening because they were irritated that the cabinet meeting had been cancelled.

Egyptian-brokered ceasefire ‘not enough’ — UN chief

The 72-hour ceasefire brokered by Egypt as talks over a permanent truce continue in Cairo is “not enough,” UN chief Ban Ki-moon says, expressing hope that a “durable ceasefire” will be reached soon.

“We must use this cessation of hostilities to address urgent humanitarian needs. The toll of death and destruction is staggering,” he says in a statement, going on to describe the extent of the devastation in the Gaza Strip.

“More than 300,000 people are still sheltering in UNRWA schools, government and private schools and other public facilities, or with host families. At least 100,000 people have had their homes destroyed or severely damaged,” he says, pledging that the UN will help rehabilitate the coastal enclave.

He adds, however, that “unless we address the underlying causes of the conflict, another round of violence and vengeance is almost guaranteed.”

“Israel’s duty to protect its citizens from rocket attacks by Hamas and other threats is beyond question. At the same time, the fighting has raised serious questions about Israel’s respect for the principles of distinction and proportionality,” he says, urging “accountability for the innocent lives lost and the damage incurred” during the UN probe into the fighting.

US cautiously optimistic about Gaza truce

WASHINGTON — The US State Department expressed cautious optimism Tuesday, emphasizing a slow but consistent pace to talks toward a ceasefire between in Israel and Hamas.

“We hope and very much want a sustainable ceasefire,” Deputy Spokeswoman Marie Harf said during her daily press briefing, adding that the US also wants an extension to the current 72-hour ceasefire in order to prevent any further violence before a final ceasefire deal is achieved.

Harf said that in the current round of talks, the parties have been “staying at the table and talking seriously.”

Although the US has taken a behind-the-scenes role in Cairo, Harf stressed that Washington’s “immediate and top priority is to see an end to the rocket attacks and the tunnel threats against Israel and an end to the suffering of the people of Gaza.”

— Rebecca Shimoni Stoil

Website finds Israelis someone to fight with

A new website — part joke, part reality — provides Israelis with what some may say is one of their basic needs: someone to argue with.

The website — named, well, Someone to Argue With — is built on a simple premise. When users enter they are immediately asked which side they are on — right, in blue, or left, in red. They are then transferred to a chatroom where they can freely argue with someone from the opposite end of the political spectrum.

Thus, if a user clicks on ‘left,’ a chat page will immediately begin to load. As the user waits for an opponent, a message appears on the screen saying, “waiting for a right-wing fascist.” After a moment, an adversary appears, along with a new message: “A right-winger is connected. Good luck.”

If someone identifies more with the right end of the spectrum, the site will provide him with a “left-wing sonofabitch” — a derogatory term sometimes used in Israel to describe those of the leftist persuasion.

The site, which is described as a “chat roulette based on political opinions,” was originally developed by Eyal Geva and his brother as a joke, but quickly developed into something more. Geva told Army Radio earlier today that when he and his brother saw the vitriol right-wing and left-wing Israelis were hurling at each other on social media, they decided to open a platform where right-wingers and left-wingers could have private — and possibly more open-minded — discussions.

“On Facebook, people are identified by name and everyone can see, so they have to be harsh and be right all the time. We noticed that in one-on-one conversations, people are willing to listen,” he said.

The website itself is a little more tongue-in-cheek, promising users that “in a completely anonymous conversation, you will be able to bridge the wide gaps in the State of Israel — or widen them as you wish.”

‘Israel offered humanitarian gestures to Gaza’

Israel has offered humanitarian gestures to the Gaza Strip during negotiations for a ceasefire in Cairo, a member of the Palestinian delegation tells The Associated Press.

The delegate says Israel has offered gestures aimed at improving life for Gaza’s 1.8 million residents, including an increase in the number of trucks permitted to deliver goods into the territory from Israel each day and the transfer of funds by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority to Hamas-affiliated government employees in Gaza — a gesture Economy Minister Naftali Bennett voiced stark opposition to earlier today.

Also included in the purported Israeli package, the official says, is an eventual quadrupling — to 19 kilometers — of the sea area in which Gaza fishing vessels are permitted to operate.

But the official says Israel is linking progress on the Palestinians’ biggest demands — to reopen the territory’s sea and airport — to Hamas disarming. The group has rejected this demand.

Meanwhile. Palestinian officials say they are open to extending the talks if progress was being made.

— AP

Probe will prove Israeli war crimes — Palestinians

A probe by the UN Human Rights Council will prove Israel committed war crimes and violated humanitarian law during its Gaza offensive, Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki says.

Speaking after Israel complains that the inquiry is biased, Maliki says the Palestinians are confident in the commission, set up last month after the top UN human rights body adopted a Palestinian-drafted resolution over US opposition.

“We have full confidence that this commission is going to do everything to demonstrate that Israel has committed war crimes, crimes against humanity in its attack on the Palestinian people in the Gaza Strip,” Maliki tells journalists in the Venezuelan capital as he arrives for an official visit.

“We are going to cooperate with this commission when it arrives in Palestine,” he adds. “We know Israel won’t allow it to enter the West Bank, and we will seek alternatives so that the commission can carry out its mission.”


‘Gaza conclusions must be implemented in north’

During a visit to communities on the border with the Gaza Strip, in southern Israel, MK Moti Yogev (Jewish Home) says Israel should implement the conclusions drawn during Operation Protective Edge in combating threats in the north.

Yogev, a former commander of the IDF’s Gaza Division who is now a member of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee (FADC), tours the south to assess the security needs of the border communities, particularly in light of the threat of terror tunnels.

Jewish Home MK Moti Yogev visits Kibbutz Alumim, in southern Israel. (photo credit: Aharon Ben Hemo)

Jewish Home MK Moti Yogev visits Kibbutz Alumim, in southern Israel. (photo credit: Aharon Ben Hemo)

He then makes his way north to Safed, to visit the family of fallen IDF soldier Eliav Kahlon.

“The ascent from north to south made me realize that we have to quickly draw conclusions from Operation Protective Edge in order to implement them in the north as well, in light of the threats being leveled at us from there,” Yogev says.

Steinitz warns of additional Gaza ground op

Israeli Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz warns that without a reasonable outcome to the talks, there could be another ground operation in Gaza.

“Either there will be a reasonable resolution of the situation in Gaza, or, if the fire resumes, we will have to consider … an expansion on the ground, overthrowing the Hamas authorities and the demilitarization of Gaza by ourselves,” Steinitz tells Army Radio.


UK to cancel arms sales to Israel if fighting restarts

British Business Secretary Vince Cable says London will void 12 export licenses for arms to Israel if hostilities with Gaza resume.

“We welcome the current ceasefire in Gaza and hope that it will lead to a peaceful resolution. However, the UK government has not been able to clarify if the export licence criteria are being met,” Cable says. “In light of that uncertainty, we have taken the decision to suspend these existing export licences in the event of a resumption of significant hostilities.”

The licenses cover components for radar systems, combat aircraft and tanks, according to British media reports.

The announcement from the Lib Dem minister has drawn some blowback from politicians and activists who had pushed for an arms embargo regardless of whether fighting resumed.

A Lib Dem spokesperson says the announcement was the result of negotiations with Conservatives, the Huffington Post reports.

Belfast removes Herzog plaque after attacks

A marker commemorating the Belfast birthplace of the late Israeli president Chaim Herzog has been removed following several anti-Semitic attacks.

Chaim Herzog (photo credit: CC-BY-SA Hidro, Wikimedia Commons)

Chaim Herzog (photo credit: CC-BY-SA Hidro, Wikimedia Commons)

The blue plaque honoring Herzog, Israel’s president from 1983 to 1993, was taken down in the Irish capital out of concern for the safety of those living nearby, the Belfast Telegraph reports.

“Attacks have included the scrawling of anti-Israeli graffiti on the building and items being thrown at the plaque and the house,” Brian Kingston, a local official, tells the Telegraph. “Recently some youths were stopped in the process of trying to remove the plaque with a crowbar.”

The removal of the plaque, which was mounted in 1998, came a month after a north Belfast synagogue was vandalized.

Born in 1918, Herzog immigrated to British Mandate Palestine in 1935 and served in the Haganah, later fighting in Israel’s War of Independence. He also fought in the British army during Word War II.

Before being elected president, he served as Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations and as a Knesset member. He died in 1997.

His son, Isaac Herzog, is the head of Israel’s Labor party.


Israeli delegation heads home from Cairo for night

The Israeli delegation negotiating a ceasefire in Cairo has decided to return to Israel for the night, Ynet reports.

The group will return to Cairo in the morning to continue talks for a third day, in an effort to reach a deal before the 72-hour truce expires.

Egypt thwarts rocket fire directed at Israel

Egyptian security forces in the northern Sinai peninsula found three rockets, mounted on rocket launchers, that were intended to be launched into Israeli territory, Egyptian media reports.

A senior security official says the rockets were smuggled into Sinai from the Gaza Strip via a tunnel operating near the Rafah border crossing, Ynet reports.

Main obstacle in truce talks is Egypt — Hamas source

The main obstacle in indirect truce talks between Israel and Hamas, represented by a Palestinian delegation in Cairo, is Egypt, a Hamas source tells Israel Radio’s Palestinian Affairs correspondent Gal Berger.

The sources says it seems Egypt is in no real rush to reach a deal and that the Palestinian delegation is concerned mediators are not relaying Israel’s complete stance on all the issues back to the Palestinian side.

After submitting a document with all our demands, we received only a verbal response and nothing in writing, the Hamas source complains, Israel Radio reports.

He claims Egypt does not want to see Hamas emerge strengthened from this round of violence and proposes to incorporate European envoys, approved by Israel, into the mediation efforts.

If Israel insists on Egypt as the sole mediator, that would be a “big problem,” he says.

“We will not be overjoyed to resume fighting but that does not mean that, should we find ourselves with our backs to the wall, we will not do so,” the source is quoted by Israel Radio as saying.

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