ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 66

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Israel threatens to step up strikes on Gaza terror groups as border heats up

Defense minister points to surprise May offensive that targeted Islamic Jihad commanders in speech at war memorial after incendiary balloons spark fires in south

Palestinians set off explosions amid cross-border clashes with Israeli security forces near Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on September 27, 2023. (Said Khatib/AFP)
Palestinians set off explosions amid cross-border clashes with Israeli security forces near Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip on September 27, 2023. (Said Khatib/AFP)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they occurred.

IDF chief warns against assuming army immune to societal rifts

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Herzi Halevy tells a Yom Kippur War memorial ceremony that people are mistaken if they think the army can operate as normal with society deeply split.

Halevy’s comments revive warnings that Israel’s military prowess may be harmed by divisions laid bare by the government’s push to radically alter the judiciary and massive sustained protests sparked by the legislative push.

“An argument that leaves behind it a polarizing divisive rift within Israeli society is dangerous,” he says.

“Given the security challenges, it’s arrogant to allow this polarizing debate and to assume that the IDF is immune from the effects of destructive polarization is a dangerous concept,” he says, alluding to mistaken assumptions held sacrosanct by Israel’s defense brass which allowed it to be surprised by a joint Syrian and Egyptian offensive in October 1973.

Halevy aims fire at those who have called for recruits to refuse combat service or for reservists to freeze volunteer duty, but also reprises criticism of politicians and others who have slung insults at protesting reservists and servicemembers.

“It’s forbidden to attack those in uniform, who have devoted years to Israel’s security, that’s irresponsible,” he says, according to a readout from his office. “Calling for the younger generation to refuse to enlist in combat service — that’s a dangerous conception. Calling to refuse to show up for missions by reservists harms security and the IDF.”

Gallant threatens to ramp up Gaza strikes, points to surprise May offensive

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant says Israel is prepared to step up actions against Gaza, with unrest on the Strip’s border continuing to heat up.

“We don’t want an escalation [in fighting] and are not looking for a fight, but if we get to the point where we need to act, let Operation Shield and Arrow be a reminder for all terror groups about the capabilities of [Israel’s] security apparatus,” Gallant says at a memorial marking 50 years since the Yom Kippur war.

Palestinian rioters in the Gaza Strip are seen near the border with Israel, east of Gaza City, September 21, 2023. (Atia Mohammed/Flash90)

Shield and Arrow was an Israeli offensive targeting the Islamic Jihad terror group in Gaza which lasted five days in May and saw a number of leaders of the group killed in a surprise opening salvo.

“If Israeli civilians or soldiers are harmed, we will not hesitate to use everything in our power to ensure the safety of civilians and bring quiet back to the border,” he says.

Israel has thus responded to nearly two weeks of rioting by shelling empty Hamas posts and shooting at protesters who near the border fence. Over the past several days, Gazans have revived the practice of launching incendiary balloons into Israel, starting two forest fires Wednesday.

Haifa neighborhood shutters schools amid fears of more violence

Haifa’s municipality says schools and community youth centers in the Halisa neighborhood will be closed on Thursday, according to Hebrew-language media reports.

The city’s Arab community is on edge following a series of revenge killings that claimed six lives on Wednesday, including one in broad daylight in the city.

The decision is intended “to protect the peace and security of children,” says the city, which notes that the Education Ministry and local principles and officials were involved in the process.

 

Police seeking use of Pegasus to hunt down Basmat Tab’un killers — report

Police are requesting permission to use extraordinary measures as they seek the shooter or shooters behind a quintuple murder in the town of Basmat Tab’un, according to Hebrew media reports.

That includes implementing the powerful Pegasus phone hacking program, developed by Israeli company NSO Group and widely pilloried for its use by abusive regimes around the world, Channel 12 news reports. Revelations that police had used the program in the past set off a firestorm of politically tinged criticism last year.

A commission into the police’s use of the program and other unnamed technologies determined that authorities must get permission from the attorney general before using such measures.

According to the Ynet news site, police chief Yaakov Shabtai is arguing to Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara that even the best investigators can’t reproduce the results of technological means, which appears to be an oblique reference to Pegasus.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir earlier called for police to be able to use administrative detention — holding suspects without charge for extended periods — in fighting the crime wave wracking the community as he headed to Basmat Tab’un. He blamed Baharav-Miara for “blocking” him, Channel 12 news reports.

Protesters seeking justice for boy killed in hit-and-run block Netanya junction

Protesters in Netanya demonstrating for justice for a 4-year-old boy killed in a hit-and-run have blocked a major intersection in Netanya, leading to clashes with police, the Ynet news site reports.

Protesters, led by members of the Ethiopian community, have accused authorities of racism and leniency toward the driver who hit Rafael Adana in May. Previous demonstrations have devolved into violent melees with cops.

Demonstrators stand in the middle of an intersection next to Hasharon Mall, holding signs demanding justice and pleading that “the blood of our kids is not worthless.”

“It’s unfortunate that we live in a messed up world where we need to demonstrate to receive justice,” says Amir Tega, a Netanya city council member taking part in the protest.

Police chief says murders in Bedouin town ‘crossed a line’ as victims named

Authorities transport the body of one of the people killed in a mass shooting in the northern Bedouin town of Basmat Tab’un on September 27, 2023. (Shir Torem/FLASH90)
Authorities transport the body of one of the people killed in a mass shooting in the northern Bedouin town of Basmat Tab’un on September 27, 2023. (Shir Torem/FLASH90)

Visiting the scene of a quintuple murder in the northern Bedouin town of Basmat Tab’un, Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai vows to devote all possible police resources to catching those responsible.

“A red line has been crossed,” he says after the 184th, 185th, 186th, 187th and 188th murders in the Arab community this year. “Whoever carried out these murders are terrorists, in my view, this is a terror attack.”

The five victims, all members of the same extended family, are named in the press as brothers Walid and Mohammed Daleyka, aged 14 and 17, Rabia Daleyka, in his 20s, Zayneb Daleyka, in her 40s and her son Mohammed Hasan Daleyka, 25.

“They were good people, they didn’t have beefs with anyone, no problems, no nothing,” a neighbor tells the Haaretz news outlet.

New Jersey senator Menendez pleads not guilty in Egyptian bribery case

Democratic US Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and his wife Nadine Menendez arrive to the federal courthouse in New York, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023. (AP/Jeenah Moon)
Democratic US Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and his wife Nadine Menendez arrive to the federal courthouse in New York, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023. (AP/Jeenah Moon)

US Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey has pleaded not guilty to federal charges accusing him of pocketing bribes of cash and gold bars in exchange for wielding his political influence to secretly advance Egyptian interests and do favors for local businessmen.

Menendez’s wife also pleads not guilty in the case during a brief hearing in a lower Manhattan federal courthouse days after prosecutors unsealed an indictment alleging vast corruption by the Democrat.

The senator is ordered released on a $100,000 bond, and he must surrender any personal passports but will be allowed to keep an official passport that would allow him to travel outside the US for government business. The judge orders him not to have any contact with his co-defendants except for his wife. He also can’t have contact with Senate staffers who know about the facts of the case outside of the presence of lawyers.

A defiant Menendez has said allegations that he abused his power to line his pockets are baseless. He has said he is confident he will be exonerated and has no intention of leaving the Senate.

Calls for Menendez to resign are continuing to mount, with Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Senate Democrat, saying “he should step down.”

More than half of Senate Democrats have now said that Menendez should resign, including fellow New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who said the indictment includes “shocking allegations of corruption and specific, disturbing details of wrongdoing.”

Rome urged to intervene on behalf of Palestinian-Italian student held by Israel

The lawyer for an Italian-Palestinian student detained by Israel since August is calling on Italy to intervene, saying he is being held in violation of his legal rights.

Khaled El Qaisi, 27, has been detained by Israel without charges since August 31, when he was arrested while crossing from the West Bank to Jordan after a family vacation in his home city of Bethlehem.

A student of languages at Rome’s Sapienza University, born in the West Bank and also an Italian citizen, El Qaisi has since been subject to daily interrogations in a prison near Tel Aviv, his Italian lawyer Flavio Rossi Albertini said.

“A whole series of guarantees in the Italian system that we all know and which we appeal to when we are involved with the justice system, all of this is denied in Israel,” Albertini tells a press conference in Italy’s lower house of parliament, attended by two opposition party deputies.

“How can the Italian government not take a position?” he says.

A hearing in Israel is scheduled for October 1, at which point he could be charged or freed within a few days, Albertini adds, though he also fears El Qaisi may be put in administrative detention.

Police probing why bus carrying youth group kids rolled off road

Police say they are investigating what caused a school bus to roll off the road outside Beit Shemesh, injuring over 30 children between the ages of 8 and 12.

According to authorities, the bus was traveling westbound on Route 395 when it swerved to the right for an unknown reason as it approached Route 38, sending it rolling into a swale on the side of the Kisalon traffic circle near the junction.

The police statement indicates no other vehicles were involved in the crash.

The Ynet news site reports that police are checking if an issue with the brakes caused the driver to lose control.

The bus was carrying children from the religious Ariel youth group back from an activity, the Beit Shemesh municipality said. Most schools serving the country’s Hebrew-speaking population are on break for fall holidays.

Number of kids hurt in bus rollover up to 33, one in serious condition

Thirty-three children between the ages of 8 and 12 are being treated after their bus rolled over on Highway 38 near Beit Shemesh, west of Jerusalem.

One of the children is in serious condition, two are moderately hurt and the remainder are listed with light injuries, the Magen David Adom rescue service says.

Ben Gvir cancels protest prayer event planned for Tel Aviv

Secular and Orthodox activists clash after the religious Rosh Yehudi group sets up a gender divider made of Israeli flags in defiance of a municipality decision at a public prayer service in Dizengoff Square, Tel Aviv on Yom Kippur, September 24, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash 90)
Secular and Orthodox activists clash after the religious Rosh Yehudi group sets up a gender divider made of Israeli flags in defiance of a municipality decision at a public prayer service in Dizengoff Square, Tel Aviv on Yom Kippur, September 24, 2023. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash 90)

Minister Itamar Ben Gvir has canceled a planned prayer rally at Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Square meant to protest against activists who had disrupted a Yom Kippur service that had a gender divider, the Otzma Yehudit leader says in a statement.

The reports come after Ben Gvir had vowed to resist heavy pressure to cancel the rally and after a planned protest against his service moved to another location.

A statement from Ben Gvir’s office accuses activists who protested when a religious group tried to organize a prayer with a banned gender barrier of “antisemitic actions.”

He says he’ll come to Tel Aviv if needed in the future to clarify that in Israel “Jews will always be able to pray in public spaces, anytime they want and anywhere.”

12 hurt, two seriously, as school bus overturns near Beit Shemesh

Two people are in serious condition and three are in moderate condition after a school bus rolled over near the town of Eshtaol, outside of Beit Shemesh, the Magen David Adom rescue group says.

Twelve people in all are receiving treatment following the crash.

The reason for the crash is not immediately clear.

Protesters move prayer rally from Dizengoff; Gantz accuses protesters of violence

People pray while activists protest against gender segregation in the public space during a public prayer on Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, September 25, 2023. ( Itai Ron/Flash90)
People pray while activists protest against gender segregation in the public space during a public prayer on Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, September 25, 2023. ( Itai Ron/Flash90)

Anti-government activists say they will relocate a planned protest prayer from Dizengoff Square, where they had intended to face off against a prayer rally held by Minister Itamar Ben Gvir slated for tomorrow evening.

Instead, Kaplan Force and other groups will gather at Habima Square for a rally billed as a “prayer for the peace and democracy of the state.” In a statement, they say the switch was made after speaking to area residents.

The announcement comes after Opposition Leader Yair Lapid repeated his call for activists not to give Ben Gvir the satisfaction of a confrontation.

Speaking at a memorial, Benny Gantz, head of the opposition National Unity party, accuses protesters who confronted a religious group attempting to organize a gender-separated prayer at Dizengoff Square on Yom Kippur of “using violence against worshipers on a day of holiness and disturbing the prayer.”

He also accuses the religious group of “provocations.”

“Both sides took the law into their hands and both lost mutual respect. Both sides have soul searching to do, as do we all as a society,” he says.

Embassy chief, Homeland Security boss hail Israel’s entry into VWP

US Embassy Charge d’Affaires Stephanie Hallett welcomes Israel into the Visa Waiver Program with a video saying it will strengthen ties between Israelis and Americans.

“Maybe you’re going to visit relatives in the US, or wanting to discover one of our amazing national parks, or even closing on an important business deal with an American partner, once visa waiver travel begins later this year, your entry to the United States could be simplified,” she says.

Hallett thanks “the many Israelis,” who helped shepherd the process over the past two years.

In his own statement hailing Israel’s entry, Homeland Security chief Alejandro Mayorkas says the move is the result of over a decade of work.

He says it will “enhance our two nations’ collaboration on counterterrorism, law enforcement, and our other common priorities.”

Blinken, Mayorkas officially announce Israel’s entry to visa-free program

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken lauds Israel’s accession into the Visa Waiver Program on X, calling it an “important achievement [that] represents a critical step forward in our strategic partnership that will enhance freedom of movement for U.S. citizens.”

A joint statement from the US State Department and Department of Homeland Security also makes it official, an hour after the US lifted an embargo on the news.

Killings thought linked to Haifa slaying amid ongoing gang war

Police suspect a shooting in Basmat Tab’un that claimed five lives was carried out in revenge for a slaying this morning in Haifa of a 50-year-old junkyard owner, itself thought to have been meant to avenge an earlier killing, according to Hebrew media reports.

The killings are thought to be linked to an ongoing feud between the Bakri and Hariri criminal gangs, which has left dozens in the Arab community dead.

In the face of the ongoing crime wave, the Abraham Initiatives group calls for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to fire National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who is in charge of the police, and to implement a “broad program to deal with crime in the Arab community.”

“This is an emergency situation,” the group says in a note appended to its ongoing tally of slayings in the community.

 

Gaza balloons blamed as southern forest catches fire

Firefighters putting out a blaze in the Be'eri Forest on September 27, 2023. (Courtesy KKL forestry staff)
Firefighters putting out a blaze in the Be'eri Forest on September 27, 2023. (Courtesy KKL forestry staff)

KKL-JNF says two fires have broken out in the Be’eri forest near the border with the Gaza Strip, apparently resulting from incendiary balloons floated into Israel from the Strip.

Firefighters are working to put out the blazes, KKL says.

The airborne arson attacks come a day after Israel shelled Hamas posts in Gaza in response to balloons and rioting along the border.

Five confirmed killed in northern town

The Magen David Adom rescue organization confirms that five people shot in the northern town of Basmat Tab’un have been declared dead at the scene.

A sixth person, a  49-year-old man, is taken to a hospital in moderate condition, the group says.

The slayings bring the number of homicides in the Arab community this year to 188.

 

Five badly wounded in northern Israel shooting

At least five people have been wounded in a shooting in the Bedouin town of Basmat Tab’un, east of Haifa in northern Israel, the Magen David Adom rescue group says.

Media reports indicate the five are in critical condition, with some claiming they were declared dead.

According to the Ynet news site, the victims are three men and two women in their 30s.

A crime wave has claimed 183 victims in the Arab community since the beginning of the year, compared to 80 killed by this point last year, according to the Abraham Initiatives.

Bennett lauds Biden, Shaked for visa waiver deal

Former prime minister Naftali Bennett, who was premier during much of the process for Israel’s entry into the Visa Waiver Program, says US President Joe Biden vowed to see the process through when they met in 2021.

“President Biden… committed to acting to overcome all the bureaucratic obstacles and to grant Israeli citizens the visa waiver,” he says.

“Now, President Biden has made good on his promise and I thank him for it,” Bennett tweets.

“Soon you, Israeli citizens, won’t need to wait in line at the embassy in Tel Aviv anymore,” he adds.

He says his interior minister Ayelet Shaked was a “bulldozer who ran through every obstacle,” and also thanks former US envoy Tom Nides, among others.

North Korea says it will expel US soldier who ran across border

A portrait of American soldier Travis King is displayed as his grandfather, Carl Gates, talks about his grandson on July 19, 2023, in Kenosha, Wis. (AP/Morry Gash)
A portrait of American soldier Travis King is displayed as his grandfather, Carl Gates, talks about his grandson on July 19, 2023, in Kenosha, Wis. (AP/Morry Gash)

North Korea says it will expel a US soldier who crossed into the country through the heavily armed border between the Koreas in July.

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency says authorities have finished their questioning of Pvt. Travis King. It does not say when officials plan to expel him or to where.

King, who had served in South Korea, sprinted into North Korea while on a civilian tour of a border village on July 18, becoming the first American confirmed to be detained in the North in nearly five years. He was supposed to be heading to Fort Bliss, Texas, following his release from prison in South Korea on an assault conviction.

The state news agency says King confessed to illegally entering the North because he harbored “ill feeling against inhuman maltreatment and racial discrimination” within the US Army and was “disillusioned about the unequal US society.”

It has attributed similar comments to King before, and verifying their authenticity is impossible.

“The relevant organ of the DPRK decided to expel Travis King, a soldier of the US Army who illegally intruded into the territory of the DPRK,” the state news agency says, using the initials of North Korea’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The White House, the State Department and the Pentagon do not have any immediate comment on the report.

Court convicts four in 2020 Eilat gang rape, seven more guilty of aiding assault

A Beersheba court has convicted four people of rape over an incident in which a young woman said she was sexually assaulted by a group of men while vacationing in Eilat in 2020.

The four, including Issy Raphaelov, 31 and Eliezer Meirav, 30, as well as two minors, both aged 17, are convicted of rape, sexual assault, gang rape and a host of other crimes against the victim, who was 16 at the time.

Another seven people, many of them minors, are convicted of aiding the assault, failing to stop the act, and other charges.

Eilat’s Red Sea Hotel, where an alleged gang rape took place in mid-August 2020. (Channel 12 screenshot)

The case shocked the country and spurred calls for reforms, as testimony indicated that a large group of men lined up outside the intoxicated girl’s hotel room, waiting their turn to rape her, as eyewitnesses failed to intervene.

Judges in the case hail the victim, who watched the verdict from a separate room according to Ynet, for her testimony in the case.

“Your voice, which was muffled in room 216, was heard well and echoed through the halls of the court,” she is told.

Riyadh welcomes ‘delegation here for first time’ as Israeli minister attends confab

Tourism Minister Haim Katz poses next to a UNWTO poster in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on September 26, 2023. (Courtesy: Haim Kaitz)
Tourism Minister Haim Katz poses next to a UNWTO poster in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on September 26, 2023. (Courtesy: Haim Kaitz)

At the start of the UN World Tourism Organization conference in Riyadh attended by Israeli Tourism Minister Haim Katz and staff from his ministry, Saudi Tourism Minister Ahmed bin Aqil al-Khateeb says, “There is a delegation here in the country for the first time. I hope they were received well. Welcome.”

“Everyone in this room understands that tourism is the bridge between people and between cultures,” Khateeb continues.

Katz is meeting at the confab with his Monegasque, Maltese, Albanian and Greek counterparts, as well the Kyrgyzstani economy minister and Bahrain’s trade minister.

Saudi envoy nixes Al-Aqsa visit after Palestinians balk at ‘normalization’

Nayef al-Sudairi, the newly appointed Saudi ambassador to the Palestinians, has canceled a planned visit to the Al Aqsa compound on Temple Mount during his current stay in the Palestinian territories, Haaretz reports.

The Saudi delegation was expected to visit the holy site on the occasion of the Mawlid, the celebration of the birthday of the Prophet Muhammad on Wednesday.

The visit would have been the first by an official Saudi delegation since Israel captured the Old City and East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Six Day War.

However, reports of the planned visit have caused critical reactions on social media, with some Palestinians considering it a sign of normalization with Israel and calling to prevent it.

According to Haaretz, the Saudi delegation understands the sensitivity of the question for their Palestinian counterparts, and decided to postpone it.

The ambassador’s visit comes as Israel and Saudi Arabia inch closer to a normalization deal brokered by the US.

The Saudis have reportedly demanded that Israel make a number of concessions to the Palestinians, while giving up on earlier demands spelled out in their 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which would have traded normalization for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Shin Bet says Iran-backed cell planned hits on Ben Gvir, ex-MK Glick

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir speaks during a press conference at the Knesset on July 5, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir speaks during a press conference at the Knesset on July 5, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Shin Bet security service says it uncovered an Iranian-backed terror cell planning an assassination attempt on National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and former Likud lawmaker Yehudah Glick.

According to the statement, three West Bank Palestinians — Murad Kamamaja, a 47-year-old resident of Kafr Dan; Hassan Mujarima, a 34-year-old resident of Jenin; and Ziad Shanti, a 45-year-old resident of Jenin — were arrested along with two Arab Israelis, Hamad Hammadi, a 23-year-old resident of Nazareth, and Yosef Hamad, an 18-year-old resident of Muqeible.

According to the Shin Bet, Kamamaja and Mujarima were directed by an agent living in Jordan who was working on behalf of Iranian security forces. “The pair were asked to help smuggle weapons into Israel and to collect intelligence on security for senior public figures,” including Ben Gvir and Glick, the latter of whom survived an assassination attempt in 2014.

Likud party MK Yehudah Glick in Tel Aviv, September 6, 2018. (Gili Yaari/FLASH90)

It says an attempt on Ben Gvir failed to come together thanks to security arrangements around the minister.

It says the three West Bank residents enlisted the two Israelis for a mission to set cars in Haifa on fire and film it as a sort of test to prepare for “much more serious terror.” It claims that Iran is looking to use Israeli criminals to carry out attacks based on forms of criminal activity, without elaborating.

The five are facing serious security charges in court, the Shin Bet says.

Ben Gvir, a far-right firebrand, thanks the Shin Bet and says he won’t be deterred from pushing for harsher conditions for inmates held on terror convictions and for Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount.

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