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UNIFIL confirms existence of tunnel from Lebanon into Israeli territory

UN peacekeeping force says it will speak with Lebanese officials regarding matter after touring first of two underground passages discovered by IDF

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Israeli soldiers show UNIFIL commander Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Col a Hezbollah tunnel that penetrated Israeli territory from southern Lebanon on December 6, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)
Israeli soldiers show UNIFIL commander Maj. Gen. Stefano Del Col a Hezbollah tunnel that penetrated Israeli territory from southern Lebanon on December 6, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they unfolded.

Senior official: There’s a real possibility we will be forced to act inside Lebanon

In a visit to the north amid the army’s operation to destroy Hezbollah attack tunnels on the Israeli side of the border, a senior Israeli official says that “there’s a reasonable possibility that we will have to act inside Lebanon.”

The official adds that the tunnel operation was among the reasons IDF didn’t launch major offensive against Hamas in Gaza last month.

“The tunnels are wider and their purpose is for transferring entire battalions or large amounts of forces into Israel to carry out killing sprees, kidnappings and conquer (Israeli) towns,” the official says.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the offensive will see the destruction of every tunnel Hezbollah has dug into Israel, substantially crippling the terror group’s ability to act against the Jewish state.

Netanyahu calls on foreign diplomats to condemn Hezbollah attack tunnels

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu briefs foreign diplomats about the army’s ongoing operation to detect and destroy Hezbollah’s attack tunnels at Israel’s northern border, urging them to condemn and sanction the Shiite terror group for its aggressive actions.

“Israel’s expectation is unequivocal condemnation of Hezbollah, additional sanctions on Hezbollah, condemnation and demand from the Lebanese government to stop granting the permission to use its territory for these attacks on Israel,” he tells a group of senior ambassadors from across the globe.

— Raphael Ahren

Senior official: Hezbollah only has dozens of precision missiles, not thousands as it planned

A senior Israeli official says that while Hezbollah had planned to develop thousands of precision missiles, in practice the terror group has only managed to develop dozens.

“We have disrupted their plans with dozens of actions… which have brought about a significant slowdown in their program,” the official says.

Netanyahu to ambassadors on Lebanon border: Iran is still the number one threat

In a briefing with ambassadors on the northern border regarding the IDF’s operation to destroy Hezbollah attack tunnels, Netanyahu says Israel’s main concern is still Iran.

“What we’re facing is one big enemy. That enemy is called Iran. Iran is trying to act on two levels: one is to develop a nuclear arsenal,” he says. “We are dealing with that with other means including exposing the nuclear archive and the secret nuclear warehouse in Tehran.

“The second thing that Iran is doing is developing conventional weapons against us in their declared war to annihilate Israel. They declare so openly every day.”

Second shipment of Qatari funding said on its way through Israel to Hamas in Gaza

The second $15 million shipment of Qatari funds for Hamas employees will make its way through Israel to the Gaza Strip in the coming hours, Ynet reports.

The money will be transferred in cash to various banks throughout the coastal enclaves where the roughly 30,000 Gazans who receive salaries from Hamas will be able to access the funds beginning tomorrow.

Asked about the transfer while on a tour of the northern border, Netanyahu says the money is highly “supervised.”

When such transfers were made through the Palestinian Authority, rather than Israel, the money never made it to Gaza, the prime minister declares.

“Israel compiles the lists of recipients and gets back a signature and fingerprint from anyone who receives a salary. The supervision is much better than it was in the past,” he says.

Yemen war rivals lash out as UN talks start

Talks between Yemen’s government and rebels, locked in a devastating war for nearly four years, open as tension remained high despite what the UN envoy has called a “critical opportunity.”

Yemen’s government and rebels are doubling down on their rival demands, just moments before hard-won consultations opened in Sweden under the auspices of the United Nations.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Khaled al-Yamani, who heads the Saudi-backed government’s delegation to the UN-sponsored talks in Sweden, tells AFP his team would follow through with a planned prisoner swap with the Houthi rebels — but refused to compromise on the flashpoint port city of Hodeida, home to Yemen’s most valuable port.

“The Houthi militias must withdraw from the city of Hodeida, and its port, and hand it over to the legitimate government, and specifically internal security forces,” Yamani says.

A Saudi-backed military coalition has for months led an offensive to retake Hodeida, the last rebel stronghold on Yemen’s Red Sea coast. The move has sparked fears for more than 150,000 civilians trapped in the city as even hospitals were seized by militants.

Hodeida is on the agenda at the talks, slated to run for one week. Not on the table are negotiations on a solution to the conflict between the Saudi-backed government of Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi and Yemen’s Houthi rebels, according to UN envoy Martin Griffiths.

— AFP

EU Council approves declaration on fight against anti-Semitism

The Council of the European Union has approved a declaration on the fight against anti-Semitism.

The declaration that has been passed in Brussels also calls for the development of a common security approach to better protect Jewish communities and Jewish institutions in Europe.

In its declaration, the Council acknowledges that Jewish communities in some EU countries feel particularly vulnerable to terrorist attacks, following an increase in violent incidents in recent years. It notes that anti-Semitic hatred remains widespread, as confirmed by the EU’s 2018 Fundamental Rights Agency report on anti-Semitism.

The declaration calls on EU member states to “adopt and implement a holistic strategy to prevent and fight all forms of anti-Semitism, as part of their strategies on preventing racism, xenophobia, radicalization and violent extremism,” according to a statement issued by the EU Council. It also calls on member states to increase their efforts to ensure security for Jewish communities, institutions and citizens.

The declaration also expresses concern that the situation for Jewish people has not substantially improved and that anti-Semitic hatred remains widespread, as well as that anti-Semitism can be disguised under the cover of political views. It also calls for an emphasis on  the importance of Holocaust remembrance and education for all.

— JTA

Shin Bet: Arab Israelis, Palestinians arrested attempting to smuggle phones to security prisoners

The Shin Bet says it has arrested seven Arab Israelis and Palestinians who the security service alleges had attempted to smuggle cellphones to security prisoners.

The attempts are said to have taken place between 2016 and 2018 and the Shin Bet says the seven suspects used a drone in order to try and deliver the phones.

Foreign Ministry ‘optimistic’ ahead of UN vote condemning Hamas

The Foreign Ministry says it is “optimistic” ahead of tonight’s vote at the UN General Assembly on a US-drafted resolution condemning the Palestinian terror group Hamas.

If adopted, it would mark the first time the 193-nation assembly has taken aim at Hamas, which has ruled the Gaza Strip since 2007.

Ohio State student government votes down Israel boycott and divestment resolution

The Undergraduate Student Government of the Ohio State University has voted down a resolution to divest from companies which “benefit from the Israeli occupation of Palestine,” and to boycott Israeli products.

The resolution has failed by a vote of 7 in favor and 33 against. It would not have been binding on the university administration.

The resolution specifically named the companies G4S, Caterpillar Inc., Sabra Dipping Company and Hewlett-Packard. Ohio State’s $3.6 billion endowment fund and $6.1 billion in revenue have investments in those companies, the Jerusalem Post reported.

The resolution also called for “an academic boycott of Israeli universities, including cancellations of currently invited speakers and visiting professors, and to ending existing programs or relationships with Israeli universities.”

— JTA

Justice Ministry green-lights expropriation of Palestinian land for Israeli outpost

A legal opinion from the Justice Ministry has given the green light for the expropriation of private Palestinian land in order to legalize an Israeli outpost in the central West Bank.

The opinion, which was drafted due to “requests from the political leadership,” allows the temporary seizure of land by Israeli authorities in order to pave an access road to Haresha, an outpost near the Talmon settlement.

While Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit ruled in November 2017 that the Palestinian land could be permanently expropriated so long as the original owners were compensated, the Justice Ministry legal opinion recommends that the access road be paved in the form of a tunnel underneath the private Palestinian land leading to Haresha.

The alternative method would allow for a temporary, rather than permanent, seizure of the private land until the paving of the tunnel is completed. The Palestinian landowners would still ostensibly compensated over the project.

The paving of an access road is the last step required by the state before it can legalize Haresha, which over a decade ago alerted the High Court it intends to do.

Mandelblit’s legal opinion — on which today’s was based — relied heavily on a ruling made by now-retired Supreme Court justice Salim Joubran.

Responding to a petition regarding the legality of establishing a temporary living area for the evacuees of the Amona outpost while they wait for the new Amichai settlement to be built for them, Joubran ruled that abandoned private Palestinian land could be seized for the grounds as long as the original owners are compensated.

But earlier this year, Chief Justice Esther Hayut ruled that the state cannot rely on the precedent set by Joubran, placing at risk the likelihood that today’s legal opinion from the Justice Ministry will hold up.

UN ambassador says General Assembly vote on Hamas a ‘win-win’ for Israel

Today’s vote in the UN General Assembly on Hamas is a “win-win” for Israel, even if the US-sponsored resolution condemning the Gaza-based terrorist organization fails to pass, according to Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon.

“The mere fact that the entire world now deals with Hamas, with all ambassadors sending this resolution to their capitals, is already a great accomplishment for us,” Danon tells The Times of Israel.

“It’s a win-win. If we win, it will be a historic achievement. And if we don’t win, at least we succeeded in putting Hamas’s activities on the global agenda,” he adds.

“We need to wait for the vote, but I am sure that we will get a majority of the countries to vote in favor of the resolution.”

The Palestinian pressure on Muslim countries to vote against the resolution “worked against them,” Danon says. “Hamas turned to countries; Iran is very strongly engaged in this matter. In my eyes, this didn’t help the Palestinians, as it revealed who stands behind Hamas.”

While it was possible that, for procedural reasons, a two-thirds majority was needed for the resolution to pass, which would dramatically decrease the text’s chance from passing, there was a “very good chance that at least a majority of voting countries would support the draft.

“We worked hard — our mission and also the American delegation. We believe that we will get the majority today at the General Assembly, something which in the past nobody would have believed could ever happen,” he says.

— Raphael Ahren

Army says it uncovered a second Hezbollah cross-border attack tunnel

The Israeli military uncovered a second Hezbollah cross-border attack tunnel today in the western Galilee, the army says.

The tunnel originated in the Lebanese village of Ramyeh underneath a number of homes and crossed into Israeli territory near the village of Zarit, according to the Israel Defense Forces.

IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus says the tunnel is not yet operational and did not present an immediate threat to residents of the area, as with the tunnel discovered on Tuesday.

The army confirms that it is working at a second area in the western Galilee as well.

IDF spokesperson Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus says the Israeli army provided UNIFIL’s commander with a map and intelligence about the Ramyeh tunnel when he visited Israel today.

The military says it called on the UN peacekeeping force UNIFIL to destroy the tunnel in Ramyeh on the Lebanese side of the border.

IDF Northern Command chief Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick also filed a formal complaint about what he called Hezbollah’s violation of UN Resoluation 1701, which ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War and called for armed groups besides to the Lebanese military to remain north of the country’s Litani River.

— Judah Ari Gross

Peace Now blasts legal opinion green-lighting expropriation of Palestinian land

The Peace Now settlement watchdog lambastes a Justice Ministry legal opinion that green-lit the expropriation of private Palestinian land in order to legalize the Haresha outpost in the central West Bank.

“This move is a mockery of justice. Since the Regulation Law is tied up in court, the Ministry of Justice is yet again using every crooked justification it can concoct to expropriate private Palestinian land in order to dissect the West Bank with settlements until they have achieved their one-state apartheid agenda,” the left-wing NGO says in a statement.

Today’s opinion allows the temporary seizure of land by Israeli authorities in order to pave an access road to Haresha, which sits near the Talmon settlement.

While Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit ruled in November 2017 that the Palestinian land could be permanently expropriated so long as the original owners were compensated, the Justice Ministry legal opinion recommends that the access road be paved in the form of a tunnel underneath the private Palestinian land leading to Haresha.

The paving of an access road is the last step required by the state before it can legalize Haresha. The state over a decade ago alerted the High Court it intends to do.

Settlement umbrella group lauds legal opinion that’ll pave way to legalization of outpost

The Yesha settlement umbrella council lauds a Justice Ministry legal opinion that green-lights the expropriation of private Palestinian land in a move that would pave way for the legalization of an Israeli outpost in the central West Bank.

“We thank everyone who dealt with this issue and brought about this solution,” the Yesha Council says in a statement.

“We hope that the planning and legalization procedures will be implemented in the shortest possible time.”

The umbrella group representing all Israeli council chairmen in the West Bank says it hopes to see additional efforts made by the state to legalize other outposts throughout the West Bank.

Today’s opinion allows the temporary seizure of land by Israeli authorities in order to pave an access road to Haresha, which sits near the Talmon settlement.

While Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit ruled in November 2017 that the Palestinian land could be permanently expropriated so long as the original owners were compensated, the Justice Ministry legal opinion recommends that the access road be paved in the form of a tunnel underneath the private Palestinian land leading to Haresha.

The paving of an access road is the last step required by the state before it can legalize Haresha. The state over a decade ago alerted the High Court it intends to do.

Foreign Ministry hails EU Council declaration against anti-Semitism

The Foreign Ministry hails as a “breakthrough” the Council of the European Union’s approval of a declaration on the fight against anti-Semitism.

In a brief statement, the ministry says the most significant parts of the decision were the funding of protection for Jewish communities, “deepening the battle against hateful anti-Semitic discourse online,” and the call for EU countries to fully adopt the IHRA’s definition of anti-Semitism.

Iran FM accuses ‘foreign-backed terrorists’ of Chabahar attack

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has accused “foreign-backed terrorists” of attacks Thursday in the port city of Chabahar that killed two people and wounded around 40 others.

“Foreign-backed terrorists kill & wound innocents in Chabahar. As we’ve made it clear in the past, such crimes won’t go unpunished,” Zarif tweets.

Chabahar lies in Sistan-Baluchistan province which has long been a flashpoint, with Pakistan-based Baluchi separatists and Sunni Muslim extremists carrying out cross-border attacks targeting the Shiite authorities.

“In 2010, our security services intercepted & captured extremists en route from UAE. Mark my words: Iran WILL bring terrorists & their masters to justice,” Zarif adds in the tweet.

He is referring to the capture, trial, and subsequent execution in June 2010 of Abdolmalek Rigi, the leader of the Sunni militant group Jundallah who had waged a deadly insurgency in Sistan-Baluchistan.

He was captured while on a flight from Dubai to Kyrgystan after Iranian fighter jets intercepted the airliner and forced it to land in Iran and removed Rigi and a number of his companions.

— AFP

Palestinian court extends detention of Palestinian-American

A Palestinian court has extended the detention of a hunger-striking Palestinian-American activist who claims she was tortured in captivity.

The Jericho court has ordered that Suha Jbara, a US citizen born in Panama, remain in custody 15 more days on suspicions she funded “illegal organizations.”

Jbara started a hunger strike two weeks ago to protest what she says is unjust treatment by Palestinian authorities. She appeared weak, with trouble walking, breathing, and keeping her eyes open, as she entered the courtroom.

She tells human rights organization Amnesty International that Palestinian authorities tortured her and forced her to sign a document admitting to charges she claims are false.

Jbara supports Islamic charities advocating for Palestinian prisoners in Israel. Palestinian authorities did not specify the illegal organizations in their charges.

— AP

Nobel laureates: Despite progress, cancer won’t be wiped out

The winners of this year’s Nobel Prize for Medicine say they expect substantial advances toward treating cancer in the next several decades, although it is unlikely the disease could be eradicated.

James Allison of the United States and Tasuku Honjo of Japan make the assessments at a news conference ahead of receiving the 9 million-kronor ($999,000) prize.

They were named winners of the prize in October for their work in immunotherapy — activating the body’s natural defense system to fight tumors.

“Soon we’ll get close with some cancers,” Allison says, citing progress against some forms including melanoma. But, he says, “the world will never be cancer-free.”

Honjo says he expects that immunotherapy will eventually be used against most cancers, often in combination with radiation or chemotherapy, and that cancer can effectively be stalled “even if we cannot completely eliminate the tumor, if we can survive with some tumor.”

“I think what is coming next are triple combinations and quadruple combinations,” Allison says.

Although immunotherapy is an advance against cancer treatment, the costs are high, with courses of treatment reportedly exceeding $100,000.

— AP

WATCH: PM, US Ambassador Friedman lights Hannukah candles at the Western Wall

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman lights Hannukah candles at a ceremony at the Western Wall.

חנוכה שמח מהכותל בירושלים

חנוכה שמח מהכותל בירושלים: שגריר ארה"ב בישראל דוד פרידמן וראש הממשלה בנימין נתניהו מדליקים את הנר החמישי! במעמד חגיגי זה אנו גם מציינים שנה ליום בו הכריז הנשיא טראמפ כי הוא מכיר בירושלים כבירתה של ישראל, והודיע על העברת השגרירות.LIVE: Happy Hannukah from Jerusalem! U.S. Ambassador in Israel, David Friedman and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu light the fifth candle of Hanukkah in a ceremony at the Western Wall. Today we mark one year since U.S. President Donald J. Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and ordered that the U.S. Embassy was to be moved.

Posted by U.S. Embassy Jerusalem on Thursday, 6 December 2018

PM: We expect world to condemn Hamas and for captives, soldiers’ bodies to be returned

Speaking at a ceremony honoring exemplary operatives in the Mossad intelligence agency, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel expects the UN General Assembly to vote in favor of the US-backed resolution condemning Hamas.

“We expect not only for the condemnation of Hamas but also for the return of our captives and missing persons. They are always at the front of our minds,” says Netanyahu, referring to the bodies of slain IDF soldiers Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, and Israeli civilians who crossed into Gaza on their own accord and have been said to be held by Hamas.

Sara Netanyahu to be interrogated tomorrow in Bezeq case

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, will be interrogated tomorrow at the 433 National Crime Unit headquarters in Rishon Lezion regarding the Bezeq corruption probe known as Case 4000.

In the probe, investigators concluded that the prime minister advanced regulatory decisions benefiting Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq, the country’s largest telecommunications firm — despite opposition from the Communication Ministry’s career officials — in exchange for positive coverage of him from Elovitch’s Walla news site. At the time, the prime minister was also serving as acting communications minister.

PM: Hezbollah only has dozens of precision missiles, not thousands

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claims that Hezbollah currently has only several dozens of precision-guided missiles, with Israeli security forces — including the Mossad spying agency — having denied the Lebanese terror group thousands of such projectiles.

“Hezbollah has two tools [of attack],” Netanyahu says at an award ceremony for exceptional Mossad members at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem. “One tool is tunnels, and we are depriving them of that.

“The second tool is the missile weapon,” he adds, saying that while normal rockets are “statistical weapons” — meaning that if many are launched, statistically some are bound to hit their target — Hezbollah is “interested in precision weapons. That dramatically changes the balance of power.”

“According to Hezbollah’s plan they should’ve been equipped today with thousands of missiles, but at this moment they have several dozens. The reason for that — among others — are sitting in this room,” the premier tells the Mossad members.

“It is a joint effort by Mossad, the IDF, and our entire defense mechanism. We are completely and impressively depriving them of that weapon as well,” he boasts.

Aid, peace still not enough to save Yemenis from hunger, WFP says

Boosting aid and even ending the devastating Yemen conflict would not be enough to end hunger in the impoverished country, a World Food Program official say.

“WFP hopes that the warring parties will successfully negotiate an end to this conflict, which is the only way to solve what has become the largest hunger crisis in the world,” WFP spokesman Herve Verhoosel says as rival Yemeni delegations gathered for UN-brokered talks in Sweden.

“Even if we have peace tomorrow, we hope of course that we will have peace tomorrow, then you will still need to work on a way to have that economy recover,” Verhoosel tells AFP.

“Humanitarian support is not enough. You need the humanitarian support but you also need to save the local economy.”

Yemen is home to what the UN calls the world’s worst humanitarian crisis, a crisis triggered by a frail economy, massive poverty, war, blockade, and disease.

The Sweden talks mark the first time in two years warring parties have sat down together in a nearly four-year war which has pushed the impoverished country to the brink of mass starvation.

— AFP

Prior to resigning, Liberman compared IDF top brass to a Peace Now forum

Prior to resigning from his post as defense minister last month, Avigdor Liberman was quoted compared the IDF general staff to a forum of the left-wing Peace Now NGO.

“I sometimes feel like I’m in consultations here with Peace Now,” Liberman told IDF top brass during a heated briefing regarding the situation in Gaza, according to Hebrew media.

Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz begins forming own party — report

Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz has begun the process of forming his own political party.

Hadashot news reports that Gantz has gathered the signatures of 130 supporters, who will be part of the founding of his faction.

PM said Yedioth publisher threatened to destroy his family — report

During his police interrogation regarding Case 2000 — which involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes — Netanyahu is said to have told investigators that Mozes threatened to destroy his family.

“Noni Mozes told me that I had destroyed a tradition of generations of the Mozes family, their life’s-work, Yedioth Ahronoth. He threatened that he would destroy my family. And threatened to publish inquiries about us,” Netanyahu said according to Channel 10.

UNIFIL confirms existence of tunnel from Lebanon into Israeli territory

UNIFIL confirms the existence of a tunnel penetrating Israeli territory from southern Lebanon.

Earlier today, Israel led a UNIFIL delegation to the site of a tunnel dug into Israel, south of the village of Metulla.

“Based on the site inspection, UNIFIL can confirm the existence of a tunnel at the location,” the peacekeeping force says in a statement.

“Accordingly, UNIFIL is now engaged with the parties to pursue urgent follow-up action. It is very important to determine the full picture of this serious occurrence,” UNIFIL says.

The UN peacekeeping force says it will speak with Lebanese officials about the matter.

— Judah Ari Gross

Trump must not interfere in French politics, says minister

France’s foreign minister on Sunday urges Donald Trump not to interfere in French politics after the US president posted tweets about the protests rocking the country as well as attacking the Paris climate agreement.

“We do not take domestic American politics into account and we want that to be reciprocated,” Jean-Yves Le Drian tells LCI television. “Leave our nation be.”

— AFP

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Shin Bet: Arab Israelis, Palestinians arrested attempting to smuggle phones to security prisoners

The Shin Bet says it has arrested seven Arab Israelis and Palestinians who the security service alleges had attempted to smuggle cellphones to security prisoners.

The attempts are said to have taken place between 2016 and 2018 and the Shin Bet says the seven suspects used a drone in order to try and deliver the phones.