AntiWar.com & The Times of Israel & Al Jazeera & Haaretz – 2018-07-18 18:04:42
Israeli Army Ordered to Prepare for
Large-Scale Invasion of Gaza
Military wants more pressure put on Gaza civilians
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(July 17, 2018) — Israeli army warplanes attacked the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, threatening a three-day ceasefire. This followed reports that a Palestinian fire balloon landed on a kindergarten, causing no casualties.
The Israeli Army has been told to prepare for a “large-scale military operation” against the Gaza Strip, and the military has recently been conducting drills simulating a full-scale military conquest of the entire strip.
Hamas is scrambling to try to stop the balloon and kite flying from their side of the border, but an invasion is expected in fairly short order if they are anything short of 100% successful. The Israeli military doesn’t seem to be immediately on board for such a war, however.
Senior Israeli officers are pushing the government to try something other than an invasion first, suggesting that they might be able to “pressure” Gaza’s civilians in an attempt to force Hamas to avoid the war.
The military sees the closing of the lone border crossing as pressuring the civilians, and wants the government to give it time. After months of public protests against the Israeli blockade, one would think Israel would not overestimate the ability of Gazans to influence policy.
Still, it is noteworthy that the Israeli military is trying to delay an invasion at all. Historically, invasions of the Gaza Strip have been frequent, and have faced little public resistance from the military leadership.
Army Told to Prepare for
Large-scale Military Operation in Gaza
Times of Israel Staff
(July 17, 2018) — Israel’s political leadership has reportedly instructed the army to prepare for a military offensive in the Gaza Strip, to be initiated if the launching of incendiary devices from the Hamas-run coastal enclave into Israeli territory continues.
According to a Channel 10 news report Tuesday, Israel has set Friday as a deadline for the flaming kite and balloon launches to cease. If this does not happen, Israel may decide it has no choice but to embark on a military campaign in the Strip, the report said.
Israel sent a similar message to Hamas through Egyptian intelligence, Channel 10 reported, with the Palestinian terror group in turn indicating its forces will work to stop the launching of burning materials by Friday.
On Sunday, the IDF’s 162nd Armored Division launched an exercise simulating a war in the Gaza Strip, including the capture of Gaza City. While the military said it was planned in advance and was not related to the weekend’s exchange of fire, the manner in which the exercise was publicized by the military led many to see it as a tacit threat to Hamas.
Hamas is manning some 60 percent of its positions along the border fence in order to stop the launches, according to the TV report, and is expected to dispatch its forces to all of its posts by Friday.
Citing Palestinian sources, the report said Hamas would only put a complete stop to the flaming kite launches if it can achieve some sort of accomplishment, such as the reopening of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt. The Palestinian Liberation Organization’s ambassador to Egypt said earlier Tuesday the crossing would reopen on Wednesday after being shuttered for more than 24 hours over technical issues.
The report came as Israeli leaders touted the IDF’s readiness for a military conflict with Hamas amid ongoing violence along the Gaza border.
During a tour on Tuesday of the army’s Gaza Division, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel was already in a “military campaign.”
“We are in a military campaign in which there have been exchanges of blows. I am prepared to say that the Israel Defense Forces is prepared for any scenario,” Netanyahu said.
Over the weekend, Hamas fired some 200 rockets and mortar shells at Israel and the IDF carried out multiple strikes inside the Palestinian enclave. That escalation began after an IDF officer was moderately injured by a hand-grenade thrown by a Gaza assailant at the border on Friday.
On Saturday night, a ceasefire of sorts was brokered by Egypt and other international bodies, though Israel was not directly involved in the talks. The violence has abated, but tensions endured and cross-border attacks continued.
Asked if Israel was working to prevent a military conflict with Hamas, Netanyahu defended the government’s actions.
“I believe that we are doing the right things. It would be worthwhile to pay attention not only to what we are saying, but to what we are doing,” he said.
Netanyahu was joined on the visit by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, and the head of the Shin Bet security service, Nadav Argaman.
While the senior officials were meeting in the Gaza Division on Tuesday, a number of incendiary and apparently booby-trapped balloons were launched into Israel from the Gaza Strip. A total of 17 fires started by airborne devices from Gaza were reported on Tuesday, including one that landed in the yard of a preschool where children were playing.
In response to the arson attacks, an Israeli drone conducted an airstrike near a group of Palestinians launching incendiary balloons from the northern Gaza Strip, injuring two of them, according to the Hamas-linked Shehab news outlet.
The Israeli military confirmed that one of its aircraft carried out the strike.
In recent days, the Israel Defense Forces has stepped up this practice, after the security cabinet called on it to take a more forceful stance against the airborne arson attacks on Sunday.
Recent months have seen daily arson attacks from Gaza with incendiary kites and balloons that have burned thousands of acres of Israeli land; regular riots and clashes along the border, which have resulted in over 130 Palestinians killed by IDF gunfire; and occasional outbursts of mortar and rocket fire by Gaza terrorist groups, which have prompted dozens of Israeli retaliatory airstrikes against Hamas positions. Dozens of the dead were members of Hamas and other terror groups, they have acknowledged.
This violence has raised tensions between Israel and Hamas to the highest they have been since the 2014 Gaza war.
In recent days, many officials and commentators in Israel, Gaza, and the international community have warned that another war in the Palestinian enclave was imminent in light of increased violence along the border, unless actions were taken to calm the situation.
Israel Blocks Fuel Shipment to Gaza
(July 17, 2018) — Israel has further tightened its blockade on the Gaza Strip, preventing gas and fuel deliveries through its only commercial crossing with the Palestinian besieged enclave a week after Israeli authorities announced the closure of the crossing.
The Kerem Shalom crossing, known to Palestinians as Karem Abu Salem, was shut down on July 9 and initially, only items deemed as “humanitarian” would be allowed to enter Gaza, such as food, hygiene and medical supplies, fuel, animal feed and livestock.
However, the defence ministry announced late on Monday that fuel and gas deliveries will also be suspended, and that the crossing will remain open only for food and medicine on a case-by-case basis.
“In light of the continued terror efforts of Hamas, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has decided, after consulting with the chief of [military] staff, to close Kerem Shalom for the passage of fuel and gas until Sunday,” a statement from the ministry said.
Furthermore, the fishing zone, enforced by Israel, in the waters off the Gaza Strip will also be reduced from six nautical miles to three – after it was already reduced last week from 12 nautical miles.
The UN and Gisha, the Legal Centre for Freedom of Movement, called Israel’s latest measure an act of “collective punishment”.
“There is no other way of describing this measure other than collective punishment. Pretending to know what Gaza needs and trying to ‘manage the situation’ harkens back to earlier iterations of the closure, is morally depraved and constitutes a willful act of hubris in a volatile situation,” a spokesperson from Gisha said.
Hamas, the Palestinian group that runs Gaza, had described the closure as a “crime against humanity”.
Israel says it has no interest in engaging in another war with Hamas, but says it will no longer tolerate the flying of incendiary kites and balloons into Israel.
Palestinians in Gaza view the balloons and kites as legitimate resistance against Israel’s more-than-a-decade-long blockade, which has caused widespread economic hardship.
Even after Hamas agreed to a ceasefire late on Saturday, incendiary kites and balloons have continued to float from Gaza into Israel setting off damaging fires to farmlands. Egypt has also maintained the blockade with Israel over the strip, in an attempt to weaken Hamas.
A spokesman for Israel’s fire service said around 750 fires have burned some 2,600 hectares, estimating the damage at millions of shekels (hundreds of thousands of dollars). The tightening of the blockade comes after Saturday’s heaviest exchange of fire between Israel and Palestinian groups in Gaza since the 51-day Israeli military assault on Gaza in 2014.
Israel carried out air strikes partially in response to the months of fires started by the kite firebombs, but also over continuing protests and clashes along the Gaza border.
Israel hit dozens of sites in the Gaza Strip on Saturday, killing two Palestinian teenagers. The same day Hamas said it launched rockets and mortars in response to the Israeli air raids which wounded 30 Palestinians. Four Israelis were lightly wounded in the nearby Israeli city of Sderot.
The weekend’s violence came after months of near-weekly border demonstrations aimed in part to protest the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza. At least 137 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since the protests began on March 30.
Israel Collected $100 Million from Palestinians.
Now It Wants to Use the Money to Upgrade Roadblocks
Or Kashti / Haaretz
(July 17, 2018) — The Finance Ministry and the Population and Immigration Authority are exploring a variety of ways to use an accumulated 380 million shekels ($105 million) in sick leave compensation sitting in accounts of Palestinian laborers with Israeli work permits. An option being considered is to put the money toward upgrading border crossings between the West Bank and Israel.
The funds were paid by the Palestinians’ Israeli employers after deducting the sums from the workers’ wages. Little of the money has reached the workers themselves and the High Court of Justice will hold an initial hearing next week on a petition filed about two years ago about the disposition of the funds.
The issues is over the fact that Israeli employers have automatically deducted 2.5% Palestinian laborers’ salaries for a sick leave fund managed by the Population Authority. Any unused funds are transferred to the Finance Ministry.
The procedure that Palestinians must follow to obtain any of their money is much more complicated than what is required of Israelis. They may withdraw funds only in the event of illness or debilitating injury that prevents them from working, and the application process requires a number of administrative and medical approvals.
A government plan developed by a team representing the finance, justice and labor ministries, Immigration Authority and the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories suggests four possible options for the accumulated funds: Upgrading West Bank checkpoints, providing professional training for the workers, modernizing the work permit system, or improving pension benefits.
About two years ago, the Kav LaOved Worker’s Hotline organization and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel filed high court petitions against the Population Authority and the Finance Ministry on how the funds gleaned from Palestinian wages are used.
Official data shows that a small number of Palestinians have received any money from these funds. Between 2014 and 2017, only 1 to 1.5 percent of 50,000 to 70,000 laborers qualified for sick leave compensation. The state said two weeks ago that not a single worker had received any compensation, citing “difficulties” in processing medical documents.
Representing Kav LaOved attorney Michal Tajer said the fund obscures eligibility information makes it difficult for those who are eligible to receive any money. As a result, she said, large amounts of money have accumulated over the years in the fund, for which the Finance Ministry is responsible.
Tajer said that at the beginning of the year the state had informed her that 380 million shekels had accumulated in the fund. Based on the prior pace of deposits, it can be assumed that the fund has grown to some 400 million shekels by now.
Kav LaOved said the situation amounted to withholding of wages from one of the country’s most vulnerable workforce groups.
The State Comptroller’s Office has also accused the Population Authority of “failing in its role of protecting the rights of Palestinian workers.”
As a result, the authority has decided to stop collecting funds from employers and require employers to pay benefits directly to their Palestinian workers. The state recently informed the court that at least some of these will take effect in 2019. But it is still undecided what to do about the already accumulated funds.
One source said that regulations may have to be amended in order to change how the funds are handled.
“This involves millions of shekels that were collected for a specific purpose and all of a sudden they are being devoted to a new purpose,” the source said. “Such a step requires legal backing to the last detail.”
At the end of 2016, the Finance Ministry told Haaretz that the funds have been deposited at the Bank of Israel and were not included in the state budget.
Tajer described plans to redirect the funds to improve crossings as cynical and unethical. “For the past several years, the government has been seeking to impose the costs entailed in renovating the crossing points on the workers themselves,” she wrote.
“The use of sick leave funds remaining with the government due to its own failure is an evasion of responsibility on Israel’s part for these crossing points along with a shifting of the cost to the workers, who suffer in any event from their poor infrastructure,” Tajer wrote.
As for redirecting the funds to pension payments, Tajer said that the government had not managed for 40 years to provide a system to provide masses of workers with pension payments, despite the deductions for that purpose.
“Now it is seeking to correct one failure in using funds that it received through another failure,” she said.
Officials at the Finance Ministry and the Population Authority declined to comment.
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