Archive for January 26, 2020

Iran may be pushing Islamic Jihad to challenge ‘Deal of Century’ 

January 26, 2020

Source: Iran may be pushing Islamic Jihad to challenge ‘Deal of Century’ – The Jerusalem Post

On the face of it, Iran’s media has reported the “deal” in a relatively neutral manner, but Tasnim news media’s report may indicate Iran’s real intentions.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants take part in the funeral of their comrade in the southern Gaza Strip November 14, 2019 (photo credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA)
Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants take part in the funeral of their comrade in the southern Gaza Strip November 14, 2019
(photo credit: REUTERS/IBRAHEEM ABU MUSTAFA)
Iran is concerned about US President Donald Trump’s push for his “Deal of the Century” and his invitations to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz. Iranian regime media has reported on the potential “deal” and Palestinian attempts to prevent it.

On the face of it, Iran’s media has reported the “deal” in a relatively neutral manner. Mehr News notes that Netanyahu says this deal is a historic opportunity and that Trump has asserted that it will benefit Palestinians.

Iran’s IRNA news agency says that Jordan is maneuvering to accept the deal as well, portraying the Jordanian government as abandoning the wishes of Palestinians and its own people. However, the report notes that local media see the deal as a disgraceful plan that involves the annexation of Jerusalem and settlements “to the Zionist regime” and the complete “destruction of the right of return of refugees.”

Evidence for Iran’s real intentions comes from Tasnim news media, which reports in detail on Palestinian Islamic Jihad’s plans to disrupt the process. The report notes that PIJ, which fought a brief conflict with Israel in November, has called for an uprising, or intifada.

“The Palestinian people will never allow anyone to take Jerusalem from us,” a PIJ statement said. The terrorist group’s political bureau, which is in regular contact with Iranian officials, says that it will work to reject the plan and commit measures to stop it. It says Palestinians should no longer trust the West.

PIJ has been in contact with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and other officials over the last months, including attending the funeral for IRGC General Qasem Soleimani.

 

First Israelis are permitted limited visits to Saudi Arabia

January 26, 2020

Source: First Israelis are permitted limited visits to Saudi Arabia – The Jerusalem Post

Ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia have been warming up in recent months.

Cars drive past the King Abdullah Financial District in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia December 18, 2018 (photo credit: REUTERS/FAISAL AL NASSER)
Cars drive past the King Abdullah Financial District in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia December 18, 2018
(photo credit: REUTERS/FAISAL AL NASSER)
Interior Minister Arye Deri on Sunday authorized a select number of Israelis to be the first with permission to visit Saudi Arabia, under certain conditions that include Israeli entrepreneurs seeking investments, in a sign of warming ties.

After consulting the country’s security establishment, Deri issued a statement saying that Israelis would be allowed to travel to Saudi Arabia under two circumstances: for religious reasons on pilgrimage for the haj, or for up to nine days for business reasons such as investment or meetings.

Travelers would still need permission from the Saudi authorities to gain entry to the country besides their initial permission from the State of Israel.

Israel has peace treaties with two Arab countries – Egypt and Jordan – but concerns over Iran’s influence in the region have led to thawing ties with some Gulf states as well.

Ties between Israel and Saudi Arabia have been warming up recently, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanking a Saudi political leader for visiting the Auschwitz concentration camp on the day of the World Holocaust Forum.

Netanyahu has been looking to capitalize on common interests like Iran, while also marketing Israeli technologies to try and further normalize relations.

Israelis – mostly Muslims going on pilgrimage – have been traveling to Saudi Arabia for years, but usually with special permission or using foreign passports.

Saudi authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The kingdom launched a new tourism visa last year for visitors from 49 countries, as part of its bid to diversify the economy and open up society. Israel is not among the eligible countries.

However, in 2018, Saudi Arabia opened its airspace for a commercial flight to Israel with the start of a new Air India route between New Delhi and Tel Aviv, even though Israel’s national carrier El Al may not use Saudi airspace for eastward flights.

 

Palestinians call for mass protests to foil Trump’s plan 

January 26, 2020

Source: Palestinians call for mass protests to foil Trump’s plan – The Jerusalem Post

‘A declaration of war on the Palestinians’

SENIOR PLO OFFICIAL Saeb Erekat speaks to reporters about Israeli appropriation of West Bank land, near Jericho last year. (photo credit: REUTERS)
SENIOR PLO OFFICIAL Saeb Erekat speaks to reporters about Israeli appropriation of West Bank land, near Jericho last year.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinian officials warned over the weekend that US President Donald Trump’s plan for Mideast peace, which is expected to be announced on Tuesday, would spark a new wave of mass protests in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The officials said the Trump administration did not inform the Palestinians of its intention to publish the plan, also known as the “Deal of the Century.”
Emphasizing that the plan would not change the reality on the ground as far as the Palestinians are concerned, the officials called for a series of protests to foil the “Zionist-American conspiracy.”
A PA official in Ramallah warned that Israel and the US were “playing with fire.” The official said that the Palestinian leadership will meet in the coming days to discuss ways of responding to the Trump plan. “We are headed toward a dangerous escalation,” he cautioned.
According to the official, the Palestinian leadership is “facing huge pressure from the street to take tough measures, especially halting security coordination with Israel.”
PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat said on Saturday that “any deal, attempt or dictation that ignores the fact that Israel is an occupying power of the state of Palestine, will be recorded in history as the ‘fraud of the century.’”
Erekat said that what the Trump administration has done so far, “and the full partnership with [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu will enter history as the ‘fraud of the century’ against international law, UN resolutions, and the terms of reference of the peace process.”
Nabil Abu Rudaineh, spokesman for the Palestinian Authority presidency, repeated the Palestinians’ rejection of Trump’s plan. He said there have been no contacts between the PA and the US administration concerning the plan.
The PA has been boycotting the US administration since Trump’s December 2017 decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi pointed out that the timing of the announcement of Trump’s plan coincided with the Knesset’s vote on Netanyahu’s request for immunity from prosecution on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
“Add to it Trump’s impeachment issues and you have a lethal diversionary tactic at the expense of Palestinian rights and international law,” she wrote on Twitter.
Osama Qawassmeh, a spokesman for the ruling Fatah faction, denounced Trump’s plan as the “deal of shame” and said the timing of its publication was designed to help Netanyahu in the general elections in March.
Qawassmeh warned of the “destructive consequences” of the US administration’s policies. “They won’t find one Arab leader who would buy their corrupt merchandise,” he added. “The US and Israel don’t own Palestine to determine the fate of its heroic people.”
Another PLO official, Wasel Abu Yusef, said Trump’s plan was tantamount to “waging open war” on the Palestinians. The Palestinians, he said, won’t accept any plan that aims to end the Palestinian cause.
Two PLO groups, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, on Saturday warned about the “dangers” facing the Palestinians as a result of Trump’s peace plan.
The groups called for a popular uprising against the US and Israel. They condemned the plan as a “new conspiracy against the Palestinian people and their cause.”
Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad also repeated their rejection of Trump’s upcoming plan, saying it won’t pass.
Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum denounced the plan as a “Zionist-American plot to liquidate the Palestinian issue.” He called on the PA leadership to respond with a series of measures, including halting security coordination with Israel in the West Bank.
Senior Hamas official Khalil al-Haya dismissed Trump’s plan as “Zionist and American dreams and illusions.” He and other Hamas officials vowed to thwart the plan.
PIJ representative Yusef al-Hasayneh said the US administration was “acting with a mentality of piracy, legalizing the theft of the land of Palestine and its holy sites.” The US, he added, is “deceiving the world by claiming that it seeks a solution to the Palestinian issue.
Another PIJ official, Mohammed al-Hindi, said the “talk about the ‘Deal of the Century’ aims to liquidate what is left of the Palestinian cause.” He predicted that matters were headed toward escalation in the aftermath of Trump’s decision to release his peace plan.
“The hypocrites in the West don’t give the weak people their rights,” Hindi said. “The battle is open-ended and lengthy. There is great readiness for sacrifices.”

 

Netanyahu: ‘Trump deal is a once-in-history opportunity’ 

January 26, 2020

Source: Netanyahu: ‘Trump deal is a once-in-history opportunity’ – The Jerusalem Post

Such an opportunity “to secure Israel’s future,” will not come again, Netanyahu warned.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting, January 2020. (photo credit: ALEX KOLOMOISKY / POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting, January 2020.
(photo credit: ALEX KOLOMOISKY / POOL)
Israel must not miss the opportunity in US President Donald Trump’s peace plan, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday, the day before he and Blue and White leader MK Benny Gantz are to head to Washington D.C. to receive what Trump has called the “deal of the century.”
“This is an opportunity that comes once in history, and we cannot miss it,” Netanyahu said in a video posted to social media. “We have the best friend Israel has ever had in the White House, and therefore, we have the best opportunity we ever had.”
The long-delayed Trump peace plan, expected to be extremely generous to Israel, was drawn up by the US president’s former special envoy Jason Greenblatt, Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.
Netanyahu recounted that he has been speaking to Trump and his staff for three years about Israel’s national security needs that must be included in any diplomatic arrangement.
“I found that the White House was willing to listen to those needs. Therefore, I am full of hope that we are before a historic moment in the history of our country,” he stated.
Such an opportunity “to secure Israel’s future,” will not come again, Netanyahu warned.
Gantz will meet with US President Donald Trump in a one-on-one meeting in Washington DC on Monday, he announced Saturday night.
An invitation had originally been extended to Netanyahu and Gantz to meet together with the US president, but Gantz and his advisers opposed the idea for political reasons.
Gantz said on Saturday night that he had now accepted an invitation to meet with Trump alone.
A source close to Netanyahu said the prime minister will be meeting with Trump on Monday and Tuesday.
At the press conference Gantz held to make the announcement, he said: “In coordination with the US administration I have accepted the personal, separate, and respectful invitation of President Trump to meet with him personally on Monday, as head of the biggest political party in Israel and I thank him for this important invitation.”
During his comments, Gantz described the US as “a true friend of the State of Israel” and said that the long-term alliance between the two countries was built on shared values, and joint interests.
Gantz also called Trump “a true friend of the State of Israel, its citizens, and US Jews,” adding that Trump had made the alliance between the US and Israel “deeper, stronger, and more powerful than ever before.”
Although he said he could not divulge the details of Trump’s peace plan for the Israel-Palestinian conflict, drafted by his advisers, Gantz said it would be recorded in the annals of history as a significant milestone that defines the path on which the different sides of the conflict in the Middle East can walk along to an historic regional agreement.
Gantz said that the peace place would set off “a large and painful internal argument” within Israel, and said that he committed himself to “reduce this dispute to a minimum.”
The Blue and White leader also acknowledged the Palestinians’ severe objection to Trump’s diplomacy regarding the conflict with Israel, and said that the US President’s plan could be “the basis of an agreed-upon accord with the Palestinians and regional states.”
Gantz added that following his meeting with Trump he would return to Israel by Tuesday “in order to lead from up close the hearings about removing Benjamin Netanyahu’s immunity.”
Bahraini Foreign Minister Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa is also expected to arrive in Washington D.C. this week as part of the Trump Administration’s efforts to garner support for their plan in the Arab world, and as US-negotiated talks to sign a non-aggression pact between Israel and Bahrain continue, Channel 12 reported.

Trump said Thursday night that he will release his peace plan before meeting with Netanyahu and Gantz.

“Sometime prior to that,” he told reporters during a flight to Florida. “Probably, we’ll release it a little bit prior to that.”
Trump added that he was “surprised” that Netanyahu and Gantz “came off the campaign trail.”
“We have both candidates coming – unheard of,” he added.
“I’d love to be able to do that deal. They say that’s the hardest of all deals,” the president continued. “I love doing deals. It’s a great plan. It’s a plan that really would work.”
Asked if he had spoken to the Palestinians, the president answered: “We’ve spoken to them briefly. But we will speak to them in a period of time. And they have a lot of incentive to do it. I’m sure they maybe will react negatively at first, but it’s actually very positive for them.”
The US plan has yet to be released, but it reportedly allows for Israeli sovereignty over settlements in Area C and the entire Jordan Valley, as well as a Palestinian state that would incorporate open portions of Area C, according to KAN.
All but 15 isolated settlements would be linked contiguously, and Israel will be able to apply sovereignty immediately if it agrees to the plan, Channel 12 reported.
The Palestinians have already rejected the plan before it was officially released; as such, the annexation portion of the plan allows for unilateral action by Israel.
Additionally, the Trump plan would reportedly leave Jerusalem undivided under Israel control, with a symbolic Palestinian presence.
The peace plan also demands that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, demilitarize the Gaza Strip and take away Hamas’s weapons and recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, Channel 12 reported.

Meanwhile, Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon and his American counterpart Kelly Craft prepared for a fight in the UN Security Council in the coming days.

Danon and Craft planned to fly to Israel this week, but they canceled the trip so they can be in New York and coordinate their actions in case there are major responses to Trump’s plan, their offices said on Saturday.

One possible response is an emergency meeting of the UN Security Council, like the one that took place after Trump announced that he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and was moving the US embassy to the city. An American veto prevented the Security Council from condemning the move.

The Security Council also called an emergency meeting after Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights, but its members condemned the Syrian regime’s actions.

Another possible response from the UN is condemnations from the General Assembly, which is what happened following the US veto of condemning the embassy move.

Under the plan, Palestinians reportedly will not have control of any borders.
At a cultural event on Saturday, Yisrael Beytenu leader MK Avigdor Liberman said the timing of the expected release of the Trump peace plan during the current election campaign was “a little suspicious to say the least.”
Criticism has been voiced that releasing the long-awaited plan which is expected to be extremely generous to Israel, will be a political gift to Netanyahu since he will be able to claim that it was his diplomatic skills and power of persuasion that led to such a benevolent proposal.
In addition, it has been alleged that publicising the deal now helps take the focus of the expected vote in the Knesset not to grant Netanyahu immunity from prosecution in the criminal cases against him.
“The Prime Minister is escaping once again to the US in order not to stand by his own commitment to apply sovereignty on the Jordan Valley,” Liberman continued, in reference to possible legislation that will be proposed in Knesset this week alongside the immunity hearings.
“Instead of driving 2.4km to the Knesset to apply Israeli sovereignty on the valley in three [legislative] readings in one day, as [former prime minister Menachem] Begin did in his day when he annexed the Golan Heights, he prefers to fly 9,476km to Washington.”
Liberman also fired off a shot against Gantz, saying that he hoped “the bell-weather party known as Blue and White will finally decide if it is in favor of the [Jordan Valley annexation] law or not,” while stating that Yisrael Beytenu would be fully in favor of such legislation.
Alongside Liberman’s complaint about the timing of the release of the Trump plan, Labor leader MK Amir Peretz sent a direct letter to Trump criticizing the expected content of his deal.
“The core Idea, of a democratic and Jewish Israel, [Sic] in secure and defensible borders is one we share and are thankful for your support,” wrote Peretz
“This 100 years conflict can only be negotiated in good will and good faith, directly between the two parties.
“Any partial resolution, unilateral annexations or steps that undermine the concept of two states living peacefully side by side is a recipe for further trouble and turmoil.”
Peretz also objected to the timing, saying that “the timing of this presentation constitutes an interference in the Israeli election, scheduled for March 2, but added “I am confident that this was not your intention.”

 

Iran admits to using hacking to avoid US sanctions on news website 

January 26, 2020

Source: Iran admits to using hacking to avoid US sanctions on news website – The Jerusalem Post

An official admitted that the company had restored the domain to Fars by using DNS spoofing, a type of hacking that redirects users to the wrong website when they try to access a certain URL.

A computer engineer checks equipment at an internet service provider in Tehran February 15, 2011 (photo credit: CAREN FIROUZ / REUTERS)
A computer engineer checks equipment at an internet service provider in Tehran February 15, 2011
(photo credit: CAREN FIROUZ / REUTERS)
The Iranian Fars News Agency used DNS spoofing, a type of computer hacking, to restore its ‘.com’ domain after it was blocked by the US Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control’s order on Saturday, according to Radio Farda.

One official from a company owned by Iran’s Ministry of Telecommunications admitted that the company had restored the domain to Fars by using DNS spoofing, a type of hacking that redirects users to the wrong website when they try to access a certain URL.
Sajad Bonabi, a member of the Board of Directors of Telecommunications Infrastructures Company, admitted to the DNS spoofing, also known as DNS cache poisoning, in a tweet on Saturday.
Bonabi added that websites and companies “that suspect they would be targeted by the cowardly sanctions of the United States” could contact the company he works for in order to learn precautionary measures.
“For the first time in Iran’s Internet history, the Iranian regime has confirmed that the DNS Spoofing was done. DNS Spoofing is a method used by hackers to redirect the traffic of a particular website to another destination,” said London-based digital security expert Amin Sabeti to Radio Farda.

At the time of writing, Fars’ websites in English and Farsi were not accessible from Israel. The news site was available from an Iranian ‘.ir’ domain and continued to publish tweets. Fars called the blocking of the ‘.com’ domain an “uncivilized move” and a “flagrant violation of the freedom of expression.”

Fars reported that it received a letter from the international service provider saying “the US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) has included the news agency in its SDN list and ordered it to stop domain services to Fars News Agency.”

Former Shin Bet officials told the Jerusalem Post earlier this month that Iran may use advanced cybertools from China against Israel or the US in the wake of the assassination of former IRGC Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani.
In March, Iranian intelligence hacked into the phone of Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, according to the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), and took all its contents – including sensitive information, according to Channel 12.
In April, Google blocked access to the YouTube and Gmail accounts of Iranian state broadcasters Press TV and Hispan TV, according to Forbes. Press TV claimed that Google blocked access “without prior notice” and that they had received a message telling them that their “Google Account was disabled and can’t be restored because it was used in a way that violates Google’s policies.”
Iranian state TV and media companies have been earning advertising revenue from YouTube content and have garnered a following internationally.
It is unclear how US sanctions could affect this source of revenue for Iranian state TV.
The Shahrvand newspaper in Tehran reported that managers of the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) located outside of Iran can still claim the advertising money, even though YouTube and Google are under US law. The Iranian state TV’s YouTube channels are officially based outside of Iran.
State TV channels have also been able to garner a following internationally through social media and live broadcasts, as a Press TV director explained in an interview with the Iranian Fars News Agency.
Radio Farda estimated that the IRIB can earn up to a hundred thousand dollars a year, and that number could continue to rise.
Press TV and Hispan TV’s YouTube channels are still open, but no new content can be uploaded.
Facebook also shut down multiple Iran-sponsored groups and accounts in April, saying that “the pages routinely amplified Iranian state narratives, targeting Israel, the United States, and Saudi Arabia, especially for their roles in the Middle East, and focusing on the Yemen and Palestine conflicts. The pages often shared articles from websites which reproduced, verbatim, content from Iranian state or state-allied outlets, such as Press TV.”
Habib Abdul Hussein, director of Press TV’s website and social networks, told Fars that the agency’s budget is a small fraction of the budget of international media, and that it is still able to combat other narratives from external media.
Gil Hoffman and Yonah Jeremy Bob contributed to this report.

 

Iran has passed low uranium enrichment threshold for a nuke – official 

January 26, 2020

Source: Iran has passed low uranium enrichment threshold for a nuke – official – The Jerusalem Post

Actual nuke still requires decision to weaponize, deliver

FILE PHOTO: Members of the media and officials tour the water nuclear reactor at Arak, Iran December 23, 2019. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS  (photo credit: REUTERS)
FILE PHOTO: Members of the media and officials tour the water nuclear reactor at Arak, Iran December 23, 2019. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Iran’s Deputy Atomic Energy Organization Director Ali Asghar Zarean posted a surprising report on Saturday stating that it had passed 1,200 kg. of low level enriched uranium. The IAEA and a number of Iran-watch groups regard 1,000 kg.’s of low-enriched uranium as enough for a nuclear bomb, which means that if the announcement is not disinformation, it could be a major turning point.

If true, the news could substantially accelerate the point at which Israel and the US might need to decide if they will intervene militarily before Iran develops a nuclear weapon.

There is still time for Israel and the US to deliberate, as to fire a nuclear missile, Iran would still need to decide to enrich the 1,200 kg. to 90% weaponized uranium and would need to develop a method to deliver the nuclear material – something IDF Chief-of-Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi has said could take another year.

The announcement was shocking as the last update about the Islamic Republic’s uranium stock set it at under 400 kg. and less than two weeks ago Kochavi predicted that Tehran would not reach 1,300 kg. until the end of 2020.

Other top officials like former IDF intelligence chief Amos Yadlin had predicted Iran would not reach this threshold until the summer or early fall. Even former IAEA official Olli Heinonen (now at the Stimson Center) had not predicted Iran would get to this point as fast, suggesting April might be the earliest.

Prior to the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran had roughly ten times as much uranium – enough for 10 nuclear bombs – but never enriched any uranium above the 20% level – a medium level that it has not yet reached this time.

Two sources The Jerusalem Post spoke to were unsure whether the announcement was accurate or a disinformation campaign.Neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor Blue and White leader Benny Gantz had responded by press time and the IDF would not address such a foreign report.

In the announcement, Zarean said Iran has the capacity to enrich uranium at any percentage if Iranian authorities decide to do so.

“At the moment, if [Iranian authorities] make the decision, the Atomic Energy Organization, as the executor, will be able to enrich uranium at any percentage,” Ali Asghar Zarean said.

Iran said earlier this month it would scrap limitations on enriching uranium, taking a further step back from commitments to the 2015 nuclear deal with six major powers, but pledged to continue cooperating with the UN nuclear watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Washington withdrew from the nuclear deal in May 2018 and reimposed sanctions to throttle Iran’s oil exports as part of a “maximum pressure” policy.

The United States says it aims to force Tehran to agree to a broader deal that puts stricter limits on its nuclear work, curbs a ballistic missile program and ends regional proxy wars. Iran says it will not negotiate while sanctions remain in place.

Tehran has steadily been reducing its compliance with the deal, which prompted Britain, France and Germany to formally accuse it in mid-January of violating the terms and activating a dispute mechanism in the deal, which could eventually lead to the reimposition of UN sanctions.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said last week that if Iran’s nuclear file is sent to the Security Council, the country will withdraw from the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), according to the official IRNA news agency.

Reuters contributed to this report. 

 

IDF jets strike Gaza targets in response to launch of incendiary devices

January 26, 2020

Source: IDF jets strike Gaza targets in response to launch of incendiary devices | The Times of Israel

Multiple sites targeted in Hamas-run enclave; earlier, explosive device resembling RPG found near Sde Boker

Footage reportedly showing an explosion during an Israeli airstrike in Gaza on January 25, 2020. (screen capture: Twitter)

Footage reportedly showing an explosion during an Israeli airstrike in Gaza on January 25, 2020. (screen capture: Twitter)

Israeli jets struck a number of targets in the southern Gaza Strip late Saturday night in response to incendiary devices being launched over the border, the Israel Defense Forces said Saturday.

Recent days have seen several instances of balloon bunches carrying incendiary devices and explosive packages which made their way into Israel, the IDF spokesperson’s office said in a statement.

The targets included a weapon-manufacturing depot and a military post operated by Hamas, the Palestinian terror group that rules Gaza.

There were no reports of injuries from the airstrikes in the southern Gaza Strip.

The IDF said that it would “continue to act as necessary against attempts to harm its citizens.”

“The Hamas terror group is responsible for everything that occurs in the Gaza Strip and will bear the consequences for terror attacks against Israeli citizens,” the military said.

Video reportedly showing an airstrike was shared by Hebrew-language media.

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כאן חדשות

@kann_news

תיעוד: תקיפת צה”ל בדרום רצועת עזה
(צילום: חפ”ק מרחב ארצי 24/7)http://bit.ly/2TVLugk 

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On Saturday morning, a bunch of balloons tied to a suspected bomb was found near Kibbutz Sde Boker in the Negev. The airborne device is believed to have come from the Gaza Strip, from which numerous balloons carrying incendiary and explosive packages have been launched in recent days.

Images of the suspected explosive shared on social media showed a device similar in appearance to a rocket-propelled grenade.

The balloon was discovered by security staff at the Midreshet Ben-Gurion educational center. Police sappers were called to the scene and neutralized the device.

Sde Boker is located some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Strip.

A bunch of balloons attached to an incendiary device is prepared to be flown into Israel, near the Israel-Gaza border east of Al-Bureij refugee camp in the central Gaza Strip, January 22, 2020. (Ail Ahmed/Flash90)

A second batch of balloons connected to an incendiary device was later discovered in the Ramat Negev Regional Council. It was neutralized by sappers as well.

Terror groups in Gaza have continued to launch incendiary devices attached to balloons into Israel in recent days, undeterred by Israel’s threats to respond forcefully to such incidents.

On Thursday, five suspicious balloons were floated into Israel, including a soccer ball attached to an explosive device that landed in an open area of the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council.

Soldiers from the IDF’s Engineering Corps were called to the scene and defused the device. No was injured by the explosives-laden ball, which appeared to be another attempt to target children. Many of the attacks have been launched via brightly colored balloons and local children have been warned not to approach them.

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On Friday another suspicious object apparently flown from Gaza with balloons was found in the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council. Police officers were dispatched to a field where the device landed.

חדשות 13

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צרור בלונים עם מטען נחת בשטחים החקלאיים של קיבוץ שער הנגב. כוחות המשטרה נמצאים במקום @bokeralmog

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On Thursday evening, a rocket warning siren sounded in a community near the Gaza border. The army said it was triggered by an unexplained explosion inside Gaza, and not a rocket launch.

The siren raised tensions in the south amid threats from Gaza’s Hamas rulers to escalate violence in order to pressure Israel during informal truce talks now underway via Egyptian mediation.

Israeli television this week reported that Egypt is involved in “intense efforts” to get Hamas to end the arson balloon attacks on Israel from Gaza amid fears of a return to violence.

There was no official confirmation of the report from Egypt or Hamas.

A senior Hamas official said Tuesday that the recent spate of balloons was a signal to Israel to accelerate unofficial “understandings” meant to ease the blockade on the territory ruled by the terror group.

Speaking to journalists, Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya said the balloons had been launched by disgruntled individuals, not Hamas. But he said his group was “satisfied” with the launches and is ready to send more “if the occupation doesn’t pick up the message.”

The UN’s Mideast envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, called the renewed balloon launches “concerning and regrettable” in a briefing to the Security Council on Tuesday. “These actions are a risk to the civilian population,” he said.

 

Trump rejects Iran talks opening as enriched uranium stockpile swells

January 26, 2020

Source: Trump rejects Iran talks opening as enriched uranium stockpile swells | The Times of Israel

US president rebuffs overture for negotiations if sanctions lifted; nuclear official says Tehran has almost three times as much enriched material as allowed under nuke deal

President Donald Trump speaks to a bipartisan group of mayors in the East Room of the White House, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, in Washington. (AP/Alex Brandon)

President Donald Trump speaks to a bipartisan group of mayors in the East Room of the White House, Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, in Washington. (AP/Alex Brandon)

US President Donald Trump turned down the possibility of talks with Tehran after Iran’stop diplomat said his country was still willing to negotiate over its nuclear program if Washington lifts sanctions.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif told Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine that he would “never rule out the possibility that people will change their approach and recognize the realities,” in an interview published Saturday.

“Iranian Foreign Minister says Iran wants to negotiate with The United States, but wants sanctions removed,” Trump tweeted Saturday night. “No Thanks!”

He later repeated the tweet in Persian.

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

There has been growing tension between Washington and Tehran since in 2018, when Trump pulled the United States out of the nuclear deal with Iran. The US has since reimposed tough sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.

Tensions hit a boiling point after the US killed top Iranian General Qassem Soleimani earlier this month, though the sides stepped away from armed conflict after no Americans were killed in an Iranian reprisal missile strike on a US base in Iraq.

Zarif suggested Iran was still willing to talk to the US, though reiterated his country’s previous demand that first the US would have to lift sanctions.

“For us, it doesn’t matter who is sitting in the White House, what matters is how they behave,” he said, according to Der Spiegel, which conducted the interview in Tehran Friday. “The Trump administration can correct its past, lift the sanctions and come back to the negotiating table. We’re still at the negotiating table. They’re the ones who left.”

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Zarif smiles as he meets French Minister of Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian (not seen) on September 22, 2019 in New York City. (Johannes EISELE / AFP)

Meanwhile on Saturday, Ali Asghar Zarean, an aide to Iran’s nuclear chief, said Iran’s enriched uranium stockpile has exceeded 1,200 kilograms (2,646 pounds), which is far beyond the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers allowed.

“Iran is increasing its stockpile of the enriched uranium with full speed,” he said. The claim has not been verified by the UN’s nuclear watchdog.

Following the US drone strike on January 3 that killed Revolutionary Guard general Soleimani, Iran announced it would no longer abide by any of the deal’s limitations to its enrichment activities.

In November, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium had grown to 372.3 kilograms (821 pounds) as of November 3. The nuclear deal limited the stockpile to 202.8 kilograms (447 pounds).

In this photo released on November 6, 2019 by the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, a lift truck carries a cylinder containing uranium hexafluoride gas for the purpose of injecting the gas into centrifuges in Iran’s Fordo nuclear facility.(Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

Iran has routinely vowed to begin enriching its stockpile of uranium to higher levels closer to weapons grade if world powers fail to negotiate new terms for the nuclear accord following the US decision to withdraw from the agreement and restore crippling sanctions. European countries opposed the US withdrawal and have repeatedly urged Iran to abide by the deal.

Under the agreement, Iran agreed to limit its enrichment of uranium under the watch of UN inspectors in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.

Trump has maintained that the 2015 nuclear deal needs to be renegotiated because it didn’t address Iran’s ballistic missile program or its involvement in regional conflicts. The other signatories to the nuclear deal — Germany, France, Britain, China and Russia — have been struggling to keep it alive.

Zarif did suggest Iran was also still prepared for conflict with the US, though was not specific.

“The US has inflicted great harm on the Iranian people,” he said. “The day will come when they will have to compensate for that. We have a lot of patience.”