Day: April 2, 2017

Hundreds of Jewish protesters march against Israeli control of West Bank

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Hundreds of Jewish demonstrators marched in Jerusalem to protest 50 years of Israeli control of the West Bank.

The march on Saturday night marked 50 years since Israel captured the West Bank during the Six Day War. It was organized by Omdim Beyachad, or Standing Together, a joint Jewish-Arab umbrella organization including pro-peace organizations and left-wing groups, as well as several left-wing political parties, according to reports.

The group said the march was for “peace and an end to the occupation.”

The protesters marched from western Jerusalem to the Old City’s Jaffa Gate. Organizers estimated there were 2,000 protesters, according to the news agency AFP.

The march came hours after a Palestinian teen stabbed three people in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem.


After settlement restrictions, Israeli settlers voice lowered expectations for Trump era

JERUSALEM (JTA) – In response to new curbs on West Bank construction, Israeli settlement supporters hoped for the best and expected the worst, tempering their initial euphoria at U.S. President Donald Trump’s election.

Pro-settlement leaders who advocate Jewish control of the entire West Bank went as far as to cautiously welcome the government’s announcement Thursday that construction would be largely restricted to developed areas of existing Jewish communities in the West Bank. Others hoped the restrictions did not amount to a freeze on settlement building.

“You need to understand that people built up an expectation that there would be a new president, the old era would end, and we’d be able to do whatever we want,” Yesha Council foreign envoy Oded Revivi told JTA on Sunday. “All of a sudden, reality doesn’t look like our expectations.”

Much of the Israeli right initially anticipated Trump would give Israel a freer hand in the West Bank than had his predecessor, Barack Obama. But since being elected, Trump has backed off his pledge to move the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem to Tel Aviv and made moves toward the final status agreement he has said he wants to broker between Israel and the Palestinians.

Having welcomed Trump’s election in January by announcing: “The era of a Palestinian state is over,” Education Minister Naftali Bennett expressed cautious optimism Sunday at the weekly Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. “The arrangement is a fitting one, but the proof will be in the pudding,” Bennett said, according to the Walla news website.

They were the first comments by Bennett, the head of the fiercely pro-settlement Jewish Home party, since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday announced the new settlement policy in a meeting of the security cabinet. Netanyahu told his top ministers that the policy was a goodwill gesture to Trump, who last month said settlement expansion “may not be helpful” in achieving peace and asked Netanyahu to “hold back on settlements a little bit.”

Trump Bibi

“This is a very friendly administration and we need to be considerate of the president’s requests,” Netanyahu said, according to the Israeli daily Haaretz.

The policy Netanyahu laid out was that settlement construction would be limited to previously developed areas of the West Bank. But where  security or topography prevented this, new homes would be built as close as possible to the developed areas. Israel would not allow the creation of any new illegal outposts, he said.

Hours earlier, the security cabinet decided to establish the first entirely new settlement in two decades for families evicted last month from Amona, an illegal West Bank outpost. That settlement will not be affected by the policy.

Most of the world considers all Israeli construction in the territories it captured in the 1967 Six-Day War illegal. But Israel disputes this and allows government authorized settlements on land not demonstrably owned by Palestinians. While Israel stopped establishing new settlements in the early 1990s, it has retroactively approved outposts and let existing settlements expand.

On Friday, Revivi put a positive spin on the policy, saying the Yesha Council, which is the main umbrella group for the settlements, would keep an eye on the West Bank – which he referred to by its biblical name, Judea and Samaria – to make sure “these plans come to fruition.”

“The YESHA Council welcomes the cabinet decision to support new building projects across Judea and Samaria, in addition to the establishment of a new town for the former residents of Amona,” he said. “However, the true test will be the implementation of these plans and their manifestation as actual bricks and mortar on the ground. We will be monitoring the government very closely to see that these plans come to fruition, enabling a new era of building throughout our ancestral homeland.”

Shlomo Brom, the head researcher on Israeli-Palestinian relations at the Institute for National Security Studies, said that if the new policy were strictly enforced, it would dramatically reduce West Bank construction. The developed areas of the West Bank are already crowded, he said, leaving little room for growth. But Brom said many settlers seemed to be betting the policy would be interpreted with flexibility, which could allow the settlements to gradually expand indefinitely. Noting that his think tank in January urged Israel to limit settlement construction to the major settlement blocs, he said this policy “is not close” to that.

Meanwhile, several right-wing lawmakers worried that the restrictions amounted to a suspension of settlement building. Yehudah Glick, a Knesset member in the ruling Likud party who lives in a settlement, held out hope in a tweet Friday that this was not the case.

“I hope, in contrast to the commentators, that the government did not decide on a freeze on settlement construction,” he said. “We cannot accept this. Construction in Judea and Samaria is important for those who want peace.”

Bezalel Smotrich, an often inflammatory Jewish Home party lawmaker who also lives in a settlement, suggested Israel’s political right had lowered its expectations too far.

“This morning, on my [news feed] and according to the commentators — the right wing claims that the cabinet decided yesterday on construction [in the West Bank], the left claims that there is a freeze,” Bezalel Smotrich, an often inflammatory Jewish Home lawmaker who lives in a West Bank settlement, tweeted Friday. “Unfortunately this time the commentators on the left are correct. The right is willfully blinded.”

Revivi, who is also the mayor of the settlement Efrat, said settlers have been most disappointed by Netanyahu. The prime minister blamed former U.S. President Barack Obama for the lack of construction in the West Bank for years, he said, but that is harder to do with Trump, who is seen as more sympathetic to Israel. Especially after the evacuation of Amona, he said, “people feel that promises are made but not really fulfilled.”

Judy Simon, the former tourism coordinator for the settlement Beit El and a teacher there, said she has lost faith in the government’s commitment to the settlement enterprise since Trump took office.

“Here we have most pro-Israel government we’ve had [in Washington] in a decade, some say decades, and yet building is still being limited. What that says to me is the king has no clothes,” she told JTA Sunday. “But God promised this is our land forever, and God never reneges on his promises, unlike some politicians.”



The Obama years were a curious blend of isolationism and limited interventions.

American troops were not pulled out of Afghanistan and there was a relentless fight against terrorist organizations in the Middle East by way of drones and bombing raids. Small groups of elite forces were dispatched to Syria and Libya for intelligence gathering and advisory purposes only.


What was missing was a global strategy which could have stopped the Middle East descent into chaos. The vacuum thus created gave free rein to Iran’s both open and stealthy penetration efforts; it also brought back Russia.

Moscow has now almost regained the positions held by the Soviet Union in Syria and Egypt and is strengthening its hold on Libya. A similar lack of decisive American resolve allowed China to adopt increasingly aggressive tactics in South China Sea and enabled Russia’s annexation of Crimea and division of Ukraine. The question is whether the Trump administration is willing and able to embark on a policy of active intervention, especially in the Middle East, to defuse threats and bring a measure of stability. It might be too late, however, to dislodge well-entrenched intruders that timely measures would have kept out.

America has a long history of vacillating between isolationism and aggressive foreign policy, and yet its intervention was decisive in ensuring the triumph of democratic regimes in two world wars, as well as in the lengthy Cold War. This was not Obama’s way. He mostly shunned active intervention, often at the price of losing the American power of dissuasion.

Yet during his presidency, the Middle East went through one of its most violent periods since the end of World War I and the emergence of new states following the Sykes-Picot Agreement. A revival of radical Sunni Islam rivaled Iran’s efforts to export its Shi’ite revolution and led to gradual destabilization, a process escalated by the Arab Spring in 2011.

What started as the spontaneous demand for freedom and democracy ended in the strengthening of Islamic extremism, bringing about the demise of Arab nation states that had formed the backbone of the region. Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Somalia and, to a lesser measure, Lebanon are no longer functioning.

America was strangely absent while its allies in the region were bearing the brunt of the devastating process, leading to its inability to act as an effective deterrent on the world stage and the very real risk of a rogue state or organization making use of weapons of mass destruction, such as the chemical weapons used in Syria.

Obama refused to help the Green Movement, which took to the streets throughout Iran in 2009 to protest massive fraud in the presidential election. He did nothing while the regime gained back control of the nation using extreme brutality, ultimately defeating the people, tightening its grip on the country and putting an end to any hope of change. Although Iran is busy promoting its Shi’ite revolution and threatening the stability of Sunni regimes while calling for the destruction of Israel, Obama entered into a nuclear agreement with Tehran that will not prevent the country from creating weapons after the terms of the accord expire, and it does not address the ongoing development of missiles that could be equipped with nuclear warheads.

In Egypt, Obama abandoned Mubarak, his longtime strategic ally, and called on him to resign, transferring his support to the Muslim Brotherhood, although he knew, or should have known, that they were bent on setting up an Islamic dictatorship – a goal they achieved with disastrous results that the present regime is still fighting to correct.

He encouraged Europe to get rid of Muammar Gaddafi, promising to “lead from behind” and supplying weapons and ammunitions for bombing raids – and then left Europe to deal with the shambles: a civil war in Libya and a stream of refugees from Africa, as well as Russian penetration that could threaten southern Europe.

He refrained from giving his support to the Syrian uprising in 2011, though arming the moderate Sunni insurgents before Jihadi groups moved in might have toppled Assad, cutting off Iran from its Hezbollah proxy in Lebanon. Indeed, he let Assad get away with breaching a succession of so-called “redlines” – including the use of chemical weapons.

The premature withdrawal of American troops from Iraq made it possible for ISIS to establish itself while the Iraqi army crumbled. Setting up a coalition of Western and Arab countries to fight the terrorist organization by means of sending planes to bomb its forces was taking the easy way out, to avoid putting boots on the ground. It was obvious from the very beginning that it was imperative to destroy ISIS while it was still too weak to resist, and the fighting today in Mosul and Raqqa, and the toll on the civilian populations, clearly display the price to be paid by not acting in time.

This, of course, does not mean that the former president is responsible for the state of chaos in which the Middle East finds itself today.

For hundreds of years, there has been warfare between Arabs on a tribal, ethnic or religious basis. However, America had been a stabilizing presence in the Middle East since the ’40s and has been instrumental in appeasing tensions. By, in effect, withdrawing from the region, Obama created a vacuum. A position doubtless born of ideological considerations and the belief in peaceful and noninvasive diplomacy nevertheless let the enemies of America further their own interests without fear of reprisal.

The Trump administration is still trying to define its goals. On the one hand, it cannot remain indifferent to a situation which threatens world peace. On the other hand, it may choose to focus on America’s very real domestic problems. During his campaign, President Donald Trump promised to destroy ISIS and said he intended to confront Iran while coming to an understanding with Russia regarding its presence in the Middle East. Not an easy task, since Moscow is well-entrenched in the region, and a deal might involve give-and-take in the matter of sanctions and a compromise in Ukraine. But serious negotiations will not be possible as long as the FBI is conducting an investigation into alleged links between Trump’s close advisers and Putin.

What the president should do, meanwhile, is to work hard to rebuild the trust of his erstwhile allies and convince them that America is determined to promote its interests – and theirs. He needs to revive the old alliance of pragmatic Sunni countries – Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates – against Iran. And yes, he needs to do something about Iran.

Whether he does or not is anybody’s guess for now. He has, however, already taken a few positive steps regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict, and that’s a welcome change.



Hamas on Sunday welcomed the Interior Ministry in Gaza’s announcement that it will undertake “increased measures” against Palestinian collaborators with Israel in the coming hours and days as a part of its investigation into the assassination of Mazen Fuqaha.

“Hamas appreciates and supports the national and responsible efforts the Interior Ministry is carrying out…in pursuit of traitors and collaborators, especially after the Zionist enemy and its collaborators assassinated Mazen Fuqaha,” Hamas said in an official statement.


Fuqaha, who was a senior Hamas militant, was mysteriously assassinated on March 24 near his home in the Tel al-Hawa neighborhood of Gaza City.

Within an hour of Fuqaha’s assassination, the Interior Ministry opened an investigation into the incident and pledged to pursue his assassins.

Hamas has accused Israel and Palestinian collaborators of assassinating Fuqaha and threatened to exact revenge, while Israeli officials have not commented on the incident except for Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, who suggested that Israel did not take part in it.

In its announcement, the Interior Ministry in Gaza did not clarify what “increased measures” it is taking against Palestinian collaborators.

Since Fuqaha’s assassination, the Interior Ministry in Gaza has limited access to the Erez Crossing, the only pedestrian passageway between Gaza and Israel, and barred fishermen from setting sail.

Palestinian and Israeli human rights organizations have slammed the Interior Ministry in Gaza for limiting movement, especially at Erez.

The Ramallah-based Independent Commission for Human Rights said that the decision to restrict movement “violates basic rights of citizens.”

Hamas and the Interior Ministry in Gaza have dealt harshly with collaborators with Israel in the past, executing many of them.

Following Operation Protective Edge in 2014, Hamas executed 18 collaborators in a single day.



Israel agreed to curb West Bank settlement construction in advance of the separate meetings US President Donald Trump plans to hold in Washington this week with the Jordanian and Egyptian heads of state.

Trump will meet in the White House with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Monday and with King Abdullah II of Jordan on Wednesday.


In February, Trump and King Abdullah spoke briefly at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington.

“We are going to be discussing the general outlines of our approach with the Middle East peace process and provide information as to the context of what we’ve been doing over the last few weeks to advance the process,” a senior administration official told reporters on Friday.

The official added that the issue of West Bank settlements was not expected to be a focal point of the discussions.

“The discussion about the settlements is not one that we want to address at this time. My office is deeply involved in that effort and working with both the Israelis and the Palestinians on that issue. But we do not anticipate that becoming a focal point for any discussions over the next week,” the official said.

The US has not issued a formal response to two critical decisions Israel’s security cabinet took late Thursday night and early Friday morning. It approved the first completely new West Bank settlement in 25 years to replace the demolished Amona outpost, agreeing to publish tenders for some 2,000 homes in existing settler blocs and reclassify as state land 97.7 hectares near the settlement of Eli.

At the same time, the security cabinet said it would limit future building – where possible – to the built-up areas within existing settlements.

This will be done in an effort to limit the “footprint” of the settlements.

It said that construction would be as close as possible to the built-up areas. In addition, the cabinet clarified that no new outpost would be built.

A senior Trump administration official told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that the US accepts Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rationale for approving one exception, a new settlement for the evacuees of Amona, which he promised its 40 families in December, prior to Trump’s inauguration.

But the European Union, the United Kingdom, Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, France and the United Nations all condemned the declarations of settlement activity, the EU calling it illegal and saying it undermines the prospects for a viable two-state solution.

It called “on Israel to end all settlement activity and to dismantle the outposts erected since March 2001 in line with prior obligations.”

Regarding the new settlement- building restrictions, it added, “We expect declarations of intent to be followed by actions on the ground.”

In a brief 75-word statement, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s office said he “took notice with disappointment and alarm” of Israel’s decision “to build a new settlement in the occupied Palestinian territory.”

“The secretary-general has consistently stressed that there is no Plan B for Israelis and Palestinians to live together in peace and security.

He condemns all unilateral actions that, like the present one, threaten peace and undermine the two-state solution,” the statement read.

“Settlement activities are illegal under international law and present an obstacle to peace.”

Palestinian Authority spokesman Yousif Mahmoud told Wafa, the official Palestinian Authority news agency: “With these actions Israel has shown that it aims to reinforce the odious Israeli occupation.”

PLO Executive Committee Secretary-General Saeb Erekat said, “Israel continues to destroy the prospects of peace in our region and to severely affect our lives by the theft of land and natural resources, and by the further fragmentation of our country. Israel enjoys a culture of impunity that allows it to strengthen its apartheid regime in occupied Palestine.”

He added that the Palestinians would not accept any Israeli and American formula that would allow for any continued settlement building.

For the last seven years, the Palestinians have demanded that Israel freeze all settlement activity, including building in east Jerusalem, as a precondition to diplomatic talks.

That demand was set aside during the nine-month US-led peace process that fell apart in April 2014, during which Israel released Palestinian prisoners in exchange for settlement building.

The US has long criticized settlement construction, saying their expansion takes over more land from a future Palestinian state, an argument that Jerusalem believes does not apply since all construction is taking place within the existing builtup areas of the settlements.

The new settlement approved Thursday night, however, will be located in the heart of the West Bank near the Shiloh settlement, which is 27 kilometers past the 1949 armistice line.

“All Israeli settlements are illegal and we are not going to accept any formula that aims at legitimizing the presence of Israeli colonies on occupied Palestinian land,” Erekat said.

“Israel’s colonial project violates international law and also previous Israeli commitments both under signed agreements and to the United States.”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to meet with Trump at the end of this month or in early May. Netanyahu met with Trump in February.

The Jerusalem Post reported last week that the Trump administration hopes to hold a summit this summer among Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the Gulf states.



Negotiations between Israel and the United States on limiting building in the settlements reportedly has been suspended after representatives of the two countries failed to reach an agreement.

Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s international envoy and an Orthodox Jew, has traveled in recent weeks to the Middle East for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.


Representatives of the Netanyahu government, the prime minister’s chief of staff, Yoav Horowitz, and Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, met in Washington late last month with Greenblatt to follow up on his meetings with Netanyahu in Israel earlier in the month.

Israel Radio reported on Sunday that the discussions between the Israeli envoys and Greenblatt had been suspended due to a lack of progress.

News of the suspension comes after Israel’s security cabinet on Thursday approved the first new settlement in decades for families evicted from the razed West Bank outpost of Amona, followed by Netanyahu saying at the same meeting that any future West Bank construction would be limited to existing settlement boundaries or adjacent to them, and that Israel will prevent the construction of any new illegal outposts.

On Thursday, Greenblatt held meetings with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the foreign ministers of Qatar and Egypt on the sidelines of the Arab League summit in Jordan. Abbas, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi also reportedly huddled to coordinate their positions ahead of their meetings with Trump at the White House in coming weeks.

According to anonymously sourced Israeli media reports, Greenblatt told Netanyahu during talks in Israel earlier this month that Trump wanted substantial restriction on settlement construction. Netanyahu reportedly expressed reservations about the proposal, particularly an official moratorium on construction outside the major settlements, mainly because of anticipated opposition from within his right-wing government.

The Prime Minister’s Office subsequently denied the reports, but no understandings were announced.

When Netanyahu visited the White house in February, Trump said he would like to see Israel “hold back on settlements a little bit.” Earlier in the month, Trump said settlement expansion “may not be helpful” in achieving peace.

Mother of JCC bomb hoaxer: He’s autistic, doesn’t know what he’s doing


The mother of an Israeli-American teen believed to have been behind hundreds of hoax bomb threats against Jewish institutions in the US said her son has diagnosed autism and could not control his actions due to a tumor in his brain.

The mother, who spoke with Channel 2 news in an interview broadcast Saturday evening, said she was “shocked” to discover her son was behind a spate of US bomb scares and wished “I had known and could have prevented it.”

But, speaking with her face concealed, she insisted that the teen was not responsible for his actions.

“My son is not a criminal, he doesn’t know what he’s doing,” she said, repeating claims by the suspect’s lawyer that a non-malignant brain tumor discovered several years ago had an adverse affect on his behavior.

An Israeli teen, center, suspected of calling in bomb threats to hundreds of institutions is brought to the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court on March 30, 2017. (Flash90)

The teen, whose family lives in Ashkelon, was ordered to remain behind bars for an additional week on Thursday. He is facing charges of extortion, making threats, publishing false information and is accused of sowing widespread fear and panic. His name is under a gag order in Israel, and he was identified only as “M” in the TV report.

Police say he is behind a range of threats against Jewish community centers and other buildings linked to Jewish communities in the United States in recent months, and is alleged to have made hundreds of threatening phone calls over the past two to three years, targeting schools and other public institutions in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

He had an antenna in his bedroom, with which he connected to the internet without being easily traced, and used voice-masking technology.

The antenna in the window of the teen JCC bomb hoax suspect's Ashkelon room (Channel 10 screenshot)

The suspect’s father, who works in high-tech and who was detained by police along with his son over suspicions he turned a blind eye to his son’s activities, was released by the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court to house arrest on Thursday.

His mother, who spoke halting American-accented Hebrew and was identified only as “C,” said it was clear from a young age that her son, while highly intelligent, could not function in the regular education system.

She said she was 40 when she gave birth to him, in the US, and that he had an unusually large head, and did not develop speaking skills at a normal rate, but was very good at solving puzzles and was later diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum.

The mother of an Israeli-American teen allegedly behind hundreds of threatening calls and fake bomb threats to Jewish institutions around the world speaks to Channel 2 (Channel 2 news)

“He couldn’t sit down, he’d walk around, shaking,” she said of his inability to concentrate on tasks. Writing and listening were also problematic.

He couldn’t cope with the formal framework of pre-school education, she said. When he was about 6, the family moved to Israel, and he could not function in the school system.

The boy’s parents decided to home-school him, and the mother gave up her work as a biochemist to care for her child from 1st grade through to 12th.

The woman showed Channel 2 reporters some of her son’s obsessions — endlessly drawing maps, creating complex games for himself with incomprehensible lists of numbers, and collecting and cataloging tickets for every single bus or train ride he took.

Shira Nir, a lawyer of an American-Israeli teenager suspected of calling in fake bomb threats to Jewish community centers across the world, shows the Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court what she says is an image of a cancerous growth in her client's brain, on March 30, 2017. (Flash90)

She said her son almost never left home and spent most of his time alone. He had no friends, she said.

“I didn’t know how much he sat on his computer,” she said. “I was working. I work nights. I’m at work all night, I come back and sleep.”

The Ashkelon bedroom of the JCC bomb hoax suspect (Channel 2 screenshot)

She added that she had discussed the recent bomb scares with her son, as she was worried about Jewish American friends of hers. Her son, she said, had also expressed concern about the threatening calls to Jewish targets. “It doesn’t make sense. This is a kid who loves Judaism.”

The mother said she was “very sorry for what happened” but that her son was “not at fault.”

An American-Israeli Jewish teenager, accused of making dozens of anti-Semitic bomb threats in the United States and elsewhere, is escorted by police as he leaves a courtroom in Rishon Lezion on March 23, 2017. (AFP/Jack Guez)

“It’s the tumor. It could happen to anyone with a tumor in his head,” she said. “He’s autistic, he can’t control it, he can’t think straight. He needs medical help.”

The Yedioth Ahronoth daily reported last Sunday that the teenager made more than 1,000 threatening phone calls over the past two years, including at least two threats to Delta Airlines, resulting in the grounding of planes already in the air.

The Albany JCC, closed briefly due to one of the bomb threats, January 18, 2017. (Screenshot from Twitter via JTA)

Israeli police only managed to zero in on the suspect after US President Donald Trump sent a team of 12 FBI agents to Israel in recent weeks, Haaretz reported.

The FBI agents are still involved in questioning him here, the TV report said, and the family is concerned that the US may seek to extradite the suspect.

Below is a recording and transcription of one of the bomb threats, made on January 18.


It’s a C-4 bomb with a lot of shrapnel, surrounded by a bag (inaudible). In a short time, a large number of Jews are going to be slaughtered. Their heads are going to be blown off from the shrapnel. There’s a lot of shrapnel. There’s going to be a bloodbath that’s going to take place in a short time. I think I told you enough. I must go.

Amsterdam moves postcard-sized Shoah plaque after residents complain

AMSTERDAM — City workers dislodged and relocated a postcard-sized memorial plaque from the entrance to the former home in Amsterdam of a Holocaust victim following complaints by residents.

The plaque — a brass cobblestone bearing the name of Joachim Elte that in 2014 embedded into the sidewalk of 3 Nicolass Maes Street — was moved to a location “as far away as possible from the door” of the two residents, who recently sued the city to have the plaque removed altogether, Sebastiaan Capel, the mayor of Amsterdam’s South district, told Het Parool daily on Friday.

The two residents, who were not named, filed with a preliminary relief judge a motion for an injunction ordering the memorial cobblestone’s removal because Capel had ignored their demands that it be removed from anywhere in front of their residence, the daily reported.

In their motion, the two residents said they found it too confrontational to have to constantly be reminded, because of the memorial cobblestone, of the deportation and murder of Elte, a 51-year-old accountant who died at a Nazi concentration camp in 1945. They also argued it “compromises the atmosphere” of their upscale neighborhood and their privacy and that of their children because it attracts onlookers.

Stadsdeel wilde struikelsteen na klachten ‘een beetje’ verplaatsen 

The judge who reviewed the motion did not issue an injunction but ruled it merited judicial review by an administrative court.

Amsterdam has 400 memorial cobblestones, which have been placed in front of the former homes of Holocaust victims as part of a commemoration project that a German artist began in Berlin in 1996. To date, more than 50,000 of the cobblestones have been laid in 18 countries in Europe.

The district in which the complainants live does not require the consent of residents for the installation of memorial cobblestones.

The City of Amsterdam has received two complaints in the past over memorial cobblestones: one by a Holocaust survivor who said it brought back bad memories and another by a hotel whose owners said it was bad for business. Following the survivor’s request, the cobblestone was moved elsewhere on the same street. The second objection was ignored, Paul de Haan, a municipal worker whose responsibilities include issuing permits for memorial cobblestones, told Het Parool.

The two plaintiffs from Amsterdam South are not Holocaust survivors and have no known traumas from World War II specifically, the report said. They were not immediately available to be interviewed on their decision to sue the city, the paper reported.

In recent years, Dutch media has reported on several cases of resistance to Holocaust commemorations, including by the Dutch Railway Museum in Utrecht and by residents of the capital who blocked plans to erect a commemorative wall at a central park.

Approximately 75 percent of the 140,000 Jews who lived in the Netherlands when Germany invaded it in 1940 were murdered in the Holocaust. The Holocaust in the Netherlands had the highest death rate in Nazi-occupied Western Europe.

Iraqi TV: Islamic State ‘war minister’ killed in airstrike

Iraqi state TV reported Saturday that Islamic State’s deputy chief has been killed in an airstrike near the Syrian border, according to Reuters.

The unconfirmed report claimed that several other IS commanders were killed along with Ayad al-Jumaili — believed to be second in command to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and known as the group’s “war minister.”

The Iraqi government said earlier that Iraqi fighter jets carried out airstrikes against IS outside Mosul, killing more than 100 jihadists.

The strikes hit three IS targets in Baaj, a remote northwestern town near the Syrian border, and killed between 150-200 militants, the statement said, adding that the militants had crossed over from Syria, suggesting that IS still enjoys free movement across the borders.

Airstrikes by Iraqi Air Force and US-led international coalition forces have been vital to the months-long operation to retake Mosul from IS. In January, Iraqi authorities declared eastern Mosul “fully liberated.” Fighting is underway to recapture the city’s western side.

At least 300 civilians have been killed in the offensive against IS in the western half of Mosul since mid-February, according to the UN human rights office — including 140 killed in a single March 17 airstrike on a building. Dozens more are claimed to have been killed in another strike last weekend, according to Amnesty International, and by similar airstrikes in neighboring Syria in the past month.

Colombia mudslides kill 206, sweep away homes

MOCOA, Colombia (AFP) — Mudslides killed at least 206 people and left hundreds injured or missing after destroying homes in southern Colombia, officials said Saturday.

They were the latest victims of floods that have struck the Pacific side of South America over recent months, also killing scores of people in Peru and Ecuador.

In the southwestern Colombian town of Mocoa, the surge swept away houses, bridges, vehicles and trees, leaving piles of wrecked timber and brown mud, army images from the area showed.

The mudslides struck late Friday after days of torrential rain in the Amazon basin area town of 40,000.

“The latest information we have is that there are 206 people confirmed dead, 202 injured, 220 missing, 17 neighborhoods hit hard,” Colombian Red Cross chief Cesar Uruena told AFP.

President Juan Manuel Santos visited Mocoa, the capital of Putumayo department, on Saturday to supervise rescue efforts in the heavily forested region.

He declared a public health and safety emergency to speed up rescue and aid operations. He also expressed his condolences to victims’ families.

Nation in mourning

Putumayo Governor Sorrel Aroca called the development “an unprecedented tragedy” for the area.

There are “hundreds of families we have not yet found and whole neighborhoods have disappeared,” he told W Radio.

Carlos Ivan Marquez, director of the National Disaster Risk Management Unit, told AFP the mudslides were caused by the rise of the Mocoa River and tributaries.

The rivers flooded causing a “big avalanche,” the army said in a statement.

Some 130 millimeters (5 inches) of rain fell Friday night, Santos said. “That means 30 percent of monthly rainfall fell last night, which precipitated a sudden rise of several rivers,” he said.

He promised earlier on Twitter to “guarantee assistance to the victims of this tragedy, which has Colombians in mourning.”

“Our prayers are with the victims and those affected,” he added.

Rescue efforts

The authorities activated a crisis group including local officials, military personnel, police and rescuers to search for missing people and begin removing mountains of debris, Marquez said.

A thousand emergency personnel were helping the rescue effort. Mocoa was left without power or running water; there were reports of some looting in efforts to get water.

“There are lots of people in the streets, lots of people displaced and many houses have collapsed,” retired Mocoa resident Hernando Rodriguez, 69, said by telephone.

“People do not know what to do… there were no preparations” for such a disaster, he said.

“We are just starting to realize what has hit us.”

Several deadly landslides have struck Colombia in recent months.

A landslide in November killed nine people in the rural southwestern town of El Tambo, officials said at the time.

A landslide the month before killed 10 people in the north of the country.

Climate change can play a big role in the scale of natural disasters, such as this one, a senior UN official said.

“Climate change is generating dynamics and we see the tremendous results in terms of intensity, frequency and magnitude of these natural effects, as we have just seen in Mocoa,” said Martin Santiago, UN chief for Colombia.