Hamas said to arrest group of ‘Israeli agents’ in Gaza

Hamas security forces in the Gaza Strip have arrested a group of suspects accused of being Israeli agents, media close to Hamas’s military reported on Monday.

“Hamas internal security forces are currently undertaking a large campaign to pursue Israeli agents, during which a group has been arrested and others are being pursued,” the Palestinian news site al-Majd, which is linked to Hamas’s Izz-a-Din al-Qassam Brigades military wing, wrote.

The arrests came after Hamas declared Sunday that it would crack down on “collaborators” with Israel over the recent assassination of one of its terror chiefs, Mazen Fuqha, which it blames on Israel.

“The gates of repentance are open before [Israeli] agents, and to repeat anyone who hands themselves in will be under protection and will receive a lenient punishment,” a Hamas security source told al-Majd.

The body of Hamas official Mazen Faqha is carried by members of the Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, during his funeral in Gaza city on March 25, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / MAHMUD HAMS)

In the Hamas-controlled Strip, an arrest for purported collaboration with Israel means an almost-certain death sentence.

Since Hamas took power in the Gaza Strip in 2007, 96 death penalties have been handed down, mostly by military courts and often for spying on behalf of Israel, said Hamdi Shaqura of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights. Many, but not all, of the death sentences have been carried out.

At least 21 death sentences were handed down in Gaza in 2016 alone.

Faqha was shot dead on March 25 near his home in Tel el-Hawa, a neighborhood in southwestern Gaza City, with a silencer-equipped weapon. He sustained four bullet wounds to the head during an ambush in his underground parking garage, reports in Gaza said.

Mazen Faqha, upon his release after the Shalit deal in 2011. (Screen capture Twitter)

Hamas leaders have been vowing revenge against Israel ever since.

Israel has not acknowledged any involvement in the assassination, and on Sunday Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman intimated it was an inside job.

“Hamas is known for its internal assassinations — let them look there,” he said.

Abu Obeida, a spokesperson for Hamas’s military wing, quickly rejected Liberman’s insinuation.

Illustrative: A gallows is prepared for an execution in Gaza, 2013 (AP/Gaza Interior Ministry)

“We affirm that no one is responsible for the crime apart from the Zionist enemy, and it will not succeed in any of its declared or hidden attempts to disclaim or to shuffle the cards,” he said.

Faqha, 38, originally from the West Bank, had received nine life sentences for planning a 2002 suicide bombing in Israel in which nine people were killed and 52 were wounded.

He was freed as part of the 2011 prisoner exchange for captive IDF soldier Gilad Shalit and deported to Gaza. He was believed to have been responsible for recent Hamas terror cells in the West Bank.

In a speech broadcast at a memorial service for Faqha in Gaza last week, Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal said that “If Israel decided to change the rules of the game, we accept the challenge.

“The Zionist occupier took from us a great hero and for this we will not sit quietly,” he added.

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Group finds mass grave at former Catholic orphanage in Ireland

A mass grave containing the remains of babies and young children has been discovered at a former Catholic orphanage in Ireland, government-appointed investigators announced Friday in a finding that offered the first conclusive proof following a historian’s efforts to trace the fates of nearly 800 children who perished there.

The judge-led Mother and Baby Homes Commission said excavations since November at the site of the former Bon Secours Mother and Baby Home in Tuam, County Galway, had found an underground structure divided into 20 chambers containing “significant quantities of human remains.”

The commission said DNA analysis of selected remains confirmed the ages of the dead ranged from 35 weeks to 3 years old and were buried chiefly in the 1950s, when the overcrowded facility was one of more than a dozen in Ireland offering shelter to orphans, unwed mothers and their children. The Tuam home closed in 1961.

Friday’s findings provided the first proof after decades of suspicions that the vast majority of children who died at the home had been interred on the site in unmarked graves. That was a common, but ill-documented practice at such Catholic-run facilities amid high child mortality rates in early 20th century Ireland.

The government in 2014 formed the investigation after a local Tuam historian, Catherine Corless, tracked down death certificates for nearly 800 children who had died as residents of the facility — but could find a burial record for only one child.

“Everything pointed to this area being a mass grave,” said Corless, who recalled how local boys playing in the field had reported seeing a pile of bones in a hidden underground chamber there in the mid-1970s.

The government’s commissioner for children, Katherine Zappone, said Friday’s findings were “sad and disturbing.” She pledged that the children’s descendants would be consulted on providing proper burials and other memorials.

“We will honor their memory and make sure that we take the right actions now to treat their remains appropriately,” Zappone said.

The report found that the dead children may have been placed in underground chambers originally used to hold sewage. Corless said she found records stating that the sewage systems were used until 1937, when the home was connected to a modern water supply.

A decommissioned septic tank had been “filled with rubble and debris and then covered with top soil” and did not appear to contain remains, the report said. But excavators found children’s remains inside a neighboring connected structure that may have been used to contain sewage or waste water.

The commission’s finding that most of the remains date to the 1950s corroborates Corless’ collection of death certificates. It also dispels a popular argument that bones seen at the site might predate the orphanage’s opening, when the building was a workhouse for the adult poor, or even be from people who died in the mid-19th century Great Famine.

Labour Party lawmaker Joan Burton said the Tuam orphanage’s dead may have been interred “without normal funeral rights, and maybe even without their wider families having been made aware.” She called on the Catholic Church to provide more assistance to investigators.

The investigators, who are examining the treatment of children at a long-closed network of 14 Mother and Baby Homes, said they still were trying to identify “who was responsible for the disposal of human remains in this way.”

The Bon Secours Sisters order of nuns, which ran the home until its closure, said in a statement that all its records, including of potential burials, had been handed to state authorities in 1961. It pledged to cooperate with the continuing investigation.

Corless criticized the Bon Secours response as “the usual maddening nonsense. They must apologize and take responsibility for what happened there.”

She called on the nuns to promise explicitly to help the state organize proper marked burial places for every dead child once each set of remains could be identified.

“That’s the least that can be done for them at this late stage,” she said.

GROUP OF NFL PLAYERS (NIGGERS) STILL EN ROUTE TO ISRAEL DESPITE SOME WITHDRAWALS

The Israel tour arranged for a group of NFL players will go ahead as planned starting from Monday despite the publicized pull-outs of several of its original participants.

Three of the NFL players who were scheduled to arrive in Israel on Monday as part of a campaign to showcase the country’s “true face” to the world pulled out of the trip, explaining that they do not want to be “used” by the Israeli government.

 

Seattle Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett led the boycott, being joined by brother Martellus, who won the Super Bowl with New England last week, and Miami Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills.

Nevertheless, the Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy, which arranged the trip in cooperation with the Tourism Ministry, is going ahead with the tour, which includes visits to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, the Dead Sea and Christian sites.

Bennett’s decision came on the heels of an open letter by renowned musicians, artists and social justice advocates released Thursday asking the NFL players “to consider withdrawing from the delegation given Israel’s track record of human rights abuses.”

Bennett wrote the following via Twitter and Instagram on Friday night: “I was excited to see this remarkable and historic part of the world with my own eyes. I was not aware until reading this article about the trip in the Times of Israel that my itinerary was being constructed by the Israeli government for the purposes of making me, in the words of a government official, an ‘influencer and opinion-former’ who would then be ‘an ambassador of good will.’ I will not be used in such a manner. When I do go to Israel – and I do plan to go – it will be to see not only Israel but also the West Bank and Gaza so I can see how the Palestinians, who have called this land home for thousands of years, live their lives.”

Bennett further cited boxing legend Muhammad Ali and that Ali “stood strongly with the Palestinian people” and wrote “I cannot do that by going on this kind of trip to Israel” and that he was making the decision “to be in accord with my own values and my own conscience.”

The letter to NFL players Thursday urged them “to consider the political ramifications of attending the trip, drawing connections between the struggles faced by Black and Brown communities in the US, and Palestinian, Eritrean and Sudanese communities in Israel and the Palestinian territories.”

The letter was signed by entertainer and activists Harry Belafonte, activist Angela Davis, actor Danny Glover and former sprinter John Carlos, among others, and co-signed by organizations that included the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights.

Other players listed as part of the delegation are Tennessee Titans tight end Delanie Walker, Philadelphia Eagles linebacker Michael Kendricks, New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan, Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman Calais Campbell, San Francisco 49ers running back Carlos Hyde, Oakland Raiders defensive tackle Dan Williams, Denver Broncos running back Justin Forsett and former linebacker Kirk Morrison.

The trip is also scheduled to include a meet-and-greet event on February 18th in Jerusalem (NOT an exhibition game, as had initially been reported) featuring the NFL delegation and players from the American Football in Israel federation and the Kraft Family Israel Football League.

ADL chief sees ‘organized’ campaign to discredit group (GOOD!!!)

WASHINGTON — Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt urged the organization’s leading activists to counter what he said was an “organized, concerted effort” to delegitimize the group.

The 900-word email sent Wednesday was a bid to counter what has been at times a fierce assault on the venerable civil rights group for its criticism of President-elect Donald Trump’s campaign and his transition.

“Over the past year, certain columnists and elements of the US Jewish community have engaged in a full-scale assault on ADL and its CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt,” said the email to the group’s lay leadership. “We came back from Thanksgiving to find that an organized, concerted effort to delegitimize ADL was underway. These charges against ADL are a significant and deliberate misrepresentation of our positions and our actions.”

Greenblatt goes on to refute several myths circulating in the right-wing Jewish blogosphere and on social media, among them, that the ADL does not support Israel; that it no longer combats anti-Semitism; that it supports the movement to boycott Israel; and that Greenblatt is a Democratic operative.

Greenblatt, an entrepreneur who was a non-political Obama White House appointee charged with social innovation, noted that the group recently hosted a major conference on anti-Semitism in New York and called it ADL’s “number one concern.” ADL also vigorously opposes the BDS movement.

Steve Bannon at a meeting with advisers at Trump Tower, Friday, Oct. 7, 2016, in New York. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)

In one instance, Greenblatt fudges the record slightly: He decries as a myth the claim that the group attacked Stephen Bannon, Trump’s top strategic adviser, but not Keith Ellison, the Minnesota congressman vying to lead the Democratic National Committee. Greenblatt said the group had expressed “concerns” about each man – Bannon for his associations with the alt-right, which includes within its ranks white supremacists and anti-Semites, and Ellison, for his strident criticism of Israel and his backing of the Iran nuclear deal. In fact, the ADL outright opposed Bannon’s appointment, while it raised questions about Ellison’s candidacy.

Greenblatt named only one of ADL’s critics, the Zionist Organization of America, which has been a strident critic of Greenblatt since his appointment over a year ago and has more recently accused him of “character assassination” of Bannon.

Also criticizing Greenblatt have been Breitbart, the news website Bannon led before he joined the Trump campaign, and the Republican Jewish Coalition.

President-elect Donald Trump and Vice President Elect Mike Pence arrive for a day of meetings at the clubhouse of Trump National Golf Club November 20, 2016 in Bedminster, NJ. (AFP PHOTO / DON EMMERT)

“Much of this campaign reflects wider trends of our time: the dangerous polarization in the US, Israel and within our community fed by the dogma that if you are not 100 percent with me you are the enemy as well as the phenomenon of ‘fake news’ where agenda-driven half-truths are presented as fact, reinforcing these hardened positions,” said the email, one of whose recipients posted the contents on Facebook.

“But it also reflects willingness by some to pass along lies because, frankly, there are few consequences for doing so,” the email said.

“We need you to stand firmly with us to counter these accusations,” Greenblatt told the recipients. “Those who seek to delegitimize ADL and other communal organizations do more than harm us – they make all of us less safe.”

New activists’ group to push Marine Le Pen(Feminist, Freemason, Zionist) to French Jews

Jewish activists close to Marine Le Pen said they have formed an organization designed to market her far-right National Front party to France’s Jewish community ahead of the 2017 presidential elections.

Michel Thooris, a French Jew who once worked as Le Pen’s consultant on police issues, told the Le Lab news website that he will head the new nonprofit when it becomes active this summer.

Le Pen told the news website that the group, reportedly to be called the Union of French Jewish Patriots, or UPFJ, will not be an official organ of the National Front, whose charter and ideology go against frameworks built around ethnicity or other special characteristics.

“It’s an association of patriots that adhere to the Israelite faith which existed already in 2012 and in which Thooris already had a role,” she is quoted as saying in reference to the now inactive Union of French Jews.

National Front’s founder is Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has been convicted of Holocaust denial and inciting racial hatred against Jews. Marine Le Pen last year expelled him from the party as part of her rejection of his openly racist rhetoric and has courted French Jews in a move that many observers said was designed to rehabilitate the party’s name.

A February poll by Ifop-Fiducial projected Le Pen could win a record 25 percent to 28% of the votes in the first round, and take National Front for the first time to the second round of presidential elections.

There are indications her plan was working even before she kicked out Jean-Marie Le Pen and stripped him of the title of honorary president of the party. In a 2014 poll among 1,095 self-identified Jews, the National Front earned 13.5% of the vote in 2012 presidential elections, more than doubling its share from the previous presidential contest five years earlier.

Marine Le Pen has insisted repeatedly that the real enemy of French Jews is not the National Front but Islamic fundamentalism, against which she has claimed the party is “your best shield.”

But CRIF, the umbrella group of French Jewish communities, said the party remains an illegitimate political entity because of the presence of anti-Semites within its ranks, such as Holocaust denier Bruno Gollnisch, who represents the party at the European Parliament.

Thooris told Le Lab that one of his association’s goals is to “contend against the representational dictatorship of CRIF on National Front,” adding that CRIF “represents no one but itself and does not fight for the interests of the French Jewish community.”

CRIF maintains Jewish National Front voters are a minority within the community. The umbrella group’s leader, Roger Cukierman, said a rising far right will only augment the community’s current problems.

Britain reportedly pulls funding to group that sponsors anti-Israel events

(JTA) — Britain reportedly has halted funding to a charity that sponsored anti-Israel events.

The government’s Department for International Development pulled its funding of the human rights organization War On Want, The Telegraph reported over the weekend. The group helped to pay for last month’s Israeli Apartheid Week throughout the country, the newspaper wrote.

Over the last two years, War on Want has received about $370,000 in government funding, according to the Telegraph.

A source in the Department for International Development said the U.K. “deplored incitement on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” the newspaper reported.

The British government has recently banned municipalities and other publicly funded authorities from implementing boycotts of Israel.

The Telegraph reported that it obtained undercover recordings of events where anti-Semitism, demands for the destruction of Israel or naked support for terror were expressed by academics and others in meetings at some of Britain’s most prestigious universities. Some of the events were sponsored by War on Want.

In a statement released Sunday, War on Want called The Telegraph report a “complete fabrication.”

“War on Want has not sought any UK government support for its operations for a number of years now, so it is absurd to suggest that we have had our funding ‘pulled,’” John Hilary, the executive director of War on Want, said in the statement. “The insinuation that we have been criticized by the government for standing up for the rights of the Palestinian people is equally bogus.”

Syrian opposition group reaches out to Israeli public in Hebrew

It’s not a Purim prank: A Syrian opposition figure has turned to the Israeli public in Hebrew, through The Jerusalem Post‘s sister publication  Ma’ariv Hashavua, in order to deliver a message.

“We call on all of the national forces to oust the tyranny, and only afterward, we will choose the form and character of the state,” reads a message to the Israeli public, delivered by a third party to Ma’ariv Hashavua.
The Ghad al-Suri movement (Syria’s Tomorrow), led by Ahmad Jarba, was officially established in Cairo last week. The movement expressed great interest in sending a message to the Israeli public upon its establishment.
Ma’ariv Hashavua has learned that the movement’s diplomatic bureau was helped in translating their message by an Arab Israeli woman who lives in London.
In addition, the movement told an Arab Israeli source that it was interested in holding either covert or public discussions with the Israeli government. The source recommended that they “send their messages discreetly in order to avoid losing credibility among the Syrian public and among their potential supporters in the Arab world.”
Ma’ariv Hashavua further learned that the movement sent a message to the Prime Minister’s Office, requesting a meeting between a senior Israeli official and Jarba, who is currently headquartered in Cairo. Egypt, which has not actively opposed the Syrian regime, is preparing a ‘Plan B’ in the event that Syrian President Bashar Assad should fall.
In a message delivered to Ma’ariv Hashavua, the diplomatic bureau of the Ghad al-Suri movement explained its position in regard to the decision to establish a federal regime in Syria. This message was presumably sent after it received the blessing of the movement’s chairman Jarba, who previously served as president of the Syrian National Coalition, which is the main coalition of opposition groups in the Syrian Civil War.
“The tyrannical regime, through its control over Syrian society, has managed to disintegrate all of Syria. It gifted those loyal to it with special favors, and made sure its opponents were put in prison and pushed to the margins of society. The regime also cultivated strife between minority groups in order to preserve its own narrow interests,” the message reads. “In doing so, it turned Syria into a volcano, waiting to erupt and fix its national, intellectual, political and societal course, by unifying the people and land. Thus the revolution began, waving the flag of unification for all the Syrian people. This revolution did not set a goal of establishing a central, federal or any other kind of regime. It left this to be decided by the Syrian people.”
The message further states: “As political and military events unfolded, including regional and international intervention in Syria, states and federations arose, taking advantage of the power vacuum, conflicts and regional war for Syria, in order to force facts on the ground without the agreement of the people, which can only be achieved through a referendum.”
“The Ghad al-Suri movement believes in rights for all of Syrian society, chief among them political, national, cultural and educational rights, based on a doctrine of equality of rights and obligations within a broad administration, not a centralized one. Such a regime would grant provinces, areas and administrative districts the full right to manage their own civil, religious and educational matters in keeping with international human rights treaties,” the Syrian opposition movement writes.
“We the Ghad al-Suri movement call on all of the national forces to topple the tyranny and to build a diverse democracy. Afterward we will build the regime which is agreed upon by all of the national Syrian forces and movements and guarantees all of their rights.”

German Jews cheer fresh bid to ban main neo-Nazi party

BERLIN — Germany’s top Jewish organization has applauded a new attempt to ban the country’s main neo-Nazi party.

Three days of hearings began Tuesday in Germany’s top court – the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe – to examine the constitutionality of outlawing the far-right National Democratic Party of Germany (NPD).

It would be the second attempt to ban the party – the first failed on a legal technicality in 2003. Observers say a second failure would be devastating.

At issue is whether the NPD poses a threat to democracy. It is very difficult to ban a party in Germany, due to post-Nazi era laws designed to safeguard free speech.

Josef Schuster, head of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, said in a statement Tuesday that a trial would “show [the NPD’s] true face” to the world.

The NPD blames foreigners for Germany’s problems and belittles the Holocaust. Though the party has never made it into the federal parliament, its representatives have been elected into two state parliaments in the past decade by barely passing the 5 percent vote minimum. It currently has representatives in the state legislature of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Election success earns the party federal taxpayer money.

In 2014, a notorious German NPD member was elected to the European parliament, which has a lower minimum of votes.

Said Schuster: “The NPD wants to do away with our democracy and set up a nationalist state where there is no more room for minorities.” A trial would not work as an advertisement for the party, but rather as a deterrent, he added.

The 2003 attempt to ban the NPD failed after the Supreme Court learned that government informants themselves instigated some of the allegedly unconstitutional activities.

On Tuesday, NPD lawyers challenged the impartiality of two judges in the new hearings, and portrayed the party as a victim of surveillance and infiltration, according to news reports. They demanded confirmation from German Chancellor Angela Merkel herself that there were no government spies within their party’s ranks.

German Justice Minister Heiko Maas told reporters that even if the trial succeeds, the fight against racism and extremism in Germany would not be over. Right-wing and populist parties appear to have been gaining support for their opposition to Merkel’s liberal refugee policy.

EU condemns settler group’s video that threatens its Jerusalem envoy

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The European Union has condemned a campaign by a new settler organization that verbally attacks its envoy in Jerusalem.

The video posted Sunday on Facebook by the Jerusalem’s Periphery Forum, which represents Jewish communities south of Jerusalem, criticizes the EU for funding illegal homes for Bedouin and Palestinians along the major North-South Route 1.

The 30-second video holds EU envoy Lars Faaborg-Andersen responsible for the construction and calls for him to be “muzzled.” The last image is of Faaborg-Andersen wearing the muzzle seen on Hannibal Lechter in “The Silence of the Lambs.”

A senior member of Israel’s Foreign Ministry staff apologized to Faaborg-Andersen, The Jerusalem Post reported.

In a statement, the EU said: “Resorting to personal threats and slander can never be justified, despite differences of opinion. To raise allegations of the EU supporting terror is unacceptable. We appreciate that the Israeli government has quickly condemned the video and we trust that the Israeli authorities will take appropriate action.”

The statement also defended the housing, saying it was justified under international law as humanitarian aid for people who otherwise would be homeless.

Israeli group accuses US of labeling settlement products

An Israeli television report on Tuesday night alleged that a newly enforced US Customs policy to label products from the West Bank was not merely a technicality, but an “under the radar” US government policy change with regard to the settlements.

Last month, Washington issued a reminder that products imported from the West Bank or Gaza Strip should not be labeled “Made in Israel,” in accordance with a 1995 law. The reminder prompted debate after media reports suggested Washington was hardening its stance against Israeli settlement activity, a claim that US officials denied.

But, according to a Channel 2 report that cite the Israeli group The Legal Forum for Israel, the original legislation was designed solely to apply to Palestinian products manufactured in areas under Palestinian control.

The “very, very strange and unusual” reminder to enforce the policy “means that for 20 years, the US Customs made a mistake or misinterpreted the directive,” the report said. “That’s very uncharacteristic for the Americans.”

The TV report proceeded to quote the group calling out the US for what it termed its “bluff.” The Legal Forum For Israel maintained that the original law referred only to Palestinian products, while the new instructions would apply the “Made in the West Bank” label to products made in Jewish settlements as well.

The organization cited a 1995 document from US Customs, which appears to state that the policy does not extend to Jewish settlements, Jerusalem, and military sites in the West Bank. The Times of Israel could not immediately verify the veracity of the Forum’s explanation for the law. The report also did not make clear whether the labeling had been reintroduced since the directive was reissued in January.

The NGO accused the State Department of being dishonest with the American public, and with Israel. Washington has effectively started labeling West Bank products “without the pressures” that the European Union had to deal with and “under the radar,” it charged.

US officials denied the allegations, telling Channel 2 there was no State Department involvement in the US Customs decision.

The report maintained that while the issue was causing a stir in the US Congress, the Israeli government has remained silent, recognizing that speaking up could “cause more harm than good.”

In late January, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that the US decision to reissue its labeling policy had been taken after complaints that some West Bank products had been mislabeled prior to US import. “US Customs and Border Protection reissued guidance on their marking requirements,” he told reporters. “It in no way supersedes prior rulings or regulations. And nor does it impose additional requirements with respect to merchandise imported from the West Bank, Gaza Strip or Israel.”

The European Union recently announced that it would label West Bank products, drawing fierce criticism from Israel. Israel feels the labeling discriminates against Jewish producers and amounts to a boycott. For its part, by contrast, the State Department last month came out in support of the European Union labeling guidelines, and said that settlement product labeling is not tantamount to a boycott.

The White House announced Thursday that President Barack Obama would sign a trade bill despite it containing a provision that lumps together Israel and “Israeli-controlled territories.” Such language, meaning that the bill is applicable to Israel and the settlements, “contravenes longstanding US policy towards Israel and the occupied territories, including with regard to Israeli settlement activity,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement, hours after the measure was approved in the Senate by a vote of 75-20.

Nonetheless, while the president objects to that particular facet of the legislation, Earnest suggested his accepting it, and signing the bill, was part of the nature of bipartisan compromise. “As with any bipartisan compromise legislation, there are provisions in this bill that we do not support,” he said.